(The following blogs were written last summer while traveling via France to West Africa. They were originally posted on MySpace. I am intermittently reposting those not here.)
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
￼4 Days Before Departure
Monday marks the big day. I must admit that until now, I've not been overly excited as usual about international travel. Graduation for my youngest, excessive work hours, High Praise at Woodlawn (multiple weekday practices for this Friday evening concert), and life in general have kept me from focusing. As of now, I am focused! I shall do my best, depending on internet availability, to give you a day by day account of my travel to France and West Africa.
In previous blogs, I have ranted about Danny Rivers' message "Be The Church". I've also been a tad redundant with my continual blather about SOLO, our new Single Adult Ministry. Visiting the continent of Africa this year didn't really figure into my plans and I so love the mysterious ways of my God. When He dealt so heavily with me after Danny spoke, I responded by asking SOLO to take on raising funds for water wells in Africa. Drinking water is the source of death for multiplied thousands per year. Never did I dream I would possibly get to choose the villages I want to have fresh water wells dug in!
Those mysterious ways of God? My dear friend, celebrated Chef Fran Ginn (owner of Back Door Cafe) held a cooking class and all proceeds went toward our missions trip. She so eloquently told the story of her desire of missions travel to Honduras, and promptly assured us she "just wouldn't be going". We all howled in laughter as she explained her mammoth fear of lizards and how she does her missions right here by donating her time. Yet another mysterious way of God? A lovely lady that has been attending Woodlawn for less than a year, handed me an envelope last Sunday with a precious note explaining that she had wanted to be involved in missions. It contained $1000 toward the trip. I'd say God wants me in Africa.=)
Funny how things that would never interest you catch your eye in the most unusual settings. Memorial Day meant grilling, swimming, and total horseplay with my family. (I'm the one under the umbrella with a stack of magazines.) There was a beach ball being tossed around in a game of "don't let it touch the water". It bounced out of the pool and being the one "not in the water", I was the retriever. I was astounded to recognize the ball had the globe printed on it, and would you believe both Togo AND Benin, the countries we are visiting, were there? One country was too small for the letters so it was printed out in the Atlantic with an arrow pointing inland!
We arrive Paris, Tuesday morning, and meet the Adams from West Africa. Several in our party have not seen the City of Light, so we spend a couple nights there. I have done the major tourist-y things, so I shall try to "get lost" in the feel of the city that I simply will never get enough of. Gertrude Stein so aptly put it, "America is my country, Paris is my hometown".
Kristen and Steven Andrus, along with their children Brennan and Ashland are patiently awaiting our arrival. If my memory serves me correctly, February marked a year for them in Lome, Togo. Woodlawn is honored that both missionary families come from our church. We will be a part of services held in Togo, as well as Benin, help at the new Bible School under construction, and have some semblance of vacation Bible school for children.
My thrill will be going into the bush with ever seeking eyes for where to put those fresh water wells.
Monday, June 02, 2008
￼Travel Blog-Day 1
If there has ever been diverse traveling companions, the 11 in this group personifies it. There is moi, one husband wife team, Demetra and Jay Carney, Jerron Carney, Janette Wallace and Joyce Dykes (sisters to Jean Carney and aunts to the Carney men), their niece Whitney (my Tay's best friend), Tomeka Posey (a recent addition to Woodlawn), Scott Popec (new dean of Music at TBC), Selena (a high school graduate kin somehow to Janette and Joyce), and Kayla Gibson (granddaughter of missionaries we will be visiting.
I'm amazed at the dynamics of a group. In the loading of luggage, transportation to the airport, checking bags, and passing thru security, hierarchy has been established.=) It's quite comical.
I just consumed a bag of fresh beignets here in the airport. We are soon to board for Houston. We then fly out at 4 pm for a 8.45 am arrival to the city of Light. (1.45 am mississippi time=) I am anxious for my toes to hit French soil! Our hotel is just off the Champs Ellysees. You shall receive updates daily.
There are plans to visit the Louvre, train to Versailles, peruse the Notre Dame, all of which I have previoulsy done. I shall find a bridge (of which there are 23 spanning the Seine River) and just stand there. The bridges are one of my favorite things there. I have made an exectutive decision to blog from a bridge. I shall try to convey my feelings of this most beautiful of all cities.
Till my toes touch down...
Friday, June 06, 2008
￼Travel Blog-Day-Umm..I Have No Idea! FINALLY POSTED!!
Digressing to Monday am...
6 am-Wake up after a mere 4-ish hours of sleep. Zombie-like I pulled on the clothes carefully laid out because I knew I'd be cross-eyed from extreme weariness. (Will refer to weariness in future prose.)
7.30 am-Depart Woodlawn. Precious law-abiding Bro. Clark drove us to the Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans at warp speed of 55-(MAX) 65 mph. We wenr by way of McComb and down I-55 to avoid traffic on the Causeway/Covington. I'm sure it's time saving, but I also know we lost a couple of days in Paris because it took so long to get to the airport.!=)
12.30pm-Depart New Orleans.
4.05-Depart Houston for Paris.
9.5 hours later, we deplaned to an 8.45 am sunny Monday morning in lovely Pareeee' (with our American bodies registering about 2 am at home). The Adams were waiting as we cleared customs. We "bought" ourselves some euros and my eyebrows literally touched my HIGH hairline. Can you say "the dollar ain't worth diddly squat over here??!!"
I had forgotten the Metro stairs. Oh heavenly Father, the stairs. With our 3 day transportation passes in hand, it wouldn't have been so bad, but having been awake for what now felt like 3 days straight caused unadulterated hate of stepping up one more time. (Sure, I "slept" on the plane, but sleeping straight up with armrests digging into my sides that were designed for anorexic French women did not encourage REM sleep.)
We checked into Hotel Madeline Haussmann just around the corner from the Opera. Deep in the heart of the city with the Metro (subway) in sight is perfection. (The slight imperfection was that the hotel elevator is eccentric and performs only at odd times.) Here is where those who didn't obey the "light packing" advisements cursed. And loudly. Yes, I hauled my suitcase(s) up 3 flights because the French call the 1st floor 0-zero. Moans were emitted as we craved laying down, but the streets of Paris called.
With everyone ravenous we basically stopped at the first sidewalk cafe. I was aware of major price gouging if dining al fresco at sidewalk cafes (and vocalized it), but we were tired and hungry. And we left poor. I think at that point several were ready to go back to the place that offered "give me your tired, your poor , and your hungry! LOL. I tell you this in all seriousness. Those that ordered a "coke" payed 8 euros for it. Which translates into close to $14.00. Should I even mention what was paid for a hamburger that arrived with a beautifully fried egg atop it? Nah. I'll not divulge that bit of juicy info. The saving grace was that across the street was a lovely flower market and I simply adored the view.
