French Learning Adventures

Tuesday marked three months since we arrived in Burkina Faso. Since then we’ve been busy setting up house, seeing the sights, learning how to live and interact here, teaching the children, and learning French. You’ve already heard a lot about these topics from Ryan, but now I (Emily) am going to share with you some of my experiences. Tuesday was not only a big deal for our family, it was also a huge milestone for me: I stepped out of my comfort zone and used the French I’ve been learning!

Since the beginning of April, Ryan and I (and fellow missionary Molly Christensen) have been taking classes at the Institut Français here in Ouagadougou. We also have a private tutor to help us learn a little faster and more thoroughly. We have learned a lot of French this way, and I am really starting to become confident with French. My personality does well with the controlled environment of a classroom. But language is not confined to the four walls of the Institut classroom or my dining room. It’s great if I can write a sentence expressing a need, or describe the person sitting across the room from me, or stumble through a market simulation with my tutor. What I really need to be able to do though is use these skills in real life.

I am naturally a shy person, and Ryan and Molly have been doing their best to encourage me to use the French I know: Esther, our housekeeper, the woman who stops by to sell us fruit, or the women at church. I hadn’t really said much of anything yet, though: greetings, goodbyes, a few words here and there when absolutely necessary. If I’m honest though, I don’t really like talking to people most of the time, even in English. This was not helping my language learning. We had planned that someday – that far-off noncommittal “someday” – Esther, Molly, and I would go to the Grand Marché (the large market) together and go shopping. Terrifying in theory, but not really, because it wasn’t actually going to happen.

We had heard of a smaller market near us and asked Esther if it was worth going to. We were going to take a small family outing on our own on Saturday (and Ryan would do all of the talking). Esther said it was a good market, but she couldn’t show us around on Saturday, so on Monday she’d take me on her motorcycle and we’d shop together. Ryan told her that sounded like a good plan, but Monday was busy. She could take me on Tuesday.

Uhhh…. WHAT! No. This couldn’t happen. I was not ready! How could anyone expect me to go by myself. I’m didn’t know enough French to use it in the market with people I didn’t know. This was NOT a good idea. I was worried.

Saturday we went to look at the market on our own anyway. Once we got there it didn’t seem like such a bad idea. The market wasn’t massive like the Grand Marché. It reminded me a lot of the market we went to in Ghana – only there was no English at this one. Maybe I could do this after all.

Sunday and Monday passed and I was only a little nervous. I practiced what to say with my tutor on Monday and it went well. His only criticism was that my French was a bit too formal the market. The practice went well. I could do well after all!

Tuesday morning came. I was doing okay. Then it was almost time to go. All I could think about was “What if I can’t remember what to say,” or ” What if I can’t understand what they are saying?” “What if I embarrass myself?” I was a mess. I was not ready to do this yet. In fact, I was NOT going! Esther was waiting for me. Molly was already at the market waiting for us to get there. I couldn’t pull myself together. I could not walk out the front door. Ryan finally convinced me that I had to make a decision now: either I was going or not.


Emily and Esther, off to the Marché!

I finally got outside our gate and the hardest part was over. I climbed onto the back of Esther’s moto and off we went. I was actually having fun. This wasn’t scary so far. I was still nervous about speaking French, but it was getting better.

We found Molly and entered the market. It was just as I remembered from Saturday, only a little busier. I was glad we had checked things out, because I felt comfortable. Esther led us to some women she knew who were selling things I had on my list. She helped me out a lot by keeping the transactions going and running smoothly (and getting us good prices). I bought a lot of fruits and vegetables: mangoes, bananas, apples, zucchinis, tomatoes, and carrots. I used a combination of French and body gestures to buy what I needed. My French was not always perfect. Sometimes I forgot words and had to describe the item, sometimes my language was good but I was too quiet so they didn’t hear, sometimes I couldn’t understand, sometimes everything was going too fast and I got confused, but sometimes everyone understood!


Shopping at the Marché – les courgettes!

