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 to share a few more stories, and some of our final thoughts on the lessons we learned. 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 in a bit!) 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!
I asked each of our 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 still says the trip to the village was her favorite, and the boys agree it’s still way up there. I told you above about Teshi, the young lady who works in the house John and Elizabeth are renting. She 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. We were like a circus side show. Haha.
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 desert 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!