September 21, 2016
And so, there we were, in AFRICA! It took a while for that to sink in, and life would never again be the same. Weird things happen when you start life in a new culture. Your dreams get strange and your cultures get mixed up. I could be dreaming that I’m driving down my hometown street and suddenly be transported to the middle of a village somewhere. Or be somewhere in Africa and find myself suddenly in the middle of Walmart. Learning language also takes on a special quality when you open your mouth to say something in your new language, and every other language you’ve learned in the past comes out. We’d just spent time in Germany on our way to Ghana where I was finally able to practice the 9 years I’d had studying that language in the US. Now when trying to learn Konkomba, German kept coming out. Since then when trying to learn both French and Maninka, words that I didn’t even know I remember from the Konkomba language come flying out! The brain is a fascinating thing!
Along with all those special adjustments, the culture shock those first years was unbelievable! Tim and I were both city people. He grew up in Detroit and I grew up in Queens. We knew nothing about the differences between a diesel engine and a gas engine; that there was 110v electricity, 220v electricity and 12v electricity; that food could be so, so spicy and people really enjoyed that; that when you buy meat it doesn’t always come nicely packaged on a styrofoam plate with plastic around it, but often is laying out on a table next to parts you didn’t want to know exist and with 4 bazillion flies buzzing around it; that there are areas of the world where it gets so hot your candles melt (never bring those anymore!) Or what it feels like to have someone babbling on at you with words that make absolutely no sense at all, then laugh at your for not understanding. I’ll never forget the first time I woke up in our house and had 12 pair of little eyes looking in my window. This was my life those first years. Honestly, I wished I was dead. I prayed to God that He would take me to heaven, because I was convinced I was living in hell. As I look back at the newsletters we sent out during those years I sometimes marvel that I didn’t write, “HELP!! Get me out of here!!” But I do know that through all those things God was walking beside us every step of the way. His Son left His home once and entered a culturally different place far more unpleasant that ours, and lived among people that hated Him so much they finally killed him. But it was all part of a much larger and more marvelous plan that no one saw at the time, not even those closest to Him. All those years I used to pray, “God, just give us the language! Why waste all this time in learning and not doing what we’re here to do??” Often we like to take the shortcut, don’t we? But God often uses those hard times to grow us a bit more. We didn’t know it at the time, but God was growing us in ways we couldn’t even imagine. He still uses those hard times to advance us in our faith and trust in Him.
For a glimpse into that time: click here to see our May, 1984 newsletter.
August 05, 2016
There really are no words to really accurately describe our arrival at the airport in Accra, Ghana’s capitol, on that hot and muggy night, April 14, 1984. It was a total assault on my person and every one of my senses stood at attention as I stepped off the plane. I was certain that every mosquito on the western coast of Africa was aiming for me and that every one of them was carrying malaria, ready to infect and kill me. As we approached the door of the airplane it became obvious this was a new world. No fancy Jetway to carry us to the airport. Steps down from the plane. The humidity was such that by the time we got to the door of the airport I imagined my clothes leaving a trail of sweat behind my already dragging feet. The cool air conditioning of the airplane was already forgotten. Smells were coming at me from every direction, not all of them necessarily pleasant. (Barbara Kingsolver, in her book The Poisonwood Bible, described America as “a country devoid of smells”. Our noses would never be the same!) It was literally almost more than I could dream of taking in at that moment in time. Anyone arriving in Ghana today would never recognize the descent into darkness we experienced walking into Kotoka International Airport that memorable night. There was something a little bit thrilling about it, but mostly it was horrifying and terrifying at the same time. We had arrived.
Our only option coming off the plane was to “follow the crowd” so that was what we did. Would someone be there to meet us? What would we do if news of our arrival had not reached here? Follow the crowd.
