Sunday, 13 December 2009

december prayers and praises

photos are us at Richard and Ma. Fernanda's wedding last Saturday and The people in Santa Rosa celebrating their finished water project

Hi all,
We are having a minor panic now with so much to do before we leave, but we know it will all come together in the end!

Alfredo’s visa was denied… we applied for the wrong type. We have applied for the correct type and we are waiting for the results, hopefully we’ll know by the 20th (or at least before we want to leave the country!). Alfredo is treating the whole things as a lesson in humility as he was so sure he’d get it, he didn’t give it to God.

Plane tickets are bought; we leave Ecuador 29th dec and arrive in Heathrow on the 30th. We plan to spend new year with my parents in the Cotswolds and then start classes in Redcliffe College in Gloucester on the 6th January.

The projects in Cangaime and Santa Rosa are finished and Alfredo is trying to get the Municipio engineer to sign all the paperwork before we leave. I have been working with Lizzie, Steph and Stefy to try and get them up to speed on how things work so they can survive while we are gone.

I traveled with the girls and Miriam to see 6 communities last week for possible projects. We had a good trip and Benjamin loved the jungle, running off with the local children any chance he had and even liked the ‘chicha’ (the fermented drink made from yucca).

Alfredo’s brother got married last month. We were able to celebrate ‘Quito days’ this weekend as we had to go up for the visa application. Steph invited us to an English tea party (at our house) with croquet on the lawn.

If you want to send us anything, please use the Gloucester address now:
Alfredo and Alex Leon, Redcliffe College, Wotton House, Horton Road, Gloucester, GL1 3PT. WE have a pigeon hole so you can send stuff even though we are not there yet. We plan to buy a mobile phone when we arrive in country and will send the number when we know it!

We haven’t organized our traveling schedule yet for visits, so if you’d like us to come your way please write so we can work out the best route and time for traveling. We already have plans to go to Bradford, Isle of Wight, Hull, Birmingham/Coventry… but no fixed dates yet. Please write to me with ideas/requests.

We are looking forward to spending time with all of you, are faithful friends, prayer warriors and supporters.

May you have blessed Christmas season

Alex, Alfredo and Benjamin

Monday, 9 November 2009

praise and prayers November

AAghhh! November already. My list of things to do before we leave for the UK is large, but we are making progress on some stuff.

we are having electricity rationing in Ecuador at the moment as the droughts have reduced the hydroelectric power so there isn't enough to go around. tomorrow we'll be without 10am -2pm and it looks like it might continue for two more months! pray for rain!

Beginning of November is a double public holiday and as it fell Monday/Tuesday we had a nice long weekend. The whole of quito left for the beach, so we went to Quito! Alfredo’s brother Rodrigo had his civil wedding and then we went with most of the family north to Cotocachi etc. It was a nice break and good time with the family.

Alfredo went for his visa and didn’t have any problems with his paperwork and didn’t need have an interview. The paperwork is now sent to the embassy in new york so we won’t know if he has the visa for three weeks, please pray!

Alex went with Tracey and Tannia to do our first parasite study in the jungle. Tannia did the hygiene teaching in Amazonas, Tracey spent her time looking at the samples in the microscope and I tried to keep Benjamin from eating the mud (I quickly gave up trying to keep him out of the mud!). We found the 68% of the school children had parasites. We gave medicine and hope that the number will go down next time we do the study. This is a good measure for a community to see how clean water, sanitation and hygiene can improve their health.

We took a group of 7 ‘Safe Water in Ecuador’ members to Mutints to see the project they funded. It was an adventure, with a 3 hour walk each way and a rain storm that meant the river was too high for us to cross so we couldn’t leave the community for a few hours! The group enjoyed themselves!

Alfredo, Lizzie, Steph and Stefy have installed the pump system in Cangaime and are currently in Cusuime reinstalling the pump.

That Alfredo is given his visa for our trip to the UK.

