Is it strange that I love FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)? Whenever I want to know more about a company or online service, one of the first places I go to is the FAQ page because it answers the most common questions people ask about them. Well, we have been in the States for three months now, and as we have talked to numerous people we have been hearing a lot of the same “frequently asked questions.” So I thought it might be helpful to answer some of these questions in a blog post since you may have wondered some of the same things that others have. But if you think of any others that aren’t already here, feel free to leave a comment.
How long have you been in Togo?
We first got to Togo in February of 2009 and spent two years there. Our second term was also two years between 2012-2014.
How much longer will you be in Togo?
We really haven’t set a specific end date to our time in Togo because want to stay there either until we feel like the ministry can continue without us or until the Lord tells us to leave. We think the former may possibly happen within the next 3-6 years.
Did you come back because of the Ebola crisis?
No, this was a planned furlough.
Are you concerned about Ebola? Is Togo affected by it?
We aren’t overly concerned about it, but we are watching the news closely to see if there are any outbreaks in or nearby Togo. So far the closest is two countries away in Nigeria, but it has been contained there. What we’ve heard from a friend is that Togo is doing a pretty good job of informing and educating people, which is probably the best prevention.
How long are you in the States for?
We got to the States in July of this year and our original plan was to head back after Christmas, but surprise! We found out in August that the newest member of the Shanks tribe will be born in April. Because Tiffany requires a c-section, we will be staying here until after the birth and two month recovery period for Tiffany. That puts us around mid to late June of 2015. While we really wanted to go back as soon as possible, we are certainly welcoming this pleasant surprise! Because we are staying an extra six months, we will probably make our next term in Togo two and a half years long instead of just two like we were planning.
I heard something about Jesse going back to Togo. Is that true?
Yes, that is the plan. Originally we were thinking I’d go back for three months, but after talking with our teammates and considering the negative effects that would have on our family, we have decided that it would be best that I only go back for 4-6 weeks. This will happen sometime in January or February. I will use that time to reconnect with the people we work with, explore new ministry opportunities, do some strategic planning and preparation with Andrew, and maybe explore a possible partnership that is developing between us and a non-profit development organization that wants to work in Togo.
What have you been doing with the moringa tree?
When we were in the States last time we talked a lot about the moringa tree. That’s because it’s amazing! When we first arrived back in Togo we began doing moringa projects right away and saw some good results. Our ministry reached a breaking point pretty quickly, however, where we became so busy with our primary goal of making disciples and training leaders that we had to set moringa aside for the most part. We have not changed in our desire to use moringa to bless people and give them a way to help themselves in the areas of health and agriculture, but the people we target with it have changed. Instead of doing projects in villages where we do not know anyone, we have found that training people with whom we already work is much more effective and sustainable. So now we typically teach moringa to churches, Bible study groups, and leaders who can then share it with others.
How have you travelled to so many places?
One of the natural perks to the type of work we do is getting to travel quite often. That begins to look a lot less like a perk the more kids we have, though! Either way, I was fortunate to stumble across a couple blogs a few years ago that give advice about how to significantly reduce the cost of travel by taking advantage of large bonuses offered by banks for airline frequent flyer miles. It requires a bit of time and a lot of organization, but over the past few years we have managed to accumulate nearly one million airline miles and hotel points which has allowed us to visit places on our way to or from Togo. Apart from food and maybe a rental car, these trips have been either totally free or extremely cheap. Oftentimes, we use these trips to visit supporters, ministry partners, or personal mentors.
What’s the weirdest/grossest thing you’ve eaten in Togo?
I should separate this into two parts: the things I’ve been served and the things I’ve actually eaten! I really do try to eat whatever is put in front of me because that is such an important part of Togolese culture, but I have had to draw the line one two occasions. One time a guy took his machete (that had been laying on the ground) into his kitchen to whack off a chunk of blackened and charred pork for Andrew and me. When I asked him how many days it had been since he killed the pig and how long the meat had been in his room, he started counting on his fingers: 1…2…3…4…5…”I think it’s been six days.” Yikes! No thanks. Another time, the same guy brought me some boiled chicken feet. Not the legs, just the feet. I was willing to try it, but I couldn’t imagine what I would even do with them! They were just skin and bones, literally. When I graciously turned them down, he and Tchéou exclaimed, “Okay, we’ll eat the best part of the chicken then!” They proceeded to break, crack, and crunch every bone with their teeth!
Probably the funniest thing Andrew and I have ever been served is a large bowl of honey, one for each of us. And this wasn’t just any honey. It was the strongest and richest raw honey you could imagine. Now I love honey, but I’ve never once thought to eat a bowl of it! It was so rich that Andrew and I could only finish less than half of it. The family thought we were pretty crazy that we couldn’t finish it all, but we were about to lose it if we kept forcing it down!