On entering the building, chaos is the only way I can describe the scene. First of all, we entered into a hallway devoid of windows with an old ceiling fan that had long since ceased to work, one blade tilted almost straight down. The only air coming in was from the door we’d just entered, so that, combined with all the bodies made it almost unbearable. There was one small table up ahead with a kid, must have been in his teens, taking immigration cards and stamping them. But it looked like 5 lines all trying to get to that same desk. My western idea of a queue flew out the window as it became obvious that you shove your way toward the front of the line where you stick your papers into the official’s face and wait until you’re lucky enough for him to pick you. This is a lesson we’ve had to learn over and over. If you’re timid you might as well just take a seat and wait until everyone is done. You’re last.
Once past immigration we continued to move with the crowd. In fact at one point I wondered if my feet are even touching the ground or if was just being moved along by the flow of bodies? Finally, standing in line we hear a familiar accent (well, German, but it was obviously different from the others we were hearing!) “Are you Tim and Beth Heiney?” I wondered immediately if he knew that from the lack of other white faces or from the sheer terror he saw registered in our eyes? “YES! Yes we are!” Fred Weihmann was the business manager at that time for the LCMS and he had come to shepherd us through the rest of this madness and take us to his home. Thank you, Jesus. We were never so relieved to see a stranger as that moment. He guided us through the next several stations and into the luggage area. More crowds, sweat and smells. Men everywhere, offering to “help.” And did I mention that soldiers armed with AK-47s walked all over the building? Once we had our luggage we thought we were finished, but no. Because we’d sent a shipment of goods to follow us, now we must fill out an “Unaccompanied Baggage” form. I felt like we were there for hours. By now I’m ready to melt into a puddle on the floor.
Papers presented and stamped, all forms filled and baggage loaded into the car, we piled into the vehicle headed for Tema, where Fred lived with his wife Monika and two sons, Byron and Donovan. We’d be staying with them while we worked to complete all the legalities necessary to live in the country. During the ride I mentioned all the soldiers we’d seen. It was then we heard the story of a missionary that was recently getting ready to leave the country and was accidentally shot and killed on his way to the airport. Suddenly this was all becoming frighteningly real.
I feel like we were somewhere along a very long cusp of the idea of missionaries going out to the field ready to die, and those with a question mark of whether or not they would return. We certainly realized there’s always danger when you travel, and we had no idea what we would be finding. We’d read plenty of missionary stories by then of people like Jim Elliot and Hudson Taylor, those who either gave their own lives or had to watch members of their family die. In fact when we left, Tim’s father said good bye as if we might never see each other again. We certainly had to ask ourselves if we believed in what we were doing enough to suffer, if not die for it. Sitting in that car that night, the reality of the gravity of what we were doing flashed before me in living color.
There are a few things the Lord has taught me over the years:
- God IS in control! He is in total control of what happens to me, when it happens, why it happens and if it happens. If you ever have doubt of that, just read through Job 38-41. God’s first words in chapter 38 should bring you to your knees: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” Was God there when that missionary was shot on the way to the airport? Of course He was. Just this last week there was another story of an entire family killed in a car accident on their way to missionary training. Was God around? Absolutely. And He is sovereign. There are things we will never understand until we stand before Him one day. But we can know without doubt that He is not caught off guard or asleep on the job.
- Safety is NOT your god! When we shy away from something because it may involve danger, or be uncomfortable for us in some way, we are putting our safety above God’s call to us. In America now this is rampant. And it is a First World luxury. From the book “The Hidden Price of Greatness” (Beeson and Hunsicker): “Martyrdom is a fact of life in at least 50 countries.” When we pull away from something to which God has called us, we deny God the privilege of glorifying Himself in what He can do through us, be it by our life or our death. I love telling stories of how God has saved us from so many things, and those are just the ones I know about! God brings glory to Himself through His servants.
- By denying our calling we often deny ourselves and opportunity to grow. It’s easy to live the status quo, day by day getting up, going to work, coming home, eating dinner and starting the same the next day. Church on Sunday if there is nothing else to do, kids’ sporting events, school, etc. But if God has called us to another life He has a reason and He wants to grow us into so much more! I have often told people that even having lived through all we have, I wouldn’t change it for anything. Through it I have grown closer to my Creator which is more important to me than anything else.
