Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Fulfilling a Promise

The culture here is quite different from the U.S.  When you say something here, your word is your bond.  This has at times caused problems for missionaries, as short-term mission trip team members have said that they would buy or do something for locals.  Usually they come through with their promises, but occasionally team members get back to the U.S. and in the midst of returning to normal life, forget about what they were truly intending to do for someone in Burkina.  Though that word has been forgotten by that person, the Burkinabé people who were told of such things will not forget it.  If the team member does not fulfill his promise, the person promised asks the missionaries about it.

November ended up being very different than planned, as we had our two teams for the month cancel due to the political unrest that was going on for a couple of weeks as well as concerns regarding Ebola (which still is not in Burkina; see previous post entitled "Power, Love, and Self-Discipline" for thoughts on that topic).  Both teams were supposed to build hangars for villages out in the bush.  These villages had already been told when the teams were planning to come and that they would then get hangars to help their churches expand.  So we wanted to be sure that they would still get those hangars.  These two teams and churches had raised $4,000 apiece to build the hangars, and they gave the Envision missionaries permission to build these new churches in their absence.  Thanks to those two American churches for blessing these villages and not making them wait or feel forgotten by allowing us to build these hangars as scheduled.

A house where a local believer lives

The first of the two hangars was built during the last week of November.  Five of us went down to the village to build the hangar and to be an encouragement to the local believers: John (Engage Burkina/Envision leader), Olivier (our Burkinabé welder and local believer), Seth (youth leader for the local international youth group), Frank (Seth's father-in-law), and me (Envision intern).  We crammed in one truck and trailer and made our way 6 hours southwest.

One of the area pastors met us part of the way with his evangelism equipment and caught a ride to the village where we were to build the hangar.  After 6 hours of traveling, we finally arrived at our destination.  We had dinner and settled in for the night.

Eating breakfast with the local pastors

The first morning we woke up and started working after breakfast.  Our morning consisted of digging the holes and cementing the posts for the new church hangar.  Many of the local believers joined in and helped out with the work.  In the afternoon, we set up the scaffolding and frames for roofing the next morning.  That night after dinner and bucket baths, the local pastors set up for and had evangelism.  Evangelism is headed by the local pastors who usually show African-made videos that are relevant to and speak God's truth into the lives of people here in West Africa.

Mounting and welding the A-frames

The second day we woke up early and got started on the frames and roofing.  We were hoping to finish in time to get home that evening.  We made good time at completing the hangar together, and we finished the work and cleanup just before lunchtime.

Finishing up the roofing

The local believers were very appreciative of the structure that was completed.  They were ready to continue the work and build the walls for the church.

Local believers ready to use the new church

I am glad that we were able to provide this hangar for the expansion of the church.  It was also a blessing that we were able to get some extra people there to help with construction; thanks to Seth and Frank for joining us on this trip.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Youth Group Trip to the Orphanage

One of the ministries that Ben and I weren't necessarily originally planning to be a part of but have found we really love is helping as leaders for the international youth group. These thirty or so English-speaking kids of all sorts of nationalities meet once a week at a house in Ouagadougou, and there they have youth group in much the same way that I experienced it as a teen in the U.S. They begin each Thursday night by playing those crazy youth group games (you know the ones—like trying to be the first team to unfreeze and wear a balled up frozen T-shirt and other equally silly tasks). Then they move into a worship time led by the youth band that really does a great job, complete with guitarists, drummers, a violinist, a pianist, and singers. Following that, the youth pastor shares his message for the night, after which the students break into small groups with their leaders (part of what Ben and I do) to discuss the message topic and how it relates to them personally. Finally, they end with prayer in their groups and a snack time. They are an energetic bunch, but I've been extremely impressed with these students' knowledge of the Bible and the depth of some of their relationships with God.

This past Saturday, this youth group got to have a service day. Now, you may think that living in Burkina Faso means that everyday life is like being on a mission trip, but the reality of it is that even here you sometimes have to be intentional about making time to serve others, which can be especially  difficult for teens that have school responsibilities and after-school activities and busy schedules just like teens anywhere else.
Our full group on the visit to Sheltering Wings Orphanage

So this service opportunity was to go to the Christian-run Sheltering Wings Orphanage in the town of Yako, a place where Envision often takes teams on their mission trips. Around twenty students and eight leaders/parents loaded into two vans at 8:00 in the morning and set out on the two-hour drive north. Once there, the students didn't hesitate to start playing soccer and board games with the older kids at the orphanage, doing coloring and activities with the young kids, and holding and feeding the toddlers and babies (and I got to enjoy holding the babies too!).
Loving some time with this sweet baby