The cokes and burgers (I know, I know) were soon forgotten as we climbed and descended some 82 more flights of stairs in the Metro. We walked the Tuileries (gardens of the royal palace) which is multi-leveled, meaning stairs. I am forever amazed at the symmetry and vision the French have for gardening. And statuary. And fountains. I felt as if I was overdosing on an addiction. That addiction being lovely ladies and naked gentleman posing proudly in all their marble, granite or limestone glory. And often in the center of a fountain. I personally forgot the stairs, airplane straight jacket seating, and malfunctioning hotel elevator as I absorbed the sights and smells of Paris.
Walking along the Seine perusing the street vendors made my guts smile. Soon enough, we were all posing with the Eiffel Tower behind us. Reactions of those at their first view was lovely. The long elevator ride to the top of the tower is disconcerting, but the views of this most beautiful city knock the breath out of you. The views are not of skyscrapers but of architecture, all centuries old and it causes you to realize just what a young pup America actually is. Spires, domes, gardens and fountains are in abundance. Full size trees in extensive rows that are trimmed into square full size tree-tall hedges go on for days. I stood there and wondered when and how you trim a 40 ft. tree to be squared on all sides and top.
We ended the evening with dinner in the Latin Quarter in a greek restaurant no less. The live music was extremely comical and I hit the streets while everyone finished their meal. I am ashamed that I cannot remember the french word for raspberry, but I had a cone of raspberry gelato that would make the staunchest CIA agent beg.
By 10 pm the entire group was walking as if they were 89 years old. And we still had to navigate the land of stairs to return to our hotel. Have I mentioned anything about stairs? We are now pushing 20+ hours of no sleep and still climbing up and down stairs. Many were delirious with everything funny to some, nothing amusing to others.
Back at the hotel around 10.30 pm and I had got my second wind. Having been to Paris on previous occasions, I simply didn't want to waste an evening, and it was entirely too early to retire. Four of us took off to Monmartre, my favorite area in the city. Sacre' Couer, a massive white limestone church, is situated high on a hill on the outer edges of Paris and there you have lofty views of the Eiffel tower and city lights. A genius had a ski-like lift installed that bypasses some 2000 (excuse the slight exaggeration=) steps to the perfect viewing area. We meandered up and down streets, watched the artists paint and stopped in to listen to a pianist while having a crepe filled with Nutella (a chocolate hazelnut paste). We closed the pub down and headed back to our hotel. At this point, were walking like we needed walkers!
We rounded a corner and the Eiffel Tower was blinking! I was unaware that at the turn of the new millennium blinking lights were attached from top to bottom for the celebration. It was such a huge hit that every hour on the hour for 10 minutes the tower has white lights flashing, almost reminding you of a Christmas tree that boldly blinks in no set pattern. It is indescribable! I think the biggest assumption by those that have not viewed the tower is their perception of it's size. It's so massive that most pictures are taken from far away so as to get the whole thing in the picture. Trust me, it's gargantuan.
After a few hundred more steps we made it back to the hotel around 2 am. I am a day behind as our schedules have been chock full. Here's a promise of full disclosure, well, almost full, to come.
Travel Blog-Day 3
(Written sitting in the airport waiting to plane to W. Africa, aggravated that internet is not available.)
Four of our group, not including the Adams, has previously visited Paris. Hence a touristy agenda was called for. The plan of the day was to train to Versailles (the "country palace" of Marie Antoinette), and having previously made the trek, I chose to get lost in the city.
When I laid my head down last evening, I was positive my internal alarm would awake me early, regardless of the fact that I'm living 7 hours ahead of CST. I forgot to turn on my internal alarm OR I turned it off when it sounded.=) Someone banged on the door at 9.30 am (which was 2.30 pm at home may I remind you) and I was shocked at the time when awakened.
Paris has recently placed numerous bicycle rental stands all over the city, and with a deposit, you may ride for 1.5 hours no charge. Anything more, you pay 1 euro per hour. I was quick to advise all that I would be up because of my internal alarm, and planned on cycling around in the early morn. That internal alarm malfunctioned. We didn't leave the hotel till 10, because my weary body didn't cooperate with my mind.
Janette, Whitney and I wanted to see a Marie Antoinette exhibit at Grand Palais, dine somewhere memorable, and shop, all before a late evening dinner cruise on the Seine River with the group. We took the Metro, was completely lost in a matter of minutes, but happened upon exquisite shopping none the less.
When I squealed they were sure I'd been mugged. There it was, a dream that I never considered possible, The Grand Colbert. Anyone familiar with the movie "Something's Gotta Give"? Remember Diane Keaton's favorite haunt? Her birthday dinner with the divine, tall, skinny, sparkling candles on the oh so French birthday confection? Her line was "there's this little place behind Palais Royale, the Grand Colbert, that I just love".
Three foot diameter pots on the bar held palms that touched the 20 foot ceiling. The music was French, a much improved change from most dining establishments. They LOVE American music in France. Place settings sparkled and the staff pulled the table away from the banquet setting for easy access. The privacy glass between booths was etched and a lipped silver coaster housed our water bottle. Large olives (non-pitted) were brought in a ramekin with toothpicks tucked to the side. Need I describe more? My braised beef accompanied by herbed potatoes melted on my tongue. Lunch at the Grand Colbert IS the highlight of my Parisian stay.
After our gourmet lunch fare, I was better oriented. We caught the Metro to the Grand Palais and was wowed by Madam Marie Antoinette's life. Her writing desk, Serves china, silk embroidered fabrics for cushions, a harp commissioned by her Mother for her personal use all are beyond imagination. She lived quite the life. Sadly it ended tragically and quite young.
I was light on my feet so as to get the window seat on the barge for our late evening dinner cruise. It doesn't get dark till close to 10 pm. The Seine River winds through Paris, is narrow and 23 bridges span it throughout the city. Each bridge is named and is a work of art in itself. Pont de Alexander is the most famous with it's gold leafing on the statues and arches. The dinner cruise was approximately 3 hours with stunning views of the Eiffel Tower and multiple bridges. (See photo album of Paris for pictures.)
We ended the evening with a walk that included, God help us, the longest staircase yet. Justin Ward, a minister/missionary from Texas attending culinary school in Paris was our guide to a lofty, perfectly symmetrical view of the sparkling Eiffel Tower. I stood quietly with all senses honed trying to indelibly imprint my mind with this scene. All the while gasping for breath from the quick climb.
Our last evening was coming to a close.
Someone's Metro pass kept denying access, and while they waited for a new one to be printed I went up ahead, put on my sunglasses, laid money on the floor in front of me as if begging, and began doing my best Stevie Wonder impersonation. Subway tiles make for really good acoustics and "Isn't she lovely! Isn't she wonderful....." rang loudly. I had the head sway going well and someone gave me some coins.=) Whitney recorded me with her camera and I'm sure to get famous on youtube I've no doubt.
I packed with a heavy heart, yet excited to step foot on a new continent the next day...
Friday, June 06, 2008
￼Travel Blog-Day 4
(Written in hotel room in Lome, extremely frustrated because I paid for internet without being told it would not work again till morning!)
