A Red Carpet Welcome
by Tami Nantz
I have to admit, the entire process of just getting to Africa rendered me fairly useless. Prior to leaving home, I was literally numb. Here I was – the mom – taking my daughter thousands of miles away to a place that I, frankly, was scared to death of going myself. I knew many of our friends thought we were crazy, and I had absolutely no clue what to expect.
All I knew was that God put the desire in my heart to go. (and for the record, I knew it had to be Him, because I’d asked Him so many times to never send me there!)
Like Anna said in her portion of our front page introduction, everyone that didn’t think we were nuts for going in the first place was telling us that this trip would change our lives. Honestly I was a little bit scared about what that might mean. How would it change my life? Would some huge thing happen? I had no clue, but I admit I was more than a little bit curious.
So, as Sunny drove our trusty old van through the field as we approached the 40-acre Mentor Leaders campus in the village of Gbentchal that night, we began to hear what sounded like singing. Because it was almost 9:30 and terribly cloudy, we could see nothing, but the sounds we heard off in the distance were absolutely beautiful. One of the things I had noticed throughout the day as we traveled cross country was how eager the returning team members were to get there. For all the miles we traveled in such cramped conditions, I never heard one complaint…the enthusiasm and the anticipation was contagious.
As our headlights illuminated the crowd, we could finally see what looked like more than 200 people – mostly children – lining both sides of the path we were traveling. They were singing and cheering, and honestly, I’m pretty sure no Hollywood star feels any more special than we did jumping out of that van and onto the “red carpet” that awaited us. It didn’t matter that we’d just spent nearly 3 days getting there, or that we were dirty, hungry and utterly exhausted. In that moment, what mattered more than anything was those precious people and the obvious gratitude in their hearts for our arrival. They sang for more than ten minutes after our arrival. I remember standing there listening, mouth hanging wide open. I couldn’t see a thing, but I didn’t need to. Tears streaming, I think that was the moment I fell in love with the people of Gbentchal.
David Whetstone, founder of Mentor Leaders, first greeted the Chief who had also joined the crowd to greet us, then – through one of our interpreters – thanked the crowd for such a wonderful welcome, told them how excited we all were to be there, and said goodnight. As the adults began to make their way into the darkness to the places they call home, children surrounded us as we gathered in the church building to figure out the sleeping arrangements. It was time for us to settle into the place we would call home for the next two weeks – a place I’d already fallen in love with.
Our luggage was offloaded, and we were given the option to either set up tents, or sleep in a hut that villagers had recently built for the team. Exactly half of the girls brought tents to sleep in, and the other half of us planned on sleeping in the hut. It worked out perfectly. Anna and I joined four other girls in our little abode, which we lovingly dubbed the Hilton. I’m horrible with dimensions, so I hate estimating the size, but I am going to guess our little abode wasn’t more than about 10′ x 10,’ and if one of the guys corrects me, I’ll certainly edit it. I know this: it was tiny, but it was perfect – built of cement with 2 tiny shuttered windows just high enough for little eyes to peer into during the day, and a thatch roof. Written into the cement at the entrance to the hut were the words “only Jesus.”
One of the things that, strangely enough, frightened me most that first night was dinnertime, which took place after we were settled, in the pitch black of night under the stars. It was a fear I quickly got over. Each night, the ladies cooked us a wonderful meal over an open fire and served us just outside the church under the stars. It was awesome. Eventually, those of us that had headlamps brought them, situated them next to our multiple colored water bottles, and the result was a table lined with what looked like colorful candles.
You’d have thought that first night’s sleep in the hut would be a bit scary, as we settled in under our mosquito nets. I admit, bedtime is when I got jumpy for fear of bugs making their way into my net, but I survived just fine. I slept like a baby that night, unbelievably exhausted, eager to see what the next day would bring when I could finally meet those sweet faces in daylight.
Strangely, I was completely, totally at peace for the first time in a very long time. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, I was right where God wanted me. That night, I began to realize that maybe it wasn’t some huge earth shattering thing God was going to do in my life during our time there…maybe I had to go all the way to Africa to learn how to recognize Him in all the little things, because I’d only been there a few hours, and I’d already begun to see.