After lunch, the directors of the orphanage gave a tour of the grounds to those in our group who hadn't been there before, and even though I had been there several times, I went on the tour and got to see their newly-renovated section next-door to the orphanage that is soon to be a women's center. Sheltering Wings is really such a well-run place, and the Christian directors there are always have new plans and are making new improvements for both the orphans and the members of their community. The specific number of how many orphans are living there at the moment has already escaped my memory, but I believe that the number of babies/toddlers is somewhere in the teens and older kids somewhere in the twenties. The kids are very much cared for there; the staff clearly follows through with their intention to be more than just a holding place for the children who live at the orphanage.
One of the baby bedrooms
The toddler play area at the orphanage

This day trip with the youth group was such an enjoyable time of once again seeing the ongoing hard work at Sheltering Wings that is done by the caregivers on a daily basis to give a home to those young ones that might not be cared for otherwise. It was also a joy to get to be a very small part in that caring process, along with twenty enthusiastic youth group teenagers who got the chance on a regular old Saturday in Burkina Faso to do a kind of mini mission trip of their own.

Although your weekend service projects might not be able to look the same as this, with spending time at an orphanage in Africa and all, these same types of Saturdays can be spent really anywhere by giving a few hours to try to make somebody's day a little better and to love on those who really need it. Equally exciting is getting to see teenagers learning to experience the joy in giving of themselves and serving in Christ's name. The important part, I think, is that we all take the time to do what we can, wherever we're at. Keep in mind that even these teens in the international community here have very busy lives that could have led them to think that they couldn't give up a Saturday to serve; doing a service project in Africa can lose its glamour when you live there. However, whether in Burkina Faso or the United States or anywhere in between, there's always someplace we can all find that's in need of servants willing to invest their time to care for others. And wherever we serve, we can pray that Jesus' love would shine through us as we do what we can to point others to Him.


Friday, October 31, 2014

Political Unrest in Burkina

Before the start of this week, everyone in Burkina Faso knew that there were going to be planned protests on at least Tuesday to Thursday. There were even some minor demonstrations going on leading up to this week. The main thing that people were protesting was a proposed change to the constitution that would allow President Compaoré, the man who has been in power for 27 years, to run for another term. After multiple days of huge crowds protesting throughout Burkinahaving gatherings in city centers, blocking roads, looting stores and banks, going through the streets blowing whistles and honking horns, burning down government buildings, and not even stopping after getting tear gassed and met with occasional shots by security forcesthe president has conceded to the people and resigned today. However, this doesn't mean an automatic solution to the problem has been found; the country still remains at high tension because the person the majority wants to be in power is not yet there. This could have an effect on upcoming days for sure.
A picture posted on the BBC website of a crowd gathered in the center of Ouagadougou on Friday, October 31st

While I'd like to be able to give everyone back home the inside scoop on the situation, to be honest, I can't tell you anything more than what news reports are saying. We're doing our best to stay away from the action, not to go into it. Additionally, there's currently a curfew of 7 PM - 6 AM to slow the vandalism and looting that continues to take place. We've left our house only twice since Tuesday, the day that protesting really started increasing, and those times were just to go over to our friends' house nearby. On Thursday, we could see smoke from one burning building a few blocks away and we've heard a bit of commotion on our street several times each day, but that's really all that we've witnessed thus far. 
The view out our gate on Thursday afternoon, October 30th

Therefore, I'll just let you know that this is a website that's frequently updated that we're using to keep posted on the events:


We are very thankful that we have been away from the action and would appreciate your continued prayers that it would remain that way. Thanks to everyone who has been in prayer for us already. Most of all, please pray for the people of Burkina Faso. Pray for wise new leadership, pray for everyone's safety during any continued demonstrations, pray for restoration for those whose homes or businesses were looted and damaged, and pray for God to work through this negative situation to bring about good for His kingdom.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Putting on Two Sets of Clothes

"I NEVER forget to put on my clothes before I leave the house each morning, but sometimes, I do forget to put on my spiritual clothes for each day," the leader of our recent women's team told the group of nearly thirty Burkinabé girls in their late teens and early twenties, her words then being translated from English to French to a local language called Jula. 

These particular girls she was addressing live at Dorcas House, a Christian center specifically for young women, many of whom have grown up in extreme poverty with little formal education. During their time at the center, the girls get to spend three days each fall attending a special camp that a women's team from the Appleton Alliance Church in Wisconsin puts on for them. Dorcas House is a wonderful ministry located on the outskirts of the capital city of Ouagadougou where young women live for two years and receive all sorts of training in the Bible, reading and writing, health, raising crops and animals, sewing, soap-making, and other life skills. Although their training is nearly year-round, these girls also get to be a part of special events throughout the year such as this camp that I got to help lead with the Appleton women. 
The full group of Dorcas House girls wearing new headbands they beaded during craft time

For this year's camp, the teaching centered around what it would look like to clothe oneself as Colossians 3:12 instructs: "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." The leader of the Appleton team clearly broke down what it would look like for the girls to "clothe" themselves with each of these five virtuescompassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patienceeach day. As I looked around the classroom with a total of right around forty women crammed inside, all sweating from the lack of even a fan to help out in the 90+ degree heat (there is no electricity out there), it was evident that these girls were hungry to learn more about God's truths. The three-part lesson centering around striving to be dressed in the proper spiritual clothes was very applicable and understood by these young women, especially since a woman's clothing and hair are considered very important here and often indicate her wealth.
With the group of girls that I got to help lead during the three days of camp

The twelve of us women from Appleton and Envision slept on cots at Dorcas House in their beautiful new guest house (which even got running water hooked up just in time for our stay) so that we could all be there together for the whole camp timeThroughout the three days of camp, then, the Dorcas House girls were divided into four groups with about seven girls in each group. The eight women from Appleton lead the groups along with three of us Envision women plus Amy, a former missionary who founded Dorcas House in 2008 and returned during Appleton's visit to help lead the camp. The camp days for these thirty or so girls involved morning times of biblical teaching, memorization of six Bible verses, special meals with tastier-than-everyday food selections for the girls, craft times of making headbands and tie pillows and bookmarks, sports times with playing games like baseball and four square and rope ball, and evening times of singing and dancing and sharing testimonies while enjoying campfire treats. 
Since baseball isn't at all a Burkinabé sport, we were a little surprised that the girls really seemed to enjoy playing it

Then the girls got a special surprise at the end of the campgoing along with the theme of learning to clothe oneself spiritually, they had the chance to literally clothe themselves as well. The Appleton women had brought suitcases stuffed with donated clothes, shoes, purses, and jewelry in order to set up a boutique where the Dorcas House girls could "shop." The level of excitement amongst these girls was off the charts as they emerged from the boutique showing off their new items to us and to one another! 
These two were clearly happy to find matching skirts in the boutique

It was such a joy to get to see the girls' enthusiasm during each of the events that we did with them, and it was particularly fun for me to get to spend time with the group of girls that I was assigned to help and to also get to know the eight women visiting from Appleton who truly loved on these girls. 
Displaying the heart tie-pillows they had just completed

And the time I spent listening to the same message that the girls were learning got me thinking, toohow often do I get up in the morning and neglect to clothe myself with these five qualities that the girls were being taught? Truth be told, most of us probably spend more time preparing ourselves physically for each day than we do spiritually. How different might my day look, though, if I could be ready to respond to each case of need I see with compassion for others like Jesus', taking the time to welcome interruptions of other people's needs rather than continue on with my own busy agenda. Imagine how my whole day might change if I had prepared myself in advance to treat every person I meet with genuine kindnessWhat if I had prayed first thing that I would respond to the person who sometimes gets on my nerves with true humility, knowing that this person is every bit as valuable to God as I am. How would it look for me to be ready to be a person of gentleness, maybe having the ability to gently advise or gently insert wisdom in tough situations. And picture me being equipped to be a person of true patience, not getting frustrated if I have to wait too long in traffic or if my repair guy doesn't show up on time or if God doesn't answer my prayers within the time frame that I had in mind. 
Holding the tiny baby of one of the interns at Dorcas House

Sometimes I think it's easy to feel like you're doing okay with showing these five virtues, but I'm pretty sure that just "doing okay" isn't all we should be striving for. It's easy to do okay with implementing these when life is going smoothly, but what about on our worst days when everything seems to go wrong? Being patient, for example, isn't nearly as difficult on a day when you have nothing to do as it is on a day when you have deadlines and your schedule is jam-packed and you feel like everything that can go wrong is, indeed, going wrong. 
A few Dorcas House graduates doing a special song and dance right before the end of camp
With my group after the girls had received their farewell gifts from the Appleton team

I don't know about you, but I know that if I could REALLY be clothed in these five virtues from Colossians 3:12 every day and in every difficult situation, my life would look a lot more like Christ's. Doesn't it just make sense that we should be clothing ourselves at the start of each day with not only our shirts and pants but also with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience? It's a lesson that I think is every bit as needed for all of us as it was for these sweet Burkinabé girls that I was privileged to spend a few days with at Dorcas House.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Power, Love, and Self-Discipline

Envision has had several teams or team members drop out lately for a number of reasons, and sometimes these reasons are legitimate.  The inability to raise funds, family or health problems, lack of interest, and more can all be understandable barriers to short-term mission trips taking place, but our staff is bummed when that happens because we enjoy working with teams that come to Burkina Faso.