My market adventure wasn’t perfect. It was a mix of shortcomings and successes, but it was a giant leap in my journey to learning French. I was shoved out of my comfortable box, but I have grown personally and linguistically.  I don’t promise next time will be easy. I know it won’t be, and I’m already nervous to go again. But I will be that much more comfortable and able to speak.

Oh, and we finished our course at the Institut this week, and even got the certificates to prove it!


We finished our first formal class of French language learning!





Visit to a Deaf School

Yesterday, I (Ryan) got the opportunity to go visit a Deaf school here in Ouagadougou. Let me share some of my experience with you.

Fulgence, my French tutor had some contact with the school, called Centre d’Education et de Formation Intégrée des Sourds et des Entendants (CEFISE), which means “Center for Integrated Education and Formation of Deaf and Hearing”. He had arranged for us to go and meet the Director-General, Thérèse Kafando. Madame Kafando was very gracious, and very anxious to tell us all about their school.

CEFISE has three locations in Ouagadougou, serving over 3,800 students in total. At the location where we visited, they had over 500 deaf students. Their philosophy is to promote integration between Hearing and Deaf, so that no one is left out in any situation. We found out that Andrew Jackson Foster, the legendary Deaf missionary from America, also worked in Burkina Faso; he established the first Deaf school here, too.

After meeting Mme. Kafando, she took us to meet Pastor Rafael Ouedraogo. Rafael is the school chaplain, as well as the school’s audiologist and resident hearing-aid technician. Rafael first got into work with the Deaf when he was teaching Sunday school, and two deaf children showed up, and no one could communicate with them. He said he has been earnestly praying for God to send more people to Ouagadougou to minister to the Deaf, and he was almost tearful as he said that it seems like God has answered his prayer by sending us here.

While we were talking with Rafael, he was speaking French, but also signing in Burkinabé Sign Language, which looks a lot like American Sign Language, but adapted for Burkina Faso, and dependent on French rather than English. It was a challenge for my brain to process both sets of language input at the same time, but I was able to keep up!

After chatting a bit, Rafael took us to visit his lab, where they have a soundproof testing chamber. Fulgence got his first-ever (abbreviated) hearing test! We also saw Rafael’s work-bench where he fabricates hearing-aid molds for the children.

Rafael giving Fulgence an on-the-spot hearing test


Then, he took us to meet the school psychologist, who is deaf, and the speech therapist, who is hearing. This week is the school testing period before summer holidays, so we were not able to talk to any students or visit any classrooms, unfortunately.

Both Mme. Kafando and Rafael expressed their gratitude for the work God has placed before us, and welcomed me warmly to their school campus. Rafael also said that he is going to try to get us invited to a wedding he will be performing in July for a Deaf couple!

All in all, it was a mentally challenging, but very rewarding visit; hopefully I will get to visit CEFISE again in the future. Please pray for the school, the students, and Rafael and all who seek to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Deaf in Burkina Faso!

Signed Videos, first installment

I have been asked to start making videos of me signing parts of the Liturgy and hymns, so that my potential future students can watch them. They are on YouTube, if anyone else wants to make use of them. Please feel free to show them, share them, and request others. They are American Sign Language, without audio, with French captions.

The first video is of the French version of the “Common Doxology”:

The next video is of the Lord’s Prayer/Notre Père:

Hopefully these are useful to you, or at least interesting.

“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away”

L-R: the grieving father, Aline, Aline’s husband, Esther, the grieving mother

Today, I (Ryan) had an sad, but enlightening experience. Our housekeeper, Esther, has a daughter, Aline, who works for two of our fellow missionaries. This past weekend, Aline’s husband’s older brother and his wife were bereft of their infant son.

We do not know all the details. All I was told is that the child became sick in the night, they took him to the pediatric hospital, were told to take him to the main hospital, and there was nothing to be done for him. Within the night, the child was dead.

Today, Esther and Aline came to our house, with our colleague Molly in tow. After a little ironing out of some miscommunication, they loaded me and Molly on the backs of their motos, and we took off to go to the bereaved household to offer condolences.

