I’ll just come right out and say it. Life in Togo is hard. That’s not to say that it’s always hard, or that there are not enjoyable things about it and enjoyable times, but in general Togo is a challenging place to live. Overall, we have adapted to living here and have made a decision not to dwell on the negative aspects, but there are times when we just feel like—I don’t know how else to describe it—Togo is just out to get you. From a Biblical perspective, though, it kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? The devil has held this place in captivity and has gladly received worship (see 1 Cor. 10:20) for centuries, and our sole purpose in being here is to turn people from his kingdom of darkness to Jesus’ kingdom of light. I imagine that does not sit well with satan. That’s not to say that every negative thing we experience is a direct attack from the enemy, but we certainly are conscience of these things “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.” (2 Cor. 2:11)
All that to say this: over the past couple weeks we have been through a consecutive series of events and sicknesses that on their own wouldn’t have been too bad, but put together have been quite discouraging. It all started, believe it or not, with our german shepherd, Lizzy. Just a couple weeks after we arrived in July she became deathly ill with an undiagnosable sickness and nearly died twice over the course of the following month in spite of multiple vet treatments. To make a long story short, she went back and forth between very sick and looking better for quite some time, but all the while laying down most of the day. Bed sores—or grass sores, rather—developed, flies got all over them, infection set in, we put her under a mosquito net in our gazebo, and a daily routine of caring for a nearly invalid dog set in for the following three weeks. Now I’ll be perfectly honest; I am not at all a dog person and I had no special love in my heart for this dog. She was a great guard for our house, which is the only reason we had her. Incredibly insensitive, I know. But even I had a hard time seeing her in such a pitiful state day after day.
When we had given her ample time to recover and finally decided that she had suffered enough, I began calling a couple vets to have them come put her down. Apparently, though, vets in Togo either don’t want to do this for some reason or don’t think it’s worth their time because days went by without anyone showing up in spite of my repeated calls. Finally, though, last week she passed away on her own, which was sad in a way, but really more of a relief for us. As you can imagine, this had become a major drain on our time and a big distraction in general.
If you’re a dog-lover, and if I haven’t lost you already due to my insensitivity, let’s continue…
At the end of September we had our Oikos training, which went really great, but in the days leading up to it, a pinched nerve I’ve had in my neck began giving me problems again, and by the time the training came around it was quite bad. Just after the training, however, it got to the point where I was literally laid up in a reclining chair in our living room for four days straight. I was downing ibuprofen like a 10 year-old eats Nerds candy, which was the only thing that kept it from being completely unbearable. By the fifth day of icing, stretching, and a whole lot of praying, it started to feel a lot better.
My neck is feeling quite good now, but the very same day it started getting better Owen began throwing up before bedtime. He had a fever as well, so we immediately suspected malaria. The next day we did a blood analysis at the clinic and discovered that it was indeed malaria, but thankfully a mild case. Mild was good, but mild does not mean not serious. Any time a young child gets malaria is serious. We had some trouble getting him to take the medication, but in the end he went through the whole regimen—and again, a whole lot of prayer—and was feeling better within 24 hours, which is incredibly quick for malaria.
Around the beginning of this week, Tiffany began feeling what I call “Togo tummy.” Every missionary at some point gets Togo tummy, which can be any number of inexplicable pains, cramps, or just plain yuckiness. At first we didn’t think much of it, considering that it’s a fairly normal thing to get Togo tummy, but by Wednesday we knew it was something more serious. She began getting feverish and was showing other signs of what we self-diagnosed as an amoeba. Yesterday was the worst day of all, during which she could barely keep any liquids in her at all. She did, however, begin taking moringa seeds, which completely cured my amoeba problem a couple years ago. Yesterday she woke up feeling quite a bit better, but still very weak and tired, and today she certainly isn’t back to 100%, but getting there quickly. She will continue treatment for a couple weeks, though, just to make sure that it is totally gone.
And as if that wasn’t enough, earlier this week we began noticing what we thought were mosquito bites all over Owen’s legs and a few on his arms. Each day he seemed to have a few more, but just yesterday we realized that they couldn’t be mosquito bites because some of the newer ones were in places that were always covered by clothing. We also ruled out bed bugs and chicken pox based on some research we did online. We were quite confused about it, and honestly quite distraught. They are itchy, swollen, and red, and some are turning into sores because he can’t stop scratching them. One thing that makes this, and most other health issues, so frustrating is the fact that seeing a doctor here is an “experience” to be avoided if at all possible. The few times we have gone to the doctor it seemed to just add to the confusion, so we’ve come to the conclusion that it’s usually just better to do our own research online and try to self-diagnose and treat the problem ourselves.
During a normal month, Owen’s itchy bumps would have been one of those “just-another-day-in-Togo” kind of things, but this has been no ordinary month! This was the last straw for us; Tiffany and I found ourselves on the couch after the boys went to bed, just completely spent emotionally and physically. At that moment of weakness we did the same thing we’ve done at every step of this difficult experience: we prayed.
We thanked God for his constant care and goodness toward us, even in the midst of difficulties. We thanked him that our suffering (I hesitate to even use that word!) is extremely light compared to others in this world, and especially compared to Christ’s sufferings. We thanked him that he walks with us in our trials, and that he bears our burdens with us. We released all these things to him once more and prayed in Jesus’ name against any spiritual attack that may be the source of some or all of these things. Then we collapsed in bed!
It’s amazing the difference that one day can make. I began writing this blog post 24 hours ago, and now as I finish it the whole atmosphere of our home seems completely different compared to just a day ago. Tiffany is nearly back to normal, and Owen has no new bites/rash, but even greater than that is the sense that Jesus has completely lifted our burden and given us his peace in its place!
We cannot thank you enough for your ongoing prayers for us as a family and for the work that Jesus is doing here. We ask that you would pray with us the following words from Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”