Some reasons for canceling trips here are not as legitimate: Ebola, events in Ukraine, and events in Israel.  These have all been given to Envision recently as reasons that people have decided to drop out and not come to Burkina Faso.  I understand the concern, given that the threat is very real . . . in other countries and in other areas of the world.  If the virus were to begin spreading in Burkina, we would most likely shut down our site and not host teams again until the direct threat was gone.  Even though the Ebola virus is centered in West Africa, Burkina is not currently affected by Ebola and is not even neighboring any of the affected countries, so currently it is as safe of a place to be as America.

All of this makes me think of 2 Timothy 1:7: "For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline." It is easy to read this verse and enjoy how nice it sounds in theory, but it is not always easy to live it out.  I recommend reading the whole chapter, but this verse stands out when taking into consideration the things that are happening all around us in the world.

I noticed a few people post their PANIC on Facebook when they heard that somebody had "first entered" the US with Ebola.  Yes, it was indeed terrible for this individual with the virus, and caution was very much required for those who were near the affected person, but I've noticed that
 Facebook responses frequently go too far over the top.  A response of prayer would be much more helpful than a response of panic.  As Ebola has now spread to a couple more people in the US, the news seems to be fueling fear in people across the country rather than just promoting logical precautions for those nearest to the situations. 

If we live in fear, we may never accomplish anything!  This seems like what Satan would want, for Christians to live in fear and accomplish NOTHING.  Irrational fear and worry that holds back progress in life is not from God.  Limiting ourselves through fear limits God's ability to work through our lives.

One of periods in church history that I find the most interesting to study is the time of persecutions in Rome.  When sickness and plague ravaged the land, the Romans would leave the area and abandon the sick.  However, the Christians were the ones who went in and helped the sick, only armed with faith and prayer.  When others then noticed the Christians' love, they wanted to discover what drove them to do such a thing.* This is an inspiring part of church history that we should learn from and reenact.  Where is our faith and prayer during these current situations?

This is not to say that all worry and thought should be cast aside; God gave man a brain for a reason.  If there is an immediate and unnecessary risk, it should not be taken.  However, the distance between Burkina and Ebola is not small enough to currently put one traveling to do short-term missions work in Burkina at any elevated risk.  In fact, I honestly feel safer here in the capital city of Burkina Faso than I did in many US cities (and I have lived and worked in some dangerous city areas).  Plus, 
while the US has now hosted several cases of confirmed Ebola, Burkina still has had zero.

This being said, I found it funny when a Burkinabé pastor from another denomination called a team that was planning on coming out to tell them to cancel.  One of his reasons for wanting them to cancel was because the US had Ebola but Burkina Faso has none, so he did not want to risk it spreading here.  This is also not a realistic view, as the size of the US and the location of that team was a great distance from known cases.

Our Envision site leader, Betty, has said, "The best place to be is in the center of God's will."  This is not to say that it is easy or always what we want, but it will bring about the best God has for our lives.

One of the team members who was worried before coming out to Burkina told me afterward, "I do not understand what I was worried about."  Like virtually everyone who ends up coming to Burkina on a team through Envision, he left very glad that he was faithful in following God's call to come and do ministry here.  I am excited about our upcoming teams and really hope that no more people needlessly drop out and thereby halt the work that God could have done in and through them during their experience here. 


*You can read a little more about this period of church history here: http://huron2.aaps.k12.mi.us/smitha/HUM/PDF/Growth-of-Chr.pdf

A special thanks to Mike Riddering for the first two pictures

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Air France, Mail, and Cheese

This post is a bit different from our normal writings.  This seems to be something that is a part of life here as an expat, so we thought it would be interesting to share.

Air France has been on strike for a few weeks thus far.  This may not be something that affects you, but it is amazing how much it affects some people here in Burkina.  It's interesting to see how something like this can have a larger ripple effect.

Empty shelves at the local grocery store

Air France is the major air cargo carrier here in Burkina.  As the country is landlocked, the infrastructure is fairly limited to trucks, trains, and planes.  In order to get fresh and current items into the country, planes are often the best route.  From what I was told, Air France used to fly in planes multiple times 7 days a week, and now they are only running planes into Burkina 3 days a week.

Here is a picture of the actual cargo plane here in Burkina, thanks to a friend.

Many of the stores here are running completely out of their supply of cheese (among other products).  This is due to the Air France strike and the limited amount of food supplies being brought into the country.  This is an inconvenience, but something that one can easily live without.

