Well, I’m back. And I’m really not sure how to intro this letter other than to just jump into it.
First off, I ended up journaling just about every day for both trips, which I found to be exceptionally useful when thinking back on each trip. And no, I’m not going to post the journals because there just too much and it would overwhelm your brains since most of you have very little context around what happened. But I did my best to pick out the important and interesting things and compile them for you. :)
The first thing I noticed in my journals was my abject fear of sharing the gospel. As you all know, the PURPOSE of this trip was evangelism. And I was scared silly that I’d forget something, not be able to explain something, or forget the key Bible verses. That kind of thing. That’s not really normal for me. I mean, it was normal in that I’ve always been scared of sharing the gospel, but I’m otherwise rarely intimidated to that level by relational/social situations.
It turned out to be super easy. I still haven’t personally “prayed the prayer” with anyone, but it turned out that it didn’t matter to me. I was kinda thinking previous to this trip that it would be really cool to actually lead someone to Christ, almost like a spiritual badge of sorts. That was probably the wrong attitude, considering the person that’s doing the pointing toward Christ isn’t actually the one doing the “leading”. So I didn’t get to pray with anyone, but I did share the gospel with a whole bunch of people, and it’s not nearly as hard as I was making it out to be, especially with the EvangeCube.
The second thing I noticed in my journals was the mention of what turned into the acronym of the trip: “TIA”. Stands for “This Is Africa”.
Remember how I had said in my previous letter that nearly nothing went as planned? Yeah. That’s because “This Is Africa”. There were a lot of things that didn’t happen simply because it was Africa and we weren’t as connected as we thought we were. And in the great scheme of things, we didn’t know anything.
For instance, we didn’t end up seeing our main contact in Africa until the end of our last full day in Hluhluwe. I’m still not sure why he couldn’t be around during our trip, but he did pretty much just throw us into Africa without a clue or a workable game plan. We thought we had lodging 6 months out, but none was secured until about a week before we got there, because our contact didn’t take care of that. We thought we were going to have translators picked out ahead of time so we could go door to door in the community, but nope, our contact didn’t do that either. The only thing he did do is get some pastors lined up for us to speak to about getting a church planting movement together, which was good, but that didn’t work out nearly the way we hoped it would. Most of the churches we spoke to didn’t end up getting involved in what we were doing because everyone was busy every day.
However, it didn’t end up mattering. The day that we talked to the church leaders, they weren’t available to go out with us to share the gospel in the community as translators because they had a meeting to attend or something. So we were stuck with no translators and no plan of action. However, it was market day, and of course, everyone in the area is out to sell/buy things. So after lunch, we just decided to split up into several small groups and preach the gospel to whoever we could find that spoke English.
Turned out to be a LOT of people that knew English. The local language is Zulu, but English is taught at most schools now as well, so that turned out great for us. We recruited a good number of people that day by just talking to random people in the market, and we gathered them all the next day at a building nearby for discipleship and further teaching.
Those people we talked to at the market became our base group that really kicked off the rest of the trip. Those people that came the next day brought family members and friends, who brought more family members and friends. A few of them knew English really well and were able to translate for us. There was one exceptional young man, Sizwe, who not only was able to translate really well, but was able to share the gospel with passion and sincerity like none of us could. He became our primary translator, both for the language and the culture. He became a good friend. I’m excited about what we’ll hear in future communication with him.
And it wasn’t all preaching all the time. We had a good amount of playtime too, what with touring London on our way through, visiting two different beaches while we were in South Africa (toes in the Indian Ocean, baby!) and going on a safari, to boot! Add in relationship building with the nationals, participating in a few football (soccer) circles and countless other little fun things, it was such a worthwhile trip. Got to see the world and Jesus too. The whole schedule ended up nearly completely thrown out the window, but God made it work. And it was really neat to see that so plainly displayed.
Burkina Faso was quite a bit different.
I’m not sure really where to start with this, but let me just start off with the fact that I really felt like a foreigner on this trip. “But,” you ask, “why is that so strange? Did you NOT feel like you were a foreigner among the people of Hluhluwe, South Africa?” Actually, no. In South Africa, most people had some understanding of English, and if they were in their late 20s and under, they had very good English (albeit with a pretty thick accent). So when people spoke Zulu or Afrikaans, it just felt like in Lancaster when Mexicans or Amish are conversing amongst themselves. There was no pressure for us to learn any Zulu. But like South Africa was a colony of England, Burkina Faso was a colony of France. Thus, everybody speaks French in Burkina Faso, but no English. That took a good bit to get used to, and I am actually now very inspired to learn French, though that’s a bunny trail tidbit of trivia.
