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As promised, here is the public link to the photos from our trip to Africa.  Unfortunately, our camera died just over half way through the trip, but we got most of the key people and places.

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=3886293&l=5963c&id=848585610

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Our family has come to  the end of a 2-week visit to Africa, and I’m finally blogging for the first time since Christmas.  I had intended to keep an online journal during this trip, but the internet connections in Tabligbo didn’t permit it.  Now I’m at the Baptist Guest House in Accra, Ghana.  This afternoon, we will fly out from here to Singapore.  Once there, I hope to get some photos posted on Facebook, and I’ll post the link here.  (Fortunately, we did get lots of pictures before our new camera malfunctioned.  The only cause we can guess is the jarring it took on the African roads. Maybe I can get it fixed in Singapore 🙂 ?

I need to begin by praising God for his provision for and protection on this trip.  All of the missionary re-entry advice we received said that we needed to make this trip.  I wasn’t even sure of all of the reasons, though that has become much clearer to me in retrospect.  We are so thankful that God opened so many hearts to make this trip a reality without our family savings taking too big of a hit.

In Africa, I’m so much more aware of God’s protective hand over us.  Every drive in the car begins with a prayer, because we are so much more aware of the danger.  We’re inspired by stories from local Christians of God’s miraculous works.  We went to Denis’ house to find his wife and new baby in good health, although we had heard that Denis’ wife was very sick.  When she had complications after childbirth, three hospitals, in fact, had sent her home to die, saying that her case was hopeless, but Jesus had healed her.

We flew into Accra on July 22, where Murphy Crowson and Marty Koonce met us.  They had just flown into Accra the day before after attending a church planting conference in Zambia.   Our flight from Dallas had gone off without a hitch, and all our luggage had arrived with us.  The drive to Tabligbo, Togo took most of the next day.

We spent our first full day in Tabligbo resting up, greeting visitors who heard that we had arrived, and visiting our old house, which now serves as the teachers’ quarters and school.  That afternoon the team grilled hamburgers at the Crowsons.

Because it would be impossible for us to visit all of the Watchi churches, the missionaries had invited all of the men who could to come to Tabligbo for a meeting on Friday evening and Saturday morning.  If they could provide their transport, we would feed them.  Over 50 men did show up and my soul was refreshed by joining them in worship.  The ladies from Tabligbo did the cooking, and Maureen came to help them.  Murphy and Marty shared an approach to Bible study that they had learned in Zambia, and Saturday morning I talked to the leaders about the power of questions — how they could help one another work toward their own goals and solve their own problems by using some of the principles that I’ve been learning lately in the field of Christian coaching.  I wasn’t really sure how this would come across in Africa, but the feedback that I received was very positive.  Most of all, I was just relieved that my Ewe language abilities — limited thought they have always been — were still there to draw from.

What did Jeremy and Jonathan do on this trip?  They played — and played and played with the Koonce and Crowson boys, who were on a two week vacation from their school year.  All the kids seemed to find great joy in being in one another’s presence and got along fabulously. Although they saw plenty of African life in Tabligbo, it wasn’t until our last Sunday that they actually got out into the villages.  Jeremy asked a question that showed how their memories of Africa had already begun to fade after two years away.  As we were driving to Tsadome he asked, “Is this really a road?”

For several weeks before we left the States, Maureen prepared extra food on Wednesday evenings and accepted donations for our trip from our friends and neighbors who were excited to find Chinese takeouts in Albany.  With the extra money, she bought school supplies that we distributed in the different churches and villages that we visited, as well as seeds for the agricultural ministry.

Here’s a quick look at the rest of the visit:

  • Sunday–Worship with the Tabligbo church, where I was again able to teach.
  • Monday–Trip to Lomé for lunch, swimming for the kids, while I worked on extending visas and exchanging money.
  • Tuesday–Maureen and I went to Sedome and Batoe with Murphy and Christine.   We had to park about a mile from the village and wade through water several times.
  • Wednesday–Maureen visited Kpotonou with Christine, while I left for Benin with Laté, the agriculturalist who works with the Watchi churches.  In Soglogon, Benin, we met evangelist Eugene, and went out to the village of Zounkpa where we encouraged the Christians to sow and harvest both spiritual and physical seeds.  We slept out in the village to the sounds of African music that played until 5:00 a.m., when the generator finally ran out of gas.
  • Thursday–Maureen and the other missionary women visited Hedzranawoe, the used clothing market in Lomé.  After touring the fields in Zounkpa, Laté and I returned to Bohicon, Benin where we visited friends and I taught in Soglogon that evening.  We slept on the cement floor at the home of Marie Weke, a true mother in the faith to so many of us.
  • Friday–We returned to Tabligbo, where I was very happy to be reunited my family.
  • Saturday–a day of rest for me while Maureen prepared a wonderful Chinese dinner for the whole team.
  • Sunday–We worshiped and I taught in Tsadome with representatives from the whole Dagbati cluster.  We distributed school supplies and dropped off a brick press that the missionaries had bought so that some churches in the area could rebuild their fallen church buildings.  From there we drove to Vogan to visit with Hammer and Dela, where we were treated to Dela’s yam balls and the Afakulé’s warm hospitality.
  • Monday — Drive to Accra, with Papaye’s famous chicken and fried rice for dinner.