Air France also brings in the mail from the US.  It is not like we get any mail, so this does not affect us, but we have friends here who do and they have not gotten any mail for a few weeks due to the lack of flights.

I would never have thought about or have been affected by such a strike.  It is amazing how different things happening in the world affect different people.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Reflection: Six Months Later

It was six months ago today around 12:30 AM that Ben and I stepped off our Turkish Airlines flight and breathed in the warm African night air; going from a particularly cold winter in the United States made the transition on that 23rd day of March feel quite drastic. As we got through the airport and were dropped off at our new home with just our two suitcases apiece, my excitement and peace about the start to our year of interning in Burkina Faso surprised even me, a firstborn and mostly Type A personality who likes to feel in control. Despite the fact that I had only a slight idea of what might happen in the upcoming year, overall I felt okay about that.

Being able to enter into those early days of our internship with an open mind and willingness to go with the flow was God's encouragement and confirmation to me that Ben and I were in the center of His will, in the same way that during the support-raising stage of this process we experienced much more encouragement than I had anticipated. This helped me to be at peace knowing that while what we were doing was out of my comfort zone and was bigger than I could handle by myself, it wasn't like I was doing this alone; I had so many wonderful people in the United States financially and prayerfully supporting uswith us being just an extension of those who sent usand most of all I had my God who had so clearly had His hand in leading Ben and me to this internship in the first place. I actually hadn't sensed a 100% clear calling to do the internship right from the beginning, but instead I was given little confirmations along the way once we started the process in faith toward coming to Burkina, and those instances of confirmation have been precious to me.

Since both Ben and I had visited Burkina before moving here, the country wasn't surprising to us at the start of our internship as far as what it looked like, but of course we found that it is quite different to live in a place than it is to only visit it. During the first few weeks of being here, we met lots of people (who were a big help in making our adjustment easy), started French lessons, learned our way around town, adapted to having workers at our house, got involved with the international youth group, and jumped at any opportunity we could to go see or help with something new. It was all exciting and interesting, and we were eager to experience everything we could. 

Happy today to reflect on the first half of our internship

Also as time continues in a new place, though, the initial euphoria of being in a new environment inevitably wears off. Along with the good, certain things became quite frustrating and challenging. A lot of those challenges revolved around not knowing enough French (and these challenges still remain, even though we're more used to dealing with them). With how basic our French understanding is, we continuously have had a very difficult time communicating with the people  who we meet at the different ministries we visit, who work at our home, who come to our gate, who are there when we're out and about in town, and who live in the villages where we take teams.

There have also been additional challenges for me with sometimes missing my home culture. I'm going to be real with you and admit that I am very much a typical American woman, and that makes it tough to be away from having the option to enjoy certain things that I could in America. For instance, I am feeling pretty shopping-deprived and miss browsing through stores like TJMaxx and stumbling upon a great deal; I often think longingly about food that I can't get here like blueberries and candy corn and Chick-fil-A and lattes; and I am currently a bit sad about missing out on my favorite season of fall (here, the weather varies a little, but it always feels like summer). Most of all, I've had a difficult time knowing I'm missing out on some big occasions back home like graduations and weddings that I would have been at if I had been living in America.

Despite all of this that I sometimes feel I'm missing out on and have struggled through, by no means do I think that it hasn't been worth it.
This adorable girl in the village of Founzan was excited about the twist-tie cross I made her

More and more as our time here continues, there are so many positive developments in our lives over the last six months that we can clearly see looking back. I'll name a few. For one thing, both Ben and I have gained some basic skills in French through what ended up being three months of time spent with a tutor. Our cultural understanding has grown, and along with that, our ability to adapt to the Burkinabé culture in some ways. We've gotten used to trying new things on a regular basis. Our trust in God has been pushed to a new level by being in unknown situations. Our relationship as a couple has deepened, going through this process together and sharing all of these unusual experiences. I have grown in my driving skills, something that I wasn't sure I could ever conquer here since we only have stick-shift cars and driving here is like playing a game of Frogger, trying to avoid hitting all the obstacles that dart across your path. Also, Ben points out that his patience has increased, as nothing here is ever done in a timely manner, and I would agree that I have definitely become a little more flexible and able to go with the flow. 

