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Reflections on my time in West Africa

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BY MARK HORN, West Africa Team Member

     After listening to Jim and Mamadou when they visited a few years ago and working with Oakwood’s Foreign Mission Team for the past two years, I was very excited about the opportunity to serve on a short-term mission trip to West Africa. My first trip to Africa was to Kenya between my junior and senior years in college, way back in 1981. I never lost my desire to return to Africa and as we planned for our trip, I was gripped with the same excitement I had as my 20-year-old self; a chance to share the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Mark Horn in West African dress

     The first trip to West Africa with the team from Oakwood and Crossroads PCA (Delaware) was exhilarating for me, seeing a new part of the world and spending time with people we had been praying for and with these past few years. I was truly amazed at how the Lord knit together 11 people, from ages 11 to 60-year-olds, through monthly zoom meetings from January to July. We all met for the first time in person at JFK on Wednesday, August 17, in our flight’s gate area. Experiencing new foods, famous places, worship with pastor Mamadou and the Safe Girls Home (SGH) girls, and lunch afterward solidified our team, and we bonded in just the first few days. On Sunday, we arrived at our accommodations for the week of SGH girls' “summer camp.” We all worked hard making and teaching crafts, playing and organizing games, telling and retelling the story of Joseph, and loving the girls despite the language barrier. I loved our swim time in the ocean with the girls, but it was exhausting. We had to embrace Jim’s words “be flexible or be broken!”

Owen Hughes eating a West African dish

     Owen and I stayed an extra few days so that we could have more time with the “Timothies.” These young men have been recently ordained as pastors and those who just starting their training. We also spent precious time getting to know Jim and Karen, Collin and Zury, and Donnie and Kara, who are members of the West Africa (WA) team. But one further reason for the extended time was for me to make some connections at the University (the largest in French-speaking Africa). In the Lord’s sovereign plan, I was approved by Penn State to go to an international conference being held at this same University in December.

     In December, I was on my own. All fall, items kept arriving at our house for me to take for the WA team. This was in addition to 50 French Bibles that were shipped to me from Germany free of charge. Of course, there were the gifts from Oakwood to take to the SGH girls, the WA team members, the Timothies, and Pastor Mamadou and his wife, Marie. As I departed from State College to JFK, I ended up with five carefully weighed bags, each at just under 50 lbs., one of which was my carry-on. Donnie labeled me Santa Claus, although he is the one who requested a Santa outfit!

 Donnie in a Santa outfit     I was able to have two days before the conference and three days after the conference to spend with different members of the team. I had the traditional meal with Collin, and Zury, at the home of Sebastian, Angele, and two-year-old, Marianne, who are the local pastoral family working with Collin and Zury. I attended a Christmas celebration with Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) students from the University. I had another traditional meal with Jim, Karen, Roman, and Georgia at the home of Sidy, Madeline, and baby Jim, the pastoral family for the church plant in Center City. After the conference, I visited a self-sustaining farm with Donnie and Kara and had a great time of prayer with Moustafa and his family (church planting in Malikunda) on my last stop before going to the airport.

     During the conference I walked from my hostel each day to the meetings, even attending a pre-conference workshop. I met students and professors from all over Africa. We all ate lunch at the conference and I had many interesting conversations. I was able to celebrate with my new friends at the gala dinner on the last night of the conference sporting my “boubou” (traditional garb) given to me by Collin and Zury. I learned a great deal at the conference and made many new connections. In reflecting, I was saddened to hear of the extent to which Africa continues to be taken advantage of with respect to natural resources. It was also very apparent how different higher education is in West Africa.  They do so much with so few resources in the areas of science and technology. Moreover, there is not much opportunity for graduates because there is so little industry. The most moving feeling I experienced, was walking across the campus each day and thinking about the spiritual condition of those bright, young men and women pursuing educational wisdom. It is a very different culture, with many obstacles, financial and spiritual, and yet the need for the gospel is the same there as it is here. In that regard, their university is not that much different than our universities—men and women think that their own wisdom is the key to life. I am reminded of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians where he tells them “…the wisdom of this world is folly with God.” My trips increased my resolve to pray for the Gospel to be known in West Africa, here in Central PA, and to keep asking the Lord how he can use me here and there.

