Beautiful Differences (Part 1)

 

As we are approaching 2 ½ months of living here in Togo, I am noticing more and more differences in cultures between what I grew up with in the United States and the culture of the Togolese. I think it is an instinctive response to see differences and conclude that your own culture is the “right” one. I’ve been fighting this urge and trying to put on the lenses of the Togolese to see their ideas, worldviews, and opinions through their eyes. Here is one difference in cultures I think that I as an American can learn from…

Greetings.  It is very important in Togolese culture to greet everyone you run into. In the tribal language of Ewe, the predominate language where we live, you must greet people with a back and forth exchange that depends on when you last saw the person. There are different phrases if you last saw the person yesterday, that same day, or many days ago. You must be sure to ask about everyone in the person’s family, their children, husband, etc. If they don’t have a family, then you must ask about something. Maybe their motorcycle or their house. It is rude to not greet them fully and to make sure that all is well in their life.

This cultural necessity struck me as starkly unique.  How many times do I see a friend at church or the store, and I flippantly ask “How are you?” and move on? I don’t really expect a response other than, “Good”.  Sometimes I’m in rush and don’t have time for more than a “Hey!”. Or even I’ve been guilty of avoiding eye contact so I don’t have to have a long conversation (rude, I know, but I’m sure I’m not the only one).  However, how much richer and fuller would my relationships be if I took the time to really ask someone how they are doing? If I made a point to make sure everyone in their family was well, that their job was going well, that they weren’t going through a struggle and I merely gave a weak “hello” before moving on with my busy day.

I’m not saying everyone needs to bare their souls in the middle of the frozen food section.  But a little more vulnerability and intentionality would go a long way. I think that’s what Jesus would do running into a friend at the Post Office. I think that’s what He already does for me when I pray to Him. He always takes the time to hear my problems and listen to my cries.  We as Christians should be marked by empathy, concern for others, and valuing people more than a timetable. And I know that this isn’t always appropriate in our culture. Timeliness is not as valued in West African culture and being late is mostly acceptable here. Whereas, with our rigidly scheduled lives in the US, tardiness is rude and usually not acceptable. But the difference in this part of the world is that a concern for another’s well-being is more important than a schedule, and I find that difference beautiful. I hope and pray that I can become a woman focused on intentionality and compassion in the relationships God brings into my life.

Abundantly Blessed

This afternoon, as I sat trying to shove chicken pieces in Elijah’s mouth before he could throw them on the floor and laugh about it, I was struck by the weight of how blessed we are. Now this should be a very common feeling living in a third world country, but I’m ashamed to say I don’t feel as blessed as nearly as often as I should. The dark side of having internet in our house and being constantly connected to the world is the problem it brings of comparing my life to the filtered lives of others back home and around the world. “Look as so and so going to Paris.” “Look at the new house so and so bought.” The sin of my heart brings me to tears.

So as I sat and tried to force feed my son his chicken for lunch, I realize that there would be disbelief in many of my neighbor’s minds if I told them my son eats meat every single day. His little basket of toys is 10 times the amount of toys their kids have to play with. The fact that when he had a fever a couple weeks ago I could easily take him to the best hospital in the area to casually check him for malaria is more than many moms could ask for. I have been recently frustrated by the number of bugs in our house. I jokingly told Samuel the other day we have a food chain problem going on in our house. The termites are being eaten by the beetles who are being eaten by the lizards. I hope there is nothing bigger than the lizards coming in our house next. The fact that Elijah’s eaten one or two bugs off the floor stresses me sometimes.  And God, in my complaining, graciously reminds me, “My child, you are living in abundance”. We visited a Fulani village this weekend where the families lived in mud huts that were falling apart, they had no mosquito nets, and their children barely had clothes. The kids, barefoot among the goat poop, were playing with a beach ball that had a rip in it and was completely deflated. But you would think it was the best toy they’ve ever seen. The joy on their faces struck me as out of place considering where we were.

I have come to realize that my heart is full of dark places I had not realized. That my heart has the tendency to think that I must have many possessions and be comfortable to be content and happy in life. Now in my head I would say, “No, like Paul in Philippians 4, I can be content in all circumstances,” but my heart has proven this false. But God is so gracious and has been teaching me to rejoice in the small things and has been so faithful to remind me how blessed I am.