That we can train the girls enough in these two months so they feel confident in continuing in the jungle while we are gone and that we can find enough work for them to do!

That we can find ‘cheap’ air tickets to return to the UK.

That we can finish Santa Rosa project and get all the paperwork sorted for Taisha

For our work in the Mera youth church youth group and for preparing a puppet sketch for the Christmas program.

For our time in the UK. We start classes at Redcliffe on 6th January. We won’t have much time after our studies to visit people so need to plan our weekends and half-terms well. Information on how you can get involved is in the newsletter I’ll send later in the week.

Thank you for being faithful prayer warriors for us. We look forward to seeing you all soon!
Alex, Alfredo and Benjamin

Saturday, 7 November 2009

latest trips: Mutints

hi all,
we've been travelling a lot over the last few weeks...
we took the 'safe water in Ecuador' group to visit Mutints. It was an interesting trip as we had to all fly in little planes to Makuma and then walk 3 hours to the community. It rained so hard that we couldn't leave the next day until the river had gone down a bit (it was still up to thigh level when we crossed). There was a lovely thankyou celebration where the community showed their thanks to the SWIE group for their funding and gave gifts of necklaces and spears in recognition, and the SWIE thanked the community for working so hard and doing such a good job on the construction and gave a tool kit and volleyball. Alfredo and I took turns to carry Benjamin.

Monday, 5 October 2009

october praise and prayers

Dear praying friends,

September was quite a month…

Benjamin is now trotting around the house at quite a pace and keeping Mummy nice and busy! He turned 1 on the 22nd and had a big party with family in Quito and then another party with Aunty Loida in Puyo the Saturday after. There was the full works with piƱatas, party bags, cake, and balloons, all on the theme of Liga, Alfredo’s football team.

Steph, Stephy and Lizzie all arrived safely and are currently in Quito for some intensive Spanish review. Jippy tummy has already hit, so pray for strong stomachs as the start to travel in the jungle and that they feel confident communicating in Spanish.

Alfredo, Steph and I visited Cangaime to prepare for the installation of the solar pump system. Pray that the system we install can pump enough water, and the existing system isn’t too badly damaged so they can all receive the benefits of piped water. (We are not responsible for the state of the existing pipe work, but we feel responsible to provide a successful project and not just complete our contract)

Alfredo and Steph went to visit the Mutints project. They got a shock when they returned to Makuma to find stakes in the runway and a large group of people with arms protesting. See the previous entry for more info.

We had some good meetings in Quito: The HCJB missionary annual meeting, water projects discussion group and Community Development meeting. It was good to hear what how God is using the mission for his kingdom in other parts of the country and world.

Alfredo attended the local government assembly where community leaders meet with the local government officials to decide projects for next year. The mayor wants us to continue working with his government and Alfredo was able to talk to a number of different communities about possible help in the coming years. Please keep these relationships in your prayers as we cannot build them until we return from England.

October is a month full of travelling, with trips planned to Santa Rosa, Makuma, Mutints, Papallacta (women’s retreat) and Cangaime. Pray for safe travelling, strong stomachs and good relationship building in the communities.

Sorry for not getting a ‘real’ prayer letter out for months… you'll get one at Christmas, if not before!

Alex, Alfredo and Benjamin

Strikes in the Jungle

Ecuador is in the middle of many protests at the moment. The teachers are protesting because they don't want to be evaluated, the Indigenous are protesting about some new water and mining laws and the Shuar in Macas are protesting for all of the above plus a few extra 'grudges' they want to get of their chest. The Shuar have closed the road to Macas for more than a week and a teacher was killed last week in the protests, possibly by his own Shuar and not by the police.

Alfredo and Steph were in Makuma last week to visit the project in Mutints that Adeline and Sarita were building. They walked to the project and when they returned to Makuma they found groups of Shuar with guns on the airstrip and stakes in the ground to prevent planes entering. The Shuar were striking in support of the protests in Macas (although closing the airstrip only really hurts themselves as they receive air ambulance and food deliveries by air!).