Woodlawn hosted High Praise Worship Arts Conference last week and what a roaring success it was. As staff, we made lists of things NOT to do next year to make things more perfect. I now have a list of things NOT to do when traveling with a group in Paris. =) Never, ever take the subway to and from the airport because: 1. You will climb and descend more stairs than you thought existed in the universe. 2. Suitcases are the equivalent of large warts on your nose and you decide you will do anything to be rid of them, even just wear whatever you have on your person and purchase a toothbrush. 3. Early morning means FULL Metro cars with commuters that do not understand when all 13 of your group is on the same stairwell laboring to pull overstuffed suitcases up multiple flights of stairs. And the commuters walk at a full clip and are late to work. And you are definitely in their way. 4. Medium sized cases, especially oversized ones do NOT go through the turnstiles and your backpack will be caught while on your person when the gate thingy shuts! At that point, ya ain't goin' nowhere. 5. Should by some freak accident you board the wrong train, all 13 have to get back off, climb the demon possessed stairs up and down yet again to find the correct train. (Are you remembering that all the trains are stuffed full of rushed commuters?) It truly was comical, unless you were one of the 13.=)
We arrived at Charles De Galle Aeroport with 2 hours and 40 minutes till take off. I actually enjoyed it after realizing it was perfect timing to work on my blog.
6 pm-Arrive Lome, Togo, West Africa
Until we boarded a bus to be transported to the terminal, I thought we were the only plane to land at the airport. I spotted just one more. It was dusk with few streetlights. We passed through customs with no hitches, collected our luggage and soon were in an air conditioned van on our way to the hotel. Within seconds of passing through the gate exiting the airport, the most intense culture shock of all my born days ensued. Motorbikes missing either front or back lights crisscross continually all around you. It's first come first serve in all lanes. But you aren't sure what a "lane" is as there are no lines nor traffic signals on the asphalt/dirt roads. Wait, I saw one traffic light. There are small compact cars, a few large delivery type trucks, but mostly motorbikes in a city of 700,000 plus. And according to the missionaries, no one drives at night. Ha. I spotted a woman with several large pieces of wood, seemingly splintered pieces of 2 x 4's balanced on her head.
I am faltering here trying to come up with words to describe what I saw in transit to our hotel. I'm told it has rained daily for a week, the reason for so much water standing in the intersections. Pictures of this would make the front page of my hometown newspaper and be called a flash flood. Yet we drove right on through. As did the motorbikes. There are vendors lining the sidewalks with flames of some type oil lamp for light. And while I'm trying to view the sidewalks, there are no less than half a dozen motorbikes vying for a spot in front of our van. They do not look, they just pull out. And the van swerves to miss them. Again, no one drives at night here! I simply cannot imagine tomorrow when they all do decide to drive.
Our hotel is beautiful with manicured grounds and the sound of the ocean rolling in. We are at Hotel Sarakawa on the Atlantic Ocean. We dined this evening under a lovely gazebo with the sounds and smells of the ocean blowing in. I had Sole Mienuere (pan fried fish) and rice pilaf. Their Coca-Cola "Light" basically tastes like flat Diet Coke from a 2 week old 2 liter with no lid.=) But it was wet, and cool with 3 or so cubes of precious ice.
I shall retire for rest, but the sights of the city keep rolling through my head. I've not seen this country in daylight and am aching to do so. Tomorrow I will record with my camera the things I've tried to describe to you. And I also get to see the drivers. All those who don't drive at night.
***p.s. How I ever forgot to mention this I have no idea. After discussion with Pastor Adams, he was extremely pleased to hear that SOLO wants to put fresh water wells here. When I inquired about the location, he said that churches that have wells gain favor with the government and officials and it's very advantageous to the missionaries in many ways. He will take me to where wells are needed and I will have a pictures and a full report of where they will be placed!
Travel Blog-Day 5
I'm one confused female. Should I blog about going to the bible school site? The church service I just attended? The Lebonese food I so enjoyed today? Pastor Adams and his amazing success here in Togo? My visit to Steven and Kristen's lovely home? The Cantrell's who are AIMer's and left a 2 month old grandson in Texas 9 months ago? The Ellis' from Brookhaven, MS who are overseeing the building of the Bible School?
I just made the executive decision to give you a once over of my day, and do future in-depth blogs from the afore mentioned.
When I woke up in Lome, Togo, West Africa I walked straight to the window. Last night was PITCH black from the power being cut off. (I learned that to conserve energy the power is literally shut down in various, random parts of the city with no forewarning. I assume this hotel runs on generators or has an agreement with some high falutin' official because the hotel had power but none across the street nor to the sides. The power is purchased from neighboring Ghana. Yeah, that Ghana. (I took a picture today of the Andrus' generator, which they have not always had. It means they can at least have lights when the power goes. Kristen was so thankful and quick to mention that T.L. Wallace Construction had provided it.)
Back to walking to the window...There is a lovely view of stucco looking buildings with tall palms swaying in the ocean breeze. I did not expect the Mediterranean influence. Not many 3 story buildings, rarely 2 story ones. It's when your eyes light on the ground that you are shocked. Red clay mud everywhere, and gooey from the rainy season. It was raining when we left the hotel, but soon cleared. There aren't puddles here. There are full size fishing ponds in the intersections. This massive city has no sewage system nor garbage disposal system either. The streets tell the tale. The incredibly accommodating missionaries were able to rent a "bus" as Brennan (the Andrus' 6 year old son) calls it. It's a tad bigger than a van, not quite a bus. And the streets are crawling with "moto's" (motorcycles), an Ashland (their 2 year old daughter) word. There are 3 people per bike quite often. We saw five. I have a picture of a mattress folded in half and strapped to the back of one.
Everyone is selling something. It reminds me of a chaotic flea market, maybe one you'd find on the Biloxi beach the day after Katrina. You don't see masses just walking, they are all manning a rickety, makeshift stand of some sort. From hub caps to roasted chickens, it's for sale on the sidewalks. I can't figure out who they sell to. I'm told that with 700,000 here there is a need for all this stuff. But you don't see people walking the street with shopping bags. Many walking have a 3 ft. diameter dishpan looking thing balanced on their head, usually women, sometimes men, but much more rare. And it's piled higher than any Pentecostal hairdo I've ever witnessed. There is usually a netting of some sort around the wares in their head pots. Ranging from bananas to cell phone covers, many peddle from atop their head. Several women had a 16" square box with plexi glass sides on it balanced right on top. I finally got close to one only to realize it's pastries. Some fan a fire right on the mud sidewalk with large natural colored fans to keep it hot while roasting corn cobs. The biggest shocker is the cell phone stands. Most have no electricity, mud floors, and a poorly painted sign advertising cell phone cards. They love cell phones and purchase minutes at these stands. I'm truthful when I tell you they are stands on every corner AND between the corners. They may live in a shanty, but they have a cell.
