I Thought That I Was Prepared, by G32

I really enjoy the wisdom and wealth of information that is in your daily blog.

I know the importance of listening to your inner voice as well as wise council and being prepared. Living in a developing nation is never easy but being missionaries in a West African country known for its relative safety was a joy so we were a bit relaxed in our thinking and our perception of potential danger.  But then we began to hear and see things that made us a bit unsettled and we began to have that inner feeling that things were not going to be so easy to get, or to get to.  

It was little, almost imperceptible things, at first. Then the police became a little harder than usual to deal with and so did their demands for bribes. Because people in the public service and teachers were not getting paid they began protesting. Next came strikes by the cab companies, banks began having a harder time getting cash. It took us sometimes going back three days in a row to get money and grocery stores were having less on their shelves. Suddenly, it was no longer safe to be out alone or after dark. Our Missions sending agency had been telling us to make sure we were stocked up and prepared for all emergencies and not to rely on the availability of necessary items no matter how easy things seemed to be. They had cited not only the political environment but also the possibility of Y2K. We went through our home and listed everything we thought we might need to hole up in case of a political or an economic emergency and began to stock up. We had no possibility of a retreat elsewhere unless it was so dire that it would be through a U.S. Marine helicopter. (It nearly came to that) Christmas Eve 1999 was one I will never forget! We were woken up at about 4 a.m. to the sound of live ammo hitting our roof and all around us were the sounds of angry voices and a lot of gunfire. We realized that turning our lights on in our bedroom made us more visible so we quickly doused the lights and dressed in the dark. Pulling out our bug out bags, we added the envelope containing our passports, shot records, copies of our birth certificates and marriage license as well as different denominations of American currency and the local currency. Placing the bags in a semi hidden from view place, my husband went downstairs to see if there was any news on radio or television. There was nothing, only the now sporadic gunfire outside.

We tried calling the U.S. Embassy but the phone lines were not working and continued to only work occasionally. After it got light enough to see he went to the gate and opened the small hole that allowed us to see who was on the other side. A group of armed men had congregated outside our fence because we had the only tree large enough to provide shade at the intersection that they were controlling. One man quickly told him to shut the slide and stay hidden. He said “Pastor, we know you are in there. For your safety, we do not want to see your face”. My husband quickly complied. About an hour later a knock came at our gate and we very warily opened it to find that our Muslim French teacher and friend Daouda had been allowed in to give us news. The Ivory Coast was in the middle of a coup d’état. The President had fled the country and the military was in control. That afternoon they allowed a nurse from the infirmary across the street to come in. (She was a Muslim also as they would not allow any of our Christian friends in.)  Christmas day was very different than we had anticipated. We still had the Christmas tree that we had brought with us from the States and we had several brightly wrapped presents under the tree for our little one. We felt foolish at first opening the gifts and preparing for a holiday meal when so much destruction was going on around us. My husband wisely suggested that keeping things as normal as possible for the sake of the little one as well as for ourselves was the best possible thing we could do, There was one point though that we calmly quit eating and got the three of us safely tucked under our big dining room table as gunfire erupted from inside our neighbors house and yard. I must admit that I don’t remember tasting anything I had on the table. Keeping our routine as normal as circumstances would allow was another huge help.

During the next 10 days we were prisoners in our home. The only way we got any news was the once daily visit from Daouda and the nurse. We were so thankful for the preparations and thought we had taken in preparing for Y2K because we had need of nothing as far as food and personal items went. We lost power sporadically but we never lost water.  We did have 10 cases of 12 one liter bottles of water for back up. We also had had several small boxes of chocolates that we had intended to give as gifts for a few friends when they came over Christmas day. A little treat at night after supper was nice.

 There were holes in our preparations however, we found that if we wanted any light at all after dark that we needed to have a room that we could black out, we chose the room that had the most accessibility to everything. That happened to be our bedroom. We had a phone, bathroom, beds, and the easiest way to defend ourselves if need be. Since having a gun was not an option we had a metal baseball bat, oil and nails to throw on the narrow stairs and a whole lot of prayer. When the Internet came back briefly after two days we quickly renewed our contact information and sent it by e-mail to the U.S. Embassy. We were registered but sent an update because we had not been contacted by phone. Calling in to the embassy had proved to be impossible. Come to find out they had a wrong number listed and they had been trying to find us. We also dashed off e-mails to our daughters and son-in-laws in the States. Thinking to protect my mother who was in the hospital at the time I said not to tell her. I never thought that she would be in the hospital watching CNN news. She was terrified. I needed to have only one or two people that I sent my e-mail and let them send them on or call instead of trying to contact everyone myself. There wasn’t enough time and as much as I felt I was in control I wasn’t thinking straight. It is very important to have your contact list ready and in order of priority.     

All during this time we were caring for a very medically fragile two-year-old that we were in the process of adopting. Thus the nurse being allowed in was a major blessing. She brought in a piece of fresh fruit or vegetable for the little one because she could hide them in her purse. That was another hole in our preparations. We had plenty of the starchy stuff like rice and pasta and we had a few canned vegetables but very few. Canned food was not only very pricey but we never thought to buy it because of the wonderful abundance of the fresh that was literally outside our door daily. You do get very tired of a mostly carbohydrate diet very easily.

This is the sum of my experience: Listen to those around you that have true wisdom, do the very best you can do to get and stay prepared, tweaking the situation as your life situations change.  Check to make sure all your paperwork and contact information stays up to date. And the best advice of all is whatever you do, do it prayerfully and thoughtfully. I look back now and I see the hand of God in many things but the ones that stand out the most are these. The military stationed at our gate was frightening but stopped our home from being robbed. Our concern for others and friendships with all peoples led to our having news and medical advice when it was needed most and when we could do nothing to get them on our own. When it comes, it may or may not be what we think, keep a cool head and your mind in the WORD. Maybe you have a country retreat, maybe you have to stay put. When the Schumer hits the fan the greatest best preparations you can have made is the time you have spent on your knees. – Grandmother of 32 in Louisiana