Alfredo was in a precarious situation, because he is Ecuadorian 'Mestizo', currently viewed as the 'enemy' as most of the government and lawmakers are mestizos. Another mestizo in macuma had been beaten up just for living there and was accused of being a spy.

Alfredo and Steph saw God's protection over them as the 5 main leaders of the strike are all from communities that have worked with us building water systems and are all friends with us. despite saying that the airstrip was closed, they gave permission for Alas de Socorro (MAF) to land their plane and pick up Alfredo and Steph! God is Good.

When Alfredo returned to Shell he was a nervous wreck as he thought over what could have happened in Makuma, but while he was there he was calm and felt protected as he represented Jesus and the Evangelical church in that town.

Our prayers are with Tukup, Lois (North Americans)and Miryam (Ecuadorian Mestiza) as they remain in Makuma and feelings against 'foreigners' (non-Shuar in Shuar territory) are being stirred up this week. Alfredo is scheduled to return to Santa Rosa tomorrow to work on the water project.

The government is currently in discussions with indigenous leaders, but protests are still in place as the government is not giving in to the demands. Macas appears to be on the verge of greater civil unrest as the 'mestizos' are now getting upset as the week of protests has meant that there is no food or petrol in Macas and businesses are being affected.

please be praying for Peace.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Benjamin's birthday

on tuesday 22nd september Benjamin celebrated his first birthday! We were in Quito for office meetings so the family organised a party in La Tola for Benjamin. The theme was 'Liga Campion' (Alfredo's football team) and we had pinatas and cake and icecream and ham and cheese on sticks!
Tia Loida in Puyo has planned another party for today (saturday) as she couldn't be in Quito, so I have been baking cakes all morning as it is also tio Josue's birthday today.
here are some photos from the first party.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

September prayer and praise

Dear friends,
Sorry for not writing earlier, we were travelling at the beginning of the month.

Benjamin took his first steps on Aunty Loida's birthday (2nd sept) and my new job is to hold his hand as he leads me around the garden in search of puddles and mud. Benjamin?s birthday is coming up (22nd), he's a year old already!

We have received the money for the latest contracts and have bought the pipes, pumps and solar panels.

Stephanie Smithers arrived last night, Stephanie Bliss arrives tonight and Lizzie White at the end of the month. They are all engineers coming to work with us in the Shell office for 6 months.

Miriam Gebb has returned to Shell, so we have company in the office!

Alfredo?s Aunt Loida has got a contract to run the 'bar' (cafeteria) in a Puyo high school this year. She has been without work for over a year.

Alfredo's brother Rodrigo is engaged and will marry Miraya in November.

The pump we installed in Cusuimi last year has got damaged with sand. We have had the motor replaced but now need to find a solution so this pump won't also get damaged. The pump technician says it very unusual for a pump to get damaged and at nearly $2000 a pump we don't want it to happen to any of our other installations! Pray for the trip back to Cusuimi to reinstall and for wisdom on how to protect it.

Alfredo's brother Josue's girlfriend's dad died suddenly of a heart attack last Thursday. We see the family almost every weekend and Marco treated Benjamin like a grandson so it was sad for everyone. Please pray for Fernanda's family at this difficult time.

With three more engineers coming to work in the shell office we need to be organized! Pray for the work the girls will do, for quick adjustment to the cultures in and out of the jungle and for strong stomachs so they don't get sick.

Pray for the projects in Cangaime and Santa Rosa that we are just starting.

Thank you for keeping us protected in prayer.
Alex, Alfredo and Benjamin

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

praise and prayers august

Dear friends,

July was both a productive and relaxing month!

Alfredo was able to get two project contracts signed from Taisha Municipio and then we had to rush to get all the other requirements in Quito and return the documents before the mayors and counselors all changed at the end of July. God was obviously helping us as we were able to get the mission’s lawyer to sign the contracts, get all the notarized paperwork and 2 insurance policies in just over a week… something that could normally take months.