So yes. Language barrier. That was the most difficult thing to work with/get used to, but by the end of the trip I wasn’t uncomfortable with it anymore. Actually, most of the trip’s goal in the mind of Matt Walsh, one of our church’s long-term missionaries in Mahadaga, was to simply get us into the culture and discover what it was like. Not only that, but also to see what they do, why they do it, and what it’s like. And we thought it was a work trip. :)
And it was. We worked at the CSPS, the SIM-run medical center in Mahadaga, a really small village in the middle of nowhere. We had to take a 8 hour bus ride from the capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou, because there’s no other transportation available to Mahadaga. The CSPS needed an entire electrical system overhaul, requiring changing/adding countless lights, fans, switches and outlets. And rewiring just about everything. And by golly, our group of 10 completed that and then some, which surprised a few people. We were also able to work on a few projects at the SIM station that have been on the missionaries’ lists for awhile but have just never gotten done. So both we and the missionaries were very happy with what we were able to accomplish in our three weeks there.
But that wasn’t the “meat” of the trip, for us. Matt had several activities for the team in order to stretch us and really throw us into the local culture. One of the major activities was through the SIM-run handicap center. There are physical trainers that ride out on motorbikes every day and check up or train with people in the neighboring communities. And each one of us went with one of them for a day at least once during the trip, usually two people a day. That was really interesting (and really fun) because on those rides, there’s no getting away from seeing how people live, and what kind of difficulties people with disabilities have in such situations. Actually, there’s a huge stigma against disabled people in Burkina Faso, because a lot of people disregard disabled people as even human. Epilepsy really freaks them out, because a seizure can look an awful lot like demon-possesion. Dale Johnson, another missionary stationed at Mahadaga, explained that fathers/mothers of disabled children won’t even count them in the family. Ask them how many people are in their family, and they will not include the disabled person, even if it’s lying in a corner across the room. So yeah, suffice it to say that the work that the handicap center’s work is very much needed in Mahadaga.
Oh yeah, those PTs that we rode with? They were locals and spoke almost no English. Again, the whole foreigner thing stuck out like a sore thumb.
We saw a lot of other things as well, such as the local fields, market, and a few of us assisted in making our own box drums at the local woodworker’s place. So cool. We also took several hikes to the cliffs behind the station, and various waterfalls around there. Went on a few scorpion hunts (they evidently light up like small nuclear explosions when exposed to a black light), and visited an enormous baobab tree (big enough to construct an actual treehouse in its branches). It was fun, it was stretching, and I feel like I might go back at some point, because the work that those missionaries are doing is incredible, and genius. If you’re interested in hearing more about some of the work they do (and are working towards), feel free to call me up or just ask me the next time we see each other, because it’s a bit extensive for this already painfully long letter.
In short, I worked, I learned, I had fun. And was inspired.
Feel free to ask me in person for more detail on my trip, because there’s way more to everything than what I wrote down in this letter. But it’s at least a taste for those that are only mildly peckish.
Thanks one last time for everyone’s support and interest in my summer, and for your prayers. I learned even more this summer just how much prayer matters. One of the big lessons of my trips. So thank you all for helping me and joining me on this adventure.
A couple other things before I finish this out. These are little resources in addition to the letter that you all might be interested in.
- I did find Mahadaga on Google Maps, and boy was THAT difficult. But I have made my own little map showing various places around Mahadaga that you all might find interesting. It will likely be more interesting once I post pictures in/of those places, and I will probably be adding more to the map in the next day or so, but feel free to check it out in the meantime here.
- Also, I will be posting pictures on Facebook and Flickr, but they aren’t currently up. However, check in tomorrow and I hope to have them up by midday. For those of you who either aren’t connected with me on Facebook or not on Facebook altogether, here’s the link to my Flickr.
- And finally, if you want to read up on past updates from me this summer regarding my trips, this page links to all previous updates.