Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire – We visited the Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) again recently. We were there with a small team from our church, five of us all together. What an amazing trip … and in many ways a VERY challenging trip.
We stayed in the jungle. Not because we HAD to, but because we wanted to. We want to understand how they really live. The inside of a hotel looks the same in virtually every country. Dakoupleu, the village that would become our home for two weeks, is about an 8-10 hour drive from Abidjan, depending on traffic, road, weather and vehicle conditions, not to mention the driver, his skill, nerve and craziness! All these conditions were rated somewhere between poor to mediocre, except for the vehicle. It left MUCH to be desired. It was an old white van, pretty on the outside and pretty BAD on the inside.
The van had three breakdowns on the way, stretching our 10 hours trip to around 34 hours! First it was a break line leak. Then it was a drive shaft that went kaput. Then, while driving in the rain, fog and dark, we hit a deep rut hole at 60 miles an hour and destroyed a tire!
The drive shaft breakdown happened in the early evening, out in the middle of nowhere. Actually there “happened” to be a tiny village right there where our vehicle came to a sudden stand-still. Several of the villagers came out to greet us and asked if they could help. It was a far-shot, but one of them thought he could fix it, with a very “make-shift” solution. We thanked him and went along our way, but only got 500 yards down the road, before the “make-shift” repair didn’t make shift any more. We pushed the van back to the village. We would need a new part and need to hitch-hike to the next “bigger” village in search of the appropriate part. By this time it was dark. Our African team leader went to the village chief and asked if we could park our van and stay the night. The respected chief quickly said “Yes. No problem.”
Next thing we know, there’s a family in the village who welcomed us to say with them! A couple years ago, when we visited this country the first time, the Ivoirians kept greeting with an expression in French, which translates to, “There’s room in our house for you.” I found out that this is a traditional greeting for welcoming strangers. At that time, I was so touch by this generous example of hospitality. On this particular evening two years later, I saw this cultural expression being lived out! These villagers didn’t know us from Adam! How could they trust complete strangers and welcome us to stay the night with them?! Wow! It made me think of our expression, “They’re not strangers. They’re just friends who we haven’t met yet.”
We found out that they actually gave up THEIR OWN bedrooms and slept outside by the fire! There was room for us in their house, … in order for there to be room, they had to move out and slept under the stars! We were completely flabbergasted! Our hearts melted.
Before we entered their house to go to bed, the women of the house told us that they always ended the day by singing a hymn and saying a prayer, and invited us to join them! What? Out in the middle of nowhere, we had fallen upon some Christian. “Yes, we’d love to,” I said. You’re wondering what hymn they sang, right? It was a perfect hymn to sing in the context of this whole unexpected interruption: What a Friend We Have in Jesus. What a Friend We Have in Jesus! And what friends we had found in this village, who demonstrated to us our Heavenly Father’s unconditional love, tangible compassion.
There were no beds, of course, in these “bed” rooms. The floor was extremely hard. We honestly didn’t sleep a wink that night. But we were convinced that the drive shaft problem was no accident. God wanted to show us, on this first full day of our mission trip, that He is very capable of taking care of His children. Though exhausted, all of us, every single one of us, felt so blessed by the warm welcome that these villagers had shown to us! It was going to be a great mission trip!