Home again Home again, Safe at Last

As I write, I am sitting in my home by the fireplace enjoying its warmth as I shiver at the temperature difference between Burkina Faso and Nyack, New York.  Yesterday evening after over 24 hours of travel time, we returned to Messiah College.   Everyone made it home safely and without too much difficulty.  I want to thank all of you who were supporting our team while we were abroad; we have been blessed! As we transition back to our old lives, my final prayer request for the team would be for adjustment.  Reverse culture shock can be just as difficult as it was on the front end.

Now it’s off to bed for me.  If I had it my way, I’d sleep for the next week until classes start up again, but I have the strong feeling that when my younger brother and sister get home from church, sleep is going to be about as far as Burkina Faso is from me!

Signing off,

Andrew Gates


Do not wear yourself out

Do not wear yourself out to get rich; do not trust your own cleverness.  Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle. Pr 23:4-5.

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The Bible talks about our eternal riches, God taking care of us, stories like a rich man tearing down his small grain bins, building and filling his larger barns only to have the Lord demands his life the next day.  We were reminded yesterday of this eternal struggle between the rich and poor with a tour of the expatriate community here in Oauga and their million dollar homes.  This apparently eternal struggle beginning after man’s fall from grace when he was cursed with eternal work for his sustenance.  Anyway, some of the team were disturbed by this demonstration of extravagance in this otherwise barren, desolate land.

On our 10 hour van drive back to the capital city on Wednesday, I kept thinking of Arizona and New Mexico, with their miles of desolation and cactus.  The difference here being that you constantly see people in the desert with bundles of sticks on their heads, mud brick huts with tin roofs, donkeys grazing, people making mud bricks where you might see some laying water, people riding bicycles on the hot asphalt roads, and sometimes motorcycles broken down along the road.  Whereas in the US, you can drive for hours through the barren southwest and only pass other cars along the way and 99% I’m sure have air conditioning.  Here LIVING with the heat in the desert is still a way of life, not something that you escape from.

The SIM Ouagadougou Guest House, SIM OGH, is crowded yesterday and today with our group, couples, and  singles coming and going home or out on assignment.  One “farming” couple from New Zealand just finished their French training and are anxious to finally get out to the field.  They are heading out for a 2.5 week survey of their next “home” that has sat abandoned for 13 years exposed to termites and rot.  They are expecting to camp out essentially and come back with a list of material to make it once again liveable. They’re also taking an Ohioan who was just added to their team.   They will be joined later by a Fulani trained pastor and begin building a church community. So much work here to do and so few people to do it.

We board Brussels Air this evening around 10:50, spend a few hours in Brussels in the morning and then maybe get to Messiah around 5pm Saturday.  These are one of those times that you never forget or the people that you shared the trip with.  It has made an indelible mark on our hearts and minds.  Time will tell what comes next.

On the Road Again

This morning several of our team, Thomas, Aaron, Andrew and Meagan, went up to the cliffs early to see the sunset and their last glimpse of the valley. I had already seen it before when I went camping on the cliffs so I stayed behind and slept a little more.  Here is a panorama I took of the cliffs earlier. https://plus.google.com/112523995241928165559/posts/cS5WsehWgMf It’s really cool if you put it in photo sphere mode by clicking on the globe like thing on the bottom center.  After breakfast we packed up the rest of the van and trailer for our 8-10 hour journey.


Our van and trailer (the trailer was not yet loaded)

We took a few minutes to say goodbye to all the amazing missionaries we had met and had a quick prayer for our travels.  I really enjoyed getting to know the missionaries and I know that I will miss them.  The relationships which we have built will never break apart even though we will be far apart.

We started out at around 7:30.  The good thing about going to Ouagadougou is that the road gets better as you go along.  First is the bumpy dirt road, next is the somewhat smoother dirt road then comes the bumpy pavement and finally the smooth pavement.  Along our way we, helped some people upright their donkey trailer full of cotton, drove through a herd of cattle, slept, hit lots of potholes, watched a guy climb out the window and on top of a bush taxi (he must have need to get a breeze), drove through a market in a village, slept some more, saw people balancing potatoes while riding a bicycle over a speed bump, saw a guy hanging on the back of a bush taxi while smoking,  saw plenty of trucks where the rear axle was offset from the front by a couple feet (crab walking), saw bush taxis with things piled higher than the taxi itself, and plenty of other things.


