Building a Bridge of Hope
Life in the sub-Saharan country of Chad is not easy. In this landlocked African nation twice the size of Texas, there is only one major airport and few paved roads. With problems such as water-borne illness and poor sanitation, Chad has one of the lowest life expectancies of any nation in the world.
And yet Chad is a harvest field that is desperate for the Light. For TEAM global workers Scott and Eric, as well as their wives and families, Chad is home. Here among nomadic Muslim people groups in southeastern Chad, God uses TEAM’s holistic approach to ministry to save lives physically as well as spiritually.
Why Holistic Community Development?
Scott explains that a holistic approach is key to TEAM Chad’s work. “Believers start out way behind the eight ball,” says Scott. “[The people] have a preconceived notion of what Christianity is. We’re in an unreached or under-engaged area, but they all watch television and movies. So they think Christianity is what they see in Hollywood, which we know is far from the truth. They’re also very suspicious of why we would come here. For a long time, people would think we’re CIA or that we have a direct phone number to the US President.”
He continues. “Doing holistic ministry and engaging with people on multiple levels – physical and spiritual – has helped people see that we’re here because we love them, and we love them because Christ has loved us and given us that heart for the people. That gives us great joy to express God’s love for them in such tangible ways. When they see God’s power and God’s love shown through the work, it touches the heart.”
A River Runs Through It
TEAM’s roots in Chad go all the way back to 1927 when another group, the Sudan United Mission, first entered the region. That organization later joined forces with TEAM and now nearly 100 years later, TEAM’s work in Chad is still going strong. Over the years, many TEAM workers have shown God’s love through community development ministries including clean water wells, community health education, and other ongoing initiatives.
In 2019, a new and dire need became evident. The Barh-Azoum River cuts through the Salamat region where Scott, Eric, and their families live. The riverbed lies dry and unthreatening for half of the year, but during the rainy season, the waters rise to swift and dangerous levels.
Eric says dozens of lives are lost every year as people attempt to cross the river on foot or in canoes. “People die just trying to get to market,” he explains. “Kids cross over to go to school; people try to access emergency healthcare, especially at night when there are no canoes operating.”
Scott tells one particularly heartbreaking story of a woman whose body was pulled from the river after she attempted to cross in a canoe to sell her vegetables at the market. Her newborn infant was still strapped to her back.
Also greatly impacted are the nomadic people groups who twice a year must migrate with their herds to find grazing land. This is significant because 90% of Chad’s nomadic herds pass through this region each year. Their options are to attempt a life-threatening crossing or to seek alternative routes to grazing land – an option that often leads them to venture illegally into environmentally-protected land or into areas where they encounter conflict with farmers and other tribes.
In 2019, Scott and Eric began praying about TEAM’s response to this crisis, and by the end of that year when another dozen people and over 1,900 cattle drowned, they had their answer. God was calling TEAM Chad to action.
A Bridge of Hope
The answer to the problem was both simple and daunting. We need to build a bridge. Beyond the obvious benefit of decreasing the loss of life, a bridge also brings tremendous economic security to a community that relies on crossing the river to sell, trade, and move herds. The bridge will also alleviate the need for nomadic groups to go elsewhere, avoiding territorial conflict and environmental problems.
So Scott, Eric, and their team put the wheels in motion for a bridge to accommodate pedestrian and livestock traffic. Eric is a medical doctor and Scott has a background in construction management, so they knew that God had uniquely positioned them to approach the project with the utmost safety and care in mind. God also connected them with a Chadian believer named Sazoulang. This energetic and enthusiastic brother is not only a gifted engineer himself but also, as Scott says, “he knows all the right players.” Sazoulang enlisted two others – a professor of structural engineering and another gentleman who has a doctorate in bridge engineering – to complete the bridge design.
Unfortunately, the Chad Bridge Project hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Since the idea’s inception in 2019, the Salamat region has had five different governors. Also, the President of Chad was killed during a rebel attack in April 2021. As a result, the proper government approvals slowed down considerably before the project was finally approved on September 2, 2022.
All that remains now is to find the funds to build the bridge, and the clock is ticking before the rainy season returns.
Raising the Funds: “Our God is a big God.”
With the structural designs and government approvals in place, TEAM looks ahead with big hopes in our big God. The bridge must be built during the dry season, which takes place between January and June each year. After much prayer and contemplation, a goal has been set to raise the $1.1 million dollars needed to build the bridge by December 2022 so that construction can begin in January 2023.
Amazingly, the Lord has opened doors within Chad to partner with local benefactors to help fund the Bridge of Hope Project. The goal is for 50% of the overall cost to be raised from within Chad (10% from direct beneficiaries, 40% raised by the community from organizations within Chad). A globalized partnership of this magnitude is largely unprecedented and is a huge testament to the commitment of the Chadian people to bring the bridge to fruition.
The remaining 50%, or $550,000, is TEAM’s fundraising goal for this life-saving project. If the Lord sees fit, 2022 could be the last year that lives are lost in dangerous and desperate river crossings in the Salamat region.
Scott says that the bridge project has attracted the attention of many. “People all the way down into Central African Republic all the way over to the western border of Chad with Cameroon and up in the desert are all keeping their eyes on this bridge project,” he says. And further, the nomadic people themselves are full of gratitude and hopeful expectation.
TEAM Advancement Officer Doug Batchelder is encouraged by correspondence from a nomadic association that is close to the bridge project. “They expressed their gratitude for the help of TEAM for this project and the recognition of what God’s people represent. They see people of peace who bring blessing to this community and that really gives voice to the Gospel. This bridge is really going to move that forward.”
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