Sunday, December 1, 2013

On the Way Home

He's a good man and hard-working.  He's got good work ethic, which is common among the Burkinabe.  He has a nice face - easily trusted.  How happy he must have been to hear that the baby was on the way!  Like most West Africans, he would have chosen someone well-respected and well-loved to be the one who named the new little one.  A boy's name and a girl's name would be carefully chosen and told to the parents a few weeks before the expected birth.  How nervous he would be those last few weeks!  A new baby in the house - he must save every extra Franc for the new little life.  He must have spent hours on his job as a guard wondering about the little tyke.  What kind of personality could he expect?  If it were a girl, would she look like her mother?  How much hair would she have?  They should probably get a new dog for the house - no, scratch that; feeding dogs added extra cost. 

Finally the evening of the birth comes.  Just off work,  he rushes with his sweet wife to the closest birthing clinic and signs all the necessary paperwork while they find her a bed. 

He waits - there's really nothing else for him to do.  He tries to be a good coach, but finds that his nerves make him terrible at this task, so he paces and waits to his wife's side.  He paces and waits, paces and waits.  And waits.

Too long.  This is taking too long.  Too many nurses have checked on her, and they're chattering among themselves now.  One approaches him.  It's not going well, sir.  The baby isn't coming.  Your wife is bleeding heavily and is ready to give birth, but the baby isn't coming.  We have some medicine that we can give her to make her dilate properly so the baby will come, but you'll have to pay for it right now. 

Suddenly all that he knew about the local clinics came to mind - blood loss, lost babies, dull instruments, high maternal death rates.  

"But I don't have any money!  We can only pay for the birth, that is all!"

"I'm sorry, sir, but that is our policy.  No money, no medicine."

He knows this was the way it is.  That's the way it always is in these hospitals.  No money, no surgery.  No money, no medicine.  No money, no help. 
What could he do?  He had to find the money.  His boss!  His boss could surely loan him the money and save his wife's life.  He could work it off later, or have it taken out of his salary.  Anything.  His wife will die without it.

So he sets out on his bicycle, calling his boss's number.  The night is still young; his boss won't be asleep.  He doesn't answer the call.  Again.  No answer.  Again.  Again.  Again.  No answer.  Panic begins to set it.  If his boss doesn't answer, where will he get the money?  His wife will bleed out.  She will die soon.  The baby will die with her.  He HAS to get the money!  His boss continues not to answer the phone.  He has to find someone to give him the money, or he will be a widower within the hour.

He sees a white man driving down the dirt road near him and in desperation the man waves the car to a stop.  The white man rolls down the window and they exchange greetings, and the man makes his desperate plea.  Please, sir, 7,000 CFA is what I need.  My wife is having a baby and will die without this medicine.  It's already been too long and they won't help her.  I can't get a hold of my boss.  Please help me. I'll do anything - I'll give you my ID card, anything. 

So Ken turns from the driver's seat and asks me, "Do you have 10,000 CFA with you?"  I look at the African man at his window, desperation in his eyes and a bicycle leaning on his thigh, speaking in French too rapid for me to catch.  I don't have any money with me.  I don't even have my purse.  Ken turns back to the man and tells him to stay right there, that he isn't carrying any cash because he was just taking me home, but he is going to run back to the house and get the money that the man needs.  Our guard, Kiinda, re-explains in Moree from the passenger seat so the panicked man will know that we aren't just driving off.  So back to the house we head, where Ken runs inside, grabs his wallet, runs back outside, and we drive quickly back to the intersection where, sure enough, the man is waiting with wide, scared eyes for us to return to him.

We pull up beside him and hand the money out the window, along with a tract on baptism.  The man takes the gift and his whole face changes.  If Burkinabe were emotional people, I think he would have cried on the spot.  He thanks Ken over and over, again offering his ID card, but Ken waves off the offer, saying that he doesn't need to be paid back; he is able to give because of the grace of God.  You're welcome, you're very welcome.  God bless you, too. 

We drive off as the man pedals toward the hospital, and I am silent.  Partly because of the lesson in generosity and witnessing that I just learned from this missionary, and partly because we have just witnessed a level of poverty that we will never be able to fully explain.  That man - that good, hard-working, very nice man - was so desperate for money that he stopped a complete stranger on the road in the middle of the night to ask for help. And if he had not, both his wife and his unborn child would have died before daybreak.  No extra money for the possibility of such disaster, no savings account.  Just desperation.  How much is 7,000?  Fourteen dollars.