A bush taxi with things and people piled on top of it.

For lunch we stopped in Fada N’gourma at the SIM station.  We arrived at around 1 and left at about 1:45.  Overall we made pretty good time and arrived at the SIM compound here at around 5.  We had a good time traveling and had no major complications. The other team rolled in around 6 and it was really nice to reunite with them and have some dinner.  Thank you for all your prayers.

– Casey Bechard

The Last Day, Last Sunset, Last Night in Mahadaga

   Today we had our last day in Mahadaga.  We started the day slowly, starting our day at 8AM instead of the usual 7:30.  After scrounging through the leftovers (I actually had to open a new can of ravioli) for breakfast, because mostly everything we brought has been used, we headed out to do some trenching at about 9:00.  We stayed there (except for some people who had to take some breaks for sickness, see:me) until 11:45, at which time we returned to the guest house to play a game of Dread Pirate before lunch.  This game wound up taking much longer than expected, but so had the people we were waiting for, so we wound up leaving at about 1:00.  We walked through the town, about 20 minutes down the road to the restaurant of the mother of the welder who helped us with some biodiesel equipment fabrication.  For lunch, we had rice and baobab sauce, which, after buying a meal for all 7 team members, cost about $4.00.


    Once we got back to the compound, it was already 3:00, so we started loading the trailer on the van, and doing some small tasks that needed done before leaving.  This included moving some rice (during which Andrew and I nearly bowled over Tina in a race), cleaning out the air filter and fixing the exhaust hanger on the van, and breaking up some pallets (and in the process, the hammer).  After that, we had some down time before dinner, and Andrew, Casey, and I headed out to the cliffs (individually) for some alone time and soloing for the last time.  We then ate a quick meal (rice and sauce, again), then played another game of Dread Pirate, during which I found out that the dice in this game hate me with a passion.


   I plan on writing a summary of the trip and the things I’ve learned in the near future, so for now I’ll just mention that I really enjoyed my time in Mahadaga.  It was great to have some alone time on the cliffs for some climbing, then some quiet reflection once I hit the top.  I’m not looking forward to leaving, but in some ways it will be nice to have a bit of a break (I need a break from this winter “vacation”).


Tomorrow, we leave at 7:00 AM.


For the last time (this trip…), goodnight from Mahadaga!



It’s the Little Things that You Remember

Well, it’s been a mighty warm week in Mahadaga, Burkina Faso, my new hometown, out here on the edge of the world.

My favorite time of the day has been the mornings.  Each morning I wake up at 6:15 am and quietly slip out of the boys’ house.  After I let myself in the team building, I put a kettle of water on the stove to boil and start my devotions.  When it’s ready, I’ll eat hot cereal (Fonia Proper or Oatmeal) and drink my tea.  I have been reading Proverbs this trip and have had the opportunity to read them in French alongside my English translation.  As I am doing this, different team members will slowly trickle in until is has reached 7:30, and we are ready to get to work.  I’m always a little sad to leave my mornings behind in favor for the day’s labor, but there is always tomorrow.

As we got ready to depart for Mahadaga two Sundays ago, we sat around the breakfast table, and Matt Walsh suggested that we make a list throughout the trip of things that we missed and did not miss about home and or life there.  The idea being that upon our return, we would be able to take that list and try and apply it to life at home.  I can think of a few things that have stuck out to me, some more obvious then others, and I’ll share a few of them.  The first one for me is spending time with people.  This past semester at Messiah College, I was very busy: I took a number of classes and became heavily involved with my work on the Bio-Diesel project.  Because so much of my energy was spent on either school or Bio-Diesel, a number of my relationships with people were strained.  I had less energy at the end of the day, and, more often then not, I wanted to go to bed instead of talking the night away.  Being taken out of my comfort zone and my normal life at Messiah has forced me to live differently.  Besides taking showers once every few days if I remember, I can’t spend my days working in the lab or doing homework like I might normally.  Instead, I spend most of my time with my team playing games, walking in town, or climbing trees.  When I return to Messiah, I don’t want to loose that!  I want get outside and climb some trees or maybe campus buildings…  Something I don’t miss, is the amount of time I spend on my computer.  Not specifically TV or Facebook, just the mindless tooling around that takes up so much of my day and accomplishes so little at the same time!