We were not sure what to expect, but when we arrived the bereaved parents were there, and Aline’s husband. They greeted us, gave us seats in the only shady corner of the compound, and gave us a drink of water, as is the custom here. As the family sat together, they conversed in Mooré (the local language), with occasional comments to us in French. They even tried to teach us a few phrases in Mooré!

As you can see in the photo above, according to Mossi (the local ethnic group, who speak Mooré) tradition, after a child dies, the parents shave their heads for four days of mourning. When I saw their shaved heads, I thought of the biblical practice of showing one’s grief in the same way. It is interesting to see how God puts His marks on every culture in every place.

While this was a sad occasion, it was encouraging that the grieving father quoted by heart the words of Job 1:21 “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord.” I do not know if the child was baptized, but the Christian faith of the family was evident, as was their trust in God. They received gladly the blessing of “La paix du Christ soit avec vous!” “The peace of Christ be with you all!”

We ask for your prayers for this family as they grieve, and as they continue to care for their two older children also. The peace of the Lord abide with you, also.

On the Road Again!

Guess what?!

We are moving – again!


I (Ryan) have been given a new job title and reassigned to a new location. My new job is as Regional Deaf Ministry Facilitator for West and Central Africa. This means that I will visit our partner churches in this area and help them to identify and develop opportunities for Deaf ministry in their communities. I will also teach courses on Deaf ministry and basic sign language at the Centre Luthérien d’Études Théologiques (CLET) – the regional seminary in Dapaong, Togo. A third part of my duties will be to be available to teach theology courses at the CLET and/or offer continuing education programs as requested by our partner churches in this region.

In order to make this work possible, we need to learn French. In order to learn French, we are moving to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. We are going to be leaving our house in Accra about this time next week, Lord willing. Once we settle in Ouagadougou, we will study for a year there, alongside our fellow missionary Molly Christensen. Then, Lord willing, we will move to Dapaong, Togo, to take up the new work set before us.

This is a time of much transition and turmoil, for us and our children, for our fellow missionaries, and for the national churches and pastors alongside whom we serve. Please pray for us! Pray:

  • that our transition from Accra to Ouagadougou goes as smoothly as possible
  • that our language learning process would be blessed by God
  • that these exciting new opportunities to serve would prove fruitful and build up the Kingdom of God
  • that our children would adapt and adjust well, and that we would have the wisdom to guide and lead them in the best way
  • that our support network would keep growing, so that money worries do not inhibit our learning

Thank you all for coming along on this wild ride we call missionary service! Please pray, but also please stay in contact. We love to hear from our friends and loved ones in the US, and we can make contact with you, one way or another.

Deaf Ministry Seminar

This is the third and last part of the series about our Christmas trip. To read the first part, click here, and for the second part click here.

Part of the purpose for our travels at Christmastime was to make connections and start building relationships that will assist with our work here in West/Central Africa. The trip was fantastic, and we had many opportunities to further this goal. One of the key ways we accomplished this objective was by me (Ryan) teaching a half-day seminar at the Centre Luthérien d’Études Théologiques (CLET), the regional seminary for Francophone West/Central Africa.


Rev. Jacob Gaugert arranged for the students and faculty of the CLET to come for a seminar, which began at 7:00a.m. with Matins, and ran until about 11:00. The students were on a holiday break, but because they come from several other countries, they do not return home during short breaks. Instead, many of the men bring their families to Dapaong with them. The students and African faculty members represent about eight countries and numerous language and people groups.


Because my French is currently limited to asking for the WC and ordering from menu, Rev. Gaugert agreed to interpret the presentation into French, and also to interpret discussion as we went along. It was interesting to listen to the interpretation, and to engage in technical discussion in this way. I learned a great deal, even as I was teaching!


We discussed cultural ideas about deafness, causes and effects of deafness, the history of deaf education and deaf ministry, and how to welcome the deaf into the Church. Also, I demonstrated some basic greetings and phrases. One interesting thing, which is a blessing to us, is that most of the countries in this region base their sign languages on American Sign Language, so I have been able to communicate with the deaf I have met so far.

