As I share with you a glimpse of a day in the life on a mission trip to Africa, I invite you to look at these pictures and read these encounters with new eyes – although no picture can fully capture the spirit of the African people and the joy they exude.
I challenge you not to see the people as something from a magazine, feel bad for them, or feel like there’s no way you could relate to them. While these simple mud or brick huts may seem like utter poverty to us, these are their homes, where their lives are lived, and they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They have a lot to teach us.
A Snapshot of a Day in Atchanvé, Togo
5:30 am Wake up.
6:00 am Mass at the sister’s convent.
All of the women on the trip stayed with four religious sisters who serve the village.
6:30 am Breakfast.
We usually ate a traditional French breakfast, since Togo was colonized by the French, consisting of bread, jam, Laughing Cow cheese, instant coffee, and fried eggs on Sundays.
7:15 am An hour of prayer and meditation at the convent.
8:15 am Drive to Father Ryan’s rectory on the other side of the village
12 of us pack into the small Toyota stick-shift truck and drive to the rectory to start the day. As we are jostled around the cab of the truck by terrible roads, those in the bed of the truck hold on tight. We are soon greeted by the children running from their homes chanting and waving “Yovo! Yovo!” (affectionately calling out to us “white people”), while the adults casually wave or just stare at us until we are out of sight.
8:30 am Start our work for the day. ..
We served in many different ways throughout our time in Atchanvé such as cleaning the rectory, sorting donations from the U.S., visiting the sick in the village, entertaining children during their break at school, hauling sand in metal basins on our heads for the new church foundation, repairing main village roads, working in the palm oil factory, or harvesting cassava which would be made into flour.
12:30 pm Lunch and rest.
2:30 pm Finish up any service projects, go for a walk through the village, play soccer with the community, or throw a tennis ball with the kids.
During one of our afternoon walks, my friend Laura and I found the house of a little 10-year-old girl named Essianyo, whom I had come to love during our trip. She ran up to me and gave me a hug, and then her father said something to me I couldn’t understand. Laura translated his French for me: he asked if I would take his daughter back to the United States with me. My heart broke as I couldn’t believe what he was asking.
Would her life really be any better in the U.S.? She would receive better access to healthcare, more nutritious food, and she could learn to read at a younger age, but in so many ways I think she would be miserable. While healthcare, nutritious food, and literacy are important, what does that matter if we don’t know love, if we place our value in social media and other passing things, and we are searching for our life’s purpose in all the wrong places? After all, we have better access to healthcare and nutritious food, and we are materially rich as a nation, yet so many of us are unhappy, unfulfilled, and struggle to find purpose in our lives.
How could I tell her that life is and would be better here when, at 10 years old, she is already rich in the things that actually matter? She knows Jesus, she knows she is deeply loved, she knows true love and kindness, and she knows her self-worth doesn’t come from things. Who really are the poor ones?
5:30 pm Fellowship with our team.
6:30 pm Dinner and conversation with Fr. Ryan.
7:45 pm Debriefing of the day with our mission team, sharing the high and low moments of the day and where we saw God.
One day as I reflected on my “God moment,” I thought again of Essianyo. That day our group had made sandbags from old flour sacks to repair their main road, which was severely eroded. At one point, we paused from our work and Essianyo took my hand, promptly picked up a stick, and started taking the dirt out from my finger nails. I was immediately uncomfortable, but I couldn’t ask her why she was doing it as I don’t speak French or Ewe (their tribal language). What I did hear clearly though, was God’s voice saying, “Joanna, this is how much I care about you. I care about the smallest details of your life.” She was Christ to me.
8:30 pm Night prayer in the chapel at the rectory.
8:45 pm Drive back to convent and retire for the evening.
Speaking of her work in India, Bl. Teresa of Calcutta once said, “The spiritual poverty of the Western world is much greater than the physical poverty of our people. You, in the West, have millions of people who suffer such terrible loneliness and emptiness. They feel unloved and unwanted. These people are not hungry in the physical sense, but they are in another way. They know they need something more than money, yet they don’t know what it is. What they are missing, really, is a living relationship with God.”
In our different forms of poverty, let us serve and truly love one another, both within our own country and those beyond our borders.
What will God teach you on a mission trip? How will He expand your view of the world?
Apply for a FOCUS mission to find out!