Saturday, 8 May 2010

Ivory Coast - Liberia - Guinea trip

Welcome to Abidjan, Ivory Coast

Baga Fore Literacy class in Guinea

On March 31, Marina left Burkina Faso and travelled via Mali to Guinea Conakry. She had an 8-hour layover in Bamako airport on the way there. David and Rachel Burke, missionaries from Northern Ireland who work among the Baga Fore people, met Marina at the airport and brought her to their village.

Marina was introduced to the villagers outside the mosque after Friday prayers and that evening the ladies from the village performed a welcome dance for her.

She was thrilled with the progress that the team had made in preparing their literacy materials and how things had been organised with the villagers for the start of the teaching programme. The village had picked a group of students to form the first Baga Fore literacy class. After taking a couple of days to finalise the literacy materials with the members of the Baga Fore team, on Monday, April 4, a new literacy school was started for the villagers.

Pray for Gene and Judy Bacon as they head up the literacy campaign in preparation for evangelism and church planting.

The same day that literacy classes were starting in Guinea I met up with NTM missionary, Dan Rabe, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Dan’s parents were among the first New Tribes missionaries to come to Africa in the 1950’s and Dan is now the chairman of the new NTM leadership team in West Africa. From Abidjan we travelled to the town of Tabou in the extreme southwest corner of Ivory Coast.

There we spent the night with Pastor Anatol and his wife. The pastor was excited to discover that I was from the same country as a missionary, William Brown who works with UFM, that he had met last year.

Canoeing on the Cavally

On Tuesday morning we travelled with Lesley Wolfe, an NTM missionary who has been working among the Glaro people for many years, in her Toyota 4x4 pickup to a little village near the Cavally river which forms the border between Ivory Coast and Liberia. Lesley is working on Bible translation in the Glaro language and has been making steady progress. This summer she will be getting some more translation checked in preparation for publication.

After greeting the village chief we asked him if we could leave Lesley’s pickup at his house while we crossed the river and spent a couple of days on the Liberian side of the river. Permission granted, we said our goodbyes and walked the several hundred yards to the water’s edge where we crossed the wide but gently-flowing Cavally river in a dugout canoe.

The Ivory Coast side of the river is highly cultivated with huge plantations of coffee, cocoa, palm and rubber trees, but when we stepped off the canoe on the Liberian side and climbed the steep sandy slope to the tree line, we came to the edge of a virtual rainforest.

After just a short distance we came to the first Glaro village. Most of the folks were away working in their fields but those remaining greeted us and led us to a small grass shelter where we explained who we were and the purpose of our visit.

The Kola Nut

We then participated in the first of many kola ceremonies that took place in the various Glaro villages and homes that we visited over the next twenty hours or so. These ceremonies indicated acceptance by our host of our presence and friendship. The kola is a rather bitter nut, native to the rainforests of Africa, which was served to us in small pieces in a bowl along with a separate bowl of hot spice and some drinking water. I enjoy eating spicy food but I’ve never eaten anything quite as hot as what was offered at each of these village stops. However, I quickly mastered a technique of taking as small a pinch of spice as possible and quickly flushing it down with a good gulp of water. Invariably, though, my lips and mouth would still sting for quite a while after.

When we had completed the kola ceremony a small child entered the shelter with a large bucket laden with bananas and oranges to refresh us for the journey ahead. Once everyone had eaten to their satisfaction we asked permission to leave, and we were soon on our way.

We set out along a narrow but well-worn track covered with tree roots, small rocks and vines. Mawly, a Glaro man who had already walked for several hours from Liberia to the Cavally river to meet us, took the lead along the twisty track. When we had started our trip he had asked me if he could put a bag of cooking cubes that he had just bought for his wife in my backpack. I had gladly agreed but he then insisted on carrying my backpack for me as he reached me his machete.

As we walked, we crossed a number of small streams and water holes, although, as rainy season has yet to start in earnest, there was a lot less water that I had expected. We passed through several thick bamboo growths and heard a lot of birds, but we didn’t see any animals.

Hot and Sticky

After about four hours of steady walking, with a couple of short stops in between to greet some villagers, we arrived at another large river, the Doube.

Everyone, including Mawly, our guide, was perspiring profusely. My teeshirt and jeans were saturated and sticking to my body. A young Glaro boy brought a canoe from the far bank and after a couple of trips we were all safely on the other side. I hadn’t realised that we had actually arrived at our destination so it was a pleasant surprise when we reached the top of the hill and I heard someone say: We’re here!

As we entered the village, people came out of their tidy-looking mud and wattle houses to eagerly greet us. I quickly learned to say: Ao, nateera, the appropriate response to their greeting. We passed by a number of well-spaced homesteads through the east side of the village and arrived shortly at our hosts. Dan and I stayed with Alfred and his family and Lesley stayed at the home of Bligh, one of the other main men in the village. They offered us each a double bed complete with mosquito nets – another unexpected but welcome surprise.

Their greeting and hospitality was quite overwhelming. After walking for several hours seeing nothing more than a curtain of, at least, forty shades of green and the occasional glimpse of blue sky, with a thin brown thread of a track weaving its way over rocks and around trees a few yards before us, here we now were in a large clearing in the middle of the Liberian jungle being treated royally and being given the best that could be offered. It was a very humbling experience.

The purpose of our trip was to ask permission from the village elders to send a new missionary family to their village. The work among the Glaro people had started over twenty years previously in Liberia, but missionaries had to leave there because of a long war in the 1990’s. Then the war in Ivory Coast, which started in 2002, had forced the missionaries from another Glaro village, so the work has been very slow and difficult. So we arranged to meet the village leaders first thing the following morning.

For breakfast we had another hearty meal of rice and sauce. In previous meals we had chicken sauce or fish sauce with big chunks of meat, but this morning we had a choice: fish sauce or toucan. I tried the toucan. The spices camouflaged some of the taste but it seemed to be pretty much like chicken. A short time later, when the elders had gathered in a large leaf-covered structure we were summoned to meet with them. After the formal greetings and kola ceremony we presented our request.

Permission Granted?

As soon as we said that we would like permission to send missionaries back to their village, the ladies started to sing and clap and dance. One of the elders, the spokesman for the group, expressed agreement with the suggestion saying that his loud voice was not because he was angry but because he was very happy. The lady song leader came up close to us, with a chorus of other ladies in tow, and sang something specifically to each of us in Glaro. I have no idea what she was singing, but it was obvious that everyone was quite excited about the prospect of having missionaries living among them.

We also asked if the village could provide temporary housing for the new missionary family. We were assured that that would be taken care of. After a few more formalities we asked permission to leave as we had a long walk before us back through the forest.

On the return trip, Lesley led the way. She set a brisk pace, and, on some of the steeper parts of the path, it took quite an effort to keep up with her. We made the obligatory stops at a couple of small villages along the way, but we nevertheless shaved quite a bit off our walking time.

When we got back into Ivory Coast we made our way to the village where the new missionary family is currently living and learning some basic Glaro. It was my first time meeting Aaron and Amy Speitelsbach. Aaron is from Germany and Amy is from Tennessee in the US.

Please pray for this young couple as they prepare to move to their new Glaro village in Liberia in the next couple of months.