The bible school sight is 20 minutes out of town. I was so choked up the entire time we were there that had someone said Boo, I'd have broken down. I didn't know until my arrival that Woodlawn has been fully responsible for building this school. There is a 1/2 mile long block wall surrounding the 3.5 acres with a front and back gate. I will post pictures of this wall. I'm guessing it's about 10 foot tall and here's the kicker. Each and every block was MADE on site. I asked how. They showed me a metal frame where sand, rocks and concrete are poured in, allowed to set up, then placed on the wall. The blocks are made close to the wall so as to not have to haul them. There is no heavy equipment. 140 loads of dirt were brought in for footings and foundation, and each load was shoveled by hand into this foundation. The school will consist of 8000 square feet including the dormitories. I asked if this school was the way to win this country, and the answer was a resounding YES. The nationals (locals) would never understand having a white pastor. These missionaries are pastors to the pastors. They teach these men (and 1 woman who had the highest average for this school year) how to pastor thriving, growing churches. Bro. Adams arrived 12 years ago with 8 churches established, and there are now 38 works and 28 "preaching points" in Togo alone. (A preaching point being somewhere that church is held, but not on a weekly basis.) There will be a printing room for printing their own curriculum and tracks, and the Togo National church offices will be moved to the school. Right now, classes are held in a church and they have to take turns as there is only one classroom. Pastor Adams and Bro. Steven Andrus teach. 14 men and 1 woman attend and when they graduate and they immediately return to their village to either assist at or start their own church. At completion of the new bible school, they will be able to house 32 students. An outdoor type kitchen will be at the back of the dorms and a large "lobby" area. I'm told this is where they will prepare and cook their own meals.
An amazing thing I saw on the way in to the bible school was a sewing shop. Three women were on the porch of a shanty sitting at black and gold pedal driven sewing machines. I inquired and learned they take in sewing for people in the village.
The new school needs a well. I have been under the assumption that the first well SOLO had dug would be in a village. I am going to present to the class the suggestion that our first well be at the bible school. From then, my burden is to put them in villages on church grounds so the missionaries have favor with the "chief".
I'm aware this has not been a once over of my day as promised, but I simply had share all this. Next is my first church service in a third world country.
And I'm going to cry while typing...
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
￼Travel Blog-Day 5 Evening
My heart felt like a water balloon being filled from a spigot. I was just sure at some point it would burst and I'd dissolve into a large puddle. When I stepped off of the bus, tears flowed. Earlier, the bible school site had done me in, and when I saw the church building, the moto's leaning against the building, and heard the singing, tears dripped from my chin.
I have a house, car, church, health, etc. These people have shanty's, lucky ones own a moto, they walk forever to get to church and 3000 children die DAILY in Africa from malaria caused by mosquito bites. But the sweetest, purest worship flows from them. How do I improve their world and continue living what's consider a "normal" life at home? I will start by helping provide clean water. And bicycles for village pastors. And mosquito nets that a family of 4 can sleep under.
We drove for what seemed like an hour, well it was an hour, through the teeming city of Lome. Jerron said everywhere you go is like going to the sandbar on the back rack of a 3 wheeler. I couldn't have said it better. It's nerve racking being continually jostled, knocked around, and hitting your head on the window of the vehicle. When we stepped inside the church, the music was so loud you could feel it in your chest cavity. I knew not a word. But I just couldn't quit weeping. One of the missionaries mentioned that if the PA is not squealing, they don't think it's anointed. Lol. They had it working grandly while 4 plus people had mikes and were all singing something different. There were bongos, stainless steel bowls with rings piercing the sides to form a tambourine, drum set, keyboard and various noise making objects. And they all made their own joyful noise to the Lord. When service begins the ladies line up in front of the band and one begins to sing. She starts singing with no music and after a bit of pecking, the keyboardist finds the key she is in. Most songs are sung with just keyboard for a couple verses then the drums join in. And every time on every song I was amazed at the rhythm. It's a haunting, obviously African beat. Seeing worship from these people to our Most High God is transforming. They sing with eyes closed and smooth movements. Even the smallest children move to the beat. There is wide open space in front of the pulpit with the chairs set far back. It took me a bit to figure it out. Within minutes I knew. They exit their pews and in procession they "march" as if a large dragon at a parade for the Chinese New Year, only not connected. Their steps are mostly slow, sometimes at a clip, according to the music. The ministers go first and they circle the perimeter of the open area in front of the stage. They eventually weave around and in and out with each person following the next. Reminds me of walking thru a maze and playing follow the leader all at once. Ministers wives, men, then women in the audience all form a line and repeat the process. It's what's to come that gets you.
The median age for life expectancy in West Africa is 47 years. I think possibly this is the reasoning behind such seriousness in worship by the children. Is a short life the reason they are so responsive so young? Is it that they have nothing else in their lives that gives joy but Jesus? They then form their own line and began to "march" in worship, I am deeply touched. They move beautifully to the drum beat and I sat and wondered what they would think of Woodlawn Gap Kids church. To whom much is given, much is required and I'm proud to say that though our cultures differ by worlds, God has blessed and we have given much to His kingdom by way of our children and to foreign missions. Pastor Carney will be the first to say that children are the church of tomorrow, and we are in process of hopefully building a children's center in the near future. The majority of churches here are a direct result of someone witnessing to Pastor Adams on the job and he being baptized and filled with the holy ghost in little ole' Columbia, Mississippi.
The women carry their little ones on their back, in a sling type thing called a pagne (pawn-yay). They take the child by the arm and literally sling them over their shoulder then tie a large piece of brightly colored fabric over the baby. The child's feet are wrapped around the mother's sides and stick out from the wrap. The ladies sit and breast feed right in the pew. Jenny Cantrell, AIMer here in Togo, told me of a picture she took of a mother at the altar with hands raised, weeping, and a child leaned around her side and breast feeding. By service end, as in every country in the world I think, kids are sprawled on the floors or sleeping on the narrow pews, which are nothing more than a backless bench.
Three florescent lights hang in the rafters and one ceiling fan turns above the platform area for the ministers. It's hot and your clothes are sweated down. But when you leave you have witnessed a mind blowing revelation that no matter who, what, when, where, God shows up when there is worship from His people.
Travel Blog-Day 6-The Village
I knew all along we were going to see "a village church", and was excited about that fact until we attended church in the city. I then knew it would be a much more unsettling experience.