Now blessings are just that. They are blessings and we shouldn’t feel guilty for what we have. But as for my heart, I was reminded this week that it should be bursting with thanksgiving and gratitude, instead of the occasional episodes of ungratefulness. If we have access to water that doesn’t make us sick, we are blessed! If we never have to experience a hungry belly for more than a few hours, we are blessed! If we can take our children to the doctor immediately when they are sick, we are blessed!

Today remember that you are blessed! Even when things are dark, there are blessings all around.

 

“And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

2 Corinthians 9:8

“Am I not worth it?”

As many of you have heard, our friend Todd Dekryger (46 years old) passed away on February 26th. Todd was a missionary and physician’s assistant in Mango, Togo. He was the director of the Hospital of Hope that opened last year. He and his family have lived in Togo for 9 years. Todd and his wife Jennifer have four boys ages 8, 12, 14, and 16. When you met Todd he had a way of making you feel welcome, comfortable, and valued. He was warm, joyful, and full of the Lord.

Todd was diagnosed with malaria and typhoid fever. After two weeks of a steady deterioration, he was evacuated to Germany where he passed away. Later they found he had Lassa Fever, a virus found almost exclusively in West Africa. It’s similar to Ebola but less contagious and less deadly. However, it still claimed the life of Todd, someone who dedicated his life serving God by serving the Togolese people. He sought to show the Togolese that they were loved, valued, and and cherished by God. He proclaimed the gospel valiantly and in the end gave his life up for these people and their salvation. He was a beautiful mirror of Jesus.

Now I can only count on two hands the interactions I’ve had with him. Samuel knows the family much more intimately. But when Todd died, it hit me hard. It hit close to home. Too close to home. I’m about to leave to go with my family to this place. In my mind I’ve always thought, “Togo might be a little more risky then living in America, but something fatal can happen here too.” This is true. Todd could have died from something in the states just as easily as in Togo. But maybe it wasn’t just as easy. I realized with Todd’s death there really is a level of risk greater than in America. There are more deadly diseases. We will be living closer to violence. There are poisonous animals and mosquitoes carrying serious illnesses. The health care is not as advanced as the Western world.

But God whispered something to me in this time of fear. He quietly asked me, “Am I not worth it?”

Todd gave his life up for something beautiful. He didn’t selfishly keep his safety and security. He gave all that up for people to be welcomed into the glory of heaven. There is not a more noble cause.  The longest life on earth is but a blink of an eye. It is a fleeting second compared to eternity.  Why not offer that second on the alter to Jesus. Is He not worth it? The One who came to our dirty, painful, dark world and died a tortuous death. All so my wandering heart could be clean and my rebellious spirit could live in eternity with my Creator.  Was this beautiful Creator not worth the risk? Even if one soul was saved from the darkness, wasn’t it worth the risk?

While I sat in my kitchen weeping in pity and sorrow for Todd and his family, God’s one question in that whisper shook me from feeling pity, to feeling a great sense of pride for them. What an honor to give up ones life like he did. What an honor to die working for the Lord. Am I saying I wish to die in Africa? No. Of course not. But I am saying that I wish God wrings out every drop of my fleeting life to be used for His glory and honor. He did that for Todd. Because of Todd’s death, hundreds and hundreds of people will hear about God’s love for them. Love that sent Todd who died to reach them. Love that sent God’s perfect Son who would die to trample death. Praise God death is not the end, but the beginning.

Luke 14:28-33

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.  So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”

Fundraising and the Body of Christ

Fundraising. It’s the process that I’ve dreaded the most. The letters F-U-N should be banished from the word. Give me 30 cockroaches to kill with a shoe. Give me some caterpillars to eat with my bare hands. Give me 48 hours of traveling with a baby. Those things do not intimidate me as much as looking someone in the eye and asking them for money. It’s awkward. It’s unnatural. It makes my stomach feel full of lead. But that is what God has called us to for these next few months.

