After celebrating our second wedding anniversary, Traci and I set out on a new course together – raising the financial support necessary for us to go to Zaire, Africa on a three month short-term mission trip with African Christian Mission. My second trip, Traci’s first trip, and her first time ever on a plane. 🙂
Getting To Africa
Raising support is one of those things where it is easy to be on the giving end, giving money to help someone else fulfill their calling, but it is not always easy to be on the receiving end. It is extremely humbling when you begin sending out letters, sharing your story with churches and small groups, and for them to reach in their pocket or write a check from their hard earned money, to help you get to where God has been calling.
Over the first 5 months of 1991, we wrote a lot of letters, spoke with a lot of people, went to a lot of meetings, and reached 100% of our financial goal to be able to go. We had people praying for us and encouraging us, all along the way.
Traci graduated from Lincoln Christian College in early May, 1991. We got our immunizations. Got all our visas and passports set. And then in late May, we made the journey to O’Hare airport and said goodbye to our friends and family for 3 months. Goodbye is usually not easy, but I still remember walking away with Traci down the carpeted hallway, to our gate at the international terminal. It was her first real trip away like this. We boarded Sabena Airlines and were on our way.
The First Month In Africa
We were met at the airport in Bujambura, Burundi by a couple of mission families. We began driving the roads, traveling through border crossings from Burundi into Rwanda, and then to the border crossing from Rwanda to Zaire.
The border official had started his weekend a bit early, drinking a bit too much homemade banana beer, and did not want to let 12 white people pass through his border crossing.
After a couple hours of waiting, he decided to let the women and children go, but the men had to stay. Traci set out with the other ladies, on into Zaire. Welcome to Africa, Traci. Your husband is stuck at the border and you don’t know what is going to happen. Jay, Jeff, and myself soon found out we were not going anywhere as the banana beer continued to flow. Mosquitoes were coming out. It was growing dark.
To avoid getting bit my mosquitoes (which runs the risk of Malaria) the three of us slept in the cab of a Toyota pickup, sweaty and hot. Toyota pickups were not meant for 3 guys. In the morning the new border official (who had not enjoyed banana beer) released us, and we drove into Zaire with no more incidents.
We settled into life, living in the Beeman’s house. We walked and rode taxis around the city of Bukavu. We took Swahili lessons with a local teacher, Buhindiwa. We visited the hospital and local prison with Carolyn Butler. Helped the Rosses count currency (the Zaire money was experiencing hyper inflation that summer). And, we helped out in any way we could.
About 2 weeks into our trip, we climbed on board the mission plane and traveled to Mwenga to visit with the Hegler family for a few nights, and then back on the plane to visit with the Reed and Stevens family in Kazuza. Mwenga is much higher in the mountains and was a bit more basic living. Kazuza was much lower in elevation and the families were working hard to build their homes and build the church.
We worked with the Stevens in building their home, put on the tin roof, adjust solar panels, and get moved in. We got to drive a fantastic Toyota truck (in the photo above), and I got to give Traci her first ride on a motorcycle up and down the airstrip. Traci also got to experience getting bitten by siafu (African soldier ants). We worked with the local church and got to have our first rural African church service. No one does an offering dance or song like the folks in Kazuza!
One of the really cool parts of this trip was getting to spend time, in the village, with Ron Butler. He is one of the primary reasons I ever made it to Africa. I was able to watch him interact with the people, and sit around and chat with him. It is one of my top memories of my life. I can still close my eyes and remember the sandy soil, the bushes around us, sitting on stools against the Reed’s house. Ron in his Australian cowboy hat, and me in my baseball cap. He was one of the greatest!
Month 2 – Goma, Zaire
After Kazuza, and after arriving back in Bukavu for a week, we began receiving letters from home and it felt good to be back in the city life. One of the goals we had that summer was to explore a new area of the country. Diane Beeman made the arrangements for us to spend a week in the city of Goma, located north of Bukavu. There were no other missionaries there. Arrangements had been made for us to meet with the Goma church… and they were very ready to meet with us.
