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!





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

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

A Sunday Drive, Ghana-Style

[nb. This is a long post. If you just want pretty pictures, click the “More” link and jump to the end. But it’s a fun story, if you want to read the whole post.]



Last week, we took delivery of our new vehicle, a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado. Buying a vehicle in a foreign country, buying a new vehicle for the first time, and all that comes with that whole process, was a big deal. It’s done now, and we now get to start enjoying the freedom of having our own vehicle.

So, yesterday we decided to take a leisurely Sunday drive after lunch. We have spent a fair number of days in the heart of Accra, but had yet to leave the city, so we consulted the Google, and found a route that looked nice, that would take us about two hours altogether. The plan was to head north from our house, end up along the edge of a nature preserve, and then come home.

Well, we started out, and everything was going to plan. The road was pretty decent, the weather was good, and the traffic got less and less as we got further from the city. We actually got out into the countryside a bit, and had some nice time riding along looking at the forests and the mountains alongside us. Continue reading

The First Month

Akwaaba! Welcome to a peek into our first month of life in Ghana. So much has happened, that it is challenging to reduce it all into words, let alone digest it into a blog post that isn’t ten pages long. But here we are, and thanks for being on this journey with us.

We have discovered that many, many foods taste different here, and often better than in the USA. Fruits and veggies here have much more flavor. Here are some photos of foods we have experienced so far:

The plant life here is rich and varied, and there is always something new to see. Here are some of the beautiful and interesting plants we have seen around town:

Just as rich and varied as the plant life is the animal life. We have not ventured much out of the city, so we have not yet seen any large creatures, but here are some lizards and creepy-crawlies that we have seen here and there:

Personal updates:

  • We are bit by bit finding our routines with school and home life. Rhys and Eva are working hard to get in the rhythm of things, but are doing well so far. Joshua is doing amazingly well at beginning to potty train!
  • We have made several excursions out and about in our area to find out what food is available within walking distance. So far, we have found produce, wonderful bakery-fresh bread, and eggs.
  • Probably sometime next week we will begin the process of finding a vehicle for our family. The prospect of driving here, and of driving a manual transmission vehicle, is intimidating, but the prospect of either being isolated here or having to pay for taxis to get everywhere is less desirable.
  • Please pray that we will soon be able to engage a language helper to help us learn Twi, and also possibly a part-time housekeeper. With these helpers, we can start to work on developing the skills we will need to live and work in the local culture and community.


Five Things We Had to Come to Ghana to Get

Tonight will mark two weeks of us having arrived in Ghana. These past two weeks have been a whirlwind of activity, introductions, shopping, unpacking, and trying to get settled. We’re still not there yet, but we’re making progress.

A lot of things could be said about these past weeks, but for now I am writing about some things that have struck us as amusing. Hopefully this doesn’t sound too trivial, but it is fun for us to reflect like this.

Five things we had to come to ghana to get
  1. Stainless steel appliances. In our house in Iowa, we had white appliances, and we used to look at stainless steel in stores, and think about designing a kitchen, but it was just a pie-in-the-sky idea. Here, we have a stainless fridge and stove.
  2. A five-burner stove, with sealed burners. Not only is our stove (called a cooker here) nice and pretty stainless steel, it has five burners. And, even better, it has sealed burners! No more crud falling down into the nether regions under the surface!
  3. Matching furniture. Until we accepted this position, the furniture we have had was a hodge-podge of college acquisitions, rummage-sale specials, and hand-me-downs. In the downsizing process we divested most of those things. But now, our house here in Ghana is furnished with matching furniture – a living room, a dining room, and bedroom sets!
  4. Nice mobile phones. In the US, we have had mid-to-low-market cell phones. Well, here nobody has fixed-line telephone service, and many people use their mobiles as their primary internet device. As part of our compensation package, the LCMS provides us with an allowance for phones. So, following the advice of others who have been here and done their homework, we have much nicer phones than we could have rightly afforded in the US, and for cheaper.
  5. A wicker laundry hamper! This may sound silly to anyone else, but it’s a big deal to us! Since before we got married, Emily has been wanting a wicker laundry hamper, and for whatever reason, we have never had one. Well, on our first shopping trip in Accra, we stumbled upon a nice-looking set for a good price. So now, after long wait and 6,000mi/9,600km move, she finally has her hamper!

Of course, there are plenty of things we don’t have here that we did have in the US, but that is another post for another day. We are still working on getting the house set up and in photo-worthy order, so keep watching for pictures of our new house. Thanks for all the prayers and encouragement to get us to this point!

Languages on the Brain

This term, we are taking a course called “Second Language And Culture Acquisition”. Yesterday afternoon was our first language-lab session, and we are in a group learning the Ngambai language from southern Chad. The curious wrinkle in our learning process is that our native speaking Language Consultant does not speak much English, so we have a French-speaking Staff Consultant to help facilitate the group sessions.

As we were going through the activities and exercises in our lab session, the SC was communicating with our LC in French. Even though we were there to learn Ngambai, I (Ryan) found myself unconsciously paying attention to the exchanges in French, as much as the Ngambai. It was surprising to find that I could figure out most of what was being said in French, although I could not have produced the dialogue myself.

Emily says that she also found herself listening to the French, because she has had previous exposure to Romance languages. However, she had to consciously tune it out, because we are there to learn Ngambai and not French.

It is a mind-bender to be working in two foreign languages at once, especially ones as different as French and Ngambai. Recalling vocabulary and structures will be a fun exercise. We have joked with our colleagues in Francophone Africa that maybe God is preparing us for another bend in our road – who knows!

A Lesson about Planning

A fellow missionary was visiting recently, and I asked him what it is about missionary culture and thinking that makes it okay to tell people to run headlong toward the mission field without knowing basic things like what your job description is or where you and your family are going to live. That led us into a discussion where this friend described how he has come to view life on the mission field. His thinking went something like this:

I get up in the morning, have my breakfast, then have coffee and read my devotions while I listen to the birds. Then I go through the day, getting done what I can. At the end of the day, I do not dwell on what I did not get done, but on what the Lord was able to do despite the changes and challenges of the day.. Because sometimes you have no control over what you can or cannot get done.

That is not a direct quote, but a summary of the conversation.

The interesting thing, I reflected later, was the lesson this friend taught me, not only with his words, but with his presence in my home. I had been about to work on a project when he came to collect something from me. Then I invited him in for a chat. Then we started chatting. Soon, it was time for him to go home and me to go to bed. I had not touched my project, but I had learned an important lesson with respect to our future life on the field, and we had enhanced our relationship by that visiting time. I had failed to accomplish any work on my project, which would only have benefitted me; I had succeeded in enriched this friendship.

Thank God for friends whom He sends to us at such unexpected times to teach us such invaluable lessons! May God enrich each one of us with godly friends to be an encouragement and support, to comfort and to rejoice with us!