It’s been a little over two months since our big family trip to western Africa, but it all still seems so fresh! We’re still talking about it almost every day. In fact, just this morning as we were driving our youngest son to school, he asked if we could go back tomorrow. How we wish we could! Apart from missing all the wonderful people we left behind over there, we’ve also had time to process all that God taught us on that amazing trip, and we long for more! God opened our eyes in so many ways. May we keep them open and continue to pursue His purposes surrounding our lives and ministries! I’d like to take this week and next to share a few more stories, and some of our final thoughts to wrap up the Africa 2017 series. God willing, there will be many more Africa visits to come!
John & Elizabeth
The main reason we went on this trip in the first place, was to visit our family that serves on the mission field over there. My husband’s sister (we’ll call her Elizabeth) and her husband (we’ll call him John) moved to western Africa a little over a year ago with their brood of small children. They went because they felt called. Both John and Elizabeth have known God was leading them to serve as missionaries in Africa since they were young children. Early in life He impressed upon them this verse:
Romans 15:20-21 – My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else. I have been following the plan spoken of in Scripture, where it says, “Those who have never been told about Him will see, and those who have never heard of Him will understand.”
God has orchestrated so many specifics, starting from their individual calls to Africa, to language training they each received through their school years, now used daily in their work. From bringing them together, to working out the timing so that all of their children could be born here in the States, before things fell into place over there. Not to mention the countless details like, the timing of buying and selling houses and vehicles, raising support, finding the right team to work with, and so much more. All along these were little re-assurances that God is in control, and that they were on the right path.
Seeing them over there, and having the privilege to go along a few times as they ministered, was awe inspiring! There is no greater peace in this world than being in the center of God’s will for you – and that was so obvious when we were with them! Elizabeth will tell you that she struggles greatly with fear and doubt, and must continually re-focus her mind on verses like:
Isaiah 26: 3-4 – You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on You! Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the Eternal Rock.
She certainly knows her own heart, but I can tell you that from someone looking in from the outside, God has given her great victory over those fears, and great confidence in Him. She seems fearless! She exudes peace and total trust in God! It is proof of the Truth in this verse: (Which she told me has become a favorite to her and John.)
2 Corinthians 12:9 – Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.
It is amazing to see two people, joined together in purpose, but so independently dependent upon God. Both of them are in their element – exactly where God wants them to be. Uniquely created for exactly what they’re doing! Sure, they’re homesick, but their focus is on a different home. An eternal home. They’ve chosen to spend this life, as we all should: living in obedience to Christ and working towards the goal of seeing as many men, women, boys, and girls come to a saving knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. May God honor their ministry with much fruit! It was such an inspiration to spend this time with them, and we hope to have many more opportunities to learn from them and their ministry.
Daaneesh & Teshi
While we were staying with John and Elizabeth we got to meet a number of people involved, in one way or another, with their life and work. I’ve already told you Mariama’s story. Now, I’d like to tell you about a couple we met. We’ll call them, Daaneesh (which means knowledge or wisdom) & Teshi. (which means “cheerful, full of laughter”)
I am so excited to tell you about Teshi, because she has been a gift from God to our beloved family! John and Elizabeth rent a house that is owned by another missionary couple. When they moved in, they were informed that Teshi is an employee of the property. If they wanted to rent the house, they were expected to employ her as well. They weren’t sure what to think of that, at first, but she turned out to be a God-send! Not only is her work invaluable to the family, but Teshi is a believer, and has become a dear friend and treasured sister to Elizabeth! She’s helped them learn the cultural quirks of the area, helped Elizabeth figure out practical ways to accomplish daily tasks in a foreign environment, aided her and John in their language study, become a beloved Aunt to their precious children, and just been an all-around helper! She lives life as Jesus did, always eager to serve others.
On top of all that, Teshi is so. Much. Fun! She is always, ALWAYS smiling, and her laugh (which rings out often) is contagious! Because they’ve become so close, we’d heard a lot about her before we ever stepped foot in Africa, but I wasn’t expecting to feel so instantly connected to her when we met. She was a kindred spirit! We don’t speak the same language, yet we were able to communicate enough to have some good laughs together, and connect over our shared love for Elizabeth and her children.
Teshi’s husband, Daaneesh, on the other hand, is one of the quietest people I’ve ever met. Exactly the opposite of his wife. (As is so often the case.) He is always watching silently, with a contented yet pensive smile on his face. When he does open his mouth to speak, wisdom pours out. He is a dedicated man of God who, much like Mariama, has given up much to follow Christ. He is currently in seminary, and serves as one of the pastors in the evangelical Christian church that John and Elizabeth have become a part of. Daaneesh came from a fairly well-off family (upper-middle-class-ish) with a religion that can best be described as an amalgam of some Muslim, a little bit of Catholic, and a lot of Animistic beliefs. When he heard the Gospel message and was saved, his family disowned him, and he lost all rights to his inheritance. He was thrust into the bottom of a caste system that is very difficult to climb out of!
