When I thought about coming to another country, I knew that I was going to need to change a lot to be effective in that country. I never really understood what it meant until I came here.
I wanted to give you some examples of how God is working in us and allowing us to change in fun and hard ways. All of these examples are what we have learned so far and are subject to change as we learn more about life here.
We are learning to greet our neighbours properly. This means we ask about their families – husband (or wife) and children. It is similar to the States where the response is expected to be “ça vas bien”, (its going well) regardless of what is really happening. It is very important that our children learn to shake hands with everyone when they enter a room full of people. There are children here who will go from one person to the next until they shook everyone’s hand before they go off to play. I think it is a sign of their respect for the older people. Grace needs a little help with that at times; Caleb does it a little more willingly. This is a little different for us.
We are learning how to host people in our home. When we want to offer them a drink we say, “I have water or coffee, what do you want?” or ” I will bring the coffee out.” Not, “Do you want a drink or do you want something to eat?” If the person says thank you, that means no. When they leave, I should insist at least once that they stay or they will think I didn’t want them here.
We are learning how to make different foods that people like here and to eat a bit like them.
People eat around one bowl here, sometimes on the floor like we are here and sometimes around a small table with the bowl on it. We try to do this at least once a week to get our kids used to this way of eating.We are learning how to clean more like them. Bending from the waist down and not squatting or kneeling. My body is going to take some time to be able to truly bend the way they do. We are learning how to dress like they do in clothes and hair. They really like it when we do this and make comments like “Now you are Senegalese”. It shows that we accept them and their way of doing things when we dress like them.
Our national nanny, Awa braided Grace’s hair. Grace loves it, while momma is reserving her opinion…
Another thing that I am learning to change, is my reaction of surprise or shock when a friend asks for things directly, for example “give me those cookies for my house and family.” I just need to realize that it is ok and normal that they ask that, when they are my friend.
These examples above are about physical things but what about family values, how you spend your money, how you raise your kids? What are the things that are scriptural things and what things are just cultural? Where is the balance of being “a wise steward” and being culturally appropriate as well? What a wise steward is here, looks different than in the States. Here if you give to others you are a wise steward. In the States, you are wise if you save your money.
When we were in Canada at the Missions Training Centre, they told us all about “becoming”. We needed to change to become relevant to those we are around. We filed that info and now that we are in the midst of it, BECOMING is a way of life, not just like a quick change like we would change our clothes. We don’t become relevant in a day or a few weeks even, but this is going to be a life-long process. We are constantly choosing to be relevant in this culture; by the way we greet people, dress, cook, shop, visit with people, host, worship and the list could go on and on. To have a meaningful ministry among these people we must be relevant to them. We have the freedom to be like them to the degree it doesn’t contradict scripture. We will always be different because our skin colour and probably our accent, but we are looking for ways we can fit in better and live like they do. That is a constant challenge. But it is one God is giving us the grace to meet. We are learning new things everyday.
We had a holiday here a few days ago. We had no idea what it was for. We noticed different things happen during the day like boys pounding on little drums and little kids with wigs on and a lot of makeup. We didn’t think much of it except when our friend from school told us some the details she had noticed the next day. She said that the kids go around with drums, they dress up like the opposite gender and play their drums and dance at neighbor’s homes for candy, money or food. Now we understood what we observed the day before. We were also told that the reason for this holiday is to celebrate when a prophet and his followers were being chased by pharaoh and his armies and God helped them cross a sea to escape pharaoh. So now they fast during daylight hours, the day before and the day of the holiday as thanks to god. Don’t a lot of these traditions and stories sound familiar? This is an example of how we are learning culture by observing things that we may not get right away, asking questions when we can communicate them and doing a lot of watching.
One thing I observed just today is a man carrying a cage full of small birds. I think they were finches. We have seen these cages and guys carrying them before, but I never knew what they were for. I was standing outside the grocery store waiting for Melissa when the store manager came out and gave the man with the birds 500CFA (around $1 US). He said 10 (in French) and the man with the birds opened up his cage and grabbed one bird at a time until he let 10 birds go. They flew off when he opened his hand. I am sure there was some cultural significance to it, but I have no idea what it means or why they do it. These are just a few things we have observed lately.
Below are some funny things that have happened while we have been learning a new language and culture.
I have called a forehead, a forest.
