Our two vehicles turned into the driveway, which was lined on both sides with boys and girls who were singing a welcome song... I didn't get pictures of this, as I was so immersed in the moment and had my eyes peeled for Tejan - I couldn't hinder my sight with a lens - I just wanted to see his face.
Miraculously, I found his face amidst the crowd. I waved with both hands... hardly believing we were in the same place at the same time again.
The vehicles stopped in front of a large veranda bordered by rows and rows of benches - this was the place most events would take place. We were immediately whisked up onto the veranda and everyone headed toward a large table set up for us. I could see Tejan at the back of a huge crowd of kids and snuck away quickly to get to him. We hugged and I took his chin in my hands and whispered to him "I came to Africa!" then had go join the others to be seated at the 'high table.' They gave us cold Diet Cokes (perfect!) and placed beautiful woven stoles around our necks that said "Welcome to COTN Banta" and had our names on them. All the while a huge choir was singing... it was quite a ceremony - really exactly like one would imagine, their voices and movement and rhythm - so beautiful. I was in tears. When the ceremony ended, we were once again directed back to the cars through the pouring rain and taken about 10 miles away to a small village near a stream where there were over 100 people waiting to be baptized by Chris Clark - founder of COTN. He and Jim Brown waded out into the stream after giving a brief devotional and the people lined up, walking one by one into this lush jungle stream. All the while their friends and neighbors were singing and dancing and worshipping God. I sat on a bench with the other women and Angie, the Sierra Leone country director - we were under a tarp to stay out of the rain and as we sat there, we received babies from the mothers who were going into the stream... they removed these little ones from their backs (where they always carry them) and placed them into our laps. I wrote in my journal that night: "If I could freeze time and bring Asia to Africa, I would want him to see me in that moment. It was a defining, completely fulfilled moment in time for me... lined up on a bench under a tarp with an African baby in my lap, surrounded by an African choir of praise and witness to 100 new disciples of Christ all publicly proclaiming Jesus as Savior... Oh God, thank you!"
We went back to the COTN facilities and unpacked our bags... I was shown to my home for the week - a nice little room with a bathroom down the hall. When I got into my room, I found four beautiful handmade African dresses waiting for me on my bed. Reverend George had called ahead the night before and told Angie about my bags not arriving and the women from the skills center had made these clothes for me to wear. I was humbled and honored to be provided for in this way. Soon after this I discovered that while we had a fairly nice indoor bathroom facility, there was no running water... we used a pitcher from a garbage pail full of water to 'flush' the toilet and wash our hands... but at least I was no longer having to squat!
Dinner was a buffet of chicken and fish with couscous, fries, veggies and cole slaw. I was quite hungry and only passed on the fish, which still had their heads on...
After dinner, Becky Brown, Debbie Clark and I went to a women's conference for women from the 15 area churches in the region. In one year's time, COTN has gone from having 2 churches to 15 - and the women had never had a retreat or conference of any sort. Each of us gave a brief talk about a different area of biblical womanhood. I spoke about parenting - praying the whole time that the Holy Spirit would speak through me in a way that was culturally relevant and would challenge the women. I felt largely inadequate, but was amazed at how much I enjoyed sharing and found words flowing freely from my mouth... God is good.
I went to bed late that evening beneath the blackest night sky I've ever seen - under a mosquito net and to the sound of the women singing praises from across the soccer field that separated my building from the veranda and the chirp of crickets outside my open window.