Kisongo was the pastor of the church, and he had arranged for hospitality beyond what any 5-star resort could do here. Granted, it was Zaire, but the heart and effort still humble us 21 years later. We stayed at the home of one of the church members. He treated us like royalty and had a hot breakfast for us every morning.
Our Swahili was very limited, and their English was zero. We had a translator with us… some of the time. He found family and would go visit with them. So, through our broken Swahili, we managed to share with the men and women of the church. We would have HUGE meals of fish, beef, chicken, and all kinds of fruits and vegetables. We found out that the church knew we were coming and had taken up such deep sacrificial offerings to buy the food to provide for us and help us travel throughout the week. They gave beyond what they had to give.
It was an emotional time for Traci and I. We would cry from the hospitality we were shown and how much this church wanted us to come and serve. We struggled at night sometimes being home sick or isolated. One of our closest companions was Rich Mullins, who we would listen to at night on our Walkman before going to sleep.
We ended the week with a church service. It was probably the most incredible service I have been a part of. The singing was intense. The prayer time was even more intense. The singing and the preaching went on and on. We understood very little of what was said, but we knew that God was moving, God was healing, God was here. We gathered for a parting photo outside the church with several members, heading back to the airport, and back to Bukavu, on the south side of Lake Kivu.
Month 3 – Leaving Africa
Funny things happen in my head sometimes. The thoughts in my head tend to blow around with the breeze and I can be in love with Africa at one moment, and then the next moment, wonder how I could live there another day. Traci probably wondered what kind of man she had married at the time. I was, at best, fickle with me thoughts.
We ended our summer in Africa at the Kumbiya conference in Rwanda. We slept in tents for about 10 days. It was a lot of fun and we got to meet and spend time with missionaries from all over East Africa. I got to play my first game of Cricket with several UK and Aussie missionaries.
After arriving back in Bukavu, we said goodbye to our African friends and missionaries, drove back to Burundi, and climbed on board the Sabena 747 for Belgium, and then Chicago.
In the weeks and months that followed, I was more confused than ever about my future. I just needed some time… at least that is what I thought. I gave the appearance of having it together, but on the inside I was a wreck and my once “sure future as an African missionary” was anything but certain. I was a ship without a rudder, map, or direction.
Africa is hard on me. It is the one place I want to be more than anything. It has been 21 years since that summer, and now, 15 years since my last trip to Africa, yet, I still dream of the people, the land, the animals, the life. But, when I’m there, this battle rages in my head and heart to go home, to quit, to another life back home in America.
I could live the rest of my days in the simple life of East Africa… at least that is what I tell myself. At the same time, having been to Africa four times now, I know the battle that awaits me… the battle to go home.
Maybe that’s my problem – I don’t know what “home” is. Home seems to be elusive to me. I have a hard time being settled. I’ve lived in Texas now most of my married life. While Texas is my home, I’m not sure I have embraced the idea of “home” yet. Maybe I’m not supposed to.
I do know this…
The summer of 1991 was an incredible summer for Traci and I. It was the experience of a lifetime, and one that we were fortunate and blessed to have experienced. Bukavu, Kazuza, Goma, Kidadobo, tent life, climbing mountains, eating strange foods, and having the time of our life. I hope we were able to be a blessing to others, as much as they were to us.
At the same time, it raised several red flags that I ignored. It would have been better had I recognized the red flags and been humble enough to listen to those around me.
I guess I have a tendency to over complicate things as I play out the thoughts in my head… longing for a home where I can rest and find peace.
As the title of this says – there is joy in the journey. It may not all be pleasant. It may be the greatest experience of your life. But, it’s all part of the journey.
My greatest lessons on grace and forgiveness still lay ahead as I try to pursue a dream that maybe was not ready to be pursued.