I searched all over the grocery store (with the help from multiple people at the same time) for the things that are like small dates but then to realize that the word I was looking for, “raisins” is the same word in French. All I had to do was ask if they had raisins and they would have been able to tell me no they didn’t have them. We all laughed at that one!
I was on the bus and a man asked if I wanted to sit down. I did want to sit down because I had the kids with me. I said thank you and he kept sitting. Saying thank you is their polite way of saying no. Oops!
Shaking your fist at someone is called showing your wrist with closed fingers.
Crossing your legs is called crossing your feet. Also something isn’t between your legs, it is between your feet. These observations are not coming from a complete understanding and we might find that these are the words they use for these specific circumstances only.
So as you can see language learning is very interesting and fun too. We have a lot of laughs. We are so glad that people here are patient with us and laugh with us.
Overall, we think our visit with our neighbors for Tabaski went well. I will describe what went on but it hard to put into words the internal wrestling we had the whole day about what we should talk about with them, how should we act, etc. For instance, is it ok if we watched them work, were they asking if we wanted to eat with them out of courtesy or because they didn’t know what to do with us or did they really want us to eat away from them? We don’t think we offended them in any big ways at least because we still are welcomed into their home and we still visit with them there. Praise God for that. We are praying that we will continue to be a light and witness by our actions and that this friendship will continue to grow. Below is the description of the day.
On Tabaski, we walked across the street to our neighbors home and walked in the open door way without knocking. Oomee came and brought us into her living room and told us to sit. The TV was on and she left us there for a while. We weren’t sure what to do. Then Oomee came back and we went out in the hallway. In the hallway her mom and aunts and cousins were getting their hair done. (Adding weave with string and needle to their hair). The men were in their two small courtyards that had no roofs and had tile walls and floors. They were skinning, gutting and chopping the sheep in pieces with axes, knives and machetes. It was a messy process. Blood was all over the tile floors of the house as they were bringing the meat to various places to be washed, seasoned, boiled and grilled. We spent most of the morning wandering back and forth watching them as they cut the meat, cooked the meat over little grills and as they prepared salad, onion sauce and french fries in the kitchen. The family was snacking most of the morning on the different pieces of meat they were cooking. The piece they gave me was actually pretty good just a bit salty. I also was given sheep liver to eat. It was seasoned nicely but the texture totally got me. But I got it down without gagging, Praise God! We were invited to sit down to eat with Oomee in her bedroom while her family ate in the hallway. Initially she was going to eat with her family and we were we all going to eat apart from her family. But she asked us if we wanted her to eat with us instead. We said we would do whatever she wanted us to, but it would be nice to eat with her to get to know her better. She came in and we sat on the floor around a big platter full of the food. The platter had lettuce, French fries, baguettes, ribs, liver and onion sauce. After lunch we went home with our kids so they could nap. In the evening we saw our neighbors going out all dressed up in their nicest clothes to visit their friends. The days after Tabaski, there were not very many people around and there was not very many taxis or even buses. Everyone was away visiting in their village or their families homes for the celebration and they did not travel back till the week after. Because of the traveling we saw a bunch of people mob a bus to get on to travel to see their families for Tabaski. The week before Tabaski, on many street corners sheep were sold, but afterwards you could hardly find a sheep if you wanted to buy one. People will spend
$70-$1,000 (USD) on a sheep. It is an obligation if you have money to buy sheep. You don’t buy what you need to eat but you buy the max you can afford. The family we ate with killed four adult sheep. There were 25 people eating that day so there were lots of left overs. Tabaski is like our Christmas in the States – full of tradition and time with family. Families visit each other and friends and you eat a lot of food.
We would like to share with you what a typical day here in Africa is like. We leave our house at 7:30am and walk to the bus stop. The bus stop is a stop under a tree with a broken bench under it. There is no other markings designating the stop. The bus comes anywhere from 7:30-8:10am. One day it didn’t come at all and we found out later that a major car accident on the main road prevented any busses from coming. As we wait for the bus we see people walking by, taxis, cars, SUVs, and buses driving by. People walk or ride their bicycles past us with open big brown bags or rolling carts full of baguettes that they are taking to bread stores. People are setting up for market up the street by sweeping around their stands, setting up their canvas or plastic roofs and setting out their wares, which could be clothing, fruit and vegetables or many other things.
