I awoke with a start. I wasn’t sure if I had a bad dream or a bad dinner, but I was drenched in sweat.
“Don’t go, don’t go.” pulsed through my head as if a dream lingered that I could no longer remember.
I sat up, and drops of sweat splashed off my nose and chin onto the sheets. I felt dizzy, nauseated, achy, confused.
“Don’t go. Don’t go.” Wait, don’t go where? Where am I?
I oriented myself from the light from the balcony outside of our room as it peeked through the curtains of our air-conditioned hotel room. I remembered I was in Tamale, Ghana. The next morning, we were leaving for Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
“Don’t go, don’t go, don’t go, don’t go” drummed with every heartbeat.
“Well, that’s silly,” I thought. “That’s the biggest reason why we came!”
Burkina Faso is a brand new mission field for Global Partners, the missions department for The Wesleyan Church. A small, landlocked, and primarily Muslim nation located just north of Ghana, Burkina Faso had only months prior received three of the most recent Wesleyan missionaries from Haiti, and we were going to visit them. We have been praying for these three men for months, and have their pictures on our refrigerator at home. This is the first time The Wesleyans have sent missionaries from one developing nation to another on a completely different continent, and in a completely different culture. The only commonality was the French language. For this reason, Ken had spent months with Rosetta Stone, brushing up his French.
As I processed these thoughts, the first knife-like abdominal pain came. The list of my travel-related sins passed through my mind:
- My shoe had fallen off and I had stepped in the mud on Sunday.
- I had eaten raw or undercooked produce . . . at most meals.
- I had been bitten by all manner of mosquitoes and black flies at least a dozen times.
- I had accidentally rinsed my toothbrush with tap water instead of bottled water.
- I ate a meat of unknown origin and questionable identity for dinner the previous night.
- There was a known cholera outbreak in the city where we had stayed in southern Ghana.
As I bowed before the porcelain throne of repentance, the list of differential diagnoses was narrowed to one: E. coli.
No one likes an E. coli infection. Especially in a foreign country. Especially when you are planning on traveling back to the United States and they won’t let you on an airplane unless you’re the picture of health. Especially when any febrile complaint will be perceived as Ebola, even when you have remained hundreds of miles of African dirt roads and several borders from the nearest case, and it is only contagious by contact with infectious body fluids from a symptomatic person. I knew I didn’t have Ebola, but I knew the paranoid American public would never believe me. I was not afraid of Ebola, but I was afraid of American’s fear of Ebola and what they would do to me if I got sick while in Africa.
I scrambled through the portable pharmacy I had brought with me for Cipro, and downed my first dose of absolution before waking Ken.
I sat next to Ken, ashen and still sweating giant beads of sweat like raindrops.
“I can’t go to Burkina Faso,” I muttered. “I have to stay here.” It was all I could get out before I was exhausted and doubled over in pain. I didn’t have the energy to explain the weird dreamlike sensation to not go to Burkina Faso. It was probably just my fever anyway.
When morning came, Ken packed a small bag, and arranged for me to stay in the hotel room another night. He brought me extra water for the day and a half I would be spending alone, and made me promise to contact the front desk for medical help if I needed it. The Cipro had already begun its work, but I was still miserable.
Ken kissed me goodbye, walked out into the blazing heat, and I drifted back into a dehydrated sleep.
To my surprise, two hours later, Ken walked back in the door.
“There may be a small matter of a riot, so we are reevaluating if we should go. We will make the decision within the hour.” Ken explained.
What the rest of my body didn’t have energy to do, my sweaty fingers did. I began to frantically search.
No United States State Department Travel Warning.
No US Embassy alert.
Then I checked news agencies, and I was shocked with what I read. News was breaking every time I hit the refresh button.
Thousands of protesters were marching on Parliament.
Protesters had broken through police lines at Parliament. Police retreat.
Parliament is on fire and being looted by rioters.
The state television station has been taken over by rioters.
The Burkina Faso Army moves in and declares martial law, disbanding Parliament.
The airport in Ouagadougou is shut down. No flights incoming our outgoing.
President Campaore resigns after 27 years of power. He is looking to escape the country.
Within an hour, the situation grew dire.
The pounding of my heartbeat, “Don’t go, don’t go, don’t go,” began again, but not for myself. Ken had to make the decision about whether he would still travel into Burkina Faso in what looked like was going to be a complete takeover of the government by either civilians, or the Army.
Ken returned to the lobby to hear what the National Superintendent, with whom he would be traveling, had to say. And then he returned to the room.
“It looks like we’re going to have some down time in Tamale.”
I smiled, took another dose of Cipro, and collapsed in relief.
Later, we realized that the Burkina Faso borders closed that afternoon, and remained closed for days. Indeed, the government has changed hands, a temporary government has been established. The United States Embassy locked down, and staff were ordered to shelter in place. Without me, Ken could not have entered the US Embassy for protection. Had Ken traveled, he would have been trapped in Burkina Faso. I would have had to either return to America without him, or wait until the border reopened.
It’s not every day that the country you are planning to visit collapses.
The situation in Burkina Faso is currently in transition. The former president is still on the move, going from Ivory Coast to Morocco, seeking protection. Civilians are now wrestling with the military, who assumed power. But the people of Burkina Faso didn’t overthrow the government to put a military leader in power. The hope is that within a year, free elections will be held.
It doesn’t take much imagination to realize what an important time this is for Burkina Faso. As a Muslim nation, they have been a key ally for US interests in the area as they fend off Al Queda and other radical Islamic groups in the region. The next year could determine whether Christian missionaries are allowed to stay and be safe in the region, or whether they will be ousted. The next year could determine whether Burkina Faso will continue to be one of the fastest-growing areas for Christianity in the world, or whether the sharing of the gospel will be restricted.
The next year is a great time for the saints to be lifting up the nation of Burkina Faso and the missionaries there, who may have a tenuous window of time to share the steadfast message of the gospel.
II Thessalonians 2:1-3, NIV “As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.”