There is so much more to say — I hope to have some more reflective posts later to flesh some of this out.  But I know I haven’t been the most faithful blogger lately, so I won’t promise.  For me, the most valuable part of this trip has been to reconnect.  Yes, to reconnect with places and people that have been so dear to me.  But mostly, to reconnect with myself or, at least, with that part of myself that has been and always will be, a missionary to Africa.

A year ago today we were Passing through Paris after saying good bye to our life in West Africa. This picture, taken on our last Sunday in Togo at the Tabligbo church, is one of my favorites, as Maureen said goodbye to Edemno.Parting Sorrows

Our lives have been filled with uncertainty, decisions, and transitions since that time. I’m convinced that we are exactly where God wants us. But through all the transitions, there hasn’t been a lot of opportunity to reflect on how our Africa experience has formed us. Just within the past week or two, however, Jeremy and Jonathan have been asking when we can visit Togo. We haven’t talked a lot about the one-year mark, but Togo is on their minds.

Here are a couple of examples from yesterday that illustrate how my (Anthony’s) thinking has been changed by being in Africa.

Weather Reports A good friend complained yesterday about the fact that satellite dish TV service goes out whenever there is a storm, so they are left not knowing what the weather was doing. Look outside. It’s storming! In Africa we managed to get by without weather reports for 13 years, and the weather still happened. Of course I look at weather reports here, but it seems to me that we lose the feeling of spontaneity, and also perhaps the place of prayer regarding the weather. It almost seems that those forecasters actually control the weather, which of course they don’t given how often they miss it!

Eating Out I love to eat, and I love to eat out. But Dee‘s passing reference to towns that did or did not have “places to eat,” struck me as interesting. She was traveling, but if I understood correctly, she wasn’t speaking about their tourist potential, but as places to live. After living in a small West Africa town, I came to think of home as the place you go to eat. Now, in a small West Texas town, we tend to live the same way. That’s largely economics, but partly the welcome weirdness that comes from being profoundly touched by Africa.

Four things have happened this week that have made me think a lot about West Africa – well, really, there are more than four, but I’m going to talk about four here. On Saturday we had a gathering of former missionaries to West Africa at the Hollands’ home. Jeff, Brenda, Josiah, Ellianna, and Rebecca, our teammates from Togo, live in Abilene, about 30 minutes from Albany. Jeff is getting a degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. In addition to the Hollands and our family, the Wilsons (our teammates in Benin), the Baileys (who worked among the Aja in Benin), and the McVeys (20 yr. veterans to Ghana), were present. We talked some about Africa, but mostly we just enjoyed being together. There is a feeling of understanding and being understood when you’re with those you’ve served with.

Hanging out with old friends — Andy Wilson & Dan McVey (but who was I boxing?)

The second incident was a couple of nights ago when Maureen made fufu for us to eat. Fufu is made from boiled and pounded yams and/or plantain – it sort of resembles sticky mashed potatoes. Of course, the secret is in the sauce. Our favorite is groundnut (peanut) soup, which Maureen made with the help of peanut butter. The boys jumped for joy when they heard we were having fufu. Jonathan announced that this was the first time he had eaten fufu in Texas—a truly momentous occasion!

You can taken the boy out of Africa …

Today I attended a meeting of some of the CofC ministers in the area. We enjoyed a good time of fellowship. I discovered that one of them believes that God is leading him and his family—along with several others—to West Africa of all places. (I can’t say who because he is a preacher and his church does know yet.) We compared notes and shared memories and dreams. It was definitely a God-thing that we met.

Finally, today I was looking on the Blogger home page and happened to scroll down far enough to find this blog of a Peace Corps worker in Togo. He has some great video that gives you a feel for Togo, especially this one. (I still haven’t figured out how to link to/embed YouTube. Any help out there?)