Saturday, October 17, 2009

An African Journey….One Woman’s Narrative

Botswana: Never Ending Garden 2003

Below is a journal and personal account of my experience on a mission trip to Africa in 2003. This experience led us to our 2008 adoption of our daughter Tigist Sophia Wills. This trip was headed by author Bruce Wilkinson to offer help in this much needed area.

Our goal was to plant 10,000 gardens (there were 84 of us total) in teams of 10 to supply food, opportunity and dignity to the people of this poor country. Stricken with AIDS, with life expectancy of 32 or younger, there is not much hope around this place. We plan to partner with them by planting food and offering help to maintain their personal gardens as well as obtain more in the future should they do well with what they have when we leave.

Ten days to reach our goals and work hard. Three thousand dollars each one of us needs to raise in order to pay for the airfare, hotel, tools, seedlings and food.

I had no idea how I was going to raise so much money, but how I did it was amazing in and of itself. The details are personal and I would love to share them more on a personal level rather than through a public forum. Just unbelievable set of circumstances after a series of faithfulness on my part.


10 hrs. ahead
Religion: 85% indigenous, 15% Christian
Avg wage rates $105 per mo.
Population: 1,573,267
Life expectancy: 32 years for male & female
HIV/AIDS – adult prevalence rate: 38.8% (est. 2001)

An African Journey….One Woman’s Narrative
Why am I going to Africa?

My heart lead me there. When I heard Bruce Wilkinson speak at our church (who wrote the #2 best selling book ever, the Bible being #1), (The Prayer of Jabez is the #1 New York Times Best seller), my heart leaped out of my chest. When I look into the eyes of my children, I see an innocence, a vulnerability, hope, dreams and trust in me that I can make everything right…….and I can’t always. So when I was faced with the vision of these beautiful children and the adults who’s average life span is 32 years old and a 38% HIV rate, I couldn’t turn my back.

My head confirmed what my heart already knew. This NEG program has a 95% success rate. This program works, so it made sense to me. In the area that we will be planting these gardens, at any given time 80 to 90 percent of these people have no food. God did not intend for His people to go to sleep hungry. Although I don’t have a lot of money myself, I am living a “rich” life relative to the rest of the world. You know how some people say, “it’s the LEAST I could do”……..well, to take a quote from my Mum-in-law, I asked myself, “what’s the MOST I can do?”

This trip is allowing me to combine a long time desire with a long time dream...A mission trip to Africa. I wasn’t created to take moments like this and “do nothing” with them. Nelson Mandela states in his inaugural speech, “Your playing it small does not serve the world. Who are you not to be great?” How could I sit there in my nice church seats in my nice clean clothes and not be moved to be a part of this program that is literally saving lives…..?

This is God’s desire for each of us ... to live a life that He rewards. To be the light amongst the darkness.

There are people I’ve shared this with that question us going. “How could you leave your kids?” “You and your husband are flying on the same plane?” Aren’t you afraid? I expected discouraging comments, but they don’t change MY mind. For those who ask how could we go and leave our children for 10 days? I tell them to do the math. Our kids are watching my husband’s actions and mine. We teach them about life and the power that they have inside of them. How can we teach our boys to love thy neighbor, but say, “Well, Africa…that’s just too far.”, “Botswana, the disease too great!” From our family & friends, our supporters, we’ve collected over $6000 for this program. I think that speaks for itself.

All I know is….our country is in dire need of people making decisions like this more often. What’s happening internationally right now I can’t make go away with what I feel in my heart, but what I feel in my heart I can project with this trip. If I was inspired by one man (well of course God, but by Bruce Wilkinson on my 42ndth) and in turn he spoke out with this need, and is inspiring people like me, to plant over 100,000 Never Ending Gardens in Africa, “speaking” with our actions……….THAT’s what I’m talking about! birthday Jan. 18

I have a feeling part of my heart is going to be left there in a small village in Gaborone, and that this will be the first of many trips to this beautiful Continent.

Here is my story ...

Day One, Thursday, June 24, 2004

Although we had planned this trip since January 18th, it was only at 4:00pm today that I was able to really exhale and really believe that we were truly going to Africa on this “Mission From God”. As Tony Lorrich drove off with Brandon and Evan, I watched the van fade away down Berry Hill Drive and then disappear. And as they faded away, it was then I was able to exhale realizing that I can now start to focus on what was ahead for David and I. I walked back in the house, having packed, gotten the kids off with Tony and awaiting Gina and Monica to arrive so we can drive down together. My friend Steve Irigoyen from High School had wanted to contribute to us somehow so he hooked us up with a stretch limousine to take us to LAX. So, that was relaxing to just be able to just talk with Monica & Gina on the way down.

Sitting in the terminal awaiting our time to board the South African jumbo jet, the flight attendants walk by with their brilliant sapphire uniforms, beautifully made up faces…our first introduction to what was going to become very familiar to us. Part of this trip was to stretch myself in certain areas, so I know that all of the travel we are about to experience to get there is not going to be the most convenient. All and all from home to the hotel, it will be 55 hours of travel time. Lord, give me patience and a heart like you!

Okay, I’m just downloading my “perceived” negatives...just venting! The seats in the plane are shockingly smaller than that of previous planes. This is a jumbo jet, but the seats are all but that!! An hour into the flight, my self-talk was, “Are you kidding me? Thirteen more hours of feeling like I’m stuffed into a small box!" It must be known first that I don’t sit in one place in one position well at all. For instance, in a movie theater, I change positions a couple of dozen times for circulation. The only way I’m going to get through this is to meditate and quiet my mind. And as I sit next to my husband, I need to remind myself to keep my mouth shut about how UNBELIEVABLY uncomfortable these seats are!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I have no idea how I'm going to get through 55 hours of travel time and smile at the end of this. However, when I think of where I am going and why I am going, my mind compensates.

Day Two, Friday, June 25, 2004

Still en route. We arrive in New York JFK airport at 6:00 am. With 84 of us on this trip, we’ve broken into teams of 10. So we’ve been sticking together and getting to know each other as we go about our travel.

Knowing that our layover in NY will be 10 hours, we all agreed to trek into Manhattan for a few hours and have breakfast. Last time I was in NY I was 5 weeks pregnant with Brandon having come from Australia, through Germany and I think Holland? I forget, it’s been so long. But I was visiting David on the Phil Collins tour and I remember the nausea in the hotel and taking a warm bath made me feel so good. I stayed with Sheryl Martinelli in Phil’s manager’s multimillion-dollar apartment over looking Central Park and 67th street. That time was so magical for me as it was my first time experiencing New York and although I was pregnant and tired, 13 days in NY was so fabulous. I had wanted to go back so many times since then and … here I am positioned specifically to spend some time in this amazing city.

It was a comical journey from JFK and then to the city. Dropped off our luggage in a storage area at airport, and then took several different modes of transportation to get into the city. We ended up eating in Times Square at the Roxy Delicatessen for breakfast. It was wonderful! We’re getting many pictures of our favorite moments.

Day Three, Saturday, June 26, 2004

Arrived 12:30 am to our hotel, finally. We very literally ran across the border of South African to Botswana border. They close at 10pm and it was 9:55. The border employees were told that 84 of us (well 68 cause 16 people were coming through from Georgia instead of New York) were “running” towards them to get into Botswana in time to get to our hotel. They knew that they would be working overtime and they wanted to deny us. They complied however.

It was late, we were tired…and we’re running in the dark in Africa where animals run wild. And we’re smiling and looking at uniformed men with rifles looking at us like we’re weird. Truly, if we hadn’t been able to get through the border then, we would have slept in our seats on the bus that we’d been in for several hours, not to mention the previous 50 hours of travel. So we were so relieved to be across.

We arrived at our hotel at 12:30 am. The lobby was packed with hundreds of pieces of luggage. The first man I met in the hotel seemed to be one of the managers, Harold. He showed me to my room with such a lovely smile and respectful eyes, it was beautiful. Ps. Kelly held a meeting (are you kidding?), but the good news was we wouldn’t be going to the local church in the morning, but we’d have church here in the conference room at 11:00 am instead of 8:00 am church!! Disappointed that we’d miss a church experience here, but glad for the sleep in! Once we checked into our room, David and I had a nice bath and then crawled into bed and out like a light within seconds.

