I wish every road trip was like the cramped, bumpy, noisy, windy, dusty, unpredictable van rides on the dirt streets of West Africa. All the windows open, and a breeze blowing strongly even though the sun is hot the further north we go. There is really only one “highway” in Togo, but sometimes paved roads, riddled with potholes and cracks are more trouble than dirt. Unless it rains when suddenly you find the big white van is capable of floating as well as driving.
Driving in Africa, like everything in Africa, teaches one to slow down and enjoy the small details of life. It takes an hours to drive 8 miles into a village, but there is always so much to see! Mountains, trees, markets full of people, animals and colors. Every once in a while, we see a cluster of huts with thatch roofs. Every home has a big shade tree where the family gathers to eat meals and talk with their neighbors.
Children, children, beautiful brown-skinned children are everywhere.
My heart is constantly stirring. It is true what they say – once you get Africa in your blood, you can’t get it out.
I know for sure that I will always remember their faces.
The big sparkling brown eyes. I’ve never seen such soulful eyes as those in the face of African children. The way they light up when you reach out your arms for a hug. The way they dance with joy when you join in their game. The way they also contain a sad longing, an understanding of pain and suffering far beyond their years. When I close my eyes, I still see their smiles, and their dirt-crusted feet, and their fraying clothes. And I pray they know God loves them.
On our first ride out to the village, I was nervous. Would they accept this group of white young people coming with our reading books and little gifts? What if we couldn’t communicate at all? Doubts as to why I was even here, doing this mission, shook my confidence. Who am I to tell these people about Jesus? Surely someone else is better fitted for the task.
By the time our van came to a halting stop, there was a crowd of children (so many children!), men and women surrounding us. They were kind and eager to welcome us. They ran to bring us chairs; they wanted to be our friends. It is amazing how much a smile can communicate.
The chief of the village thanked us for coming, saying: “Without visitors, we would be forgotten.” One young man, after taking his picture using my laptop’s webcam, and said – “Please, Miss. I want to keep this picture on here. Please keep it here.” Another teenager typed an e-mail to an imaginary “Friend” in America, asking for help with his school fees so he could grow up to be a doctor.
How they want to be known. To be assured that someone is thinking about them and cares for them. That someone sees the joy and pride they take in the farms and homes. That someone cares that their children are sick. That someone hears their dreams for a brighter future.
Yes, their faces have been engraved on my heart. I will remember them, I will pray for them. For one week, I can love on them. But I am just one person and I am unable to bear all of their burdens. I’m leaving, but they are not forgotten. Jesus came before us, and He is staying when we leave.
What a privilege to speak the name of Christ to these people. There is no greater joy than sharing the value of all that Jesus is with a person for the very first time. He knows! He cares!
“Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands”