Earlier this year, I had the awesome opportunity to visit the country of Botswana. It was a big deal for me because I have spent the last 14 years as a missionary in South Africa, having never traveled to another African country. To go “up in Africa,” as the South Africans call every other African country, was a journey into the heartland of the continent and a unique contrast to what I had become accustomed.
I visited the large town of Maun, which is called the gateway to the Okavango Delta. Nestled in the Kalahari Desert, the landscape is flat, sandy, and dry. Since I arrived at the end of the dry season, we were still awaiting the arrival of the waters that typically flood the delta region. When I stepped into the airport, I immediately entered the 1940s, something reminiscent of Casablanca or the early Tarzan movies. It was literally the oldest and smallest airport I had ever seen. Yet, the true mark of the town of Maun that I will always remember is the uncountable number of donkeys that loiter along the roadsides.
I went as a guest of Love Botswana ministries, which is both a vibrant community church and a community-based organization in Maun. The church and leaders there have made a strong connection with the local people and have a huge influence in the community at large. The leaders are from Texas, but Botswana has been their home for over 30 years.
The ministry also oversees a school where I spent most of my time. The Botswana students were very intriguing. They welcomed me openly and I was able to observe several classes. Before I knew it, I was teaching Bible and English classes, as well as leading small groups, which of course felt natural. I happily fielded not only questions about America, but also about the Bible and life issues from a Biblical perspective. Of course, it made me long for the school we want to birth in South Africa, but I made a lot of connections with young people that I will always cherish.
I could go on and on about the many experiences I had from making friends in the deaf community to tasting cuisine from around the continent to ministering at the local prison (oh to hear those prisoners sing again!), but I can’t go any further without talking about Botswana’s wildlife. In South Africa, I have been on many safaris and have had my fair share of run-ins with animals—including staring down a monkey trying to enter our house. However, I was not prepared to share a highway with an elephant—correction, several elephants. I know that you have to be alert as a driver, but I never thought that I would have a road rage challenge with a pair of zebra. To be in a boat and have an elephant literally emerge from the water a few feet in front of me was a thrill! However, sitting in an open vehicle with a large, male lion staring me down from five feet away was both a thrill and a horror. Add to that the opportunity for brief visits to the neighboring countries of Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe culminating with a trip to the awe-inspiring Victoria Falls—bucket list checked!—then it would be hard to fathom how incredible of a time I had.
My time in Botswana was remarkable. It is always a delight to enjoy a different culture and language and people. Botswana is the northern neighbor of South Africa, and many similarities exist between them. Yet, the richness of the culture, the allure of the wildlife, and the kindness of several of the people that I met, created a unique and valuable experience for me. Overall, this was a life event that I will always treasure.