So, I had some fun travels last week that I thought I would share with you. I was privileged to be able to do a project for widows and orphans a good distance outside of our city. I don’t know how far it really is away, more than 500 km, I think. Some ridiculous google maps programs thinks you can get there in 6 ½ hours. Google maps has obviously never actually been in my country or they would not say such silly things. It took us 11 hours, OR SO. It’s not like we did a lot of stopping on the way. There’s no McDonald’s, no Taco Bell, no rest stops (unless a patch of trees count), no scenic overlooks, just potholes, bad roads and crazy drivers. Don’t get me wrong, I love Ivory Coast, but easy travel is not what we do around here.
We headed off in our little white pickup, thank you Baptist family for your generous giving to CP and Lottie Moon, with the back loaded down with back packs, school supplies, food, fabric, etc. I had my trusty sidekick Viviane to keep me company. OK, let’s be real here, when we are on the road, she’s the one that brings me back safe and sound! She tells me where to step, what to eat and what not to touch so that I can come back all in one piece! ;) We chatted and sang and stared out the windows until we were both sick of the truck. We stopped once in those 11 hours to grab some rice and sauce. It was not exactly delicious, but it kept us going. Our mission was to head out to a Baptist church that had asked us to do a project to help their widows and orphans. Nowadays, we have more work than we can handle and have honed our vision to do projects where churches wish to plant a church and not just serve their own flock. Needs here are so great and the work so vast that we just have to make sure that our mercy ministries push forward kingdom work as much as possible. When presented with our vision, the church agreed that they did have a village in mind in which they had hoped to start a church. They had tried there a few years back, but for many reasons, it didn’t work out.
We had a list of 75 orphans and 65 widows, a plan to train national believers in an easy evangelism method, some regional church leaders ready to mobilize for future ministry and plenty of adrenaline to keep us running on high speed all week. I really like to travel in country to see new places and encourage leaders. There are three things that I really miss while on the road, though, my family, my sweet tea and my hot water! Those that know me, KNOW that I have a sweet tea addiction. I keep a cup loaded with ice within a few feet of me at any given time. Every time we go out, I crash hard from the loss of sugar and caffeine. It makes for some painful days of withdrawal and yet I come back to it every single time I get home. Someday I’ll learn! As to the hot water, I will confess here and now that I am an absolute BABY about cold water. I don’t like it! I can take a bucket bath with the best of them, but would somebody please heat my water for me!!
We were blessed to have a hotel room to rest our weary heads in. It wasn’t your typical American hotel, but it was good. The room was just big enough for the bed with a small walking area around each side and the bathroom had plumbing, but no water. No problem with that, except for my cold water phobia. I crash, exhausted only to wake up in about an hour to find that we also have no electricity. Not a problem there either other than the fact that we have no window to even catch a breeze and I wouldn’t have a working cell phone the next day.
The next morning after my cold bucket bath, I am only slightly bitter, we had a great morning of training some national believers in a story that we use for evangelism. It’s a neat tool and not at all hard, but it needs a little practice. We had around 30 people there with us. We teach it and then practice together and have a good time giving one another a hard time as they try to convert us!!
That afternoon, I got my first look at the village. It was decent sized, as far as villages go, but not too big. It was only a 20 minute ride from the church, but most people don’t have vehicles and so that is too far away for most villagers. We did some prayer walking to prepare for our evangelism time throughout the week. It’s hard to get my brain around the obstacles that many in the village face in considering the idea of following Jesus. I will probably do a poor job of explaining things here, but this is my attempt. Most of this village follow African traditional religious beliefs. They have “masks” that rule the village life. These are people that are ruled by evil spirits that may dress a special way or wear a certain mask that shows they are that “mask”. What the mask says has to be followed. The mask can kill, destroy, ruin people. He/she has complete spiritual dominion in his/her territory. Masks are passed usually along family lines. Villagers must make sacrifices and gifts to the mask for blessing/protection/wellbeing. Disobeying a mask will bring instant consequences. Denying or disowning the mask is the worst thing you can do. Somehow sorcery links in, not sure how or why. Sorcerers place curses and kill. As best I can figure there is no way to even appease a sorcerer. They exist to do evil and they can’t be appeased, just feared. Oddly enough there are also some Buddhists in this village and some Muslims. I didn’t get the chance to get over to the Muslim section, although others did. Anyhow, we walked through the territory praying for open doors, response to the gospel and protection from opposition. We prayed for the Lord to draw hearts to Himself. It was a good day, except that I had to eat a snail for lunch. I don’t really like snails. I was thankful later in the week that that particular lunch was only a one snail lunch.