For some reason, my prideful self has had this sense that when people have been giving to our outreach, they are giving to us personally. But that isn’t true.  I recently had a conversation with a friend who has been faithfully and generously giving towards our work in Togo. I was telling him that I was so thankful for his generosity. He told me, “Don’t thank me. I’m giving to God what He has asked of me.”  I’m not saying I shouldn’t be thankful, but I do need to have a shift in my thinking.

God has been teaching me recently. I think I’ve hated fundraising so much because I have this idea that people are giving directly to Samuel and I. But I’ve started to realize that this is not going to Samuel and I. It’s going into the kingdom of God and people are excited and happy to give to that. People are giving to see blind children come to know the Lord as their Savior. People are giving to see those who have been so ensnared in fear and idol worship to break free and live and walk in God’s amazing love, grace, and freedom for them. People are giving to watch the hopeless learn what hope is.
This changes my mindset on fundraising. It’s no longer about me (because despite what I constantly think, it’s never about me). It’s about these precious blind children coming into the family of God and knowing that they are valued and loved, no matter what the world tells them.

I’m not saying all this so you will open your wallets and give. This isn’t a fundraising tactic. It’s just my heart learning more and more about the body of Christ and how it works. God gives us different roles to play to fulfill His work, and some are the hearts that supply the hands with blood to move and serve.  Maybe one day I’ll be a heart and be sending someone else to share the gospel overseas. But no matter what part of the body of Christ I am, my job is still to proclaim Jesus’ love to those around me. I have the same DNA as the feet, the eyes, the liver (I don’t know what role in the church the liver would play in this analogy). Because we all have the same DNA, we must all be reflecting the love of God. It should leave an impact on anyone we come in contact with.

So thank you to all of you who are supporting us. Please know that this mission Samuel, Elijah, and I are on is just as much your mission. Be encouraged that your help is just as vital to this work as ours. We could not do this without you. You are vital to this proclamation of Good News to the lost at the ends of the earth.

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 12:12

This is Nina

This is Nina.

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She is seven years old and she is blind. She has grown up in a small village in rural Togo. Every day she has been taught about fetishes. Most people in Togo believe in animism, or spirit worship. The countries of Togo and Benin are where the practices of voodoo originated.   Nina has been taught to worship the spirits of her ancestors. Certain objects in her house are sacred. They are where the spirits live and they usually demand sacrifices. The spirits can dwell in anything (a clay pot, a bone of a sacrificed animal, a tree, a goat).  Nina has probably lived all seven years of her life trying to connect to the spirit world and make sure the spirits are satisfied with her and her family. She has probably been involved in rituals that include the villagers praying to their ancestors, sacrificing goats or cows, and tribal dances, inviting the spirits inside of the dancers. The worshipers desire to go into a spiritual trance.  Sometimes these entranced people will throw themselves into fires or off cliffs, because it is “what the spirits wanted”.

When Nina was born, a fetish priest, or witch doctor, most likely offered to be the voice of the spirits.  He told them that the spirits were punishing her family by giving them a daughter with blindness.  Probably a large payment was required to be made to the priest.  He may have given the family an object to worship and make sacrifices to. Sometimes the object will represent a family member’s life. For example, the priest may have given the family a clay pot or other object to make sacrifices to. The object would represent Nina’s life. If the sacrifices are made, perhaps Nina would regain her sight. If sacrifices are not made or the pot breaks, the priest would explain, Nina will die.

But thank the Lord, our God seeks to save! Nina has just started to attend the Village of Light School for the Blind.  Unfortunately, she has been having nightmares every night. The attacks of the enemy are strong and Satan will not let go his control so easily. But her dorm mom has been praying with her and helping her understand that Jesus is our light and our hope. Our salvation is in Him and not our works or sacrifices. He was our sacrifice, once and for all. She is told every day how much value she has and how much she is loved by her Creator. Nina is being taught French and how to read Braille.  She is around children her age who are also blind. She has friends and people who love her.

Please pray for Nina, that the fear she still has and the nightmares she experiences would dissipate.  That she would understand the Father’s great love for her and that she would run out of the darkness and into the light.