Day Four, Sunday, June 27, 2004

11:00 Team meeting. Met for church in the conference room in our hotel. It was fabulous. Pastor Kelly lead worship and taught on the 5 principles and our God given purposes.

4:30 We launch the program with the Agricultural representatives about what to expect and learned language and how to use certain phrases to get through our day.

7:00 dinner & individual group meetings. Delegation of responsibilities.

Day Five, Monday, June 28, 2004

Woke at 5: 25am in order to have an hour before the sun comes up, before breakfast and more importantly meditate on the impending day. Today was the big day, an important day to me. I’ve been thinking constantly about what lies ahead for David and I. We are so open for what’s to become of the day. Breakfast from 7 to 8 am, and then we depart at 8:15 am for the 25 minute trek to the village. I believe today is a government attended and newsworthy event where the town and news media will be a part of it.

Today could possibly be one of the top 5 best days of my life. I’m not the only one saying this on this trip. There are lives being changed, not only in the village, but in the hearts of many of this group I’m with. The times I have to spare here are not much to write all that I need to write, but perhaps the most precious moments will live in my mind and heart and not so much on typed media.

On our first day, our team of 10 only planted one garden. Today was really the initial orientation and public acknowledgment of all of the people and groups involved with this project. If our goal by Friday evening is 10,000, then something needs to change. The numbers don’t add up the way we’re going. For a total of 300 gardens planted by 84 people, 300 multiplied by 5 days total only totals 1500 gardens.

This was not part of the plan over here, but we were all offered an opportunity to experience an African Safari for a fraction of the cost. So our group of 10 went today and others will go on other days. It was surreal. They only charged us $50 dollars for the Safari with dinner included. At the end of the day we knew that we were given so much more than what we actually paid for. We were taken around for a 4 hour drive through the Mosetlha Bush Camp in Medikwe. The open truck sat 10 of us and all had excellent views of any kind of animal that was visible. Within 10 minutes we see just 20 feet away and very tall, beautiful giraffe standing right beside a tall tree as he was eating the leaves from it. Although once you saw the giraffe it was clearly visible, had we not glanced at the tree we would have missed it completely. It blended nicely into the landscape. Next we came across a herd of warthogs who were the only animals to run away from us. We saw a herd of elephants at nighttime drinking from the water hole. We saw a huge, beautiful eagle sitting in the tree.

We were 10 feet away from two lions resting under a tree. The guide explained to us that as long as we didn’t make any fast moves or wave our hands, or get out of the jeep, the animals realize that we are only looking and we weren’t to be feared. He reminded us that we were not at Disneyland and that they were VERY real and VERY dangerous and powerful. They just trust us right now and that is why they are letting us stop and look at them. They were not afraid of our voices talking or the clicking of our cameras. While we were watching them, something frightened them (not us) and they roared and stood up prepared to defend themselves. Really scared us too, but after a few seconds they relaxed. Some moments they would seem to be posing for us as a kitty cat would while just looking around. They were absolutely beautiful, stunning to see in their own environment.

A pack of Wild Dogs that we were told were great predators ran 3 feet along our jeep. They could have easily jump right inside and taken advantage, but they didn’t and I’m glad. We were told that they would catch their prey 90% of the time. We saw African type Zebras that clearly had different black and white stripes than ours back home did. So gorgeous. Walked very slow right in front of us as if on cue from the tour guide.

He then took us to one of the peaks of the mountains and gave us hot chocolate and muffins as we looked out into the vast reserve as the sun set. I took several pictures of the sun setting and some of us up on that hill. He then proceeded to go back down and head towards camp where we were greeted by a lantern lined dirt road that led into the campgrounds. This place was magnificent. It was breathtaking. It was almost too much to take after the incredible morning with the opening program and then the planting of our first garden. This just topped off the day possibly creating one of the best days of my life. Actually, yes! It was one of the best days of my life. When I say this was a camp, it wasn’t like when you go camping. IT was like out of a magazine article that you read about where only rich people could afford.

