They are people of vision who are unafraid of sacrifice, surrendering all private life to bear the Gospel theme; They leave behind security, embarking on a quest to reach the ripened fields where none have heard that Jesus lives and He is Lord; They dare transplant and make a new home on foreign soil, though knowing none, adapting other tongues and ways, so precious souls may then be saved; They dwell not on adversity, but ever consider the vast reward of lending aid and spreading love as emissaries of the Light; They go where others fear to tread, for dedication of their call; How blessed are places where they labor….the missionaries sent by God. (author unknown)
Jack and I were married for less than a year when we received the opportunity to go to Africa with the Lutheran World Ministries. The director of the Alleluia Gang had a son who was a missionary working in Cameroon. He had requested a volunteer to supervise the digging of water wells in six different villages. We prayed about it and believed the Lord would have us go.
We corresponded with him and his wife, getting particulars concerning the possibility of our acceptance. There was another couple who had also responded. So we left it in the Lord’s hands, believing that if it were His will that we go, then it would be done. In a few weeks we were notified that the other couple were not going because of lack of proper medical care in the area where residency was required. So this began a series of inquiries concerning what we needed to do in preparation for the venture.
The first thing that needed to be done was to close out Jack’s businesses, a dry goods store and an oil and gas distributing company. We began to sell out the store and to explore leads in selling the oil company. In addition to these, the house where I had lived before we were married had been sold and we were waiting to have the closure completed. We also had a trip scheduled to go to Haiti to conduct a vacation Bible school that summer. We were somewhat overwhelmed at all we needed to accomplish before leaving for Africa. We simply asked the Lord to take charge, knowing that we could not do all of this in our own strength. In His faithfulness, all was accomplished none too soon. We had our last vaccination on our way to the airport the day we left. We marveled at the timing and precision of the Lord!
Upon arrival if Africa I was aware of the oppressive spirit that greeted us. Africa is known as the “dark continent”, a name that fits it well. We took a taxi to N’gaoundere where we were to get a land rover to drive to Poli, our destination. We had attempted to learn a few words of the Fulani language when we were preparing for this assignment, but it did not help much in making ourselves understood. Jack knew some French, therefore we managed to make connections. We stayed with missionaries in N’gaoundere for a couple of days hoping that our missed baggage would find us before leaving for Poli. (But it did not, we left without it. It arrived three weeks after we got to Poli.) After making repairs to the land rover, we embarked on our five hour journey to Poli. It took us nearly two hours to drive the last 25 miles over an unimproved road filled with big holes and mud ruts. Finally, we drove into the mission compound which was to be our home for the next nine months.
Our home was a stucco covered mud block house. It had four rooms plus a storage room and a room where we had improvised a shower, consisting of a black plastic shower bag hung from a rafter. There was a one seater behind the house for the deposit of necessary disposals. The house was wired for electricity which was powered by a generator. We were blessed to have a refrigerator and a bottled gas cooking stove. The furniture was not the overstuffed comfortable type we enjoyed in the States. However, we adjusted to our new accommodations by the Lord’s grace.
Jack soon became busy with the work he had come to do, to supervise the digging of the wells. Which were dug by hand not drilled with a machine. He was off in the bush nearly every day, sometimes staying out for a week and returning for the weekend. Since I had not been assigned to any particular job, I had much time on my hands. When Jack was there I at least had meals to prepare, which I did from scratch, and sometimes making up the scratch. Our laundry had to be done by hand making it necessary to hire someone to do it. I tried, but just did not have enough strength in my hands to complete it.
The house did not have screens over the open windows. There were shutters that we could close if it became necessary. However, they did not fit tightly enough to keep out the dust storms and the locusts. The locusts were a delicacy for the villagers and they came to gather them up, take them to their homes and roast them.
The compound housed a number of Bible School students who attended the Bible School established there. Most of them were married with children. One day, as I was praying for the Lord to show me what useful thing I could do, I noticed four small boys in front of our house playing. I had taken Sunday School materials and English language teaching materials with me just in case I might have the opportunity to use them. So I started to communicate with the boys to see if they would be interested in learning. They were eager to learn. I did not know at the time that they already spoke three different languages. The boys started coming to our house for two hours every day. Soon some adults also came. I had no girls in the group because education did not include girls. Girls learned from their mothers all they needed to know about keeping a home and raising children. I asked some women if they would like to learn to sew. I did not have a sewing machine but I taught them to make a hand stitch. They brought clothing to me to be patched, which was like putting patches on cloth so threadbare it looked like cobwebs. We did not communicate with words. We communicated through hand and facial gestures. Most of these women had never held a needle before nor used a pair of scissors. I was blessed by the opportunity to show them, but they stopped coming after a few weeks because they had to work in the fields, which was customary for women.
One of the trials I had to face was culture shock. I became homesick, wanted to see my family in the States and was tired of the hot dry weather, the dust covering everything in the house, the strange looking snakes, the spiders, and the thousands of ants. Plus the drudgery of the long seemingly endless days. I became disenchanted with people living in mud huts with thatched roofs and dirt floors. After all, in this day and age, people were supposed to sit on chairs, not on mats, and they were supposed to eat their meals with utensils, not their fingers. Also, they were not supposed to carry things on their heads, arms with hands attached were meant to carry bundles. I began to count the days until we could go back home to the States.
The Lord used this time to teach me many lessons in perseverance, patience, long-suffering, and discipline. These are all very hard to learn but necessary to be a servant of the Lord. I knew I was cured of the culture shock when I saw a woman walking down the road carrying a bucket with her hand instead of on her head. I thought to myself, how odd, everyone knows that buckets should be carried on the head not in the hand!
Jack and I were blessed with the fellowship of our host family. We met with them often for Bible study and prayer. We enjoyed the antics of their three children and marveled at their ability to communicate with the African children. The seven of us went many places together, all learning experiences of the customs and culture of Africa. Just going to the open market was an educational experience. Food was very basic and usually laid out on the ground to be sold. There was no refrigeration for the meat, it was hung or laid on tables and was covered with flies. When we got really hungry for meat, we bought it anyway and scrubbed it with bleach water, as we did with the vegetables before eating them. We did not get sick from the food, but we both came down with malaria, even though we were taking chloroquine every day.
When our term was about to come to a close, out of the six wells started, only one well had been completed. The diggers had run into rock and the government had to be notified to send in teams to use blasting material to get through it. The delay in getting this accomplished was too long for us to extend our visas. Jack’s experience had been quite different from mine since he had lived in the bush and worked with the men to dig the wells. It was a challenge and learning experience for Jack too. He kept a log of each day while there. I hope that he will put his story on paper so that others can learn and appreciate the trials of living in the African bush.
We thank the Lord for giving us the opportunity for this experience. Not many persons are blessed as we were, not having formal training in the field of missions, to go, to see, to learn, to love, and to be loved. We met many dedicated missionaries who have given their lives to serve the Lord through the high calling to spread His Gospel. God bless them.