It was a challenge for me to talk about grammar and language structure, because my comments had to be translated into French, and French grammar is not like English. It made my brain work harder, and was a mental stretch for Rev. Gaugert also, but it was worth it.


The participants were quite engaged in the presentation, and we had some great discussions. Many of the ideas I presented regarding language use and the ability to discuss deep subjects in one’s mother tongue were very clear to them and connected well with their own experiences. The idea of such a hidden population with virtually no access to the Gospel seemed to resonate, and they wanted to hear more about how to reach the Deaf.


We thank God for the desire to serve that He has poured into the participants in the seminar, and for all the students and faculty at the CLET. It is exciting to see what opportunities may arise from even this short time there.

Oh, and the kids enjoyed it, too!


Special thanks to Rev. Micah Wildauer for the photos.

Christmas Church Services

This is the next installment of a series about our travels at Christmastime. To read the first post, please click here.

We traveled many kilometers over the holidays and spent much enjoyable time with friends in various places. But, of course, the high point of the whole trip was the opportunity to celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We spent a lot of time in worship while away from home. It was a great blessing to be able to attend the Daily Offices at the Centre Lutherien d’Etudes Theologiques (CLET) in Dapaong. Alpha and Omega Lutheran Parish in Dapaong also welcomed us to their Christmas Eve and Day services. Then, while in Gbintiri, we were able to observe some of the Komba Lutheran Christmas Convention. Finally, we were blessed to be able to worship with the saints at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Kumasi on New Year’s Day.

Church services in Africa (from our limited experience thus far) are a very mixed bag. A lot depends on location, local culture, denominational tradition, and context. Worship in a small village parish in Northern Ghana is definitely not the same as at the flagship congregation in the middle of Accra. Not that either one is necessarily better or worse than the other – just different. Continue reading

Road Trip, West Africa Style

This is the first in a series of posts attempting to digest and report on our travels over the Christmas holidays. Please stay tuned for more in days to come.

We went on our first road trip in West Africa over the Christmas holidays. On Monday, 19 December, we left our home in Greater Accra, traveled well over 2,000km, and returned home again on Sunday, 1 January. Along the way, we made overnight stops in Kumasi, Tamale, and Gbintiri, with the far point of our trip being Dapaong, Togo, where we spent a week with our friends and fellow missionaries there.

There is so much to tell and so many pictures to share that it would not be fair or practical to share everything all at once, so this first post will just talk about the experience of the road trip and things we saw along the way.

To understand the experience of road-tripping in Ghana, one must understand the roads first of all.

Continue reading

Making Beads

It has become an informal routine for us that on Saturdays, we have something out of the ordinary for breakfast, then we go out and explore and/or run errands. This past Saturday, the main goal for the day was to go grocery shopping, but with a few stops along the way. The first stop of the day was at the T.K. Bead Factory, about 2km from our house, along the main road into Accra. We stopped in, and were just in time to piggyback with a group that had already arranged to take a tour. So here’s a taste of what we saw.

Grinding recycled glass

Grinding recycled glass

The first stage of the tour was seeing how they use recycled glass to make beads which will be painted. This begins by taking glass chips and grinding them down into a powder, about the consistency of baking powder. Then they add dye to the powder to get the desired base color. Continue reading

Changing Toothbrushes

New toothbrush heads!

This morning, we changed out our toothbrush heads for new ones.

Why is this a big deal? It is a big deal because it means that today marks three months since our first full day in Ghana. And what a journey the past three months have been!

Different sources speak about and visualize the cultural adaptation cycle differently. Some see it as a valley between peaks. Others see it as a scatter plot or a jagged line, like the stock market graphs. Others see it as shifting shades of grey along a continuum. However you want to visualize it, the cultural adaptation cycle is real, and there is no way to escape it, except to go back to our home culture (which we aren’t planning to do anytime soon).

So… a few thoughts about the past few months, and an eye toward the future. Continue reading