When the bus comes it is much like a normal city bus in the States. We stand most of the time holding the yellow bars on the ceiling. Many times the bus sways or stops suddenly and we are constantly thrown into other passengers but everyone is in the same place and no one seems to care. It is an adjustment being that close to other people. There doesn’t seem to be much of a “personal space” on the busses. As we ride we watch outside as the bus drives around other buses, avoids big sewage puddles, and drives around roundabouts. We see people selling water in little bags or big 1.5 L bottles, newspapers, and people begging in wheelchairs at stop lights.
Our classroom is on the ground floor of an apartment building. The street it is on has a big median in the middle. On Saturdays this median turns into a very busy market with traffic on both sides. During the week, people (mostly women and children) sit in the median on buckets or on the ground. They are eating breakfast there. On the side of the road and in the median there are structures that have poles with sheets of plastic around them. Sometime they have a roof, sometimes they don’t. There are benches in them and ladies serving people breakfast in them. They seem to be mini restaurants.
There are also little children begging for money or food. I have seen a woman sitting on a bucket with two young children near her. She had one toddler asleep on her knee and one crying in her arms. She used no covering as she breast feed the baby. Another small adjustment for us. It seems like they spend the day on the intersection comer with their children. They hang their laundry up on the side of the road with lines that are hung between the trees. Their lives are so different from ours. Our neighbor kid’s toys are rocks instead of jacks and sticks instead of play swords. And oh you can’t forget a flat soccer ball that doesn’t roll, but rather flops around the field. How to I grapple with the disparity I see? How do I care for the boys who beg for money that is then given to the religious leaders who “care” for these children. I give them food sometimes but money will not help them. It is hard to think of boys 5 and older with no one to love on them.
Our French school is very different than most. We sit around a table listening to our language helper telling us the words for various objects and actions and we either point or act out what she says to do. Then there are exercises where we try to form commands, questions or sentences with words that we know and our language helper either responds to and corrects our speech. It is a great way to learn and very challenging. We have a very patient language helper.
By the time we leave school at 1pm. The people in the median are in the shade of a big sign sitting with their children and either eating or chatting with each other. There are people selling watermelons, peanuts and coconuts on the side of the road and lots of traffic. We find it easier and quicker to walk for a while before we call a taxi because most times there is so much traffic that we would be waiting in a hot taxi with no air conditioning. Then we head home and get home around 1:45pm.
We eat lunch around 2pm and try to rest a bit. Between the heat and the language learning all morning, we are normally exhausted by the time we get home. We then spend the rest of the day in a combination of activities from shopping, cooking, spending time with and taking care of our kids, listening to language lessons, corresponding with people, cleaning up things etc. Things here take longer to do and take more energy to do them because of the heat and because things are harder to get or get to. We don’t have a vehicle at present and so we either walk or take a taxi most places. That adds time as well as heat. Many times we cannot find the things we want to buy at the markets by our house so we have to walk 20 mins or so to the Supermarket. We can’t buy much at a time because we have to carry everything home. Calling a taxi is expensive for the distance we need to go.
The children have a bed time routine that generally takes about an hour. They get a bath every night, then we read the Bible Story book, then we usually sing “if you are happy and you know it” or “Our God is so Big”, then we pray usually for Grandma and Grandpa (on both sides) and sometimes the list includes all the aunts and uncles. It also usually includes 2 or more of our prayer and financial partners. Then we give them one last drink of water and put the nets down as the children get into bed. The mosquito coil is lit and we let them sleep while Melissa and I listen to our class recordings for the next day. By the time we are finished with that, it is anywhere between 10:00 and 11:30. Bed time so we can do it all over again in the morning.
Saturdays we get to relax a little more and shop or go to the mission park. Sundays we go to church. That is an experience. We don’t understand much yet, but we are progressing. We would like to be more involved when we are able to understand more.
That is what a typical day looks like, but things vary so much it is hard to define typical. We had to go to the American Embassy to get some papers last week and there was no class scheduled. It rained and we were cold! People don’t believe it could get cold here, but it is true, I wish I had a sweatshirt on that day. Once or twice a week we usually go to the mission office for our mail after class, so that changes the afternoon a little. We are beginning to spend some time with our neighbors, but our communication is still pretty limited. We are excited to see the progress, but it will take a while to get to the level we need to be at. If you have any thoughts, feel free to write or call.
