Senegal 2014 – Post #5

We finally said goodbye to our friends in Ndjemane.  It took a while to get everyone on the bus, but everything takes a while in Senegal.  For example, we went to B’s compound at 1:30pm to have lunch before we left.  We sat and lay on mats until 3:00 and we finally ate lunch at 3:30 (Fish, rice, and cabbage).  We sat and lay on mats until 4:15.  At last, we met in the middle of the compound and various people spoke about our love for each other, safe journeys, and other blessings.  Finally, we climbed into the bus and waved goodbye.

The church thrives in Ndjemane

The church thrives in Ndjemane

Some of pastor B’s comments before we left expressed great appreciation to Christ and his church.   Back in 2008, the chief of the village had said that the village was dying.  However, since the Christian church has taken an interest in Ndjemane:

  • They have a well that provides clean water
  • They have better health (he mentioned that cholera has all but disappeared)
  • They even have better harvests
  • They have a church building

We drove for a while on the sandy roads before eventually driving on asphalt.  We soon arrived at a city called Diourbell (sounds almost like “gerbil”). The hotel was not what we in the States would ever consider using, but for this grimy bunch it was paradise. It didn’t matter that the toilet was missing a seat. It had a TOILET. It didn’t matter that the “shower” was a hand spray that you might find in your kitchen – attached to the same water feed as the toilet. It was a shower and it was refreshing.  I slept comfortably on a springy bed.

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The next morning we were off to visit a different village.  This was a new experience for me.  There was already a history of church involvement with the village, but for many reasons it had not worked out.  My group was meeting with village leaders  in order to establish a sense of relationship.  When we arrived, I could immediately feel a different attitude from the villagers toward our group.  There was a certain coolness.  The women of our group immediately started to spend time with the children and women of the compound.  They seemed to like each other almost immediately.  Meanwhile. the men of our group went to another area, sat on some mats, and waited.  The experience that followed can only be described as a town meeting.  Each participant was given time to speak.  Some of the key points discussed were:

  • The well has bad, salty water
  • Because of the water, there are health issues
  • The village is dying.  The young adults have to leave the village during the dry season in order to survive – some don’t return
  • Where did the church go?

What a contrast to the previous village!  One village was growing and thriving, the other was struggling to survive.  It seemed to me that the main difference was Christ.  I do want to focus on the final bullet point.  For me, it was the most challenging part of the meeting.  You see, when they asked us why we had not been in contact, we could not explain every reason (some reasons involved politics on several levels).  But they remembered the last time the church was visited years ago.  They even had photographs of various villagers with their namesakes.  Some of the Americans in the photos we knew, but some we did not.  But there had essentially been little to no contact.  From their perspective, the Americans came, took some photos, and soon forgot about the visit – but I assure you that the villagers had not.  For them, it was a significant event.  For us, it may have been little more than a photo opportunity.  Never forget that your smallest actions can have a huge impact on others.

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By the time we left, there had been some restoration of relationship.  But the work is far from finished.  I need to be sure to print and send the photographs I took to both of the villages I visited!  It is a big deal.  Perhaps you and your church may want to become involved and partner with this different village.  You could be a part of what God is doing in Senegal.


Senegal 2014 – Post #4 (Pictures)

We made it back safe and sound!  I have a few more posts that I wrote offline on my tablet – but in the meantime, here are a few photos and a short video.

The Village Church

The Village Church

Luxury Accomodations

Luxury Accomodations

How cool to have a pic of TWO missionaries that I sponsor side by side IN SENEGAL!

How cool to have a pic of TWO missionaries that I sponsor side by side IN SENEGAL!

View of Dakar from Goree Island

View of Dakar from Goree Island

A Special Friend of Mine

A Special Friend of Mine

Me Walking Around

Me Walking Around

Senegal 2014 – Post #3

Wednesday morning was the start of a day I spent six months preparing for.  My group had been preparing for storytelling sessions in the village.  I was having problems.  My stomach was killing me and I could barely move.  I went to breakfast and only ate half a slice of bread.  Then I went back to the tent to sleep.  As the temperature climbed the tent became unbearable.