Every Tuesday night, there is a prayer meeting, but, because of logistical conflicts this week, it was tonight.  We opened up singing a number of songs and closed in prayer after which there were some announcements.  I have really enjoyed the chance to worship with other believers from around the world and got a special treat tonight.  As we were praying, we got to hear prayers in French, Spanish, and English.  Hearing people pray to God in languages that I do not understand  brings a sense of breadth and depth to the power that God has and his dominion over the whole earth.

After the prayer meeting, Matt pulled our team aside, and we talked about cleaning up tomorrow and getting ready for the ride back to Ouagadougou.  It feels so odd that the trip we spent all fall semester planning is now coming to a close — what will we do and think about when we return!?

And that’s the news from Mahadaga, where the temperature is always above 90, the humidity is either 0% or 100%, and everyone is above average.


And up through the ground came a bubblin crude.

Oil that is, black gold, Texas tea.

I’m a little behind on this blog, so I’ll be writing on today and the previous two days.

On Friday we did our final tests of the seed press, and it works! After communication with some Dutch engineers whom had used the same model press to press Jatropha as well, we finally got a system and technique that works. We didn’t get much oil out of the seed we had, but that had mostly to do with moisture content since they had been sitting through the dry season for who knows how long.

Yesterday was spent experimenting with different things. Meagan, Steve, and I set up another, smaller press to see if we could get that to work, but we couldn’t get it to work well with the resources we had. Andrew, Casey, and Aaron worked on making wood alcohol, which would later be used in the biodiesel production process. In the afternoon Meagan and I went with Matt to a metal bending and welding shop to construct the oil and seed cake trays for the press, but the workers weren’t there; we’ll return on Monday to try our luck again.

Last night both Andrew Gates and Betteridge, Casey, Aaron, and I went for a walk through town to see what the local night life was like. People were out cooking food or listening to music or just hanging out together. At one point we happened upon a church where some girls were practicing singing for church in the morning. We stood out in the yard listening, watching the nearly full moon. A little further down the road, just outside of town, we found a bridge where we sat on the edge for a while. Every few minutes a moto would go by, but there were no pedestrians out that far.

Today was a relaxing day. After church at the local French church, some of us spent the afternoon playing board games and climbing trees. Later that evening we all went to Eleanor’s house where we all had dinner together.

Besides these things, we’ve been passing our time mostly by playing board games or cards or by climbing around the cliffs or walking into town. We only have two more full days here in Mahadaga before returning to Ouagadougou, where we spend a few more days before flying back. We’re glad to have accomplished what we set out to do with the Biodiesel, but I’m pretty sure most of us wouldn’t mind spending more time helping out around the mission for at least another week.

We’re having a barbeque with the missionaries and some employees of the mission and the handicap center tomorrow afternoon, but besides that we don’t have too many plans. For the upcoming days pray that we will use our final time well and for safety with upcoming travels.

-Thomas Carson

Narrow Gate and Path

Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it. Matt 7:14

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SIM Mahadaga has been building many small gates and paths that lead to life for those to find that previously would not have had the opportunity to do so. For 60+ years Aunt Betty has been providing medical help and delivering babies. Today she does not need to travel to the country side to share the gospel. Now, on market day, or any day, you can see the Fulani walking up our driveway and stopping in to visit with her and discuss the recent news. And I’m sure that there’s a lot of love, sharing and concern mixed in from Aunt Betty for her guests.

Living in Mahadaga by our standards does not provide many choices. If it is 120 degrees outside, you don’t switch on the A/C. If your father is a carpenter and shapes wood pieces with a hand plane, you learn by his side to do the same and you become a carpenter. If you’re born in Mahadaga, there’s a good chance that you’ll grow up and die in Mahadaga. If your family always planted cotton or maize, you continue to plant cotton or maize. You can’t go to the Agway store and look at all of the new hybrid seeds and try a new variety this year. This is probably changing some, but certainly not at the rate that we see in the West, where every day we expect to see some new device, media show, news item, legislation, personality, game or consumer item.

So as we reboard our TIME MACHINE this week and return to our time period, we leave behind the donkey carts, thatched huts, pump wells, bicycles, hand picks and shovels and return to the land of broad paths, wide gates and limitless choices. But, we also leave behind the knowledge that SIM Mahadaga is building those small gates and narrow paths that lead to life for the Burkinabes to find.

