Monday, February 24, 2014

To Go to Togo 2014

In 2003, when I was but a wee lass, I hopped a ship to West Africa and found pieces of my heart I didn’t know were missing.  I was young, unmarried, without children, and idealistic as anyone.  Eleven years later, I’m humbled to think of the person I’ve become because of the relationships I’ve built with my Togolese friends.  Since my initial trip with Mercy Ships, I have returned twice: once to introduce my dad to Togo and then six years later to introduce my husband and firstborn.  When I started telling people that we are returning to West Africa in March, I was met with a myriad of responses.  

From friends who have known us a long time, things like:

Wow, that’s exciting!  
What are you doing this time?
How can we help?

From people who haven’t known us as long:

You’re taking your children WHERE?
Where’s Togo?

The whole story is a long one (hey…wait…maybe someone should write a book about it…), but I’m going to do my best to sum it all up in less than a thousand words.

When I returned to the United States after my stint with Mercy Ships in 2003, I had a plan to help a pastor who was caring for 77 orphans who lived in his front yard—a monumental task to begin.  Within months, we’d procured funding to cover the costs of food, education, clothing, and basic medical care.  

Along the way, we’ve partnered with Pastor Celestine and the children of CEHBED (an acronym for something really long and French) to create a safer, more sustainable living environment for the children.  (You can see the building we helped build in this video shot in 2011 by members of a partner church in Bristol.)  Many of our kids have gone on to attend technical schools to learn how to be mechanics and seamstresses.  The twelve-year plan has included building the new building, continuing to provide for basic needs, and helping them start small enterprise businesses to provide a sustainable income for the orphanage.

Aside from our work with CEHBED, we have partnered with two other pastors: Tomety, in the remote village of Badoughbe, and James, the leader of a fishing community in Lome.  Both pastors run sustainable businesses that employ members of their communities and have facilitated micro-loan programs for widows and single mothers.  

In rural Badoughbe, we partnered to build the first school in the community and to start a poultry farm that will make the school self-sustaining.  In the fishing village, we helped Pastor James build a church, which serves as a true community center for many things, where they had been meeting in an open air hut that was vulnerable to the elements.

You may have noticed that I used some form of the word “sustain” several times, and that wasn’t on accident.  When we talk about “changing lives” or “changing the world,” our organization believes in empowering people to do the hard work of changing their communities.  4HIM has a history of giving a hand up, rather than a hand out to our neighbors and friends, and we have learned that when we approach giving in this light, everyone learns, everyone feels loved, and everyone wins.

My family of four has committed $8,750 to our trip this time around.  We’ve saved a good portion of that ourselves and asked some of our family members to consider giving us the gift of this experience as a family for Christmas this year instead of giving actual gifts.  On the outside, that might sound like a sacrifice, but we consider spending this money an investment in pure joy.

In the past, when I or other friends have traveled to Togo, we have experienced situations that were so simple to solve.  For example, we met a woman whose mode of transportation was two buckets.  She was missing legs, and her system was to sit on one bucket, drag her second bucket in front of her, and then hoist herself to the second bucket with her arms.  She did this repeatedly to get anywhere she needed to go.  For $35, her life was changed when some team members purchased a wheel chair for her.

At other times, we’ve shown up to find that the children of the orphanage needed new mattresses because of a bed bug infestation or new shoes for school, but Pastor Celestine did not want to ask for help, and we are able to meet these needs with a few hundred dollars.  When we do these things, we use money from our own pockets and from the general fund at 4HIM.  It’s the kind of giving that has immediate, tangible results.  Again, this is the kind of giving that equates with pure joy.

So, for those of our friends who have asked how you can help because you’ve been around long enough to know what great successes we’ve had, this is how you can help.  Please donate to 4HIM’s general fund by clicking on the link below.  

In the special requests section, type “Johnson Togo Trip” and every dollar will go toward these sorts of amazing, immediate needs we see along the way.  We have a couple of things in mind already—things that we believe will be a blessing to our friends in Togo.  
Modeling some gifts from our friends during our 2011 trip!

1. Our friend, Jamie (pictured third in line above) shared her desire that the CEHBED orphanage have a library.  She sent three popular picture books in French for me to pack in my suitcase.  My desire is that we can add to this library while we are there at a bookstore in Lome (buy local!).

2. While we visit Pastor James in the fishing village, we hope to visit as many neighbors as we can to give each family some rice and beans.  The village is made up primarily of widows and children, and we want to do something simple to make their day better.

3. When we visit Badoughbe, we will be helping with some of the planting and work around the poultry farm, and we are hoping to help them purchase some needed supplies and tools.

These are things we know we already want to do, and I know that we will come across more problems to solve along the way.  We would be honored if any of you would partner with us!  Thanks for reading our story, and thanks in advance for your support and prayers for traveling mercies.

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