So how is life different here? I will start by describing cooking. I have to use filtered water to cook with and drink. We need to soak our vegetables and fruit in bleach water before eating them. I use a gas stove that the degrees are in Celsius vs Fahrenheit. My measuring cups have grams not cups on them.
Shopping takes longer because not every grocery store has everything I need in it. I walk to the grocery store. I can only buy a little produce and bread at a time or it goes bad to quickly. This means that I have to go shopping more frequently.
The other day, I tried to buy eggs from a convenience store called a “boutique” here. I didn’t know the word for eggs so I tried looking for them so I could point to them. I couldn’t see them. I knew the word for chicken and tried to say that they make them. That didn’t work. I was so afraid I was going to have to act like a chicken laying an egg for them to get it but then someone came in that spoke English and helped me. I was so glad. I really did not want to be playing charades for all to see. I am already a spectacle.
We can not get cream soups, black beans, pickle relish, dill weed, and not all vegetables in the grocery stores. Cheese, milk and yogurt are very different. I miss the cheese and milk in the States. You can get fresh baguettes and rolls at road side stands. They are very good. Mangos and papaya are in season and are so good!
Meat can be bought in the grocery stores but is very expensive. Or you can buy it at a butcher where there is no refrigeration, there are flies all over the meat and they handle money and meat at the same time. I bought beef there this week. I plan on cooking it for hours to make sure it is ok to eat. That is what most people do and it is ok.
Chickens come with feet and neck attached and heart and liver still inside. Sometimes a few feathers still poking out of the skin. The meat is something I am going to take a bit to get used to.
So that is a little about food prep. I will write more later about other things..
I have sometimes stressed over the uncertainties of living overseas from safety to health to finances. But I have remembered that God is first of all a good God and secondly I can remember many times in my life where God has provided and protected. Let me tell you of two of them.
As I child living overseas I had seizures. They were so bad at times that my mom wondered if I would ever make it to college. I can’t imagine how hard it was for her to see me go through that. But God protected me. In high school my seizures stopped with medicine and in college I was still seizure-free even without medicine. I was cured! Now I am married, and have children. All the things my mom wondered if they were even possible. God can protect and heal our health.
On our way to Canada we were pulling a trailer that was loaded to the brim. We made it to Canada and months later, a mechanic looked under the trailer and realized that the tongue only had one inch of metal holding it together! And we made it all the way to Canada even on very bumpy Michigan roads with one inch of metal. Totally a God thing. So I know that God can protect us from harm. I know He wants us here. I can trust Him.
When the choice to quit work was presented before one of our many trips across the country, we prayed that God would give us wisdom. This would mean that we would not receive any more guaranteed income. We would live off of our support. We decided to stop working and continue our support raising. Within 5 minutes of calling my work, someone else called and asked if they could come by and drop off a gift. God confirmed our decision to quit work with a check for $3,000!!! He was giving us peace about the timing of everything and we are confident He will continue this provision. Maybe not everything we want, but definitely everything we need. He is indeed a good God!
While in Burkina Faso, I got to see a few of the realities of missionary life some positive and some negative. One aspect of missionary life is the unique scenery they get to see. Due to the pressures of work/ministry and stress of culture clashes, missionaries are in need of breaks from the daily life at home. I experienced this just a little as Daniel and his family decided to take a day trip to visit a city about an hour away. The attractive thing about this area is the lake that has wild hippos in it. We were able to take a rickety canoe out to the area and watch them spray water and wave their ears. One of them yawned for us which was very interesting to see in the wild. We went to a nice restaurant for lunch. It was a great way to relax and spend some time with family. I am looking forward to those types of breaks from the pressures of daily life.
Another interesting topic among missionaries is transportation and travel. In West Africa, travel by bus is very common. Many people use it to get from one city to another. It is very cheap and mostly reliable. I was privileged to have the opportunity to travel in this manner while in Burkina Faso. We were traveling back to Ouagadougou which is a 5 hour drive unless the bus driver decides to take the rough spots quickly. We ended up in Ouaga about 4 1/2 hours after departure because our driver wanted to get there quickly. It proved to be a rough ride for about 30 minutes as we drove over the broken road. It was a little hot and tight, but it was cheap. I paid a little less than $15.00 for a 5 hour bus ride. I don’t think you could get that far with $15.00 of fuel. Just one more experience I can add to my memories of Africa.