We drove through miles of poverty and filth that you simply cannot fathom then turned off the "road" toward the village. There was lush foliage and pineapples growing all the way up to the road. Massive mango trees are pretty common, bougainvilla grows wild, and there is a bright orange tree called a flamboyant tree that is exactly like a mimosa in Mississippi, just not pink. It's unfair to even call it a road when it's the equivalent of navigating Red Bluff in a golf cart, just on flat land. The ruts are huge and deep and you are just sure the bus is going to tip on it's side. And every time Missionary Adams visits one of these churches, he takes this road. I shall never take even a half way decent road for granted again. We plowed some 8-10 miles into the bush and arrived at a church that is pastored by one of the brothers from the city church. We were asked to wait at the church till Pastor Adams could go locate someone from the church family. Within minutes, there were 25 or so villagers swarming us. They had never seen that many white faces at once in their lifetime. The church had no electricity, running water, nor bathrooms. But it is a thriving work. Steven Andrus explained that the pastor rides a bike here from the city each week to hold service. A bicycle. I asked if all the pastors of village churches had bikes. He told me no, but when this pastor graduated last year from the bible school, he wrote a letter and asked for help to purchase one. He raised 12,000 francs which is about $30.00 and the Togo National Church paid for the rest. You can guess my next question. Is there a need for bikes? Steven laughed. He explained that they simply don't have a $100 to purchase each graduating pastor a bike. They received letters from 3 students who graduated this year with a dire need for a bicycle. I also imagine you have guessed that I'm raising money for bicycles. So pastors can ride untold miles, in unforgiving conditions to spread His precious word.
(While sitting in a lovely air conditioned room the day before my departure, the lady doing my pedicure who knew of my trip here, told me she'd like to donate a manicure/pedicure/eyebrow wax to be raffled off and the money go to Missions In Africa. I cannot wait to tell her that we are going to buy bicycles for the graduating pastors with the funds raised! She will be ecstatic.)
There are goats roaming around the village, in the same fashion as dogs in America. Chickens peck at nothing in the red dirt. And the children smile hugely at you after their first initial shyness. I took a couple of pictures of them on my digital camera and showed them the screen. After that point, I had a following to that would rival Paris Hilton in Vegas! Lol. On my return to this most haunting country, I will pack even lighter, yet my suitcase will be heavier. All I had was a package of gum in small travel purse. I tore each piece into the smallest possible strips and passed it out. It was as if I was giving away $100 bills. My guess is that not one had ever tasted Big Red. I was worried that the cinnamon may be too hot, but I only saw smiles and huge chewing motions. And more small palms lifted begging for more. I had to show them the empty packages to be able to move.
The shantys are small. Some have porches, the nicer ones have block walls with thatched roofs. Some are just 4 poles stuck in the ground from trees they hacked down and topped with palm fronds. But they were elated to see us. I noticed a girl of about 10 take off running away from us. She returned promptly in a filthy peach and white dress that she changed into for our visit. She dressed up for us. Many of the children have never left their village. The adults may go toward town to buy food, but kids do not go. One site that sticks in my mind is of a mother laying on a bench and a child standing on the ground in front of her nursing. She was sleeping soundly and this child was nursing happily standing on his feet. Most kids have on clothes, though too huge or too small. Many we saw had nothing on. And they grin and wave with no thought whatsoever of their nakedness.
A man walked up with a baby girl of about 4-5 months old. (You know the girls because they all have pierced ears and mostly wear only dresses.) I asked to hold her, and he began chattering to me. Pastor interpreted that her Mother had died and he wanted me to take her to America. He was begging me to take her. In their minds, America is all wealth, health and perfection. (And compared to here, it definitely is.) I won't even begin to assume that I can convey to you my emotions over this exchange. I walked around and held her while she stared at me with bright eyes.
We gathered and had prayer over this village. The people are reverent and are very still while Pastor Adams prayed, and then it was time to go. They literally chased the bus till they could run no more. A throng of kids all laughing, hollering yo-vo! Yo-vo! (White person! White person!.)
Thursday, June 12, 2008
￼Travel Blog-Day 7
Our Last Church Service
I told Jerron I would not give him credit for saying this, but here goes. We split into 2 groups and went to separate churches on Sunday morning. Myself, Meka, and Scott went with Jerron to Pastor Koffi's (ko-fee'). And when we pulled away from the church, Jerron said, "That's the POA (Pentecostals of Alexandria) of Lome!"
This was my 3rd African church service, and definitely my favorite. (I had instant reservations about typing that in the blog for fear of the other pastors reading it, then died laughed at myself. How in the cat hair would they? Not with any internet connection I had while there! Not to even mention they certainly don't have a computer! And to think that the Adams' and Steven and Kristen deal with sketchy internet 24/7. I will call their names earnestly and daily for the rest of my days.)
We rode with Steven in his horse and buggy across trails that seemingly had never been blazed on the western frontier. Believe it or not, it was rougher in his 4WD than on the bus. Only difference was there were tons of dark-skinned, bright-eyed people on the sides of the roads and billions of buzzing moto's racing with Steven as if we were at Talladega. We were late from having to get all our luggage transferred to leave for Benin, the next country.
Close to 250 gathered in this large block building that had no doors (if so, they were standing wide open and I simply don't remember them), no lights on, a blaring, squealing PA, and over half the church was children. There were 3 ceiling fans and I'm told that a former lady missionary Elsie Lund purchased the fans for this work. The little ones all sat in the front half of the church. I'm assuming this was because it was Sunday and their from of Sunday School.
This would be the church you'd go to for special occasions were you able to visit other churches. Kristen tells me Brennan asks if they are going to Bro. Koffi's each and every Sunday morning. That boy knows a good thing when he sees it. There was a testimony service which is actually a song sung by whomever gets up, and the congregation joins in after the keyboardist finds what key she is in. Just before Jerron preached (he did truly superb, though with an interpreter) the choir lined up. Had I the funds, Woodlawn would experience this choir. Beautiful, haunting melodies in perfect harmony with only bongo drums accompanying is indelibly imprinted on my mind.
I spent most of the service moving around with a video camera. I took footage of Jerron preaching, the choir, the children's worship, breast feeding mothers, kids eating spaghetti-looking something out of a small black garbage bag (their version of a ziplock), and the church grounds. All to soon we had to leave. We had a rendezvous with the rest of the group for our trek to Benin.
When we exited the building, Pastor Koffi followed and led us to a small building just beside the church. They had cold drinks for us in a small basket sitting in the middle of the floor. As an American, you envision drinks on ice. These were drinks obviously bought in advance of service just for us and they were simply delicious, though lukewarm. I told the pastor, who was also the interpreter and spoke English incredibly well, that I was impressed with his hospitality room! He explained it was the "Mike Ellis Room" and pointed to where he had painted that on the wall. Mike is a contractor from Brookhaven, MS and he and his wife are there overseeing the building of the bible school. He pride in this was that Mike had helped him build this "study room". There was not a stick of furniture in it, but he beamed about it as if I had just installed $20,000 worth of furnishings.
We pulled away in Steven's vehicle with A/C blaring, all discussing the service, and my heart was heavy with the knowledge that was my last African service for who knows how long. How does Pastor Adams come to America, walk into Woodlawn and not absolutely detest us? When it's too cold in the church, we are vocal. When the PA is not perfect, many squawk. When the soundtrack skips, we're mortified. How does he keep a balanced mind concerning us? I am truly aware that cultures differ. But this literal and figurative continent division HAS to be painfully hard to keep in perspective.