Adeline finished up on the project in Mutints and left Ecuador at the end of July. We have enjoyed having her help us in the Shell office and we’ll miss her!

Alex and Benjamin presented our work to the HCJB Global Vision tour that came through Shell. (Alfredo was in Taisha).

We enjoyed catching up with the Hardin family, ex-Shell missionaries who returned for a few weeks to help out in the hospital.

We did some mountain climbing! We went with some friends from Shell to climb Chimborazo Mountain… from the car-park/first refuge to the second refuge and then Alfredo and his brother climbed up a little further to touch snow. I (Alex) struggled with the altitude so went up on horseback (I know, what a cheat!)
A week later we went with Alfredo’s brother Eduardo, sister Gaby and cousin Daniella, (Benjamin stayed with Granny Julia) to climb Cotopaxi… from the car-park to the refuge and then across to play in the ice/snow. It was a perfect day with clear views of the top.
(See photos on our blog)

While in Quito we were able to spend time with Alfredo’s nephew Alejandro (who normally lives in Guayaquil), taking him to the zoo and buying him new glasses.

We celebrated our 3-year wedding anniversary in a nice Quito restaurant.

This email is late getting sent out because we went with the Covenant Church to visit a possible project in the north of Ecuador with the Cofan Tribe. We joined a Korean-American Team who was going to help the community build a church. Our job was to evaluate the possibilities of a water project/other community development projects that the national Covenant Church and team from Canada can help with. It was an interesting trip and chance to visit another Ecuadorian tribe and another part of the jungle. The access to the community was via canoe in very rough water… I had Benjamin strapped to me and prayed hard that we didn’t capsize! While there wasn’t an opportunity to build a water project, we were able to apply our community development principles and help the community develop plans for future projects.
Prayers for August:

We are without a camera… one got lost up Cotopaxi and the other has succumbed to the humidity in Shell. Pray we can get a replacement and the other repaired quickly.

Pray for safety and good time as we take the youth group from our church in Mera on their summer trip next week.

Pray for Stephanie Smithers, Stephanie Bliss and Lizzie White as they prepare to come to work with us for 6 months. Praise God that they will be able to continue our work while we are in the UK.

Pray for our preparations for our visit to England next January.

Pray for the two new projects in Santa Rosa and Cangaime. Both communities are few evangelical believers so pray for opportunities to testify to God’s goodness while we work with the people.

Pray as Sara Hossman (a nurse who worked with us in April) will return to visit for a week in Mutints and teach hygiene and hold holiday bible club with her friend from Switzerland.

Thank you for making it to the end of this message… turned out I had lots of news!
Thanks for all your prayers and support for our work here in Ecuador.

May you be richly blessed this month.

Alex, Alfredo and Benjamin Leon

Monday, 22 June 2009


hi there,
sorry I've not been very good at keeping this updated! The beginning of the month we finally handed over the Amazonas project (with big tank in place) and then went on a little holiday to Quito and Papallacta. plan was to relax but Benjamin doesn't really let us relax much! we had fun in the hot springs and got nicely sunburnt (luckily Benjo didn't).

We have just got back from a second trip to Quito this month, this time for Jorge and Laura's wedding. Was beautiful, in an old hacienda in Quito and it only rained when we were all eating under the marquee, perfect.

Yesterday we presented in the 4 children's services at Inaquito church (I had to be at church at 7.15!) lovely knowing that even the Children know and support the churches missionaries.

Now back in Shell with Adeline and the three summer missionaries working on topography for the new hospital sewage treatment system.

here are a photo of the big tank in Amazonas.


Thursday, 28 May 2009

The Tank Flew!

hi all,
just to let you know prayer works... the big tank that we have been praying about since last May was flown into its new community on Tuesday! God's timing is perfect, but not what we'd plan as the deadline for the project is this Sunday (final final deadline as we've already had three extensions!)and we'd already renegotiated the contract to put in some smaller tanks to make up for the lack of big tank! Alfredo is in the jungle now taking down the little tanks and installing the big tank. I'll post pictures when he returns... till then you can enjoy the video of the tank being lifted.