Ben and I are also glad to be able to look back at the six months that we've spent here and see a lot that has happened through the ministries of Envision and in the lives of team members who visited from the US. There have been 66 team members who came through Envision/Engage Burkina from churches in the United States who we've been privileged to be able to get to know, minister with, and help show around Burkina. It has really been a joy for us to get to spend time with all of these people who came with hearts for Burkina. We have been a part of 5 bush trips to villages that were anywhere from 4 1/2 to 12 hours away from our city of Ouagadougou. We've gotten to be a part of the work that teams did with building four church hangars, distributing large amounts food and farming supplies, running an English camp, attending evangelism movie nights in remote villages, giving out water filters and shoes, visiting the ministries at Dorcas House and Pãn-Bila and Tabitha Center and Sector 30, spending time with kids through the Sheltering Wings Orphanage and Compassion and TOMS shoe distribution. What a blessing this first half of our internship has been to us, and we hope that we have, in turn, been a blessing and have helped to show Jesus to the many people we've come in contact with along the way.
Ben (on the far left) with our most recent team that distributed water filters and shoes

As I come to the end of my rambling reflections here, I'm realizing that my real motivation for writing this is to encourage those reading it to not miss opportunities to do things that are bigger than you can handle. Ben and I were heavily debating on whether or not to do this internship in the first place, and initially I was kind of leaning toward not doing it because I just didn't see how it could happen; it would have certainly been easier for us to not have decided to raise funds, pack up our house, quit our jobs, and move to Africa. But how sad would it have been if we would have missed out on these last six months of all of those great things in the ministry opportunities and in our personal lives had we not done this internship.

Like I mentioned before, I'm a typical American woman in many ways, and although I've always loved to travel and have wanted to bring glory to God through what I do, living in another country as a missionary intern was way outside my comfort zone. Yet that makes me all the more sure that if I can shakily step into that kind of an unknown, stabilized by God's hand that is leading me, then so can anyone else who today might be debating on taking the safe path versus the unknown path where you feel God could be leading you.

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." Ephesians 3:20-21


Monday, September 15, 2014

Compassion Visit

Every Thursday, over 50,000 Burkinabé kids meet at approximately 200 different church sites throughout Burkina Faso to learn, eat, develop, and play—all made possible through the Compassion sponsorship program. 

You have likely heard about Compassion. This Christian child development organization has in its programs nearly 1.5 million children from 26 of the world's poorest countries. Each of these children is paired individually with a sponsor who donates $38 a month toward that child's needs. The Compassion website states the specific benefits that children receive from being in this program: 

"The children Compassion serves receive, among other things: the opportunity to hear the gospel and learn about Jesus; regular Christian training; educational opportunities and help; health care, hygiene training and supplementary food if necessary; a caring and safe Christian environment to grow in self-confidence and social skills; personal attention, guidance and love." 

Compassion students excited to get their picture taken (and to get to see it on the camera afterward)

At this particular Compassion site—the Central Alliance Church in Ouagadougou—that we got to visit, four people are actually paid to be on staff, but that is not nearly enough to handle how many kids are enrolled. So in addition to those four, there are twelve volunteers from the church who come to spend their Thursdays helping to work with the children. 
The Central Alliance Church—the largest of the Christian & Missionary Alliance churches here

When we arrived this past Thursday with our team of five men from Vinings Church in Georgia, there were were six separate classes meeting outside under hangars with three or four students at each desk, listening to teachers giving lessons on large chalkboards. We first were shown into a little visiting room with chairs all around the walls. There, the two men on the Vinings team who sponsor Compassion children got to meet their kids for the first time. It was a very sweet thing to get to see. Compassion always has translators come with kids when there's a sponsor visit set up, so these two men were able to talk to and visit with their three young Compassion kids for a couple of hours.

A hangar used for two of the classrooms

One of the cute Compassion boys attempting to put on glasses

Meanwhile, the classes of all of the other Compassion children continued, and the rest of us got a brief walking tour of the offices and where the classes meet. The children ended up being a little distracted by our visit (as a former teacher, I understand quite well that it's nearly impossible to keep a class focused when there are visitors walking around), but it seemed that both they and our group enjoyed the time spent there. When the classes paused for a break and the children had their mid-morning snack of a hot rice-and-milk porridge, several kids even offered us the share their cup of porridge; that's just the generous culture here. If they're eating and you're not, the Burkinabé often offer for you to eat their food with them. Can you imagine people in the US offering complete strangers to share in their single serving of food?
The youngest Compassion class lining up to wash their hands before a snack of porridge

