Last week I shared with you some final stories from our big trip to Africa a little over two months ago, and promised to wrap up the series this week with some final thoughts and take-aways. As I told you last week, we’re about as sure as we can be (without the ability to see the future) that there is a lot more Africa in our future. How, and when that will happen – we have no idea. But we’re trusting God to lead us in His will and in His time. I’m going to close this series now telling you what our kids enjoyed most about the trip, and their biggest take-away, then my love’s most impactful moments and lessons, and finally my own wrap up of the whole thing. I hope you are blessed (as we were) by how God worked.
I asked each of the kids when we first got back what their favorite part of the trip was, and then I asked them all again yesterday. Obviously, getting to see our family over there, was the biggest highlight for all of us. But apart from that, when we first got back the kids said the trip to the village was their favorite, but the boys have now changed their answer to our afternoon at the safari park.
The safari park was one of two very touristy things we did while we were there, and it was really fun! I tell you, if zoos in America were like that, we’d go a lot more often! The animals ran wild through this sort of reserve that spanned hundreds of acres and we got to ride in the back of a truck as our guides drove us all over the park. We saw giraffes, and zebras, and all kinds of antelope, ostriches, rhinos, several kinds of monkeys, warthogs, water-buffalo, hyenas, a monitor lizard, and beautiful birds in all kinds of sizes and colors. A highlight was when the alpha male giraffe, who was HUGE, walked right next to our truck. If I had stuck my hand out, I could have touched him! Obviously, this was something special for the kids, and we all had a blast spending the day with John, Elizabeth, and their precious children, just having fun.
But my daughter (as well as my love) still says that the trip to the village was her favorite, and the boys agree it’s still way up there. I told you last week about Teshi, the young lady who works in the house John and Elizabeth are renting. She is a believer, and a wonderful friend to Elizabeth. Teshi grew up in a large Catholic family in a remote village. Her father is a rather prominent figure in the village. He owns quite a bit of land, likes to try new business ideas, and loves to learn about and meet new people. When he heard that John and Elizabeth had family coming to visit from America, he insisted that we all come spend a day with them in the village. We’re sure glad we did! What a life-changing experience!
Hospitality is such an important part of African culture. The generosity of the people puts us to shame here in America! This family (who would be middle class-ish over there) had very little by our standards. Their house had no running water, and no electricity. But what little they did have, they were eager to share with us! They prepared a huge lunch for us, which was one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever eaten in my life!
We spent most of the day sitting outside under a huge tree just outside the house. They brought out the mattresses from their beds and lots of blankets and laid them out on the ground for us to sit on. They had also gathered all the plastic chairs they could find (borrowing them from everyone they knew) so that some of us could sit in them, instead of on the ground. John told us that if we (or anyone) had asked to spend the night, they would have gladly offered us their beds and they all would have slept outside on the ground. More or less, they treated us like royalty, and would have done the same for anyone who was visiting. We were humbled by their selflessness!
Communication was difficult because apart from some very broken French, they spoke only a sort of tribal language that no one in our group understood except Teshi. John and Elizabeth spoke English and French, and of course, we spoke only English. So, there was a lot of back and forth attempts at translation, and also a lot of time spent in silence. Still, they were so thrilled we were there and Teshi’s father told us he was the only man in the village that had ever had white people (let alone white people from America!) visit him in his home. As the day went on, we realized what a novelty we were, as more and more people from the village stopped by and just stood around in big groups watching us, regularly taking out their cell phones (which every person has) to take pictures of us.
Despite the language, and cultural barriers, we had such a wonderful time together that afternoon! They had a small horse and gave all the children (and Teshi) rides around the property. We ate fantastic food, and talked and laughed so much. At one point the boys/men (and Teshi) found an old axle sitting on the ground by the fence and before we knew it a lifting contest had erupted. We all laughed and cheered together as the competition grew from a couple of little boys seeing who could get it off the ground to full grown men attempting to lift it over their heads with one hand. At another point, some of us Americans (and Teshi) decided to take a walk through the village to check it all out and stretch our legs. It felt like we had stepped into Bible times. Especially when we passed the village wells and saw the women gathering around to draw their water.