I got out of the tent and joined the others in the church.  They all seemed glad to see me and I tried to physically and mentally pull myself together.  I lasted about an hour, but then needed to lie down again.  They prepared a cot for me in the corner of the church.  It was a better location than the tent.

The rest of the day I was in and out of consciousness and feeling so hot.  I was hot because it was over 100 degrees outside – not fever.  I just felt terrible and as evening came, the leaders of my team had to debate what to do with me.  It was decided to wait and see how I was doing in the morning.  Many people prayed for me – including pastor B from the village.  Someone reported to me later that he just stayed in the church and prayed for me.

During the night, I got up to go to the bathroom.  My dear translator friend, S, followed me because he was concerned for me.  It’s a good thing he did!  I apparently walked past the outhouse and would have been lost if he had not called out to me, “Ted! The bathroom is right here!”.  He waited for me and then escorted me back to the building.  Were it not for S, I could still be wandering the African desert!

I will probably never know what the cause of the problem was.  It may have been the food or some 24 hour bug.  But the next morning I awoke and felt much better.  I’m still eating just bread and cheese mostly but my appetite has returned.  I missed out on a day that I had been looking forward to but perhaps there can be a different way of looking at it.  Maybe someone else in the group needed an opportunity to serve.  Maybe it was important for me to experience what sickness might feel like for people in the village.

I do know that I never felt so awful and alone in all my life.  It is a blessing to have good health in your life.

So I was still able to spend some time afterward with my friend TK.  His youth group put together a sketch based on the lessons from the day before.  He played the part of Abraham and did a great job.  We never had much of a chance to talk (through a translator) but we would touch fists when we passed by one another.  He is such a shy young man.  As we waved goodbye he had such a smile on his face.  I could see once again, that my visit from across the world meant everything to him.  I helped make him feel special – and that in turn made me feel special.

Sorry for no photos but my awesome system of video transfer does not work.  Note to self – test complicated systems before foreign travel.

Senegal 2014 – Post #2

The markets in Theis seemed remarkably calm. Often, the vendors can be very aggressive as they try to sell their carvings, drums, and other trinkets. Later when we went to the food market to buy some tea and sugar, it was much like you might expect a bazaar from the original Indiana Jones. Crowded, people barging in front of you, and a lot of shouting. I have a translator friend who was very helpful to me in securing some African fabric for me to bring home to my wife.

I have been instructed not to use names of my Senegalese friends. Although the country officially recognizes religious choice, Christians are often persecuted. My harmless posts about someone who is Christian could result in maltreatment.

After a visit to Bartimee hospital, we had lunch at MIS (Mission to Inner Senegal) headquarters, and then piled into the bus for the trip to the village. So we left for the village Tuesday afternoon rather than Wednesday morning.

It was about a two hour drive. The first half is on paved road and the second half changes over to dirt. The people were happy to see us and we exchanged many happy greetings. Of course there were plenty of children around to help break the ice for any newcomer. They love it when someone shakes his or her hand or if we thumb-wrestle.

It wasn’t too long before I saw my namesake who I will now call TK. TK looked genuinely glad to see me and we exchanged the traditional handshakes and greetings. I always mess these up so it can be a source of genuine amusement.

I asked him if the church had received the guitar I sent as a gift with a previous group and he said yes. About this guitar, I has trying to keep my expectations low. I was sure it could have easily been stolen, broken, or neglected. However, after returning to the compound from setting up our tents – I entered the compound to the sound of children singing. There, right in the middle of it all, was the guitar – intact and slightly out of tune. Yet it was perfect for the way that they were using it. That was what I wanted – not for them to play a Western instrument in a Western way, but in their own way.