This is the norm for those living here, the everyday life of these people and the constant surroundings of these missionaries.  Unexplainable poverty.  Desperation to which no one back in the States can relate and which can never be accurately described.  The knowledge that less than $20 just saved two lives.  The fact that this reality can co-exist in a world that put a man on the moon is mind-boggling sometimes.   In one week I will fly back to the richest country in the world - just in time for American holiday season, complete with its 'Black Friday' and a completely different reality.  Blessed Savior, wherever I go, wherever you take me, let me never forget that this reality pervades my world, as well. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

That's What Happens When You Fall in Love

Sometimes it's hard.  Like when you have dengue fever.  And amoebas.  At the same time.  And all you want to do is get outta here.  I'm ashamed to admit it, but sometimes it is that hard. 

That was last week for me.   Last week I was so sick that the missionaries, who were sick themselves, checked me into the hospital.  I was completely alone in an African hospital room, away from my family and my home.  I was so sick that French didn't work and I was deliriously trying to talk to the nurses in Spanish and they couldn't understand me and I couldn't understand them.  I was burning with fever and throwing up ice water and I knew that if they came and tried to shave my head to lower my fever then I would let them.    And my joints hurt from the virus and my back hurt from the hard bed.  My head hurt so badly that my vision was clouding.  And then the next night when I realized they weren't releasing me and I was so nauseated and so lonely and my IV was filling with my own blood because the doctors wouldn't come change it.  There were mosquitoes everywhere and I thought, 'If I didn't have malaria before I came here, I will when I leave.'  And I had thrown up in the bedpan they gave me, but no one ever cleaned it up, and I had no idea how to ask anyone to take care of it.  I stared at the white walls and at the plate of food that I was too sick to eat, and all I wanted to do was to get out of here, to be in Arkansas, in my own comfy bed, with medicine I recognized and people I knew.  I told myself that if I had the energy to walk, I would walk out of the hospital, hail a cab, catch an airplane home, and be done with it.  That was last week.

But then I think back a little further.  And I think about that evening last spring when I jerked awake because I was dreaming about Africa.  In my dream, I was biking down the dirt road on the other side of the city, where I used to live, and I was completely happy.  I saw the other bicycles straddled by African women (all waving and smiling, of course), and the pedestrians and the donkeys and the bright, dusty colors of African life.  I was biking along in the heat, wearing the bike helmet that the missionaries insisted that I purchase.  But then I realized that I wasn't, in fact, there anymore, and I stopped my bike in disappointment.  And then I realized that I was dreaming and wasn't in Africa.  And with that realization, a physical pain hit my chest.  And then suddenly I was awake.  I was awake and I was crying.  My chest hurt like someone had punched me and I knew it was because I was lonely for my home, for my Africa.   I knew I had to get back.

I think of what it's like NOT to be here but to wish that I were.  I think of that horrible, lonely feeling of 'I would give anything to be in Africa right now' that consumes my thoughts, my concentration, my being, when I am in the States.  That's much, much worse than the occasional moments when I'm in Africa and I wish I were back in the States.  Much worse. 
Because you see, that's what happens to you when Jesus gets a hold of your heart.  That's what happens to you when you say, 'Okay, God!  Here I am!  I'm all yours!'  and then the Lord takes you up on that.  That's what happens when you fall in love - you lose it.  You lose your heart, your mind, your rationality, your ability to make sense to anybody else.  You lose your desire for American life, for a husband, for a family.  That's what happens when Jesus takes over.   You can't escape him.  You see the glint of his eyes in the sunshine reflecting off the water of the Niger River.  You hear his heartbeat in the drums of a tribal worship song.  You see his smile lines in the grin of an African child.  You hear his whisper in the wind blowing through the mango trees.  You wake up miserable and cold and sick in an African hospital room and you say, "I'm still yours, Jesus.  I'll still give my life to this.  I'll still spend the rest of my life here.  I'll go back to the village and teach Sunday school to those babies.  I'll sell my car, I'll leave my family.  I'll follow you here."  That's what happens when you fall in love.   You love what he loves.   If he says, "There are people in Africa who don't know my Name,"  then you cry and say, "Send me."  You look at Calvary and you realize that your life is such a small thing to offer in comparison.   You look at that example of crazy, irrational, unexplainable Love, and you look around you at a world who does not know that Story, and your heart breaks.  You look at Jesus and ask, "Where do you want me to go and tell your story?"  
I love Africa.  Oh, how I love Africa.  But I don't come here because I love Africa.  I come because I love Jesus.  I come because one day, long ago, Jesus died for me.  He offers me a Love that is beyond my understanding, and I can have no other response.  He fell in love with me.  And then I fell in love with him.  And then he brought me here and grew me and stretched me and taught me how to love him all over again.  And today he sat me under the stars of an African night and placed a baby in my arms with eyes so dark I could see my own reflection in their light. And he did it again...he melted my heart. 
So when people ask me, as they always do, why I go to Africa, this is my response:  That's what happens when you fall in love.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Village School

