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.