I’m writing about my 2016 traveling a little out-of-order. My November/December trip to the Dominican Republic is here, but back in June of this year I took a trip to Togo, West Africa, with Global Partners in Hope.
Outside of a high school mission trip to Mexico (20+ years ago), my only international travel had been via cruise boat. My only glimpse of international poverty was from the window of a shuttle driving from the port of call dock to the beach. My real exposure to life outside of the United States, especially in a third-world country, had been little to none.
Togo was a feast for the senses in many ways. Like nothing I had ever experienced. Fresh mango and pineapple. Street vendors lined every street, selling everything from mattresses to tires to goats and stereos. The rush of motorcycles alongside a beautifully dressed woman, balancing a baby on her back and a basket of fruit on her head. Singing. Drums. Ocean waves. Red dirt roads. Laughter. Shy and curious smiles from children walking on the side of the road. A sweet smell like Moroccan oil wafting in the breeze. Prayer mats pointing toward Mecca. Basenji dogs waiting for scraps. Children the size of my own children, smiling up at me and calling me “Maman” and giggling while practicing English phrases.
Togo is beautiful.
To me, it was breathtakingly beautiful.
But there is another side to the story. There is breathtaking poverty. And pain. And just like everywhere else, a need for the hope found in Jesus.
Driving downtown through the capital city of Lomé, the streets are filled with young people. Beautiful children and teenagers everywhere. But the troubling reason for this youth and vitality is the fact that the median age in Togo is 19.6. The life expectancy in West Africa is 55. The sad reality is that in a sea of hundreds of faces, I saw very few wrinkled with age. I saw very few backs stooped with years. Very few hands weathered by time.
In West Africa, the complexities and burden of poverty and health issues are just as breathtaking as the beauty. High infant and maternal mortality rates. Lack of clean drinking water. Lack of basic health care and health education. Lack of medical care providers.
The thing I learned most in Togo was how little I know or understand about the complexity of world poverty. And for me, how it is much easier to sit home and lament about poverty and discuss philosophical theories on how to solve it, than to actually do anything. To just discuss politics and injustice, rather than get my hands dirty. To ponder solving world crisis from my air-conditioned living room.
But Jesus didn’t call us to solve the world’s poverty. He didn’t ask me to take on the world. Jesus called me to feed the hungry and care for the sick. Jesus called me to love others. Jesus called me to help the widows and orphans.
In visiting Togo with Global Partners in Hope, I see quite clearly that no, we are not going to solve poverty in West Africa. No, we are not going to save every sick child or hemorrhaging mother.
But we can make a difference. Through the work of Global Partners in Hope and similar organizations we can provide sustainable health care and clean water wells to serve thousands of people. We will help widows and orphans. We can share the Gospel with those who have never heard it. We can improve the infant and maternal morality rates. We can show Jesus’ love in a real, meaningful way.
Ask me about my trip to Togo and I will tell you I loved it. It is a beautiful country. And through the work Global Partners in Hope is doing, I know I can leave a small footprint of good in the red dirt roads. But even more so, I now know that Togo changed me…for the better.