I don’t know why, but I have an aversion to anyone suggesting,
“You should meet so-and-so.”
Perhaps it sets one up for undue expectations.
So when Sharon enthusiastically suggested I should meet a guy from a group promoting transformation in Africa I cringed.
“There’s no harm in meeting him,” she urged.
“Especially,” she added, “as he may be able to help you raise funds.”
Raising funds is not what I do.
Praying in the money, yes.
But asking for money to fund my missionary foray into Africa was another thing entirely.
Did Lydia Prince (nee Christensen) not trust the Lord for the work he had called her to?
What about George Müller who prayed in the funds for the orphanages?
I believe that if the Lord has called me, he will sustain me.
Had he not overwhelmingly provided a job to pay for the relocation to Zambia?
I did not believe the Lord wanted me to help him out by raising funds for the work in Mwinilunga.
But I could not avoid the man Sharon suggested I meet.
He turned up at the YW two weeks after I arrived back in Johannesburg, to meet Sharon to discuss the Monday night prayer meetings at the YW.
I had just entered the YW’s doors after doing a bit of shopping in the city when I saw a man waiting in the foyer. As no one seemed to be attending to him I asked if I could assist.
“I’m here to see Sharon,” he answered.
“I’ll call her,” and quickly walked down the passage to her office on the ground floor.
“Oh! so you’ve met Sanjay,” she exclaimed. ”Tell him I’ll just be a moment. He’s the guy I told you about.”
I walked back to the reception area and said, “Sharon will be along shortly.”
“Are you Colleen?” he asked.
“Yes. And you are…?”
“Sanjay. Sharon told me about your work in Zambia. I’m hosting an Os Hillman workshop in a few days. Come along. I think you’ll benefit from the opportunity to network with Christians in business.”
“No-no-no,” I replied, “I’m not interested in networking. All I want is to find a way to return to Mwinilunga.”
“Well, there’s lots of money around,” he replied. “Come along. You never know who you may meet. There may even be someone who would want to sponsor you.”
Everything in me resisted the idea. But in the end I went, thinking, “Who am I to tell the Lord how he should provide for me?”
Yet deep inside I rebelled against the idea. I knew this feeling well. It was of the Lord. But I needed to check it out.
And true to the Lord’s leading, it turned out just as I thought.
No networking took place.
It had been a waste of money.
Three weeks later I received an SMS from Sanjay:
“I want to introduce you to a man from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I believe you can be of assistance to one another”
Again I was reluctant to be put in touch with anyone.
What had this man, Benoit and I in common?
Against my better judgment – I could not believe I was doing it again – I gave in and agreed to meet Benoit.
Sanjay was not present when we met, so neither Benoit nor I knew how to recognise one another on our arrival at the Parktonian Hotel (situated about 15 metres from the YW).
As I stood waiting in the hotel foyer for Benoit to arrive (he was stuck in traffic), I felt uncomfortable, being the only woman waiting at the reception counter.
Soon a man walked past me, speaking loudly on his cellphone, and as he walked by I heard him say,
“This is Benoit! Ben-oit!” he shouted with emphasis.
Clearly the person on the receiving end could not hear him.
Was this the man I was supposed to meet? I wondered. Deciding it must be (how many Benoit’s could there possibly be meeting someone at the Parktonian?).
I quickly walked over to him and introduced myself.
“No, no, no,” exclaimed the man. ”I don’t know you! I am not waiting for you! Who are you?”
I replied, “I am waiting for Benoit. Are you not Benoit?”
“Indeed! I am Benoit. But I don’t know you.”
I had the terrible feeling I had been set up.
Even worse, I felt all eyes on me.
What if folk thought I was a prostitute trying to solicit a client at the hotel?
Confused, I wondered if I should continue to wait for The Benoit, or leave? Instead, I dialed Benoit’s number. As he answered I saw a man walking toward me with his cellphone at his ear, and we smiled at each other, both talking to each other on our cellphones, a mere three metres between us.
We greeted each other, grateful that the confusion had been cleared.
All Benoit had been told about me was,
“You need to meet this lady,” identical to what Sanjay had said to me.
I told him about the other Benoit as we walked through to the dining area of the Parktonian Hotel, and we laughed at the coincidence.
As soon as we sat down at our table and had placed our order for coffee with the waiter, I gave Benoit some background to my work in Mwinilunga, and took out the “Agenda for Discussion document, explaining,
“This is the research I’ve done regarding commercial development of Mwinilunga”.
He looked at the document before him on the table, and began to shake his head.
I asked him,
“Why are you shaking your head?”
“I’ll tell you after you have shown me the document”.
I insisted, “Tell me now, I’m curious”.