This feeling was almost euphoric for me, and together with the guitar, the makeshift drums made from buckets – we sang and danced for hours.

All in all – a long, tiring, yet very fulfilling day.

Senegal 2014 – Post #1

Well, here I am in Africa again.  I love adventure and exploration.  I often talk and write about video game related exploration on my blog and on the Theology Gaming podcast, but I have set aside the virtual for a week and am experiencing reality.  This is my third journey to Senegal and each trip has had a different focus.  Several years ago, Forest Hill church agreed to sponsor a village of about 2000 people called Ndjemane (pronounced something like “Jamon”).  Since that sponsorship began, relationships have developed, medical clinics have visited, and a well was drilled.  I have befriended a young man who is currently about 16 years old – and he is the reason I keep coming back here.

Just getting to the village can be adventure enough.  I left Sunday morning from Charlotte and arrived in Dakar at about 4:30 am local time.  Then we drove about an hour to get 25 miles or so to Theis (pronounced something like “Chess”) where we have “set up shop” at a small local hotel.  Monday was a day of sleep and recovery as well as cultural orientation.  Today we have more orientation, a visit to the local Christian hospital, and a visit to the local market.  I have experienced all of these before, but each time there is a “newness” to it.  I tend to forget photo taking, since it is not a passion of mine, but I will try to include some pictures here and there.

One thing I have noticed in me, is that when I first came here, I couldn’t help but to see the dirt and trash everywhere.  Maybe it’s my imagination but Dakar really looked like it had been cleaned up.  There were new roads, and there were even bushes and trees planted on the side.  The usual plastic trash bags were nowhere to be seen.  Now, as we drove further away from the capitol city, things were a little less cleaned up.  Even so, I see the dirt and trash less and less.  This must be a mental thing as maybe I am starting to see the people now more than the “stuff” surrounding the people.

A unique aspect of this trip is that I’m traveling with a missionary that I help support financially, as well as visiting another missionary that I support.  How cool is that?  How often do you get to actually see the people and their work.  Missionary number one is Leo, part our group, who is in the beginning stages of missionary work.  He, his wife Michelle, and their two children will undergo over a year of training before coming to Senegal to live.  Matt, my other missionary friend, has been here less than a year and is just starting to settle in.

I will try to make at least four posts while I’m on this journey.  I’ll try to post a few pics too.  I promise!


Three Weekends – Three Different Experiences

This is a post devoid of video games but full of life!  I’ve spent the past few weeks travelling.  Each weekend trip had a different destination and a purpose.

Recreation of some Norman Rockwell (in progress)

Recreation of some Norman Rockwell (in progress)

Trip 1 – Savannah, GA:  As I mentioned in a previous post, I drove down to Savannah, GA to visit my son at SCAD.  As I was driving down, I tried to remember what I had appreciated the most from a visit while I was in college over twenty years ago.  At the time, I appreciated food and I appreciated getting away from the campus, so I resolved in my mind to focus on those two things – and of course to listen to my son as we spent time together to find out what his needs might be.

Drawing of Random Items on a Table

Drawing of Random Items on a Table

As expected, he was pretty eager to get away from his cramped dorm room so we went to the local Super Target to stock up on any needed supplies.  We bought some cereal, milk, and some snacks.  Apparently, Hot Pockets are also a necessary element of college survival.  His choice for lunch was the local Mellow Mushroom, and he seemed genuinely thrilled to be taking some of the leftovers back to his room.  He has been doing so well in college.

Imaginary Creature from his Color Theory class

Imaginary Creature from his Color Theory class

He has made the Dean’s List and is growing so much as an artist and as a person.  Truly, his art just gets better and better.  We spent the evening watching the movie A Good Day to Die Hard at the movie theater.  Going to movies and reviewing the movies afterward is one of our favorite things to do (other than video games!)   We even made a spontaneous recording called, The Drive Home, in which we reviewed the movie during the drive home – while the movie was fresh on our minds.  Click on the link for the audio.  (Warning: contains spoilers).  It was a lot of fun for both of us.