The couple lives in a one-room apartment along with their darling 2-year-old daughter. (Not one bedroom. One room.) There is no kitchen, no bathroom; just a room with a bed, a table and some chairs, and a dresser. They own a small grill that they pull out into the hallway of the building to do all their cooking. Somewhere outside there is a pit toilet that is shared by everyone in the apartment building. They have, more or less, nothing, by the standards of this world. If he would simply turn from the Lord and follow the false religion of his family, they could have property, money and status. Yet they live in the truth that while they may be poor according to this world, they are storing up treasure in heaven, where moth and rust cannot destroy. We found ourselves challenged and inspired by their faith!
What a privilege it was to meet this couple! We got to spend quite a bit of time with them, including a day in the home of Teshi’s parents in the remote village where she grew up. (More on that next week!) They also came over to John and Elizabeth’s house one afternoon and I got to cook them an “American” lunch, although Teshi had a really hard time letting someone serve her. She kept coming into the kitchen while I was cooking and insisting that I let her do some of the work. And when it came time to clean up, she flat out kicked me out of the kitchen! Refused to let me help, let alone do it myself as I intended. I wish I had a video of us standing in the kitchen, each holding the end of a dishrag and pulling it back and forth between us. Me saying, “Let me help!”
And her pulling back and saying, “No!”
And me pulling back and saying, “Please!”
“S’il vous plait!”
Hahaha… I am smiling from ear to ear right now as I remember my friend and the way we laughed together that afternoon!
Later we all got to sit around and talk. (With John and Elizabeth serving as translators.) Both my love and I felt like we got a small glimpse of heaven that day. Brothers and sisters from very different parts of the world, united together under the cross of Christ. A deep, unbreakable bond, and a genuine love that is easy and natural despite the barriers of language or culture. It was just wonderful and I praise God for the experience. I praise Him for His church. She really is beautiful!
The Fish Market
Later that evening, Daaneesh accompanied me and Elizabeth to the fish market to help us navigate the chaos and show us how to pick out and buy some fresh fish. THAT was an experience I will never forget, and a highlight of the trip for me!!! I feel like I can still smell it a little if I think hard enough. The ripe odor of hard-working humans baking under the hot sun, mingled with the scent of the salty ocean breeze which mixed with the pungent aroma of thousands upon thousands of pounds of fish piled wherever you looked. I have never smelled anything quite like it.
What complete and total organized chaos there was on that beach. Hundreds of people everywhere you looked. Thousands of fish in every size, shape, and color in bins and baskets and Styrofoam coolers, or just piled together in the sand or on tables or blankets. As far as the eye could see were boats, and nets, and big beach umbrellas perched atop more little fish stands than I could count. Vendors clamored to get the attention of customers creating a constant deafening hum. Here someone wants to sell us their fish, there someone wants to sell us their services in cleaning and prepping our fish, this man wants to walk us around the market and look out for our safety, while that man assures us he has all the connections to the best vendors and will find us the best deal. (for a price, of course) It was terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time! An adventure like no other.
We stood at the top of a large stone staircase that descended to the beach, and Elizabeth looked out over the entire scene and said, “Look at that! Isn’t it beautiful?”
I looked at her like she was insane, but then I turned and looked again with fresh eyes, trying to see the beauty, and do you know what? It really was beautiful! The fishing boats coming into shore with the ocean and the horizon in the distance; the sea of umbrellas broken up by the vibrant colors of the women’s clothing. In its own unique way, that beach reminded me of my Savior: How he came to a world that probably looked and smelled a lot like that beach, (His disciples were mostly fishermen, after-all) and had compassion on the people. He looked out on the mess of humanity and saw beauty; broken beauty in need of redemption. He loved us, and gave His everything to see us saved. Yes, I could identify with my Savior when I looked out at that beach through the eyes of my beautiful, godly, tenderhearted, loving, and compassionate sister-in-law.
She saw people who needed Jesus, and that’s what she was there for – to give her everything to see them saved. She saw broken beauty in need of redemption. I’m so thankful for that moment at the top of those stairs with her! I’m so glad God placed us together right there and right then. I’m so grateful He gave me that glimpse into her heart and that view through her eyes, because as I looked out across the beauty, my eyes ultimately landed on her. As she stood admiring her beloved mission field, I saw the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen – the contented face of a radiant woman who is filled with purpose and passion – perfectly in line with God. How I love her! I praise God that I get to call her family!
*Come back next week to hear about our day in the village, the church service we got to attend, and each of our biggest take-aways from the trip. (Including the kids’!)
*How about you? Have you ever met someone who lived so in line with God’s purposes for her life? Have you ever spent time on the mission field? What did you learn?