Day Six, Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Our team gathered as usual this morning in front of the hotel. Pastor Kelly (who leads all of the missions trips at our church went over some things and off we go into the huge bus, and 2 smaller buses into the small village of Old Netali. As we drive in closer to the village the children and adults would all wave us in. They’d have smiles on their faces as we drive in as if we were the circus coming to town. They knew we were coming because of the advertisement in the newspaper as well as the daily reminder of a truck with a bullhorn attached to it shouting out while driving around the dirt roads that the people from The Never Ending Gardens were now here and to prepare their plots for us.

Today’s planting total was 600. Doubling is good, but still won’t get us to our goal. Something’s gotta give. Each night we had dinner from 7 to 8pm, then a half hour Team Leader meeting to discuss the days events and how to go about increasing the numbers. Tonight’s meeting included Quinten with Dream For Africa and Phillip Shapiro as well. They said in Swaziland last month on their 3rd day their total was only 4,000 planted. Between Thursday and Friday’s planting they totaled 8,200 gardens. Our question to them was, “How did they make such a huge jump? What did they change? Well, they split their teams from groups of 5 to groups of 2 and enlisted locals standing around watching to help us by giving us breaks with the heavy work like the picks plowing up the ground.

Some men simply didn’t want to help, some perhaps were too weak and sick to help, some were too drunk to consider the thought, some were drunk and would show US how to do it THEIR way, and others would jump at the chance to help us to help them…60 year old women included, even a 2 year old. In fact many small children were perfect to place the seedling into the prepared one inch hole. It made them feel involved. It was fantastic! Here I was, standing side by side with people on the other side of the world from me ... and we were working together. We were creating something out of nothing so that they can "set themselves up for food & income."

Today I befriended a beautiful young woman named Elizabeth. She was the one who had seen us planting yesterday and asked me to please plant her a garden the next day, which is today. I made sure I remembered who she was and where she lived. I asked her to show me exactly which house was hers and told her I’d be back. I asked her if she knew why we were here and she didn’t know. When I said to her that God had sent us, she was so pleased and shared with me that she wanted to get her life right with God. I explained to her how much joy and peace God gives me in my life and how this relationship makes me happy. She said, “Yes, I want to be happy like that.”

I said to her that she could absolutely have that joy in her heart and that would allow her to shine for her neighbors and 3-month-old son. I asked her what she would like me to pray with her for. She said she wanted prayer over her constant drinking and smoking (probably not the cigarette kind of smoking) and she did in fact want to draw closer to God. While we were talking, her two friends came over and we all prayed for Elizabeth and a better life. The 3 of them accepted Jesus into their hearts and went off very happy. Wow, in my 42 years of living, I’ve never directly led anyone to the Lord. It felt exhilarating. I knew that Elizabeth meant it. It seemed to me that it was really an “Ah-ha” moment for her!

Day Seven, Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Today we went into a 2nd area. I was told we were going into the 4 most poverty stricken areas. They were expecting us. And although we knew that we hadn’t planted all of the gardens we needed to in Old Netali, we had to move on. Knowing we were disappointing many who hadn’t been home or that we just didn’t get to.

The types of homes we encountered varied. There was everything from huts and brick & morter to small homes with a few rooms. The latter were far and few between but usually they were a room with a cement floor that was about 10 x 10. There would be a table and then maybe some blanket-beds on the floor. It was not unusual to have anywhere from 5 to 13 people in one of these homes. This was because as relatives die off from AIDS, they move to the Uncles home or neighbors homes and they just take care of each other. Everytime we came across a home, the children were often hanging laundry over a fence of washing dishes outside in a plastic bucket. The kids that were playing were so joyful and happy.

Dinner time came and our daily number was revealed…2000 gardens planted. We were elated. That was a good number. So 300 the first day, 600 the second which now puts us at 2900 total.

Day Eight, Thursday, July 1, 2004

There were 3 boys that were with us the entire day planting. As we were unloaded from our buses into the community center, we were faced with dozens of children hanging around to see what was going on. We were told it was their first Presidents birthday, so there was no school today. We grabbed 3 boys near us who said they would help us with our planting. We figured they would just help to show us around the village area, but instead, they were the hardest working kids I’d ever seen. Never complained, never asked for anything.

