Thursday, May 15, 2008

First Impressions of Togo

“Bon jour.” They say French is the language of love and right now Vickie and I are learning to love the French language and the French speaking people of Togo.
We arrived in Lome, Togo at 9:00 P.M. on May 6, 2008 and as we came down the steps from our plane in the dark we began to absorb the heat and the humidity. The crowds of people were speaking French and getting into designated mobs, not lines, heading for customs and passport control. We joined what we thought was the right mob and then followed the crowd. One man looked at my passport and my much labored over visa and he sent me on to the next mob. Vickie was right behind me with exactly the same paperwork but he did not like her visa application and in broken English he told her she must fill out the “for official use only” section. We quickly agreed to do it and then just moved on to the next mob. For passport control we had rehearsed our dialogue and fortunately never had to try and use it. A two and a half hour delay in Paris provided the time needed to get our seven suitcases transferred to our flight to Lome, Togo. So to our surprise our luggage arrived when we did. Help was plentiful, if you understand the language and if they will take US dollars. In fact everyone wants to help you, for a price. After some broken language negotiations and a lot of hand signals, we found two men who would help us. They seemed to have the official green jacket, which is as close to a uniform as they get. We then exited the baggage area to weave our way through yet another mob waiting for passengers. We had no idea who or if anyone was going to meet us since we were so late. And yet as we double checked to see if our luggage was still behind us we saw a couple of white faces in the sea of dark and they were smiling at us with a questioning look. “Are you the Alexander’s” they ask and we began to think that we might make it, out of the airport at least. Glen and Karen Smith greeted us warmly; of course everything is warm in Togo. Then, on to the Land Cruiser with the official Assemblies of God logo on it and another army of young men wanting to help load the car. As we waited for Glen to bring the car up we were swarmed with people wanting to “help” and by beggars with deformed legs and other maladies. “Lord, I feel so helpless.” I have learned not to let first impressions carry too much weight, because you are only seeing a small portion of the story.
We are driving through a city with no street lights with suitcases between us and we are trying to soak in as much as possible. “Soaking” is no problem as the humidity and smells are overwhelming. The city is alive with merchants along the streets peddling their wares, even at night. They have little candles and torches set up and they are open for business. “MOTOS”, little motorcycles and mopeds, are everywhere. They are like fleas surrounding the vehicle. There are no lines on the road and very few traffic lights that you can see anyway. A constant swarm of motos and taxis and other vehicles make our trip in the dark one I won’t forget.
We arrived at the West Africa Advanced School of Theology in the dark and after a welcoming snack at a fellow missionaries house, we were graciously deposited in a small guest apartment and told to sleep well. After showers to cool down, Vickie and I laid in the bed feeling every emotion there is. We were tired, thankful, excited, scared, lonely, fearful, yet confident in God. Our goodbyes in the States were hard but right. “Oh Lord, can you use us in this land that is so foreign to us?”
Now over a week later we are falling in love with the people and this place. We have such a strange peace about things. The other missionaries have been our salvation to help us with our shopping and translation issues. I have made several forays across the street (which is a life and limb threatening challenge) to a small store and I am practicing my few words of French. The words for bleach and for horse are very close so you want to be sure you don’t rinse your vegetables in horse water. We are putting some much needed TLC into our mission’s house that has been vacant for almost two and half years. We also received word that our container with our household goods should be here in 6 or 7 weeks instead of six months. PTL! We are driving now and buying our own groceries. And we are working on French. So we have to make our popcorn the old fashion way, it is a small price to pay. We are learning that living with out television is no real sacrifice. The internet is very slow, when you have it. A three minute Skype call is pretty good here. The city electricity is very unpredictable and erratic, but the campus has two big generators that can be turned on pretty quick. One thing we have learned very quickly is that things are expensive here. As best as we can figure, cheddar cheese is over $4 a pound and such. We came out of the store with a little bag of items and it cost us almost $40. So food will be our greatest expense. I needed to cut back anyway. For the first time we are washing and keeping Ziploc bags and hording the plastic bags we get.
We enjoyed our first Sunday service at the church here on the WAAST campus. It started at 7 A.M. and lasted over three and a half hours. It was in French and in African English. We decided we are a bit out of practice in our listening skills. We did not make it to the baptismal which started at 6 A.M. There were over 1300 people gathered to worship praise God.
In closing let me just say that all of the months of itineration and challenges we faced to get here have been worth it. All of the “haven’t you left yet” questions were worth it too. Vickie and I feel such a peace about being here. Sure we miss our children, our parents and family and our friends, but we know that God has His divine plan and we are honored to be doing our little part.
“Merci”, Thank you so much to all of you who are praying for us and have given financially to make it possible for us to be here. In 1 Corinthians 9:22 Paul says “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” Lord please help Vickie and I as well as we are “Reaching All People By All Means!”

We love you all.

Mark and Vickie