- Death is NOT the end. We as Christians know that of course, so why do we hold onto our lives at any expense, even if it means the salvation of others? Most of the world’s lost are found in places that are no fun to live, hot, and dangerous. What does that say about our priorities?
Because I’m a Lutheran I’m going to add some Gospel to all that Law! God can and wants to use you. You don’t have to decide how, when or where. God has done and will do it all! I challenge you to pray each night this month (but you have to mean it): “Father, I want to follow Your will. Lead me to what you want me to do for You, and I will follow.” Just as Jesus took 12 unqualified men from several walks of life and changed the entire world, He can use you if you just open yourself up to whatever He has created you for…since the foundation of the world!
June 03, 2016
Have you ever had that moment in your life when you stop dead in your tracks and ask yourself, What in the world am I doing?? One of those moments came as we flew for the first time from Europe to Africa. For hours, it seemed, when we looked out the window from our airplane seats, all we saw was desert: the mighty Sahara that seemed to never end.
The trip to this point had been really fun. Since I’d used vacation money I’d saved up to get Tim through his last year at the seminary while we were engaged, he’d promised me that we’d take some time on the way to Africa to stop in Germany to research my “roots.” I’d traced our family line back to Germany and knew just where the ancestors came from before they left their home shores hoping for a better life. We spent about a week traveling through Germany, Austria, and Switzerland before heading south…waaay south. I’d taken about 9 years of German through grade school and high school and could finally put it into use! I could write pages just about that trip, but that will be another time!
However, that was finished now, and here we were sitting on a Swiss Air jet zooming into the unknown having no idea what we were doing or how we were going to do it. “Do all missionaries feel this way when they start?” I asked myself. Or do others feel confident that they know the plan, that they can take it on? ‘Cuz we sure didn’t feel that way at that moment! And so, as the Sahara passed by underneath, on, and on, and on, the question continued to blast through our brains: What have we done??
It wasn’t the last time we’d ask ourselves that either. But over the years if there’s a lesson we’ve learned, it’s that even when we have no idea what we’re doing, God always knows what He’s doing and where He wants to go with it. I’ve had numerous people say to me over the years: “I just don’t know how to share my faith.” “I don’t know what to say, how to start.” I know exactly what you’re feeling. But why is that? Why can we claim that something is so near and dear to our hearts, and yet would rather throw up than say the name of Jesus sometimes? Anyone that doesn’t believe in evil forces working against us has never stood on someone’s doorstep, ready to push the doorbell and ask, “If you were to die tonight, do you know where you’d go?” When I was in college it was the Kennedy Evangelism program, and that was the opening question. I suggested to a Mormon one day, that maybe, just maybe, Satan works his hardest to keep Christians from talking about Jesus than he does those from whom he feels no threat? This man, of course, thought I was crazy. But there it is. Why can some that don’t have the whole truth have no qualms about banging on your door and letting you know exactly why they’re right and you’re wrong? And yet Christians, with palms sweating and feeling slightly dizzy still ask, “How do I share my faith?”
Well, a lot of years have passed since that experience. But we still get asked that question, “How can I share my faith?” I want to share something I learned a while ago about who does the talking. Some years back I was boarding an airplane heading from Africa back to the US. (I’m racking my brain trying to figure out, with four children, when I was ever on a plane alone! It totally escapes me.) I’ve always felt like I should talk to the person next to me when I fly and see if an opportunity arises to talk about Jesus. However I’d been away from American culture for a lot of years by this time. Africans will talk to you anytime you want, and about anything. And if you talk about Jesus and he agrees, great. If not, great too! We can have a debate. And everyone leaves as friends. But I’d heard a lot about Americans over the years and honestly, I just felt really disconnected to the culture and extremely intimidated. Could I even really relate anymore? And so I prayed, “Lord, if there is someone who needs to hear about you today, you’re going to have to open a door.” And then I opened my book and waited for my seatmate to arrive.