How easily do we take things for granted?  What do we take for granted? 

I don't think I realized just how much I take for granted until I started traveling.  Now the realization of it overwhelms me.  The list keeps growing.  Shoes.  Health. A soft bed.  Ice cubes.  Shampoo.  Water.  Just the fact that I can turn on a water faucet anywhere in the United States and safely drink the water that it gives is now a strange thought. 

What about a good education?  Even if I hadn't gone to college, I would have been equipped with the tools to educate myself in the ways of the world, just because my educational foundation was good and strong.  But we were walking from one village to another last weekend and stumbled upon a village school strikingly different from the schools that educated me.  The students were outside working.  Some of them were tilling in a garden, some were pumping water from a water pump a few hundred yards from the small school house.  There were nearly 90 students and just one teacher, who rotated between classrooms.  We had some candy with us, so we lined the kids up and passed out suckers.  They were quiet and giggly, and stood politely in line while we handed out their treat.

Most of them were barefoot.  Many of them were wearing only a pair of shorts, no shirt.  Some had walked as far as twenty-five kilometers to get to school that day. They spoke little French.  I speak little Moree.  A lot of them, especially the older ones, had tribal scaring on their faces.  The Peace Corps has had little impact here.

Likewise the church.

Somewhere, surely, Jesus has a pastor for this village.  A pastor who speaks Moree and has a heart for children.  Please, Jesus - raise up that pastor.  Please.  Educate these children in the Name that is above every name. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

For God so loved the world

Today I feel incredibly privileged to be a follower of this amazing God.  This God who created the universe without lifting a finger, who tilted the earth on her axis, who holds the stars in the palm of his hand, is the same God who provided a way of salvation for all humanity.  This great God fills all time and space...

and yet his love is so great that he knows the favorite color of every child in Africa.  This God so loved the world that he gave his only Son....

Thursday, October 17, 2013

If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink

Because of the generosity of my coworkers at U-Pack, I was able to bring 29 Waves for Water water filters with me to Burkina Faso.  We have begun passing them out to the families who the missionaries know, the families with the greatest need for clean water.  Twenty-nine water filters equals twenty nine million gallons of clean, purified water to replace the disease-infested, death-bringing water that the majority of the population here drinks.  I am overjoyed to be able to meet practical needs in such a way, to be able to be the hands and feet of Jesus and follow the commandment that is so obvious in the verse, "I was thirsty and ye gave me drink" (Matthew 25:35). 

And yet I have to swallow a lump of sadness every time we give out a water filter, because I know that for every family we help, there are hundreds, thousands, who have yet to receive clean water.  Countless children who still ingest dangerous parasites every day in the water that they must drink to sustain their lives.  What sad irony. 

But Jesus reminds me that worse yet is the fact that there are millions here who do not know the Living Water.  They have never been introduced to the Sustainer God who holds creation in his hand.  He is the life-force, the River of Living Water who spoke humanity into existence and calls all nations to repentance. 

And He is the eternally clean water that they so desperately need. 

Yesterday we bumped along a winding dirt road an hour outside the city to deliver a water filter to a family who drinks from a lake that is home to about 200 crocodiles.  It is also the watering hole and swimming pool for all the local animals. We looked into the lake and saw the filth that these sweet babies drink every day, and then we showed them how the water filter works.  When the water came out of the filter, cool and refreshing and perfectly clear, the kids crowded underneath the get a drink. 

