OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso – Heather Miller is a young woman, with shoulder-length blond hair and fair complexion. She appears more like a county fair princess than a foreign missionary, undergoing suffering of inconceivable depth from an average American perspective.
Miller, a Southern Baptist missionary in Burkina Faso, crashed her motorcycle a couple days before as she rode out to the village where she lives. She lost control as it dipped off a dirt road onto some loose sand and went down hard. A hospital transport just "happened" to be driving by in the middle of nowhere and picked her up.
"This was totally God," she said.
Despite Miller's bandages and banged-up wrist, her main concern is getting back to her village with the Marensé (mahr-ON-say) people. "Yeah, I need to let them know I'm OK," she said. "I know they are worried about me."
Miller serves on a team with several International Mission Board journeymen and International Service Corps missionaries in Burkina Faso, West Africa. Their goal: taking the good news of God's love to every Marensé village in the next two years.
For now she waits impatiently at the house of IMB missionaries David and Tami Wood, who provide a place of support for the Marensé team when they need it. The Woods oversee the team's work and give occasional advice, but the journeymen carry their load of responsibility. On a typical day, the Woods' place looks more like Grand Central Station with journeymen, summer missionaries and an ISC missionary coming and going, picking up supplies, medicine, catching up on e-mail, taking a rare shower or savoring a home-cooked meal. Like race cars at a track, they come in, get fueled up and hit the road running.
If all goes as planned, all 23 Marensé villages will have heard the gospel by December 2004.
"They live a rough life, but they are doing what God has called them to do," Wood said.
The team may go a couple of days wearing the same dusty clothes. Hospitals and main roads can be more than an hour away. Showers come in the form of a bucket of water drawn from a well and a bar of soap. Water must be guzzled throughout the day to avoid dehydration. Noisy goats and roosters send out morning wake-up calls -- for the goats, this can be any time after sundown.
The Marensé people do not have a Bible in their own language. There was a need for someone to learn their language and take the gospel to them.
Cory Wilson was one of the first of the journeymen to accept this challenge nearly two years ago.
"Most of the people of Burkina Faso don't know who the Marensé are, but God knows who they are," he said.
Wilson described his first week in the village as the scariest feeling of his life.
"When I first got out here, it seemed like an impossible task," he said. "Where do you start?" he thought. "I don't know where all these people are. I'm horrible at language learning." Since then, Wilson has learned to navigate confusing, winding dirt roads that make the streets of New York seem simple. He can politely debate village politics with the elders, make a stout tea and enjoy a little goat meat. But more importantly, Wilson has helped lead 12 Marensé in his village to Christ.
God comes in many forms to these missionaries. He's been a road map, a healer in times of sickness and fatigue, and a companion in the loneliest times when everyone seems a world away.
Time alone with God provides vital stability in an unstable environment, said Katie Boren, a journeyman who lives in the village of Tanlargo.
"It's not just about having your quiet time every day because it is the right thing to do," she said. "Here, it is a matter of survival."
As the young woman retreats to her special "high place" -- a rocky hill overlooking her village -- she writes in her journal, prays and reads Scripture. Boren knows she's in the right place for now.
"As uncomfortable as it is, there is nowhere more comfortable than in his will," she said.
"If it is here forever, I know I won't be happy anywhere else."
By Albert H. Lee