Sometime later, just before takeoff, a very large African American man came and sat beside me. I wondered right away if God had something for me to do? I honestly had no idea what to say. Did we even have anything in common? So I waited and continued reading my book. Just after take off the stewardess came around with drinks. As she was preparing my Coke she looked at my necklace. I have worn a gold Africa around my neck and close to my heart since the early days of Ghana. It often opens conversation. (Sadly, it’s been mistaken for everything from South America to Texas!) As the stewardess looked at my necklace she asked, “Do you live in Africa?” I said that I did and she mentioned that she had visited Sierra Leone some years ago and had really enjoyed her time there. Then she turned to my seatmate and asked us, “Are you two together?” We both blushed and said, “No, no!” pretty quickly. OK, could it get any more awkward? However, once the woman left, the man to my left leaned over and said, “Do you really live in Africa?” I put my book down and responded in the positive. Then he said that he’d always wanted to visit there, but especially more recently, he longed to take his father who was getting older and showing beginning signs of Alzheimer’s. “I’d love to visit before he’s too gone to know what we’re doing….So, what do you do there?” Smiling up at God (who, by the way, I’m sure was whispering “I told you I could!”) I told him that my husband and I were working there to bring Jesus to the folks among whom we live. “Hmmm,” he said. “My wife and my mother in law started going to this church and they really want me to go, but I just don’t know.” We talked for a while about the basics of Christianity, about heaven, and about who Jesus really is. I didn’t need a theological degree. I just shared what I knew. We exchanged contact info and I told him that if he ever wanted to bring his Dad to see Africa, just let me know. I also promised to pray for “Dan and Jan” from Grand Rapids, that God’s Spirit would open his eyes to see his need for a Savior. That’s apparently where my job ended. The Holy Spirit had the seed.
I think one thing people are really intimidated by is the idea that they have to come up with some quirky line, or be a theologian to talk about Jesus or share Him with others. Let me show you how wrong that is. My husband is an avid Lions (football) fan. I’ve watched through years and years of the same cycle: “This is going to be our year!” only to hear moaning and groaning as game after disappointing game is played and lost. Then we gear up for the next cycle. And yet, no matter how bad things get, Tim has no problem talking about the Lions to anyone who will listen. It’s not embarrassing for him. Everything in him believes in them. And he has no problem defending them to the hilt. Of course Jesus is never a loser, but do we balk at arguing for our football teams, or letting everyone know what bands we love or what concert we attended? With social media now I can probably tell you exactly what teams many of my friends follow. Or what candidate they will vote for. Or what they had for dinner last night, for crying out loud! If we can be so vocal about things without eternal meaning or value, how can we keep to ourselves the one thing that matters more than any other? If we are not afraid to speak the name of other human beings, why should we feel shame at speaking the name of the One that gave His life for us?
So what do I suggest to people that can’t seem to find their voice? Two things:
- Practice. The Church has failed us in this area. When I grew up we had an Evangelism Team. I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard of that. Evangelism is “for the other guy, the one that has that gift, because I sure don’t.” Everyone one of us has a testimony inside just waiting to come out. And no one else has your testimony! Sit yourself in a closed room in front of the mirror and share your testimony to your reflection. What has Jesus done for you? Why are you glad to be a Christian? Yes, it will feel funny and weird. Do it anyway. And do it over and over until you can recite it in your sleep. Once you feel like you know your own story, practice it on a loved one. Have them ask questions. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
- Put yourself into the capable hands of the Holy Spirit. God knows our fears and anxieties. When Moses complained that he couldn’t do what was asked, God gave him Aaron. When Jesus left earth He promised us a Helper. The Holy Spirit can bring people to you. He can open conversations. He can give you the words to speak. Just let Him know that you are willing and ready. He will do the rest. Remember, greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world! As we share that hope we also grow: in courage, in confidence, and in our own faith.
And so, Africa, here we come! Tripping, stumbling, and probably drooling, but above all, trusting in the One who sent us. Yes, we’ve learned that God not only CAN be in control, that’s just where He wants to be!!