Thanks for praying with us!

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

may prayer and praise

Dear friends,

Here are some prayers and praises for this month?

There was hope that the tank would be flown in by the military because
our colleague in the office has contacts? but when I phoned the
officer in charge I got the run-around again!
We now how a final deadline of the end of may? so we have agreed a
temporary solution of 4 little tanks to replace the big tank. Alfredo
is in the jungle this week installing the tanks and finishing the
construction of the pump house.

Ecuador had major elections a week ago? Correa is still president and
won on the first round. Pray for wise governance. A mayor Alfredo?s
Dad worked for 4 years ago got reelected so it is looking likely that
Fernando will have a job again. The Mayor in Taisha changed, so we
have to start negotiations again to see if they want us to work with
them this term. The Mayor in Palora was reelected and is offering
Alfredo projects, so we might have opportunity to expand into an area
with road access!

Our next year plans now look like we?ll be in the UK to study bible
for a while and we hope to return to Shell for a second term with HCJB
Global. We are looking in to studying at Redcliffe in Gloucestershire
and plan to arrive in the UK in January. The idea of studying the
Masters course in the USA won?t work this time because Alfredo doesn?t
have the necessary English qualifications to apply and the application
deadline was this month to start studying in January!

Benjamin has two teeth, is sitting up well and is now rolling over and
trying to crawl (he can push himself backwards but he doesn?t realize
this is useful yet as he is trying to go forwards).

Adeline has been working with us since March and it is great having
someone else down here! She is in charge of the Mutints project and
has spent most of April in the jungle with Nurse Sarah.

Next week the Fogg family is coming to shell for a visit to see if
they want to come to work with us more long term. They will be
training us in water filter construction next week and then taking a
trip into the jungle to see our projects. Pray that they like it here
and want to come back!

Thanks for your prayers; we are only able to be here because of the
faithful support of you guys.

Hugs, Alex, Alfredo and Benjamin

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Clean Water : A Life & Death Issue

here is an article our Boss bruce Rydbeck wrote after working on the
project in Amazonas

"If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones … he
will certainly not lose his reward."
Three Shuar Indian men somberly carried the body of a three-year-old
girl in a miniature rough board coffin down the trail in the dense Amazon
jungle. Only intense fatigue enabled them to hide the emotional pain of
their loss. The men had slogged four hours over difficult muddy jungle
trails and were barely halfway to the community where the body was to be
buried. They stopped in the community where we were working just long enough
to gulp down healthy amounts of 'chicha', a watery drink of puréed boiled
yucca, offered them to quench their thirst and stave off the intense humid
equatorial mid-day heat before continuing on their journey.

Circumstances of the girl's death indicate that quite likely she died
of an intestinal parasite infection. The community where she lived does not
have a protected water source or a medical clinic. Every year, at least two
million children die of diarrhea in developing countries. Jesus sends us as
his disciples to make a difference and express the depth of his compassion
for these little ones.

Alfredo and I reflected on this abrupt interruption to our day while
eating a simple lunch of boiled fish and bananas served to us by the
community of Amazonas. Alfredo is an Ecuadorian missionary engineer on our
community development staff helping remote jungle communities to build water
systems and rudimentary sanitation. The sixty families in Amazonas requested
help to build their water system and Alfredo and his wife Alex coordinate
that project, which is nearly complete. The young Shuar girl's death only
underlined to us the importance and urgency of our task."

more on the tank saga

hi all,
the tank didn't make it in by river or by trail and is still sitting
at the end of the road (looking lonely and sad). ECORAE, the
government organisation paying for the project are now paying for a
temparary solution of 4 smaller tanks to make the water system function.
A collegue in the office says he knows people in high places in the
military and can get us the flight...we'll wait and see.
keep praying, only a miricle will get the tank there now!