We learned a lot from that experience, which is the reason the kids considered it such a highlight. They said their biggest take-away from the trip was largely a result of that day in the village. The kids all told me that before this trip they had no idea how differently we live than people in other parts of the world. They feel overwhelmingly blessed to have been born in America and to have the comforts we enjoy here. But they also were very convicted by what they saw. They’re still processing what God might be asking of them, we all are! But their hearts have been stirred. They were thoroughly humbled by the generosity we experienced that day. They want to have the same attitude. To remember that everything we have belongs to the Lord and to hold it with open hands. Eager to give back whatever is asked of us.
This mamma couldn’t be prouder! Our kids blew me away on this trip! It wasn’t exactly a luxurious, relaxing vacation. It started with over 20 hours of travel time just to get there and then again to get home. While we were there, it was hot and uncomfortable a lot of the time. We were in an environment that felt very dirty and could have even seemed scary to a lot of people. The hot-water heater in our room didn’t work, so we had to take ice-cold showers the whole time we were there. We ate food that, while delicious, looked very different from what we eat here. We were on the move a lot, with 12 of us (15 on the 2-hour trip to the village) packed tightly into a 7-passenger vehicle, driving over bumpy dirt roads through the dessert much of the time. Our children didn’t complain one single time. And they have all declared it to be the “best vacation ever.” I’m so thankful they’re mine!
My love was probably more impacted by this trip than any of us! By the time we got home he was ready to sell everything we have and move over there tomorrow. It was quite the transformation, because when we first got there he experienced fairly intense culture shock, and worried we had made a mistake. On the drive from the airport to the small town where John and Elizabeth live, he felt overwhelmed by the poverty that was so visible everywhere we looked. But as the week progressed and we interacted more and more with the people and the culture, he found himself feeling such a connection to them. You see, people are the same, no matter where you go. We’re all a part of this same fallen world. Apart from Christ, we’re all lost souls in need of redemption. Whether we’re rich or poor; black, white, red, purple, or any color in between; our only hope is Jesus!
The area we visited happens to be hugely Muslim, and we were there during Ramadan. We were all burdened for these people, who have been blinded by the enemy through the lies of a false religion. We would lay in bed at night and listen to the eerie chanting of the “call to prayer” ringing out across the city from the local mosque. It certainly did call us to prayer… although likely not the prayer they intended. My love said he would lay there every night pleading with God for the souls of that community, asking Him to release them from the dark, oppressive forces we could feel all around us as those incantations echoed through the night. He asked God again and again, what He would have us do. It was a stirring in his heart like he’s never had before; a burden for those precious souls we had fallen so in love with. We’re still asking those questions. Still waiting for the answers, but confident that God will lead as we continually surrender fully to Him.
My Final Thoughts
The trip to the village was pretty cool, but for me, the highlight of the trip (by far) was the church service we got to attend with John and Elizabeth on Sunday morning. What a blessing those believers were to this weary heart! Y’all I am as sure as I can be that I experienced a little piece of heaven that morning as God’s people joined together in worship! How I wish I could capture even a tenth of their enthusiasm and pour it out in my own church when we sing! No one was complaining about how loud it was, (and it was LOUD!!) but instead, they each seemed determined to make it louder by clapping and dancing and singing at the top of their lungs. Smiles on every face, and hands lifted high in praise. Movement in every direction as they swayed and danced. It was breathtaking and beautiful and the best encouragement I could have received at that moment! My brain didn’t understand the words, since everything happened in either French, or the other national language, but my heart knew and worshipped our Lord right along with them. I fell even more in love with the body of Christ that morning. The beauty I saw as I looked around at people who live so far away from me, and so differently from me, saved by the very same grace that saved me; redeemed and covered by the same blood of Christ; joined with me forever as my brothers and sisters; it took my breath away! I praise and worship my God for His miraculous work all over the world! I stand in awe of Him!!! We all truly can’t wait to go back and see them all again!