On to Benin...
Travel Blog-Day 7 & 8-Benin
We met the rest of the crew at the hotel, changed clothes from sweating down at "Sunday School" and was on the road to the neighboring country, Benin by 12 pm. We left our services early and I was trying to figure out why the huge rush. The missionaries had packed us a lunch to eat on the bus. They told us it was only a 2 hour drive to Benin where we would be able to relax for a much needed "down-time" day. My perception was that we had been to the 3 services in as many days, took a day trip out to the villages, visited the bible school site, had dinner at both missionary homes and were now foot loose and fancy free. Why the rush? Why eat on the bus? There was a cooler on the bus, no, not full of ice, but the frozen plastic water-filled containers for keeping things cool. We passed around a container of pineapple, mango, avocado and all had a can drink. (Have I mentioned the fruit? Dear heavenly Father it's like pure sugar! Nary a piece of fruit in the USA is as sweet.) We stopped at a store and most were afraid of the food, but some of us had a croissant with sausage inside, their version of our pig in the blanket. Steven had bought croissants and Kristen brought delectable cream cheese spread, which I got a kick out of. It was my favorite brand from here in the states. The Laughing Cow Creme Cheese containers in french cracked me up. I can only imagine some snooty french madame peering down her nose in disdain at the stupid "American Laughing Cow" fromage (cheese)! (And if you've never tried it, it's in the "gourmet section" beside the deli at Wal-Mart. Delish.=)
Reality dawned soon enough when we reached the Togo border. We had to fill out papers to leave, which I found incredulous. We then entered what is called "no man's land". It's an area between the countries that is holy chaos. Here they searched whomever, whatever their hearts desired. You take your passport to a policeman who is sitting under an outdoor porch type area of what I assume is a government building. Then you sit down on a rickety bench and wait till they decide it's your turn. Pictures are forbidden. People butt in line, there are goats bleating right behind you, cars, buses, and trucks are stopped in the middle of the road in any haphazard way they please. At this point, you have nowhere to hide. "No Man's Land" is Disney World to the 1,000,000 car sales men of West Africa. You are continually accosted by men desperate to sell you something. Want a cell phone cover with silver stars? A wife beater? A suit for your 3 year old son? Whole grilled fish? A Rolex watch? A Gucci wallet? A Tom & Jerry comic book? It's available. And if you make the mistake of slightly making eye contact with one, or even glancing the way of any said item, they are on you like ants on honey. That meaning 10 in 1.0 seconds flat.
You finally tire of sitting on the bench, so you move around, only after being unforgivingly rude to the car salesmen. They absolutely do not understand no, thank you. It's sweltering hot on the bus, and you are told in an hour plus that you are allowed to leave Togo. On to the next stop which is about a 1/2 mile to Benin customs. Here we had to wait on visas while dodging car salesman, goats, etc. You get the picture. We were able to obtain Togo visas in advance because of our length of stay. But we only needed a transient visa for Benin because our time there was to be only 48 hours. In yet another hour, we were on our way, in our second West African country. I found it to be beautiful. The road was a tad better, the scenery breathtaking. We passed fishing villages where they live in huts out over the water. Can you say mosquito heaven? I told them this was the Almafi Coast of Africa. It was truly beautiful.
We arrived Ouida, the birthplace and voodoo capital of the world. Thankfully, we drove straight on thru. The town was cleaner but still extremely poor. We stopped for pictures at a massive monument for the "The Door Of No Return". Benin was governed by the Portuguese, and I apologize for my lack of knowledge, but this was where the slave trade began. When one tribal village overtook another, they sold them off as slaves. This was the port where the Portuguese loaded them on boats. It's a hauntingly sad place.
We turned onto a road, which was the beach. I'm telling you, we drove in sand on the beach for 20 or so minutes. There were sporadic thatched huts on the beach side of the road with fishing boats laying on their sides. We arrived to Casa Del Papa, a resort that would price out at $750/night on Maui. You'd weep if I told you just what we paid per night. Yellow cabins with a porch faced the endless, roaring Atlantic Ocean, all connected with a running boardwalk. Rows of massive palm trees swayed in the stiff breeze between you and the ocean. It was as much a culture shock to walk into this paradise as it was to leave the gates of the airport the first time in Lome. The cabin had connecting doors and consisted of 2 private bedrooms that opened to the front porch. Pristine, with white walls and vintage Air France poster for artwork, they were perfect photo shoots for a Pottery Barn catalog. With clean line, dark wood tester beds, sleek linens and a "wet room" bath, I could have simply stayed a month. There was a/c but who prefers that over the breeze off the Atlantic?
We dined under a large thatched roof pavilion with a wait staff that had giant smiles. The fish, I had bar, was fresh from the ocean. I'm told Casa del Papa is popular with Europeans in the high season. Americans would disdain it only because reaching it is hugely inconvenient. There were 3 pools and if you looked up as if needing something they jumped. Small low, domed open huts were positioned out on the beach far enough apart that you were in solitude. They brought me a chaise lounge and I put down roots. (I made the remark were I fabulously wealthy I'd come in by copter, because return I would!)
And all the while my mind is reeling from knowledge of what is a couple hours away. I know my mind was playing tricks on me. Yes, it was divine having all the amenities, but somehow I kept returning in spirit to the sights and sounds of Lome.
I awoke to an odd swishing sound, even over the roar of the crashing white caps. I got up to see a small African woman with a baby strapped on her back sweeping the sand. Literally sweeping any footprints out of the sand between the cabin and the beach. I inquired and it was work, which she obviously enjoyed. Breakfast buffet was again served under the pavilion and I couldn't wait to hit the beach. We had been non-stop since leaving the previous Monday, and this leisurely Monday was sorely overdue.
The four missionary couples, and Steven and Kristen's children all went with us. I was so glad to see them get this respite. (I figured out that they weren't all scheduled to go with us but Jay and Jerron made it happen.) Demetra, with her heart of pure gold, did manicures and pedicures on the missionary ladies. She sat on the tiled floor up by the pool and the ladies were treated to some pampering. I went to the concession and brought them bottled drinks. I wish that had been my idea.=) We only saw one other couple at breakfast the next morning. Other than that, we "yo-vo" missionaries had the resort to ourselves. Kristen brought kites for the kids, and us older kids enjoyed them as much as Brennan and Ashland. The surf was strong, but Bro. Adams fought it for large shells for his grand daughter, Kayla. I slept for a couple hours on my chaise under my little hut. We spread out each claiming our own little thatched dome, everyone had books and simply chilled out. I sat outside after dinner late that evening on our porch and blogged with my travel candle lit. It was pitch black save the landscape lighting positioned half way to the water. You could hear the roaring ocean but not see a living thing.