I had the opportunity to talk for a little bit with one of the directors of this Compassion site (pictured below) who, in her fluent English, explained that she has been on staff there since Compassion started in Burkina in 2004. She first heard about the position to work with Compassion through an announcement made at her church. Her passion for the ministry was clear, and what I thought was the most touching thing I heard all day was that this woman is also a Compassion sponsor herself, sending her $38 a month to support a child in El Salvador whom she hopes to get to meet someday. I feel like as Americans, we sometimes think that we are the only ones sponsoring programs such as Compassion; it was so inspiring to me to learn that one of the Burkinabé directors believes in the program so much that she is a sponsor for a child in a different country in addition to being an employee in Burkina. 
One of the Compassion directors explaining more about the program to us while standing next to the classroom chalkboard with the material that one class was learning that day
Child sponsorship starts around age 5, and that child can continue in the program all the way until age 22. Ben and I have been sponsoring a Burkinabé teenager through Compassion for over four years now, so although this wasn't the site where she attends, it was particularly interesting to me to see what the oldest class of students was doing while we were theresinging worship songs and learning about something written on the chalkboard (I think it had to do with organizing their time throughout the week, but as it was in French, I couldn't fully grasp it).  
Posing for a little photo shoot with some of the Compassion kids (this photo was taken by a kid eager to get to play photographer with my camera)

Additionally, we learned that there were some of the young students who were newly enrolled to the program this year who are still waiting for sponsors. In fact, of the 50,000 kids enrolled in Compassion in Burkina, 6,000 of them still need sponsors. So for anyone reading this who might be interested in finding a way to help a child in poverty through an organization that does what it claims, I would recommend looking into doing a sponsorship through Compassion. The educational opportunities and life skills that it provides for kids in Burkina (and kids in the other 25 Compassion countries as well) really give them advantages that they would not have had otherwise, and in this country where poverty is all around, that may be the most life-changing gift these children can get. 


Friday, September 5, 2014

Grocery Shopping: Burkina Prices vs. America Prices

One thing that surprised me a lot when first getting acquainted with Burkina Faso was how expensive many items common to Americans can be. I don't know why, but somehow I expected that in a country where many people live in poverty, everything would be cheaper to buy. However, I quickly discovered that this was not the case here in this landlocked country. While a few things are cheaper here, many are not. Today's post is purely a personal observation of the shopping differences between America and Burkina, because even though this information doesn't directly explain anything about what we're doing here for missions, it's part of the reality that is missionaries' lives.

Although we are able to buy a number of products in Ouagadougou similar to what we would have gotten on a regular basis in the States, we don't really have much of a variety of stores or brands to choose from, nor do we have the choice to save money by buying an off brand. We also can't get things on sale or with coupons. Ben and I get most of our food and toiletries from two small grocery stores near usBingo Market and the A/C Marketwhich seem to have some of the most reasonable prices in Ouaga. There are also two bigger grocery stores downtown that have a little more variety but are generally more expensive, so we don't go to them much. Additionally, there are hundreds of tiny shops along the road that sell a limited choice of items. As you might imagine, there's no Walmart nor are there any fast food restaurants here. 

Bingo Market - one of the grocery stores where we most frequently shop

To illustrate the cost of "common" items, I've collected a few samples of things we buy somewhat regularly, and I have the price we paid here versus the price that I would have paid for the same thing in America. The currency here is West African Francs (CFA), and a typical exchange rate currently is 480 CFA = $1.00. 

Our Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts: 
$25 (12000 CFA) for 4.4 lbs (2 kg)
Meijer Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts 
(on sale): 
$2.49 for 1 lb
The Difference: 
Our chicken would cost $5.68 for 1 lb =
over 2x more expensive here

Our Beef Filets: $9.33 (4478 CFA) for 2.2 lbs (1 kg)
Top Sirloin Fillets from Meijer: $8.99 for 1 lb
Our Ground Beef: $7.21 (3461 CFA) for 2.2 lbs (1 kg)
Ground Chuck from Meijer: $3.99 for 1 lb
The Difference: Our beef fillets are $4.24 for 1 lb
and our ground beef is $3.28 for 1 lb =
fillets are half the price here +
ground beef is a little cheaper here
(I don't prefer eating beef and actually never once bought it
in America, but since it's by far our cheapest meat
option here, we eat it regularly now)

Our Ramen Noodles:
$0.52 (250 CFA) for one
Walmart's Ramen Noodles:
$2.22 for a twelve pack
The Difference: 
Our Ramen would cost $6.24 for a twelve pack =
almost 3x more expensive here
(This is another thing that I never bought in the US,
but it's more challenging to figure out quick, easy meals here,
and sometimes you just need that option!)