Our interpreter told them that we would give them chocolates when we were done. We knew we had more for them, but we wanted them to work for God and not chocolates or a toy. Clearly they weren’t there for reward, but because they wanted to be near us, they wanted to learn and help. By about 2pm, I was getting so tired. My feet were throbbing, I was feeling dizzy whenever I’d stand up from squatting down…my body was starting to weaken. I asked the oldest boy who looked 12, but turned out to be 17, why he was doing this. “You boys are working so hard, why are you helping us today while it’s your school holiday off?” And he replied, “Because of God.” We hadn’t told them why were there, or prompted him in any way. He was a gorgeous soul and he worked extremely hard…for the promise of nothing material.

Then there was the 12 year old. The hardest worker, the most passionate worker. Very quiet & shy, but you could tell there was fire in his heart. Gina on our team said he came up to her midday and with sweat running down his beautiful face he said quietly, “I’m tired.” The day ended with 2 more boys joining us. We had Pula (Botswana currency) to give them and a toy car each. The average days salary for Botswana is I’m told $7 (American) dollars. So giving them $4 each was not so bad. We would have given them more if we had it on us. Also, explained to them that we weren’t rewarding them so much for their work, but for their desire to be God’s hands.

The 12 year old realized we were having to say goodbye and quickly walked away from us, tears falling from his cheeks into the dirt road. Not just one or two tears, but heavy emotional tears of sadness that we were parting. Gina and I cried too (you know that “ugly” cry) as we hugged him and walked back to the bus area…we were running late so we were rushed. He continued to cry all the way there with no shame that his friends knew. At that moment, I knew for sure that if we could have taken him home with us (if he were orphaned) for perhaps opportunity that he does not have here. We knew what his life was like here and we knew he deserved better, but there was nothing we could do about it. We shared words with him that Gina promises to keep in touch with pictures and letters. I would too, but Gina seemed to have special moments with him. He said he lived with his Grandmother and I think brother. It was difficult to say goodbye. Very difficult. Like crazy difficult.

Today there were whispers in my head and aches in my body as I asked myself exactly why this was so important to me? I was a little bit sleep deprived, truly tired, worried about flying home during elevated terrorist alerts to LAX on the 4th of July, and so concerned about these beautiful children. My emotions were toying with me, but the knowledge of the importance this project gives us outweighs any disconcerting thoughts surrounding this work.

Once again, at dinnertime, we were given our daily total…1300, I think. Trying not to feel discouraged, I recall being told Swaziland soil was softer and that the people had in fact “prepared” their plots, whereas Botswana people hadn’t prepared their soil…for whatever reason. The digging and breaking down of the soil was the most time consuming part and took the most energy.

Day Nine, Friday, July 2, 2004

So tired, but really want to get close to our goal. We redefined our plan, split into teams again, used more tools and enlisted more help. Our team of David, myself and Monica completed 114 gardens today and our goal from the head guys was 50. Don, Becky and Gina did about 60. Their goal was 50, so we all did pretty good.

Bruce came to dinner, as well as Phillip, Collin, the ex president’s son in law who spoke eloquently and the Ministry of Agriculture heads. Also, the United States Ambassador. Bruce spoke about his vision, his goals and how Uganda’s HIV/Aides crisis was miraculously turned around from a 45% rate to a 3% rate of the disease. He educated them on abstinence…hello!! No doubt every one of us will be involved in helping out one way or another with this vision to becoming a reality. A 747 has been given to this project called Dream For Africa. That was also a vision and a prayer request from Bruce Wilkinson. The night was incredible, amazing and will never be forgotten.

Day Ten, Saturday, July 3, 2004

Today we leave and we feel ready and satisfied with our work. Although it was really hard to leave, we felt like it wasn’t a good-bye, but more like, “I’ll see you next time”. What an experience, what an adventure, what a blessing that I had the good health to go there, conquer our mission, and return so full. It’s as if I was given a peak into how God see’s us! Wow! Too much to take all in at once. I'm so thankful, so grateful for experiences like these.