May 16, 2016
And so, call in hand, they set forth, ready to conquer the world! What missionary hasn’t felt that way as they prepare for the new adventure. We are invincible, we are called, we are ready, we are……nuts.
Taking a look at the country of Ghana, we learned that it had once been the showcase of West Africa. A former British colony, Ghana became independent in 1958 during the time of independence for many African countries. Their first president, Kwame Nkrumah, stepped into a country well established in the cocoa trade. Ghana provided much of the world’s cocoa at that time, however, after poor management of resources and several coups, the country had spiraled downward until the economy was in shambles. After flight lieutenant Jerry Rawlings had taken over once, then allowed free elections, he was forced to stage another coup when things continued to go badly. We were stepping into this time of his second take over.
During our language training we had a visit from missionary Phil who worked in Ghana with his wife and their two daughters. He filled us in on how things were in the country and what to expect. What shocked us most? Learning that there was nothing available in Ghana and that we’d have to plan to buy a 3 year supply of anything we thought we might need during our first term. Even food was at a shortage, and what was available was to be left for the local people. Phil told us that he himself had once gone to the market to bid on a bag of rice. Since he could outbid everyone else, he got the rice. However, the people of his town were angry and asked him why he didn’t bring his own food instead of taking theirs. After that he vowed he would never take food from the town again.
At this point Tim and I had been married for about 3 months, living the entire time in training and being fed. I had no idea what 3 days of food looked like, let alone 3 years!! Thankfully another couple was also assigned to Ghana, Mark and Barb. They’d been married some years by then, so when Barb went to the store to make an order, I’d follow along and if I liked what she was buying, I wrote it down as well. Twenty cases of soup?? Sounds good!! And what does 3 years of toilet paper look like? Planning to start a family during that first term? Suddenly we’re thinking about diapers and tiny clothes!! We learned there was a company called “Eureka” that would prepare food, flash heat it and seal it in tin packages. The meals apparently had a shelf life of 10 years. Many cases purchased! Did I know what I was doing? Not a clue.
You might be asking, “Where do newlyweds get the money to purchase a 3 years supply of everything they will need? Good question! Originally the Mission Board said that they would advance the funds, but later backed off on that. Eventually a dear saint in our congregation “lent” us the funds we needed. I put that in quotes because later she said that she didn’t need that money back. Messy, scary, frustrating at times, and definitely expensive, but we finally ended up with 13 barrels and a large metal tank in which to pack all our goods. The tank was specially made for us, and would be used for storing fuel at our mission station. Since fuel was not available in our area, we learned that our business manager, Fred, would be sending fuel up to us periodically. Any time we’d travel then we’d have to carry the fuel we’d need to get from Point A to Point B. There was so much to learn! But it was all coming together. Our good friend, dentist, and a member of our church, Dr. Rick Stern, offered the basement of his business to use for a staging area. By now we’re in the dead of winter, so this gave us somewhere warm in which to do our preparing. Don’t pack anything in quantity, it looks like you’re bringing it in to sell. Be careful packing this next to that. Soap makes everything stink and taste funny. Don’t take anything you don’t want to lose. Etc, etc, etc!!!!
Another word we had to learn was “visa.” For me this was never anything more than a credit card. Now it was “permission” to visit another country. LCMS World Mission, the agency that was sending us out, was working on getting our visas into Ghana. Our original plan was to leave for Ghana right after Christmas. We’d soon learn that “plans” are just a formality. We are always at the mercy of someone or something else!
April 28, 2016
Facebook has been abuzz with news that calls have gone out from our seminary to pastors and vicars that will serve the Lutheran Church….where the Holy Spirit has called them. It’s a wonderful thing to know that God is in control of where you’re going. I had to think back to our own “Call Night”.
Tim graduated from the Lutheran Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1983. It was a big night. Having prepared for overseas missions, our destination was not a surprise. But it was fun to sit and watch others receive their news for the first time. You could almost feel the envy in the room when someone was called to the warmer areas of the country. He got Florida? Drat! And I’ll never forget when some poor soul received his call. The person making the announcement figured he’d throw in a bit of excitement; make sure we were all paying attention. “And So-and-so, called to Brazil” ……. at this point I think his wife passed out …. “Indiana!” A collective, “OH, WHEW!!!” was felt throughout the chapel. Relief, some uneasy chuckles.