Our Tortilla Chips:
$1.56 (750 CFA) for 5.29 oz (150 g)
Walmart's Great Value Tortilla Chips:
$2.98 for 32 oz
The Difference:
Our chips would cost $9.44 for 32 oz =
over 3x more expensive here

Our Cheddar: 
$19.39 (9308 CFA) for 2.2 lbs (1 kg)
Kraft Medium Cheddar from Meijer:
$5.99 for 1 lb
The Difference: 
Our cheese costs $8.81 for 1 lb
about 1.5x more expensive here
Our Olive Oil: 
$8.75 (4200 CFA) for 33.81 oz (1 liter)
Walmart's Great Value Olive Oil:
$5.58 for 25.5 oz
The Difference: 
Our oil would cost $6.60 for 25.5 oz =
slightly more expensive here

Our Skim Milk:
$1.93 (925 CFA) for 33.81 oz (1 liter)
Skim Milk from Aldi: 
$2.29 a gallon (128 oz)
The Difference: 
Our milk would cost $7.31 for a gallon =
over 3x more expensive here

Our Nescafé Instant Coffee:
$6.25 (3000 CFA) for 7.05 oz (200g)
(Yes, sadly we've started drinking instant - it's everywhere here!)
Walmart's Nescafé Instant Coffee:
$5.98 for 7 oz
The Difference: 
Ours is about $0.25 more =
nearly the same price
Our Pure Honey:
$6.98 (3350 CFA) for 8.82 oz (250 g)
Walmart's Busy Bee Pure Honey: 
$3.92 for 12 oz
The Difference: 
Our honey would cost $9.50 for 12 oz =
about 2.5x more expensive here

Our Lipton Tea:
$3.13 (1500 CFA) for 20 tea bags
Lipton Tea from Walmart: 
$2.12 for 18 tea bags (nearly identical product)
The Difference: 
Out tea would cost $2.82 for 18 tea bags =
slightly more expensive here

Our Listerine Mouthwash:
$14.58 (7000 CFA) for 1 liter
Walmart's Listerine Mouthwash:
$4.97 for 1 liter
The Difference:
Ours costs $9.61 more for the same bottle =
about 3x more expensive here
(Thankfully we haven't had to buy this yet because we've had
some from America given to us)
Our apples: 
$4.00 (2000 CFA) for 10
Apples from Aldi: 
$2.99 for 3 lbs (approx. 10 apples)
The Difference:
Ours is about $0.11 more per apple =
slightly more expensive here

Our Head & Shoulders Shampoo:
$4.90 (2350 CFA) for 13.53 oz (400 ml)
Walmart's Head & Shoulders Shampoo:
$4.97 for 14.2 oz
The Difference: 
Ours would cost $5.14 for 14.2 oz =
nearly the same price
Our Toilet Paper:
$5.42 (2600 CFA) for 12 rolls
Charmin Basic Toilet Paper from Walmart:
$5.47 for 12 rolls
The Difference:
Ours is $0.05 cheaper =
nearly the same price

So as you can see, many products here in the capital of Burkina Faso cost at least somewhat more, if not significantly more, than we were used to paying in Ohio. I'm sure that you could even find cheaper prices in the US than what I have listed here if these items were on sale or had coupons (the prices I've listed for Burkina are basically fixed prices). Of course, prices in certain other countries may be cheaper than in America, but these Burkina prices may show a part of why some missionaries need to raise what seems like quite a bit of money for each year's living expenses. 

In addition, many other things like American cereal are very pricey here if they happen to be available (Ex: A regular-sized box of Golden Grahams for $7.50), so Ben and I only buy the cheaper French cereal here. Also quite costly in Burkina is the price for electricity and the price for cars' gas (about 700 CFA per liter, which is $5.53 per gallon) and diesel (about 650 CFA per liter, which is $5.13 per gallon). So although there are a few things that you can find cheaper here, like beef, most things cost at least a little more if not way more than in the US. 

Now to be fair, I will also say that you can find a lot of little vendors on the street who will sell you a meal of rice or tô for the equivalent of $0.42, but sadly Ben and I aren't yet African enough to stomach that for every meal of every day (we do eat typical African food every day when we're with teams in the bush, though). I will point out, too, that labor is very inexpensive here, so you can get your car or plumbing or whatever fixed for a much cheaper price than in the US (although it quite possibly may not get fixed correctly the first time, so you might end up needing to get it fixed a few times!). 

Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed getting a little glimpse into Burkina grocery shopping. :) Although there are many items that we wish we could get here that aren't available at all (Birthday Cake Oreos, Cheez-Its, almond milk, whole wheat flour, chocolate chips, coconut oil, Chex cereal, blueberries, face wash, hair detangling spray, sunscreen, etc.), we really do have access to a good number of products and can get everything that we truly need here; we're very thankful for that! 

So next time you make a shopping trip, enjoy the fact that you don't have to pay over seven dollars for a gallon of milk, and also please pray for all the overseas missionaries you know whose everyday lives include facing the seemingly-minor yet sometimes-frustrating realities that come with being in a different country, like in our case dealing with the comparative expense of grocery items, in addition to facing challenges related more directly to their ministry work.