From the home office and around the fields

There are four women who had the courage and desperation to go against the norm of their village's Muslim culture and beliefs to come and work with us on the goat farm. They are a widow, the wife of an alcoholic physical abuser, the wife of a drug-addicted thief and the wife of a Schizophrenic crazy man.

The Schizophrenia sufferer’s name is Saiful.

Saiful hadn't worked for months; his family were among the poorest in the village.

At times, when confusion and paranoia overwhelmed him, he would violently attack his wife or children. His children were very similar in age to my own children and they were friends.

At one stage, the violence, combined with the lack of food and money, forced his wife and children to flee secretly to his wife's parent’s village.

Saiful couldn't understand where they had gone or why. He came a number of times to our land and insisted I show him inside our godown (shed); he was convinced they were locked inside.

Another time he came and sat outside our home crying all morning. Where were his family?

Eventually his family returned and we were so excited when his wife committed to work for us each morning; it was a win-win. We had good help with weeding, planting and harvesting, and their family received some desperately needed income.

Then one morning Saiful climbed over the brick wall into our cropped field where his wife and two other women were working. He bashed her and dragged her home.

Who was this monster?

Let me turn the clock back to about 18 months earlier.

We needed an extra casual agricultural day labourer when faced with a large cultivated field that needed to be hand planted.

One of our existing day labourers recommended a guy. They said he was very deaf and had a bad limp because one leg had been injured many years before. So he started working for us.

He was 10 to 15 years older than the younger guys who usually worked for us. He was a great worker, always reliable, working steadily and consistently. If the younger guys started slacking, he soon pulled them into line. He had a wide base of work experience so was extra valuable when doing concreting, brickwork and pipe laying. When we built the goat shed he did a huge amount of sanding, priming and painting.

He was honest and trustworthy, I relied on him to oversee the other workers when I was away from the land doing other jobs.

One of the last tasks in the goat shed construction was making the access ramp into the shed. We used plastic flooring slats left over from fitting the floor inside the shed.

Once the slats were laid we realised that they could easily be lifted off and stolen.

I found some cable/zip ties and he started to secure the plastic slats to the steel sub-frame. Saiful carried on with this task while I went into town to do some other jobs.

I returned a couple of hours later and instead of plastic cable ties, the slats were in fact secured with much stronger steel wire. He had realised that the plastic cable ties could easily be broken if someone attempted to steal the slats and was worried that if the slats weren't securely attached that afternoon, a thief may come that evening and steal them. I commented that I didn't think we had any wire like that in our shed; Saiful had gone to his home and returned with a coil of his own wire to do the job with. I was stunned. Firstly, I couldn't believe he could even afford to buy a coil of wire in the first place. Secondly, he refused to allow me to reimburse him for the wire he had used, he just wanted to give it as a gift.

I already had so much respect for him, and my affection for him grew even deeper.

One morning, as usual, he arrived to do some planting. He had a fever and was not feeling well. As the morning got hotter he said he couldn't continue working, and to clock him off for the day. He never returned to work again. He became bedridden with terrible headaches and some sort of infection had affected his brain.

He recovered from being bedridden but now he was different; at times vacant, other times extremely agitated, combined with bouts of fear and paranoia. A number of times he got lost wandering off in the middle of the night.

This was my trusted employee, my friend. Saiful needed help.

What I came to hate was that he, his wife and children were now completely trapped. Saiful’s older brothers took authority over the family, but the authority they had, and help it was designed to provide in situations like this, are completely different things in reality.

The older brothers insisted they were too busy to take Saiful to a hospital themselves.

The brothers wouldn't allow his wife to take him to the nearby town for help or assessment. I offered to take him to a "Mental Hospital" as it is still called in this country. I argued that perhaps he only needed simple inexpensive medication to relieve his and the families suffering. No, only male family members can do this!

Finally, Saiful went too far and annoyed one the wealthiest people in the village. This brought shame onto his whole extended family and the older brothers finally had to do something.

The Jin Doctor (witch doctor) from a nearby village was visited. Saiful now wore an amulet on his biceps to ward off the spirits that were said to be afflicting him. He then seemed to become more violent, the beatings of his wife became more frequent, and he attacked one of his brothers with a weapon. Again, his wife and children fled. It was hopeless. His daughter was about to sit some very important school exams, instead she was now in another district without her books to study, and no way to travel back to sit her exams anyway.

How would the older brothers react and use their authority to help the family through this situation?

 Children at the playground shared some terrible news with us. The oldest brother had started the process to get Saiful's daughter married. The father and male relatives of a young man were coming to meet the bride to be and the extended family. The dowry or "gift" would be negotiated for Saiful to pay to the husband to be. Saiful, his wife or his 14 year old daughter didn't have a voice in any of this.

Could the situation be any worse? Marry off the daughter to have one less mouth to feed, but then be burdened with a huge long-term debt to pay the "gift".

We prayed for intervention.

Intervention came in the form of greed. The husband-to-be's family demanded a huge "gift" payment and the wedding was called off. A few weeks later another potential husband was found. Fortunately, again the money demanded was too much, and the husband’s family were concerned that Saiful’s psychiatric problems were hereditary; they didn't want to risk any children being born in the future to have the same problem.

We were so relieved for the daughter however she was now feeling a deep sense of shame. Even though she didn't want to be married, she felt so worthless.

The family were now entering into dangerous territory, where traffickers prey on the desperate and vulnerable. We are keeping a wary eye out for the signs. A marriage offer with no "gift" payment. The husband to be is from a more distant village, and no one really knows the husband or his village. Often the husband-to-be is said to have a good job in one of the distant mega cities of this land, and he plans to take his new wife with him there.

Saiful was our trusted employee. He already suffered from nearly total hearing loss, and his bad leg had put people off from employing him for many years. His family had lived for so long in poverty. His and his family's suffering is made new to a deeper level as he suffers from schizophrenia.

How we pray for a different kind of "made new" for Saiful and his family.

Jesus you have anointed all of us to preach Good News to the poor. Proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the Year of the Lord's favour.

Story by Colin in South Asia