Another work week came to an end at the Nyarafolo Bible translation office, and my colleagues were packing up for the day. As I gathered my books and small backpack for the walk home, I passed by one of my tontons (an affectionate term for “uncle”) sitting outside the office on a metal folding chair, taking a break from Old Testament translation. I waved farewell as I walked past him, but instead of saying goodbye, what he said stopped me in surprise: “Hannah, you know, now when I see you, I consider you like my own daughter.”
He could hardly know how much those words meant to me.
In the months immediately after being placed with my first host family in Sinématiali, Cȏte d’Ivoire, the learning curve was steep. I was swimming in language, cultural customs, and church services, among other things. Everything was challenging, but everything was new, and with the newness came excitement.
After seven months, three teammates and I felt a tug on our hearts to stay in Cȏte d’Ivoire a second year. By this time, we could actually communicate in French, and the relationships we had been developing were becoming richer and more meaningful. Living with my host family, I was automatically taken along on visits to neighbors’ courtyards, the village, the market, church services, and even to the local school. People I would have never met on my own now called me sister, daughter, niece, and friend.
These foundations allowed me to integrate into Ivorian life in much deeper ways than during my first year. My teammates Suzi, Laura, Crystal, and I took on full-time ministry positions. Laura and Crystal dedicated their time to the Bible institute, Suzi honed her nursing skills at the Baptist hospital, and I divided my time between the hospital and the Nyarafolo Bible translation office.
Some of these were ministry opportunities we had never considered, but coming to Cȏte d’Ivoire as a Journeyer meant we didn’t have to pioneer our way. Instead, we had opportunities to see existing ministries and explore them for ourselves. As Journeyers, we could jump right into work with WorldVenture missionaries and the national church association.
But even 12 months and 16 months in, the questions would still cross my mind: “Why am I here? What is it that I’m doing?” Having a ministry position was great, but the routine—getting up to my alarm, going to work, making trips to the market, doing Saturday laundry, spending evenings at home with my family—had all become so, well, normal. Where was that “missions trip excitement?”
It was during this time that God opened my eyes to a reality about cross-cultural missions I had missed before: daily life is ministry. The way I conduct myself at work, the way I interact with my Muslim neighbors, and the time I do or do not give to visiting church members can communicate Christ’s love to others. No matter where I am, be it Seattle, or Ferkessédougou, Cȏte d’Ivoire, I am to be an intentional Christian. In the most mundane parts of life, God asks us to be faithful. In the little, everyday things: faithfulness.
So when my tonton shared those words with me, it spoke light into my heart. When we choose to be obedient to the Lord in the very mundane things of life, we also affirm those around us whose faithful service often goes unseen, and in that, we discover community. So work became an opportunity to do life with our fellow believers. Each week filled itself because, as a part of the local church and community, there are always weddings, funerals, and church events to attend.
What most deeply touched my heart during my time in Cȏte d’Ivoire was the way those around me manifested their care and concern. I think of my host parents, my tontons and tantis, who took the time to pray for me, instruct me, and counsel me. Each time I would take trips away from my family, my parents would take the time to pray over me before I left, asking me for specific prayer subjects on my heart. I cherish the times I had the opportunity to chat with the young girls at church about life or to talk about the Bible with my brothers and sisters. I think of conversations with my sweet friend Mary (name changed), who used to be a Muslim, about what it is like for her to live out her faith as the only believer in her family. I miss these moments where we could engage with each other in conversation, in prayer, and sometimes in silence.
As a Journeyer, I didn’t have to choose between this integration into Ivorian life and opportunities to explore different areas of ministry. It’s a holistic approach, and it changed my life. I am filled with gratitude to the WorldVenture missionaries and Ivorian leaders who graciously walked alongside us, sharing their wisdom and their heart for the gospel. And I treasure the genuine friendship of the many people who adopted me into their homes and hearts.
Just a few weeks before returning to the U.S., Suzi and I were able to attend the civil marriage ceremony of a dear friend. As we walked into the mayor’s courtyard, we found our friends from the hospital, from church, and from the neighborhood: the familiar faces of our community. We had all put the morning on hold so we could celebrate together. Waiting for the ceremony to begin, one of my tantis leaned over and whispered to me, “How is it that you girls must leave just now, now that you are part of our lives here?”
Hannah was featured in a local Washington news outlet concerning her experiences in West Africa.