‘Twas Christmas Day, and all through the house things were being packed up. With only four days left before our departure for Chad, the small artificial tree came down Christmas afternoon. Once again we were in the middle of the process of packing suitcases, deciding what we needed to get rid of, and what few new purchases we needed to make—as long as we had room to pack them. What clothes did we need for the boys? We had sent some in a shipment to Chad, but that was two-and-a-half years ago, so remembering the sizes and types was almost impossible.
In the midst of packing, we needed to say our goodbyes. This was our second time saying goodbye to friends in Albertville, France. For most, it was a temporary goodbye, as our plan is to be back for a few months for the birth of our fifth boy. But for the kids that hardly makes a difference, as they think about the friends they won’t be playing with for a while. We, too, will miss some of our regular activities.
December 29: departure day. Jeremy S., who will be joining us in Chad next summer with his family, would be travelling with us, then returning to France a few days later. With a few last hugs, we got in the van that would take us to the airport and on to our new life. Our first flight took us to Morocco, where we waited a few hours to take an overnight flight into Ndjamena, Chad. As the time for the second flight approached, and the kids were starting to get tired, we were very grateful for Jeremy’s help. Knowing they may not get much sleep that night, we were happy as they all fell asleep soon after takeoff.
With a bit of uncertainty as to how this would all go, we woke up our sleepers not long before landing at 4:30 in the morning. “You said there would be a lot of sand,” Zeke, our seven-year-old, said as we looked out the window at almost total blackness with just a few pinpoints of light here and there. Sometimes it’s surprising the way kids think, but I suppose he hadn’t had much sleep, either. “I’m cold,” was stated several times as we went from plane to airport and later to the vehicle. Not what we expected coming to Chad, but I guess it was the cool season. Arriving at the Welcome Center, which will be our home for a while, we were thankful when everyone went back to sleep for a few more hours.
Two-and-a-half years after officially starting this journey—with some bumps and detours on the way—we are here. At the same time, we have the feeling we are only beginning. We are learning how to live life here. The first week we were blessed with meals prepared for us as we enjoyed a spiritual retreat with other missionaries and a pastoral care couple. Then we began to settle in. We have had to adjust to a new way of living. Shopping is a combination of a small store, an open market, and ordering from someone who will deliver by motorcycle. It takes time getting used to having someone in our house several times a week, as we have house help to do some cleaning and laundry. This helps free us up to concentrate on other things, including more language learning.
We learned French in Albertville, but there’s always room for more improvement. Our new challenge, or rather my new challenge right now, is to begin learning Arabic. Added to the language are the cultural adjustments. In contrast to France, where we could blend in for the most part, here we stand out as foreigners from the moment we leave the gate. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming as we encounter new situations. Mandy and I both prefer to know what to expect and how we should respond in a given situation before getting into it, and often that just isn’t possible. Even without leaving our house we face the questions of what we should have our house help do and how we should interact with these women. We don’t want to ask either too much or too little from them, but we’re not always sure where the balance is.
We praise God that the boys seem to be doing great in all of this. They have discovered that there really is a lot of sand here, and a couple of them seem to enjoy rolling in it. They have even made sand angels, not something I would have suggested they do, but it works. We haven’t done a lot of things out of the house, but the boys are interacting with the culture a little anyway as they get to know the house help. It can be humorous at times during the course of the day here. Jonah has often started a conversation with the woman who cleans the house, but I think he mostly tries English. When she gave something to Theo he reported that a French person had given it to him. How confusing it is to explain that she is not French even though she speaks French!
They are also excited that we have been able to spend some time with some families that we had met in France who arrived here in Chad last summer. It’s amazing to see how God has used these friendships to help them enjoy the new life here.
I reflect on all that we have been through in the last couple years. There is so much learning involved in getting to our intended destination. It can be easy to forget why we are doing all of this. So we remind ourselves that we are headed to the Bilala people to tell them the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are not there yet, but the excitement builds with each step closer, however long it takes.
Rev. Danny and his wife Mandy serve with Lutheran Brethren International Mission as missionaries in Chad, Africa.