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

april leon newsletter

dear Friends,
hope you all had a wonderful Easter and enjoyed the double bank holiday!
attached is the latest newsletter, sorry its taken so long to write!
to make up for the slowness, it includes 2 pages of photos of the last
6 months.

The tank is no longer in Shell, but hasn't arrived at its destination
yet... Adin is taking it in by river and trail, so please keep this in
your prayers.

We have changed our plans a bit for next year, it is now more likely
that we'll be in the UK for about 6 months and not go to the USA to
study this time. keep praying for us as we concrete study options in
the UK.

Benjamin started rolling over this weekend and is showing signs of
wanting to crawl when he is on his front, soon nothing in the house
will be safe from a roaming baby!

keep in touch, we love to hear the goings-on in the UK.
hugs and blessings,
Alex, Alfredo and Benjamin

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

tank news

we are giving up on waiting for the military to fly in the tank to Amazonas as plan to float it down the river (or rather Juan Velasco has offered to try) please pray! the tank is 2m in diameter and 2m high and the river has some big rapids and the bridge to get to the river has collapsed. this will only succeed with prayer
we'll take lots of photos!

Friday, 6 March 2009

march prayers and praise

photos: Benjamin and Uncle (Tio) Rodrigo, Benjamin the Liga supporter and Benjo eating breakfast

hi there,
sorry we didn't update last month, life got busy with studying for the Wheaton course and trying to get projects finished by deadlines and extension applications handed in on time

Samikim design report got presented on the deadline. Taisha have since come back with corrections, but they are minor, praise God.

Amazonas got an extension (again). we found out this week that the military will definitely not fly our tank in to the jungle, so we have to come up with another plan

Palora is in last days, we are just installing the house connections and doing finishing touches. we are praying that we don't get a fine for not finishing on time and refuse to pay a bribe to get an extension (that should be given anyway)

The course in Quito on Folk Religions was excellent and hard work. we both took the course for credit so had lots of assignments and reading to do in addition to all the project work. Alex has now finished and Alfredo got an extension on the reading assignment as two books are in English and are hard work for him. pray that he reads them before the march 13 deadline.

Benjamin is growing fast! he has started eating cereal and would eat everything on our plates if we let him! he has a huge smile and is very sociable (he gets grumpy when he spends all day in the house with just Mummy, I have to take him to the shop or the hospital so he can see people!)

Jim Allen has just finished a spiritual retreat time with missionaries in Shell. Everything we do should make God look Good... pray that that is true of all we do here in the Ecuadorian Jungle with water projects.

Have a great month, keep in touch!
Alex, Alfredo and Benjamin

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Photos from the beach

Grumpy Benjamin
Christmas Day in Machala with some of the Bermudez
Josue, Benjamin and Alfredo on the beach

praise and prayers january

Dear friends,

Happy New Year!
Thank you for all the Christmas cards sent… we have been receiving them before February, an improvement on last year! We spent the Christmas period traveling around the country to visit various family… Guayaquil, Machala and Quito. Benjamin got to dabble his toes in the Pacific Ocean and is now accustomed to only being held in arms as Alfredo’s family wouldn’t put him down (bad news for me!).

Taisha local government agreed to the increase in prices for the last projects, so we didn’t lose money.

Benjamin is putting on weight and growing tall… and the family have finally accepted that he is a tall skinny baby not short and chubby so have reduced the pestering to feed him more

For a wonderful Christmas time with family and chance to relax.


The tank is still not in Amazonas! It has now been moved to the military base and we thought it was going to be flow in at the end of December but one of the motors on the helicopter broke and they had to cancel. The deadline for the project is 15th February so it needs to be moved this month!

Alfredo took on two additional projects and deadlines are next month. He is learning the hard way about project management and I cannot help as much as I’d like because of Benjamin.

We are both planning to take another Wheaton college course for credit next month. The theme is Folk religions and it looks very relevant to the work we do with the Shuar tribe, but the reading is only in English so is hard work for Alfredo and Alex has to fit in reading and studying (and attending classes in feb) around Benjamin.

