Pictures pop up from a year ago. People are sitting around a table at an open-air restaurant on a busy street in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. They are waiting for pizza. It is my birthday, but no one knows that until I tell them. The picture is taken before I tell them, and they are looking subdued. As I recall, telling them about my birthday, reluctant as I had been to do so, livened things up and it became a party.
It was also a farewell party. We were about to go our separate ways, to four different countries–DR Congo, Sierra Leone, South Africa, USA. It was the end of a church-leadership meeting that included representatives from these countries as well as the host country. If that sounds dull and official, it wasn’t. It was one of the warmest, most engaging gatherings I’ve ever been part of. So… African.
My reason for being there was to help three women develop a plan to train adult literacy teachers. We succeeded in doing this. More important, we became sisters in this endeavor, and we also succeeded in bringing our brothers, the male leaders, on board. So it was a purposeful meeting that had a successful outcome.
At the same time, it satisfied my recurrent hunger to go to Africa and hang out for a while, soaking up color and warmth, giving and receiving love, prayer, music; cementing old friendships and making new ones.
During the 10 days I was there, Donald Trump was elected president back home. It mattered, but not so much as it might have. Being in Africa softened the blow. I mourned for a few hours and then joined my friends at lunch. But I returned to the bleak November North American landscape and found friends and family still in shock.
That gathering in Burkina, along with the birth of our third grandchild days before I left, has fueled a persistent joy that refuses to be doused by rampant evil and perversity in daily news. Sometimes I wonder whether I am incapable of facing grim reality. But then I see that the seeds of joy are also bearing fruit.
The grandbaby is a year old, sweetness personified, like the other two, who are off to Taiwan for a few weeks to brighten the lives of the extended family who have never met them. Bilingual at age seven and two-and-a-half, I’m sure they will make their other grandparents beam with pride.
The literacy project is in full swing--more than 100 teachers trained so far, many of them already conducting pop-up literacy classes in their churches and communities. More training workshops are scheduled for next year. I will get to make another trip. This is happening in a country plagued by violence and hardship, which has touched the lives of my sisters and friends there. Nevertheless, they persist.
Nevertheless, joy persists.