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.