Saturday, May 31, 2008

Mission Work? Me?

The first time Jimmie mentioned doing mission work was in January of 1983. He was a student at the Florida School of Preaching and a new instructor, Rod Rutherford, had just returned from 7 years as a missionary to Tasmania. Rod got Jimmie all fired up about joining a campaign to Ghana, West Africa, that summer. I wasn't quite so keen on the idea.
I was still a new Christian and really could not see any need for me to fly off 9,000 miles to a place I had never heard of. Besides, I was our sole financial support while Jimmie was going to school and was sure that getting 6 weeks off of my job would be impossible. But Jimmie isn't pictured by the word "persistent" in the dictionary for nothing. He wore me down. After weeks of combatting Jimmie's enthusiasm I finally asked my boss about a possible leave to go on the campaign and was shocked when it was quickly granted.
Then came the rush. We had less than 6 months to get ready! I had no idea that preparing for a campaign was actually more work than the campaign itself. We had to raise funds - the easy part since our home congregation promised to provide any shortfall. We had to get passports, and airline tickets, and more shots than I wanted to think about - one of which made me very ill. We had to learn all we could about the local customs and taboos - such as, if a man's hair touched the collar of his shirt he couldn't get into the country. That meant Jimmie actually had to get a haircut! We made our doctor's visits to get malaria prevention medicine. We were given shopping lists of items to buy, such as foldable water bottles and first aid supplies. We also had grocery lists. Ghana was experiencing a devastating famine so we had to carry with us every bite of food we would need for the whole campaign. In addition, I was given special instructions - buy dresses. I lived in pants and did not even own a casual dress. But pants were taboo for women in Ghana in 1983 so I was not allowed to take any. And we all had to prepare lessons - that came as a shock. I knew I would be campaigning but they actually expected me to teach ladies classes as well? I had been a Christian for less than 2 years. What was I going to teach sisters who had been in the church much longer than me? And at the last minute I actually had to quit my job to stay with the campaign because my boss reneged on the leave approval. But finally our group of 5 adults, 1 child, and 22 pieces of luggage flew off to Africa.
I quickly learned that nothing had prepared me for Ghana in 1983. The smells. The sounds. The open sewage. These were all typical to many African nations. But that year Ghana also had a drought so there was water rationing and famine. There had been a sudden influx of refugees expelled from Nigeria so there were many who were homeless and starving. The country had completely run out of gasoline, so we walked. One week after we arrived there was an attempted coup so the borders were closed and a strict curfew was imposed. Jimmie and I would lie in bed at night listening to the machine guns firing around us, then turn on the radio the next morning to learn the death toll. Everywhere we went there were military checkpoints with soldiers carrying automatic weapons. Half-way through our stay all of the natural gas for the stoves was finished so I learned how to squat on the floor and cook on a coal pot like the Ghanaian women. A cholera epidemic broke out in the the village where we were working. And to add to the joy, I got dysentery - for 10 days straight.
I still think of this trip as the Campaign to Gehenna.
A quick check of today's school books states that 1983 was the worse year of Ghana's history, but it was also the year we became committed to mission work. Despite all of the hardships and sheer terror we returned to the States determined to go back because the people were wonderful. The Ghanaians were loving and kind and very pleased to have us there. Over and over I saw people who were hungry sharing their food with others who had even less, and never heard a word of complaint. And they were hungry for the Gospel as well. Our work was greatly hampered by the difficulty in traveling yet 72 were added to the Lord's church during that campaign. I can't begin to describe the thrill the first time someone I had taught the Gospel was baptized. So when our church family met us at the airport on our return and someone asked if we would like to go back, Jimmie and I both said, "Yes!"
Besides, we figured that if we had survived Ghana in 1983, we could survive anything.

- Linda

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