The following day was full speed ahead. I have worked with a lot of nationals in evangelism, but this group was first for me. They wanted to work through lunch until mid afternoon, which is really hard in the African heat with the kind of work we were doing. Evangelism is absolute constant on your toes full, brain in action work. It means speaking wisely at all times and reading your audience to get clues while listening to the Spirit’s leading. It was also very unusual to me because we were getting consistent expressed desires to accept Jesus. Our first listener was the family of a traditional healer. He uses plants in combination with incantations to treat illnesses. Excuse my Tennessee slang, but, “Ain’t no way this guy’s going to give his life to Christ!” and then he said he wanted to pray to do so. Okaaay! Weird. Group after group after group wanted to pray. We were getting pulled from here and there to talk to more and more people that wanted to hear. A full hour after we were supposed to be back with the group to meet for a SUPER late lunch, we headed in expecting to be in big trouble for being so late. To my great surprise, the majority of the groups were not back yet! By the time the groups got in I was really hungry. That was quite fortunate for me because this was a 8 snail lunch!!!!!! Eating eight snails is bad enough in and of itself, but the worst part is that EVERYONE was watching ME. Our people put hot peppers in everything, so I had the added embarrassment of having my mouth burn and my nose run through the whole meal. God is good and I did survive!
Each evening of the week was filled with last minute items that had to be purchased and kits to put together. We were really running on fumes the whole week. To add to the hectic schedule, nights were troubled. I did not sleep well all week. I was bothered by nightmares and ridiculous other things that kept us up at night, such as the night manager knocking on the door at midnight needing something out of the room, constant loud music until 4 or so each night and so on. We burned a lot of midnight oil in prayer. I am not usually an advocate of interrupted sleep, but I did have to agree with some of my African sister’s logic that we were being bothered at night. I don’t know how you feel about spiritual warfare, but I believe that evil spirits are real and we were certainly stomping all over their territory all week.
So I benefited greatly from my being the spoiled white chick and somebody had mercy on me and found a little electric kettle to heat water. When the water boiled it was enough to warm up a half of a bucket of water, which is all I need anyway. I took another cold bucket bath after that but that was out of pure stupidity. I was too proud to admit that I needed to heat my water when my African sister didn’t heat her water the next day. While gasping through that cold bucket, I repented of the sin of pride and vowed to use only warm water from then on! ;)
My group was blessed to have the village believer as a sort of a guide throughout the evangelism. It was interesting to finish sharing the gospel with a group and then to walk away for him to tell us, that person is a mask. I was also blessed to be able to share the gospel with one of the village chiefs. They have two. I was really worried as I was feeling led to share parts of an evangelism method that I have just learned and am not used to. The Lord helped me through and the chief told us at the end that he can’t give his life to Christ right now, but needs to do a few things and will be in church after October 10. Please pray for this chief to follow through and make his peace with God through Christ.
Lunches were always hard as I seemed to be the main source of group entertainment. Our second evangelism day brought out another dish that I know but the sauce was new to me. The starch part of the meal is something that resembles goo. It is made from fermented cassava starch. It is very soft and hard to deal with. I don’t really like i’s taste, but it’s not too big of a problem. My main problem with it is that it is to be swallowed without chewing, which is hard for my brain to process and do. The sauce was a first for me. We have a lot of slimy sauces, many of which I like. This one was exponentially more slimy than anything I have EVER encountered and spicy. The dish has to be eaten with the hands. You pinch off the starch dredging it in the slime and get it to your mouth. To make the whole thing even harder to deal with, the protein was completely whole smoked catfish, of which I had 3 in my bowl! The slime has be dragged across the side of the dish and then “cut” with your fingers so that you can get the stuff to your mouth. I was quickly draped with a huge piece of fabric to keep my clothes clean. My sweet African sister tried to show me how to deal with the mess, but I’m pretty sure it is a learned skill. An older sister was sitting down in the courtyard with her 3 year old sister to “cut” the slimy sauce for the little one so that she could get each bite to her mouth. I was a little envious. My main dilemma was not so much to avoid getting messy, that was a bit of a given, although I didn’t do too badly, the big problem was sorting out fish bones inside my mouth while swallowing the starch without chewing. I’m glad to let you know that, although I did swallow at least 10 fish bones, I have not died from said fish bones yet. They scratched my throat a bit, but I lived.
The last evangelism lunch was a little less entertaining, but it involved 1 more snail and some “aged” (could be referred to as spoiled) bush rat. Not sure the source of my stomach issues, but this was my last full meal for a while. I felt OK? that evening, but got served some liver which sent me running for the hills pretty fast.
We got to talk to 273 people throughout the door to door campaign and 172 of them prayed to accept Christ. I know that not all of those people were sincere and much follow up work will need to be done to disciple true believers from those that were. One thing is sure, the gospel was proclaimed in that village to many.
Saturday was a change of pace as we worked on a task that has been given to us by our national convention. Our convention wants to use mercy ministries to share the gospel, plant churches and meet needs among national believers throughout our country. We gathered national leaders to cast vision, choose leaders and share plans for starting up these projects. It was a really neat time in our convention’s life to be able to see this start in a national effort. Pray for us as we plan and train and try to lead well in this task.
Saturday was great, except I was getting really sick. It was a mess of a day. Viviane and I got completely soaked through as we went out early to pick up the rice for the widows. It was the last possible time to get everything for the project so we had to keep going even though it was raining cats and dogs. We didn’t have time to change before our big meeting, so a couple of drowned rats talked to these important pastors and for some reason, they listened. By the time we got done, I was feeling really bad. Unfortunately, lunch was coming my way. I tried. I really did. It was a sauce made from leaves and oil and hot peppers. I left the room several times to empty my stomach before I declared my defeat and took myself out to my truck to wait for the gang. The two pastors and the two women helplessly watched me suffer all of the way back to the hotel. I spent the entire hour long drive scanning the road for the best possible spot to empty my stomach again. Nobody could take the wheel for me because I am the only one authorized to drive the mission vehicle. It was a hard day.
By Sunday morning, my stomach was not as bad, but I was as weak as a newborn colt. I literally was having problems standing. I was supposed to share the gospel message at the village. I prayed through the morning about what to do. My initial instinct was that I needed to stay back in the room to rest. I couldn’t stand up without holding on to something, how in the world would I stand before a crowd and tell a story? I began to pray, “Lord, what do I do?” The answer was very clear to me, “You are weak, but I am strong.” We sing an older English chorus here with the phrase, “Let the weak say I am strong…” in it. That kept running through my head. As the morning continued, I continued to question. The same answer always came. I managed to drive our overloaded pickup to the village, but I just got weaker as time passed. My sweet African sister was always at my elbow forcing food, water, a chair, but she never told me that she’d do the story. I knew she could. I even knew she would if I asked, but I had no peace about asking her. After we had sung and prayed the time for the gospel presentation approached. I was certain that I was supposed to walk out and act completely normal. Only a couple of people knew what was going on with me. I told Viviane that I was going to share the story as if nothing was wrong, but that if I gave a signal, she was to bring me a chair. She suggested taking out a chair to put my paper and Bible on so that If I needed it, I could just pick up my stuff and sit.
So off I went. The first few steps were really tricky. The pastor that called for me, knew that I was sick and so he called Viviane and I together. As I got started, she stood close enough to support me, but I can’t be still while I talk and I was soon off and into my story. I zone in when I am presenting the gospel and can see/hear nothing other than my audience, so I had no idea what was going on behind me. I wobbled quite a number of times, but tried to act completely normal. A few times, I thought I would fall, but never did. I managed to complete my whole presentation and start the invitation to give their lives to Christ, when I realized I was done and handed to group off to Viviane to seal the deal. I usually prefer for her to lead the sinner’s prayer anyway. It just cuts down on misunderstanding at a critical point. As we traveled on to our next destination later in the day, I asked Viviane if she had seen me wobble and struggle to stand. She said that she spent the whole message time directly behind me! She stayed close enough to catch me if I fell and paced and prayed when I was doing OK! How’s that for prayer support!!! Another 13 people prayed to receive Christ that morning. 112 people were at that first church service. Pray with us that this plant continues to stay strong without our presence.
The national believer that lives there will be leading the church plant with the support of the local church that is close. They will send believers to help out with music and other responsibilities. The village believer has even said that he wants to use his own land to build the church on when the time comes. Until then, they will meet in his living room and yard.
I would like to say that the ride home was uneventful and it mostly was. We had quite a few close calls. I had to swerve and slam on brakes way too many times, but the Lord was faithful to bring us safely home.
So ends my most recent adventure.