Saturday, March 21, 2009

Missionary finds fulfilling work on African farm

By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer

Missionary work is God’s work — and in Lori Price’s case, it’s farming peanuts.
“And I never thought I’d be doing any of it,” she said.
But she is. She’s a career missionary with the Southern Baptist Convention International Mission Board, and her daily life in the Samogho village of West Africa is consumed with two things: teaching Christianity and maintaining a peanut crop. On furlough since Feb. 4, Ms. Price has been traveling the southern United States to visit churches and update them on the success of her mission.
“I go to share my experiences and talk about everything I’ve learned,” Ms. Price said.
She’s now settled at her home in Academy, looking forward to some vacation time with family and friends.
“Furlough’s a time to refresh and renew your spirit,” she said. “I’m looking forward to it. I’ll be able to reconnect with my home church, First Baptist Church of Academy.”
Not scheduled to return to Africa until Aug. 27, her furlough will continue for another five months. This is her first time home in three years.
Three years on and six months off is a common schedule among full-time missionaries, though there are options.
“You can work two years and come home for three months or do one year on, one month off,” Ms. Price said. “It’s up to your situation and whether you have a family. For me, the three-year routine works.”
Becoming a missionary was never a goal or dream for Ms. Price. The thought didn’t even occur to her until she was an adult.
“I was 33 years old, and my supervisor asked me what my goals were,” she said. “I didn’t have any. I had a company car, a secretary and paid vacation. Life was good. Why should I be looking for other goals?”
It didn’t take long for God to answer.
That same week she was teaching a Bible study called “Experiencing God” at FBC-Academy.
“The lesson was that we needed to be prepared for what God was going to throw our way,” Ms. Price said. “And out of the 10 women who were there, it ended up being me we were praying about. God was working on a change in my heart. He wanted me to do His work. He wanted my new goal to be His mission.”
Her first reaction was an eye roll.
“I laughed at Him,” Ms. Price said. “Missionaries are holy, proper and dignified — not me. God is about loving all people all of the time, and there are people I don’t even like. How could He be calling me?”
But she figured that God must have known what he was talking about.
“I realized it’s not about me. It’s about God,” Ms. Price said. “It’s about God doing things through people. God is big enough to do anything, even if it’s using me to accomplish His goal.”
So in 1997 she accepted the IMB mission of “evangelizing and church planting among unreached people groups” as her own. She taught gospel at an African village in Niger until 1999, and then she spent a few years studying doctrine at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.
Her mission work with the Samogho village started in 2002.
“It’s become a home to me,” she said. “And the people there are my family.”
But with no electricity or running water, the place is primitive. She lives in a cement-coated mud house.
“You’d be surprised at how much you can live without,” Ms. Price said. “When things aren’t there, you find a way to make it work.”
Natural ventilation suffices for air conditioning, a cot can be a bed, and water can come from a well instead of a faucet. Yes, Ms. Price grants her Samogho home a fair amount of leeway — but it stops at the toilet.
“When I was interviewing, I told them I didn’t mind not having life’s luxuries, but I was too old to squat,” Ms. Price said. “I was going to have to have something to sit on.”
The IMB accommodated her request. Her hut in the Samogho village is the only one that is equipped with a toilet-like structure. It’s metal and shaped like a funnel, but it does the job.
“It operates with well water and a manual bucket flush,” Ms. Price explained.
Days in Samogho start at 4:30 a.m.
“I didn’t know 4:30 happened twice a day until I moved there, but sure enough it does,” Ms. Price said. “At 4:30 in the morning, you’ve got roosters crowing, chickens and goats moving around and women grinding corn to make flour.”
By 5 a.m., it’s time for the morning greeting.
“The West Africans are huge on greetings,” Ms. Price said. “And we’re not talking about a ‘Hi, how are you?’ We’re talking about 30 minute conversations with everyone in the village. First the chief, then the elders and then your friends.”
She said the morning greetings generally start with the question of “Did you pass your night in peace?”
“And if you know any of the family members by name, you’re supposed to ask about them,” Ms. Price said. “It’s drawn-out but heartwarming. All this takes place the minute someone sees you first thing in the morning. There’s no such thing as going the pump and getting water and running back to brush your teeth. The greeting happens at first sight.”
After the greetings, the village gathers at the courtyard for a prayer to bless their day.
After breakfast, it’s time to for the day’s work to begin. Some begin preparing lunch, others pump water for the laundry and the farmers work the land.
Millet, corn, and peanuts are the staple crops of the Samogho village. Cotton, ginger, and vegetables are grown as supplementary produce.
“About 85 percent of the village’s income is based on agriculture,” Ms. Price said. “Families also raise chickens, goats, sheep and cows.”
Ms. Price doesn’t sit by and watch the villagers as they work.
“I’m right there beside them,” she said. “I’ve got a track of land and a peanut crop that I’m responsible for.”
The evening is her main opportunity to teach the Bible. As the sun sets and everyone is resting from the day’s work, she says she’ll tell the familiar stories of Adam and Eve, Christ’s birth and the resurrection.
“If we take a break out in the field, I try to take advantage of that time too,” she said.
She mostly works with adult men and women, and she communicates with them through the language the village uses for business and trade.
“The vernacular has been harder for me to learn,” Ms. Price said. “There’s no written or audio tape way to learn the language. It all has to be done by ear and conversation. I was able to pick up the trade language quicker.”
The Christianity lessons, she said, have been received well.
“They’ve been very open,” Ms. Price said. “It’s a view they’re not familiar with, one they want to learn more about. The chief has said, ‘We know of the Muslim road but not the Jesus road. Now we do.’”
So farming and teaching — that’s a typical weekday in the life of Ms. Price.
She spends her weekends in a modern house, with TV and AC, about an hour and a half outside Samogho. She drives her truck on the commute.
Why not make the commute everyday and live full-time in the comfortable house?
Well, Ms. Price doesn’t want to do that. She wants to live with the people of Samogho and work beside them.
“There’s a line in the Book of Revelation that says one day all nations will be around God rejoicing. That’s what keeps me going,” Ms. Price said, tears welling. “It breaks my heart to think that when Judgment comes, they won’t be in heaven with me. It’s just like someone telling you that your mother, father, brother or sister won’t be with you in heaven. The people of Samogho are my family. I’ve grown to love them. And it kills me to think they’ll be excluded.”

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