In the latter part of January, I had the opportunity to accompany my dad and Joel Meeker on a trip to Benin, a small French-speaking country in West Africa. Mr. Meeker, United Church of God pastor of French-speaking areas in Europe, Africa and the Caribbean, had asked my dad to go to Africa with him to help at a conference he had planned for the French-African Church leaders. My dad gave a few lectures and the conference went very well.
Traveling to Benin was an eye-opening and shocking experience for me. It was my first visit to a developing country. It didn't take long to see how different their society is from ours. We arrived in Cotonou in the late evening after dark. On our taxi drive to the hotel, we looked out the car windows as people walked and worked about the streets. Women carried all kinds of things on their heads. People in those parts of the world live in conditions that we Westerners would consider poverty.
The first part of the conference, as well as the Sabbath service, was held at the residence of the Ogoudele family. They have a nice dwelling that suits their needs well. The area in which they live is the poorest and one of the most sobering places I had ever been.
The road to their place is a dirt road with many puddles and potholes. Trash lay about everywhere. Most of the children we saw wore very little clothing, and most people in the outskirts of Cotonou lived in simple shelters made with sheet metal and sticks. Seeing people living in those conditions made me a lot more thankful for what we have here in the United States.
All the African brethren I've met, despite their modest means, have an outstanding attitude. They seem more thankful for what little they have than we are for all we possess in this rich country!
On many occasions I saw the filth that plagues cities like Cotonou. I was able to walk around one of the largest markets in Africa with Pierre Ogoudele, one of Mr. Ogoudele's sons. This market was probably the dirtiest and most crowded public place I have ever seen. It made me realize how bacteria can spread so easily in these kinds of areas. We are certainly blessed to live in a relatively clean country.
Fruit salad blues
Later that day, we both ate a fruit salad in a restaurant by the beach. I didn't know not to eat fruit that the local people peeled. Most of the time they don't wash their hands, so bacteria that Westerners are not used to gets on the fruit they peel and it harms our bodies.
I learned the hard way and had an intestinal ailment for the last three days of the trip. I was in bed for practically the whole of those three days, but even that was well worth it for the experience and education I acquired while in Benin.
The last day of the trip we took a boat ride and visited a village built on water. The village, called Ganvié, was built in the 1600s by a tribe that was at war with a neighboring tribe. Their enemy held a superstition that they could not pass over water. So the tribe that built Ganvié used this superstition to their benefit and built their city on water using sticks and piling up mud to create islands. It was an interesting sight to see.
It certainly is an inspiration to see the brethren in Africa. And traveling to the developing countries of the world opens one's mind and makes one much more grateful for all the blessings that God provides. The trip also motivated me to want to help the people in those countries. If I ever have the opportunity to serve them in the future, I will try my best to help. VT