Financial crisis… The Ecuadorian government have made many grand promises based on the high oil price that they cannot sustain now and there have been rumours of a banking crisis again (the last was in 1999 and left main people ruined) which will also affect our money! Pray for wise governance.

Thank you for keeping us lifted up in prayer. Let us know if you are interested in coming to visit our work in Shell this year (maybe even organize a work team with your church?)

Alex, Alfredo and Benjamin Leon

Atheist sees need for God

here is an interesting artictle written by a secular british journalist. Thanks Pat for sending it to me!

and why stop at Africa... I hope the Christian influence in our development work in Ecuador is equally as noticeable and vital as Perris found in Africa.

yes, even the Rocks (= hardheads) will end up to praise Him...

From The Times

December 27, 2008
As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God
Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa's biggest problem - the crushing passivity of the people's mindset

Matthew Parris

Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it's Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.

It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I've been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I've been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

I used to avoid this truth by applauding - as you can - the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It's a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

But this doesn't fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.

First, then, the observation. We had friends who were missionaries, and as a child I stayed often with them; I also stayed, alone with my little brother, in a traditional rural African village. In the city we had working for us Africans who had converted and were strong believers. The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world - a directness in their dealings with others - that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall.

At 24, travelling by land across the continent reinforced this impression. From Algiers to Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and the Central African Republic, then right through the Congo to Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya, four student friends and I drove our old Land Rover to Nairobi.

We slept under the stars, so it was important as we reached the more populated and lawless parts of the sub-Sahara that every day we find somewhere safe by nightfall. Often near a mission.

Whenever we entered a territory worked by missionaries, we had to acknowledge that something changed in the faces of the people we passed and spoke to: something in their eyes, the way they approached you direct, man-to-man, without looking down or away. They had not become more deferential towards strangers - in some ways less so - but more open.

This time in Malawi it was the same. I met no missionaries. You do not encounter missionaries in the lobbies of expensive hotels discussing development strategy documents, as you do with the big NGOs. But instead I noticed that a handful of the most impressive African members of the Pump Aid team (largely from Zimbabwe) were, privately, strong Christians. “Privately” because the charity is entirely secular and I never heard any of its team so much as mention religion while working in the villages. But I picked up the Christian references in our conversations. One, I saw, was studying a devotional textbook in the car. One, on Sunday, went off to church at dawn for a two-hour service.

It would suit me to believe that their honesty, diligence and optimism in their work was unconnected with personal faith. Their work was secular, but surely affected by what they were. What they were was, in turn, influenced by a conception of man's place in the Universe that Christianity had taught.

There's long been a fashion among Western academic sociologists for placing tribal value systems within a ring fence, beyond critiques founded in our own culture: “theirs” and therefore best for “them”; authentic and of intrinsically equal worth to ours.

I don't follow this. I observe that tribal belief is no more peaceable than ours; and that it suppresses individuality. People think collectively; first in terms of the community, extended family and tribe. This rural-traditional mindset feeds into the “big man” and gangster politics of the African city: the exaggerated respect for a swaggering leader, and the (literal) inability to understand the whole idea of loyal opposition.

Anxiety - fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things - strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. Every man has his place and, call it fear or respect, a great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity. People won't take the initiative, won't take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders.

How can I, as someone with a foot in both camps, explain? When the philosophical tourist moves from one world view to another he finds - at the very moment of passing into the new - that he loses the language to describe the landscape to the old. But let me try an example: the answer given by Sir Edmund Hillary to the question: Why climb the mountain? “Because it's there,” he said.

To the rural African mind, this is an explanation of why one would not climb the mountain. It's... well, there. Just there. Why interfere? Nothing to be done about it, or with it. Hillary's further explanation - that nobody else had climbed it - would stand as a second reason for passivity.

Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.

Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the knowhow that accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system must first be supplanted.

And I'm afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.