When they led us back to their house, the courtyard was littered with remnants of recent witchcraft offerings.  But we ignored these and gathered with the family under the warm African sunshine and we prayed for them.  We prayed to the God who longs for them to know how much he loves them, longs to wrap them in his arms and pour into them the knowledge of eternal salvation.  We pray to the God who whispers into their ears, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink" (John 7:37). 

Oh, Jesus, bring salvation to these people that I love so much...that you love so much more.  Nourish them with your Spirit.  Send someone to build a church here, with a baptistery full of water and the message of the purifying blood of Jesus Christ. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Five Days in Niger

Niamey, Niger. Hands down the hottest place I have ever been in my life. The heat was absolutely swealtering, as if the sunshine is actually quite a bit closer to the earth here. But the people respond with their own warmth - all smiles and hugs, welcoming us with open arms.

We have one church in Niger, because the country is a little over 99% Muslim and so evangelism is strained.  We drove past three mosques to get to the building that serves both as the church and the pastor's home.  I have an overwhelming respect for these believers, who must feel completely isolated in their faith, tucked away in this crowded city of Islamic stronghold.  

We were as delighted to see the church members as they were to see us. They knew that we were coming to fellowship with them, to worship and teach and read Scripture. But what they did not know is that we came bearing 200,000 CFA - $400. Ken had told me that the church needed a new piano badly - not only because theirs was extremely old, but also because they were planning to finally, finally build a second church and would need two pianos. So I decided that would be my project: a new keyboard for these people who had won my heart in an instant.

We had evening services on Friday and Saturday evening.  Sunday morning dawned especially hot and promising to get worse. We were sweating by the time we got to the church building, after our  white-knuckled ride across the city. But church was beautiful! Worship to praise to worship, dance, music, and at some point the power cut out, nixing the fans and the sound alike, but no one slowed down or even seemed to notice.

Ken stood up and began to talk about the church in the book of Acts, who had neither drums nor piano nor sound system. This Niger church, he said, was doing a great job with whay they have, but their piano was fatiguĂ© - tired - and they needed a new one. They he raised his hand and showed a wad of carfully folded West African bills, and said, J'ai de l'argent pour un nouveau piano - I have the money for a new piano.

If anything was said after that, I didn't hear a word of it, for the church absolutely exploded into worship. I expected them to be happy, but I didn't expect the response to be of this magnitude. At first I thought it was cheers, but I looked around and realized that it was not. It was worship to the Provider-God. Because what I did not know was that this church had been praying for a new piano. They had saved as much money as they could - 60 CFA (a very impressive amount, in fact, for Niger is the poorest country in the world), but knew that a miracle of God was needed for the new piano. So they had been praying for quite a while.  And God, in his great wisdom, had provided for them in allowing me to be the answer to their prayers. Wow.

The worship got louder and louder and the smiles bigger until it turned into a dance of rejoicing. The women left their seats and streamed up to the front, dancing and clapping and circling the front of the church. If I thought I could stay outside of it I was mistaken, for a woman about my mother's age sporting a colorful headwrap pulled me in and squeezed me between two dancers. As she did, I glimpsed the piano player. He had been rather quiet and gentle all weekend, but now he was worshipping openly - bent at the waist, dancing in a circle, arms raised to heaven, and a smile so big I could see nothing but his teeth.

The suddenly it was too much for me to keep in.  Something inside of me erupted and I began to cry and laugh at the same time, following these women in a dance of rejoicing.  I looked around at this room so full of worship and I realized, I was made for this moment. Nothing that I possess, no paycheck that I have ever received, was worth more than that ten minutes of rejoicing.

When things calmed down, the pastor began to speak to the church in French, reminding them that God had heard their prayer, had answered their prayer. Then he turned and said they were going to pray for the missionaries in thanks for bringing this gift. But Ken and Gin shook their heads and pointed at me. The pastor's eyes got big with understanding and he said, "Eh!" and turned to explain to the church that the gift, in fact, was from the young missionary, Mademoiselle Donna. They all turned to me, raised their hands to heaven, and began to pray that God would bless me, that he would keep his hand on me, that he would give back to me what I had given to them. I tried to pray with them, but all I could do was weep. That prayer was the best gift that I could have received. What they gave me was much greater than what I had given them. What is $400? Not much. What is a room full of Spirit-filled Africans praying a blessing over you? Priceless. 






