OC students help fight fire in Tanzania

OC students bonded with local children during a summer mission trip to Tanzania.
OC students bonded with local children during a summer mission trip to Tanzania.

This article originally appeared in the Oklahoman.

A group of Oklahoma Christian students became impromptu fire fighters when a catastrophe occurred during their summer mission trip to Tanzania, Africa.

Ben Langford, director of OC’s Center for Global Missions, said he and 10 undergraduate students became part of a “bucket brigade” during their visit to the Tanzanian village of Chimala for the first three weeks of May. 

Chimala is the site of the oldest Church of Christ hospital in Africa, and it also is home to a primary and secondary school.

Several days into their visit, the students were participating in their nightly devotional session when a Church of Christ missionary told them about a fire at the secondary school’s girls’ dormitory. 

Langford said the group was shocked when they ran about a half a mile to see the dormitory engulfed in flames.

He said he feared the worst when they learned that the closest fire station was about an hour and a half away from the school.

“Flames were shooting up 40 and 50 feet. We thought ‘This thing is going to burn to the ground,’” Langford said.

OC junior Nick Poulos said a fellow student wondered where the fire fighters were.

“She said she thought ‘Where are the firemen?’ and then she realized that we are the firemen,” Poulos said.

Langford and Poulos said the girls who lived in the dormitory had been elsewhere so they knew no one was in danger of being injured. 

However, Langford said losing the dormitory and its contents to fire would be catastrophic for the school and village, so the OC students joined with about 100 Tanzanians to put out the fire.

A bucket brigade was soon formed to transport water from a creek about 50 yards away, Langford said.

“It took us three hours and we saved half of the building,” he said. “It was a pretty amazing experience.”

Langford said the fire gave the students a different perspective.

“I think this made it all real. No fire truck came. We worked alongside Tanzanians to do this,” he said. “It was not just like swooping in as heroes. The students really got to serve alongside Tanzanians.”

Meanwhile, Langford said the OC group served in many other ways.

He said the group conducted a sports camp at the school and visited several villages to conduct about a dozen Vacation Bible School sessions for children. 

The students also painted educational information on the school’s walls that tied in with the students’ curriculum and helped set up the school’s computers.

Poulos, who is majoring in engineering and vocational ministry, was asked to design and help build a bridge across a drainage area. 

He said the undertaking was rewarding. He said he worked with two translators to convey his ideas to Tanzanians who worked with him to complete the 30-foot-long bridge.

“I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do it without God,” Poulos said.

As for the fire, Poulos said the conditions in the village reminded him of Oklahoma’s drought – extremely dry. He and Langford said the mood was very tense and chaotic as villagers realized that the fire could potentially spread to engulf the village and surrounding vegetation.

“Everybody was motivated to put it out,” Poulos said of the blaze.

OC’s new president, John deSteiguer, mentioned the students’ experience with the fire in his inauguration speech.

“He said it was a significant event this past summer and that these are the kinds of students we have at Oklahoma Christian,” Langford said. “We want them to ask ‘What is God doing in the world and how can I participate in that? These trips help answer these questions.”

By Carla Hinton
Copyright 2012, The Oklahoman

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