For me, Africa has always been one of those places that we talked about in church or school. You see stories on the news about AIDS outbreaks, wars, and disease but that's all that it was for me...until 2 years ago. This poor, dirty, foreign part of our world was a distant place I never thought I'd see with my own eyes until January 2009 when I stepped off of a plane into Niamey, the capital city of Niger, and discovered I was wrong - there is so much beauty and wealth in Africa. It's all a matter of perspective and I was desperately needing to change the way I viewed the world around me.
As we walked from the plane to a shuttle bus to drive us to the airport - the drive took maybe 2 seconds as we were merely feet way from the airport, thoughts resembling "I can't believe I'm actually here." "I can't believe there are so many people just hanging out at the airport." "I can't believe how big the guns are that those men are holding." and again "I can't believe I'm actually here." To say it was a surreal feeling would be an incredible understatement - I was excited and ready to get to work. I guess I knew somewhere in the back of my mind that this trip would be life-changing for me, but little did I know that God was getting ready to absolutely rock my world and blow my mind.
I'm not going to give you a day-to-day play-by-play of this trip, all of those details are tucked away in my journal, but there are a couple of stories I'd like to share along with quite a few pictures that sum up the trip for me. Experiences that even now, two years later, have stayed with me and I can recall as if I returned yesterday.
From the mountains...
To the desert...
Our plane after we landed in Africa
The village where we worked
Our Bush Taxi
Waiting on the ferry to take us across the Niger River
(We did this every morning and afternoon)
Because they cram as many people inside as they can, all of their cargo goes on top, even animals
Beauty in the middle of very dirty water
My favorite part - the kids!
One thing I realized very quickly is that kids are kids. They desire love and attention. They love to laugh and play games. These kids have nothing but you'd never know it looking at the huge smiles on their faces.
Walking through the village
Beautiful girl in a beautiful dress on market day
Let me tell you a little bit about storying. This is what we did on most of the days were were there. We would walk through the village looking for groups of people gathered to share with them the story of Jesus' birth, life, death, and resurrection. The notebook you see in the picture above contained pictures for each part of the "story" we told them. We did this with the help of our translator, Lawali...
Lawali is a follower of Christ from Niger who went out to the village with us each day. He is a precious man who became a dear friend of ours while we were there. And he LOVES beef jerky! It was truly remarkable to see the eyes of the men, women, and children light up as we told them about this man named Jesus. I always knew that there were people in our world who had never heard about Jesus but, never living outside of the Bible belt, that was really hard for me to imagine. Well, they are all over countries like Africa and what a joy and privilege it was to be the one to tell them. To our knowledge, in the village we traveled to each day, there were no believers. Zero. Not one person in the entire village of hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people had a personal relationship with Jesus. Mind blowing! And this is where God showed up, showed off, and revealed to us just what He is capable of...
The picture above is of Lawali, Brad (the missionary we served with while we were there), and Moumouni. I first saw Moumouni the second day we arrived in the village. The men were not really eager to hear what we had to say so they pretty much stayed away from what we were doing. They would watch and observe from afar but rarely engaged in our work. This was not the case with Moumouni - he was everywhere we were, always listening to us story, and I knew pretty early on that he might be the one God sent us there to reach. On the very last day that we were in the village, as we were saying our goodbyes and fighting back tears as we looked into the eyes of the kids we had fallen in love with and wanted to stuff into our luggage to bring home with us, I took the picture posted above. Lawali, Brad, and Moumouni moments after Moumouni prayed to receive Christ. Powerful!
In a village where we had witnessed demon possession ceremonies (I'd love to tell you this story), sickness, suffering, hopelessness - God painted a picture for us of how much bigger He is than all of those things. How He is moving and at work in villages in Africa, even when you think He might not be. He's there. He sees. Just like us, they are His creation, His handiwork and He desires a personal relationship with each one of the men, women, and children there. It's hard to put into words the feeling we had knowing, as we drove away, that there is now a believer in that village. Someone who chose to go against the "religions" of his people and begin his faith journey with Jesus. I think we all felt a little bit better leaving knowing that village now has it's own missionary. Life-changing! We serve an amazing God!
If you ever get the opportunity to travel to Africa, GO! I pray every day that God will give me the opportunity to go back. Whether it's West Africa or South Africa, it doesn't matter to me.
If you can't go, there are so many ways to get involved in what He is doing in places like Africa. Below are some organizations that I'd encourage you to look into. Pray about how God would lead you to help. Let God blow your mind, it's the most incredible feeling in the world!
(Also doing a free concert at ETBU tonight at 7pm)