Sunday, September 29, 2013

To Market, To Market

We went to the market today, Sarah and I! I LOVE going to the market, because it's like all of Africa packed into a tiny microcosm of happiness - all the people and the energy and the babies strapped on every back. And of course Africans are very social, so you can't be sad or lonely when you enter the market and leave it in the same condition. Even if you never spoke to anyone (which is impossible; you speak and hug and shake hands and never stop smiling and lauging), you have to love the pulse of it. The colors are more than any camera could capture properly. Donkeys, chickens, dogs, camels meander out of the way, and the world's greatest fashion weeks pale in comparison to the outfits and headdresses of the women. Beautiful.

Today (despite the heat) we took our time at the market, literally dripping sweat and followed by a slender teenager in full Muslim headwrap who was content just to carry the vegetable bags for the white women.

Sarah's French is amazing so I listened to her as closely as I could and decided that if she can do it then so can I! So I asked her how to ask for a price of a kilo of something in French. As she was explaining it to me, a man walked up and, grinning, said something that I couldn't discern for the life of me.
"What did he just ask?" Sarah answered that he asked me how I was doing in Moree, which is one of the local languages here.
"Oh. How do you say it?" The man leaned toward me, smile lines deepening and eyes shinning, and said slowly, "Zaa-ka-rumba." My repetition, complete with a rolled 'r' (thanks, Spanish professors!) earned a belly laugh of approval, and the reply, "Lafi."

A few more meters brought us to the stall where Sarah always buys her vegetables. The owner came out to greet us, warm and friendly. The stalls are so crowded here that we were able to stand in complete shade (nice break from the heat!). After chatting with the woman for a moment, Sarah asked if I wanted to try out my Moree.

So I turned to the lady. "Zaa-ka-rumba!"
She smiled, "Lafi."

I was so pleased that I had said it right that I pumped my fists in the air and yelled, "YEAH!" and was rewarded by the sound of the market bursting into cheers. I looked around in surprise, to find the women from the surrounding stalls laughing and clapping and chattering excitedly in Moree and French. Then they all started talking to me at once, gesturing and grinning. They were nodding their heads and pointing to us, shouting at other women to come near. I leaned close so Sarah could hear me over the noise.

"What? What are they saying?" She chuckled and brushed sweat from her head. "You just won them over. They love you now." I look around at the crowd of women, laughing and rubbing my arms, with children squeezing in and out of the crowd and baskets of fruit bobbing above it all, balanced carefully on a dozen heads.  And then it's my turn to join in the laughter - not because anything is funny, but because that's the natural response to being so completely happy.

I got back to my room and turned on the air conditioner just in time for the power to go out - again. So the heat crept back in, advanced only by the dark. I have to feel my way to the bathroom and feel my way back to bed, only it's too hot to sleep. I'm sweating so much that it has made me aware of the fact that I'm covered in more mosquito bites than I ever thought possible. It's always hot here. I once thought it was unbearable.

But now I lean my forehead against my open window and listen to the last hot, muggy storm of rainy season.

I breathe in slowly.

I close my eyes and get lost in the smell - the smell of the rain, of the dust, of a dozen outside dinners, of the mango trees, of the exhaust of a thousand motorcycle taxis, of a zillion animals, of the nearby Sahara. The smell of Africa. I fill my lungs as tight as they will fill and I think of my day at the market. I remember the giggling little kids that ran out to greet us all the way home. I remember the African couple who dropped by earlier, for no other reason than to check on and pray with Justin because he's not feeling well. I think of yesterday at the missionaries' house, when a woman came by to meet us and the missionaries were talking to her about baptism in six minutes flat, and made sure that she left with a French Bible and a time of prayer. I think of the Burkina pastors and their wives, patiently teaching me French and Moree and Djoula phrases, correcting me ever so gently and pretending to understand me even when I'm completely wrong.  I picture the 200 pairs of hands raised in worship last week in Togo, and the children at the kids' crusade, standing in 110 degree weather, tears mixing with sweat as they cry out to the living God, who speaks all languages.

I think of how amazing God is for bringing me here. And I cry. Not because anything is sad, but because that is the natural response to being so completely happy.