Please also pray that God brings more with blindness to this school.  Right now there are 25 extra beds for more children to come; it is just a matter of finding them in the remote villages.  Currently, messages inviting the blind to come to the school are going out over the radio. Hopefully people hear and respond. We want to see more and more people being invited into the light, to be taught how to read and write; but more importantly, how there is a life full of hope for them beyond their spirit worship.

“Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.” Matthew 20:34

Getting The Call

As Elijah and I were coming back from a walk, Samuel came to meet me outside the house. He had a huge smile on his face and I could sense he was dying to tell me something. Before I could even get through the door of our house, he burst out, “ABWE wants us to go to Togo for a year!”

A little back story…

Samuel and I have always had a passion for missions. We met on the mission field and spent part of our first year of marriage on the mission field. We have always known God had placed that passion in us for a reason and we hoped to spend most of our lives overseas, sharing with others the joys of Christ and pouring into those who were the considered “least of these” like Matthew 25:40 says.

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Rocking the matching fabric in Republic of Congo in 2014

After living in Gloucester, Virginia for the last nine months, we have felt pulled to go back overseas. We planned on going for a one month short term trip to Togo, West Africa, where Samuel and I had first met. We weren’t sure about jumping into full time missions with our son only being a few months old. So we thought one month was a good compromise.

But sometimes God doesn’t do compromises. I was listening to the song, “Jesus Paid It All” recently. If you don’t know, the song goes, “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe”. I thought about the words “all” in the song. What did that mean for my life? Did Jesus literally mean all? Or was it really just a very loose translation of the word all? Maybe He really meant most, or what I felt comfortable to give, or maybe even really what I have left to give after my other priorities.

But in my heart of hearts I knew that wasn’t true. He meant ALL. That means my time, my comfort, my family, my resources, my everything.  That even meant my new baby boy I love more than life itself. He meant that because He gave up His life to save my life, I owed it to Him to give up ALL of my short existence on earth, so that others could know His love as well.

So when Samuel said that the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE) asked us to go for a year instead of one month, I knew that I owed Jesus at least this much. This sacrifice of one year paled in comparison to what Jesus had done for me.

We are planning on going to Kpalime, Togo, from July 2016-August 2017. We will be working at the Village of Light School for the Blind. There will be about 35 students that will attend next year.  The mission of the center is to teach blind Togolese to read the Bible, to be a haven for those shunned by society and family because of their blindness, and to help the students understand God’s love daily. The culture in Togo is not at all compassionate to those who have handicaps, like blindness. Many are shunned and not welcomed in society because they cannot contribute to their families. The school helps to give the students an education and skills in order to run businesses or to have a successful trade in their villages once they graduate from school.

Samuel will be involved in the administration of the school and I will be filling in as the school nurse.  How perfect are the needs of the school for our skills?  Only God can orchestrate things so perfectly.

We will also be able to be involved in other ministries around Togo. There are opportunities to help in the missions hospital 30 minutes from the school, to help with film evangelism in the different remote villages in Togo, and to disciple the Togolese in our town of Kpalime.

Before we heard about this need, we had been praying that if we went to Togo we would be absolutely needed.  God answered this, in that if someone doesn’t go, other missionaries already there would have to take on the responsibilities, stretching their ministries thin. And if there are no missionaries willing or able to take on the responsibility, the students might not be able to come back to school for the school year of 2016-2017.

Please be praying for us. Someone told me the other day that Samuel and I are so nonchalant about picking up and leaving to go overseas. Maybe that’s how we appear on the outside, but there are some fears, concerns, and stresses that we have to overcome and we still need to learn to completely trust in the Lord. I know that our God will take care of us, financially, physically, and emotionally. But frequently I have to remind myself of this.

The cost for us to go is $3,800 a month. When I first heard this I thought, “Well, I guess we aren’t going to Togo. There is no way we can come up with that kind of money”. But then I remembered telling someone a few weeks ago that God always takes care of the finances of trips like this. God has this sense of humor that if you make statements of faith like that, He’s going to test it! I know God will take care of it all and that if He really does want us serving in Togo, the money will come in.

We are extremely excited about this opportunity and are excited to share with all of you the journey we are about to go on. I hope to update this blog frequently. Our God is good and we are excited to make much of His name.

“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'”

-Matthew 28:18-20 –

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