The Drive Home-A Good Day to Die Hard (Spoilers)

Trip 2 – Snowshoe, WV:  During the month of February, I sometimes travel to Snowshoe Ski Resort  along with my two older brothers and some friends of my middle brother, Craig.  I think that once upon a time, this was a “guys gone wild” kind of weekend, but now since most the men are in their forties and fifties it has become more of a “guys hobbling around” experience.  Most of the guys hit the black diamonds, but my oldest brother, Ken, and I stayed on the greens and blues.

A view from the slopes at Snowshoe, WV

A view from the slopes at Snowshoe, WV

In my mind I was comparing the ski experience to my recent December trip to Park City, UT.  I honestly have to say that the skiing is very good at both places but the western ski experience ranks slightly higher.  How wild were our evenings?

I know how to party

I know how to party

We spent an evening playing “Mathmet”  – a customized game based on a Yahtzee-like game called Kismet.  Craig is a math teacher and uses the game to help his students improve their quick-fire addition skills.  We also spent an evening just watching movies together.  We watched The Shawshank Redemption on the AMC channel, and I have to tell you, that the commercials almost killed me.  Especially the way they increase the quantity of them toward the end of the movie.  It is no wonder that the world is going the direction of Netflix, Amazon, Hulu Plus, and other forms of video streaming.

Men's Retreat 2013

Men’s Retreat 2013

Trip 3 – Black Mountain, NC:  My third weekend was spent at the “Man to Man” retreat at Ridgecrest Center in Black Mountain.  I traveled with a friend from my men’s group and we were also roommates throughout the weekend.  The facilities there were almost like staying in a hotel with comfortable rooms and a good cafeteria.  There was even a Starbucks located on the campus.  The focus of the weekend was on the overwhelming, generous love of God.  I remember a quote that the speaker talked about.  It was by Catherine of Siena (don’t ask me who she is!) and she said something to the effect of, “You were drunk with love, infatuated with your creature.”  I don’t regularly hear comparisons of God and drunkenness very often so it caught my attention.  But I started to think about how love can affect us – even on a human level we dedicate movies, books, and video games to the subject of love.  It awakens us.  It stimulates us.  It creates a whole new world of thoughts and feelings.  I know that when I became a father, I discovered a sensation a love that I had never known before.  I spent the retreat thinking about God’s love and was especially impacted during a time of solitude and prayer.  I found a hiking trail and just started to follow it.

Ridgecrest in the NC Mountains

Ridgecrest in the NC Mountains

I guess I stopped about halfway up the mountain, looked around at the mountains and valleys, and just said, “Wow, you did a really good job here.”  I’ve walked with Christ for almost thirty years and every day I find something new to amaze me.  It was a great weekend with friends and music.

Each trip was different.  I was a father for the first, a brother for the second, and a friend for the third.  I didn’t realize it, but it was somewhat a trinitarian experience for me.  For all three trips, it felt great to come home.  I am thankful that I have a place where I can feel safe and comfortable.  The shower always feels better than the ones on the road – and the bed is always more comfortable.  The sheets and blankets just feel perfect and there is nothing better than sleep beside someone you love.   Coming home to my wife and my dog is the best part of travel.

Travel Log – Day 5

I have been back from Senegal for more than two weeks.  I kind of went into a communication vacuum for a while.  I think it was because I wanted to think about my trip before I wrote any more.  Plus, work was busy and family was visiting.  It just gets difficult to work a blog into your life sometimes.

Here is a continuation of my travel log from Day 5….

Everyday life in the village

Let me tell you what it is like to sleep in a tent, in Africa, at the end of the rainy season.  It was warm all night long.  I slept well regardless, even though I did not even use a cover.  Before going to bed, I took some Tylenol and a Benadryl, so I slept pretty soundly without waking up until morning.  It’s never a fun feeling to wake up feeling sweaty and sticky.  But since it was only for two nights total I knew I could bear it.

