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.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Full-Circle God

I had another blog post written and ready to be posted last weekend, but then I spent a week in Togo and something a bit cooler took precedent.


When I was a little girl, there was a war in a far-off place. Thousands massacred, villages burned, solders made of orphans, refugees fleeing by the millions. But I knew none of this in my little town in Arkansas. All I knew of the war was that my church found an opportunity to rally together to send aid. This was my first memory of the great compassion that characterizes my home church. Donations poured in - clothes, shoes, food, toothbrushes, school supplies, blankets, linens. I remember sitting in the church basement with my mother, sorting through baby formula and boxes and crackers as she and the other women organized piles upon piles of donations to be shipped out to these war victims. It was going to the missionary, they said. He would hand it out to our churches and to anyone else who had survived the rebels. Anything we could give would help. I can still recall a blue plaid blanket that my mother put in. It was wool and I hated it because it was itchy, but my mother loved it because it was warmer than anything else in the house. She said that the place we were shipping to was hot, but in the mountains it can get bitterly cold at night. Hours we spent in the basement that evening. I vaguely remember some story surrounding the shipping of it all - we had to truck it down to Florida, where it would be put on an ocean container. The trucking was priced in the thousands. But when the trucking company found out that we were sending war relief, they immediately began lowering the cost. They cut the price as much as they could without losing money.

That was all I knew of that evening in the church basement.

This past week I flew from my home in Burkina Faso to Lome, Togo, for a West African Regional Leadership conference. Was an amazing time! I met pastors from sixteen different African nations and fell in love with this beautiful continent all over again. I was served fish for supper with the head still intact, learned how to sit on a non-padded church pew for several hours without complaining, and tried horse meat for the first time.  I also got to hang out with over a dozen missionaries whose pictures have been hanging on our missionary wall back in Greenwood for years. They're my heroes. One man in particular had some amazing stories. His name is Brother Stuart and he's our missionary to Liberia. He's been there for 33 years. The church in Liberia is thousands upon thousands of people strong and is ready to be nationalized at the end of next year. Bro. Stuart patiently told me stories and didn't mind my persistent questions. The others told me that this man is a missionary legend, that he loves Africa and she loves him right back. The headquarters church in Liberia is so huge that the president herself attends that church and brings her political entourage with her. There was a great war in his country some years back. The embassy ordered all Americans to leave the country, but he refused. I'm staying, he told them. God has not told me to leave, so how can I leave? I'm staying with my pastors. I'm staying with my people. And so he stayed. The embassy tried to force him to fly out, but he stayed. The rebels marched through his city and he and his wife were trapped in their house for weeks. They survived on the water from their water bed.

At the end of last week, we all met at the hotel lobby so we could say goobye before catching planes to our different West African countries. I sat down in the lobby near Brother Stuart and some missionaries to Camaroon. One of the Camaroon pastors asked me where I was from in the States. "I'm from Greenwood, Arkansas," I replied. He asked me my pastor's name. I said, "James Myers. They call him 'Coach.'" They simply nodded in agreement, but Brother Stuart turned slowly toward me.

"Greenwood?" He asked.

"Yes, sir. Greenwood, Arkansas."

He nodded slowly. "I know Greenwood," He said.

I thought back to what Jaydie, our missionary to Mali, had told me the day before - that they visit hundreds of churches in a year when they are on deputation. How could he possibly remember our church?

"Back during our war," Bro. Stuart continued, "You guys sent us a bunch of supplies. Hundreds of things. You shipped it all out of Florida on an ocean container."

My mind raced back to that night so long ago in the church basement. "That was you?" I almost yelled. My mouth dropped open and the air left my lungs.

"Oh, yes," He replied. "We brought everything to our churches in Liberia and handed it all out. I don't remember very many churches, but I remember Greenwood."

I don't think I'll ever be able to describe exactly how I felt at that moment. They say that in heaven we'll see how our giving affected the mission field and it will all be worth it, but I think that sometimes God allows us to see that affect here on earth, as well. God is amazing. He is so many things and he manifests himself to us in different ways throughout our lives. He's the Healer-God and the Savior-God and the Warrior-God. But today, what is he to me? He's the Full-Circle-God :). He's the God who allows a shy little girl to become a missionary in training, and then further proves how cool he is by standing her feet on African soil in front of the missionary whose story, more than 15 years ago, unwittingly introduced her to what missions is all about. It's about being the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. Greenwood church, on behalf of West Africa, I want to say thank you for being the hands and feet of Jesus. Years ago you sent an ocean container full of war relief supplies. You send money every month. Now you sent an AIMer. Your impact on Africa is greater than we will ever know. I love and miss you guys.

And Jesus is amazing.