And then it came: Timothy Heiney, to Ghana, West Africa. His future wife (me) didn’t faint, in fact we were thrilled. We’d met with someone from the World Mission office some months before. He had asked to meet us in Detroit to talk to me, I think to see if he thought I would make it as a missionary wife. Questions were asked and answered. The one that sticks in my mind was, “Do you believe you can learn a language?” I stuttered a bit and hesitated. I’d studied German for 9 school years and still didn’t feel like I could carry on a conversation. Maybe I couldn’t learn another language?? After an embarrassing pause the man asked, “Well you learned English, didn’t you?” Why yes, yes I had. I guess I could learn another language. Three languages later I can’t say I do all that well, that I have a gift, or that I even enjoy learning new languages, but yes, yes I did it. So apparently I passed the test, at which time we were asked, What do you think about Ghana? Tim and I immediately pictured Jim Jones and a pitcher of Kool-Aid. It took us a bit to learn about Ghana (NOT Guyana!) and we soon set our sights on this new place to which God had called us. We learned we’d be working with the Konkomba people in the northern part of the country. Our prayers started in earnest for these people, for our work there, and our transition to a new place. As we have done with each new people group with whom we have worked, we prayed that God would go ahead of us, prepare the way, and make His people ready to hear the Gospel. We had no idea how ready the Konkombas were, but we were about to find out!
April 23, 2016
I’ve wanted to “blog” for some time. This is actually my fourth attempt. I seem to always get started, then it kind of falls by the wayside as life happens. But last week I was talking to my daughter, Katie, and she was asking some questions about our earlier years, times when we were preparing for missions, and then some of those first experiences. I realized that even my kids don’t have a really good picture of our life back then. How in the world did that happen?? Life has never been typical for Tim and I. I suppose if you look at how we got together: vicar meets daughter of the congregation during vicarage and they marry (see “Our Story”), life was fairly typical in those days. But that’s about where it ended. And somewhere along the line I must have just assumed that because my kids live with me, and even were around for a lot of those times, certainly they know what happened, despite the fact that they were 2 years old!
We were married less than a month when we boarded an airplane to fly to California to begin missionary training. In fact we boarded that plane on the night of Tim’s ordination into the ministry. So much of those early days are really kind of whirlwind like! They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I suppose you could say that for the life of a marriage as well. As we go through our ups and downs in life, there are certainly things that will kill a marriage. I’m thankful that didn’t happen for us. Here we are 30+ years later and still hanging in there, in love and working to keep it working.
So here I am attempting once again to share some of my thoughts and experiences in a blog. I hope to share some of what God shows me during prayer and scripture time, a lot of what God has shown me through life and those wild experiences some of you hear so much about, and maybe you’ll even get to hear from Tim now and then! Hopefully I can stick to it this time!
Be sure you check out some of our stories as well. A few are pretty well known and we’ll try to keep adding as we go along.
For today let me share a verse that came up during my study this morning on the Fruits of the Spirit: “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) There are so many days when I just ask the Lord, “Don’t you think today would be a good day to come back and get us?” Ha! Of course God has His perfect calendar and He knows what day will be best. But there are times when I just would love to see Jesus bust through those clouds and take us all home. (Don’t worry, I’m fine!) But this is a great reminder that it’s not about me and how I feel on any particular day. Just as God was patient during the days when Noah was building the ark, He is patient today, not wanting anyone to perish. It crossed my mind that had God NOT been patient and waited for Noah to finish, all of mankind would have been wiped out. Most of the people among whom we live are perishing. Were Jesus to come back tonight, a few in our town would go with Him, but most would head for an eternity without God, an eternity of suffering and pain. This is probably true of you also. Praise God that His patience is long lasting and that He has given us the time to reach more people for Him. May His Kingdom come, but in HIS time!