We had a breakfast of eggs and bread.  The women of the village prepared it.  They are such hard workers and they are the heart of the culture.  They care for the children, they prepare all the meals FROM SCRATCH (which takes about four hours per meal), they do all laundry and the cleaning, and they even work in the fields alongside the men.  The men work in fields, either plowing or harvesting their crops of millet, beans, peanuts, and bisap.  Life is a challenge for all, but especially the women.  This is a universal truth.

Doing what I do

The rest of the day consisted of just going with the flow.  We didn’t know who we would be attending as we taught from the book of Genesis.  It could have been adult men or women, youth, or children.  However, it turned out God gave us a group of about 40 children.  If only we had someone with us who had a heart for kids and the unique ability to fly by the seat of his pants.  Oh yes, that was me!  I showed them the finger puppets.  Then I told a story about the Gospel using a magic change bag and some scarves.  The kids seemed to enjoy it.  I showed pastor Benoit how the trick worked and made sure that he understood it was just an illusion.  We had fun telling the story of Noah and his great big boat.  Brad did a great job acting out the part of Noah.  We made the sound of a rain storm by rubbing our hands, snapping our fingers, clapping our hands, then clapping on our legs.  After my story, Jeff told the kids that just like the ark provided safety and salvation, Jesus provides the same for us.

Kids come running for finger puppets

For lunch we had another traditional meal with fish as the protein.  There were also vegetables such as cabbages, tubers, and green tomatoes.  It was absolutely delicious.  It was starting to become second nature to share meals from the same dish.

Love this shot of my friend Thierno

I want to mention a special time I shared with my namesake, Thierno (pronounced “Chair-No”).  In the afternoon, we were able to meet with our namesakes and give our gifts.  I sat with him and a translator and asked him some questions.  I found out that he attends school and is in the equivalent of 6 to 7th grade.  That makes him about 12 or 13.  I asked him what he wanted to do more than anything.  He answered that he wants to learn how to play guitar.  When I asked him if there was a guitar anywhere close by.  He answered that there was a man in a neighboring village who had one (hours of walking).  Now, I’m pretty sure he mentioned guitar because he saw me playing it for the children, but I also noticed that he loves music very much.  He sang in the church choir and he also shared his radio headphones with me.  In my head, I started to see a vision of a young man, his father the pastor of the village church, and he the musician – leading the village congregation in music.  I now have it in my mind, that on my next visit to Senegal, I will be taking a guitar but I will not be returning with one.

I tried to teach him some chords

After dinner, when it was dark, I was sitting on a log in the village compound.  A special translator friend of mine, who called himself Charlie Brown, came to me and said that Thierno had asked him to translate for us.  So we sat on the log in the dark – me, Charlie, and Thierno and had a real conversation.  It seemed my shy friend felt more comfortable talking about personal matters in the darkness.  He asked me what I did for work.  I told him that I fixed computers.  He had given me a photo earlier in the day of his baptism.  He now explained to me that he wished for me to enlarge it and send it back to him, along with a picture of my family so he could pray for me.  Then he said the one thing that I will treasure more than anything else.  He told me that my coming to see him again made him feel that he was very important.  And he is.  He is so very important.

The late night movie was a double-header.  People from all over the village came to watch movies provided by the mission organization.  They projected on a large portable screen and they used a generator for power.  The movie was in French but was translated into Sereer by a live translator as the movie played.  The movie was about a village under the control of a witch doctor who used fear to rule the people.  Then, an African pastor was called by God to go to the village.  The pastor went and after a series of spiritual battles, helped to set the people free.  The basic message was, Jesus is more powerful than any other spirit.  I stayed awake for the first one but then went to bed.  I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer, plus there was the allure of sweating myself to sleep!