I loved getting to know Jenny Cantrell from Kansas City, Kansas. She and her husband Ken are AIMer's and will return to the states in August in time for their first grand baby's 1st birthday party. When she left he was a very young 2 months old. They are waiting on appointment to Birkena Fasa, the country to the north of Togo I believe. During the mani/pedi session I discovered she and I have strong constitutions (meaning large feet). I wore home one pair of shoes and left her all I took. What kind of sacrifice is that? None. I can go to Payless any given day of the week a mere 1/2 mile from my home. She arrived in Togo 6 months ago with 1 suitcase. We all left anything that could be of use. Sunscreen, bobby pins, lotions, the guys left all their ties and dress shirts, the women their clothes, etc. How do you repay someone for giving up the life we live here in exchange for African life? I know we can't repay in any way, but we surely can do our part to make life as easy as we can for them.
Our departure time of 9 am from paradise came wayyyy too early. We left a bit more rested, yet sincerely anxious to get home. Back in the hot bus, over hill over dale to Lome where we were to fly away home....
Travel Blog-Day 9-Headed Home
Previous to my eyes opening Tuesday, I was groaning. I had been a tad under the weather Monday evening and when I woke it was to abdominal pain. I got up and walked straight out to the water. I was trying to soak in the feel of the beach, ocean, calmness of spirit, knowing we were beginning a LONG journey home.
We met at 9 am and had prayer before beginning. How elated we were to be headed to the grand US of A and yet anguished to know we'd be traveling for 35+ hours. We had to clear customs leaving Benin then again to enter Togo. We planned on going to the airport before lunch for an early luggage check in before our 10.20 pm flight out. Nix that. Customs took a bit longer than was planned. We had dinner and off to "market" we went. I knew we'd find good pricing on happys for our friends and family, but I also had an inkling it would be something of a brouhaha after our experience in No Mans Land. Still, I immensely enjoyed haggling with another crop of car salesmen. I wanted gifts that left no doubt they came from Africa. I found them. But good Lord, those guys love the process of the haggle. And they met their match in me.
The market is basically an American style flea market but with much less walking space between the rows of booths. One gentleman stepped in front of me and held his arms straight out to his sides as if to block my passage, saying "Madame! Madame! Look to my booth!" Pastor Adams had already laughed at dinner stating that the Africans would be unsure of me because women are as a rule quiet and never outspoken. He made the statement that Lome would never be the same. Well, when this guy blocked my way as if to force me to look at his wares, I looked him directly in the eye and sternly said "Do not block my way." He moved to the side, his eyes bugging out, and made some whoooeeee sound. LOL. His intimidation absolutely was not working on me. I certainly did not want to cheat him, but was also warned they will start off quoting you triple what they will actually take. I left with what I needed.
Gracious hosts, the Adams, allowed us all showers in their home after a hot day of travel back to Lome, then market. We loaded and off we went. It was disconcerting to enter the airport knowing Pastor Adams was not with us. At that point I realized just heavily we had depended on his maneuvering us around. He was not allowed into the airport if not traveling. He did a superb job of planning our days and was so careful to anticipate our needs. We are eternally grateful for his thoughtful kindness.
There is no order to the Lome airport security. We were all trying to get our bags on the conveyor belt to pass through the xray machine as a group, while others were pushing and cramming their bags in with ours. There is no a/c in the check in area and it was quite hot and bad for those who were under the weather. Once assigned a boarding pass we were able to go into an a/c area. One in the group did not fare well with the heat and sickness. I was fearful of them not allowing us all on the plane, but God was with us and we all boarded for our journey back to the land of excess.
Six hours later we were in Paris, and a couple hours later winging our way back home. Nine hours later Houston had never looked so grand. Reclaiming bags then rechecking them for entrance to the states was cumbersome but happily done. I was thankful for the organization, computer screens, and welcome from US Customs officials. Their questions and tight security only make me thankful for the safety we live in daily. We dove into Wendy's and I got the largest Diet Coke available. And guzzled until my eyes watered. A chicken sandwich never tasted so much like a delicacy. I had a moment of guilt remembering Jenny Cantrell saying the first thing she was going to eat when she hit the states was a chicken sandwich from Wendy's. I said a prayer right then and there for her.
Two more hours in the air landed us in New Orleans with smiling faces there to meet us. My desire is to return to Africa for the dedication of the bible school. All knowledge I gained, collimungous included, I'd fly away again tomorrow and repeat the same process.
Friday, June 13, 2008
￼Post Travel Blog
Here I sit in Hardee's, quite Americanized for the first time in days. I have on "normal" shoes (high-heeled red pumps), eating biscuit and gravy, gulping a large Diet Coke, my Mac plugged into a dreamy, beautiful 120v wall plug (God how I missed that!), and freezing my tush off. I suppose I acclimated to the African heat. I know I sweated buckets, not from the usual gardening nor sunning, just by attending church.
I tend to be a tad formal in conversation subjects. I don't discuss flatulence, diarrhea, nor human waste. But I must admit to several, no many, conversations concerning all 3 afore mentioned. Several of us, myself included, were/are sick. One has been to the potty an average of 25 times daily for the last 4 days, and it was not uncommon for someones eyes to widen, then hastily leave the dinner table with no explanation and return rather white faced. We were careful to use only bottled water, and by the time I finally mastered brushing my teeth while not using tap water, it was time to come home. I was not fond of dipping my toothbrush into a cup of poured bottled water, then brushing, and having to wipe my mouth off so i could drink to swish my mouth out. It was like learning to walk all over again. I bet I turned the faucet on and off 5+ times each time I brushed. I finally got another cup and hung over the spigot to remind me not to turn it on.
We ate in comfortable, clean restaurants but were warned to not use the ice if unsure if it's filtered. Our lunch, though NOT expensive by our standards, would pay the weekly salary of a dozen African laborers. Our Americanized intestines are just not used to anything remotely African. Our drinks were only bottled ones, and we used many anti-bacterial hand wipes. But how do you refuse the hand shakes and hugs of the precious people that are desperately happy to see you? It was inevitable, being queasy and making the bathroom runs (pun intended, God help me), but I'd leave on that jet plane again tomorrow.
I am now safely ensconced in the land of plenty, though my system is still far from up to par. My mind reels with visions of African church services, sidewalk vendors, moto's, missionary sacrifices, baby's tied on women's backs, and no internet. It won't be long that I will take for granted the easy access to ice and my computer being blazing fast and connected. I have had my drink refilled twice with ice added in the last hour.
I pray to never forget all I saw. And to be grateful for the little things. Ice, diet coke from a never ending fountain,120V wall outlets...and 1 million other things...
Sunday, June 22, 2008
“Through My Eyes”
(Disclaimer: This is my "message" from our service highlighting Africa. If you read my travel blogs, this may be redundant. A forum of 6 answered most asked questions about our trip, Jerron opened with facts on the success of Pastor Adams and Andrus, It was then my turn. We ended with a 10 minute media presentation of video footage and still shots from our travels. We took pledges and raised $85,000.00 at service end. This will complete the bible school and dig fresh water wells in multiple villages.)
Early this year, Danny Rivers kindled a fire that now rages within me. He sat down on the steps right here in front of this pulpit and preached a simple thought, "Be the Church". I'll be the first to admit that in my 29 years I'd never heard it on that fashion. His message was direct and incredibly simple. As Christians most of us have been taught how to be "in the church" since our birth. His elementary concept to "be the church" shook me to the core. He basically admonished us to do as the scripture says and "love our neighbor as our selves". In that service, we saw moving footage of Africa that haunts me to this day.
2 weeks ago, I experienced what you and I saw on these screens.
700,000 people live in the teeming city of Lome, the country of Togo, on the continent of Africa. The intense culture shock when we exited the gates of the airport is indelibly imprinted on my mind. There was no power outside the airport. The government shuts the electricity off city wide, at any given time, I assume to conserve energy. Pitch black hardly describes it. The trek to the hotel felt like a race at Talledega, with us being the only racing car, everyone else on motorcycles. Bro. Andrus assured us that no one really drives at night, it's too dangerous. I could NOT imagine daylight when they all DID decide to drive. We were surrounded by motorcycles with missing, dim, or no headlights and I literally could have pulled the ear of multiple people on bikes next to us in the van.
Right now, it's rainy season in Togo and we drove through ponds in intersections that would make headlines in the Columbian Progress reading "Flash Flood". Koffi, our driver seemed to not notice and drove right off into the ponds. Somehow we exited on the other side. We arrived at our hotel which obviously has some high falutin' official in their pocket because it was the ONLY public place in the city with electricity, besides the airport.
The city of Lome has no sewage system, no garbage pick up, and not much by way of law enforcement. The average median income is less than $400 annually. Yet the purest, unadulterated worship I've ever witnessed flows from these beautiful people.
My worship is forever altered. How many times have I walked in those doors with a need? I have entered many times with a heavy heart, broken in spirit, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Within these walls I have asked God to provide for me countless times. Within these walls, I have worshipped Him for providing in times of need. Within these walls I have raised my hands and picked up my feet in praise and Honor of His goodness. But all for what? What was the underlying reason for my praise of Him? Do I really worship Him with pure motives or do I worship with knowledge He's going to repay me in some way? I've thanked Him for financial security. I've thanked Him for keeping His hand on my children. I thanked Him when I was able to purchase my home. I worshipped when He blessed me with a new vehicle. I'm eternally grateful to have been placed in this city where the church loves my kids. I adore walking into this choir loft and lifting His name. But why do I do it? Is my praise pure? Is my worship for the right reasons?
When the van pulled onto the grounds of our first African church service, I simply could not stop crying. Tears flowed freely when I heard the beat of the drum, the sound of voices. I didn't understand a single word, yet His spirit permeated the air. Pure praise was being offered up. Do you think anyone was asking for God to provide for their electric bill? They have no electricity. Think any of them were worried about where the money would come from to pay insurance or get the air conditioner repaired? No, they don't know what insurance is and most certainly don't have an air conditioner.
Their hands were lifted with tears flowing because He saved them. He is the reason to live. A church service for them is a clean place to gather and give holy praise to the One who fills their hearts with joy. To glorify the One that died for them. There's no underlying purpose other than to worship the Most High God that loves them
Cultures differ, hence worship differs. Somehow I think God enjoys their worship a bit more than mine. I have purposed to learn to worship God for who He is, rather that for what He has done or what He can do for me.
Their services are extremely long by our standards and most of us would have long headed out to the Deck, WOW, or Azteca, yet these incredible people continue their praise. From the 2 year old to the adult male, tears drip from their chins. Do these children somehow sense that their lives are not long? The life expectancy in Togo is 47 years of age. Disease, hunger, and contaminated water are all factors in their short life spans. 3,000 children die daily of malaria related deaths in Africa alone.
Our single adult ministry, SOLO, took on the task of digging fresh water wells in Africa after the service with Danny Rivers. We set a goal to have at least 2 wells dug this year. And here is where I can put in a plug since I have the microphone. If you are a single adult we welcome you. We meet upstairs in the Family Life Center each Sunday morning at 9.15.=) Tonya and Clayton Farmer are simply doing a fabulous job of building a singles ministry that you will definitely hear a lot out of in the coming years.
You can't imagine my joy when it dawned on me I just may be able to visit a village that we could place a well in. Our first stop on our first morning there, was the new bible school site. Again, the moment we entered the front gate, tears began flowing from my eyes. I learned from Bro. Adams that Woodlawn has been the sole contributor for the new school and after today, I fully believe we will have what it takes to complete the school. My heart felt like a water balloon under a spigot and I was sure it would burst when I learned that there was no well on the bible school site yet. I could not wait to get back to the states and ask the SOLO class if they would agree to our first well being dug at the bible school. I'm happy to report to you that Tonya and Clayton Farmer will be responsible for the well and it will be in honor of Anna Grace Farmer. Today marks the 4th year anniversary of her going to live with Jesus. There are balloons in the foyer for each child in Wallace's GAP kids class. Make sure your child gets a balloon and we'll meet on the front porch to let them go in celebration of this memorable day. Our single adult ministry will join the Farmers in paying for fresh water wells that the life expectancy of children in Togo may be lengthened. Pastor Adams will help us to place the wells in areas where they are needed most. We plan on placing them on church grounds as it gives favor with the chief of the villages.
I now stand between the flags of the two countries we visited, Togo and Benin, and I tell you the needs are overwhelming and never ending. To whom much is given much is required. How many times has a minister stood in this pulpit admonishing us that we have been given so much and we are required to give back. Can you give up a diet coke a day for 3 months and give $100? Can you sacrifice eating out once a week for a year and give $500? Can you live without $1000 a year for shallow entertainment? Your sacrifice will allow this gospel to be spread to parts of the world you may never get to see except through my eyes.
Let me be your eyes and tell you the need is greater than you can wrap your mind around. Pastor Adams assured us that the way to get the truth to these people is thru teaching men and women in the bible school so they can return to their village to pastor a church. He prints all the curriculum for the school therefore they need tons of copy paper. The bible school attendees need bicycles so as to not walk 2-3 hours to preach in their village on weekends while attending school. (Last Sunday after my short testimony, a member of SOLO class gave an offering of $1500.00 to cover 15 bicycles for graduates.) Electricity still has to be run to the bible school property and that alone will be upwards of $15,000.00. Once the school is completed, furnishings will be needed. Desks for the students, bunk beds and mattresses for the dormitories, not to mention Bibles.
We have been given much, now our sacrifice must be great. As Anne of Green Gables says, you just wouldn't believe what all I wanted to tell you about that I simply did not say.
I will close by saying, call the names of Caroline and Randy Adams, and Kristen and Steven Andrus each and every day when you pray. I hope that when standing in line on Judgement day my sacrifice is not compared to nor judged against any of these 4 people. If so, I shall be sorely lacking.
(P.S. The Andrus' have since returned home and are now pastoring in New Hebron, MS.=)