Rockford’s Crossfire ministries travel to Africa’s Ivory Coast
by PASTOR Keith Hemmila
If you are satisfied with your life and happy with yourself, don’t go to Africa. You will come back forever changed. Abidjan was just another dot on the map until we visited this city.
We weren’t quite sure what to expect, but now it has a permanent home forever in our hearts. We still see a multitude of faces, beautiful people going through the motions of everyday life, with a hope that someday things will improve.
Civil War broke out in early 2001 that crippled the country. Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s largest city of 3.8 million, was hardest hit. The war caused 800,000 Europeans to exit the country along with the world bank. This beautiful city turned into a refugee camp.
Young people between the ages of 16 and 25 populated the city. Many had lost their families in the war and had come to Abidjan to reestablish themselves. Every morning it hit us that in a few days we would be going home, but for these people, this is their life. While we drove through the city, we felt helpless as we encountered so many people in need.
Our hearts were troubled as we caught sight of an elderly woman begging for her daily food. Children walked between the cars at intersections selling goods from newspapers to toilet paper. But the most heartbreaking scene was a young man walking on his feet and hands because his body was so severely twisted. Medical facilities were minimal for this unfortunate man. It was a startling reminder of the difference between our country and a third world country.
Myself and wife Judy Hemmila, Sherry Holmes, Shirlee Kamstra and Linda Penn-Davies made up the team that went to Abidjan. The purpose of our visit was to work with Bishop Anthony Yeboah, Field Director of Free International Missions. Pastors preached at eight services in three different churches. The three other participants came as support staff. Rice was purchased by Crossfire Ministries and distributed to needy people. Also, this team had the opportunity to visit a new church Crossfire Ministries helped finance in 2008.
The road trip to our first ministry event was shocking. Garbage lined the streets and actual garbage dumps existed throughout the city. It was a perfectionist’s nightmare.
We traveled on dirt roads full of pot holes and debris. We saw miles of shacks without doors or windows covered with simple tin roofs. Young men were hauling grass in carts for $2 a day while women carried heavy loads of merchandise or food on their heads to sell. We were all speechless and had a hard time holding back the tears.
Amidst the poverty, we discovered the treasure that existed within the people. They were beautiful, happy and generous. The colors in their clothing were spectacular. They spoke a beautiful French dialect.
The first Sunday worship service was at 6:30 a.m. with people filling the building and two large tents. We were so moved by the beautiful people with huge smiles that we didn’t notice all the armed guards and barbed wire. Worship was amazing. The music was full of life and the singing was passionate. The worship team moved from one song of praise to another. The people often danced around the church as they sang. The music was so joyful that Pastor Judy was compelled to join in the dance. This sparked giggles and smiles showing they were delighted that she had joined them. It proved that love and communication are more than speaking the same language.
As we reflect upon our trip, there are common impressions and lessons we learned from our experience. First, we recognize how fortunate we are to live in the United States. Sherry Holmes said, “I am so thankful that here in the states I can put my toothbrush under the faucet and back in my mouth without worrying about getting sick. I do not need a wall with barbed wire around my home and there are not armed guards or check points in Grand Rapids. I do not sit 16 hours a day in the middle of dirt and trash trying to make a living. Even the poor in our country have a backup plan called welfare or food pantries. Those who lose their jobs in the United States can apply for unemployment and get paid for not working; not so in West Africa.”
Linda Penn-Davies was also shocked by conditions there. “I was taken back by the armed soldiers standing on the street corners and soldiers driving jeeps with mounted machine guns,” she said. “This is everyday life for these people. Can you imagine armed soldiers walking around Rockford? I’m so thankful for this experience. I’m forever changed and know I am a better person for it.”
Pastor Judy reflected upon her renewed appreciation for our country. “We are so blessed. God has watched over, prospered and protected our nation because we patterned our culture on Biblical principles. I wonder how long we will be a blessed nation if we foolishly ignore and reject Christ and His teachings.”
Shirlee Kamstra shared how going to Abidjan gave her a new perspective of God’s passionate desire for a larger family and how He desires her to share this good news. Telling others about the loving and amazing God she serves and extending the invitation for them to experience His love and forgiveness.
Last, our view of church has been enlarged. It’s not about bricks and bucks. It’s about relationship with God and one another.
We are more committed to missions here in Rockford as well as in West Africa. Linda summed up the teams thoughts quite well. “I had to go to Africa to find myself. I know I will go again. It was a dream of mine; now it’s a passion. Every Christian needs to go on a mission’s trip. It doesn’t have to be in Africa, it can be down south, the inner city, Mexico, but they need to do it. God will enlarge out influence when He enlarges our hearts.”
If you would like to learn more about how to prepare for a trip to West Africa, please call our church office at (616) 863-8197. A DVD with music is available at our website: www.crossfire-ministries.org