Life here in Burkina Faso is great. There are some things I would need to get used to if we moved here. One of those things is the heat. We have had temperatures in the high 30s and low 40s Celsius here. For those of you who are not familiar with Celsius, the Fahrenheit equivalent would be around 102 to105 degrees. That is hot! Sweat is a common way of life here. I would also need to get used to electricity being scheduled off during certain hours in the week. The infrastructure of the city cannot accommodate all the people using high power for air conditioners at least in the dry/hot season. So the city shuts it off on this side of town certain evenings in the week while the other side uses the electricity. I think a generator or solar panels would be nice for those times in the week. There are some good but unusual sights here. Lizzards seem disturbing to many people in the U.S. But they are so common here that people laughed at me when I wanted to take a picture of one. They are very good for the spiders and other insects that would be over running the house. I would also need to get used to the fruit trees. I am not used to Mangos growing all over town. They have pineapple, papaya, strawberries at certain times, oranges and avocados. The churches in Africa are different than in the U.S. too. All of the services I have been to are very lively with very upbeat music. Good things but different than I am used to.
God is the same here in Africa. He loves these people and He is asking me to reach out to these people. He wants us to live our lives for His glory and in so doing, be the example of His love to these people. So, the question I am asking myself is: How can I live my life for His glory here in Africa? How can I lead my family here and best glorify Him? I am learning how to trust Him in many areas of life these days. I am 4,000 miles away from home and I am not sure how all the work will get done that needs to get done before we leave for Africa. These are a few areas God is stretching me. May He be glorified in our lives.
These are excerpts from Jacob’s journal of his time in Benin of the food that he is having there and what he noticed about goats on his way to Benin. Sorry for the choppiness of this. I have copied and pasted the excerpts about the food from different days he journaled about.
They have an interesting coffee here called Nescafe. It is instant coffee and here in Benin they mix it with sweetened condensed milk and add some boiling water. It isn’t too bad, but it is definitely not like Starbucks in the states. They also serve it with bread. It is a little like a small baggette from France, but I think it is better here. When we parked the car and walked in toward the market a man on a bike with a cooler on the front rode by and he was selling Fan Milk. It is some of the best ice cream you can get. I bought some and ate it while we were waiting for our cafe au lait. It comes in a small bag like frozen vegetables in the states. You break a corner with your teeth and squeeze it through the hole. It was soooo good in this hot place.
We went out the restaurant we went to before and had some very interesting food called Ablo. It was like corn bread in taste, but like a very moist cake in consistency. It was sweet and very good.
We have had some sort of stew with gyrie I think it is like ground manioc or casava root. It was good.
On the way to Dassa we went to a French restaurant and I had some Crocodile meat over rice while Daniel had some Ostrich over rice. It was good but definitely interesting.
“We went to Glasoue about 15 km away. It was a smaller city than Dassa, but with much bigger need among the Idatcha. We met with Pastor Philippe who is the only Idatcha pastor working with only Idatcha people. He pastors a church of over 200 and they have planted two others that he travels to preach in. Among the 40+ villages in the Glasoue region, there are only 2 congregations; one with the Assemblies of God denomination and one with SIM. So, here we were sitting under a grass roof structure listening to the pastor of the only all-Idatcha church. He told us what he does to get a group together: He takes his cart through the village and plays his djimbe drums. When a crowd gathers, he preaches to them. He was trained by Campus Crusade for Christ in Cotonou, so he uses the four spiritual laws types of sermons to invite people. At other times he uses the Jesus Film in French, (they are working on an Idatcha version right now). So, as we were talking with him about the lack of committed leaders and the churches he is trying to pastor himself, and the young leaders he is trying to train and how he deals with the resistance and persecution from people, my heart began to think of the great need here. There is a great need for discipleship. I don’t know if this will classify as priority work for NTM, because of the work already accomplished here. Plus by the time we finish language study they may not need us. I guess we will have to see what the next two years brings….”
Jacob got to worship in the church mention above today. He then got to hear a testimony time in the evening of seminary students who went out to preach this morning among the Idatcha and what happened. I can’t wait to hear how that time went from him.