But with a smile on his face he shook his head again and said,
“No, first tell me about this document”.
Realising there would be no further discussion I took him through the contents page.
The more he looked at the items on the page the more he seemed to be in awe.
At the end of the review of the items I sat back and said,
“Now tell me why you have been shaking your head over what you have seen in this document.”
“The front page of your document”,
and again he shook his head…
…”is identical to the proposal I have drafted to my superior (he explained he was advisor to the governor of a province in the DRC.)
“Everything that is on your contents page is exactly what we have in __.”.
“We have all of these agricultural products and mineral resources in abundance. Our problem is this – we are unable to get the produce to the market. Infrastructure is non-existent.”
“Then I am unsure why Sanjay believes the information in my document would benefit your province.”
Benoit thought about this, then asked,
“Would you be willing to give me a copy of your document?”
I felt uneasy about his request. Using my own resources I had researched the contents over a period of twelve years. To release a copy of the document to Benoit at no cost was out of the question.
“I’m unsure how a copy of my document would help you. it is merely an agenda for discussion as you can see.”
But he was eager, and asked if we could meet the following week.
“I’ll bring my laptop; you can just copy it to me. You have a flash drive?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
We agreed to meet once again the following week, and he repeated,
“I would really appreciate it if you would give me a copy of your document.”
At that moment the waiter brought the bill.
When it was clear that Benoit was not going to pay the R32 ($3.72) bill, I realised, something was wrong. ”Can he possibly be the advisor to the governor of his province?” I doubted it. It dawned on me that if I gave him a copy of my research all he would have to do is amend it here and there, and present it as his own work for which he would be handsomely paid – out of provincial coffers.I was not going to let that happen.
The following week – though he was very disappointed – I emailed him a copy of the contents page only.
This was the beginning of a series of events involving Sanjay’s ideas of how he could assist me with the work in Mwinilunga, or how sponsorship could be raised to fund my work there.
Each idea led to nowhere.
Interestingly, from the very beginning I had reacted to Sharon’s suggestion: “You need to meet this guy.” But because of my tendency towards skepticism, I tempered my reaction and overrode my suspicions.
Sanjay’s lack of credibility affected me deeply, more so as I was only following this lead for Sharon’s sake.
“Sanjay’s a powerful prayer warrior and intercessor, and has a heart for Africa,” she urged.
“And he’s been invited to address a conference in North Carolina as the keynote speaker at the Baptist Conference. They have decided that, instead of funding missions, they now want to fund projects run by missionaries; and Sanjay is going to represent several missions who are involved in development projects in Africa.”
I was still not convinced.
Nevertheless, when Sanjay asked me to draw up a proposal and business plans and budgets for each item on the contents page of the Agenda for Discussion, I thought,
“What the heck, let me do it. If it comes to nothing, then at least the work has been done.”
Sanjay’s deadline for this work was two weeks. There was no way I would be able to complete the assignment. To this he added that I should provide him with three quotes for a truck I needed (to transport the produce) and a costing for the entire contents of a workshop to maintain the truck.
After two weeks my work was not yet complete.
“No problem,” said Sanjay. “Just keep working at it.”
“But are you not supposed to attend the conference in North Carolina?” I asked.
“Don’t worry about that,” he replied.
Three months later he was still in Johannesburg. When I asked him about his trip to North Carolina he cited lack of funds. (“Lack of funds for a keynote speaker at a conference?” It didn’t make sense).
I said to Sharon,
“There’s something wrong here; I don’t trust Sanjay.”
And indeed, he proved unreliable in all he offered, living in cloud of fantasy.
I am usually fairly astute when it comes to discerning people’s motives. In fact, had I obeyed the inner caution on hearing his name, let alone meeting him, the discovery of this man’s lack of integrity would not have disappointed me so deeply. Added to this, it was painful to realise that unless Sanjay changed his ways, his life and reputation would be shipwrecked.
This experience made me re-evaluate my own life.
Was I, too, walking in presumption, having relocated to Zambia?
Although all my prayers about working in Zambia had been answered, and everything down to the last detail had worked out perfectly – what about my work permit? How was it possible that Zambia’s immigration services had messed up my application for a work permit five times?
Had the Lord allowed me to have a little bit of fun? I could not believe this.
In the end I wrote Sanjay a letter outlining each promise he had made and had failed to deliver. I urged him to please consider the effects it had on vulnerable enquirers.
I received no reply to the letter.
Sharon, too, was burned by Sanjay’s promises, and the two of us spent some time talking about the dangers of being unaccountable in the Body of Christ.
The questions regarding my own circumstances rankled. I was desperate to return to Mwinilunga to pursue enquiries about my work permit. The problem was, I now did not have the funds to make the return trip.