Posted by Mark Horn with

Books I Read in 2022 You Should Read in 2023

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 BY BENJAMIN R. LEE, Associate Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian  

     Well, another year has passed and another reading goal is in the books, so to speak. Every year I set a new reading goal intending to stretch myself, continue to learn, and Lord willing, grow closer to Christ. At the beginning of each new year, I like to reflect on the books I read during the past year as I set my goal for the upcoming year. I’ve found this to be both encouraging and motivating. I’m encouraged as I reflect on the great books I encountered and the many things I learned during the year. It’s motivating because the list of books looks so much smaller when it’s written out, and that makes me want to read more in the future!

     I’d like to share with you some of my favorite reads from 2022 and encourage you to add one or two of them to your own book list.

     As many of you might remember from the previous post about books, I love the Harry Potter series and I’m almost always reading (or listening to) one of the volumes. I did read some of those books this year, but I’m going to add a different work of fiction here. Somehow 2022 reignited a childhood love for The Lord of the Rings. Maybe it was the new Amazon series, but whatever it was I made my way through the entire series, and I found The Fellowship of the Ring to be a particularly beautiful read. I also read Tolkien’s Beren and Lúthien, and oh man, is that a fantastic piece of literature! If you’ve never encountered Tolkien’s masterpieces, make 2023 the year!

     I always love a good book recommendation and Sue Johnson’s book Created for Connection; The ‘Hold Me Tight’ Guide for Christian Couples is one I’m thankful came my way! I’ve read many books on marriage over the years, but this one might be the best. It is without a doubt the most practical marriage book I’ve read. Sue Johnson helps you to see the ‘why’ behind so much marital conflict. And she has more to say than “you fight because you are sinners” – as true as that is. Much of our sin and subsequent conflict arises, according to Sue, when the thing which marriage is designed to provide (and for which we all long) is interrupted: intimacy, not merely physical intimacy, but deep connection. I highly recommend this book.

     Another top book from 2022 came by way of recommendation from Pastor Dan: Be Thou My Vision; A Liturgy for Daily Worship by Jonathan Gibson. This book is just what it sounds like: a month’s worth of daily liturgies designed to facilitate private and family worship. Each day you’ll find a call to worship, prayers of adoration, confession, and assurance, creeds and confessions, scripture readings, and guides for intercessory prayer. This is a wonderful aid for daily devotions!

     Last year Carl Truman published an academic work entitled The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. It was an instant classic written to explain how our culture has arrived at our present cultural moment. It’s a worthwhile read, but it’s a bit of a slog. Thankfully this year Truman published the every man’s version of the book called Strange New World; How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution. This is essentially a scaled-down version of his earlier work. Those if you interested in the development of western culture, and in thinking about what it looks like to be a Christian in western culture, will want to grab a copy.

     I try to choose a few biographies off the shelf each year, and in 2022 I stumbled across Peter Stark’s volume on George Washington entitled Young Washington; How Wilderness and War Forged America’s Founding Fathers. This work was different from other biographies I’ve encountered on my favorite president. Stark covers only Washington’s early years focusing particularly on his experience as an officer in the British Royal Army. If you’re a history buff this is a book worth picking up.

      Finally, if you’re like me and tend to be an anxious sort of person, maybe especially anxious when it comes to your practice of the Christian faith, you’re going to want to read Phillip Carry’s book Good News for Anxious Christians; 10 Practical Things You Don’t Have To Do. Carry helps us to think more deeply about some of those things that tend to make anxious Christians anxious; finding God’s will, discerning motivations, experiencing joy, being transformed, and much more. He’s trying to help Christians shift from an inward-focused, experienced-based Christianity to a Christ-focused, gospel-based Christianity. I loved it!

     Here are a few others you might want to check out:




Posted by Rev. Ben Lee with
Tags: books, 2023, 2022

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