     Evangelical Church
Evangelical Church

Our French pastor today mentioned how we must listen to God’s direction and cited the examples of Samuel hearing the voice of God, David obeying and not building the temple.  Also, he cited a Gorma saying to demonstrate that we must seek the counsel of other believers.  The saying is, “It takes more than one eye to judge the depth of a hole.”  Thus, to properly see God’s leading in our lives, it is good to counsel with other brothers and sisters and thus be seeing with more that “one eye.”  Thomas and Tina assisted with the taking of the offering after some confusion about when to begin and that Tina was being requested (in French) to ask a prayer for the offering in English. 


Long Hot Day

This morning I awoke, cozy in my own bed in a quiet room.  The night before, the rest of the guys (Andrew Betteridge, Andrew G, Thomas, and Casey) had hiked up the cliffs for a night of sleeping outside (or in Casey’s instance, in the tent).  I had stayed behind as my right arm was in a cast, and I didn’t want to risk climbing one-handed.  From what I heard from them about it, the biggest thing I missed was an uncomfortable night of sleeplessness.


By the time I made it out to breakfast, Andrew and Steve had already left for their home visits with the Handicapped Center therapists.  After a quick meal of an orange and two eggs (scrambled, as usual), the team began preparations for surveying the cliffs behind the station.  The goal was to find the most direct and effective route for the water pipes to run to connect the village with the water tank that was built on top of the cliff.


After we built some rope place holders out of some rebar and untangled some rope, we headed up to the cliffs.  We also brought a shovel and some empty cement bags to steady everything once we got it set up.  Our work was quick due to the constant presence of bees around our area.  Here, they tend to be extremely aggressive and attack in swarms, so they’re to be taken very seriously.  Once we got some quick angles measured, we spraypainted a few markers, then headed down to the compound.


We took the short time we had left before lunch and tried to un-jam the press from yesterday’s test, but were ultimately unsuccessful.  Lunch, though, was amazing.  We had goat meat skewers, grilled (whole) chicken (complete with liver and heart), fresh biscuits, fried dough pastries (a local specialty), and the usual fruit/salads.  We had plenty, so many people from the compound stopped in for a plate.


This afternoon was slightly less productive.  Andrew and Steve got back late, and the whole team was fatigued from the heat, so we took a longer siesta time.  We did, however, get the press fully un-jammed, and made some progress on some side projects (like fixing the Walsh’s kids’ bikes).  


Dinner consisted of cous-cous, a tomato sauce with beef, some cassava, and homemade sauce that nobody knew what it contained (it’s often better that way).  We had a discussion after dinner about the culture we’re experiencing here, how to bring it home, how to deal with the changes, and how to readjust once we get back to the states.  There were a lot of interesting points, and I think we all got some interesting insight from the talk.


We’re all exhausted, though, so it’s off to bed now in anticipation of some serious testing tomorow.


Goodnight from Mahadaga!




PS: My broken fingers are doing MUCH better today, and I’ve even been able to take the cast off for short periods.  This being after a night where I could barely fall asleep, much less move it, is incredible.

“For it is in giving that we receive”

Today, I had the opportunity to go on house visits with a physical therapist from the Handicapped Center. Here’s a little bit of background about the center from SIM’s website:

“In 1989, Françoise Pedeau, a nurse and midwife, decided to borrow a wheelchair to help a disabled child named Moussa. But after seeing the profound change in the child’s life, Françoise knew that much more must be done. Soon the Centre for the Advancement of the Handicapped (CAH) was launched in Mahadaga, Burkina Faso.

Today, more than 20 years later, Handicapés en Avant provides medical treatment, post-surgery care, physiotherapy and specialty equipment to handicapped children and adults. A school on the property provides quality education for the deaf and blind. In addition, vocational and life skills training enables these children to gain independence.

Not only has tremendous expansion occurred in the last 20 years, the Centre has also physically, emotionally and spiritually transformed the lives of thousands of children and their families.”

This morning, Thomas and I walked 15 minutes down the road through Mahadaga to the center to meet Matt Walsh and the physical therapists who would be taking us with them.  I went with Diassabo on four house visits from about 8 am – 1:30 pm.  We drove about an hour and a half south west of Mahadaga by motorbike.  Out here there are rarely any cars that pass on the road, but there are always people traveling by motorbike and bicycles.  I am often surprised by the things they manage to carry on their motorbikes and even the number of people they are able to fit.  Bicycles also seem very essential to their culture, today a man asked me if I could bring his son a bicycle…I wish I could.  Diassabo and I spent a lot of time traveling, swerving down the dirt roads (or sometimes what just seemed to be fields), dodging pot holes, rocks, donkeys, goats and even driving (at a walking pace) straight through a large herd of cattle.  It was most certainly a bumpy ride, but it was much better than I had expected.  On the house visits it is the physical therapist’s job to give care to the patients, bring medication, make assessments and report to the center on the patient’s condition, take care of loan payments, and act as a social worker.  Diassabo seemed to be very good at working with the families.  At the first home we went to, there were two patients, one young man who was blind and his younger brother with cerebral palsy.  Diassabo reported on the condition of Timotee’s wheelchair, spoke with the family, and checked the garden that the center helped the family establish.  At the other homes, one family made a loan payment for a sewing machine that the center trained them with, Diassabo delivered medication to a mother who’s son has epilepsy and finally we stopped at the shop of a young deaf man who was trained to become a tailor by the center.

On these house visits, I received a much closer glimpse into Burkinabe life, a whole different world than the one that I know.  A life where clean water may be miles away, where the shade of a tree is at the center of your home, where phone numbers are written on the sides of homes, where people wear winter hats and jackets on hot days, where there seems to be more kids than adults (because kids often don’t live to adulthood), where people don’t have the privilege of choosing a “vocation,” where small children are sometimes afraid of me because they have never seen a white person…I could go on with the differences both large and small, but the one thing that has stuck with me the most is that at all of the homes we visited, Diassabo and I were received with the kindest hospitality.  Although I do not speak the language and I am not familiar with the culture, it is clear to me how generous the Burkinabe are.  In every home, someone would immediately bring us nice chairs and offer us drinks.  I was especially struck by the generosity shown to our team when we were offered lunch out well drilling yesterday.  Despite the fact that there were a lot of mouths to feed, we were given very large portions.  (I am glad that Eleanor had previously told me that kids receive the adults’ leftovers because my first instinct when I received the large portion of food would have been to eat it all in order to show thanks.  At home you may hear people say, “finish your food, there are starving kids in Africa,” but here, that doesn’t make sense.  Don’t finish your food because there are hungry kids sitting around the corner.)  For subsistence farmers to offer us their food, which they do not have an abundance of and they depend on for survival, it is true generosity. I pray that these people are blessed by their generosity and better understand God’s grace because of it, “for it is in giving that we receive” (St. Francis of Assisi). I came here to serve, in hopes of giving to the people of Mahadaga through our work in oil pressing.  I don’t know how successful in pressing oil we will be by the time we leave, but even if we achieve great success in pressing oil, somehow I feel like I will still have received more from the people here through their acts of generosity.  I don’t know if I’m making much sense, but I came here with the intent of giving and now I feel as though I am receiving so much more.  Please pray that our team is able to serve the community in Mahadaga well, in every capacity that we can, through our work with the press, other projects that we work on, and interactions that we have with people.

Today I also learned some more about the school at the Handicapped Center.  While most schools have about a 50% passing rate, last year, the Handicapped Center school had all but one student pass. (Unfortunately once students fail, their parents may stop sending them to school because it is too expensive, this is especially the case for girls.) Because of its success, a lot of kids go to the school, even kids who are not handicapped.  This turns out to be a wonderful thing for the community because all of the students learn sign language, which allows for the deaf to be more involved in the community.  I was amazed at church on Sunday that the service was given not only in Gorma and French, but also in sign language; it was wonderful.  I especially loved the youth group on Sunday afternoon.  Jubilee, one of the missionaries from SIM, leads a youth group every Sunday with four other Burkinabe young adults.  There were about 60 kids there probably middle school and high school aged.  Half of the time was beautiful joyful song and praise and dancing and the second half was a talk.  I loved the youth group so much and as Jubilee was giving the talk, I thought of my Young Life kids at home and wanted to get up there and join her in speaking to these kids.  Although these kids live across the globe, speak a different language, are a part of a different culture, and have much less, the gospel is the same and their need for Christ’s love and grace is the same.  Youth ministry here does not look as different as you may think; its about making disciples by loving God and loving others.




Moon rising over the founder’s house. The nights come on very quickly. There really isn’t what we call an evening. This photo was shot at 6:15 which I guess by EST that is kind of late. But I guess with the hot weather it seems like it should be lighter later.