This is the text of an e-mail I sent out last night to a variety of friends and family members. I got a few bouncebacks, so if you think I might have tried to send you one it might be that I have an out-of-date e-mail address for you in my files.
If you would like to be included in further updates, please let me know and I will add you to the list for future updates.
Friends, family, and mission trip supporters:
I have good news!
First, a little bit of background, because I think I am sending this to some newer acquaintances as well as old friends. (If you’d rather not receive future updates, just let me know.) From 2003 to 2010, I took a series of mission trips through a small, non-denominational organization called LEAMIS International Ministries. I went to Nicaragua, Bolivia, Costa Rica and five times to Kenya. I had already decided prior to the 2010 trip that it was time to give my supporters a break, and then the 2010 trip ended up coinciding with Mom’s cancer – I found out she was incurable on the morning I left for Kenya.
By 2013, however, I was talking with LEAMIS’s executive director and co-founder, the Rev. Debra Snellen, about going to West Africa — specifically, Sierra Leone.
I started raising money, and many of you receiving this e-mail were generous enough to give. But the trip had to be postponed – at first, it was scheduling problems and a family situation involving our host in Sierra Leone, the Rev. Gregory Bangura. Then, the trip was rescheduled, although this time Rev. Bangura was going to bring us into neighboring Liberia instead of Sierra Leone. Then, the Ebola crisis shook both countries (as well as nearby Guinea) and we had to postpone the trip again for safety reasons.
Now, with the Ebola situation finally quiet, we are moving forward, and have set new dates for the trip – which is now back in Sierra Leone. The trip is now scheduled for Nov. 16-30. (Yes, I will be out of the country and will miss Thanksgiving.)
Unlike some of my trips, this will not be a big team trip – just me and Debra. LEAMIS has a program called The Jethro Project (named for Moses’ father-in-law, who gave him some good advice about not spreading himself too thin) which conducts Bible-based leadership training for native pastors in developing nations. Many of these pastors have had only some rudimentary Biblical training, but haven’t had any practical training in leadership skills or principles. LEAMIS’s curriculum uses concepts from recognized authors like John Maxwell, along with tools like personality tests.
We’ll also teach some practical skills which the pastors can share with their congregations in various parts of Sierra Leone and Libera. One of these will be SODIS, a system for sanitizing water by leaving it in the sun in plastic soda bottles, where ultraviolet rays can kill harmful bacteria. SODIS (you can learn more at sodis.ch) only works in cases where the water is clear; muddy water won’t work. But it’s cheap, easy and practical, even in the most remote settings. We may end up teaching some cottage industry skills as well. Debra tells me that Rev. Bangura is more of a type-A personality than some of the host pastors we’ve worked with and will likely make the best use he can of us during our short time in Sierra Leone.
Debra and I have been a two-person team once before, during our 2007 trip to Bolivia.
During my initial fundraising, thanks to your generosity, I turned in $2,100 to LEAMIS, and that money has been sitting in LEAMIS’s accounts waiting for the trip. I never did have a hard-and-fast cost estimate on the trip, and I think at one point I thought it was going to cost a total of $3,000 including air fare. Fortunately, the air fare to Sierra Leone is going to be less than what we were told several years ago, and while some aspects of the trip are still being firmed up it looks like most of what I have to send LEAMIS is already taken care of. There still may be some additional costs depending on how those final arrangements come together.
This next paragraph is not directed at those of you who have already given to this trip. I am not asking any of you to give again. But if you have not yet supported the trip and you — or your church, Sunday School class or other group — would still like to make a contribution, I will probably have some other trip-related expenses between now and November – such as a $160 visa fee just to enter Sierra Leone (that’s three times more than any of the visa fees charged by other countries in which I’ve worked), travel insurance, and so on. Depending on what cottage industry workshops we end up doing, I might have to buy some supplies to take with me.
In order for your contributions to be tax deductible, you can still make them payable to LEAMIS, and I can get LEAMIS to reimburse me for legitimate and documented trip-related expenses. Checks made out to me are not tax-deductible, but that’s up to you.
You may mail your check directly to
P.O. Box 104292
Jefferson City, MO 65110
or give it to me and I will forward it to LEAMIS. If you submit directly to LEAMIS, please let me know so I can thank you promptly.
Now, here’s the fun news. I almost hesitate to mention it, because it makes me sound like a tourist instead of a missionary. But I can’t help myself. You all know that I take this mission work very seriously, as does Debra. But LEAMIS always tries to leave a day at the end of a two-week trip – especially for team trips, but usually even for two-person or three-person trips like this – for participants to debrief each other on the experience, discussing what we learned and processing how our hearts were touched as we unwind a little bit in a pleasant environment before returning to the U.S. Usually, this is done in-country. On four of my five Kenya trips, I had the opportunity to visit wildlife parks on our debrief day. In Bolivia, we visited a city that had a zoo and a beautiful cathedral – although there was a record cold snap on the day of our arrival, which led to a miserable, bit-by-bit 24-hour delay in our departure for America.
But Sierra Leone – much smaller and poorer than Kenya – doesn’t really have a suitable place for us to hold debrief. So instead, we’re going to take advantage of our layover on the way back. When you fly from the U.S. to Sierra Leone, you change planes at Charles DeGaulle Airport … in Paris. So we’ve arranged the itinerary to give us a day in Paris on the way back, and we’ll debrief and unwind while seeing a few sights. Seeing Paris – even though I won’t get to see much of it! – is a bucket list item for me. On my first Kenya trip, we changed planes in London – another city I hope to see one day – and it was so frustrating not to be able to leave the airport!
I just had to share that.
Anyway, please keep me, Debra, and the trip in prayer. I appreciate all of your prayers, thoughts and encouragement over the years.