Southside members travel to Niger

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 8, 2007

A trio of Southside Baptist Church members is busy packing in anticipation of the trip of a lifetime.

&#8220How many packages of tuna do you suppose we have?” queries Frances Seale.

&#8220Lots and lots. There is chicken, too,” Dianne Salter replies.

&#8220Can you imagine having to do without your granola bars? And peanut butter, they love it,” chimes in Betty Pickens.

These ladies aren't packing all those goodies for themselves. They are assembling care packages for missionaries serving in West Africa - packages they will deliver in person come next week.

Seale, Salter and Pickens will be traveling from Atlanta next Monday, February 12, to Paris, France, and then on to Niamey, Niger, West Africa for their overseas missionary odyssey. The three met with fellow Women on Mission members Monday night to assemble supplies and plan and pray for their journey.

&#8220I'm excited and scared at the same time,” Pickens admitted with a grin.

&#8220I have been on a mission trip to Alaska with our youth World Changers group two years ago, but this is my first time overseas.”

For Salter, it will be her first time flying.

&#8220We'll be in the sky for 20 hours, wow!” she laughed.

Seale, the seasoned traveler of the three, may have to carry the Liberty torch for her friends to keep up with her (she's small of stature). However, like Pickens and Salter, she is sure a close eye will be on the trio as they make their long journey.

&#8220We just feel like God is watching over us. He has been with us each step of the way,” Seale said.

In fact, the three view the mission trip as a miracle in itself.

Their lofty goal of $10,000 to cover travel expenses for the group was met and exceeded by the generosity of their own church, along with other churches in and beyond the county, the said.

&#8220The Lord really did provide. When we needed money for passports, for ticketsŠit might come down to the wire, but it was always there when we needed it,” Seale said with a smile.

The seeds were planted last summer.

That's when the three women heard Brandy Nelson, a Greenville native who is currently serving as a missionary to Niger, speak about her missionary experiences during a furlough home.

&#8220Brandy asked a question. She said, ‘How can you pray for labors if you are not willing to go yourself?' And as she talked, she asked for older people to come,” Salter recalled.

&#8220Brandy said over in Niger they think you can't be happy and be a Christian if you are old.”

Life is hard in Niger. On average, people live less than 45 years. Only 20 percent are Christians, with the rest confessing Islam or indigenous religions.

Nelson told her audience younger Nigeriens yearned to see &#8220old” people who enjoyed life and the Lord.

&#8220I thought, I can do that! I'm older and I am happy. I loved going on missions trips with the kids, now us old fogies can do the same,” Pickens said.

Still, there were trepidations for the women: the great expense, the long flight, the fear of the unknown.

&#8220I kept thinking, I am a Christian and happy and willing, but - I can't go. I don't have money and I have never flown. All kinds of excuses. I really struggled in my heart,” Salter admitted.

&#8220I finally said I am willing, and just left it with God.”

Salter obtained her passport last October and &#8220it's been one step at a time ever since.”

She told others she wanted to go on a mission trip with Brandy. While several said the timing wasn't right for them, her friends Betty and Frances said they felt called to go, too.

&#8220Brandy said January or February would be the best time for someone to come, and it was doable for the three of us. By late November, it was clear we were the team to go,” Salter said.

Needless to say, there was a lot of preparation ahead and a short time to do it.

&#8220God lead us one step at a time. First one person helped us, then another. We sent out letters to the churches in the county and family and friends,” Salter said.

&#8220It was amazing how people supported us, and not just the ones we sent letters to.

A lot of people heard by word of mouth and wanted to help. It was wonderful,” Pickens said.

WOM leader for Southside, Sara Jean Atkins, said people from all over had been a great blessing.

&#8220The Lord has truly provided in terms of donations and the prayers that have gone up. We thank everyone who has supported these ladies,” Atkins said.

And now the shots are documented, the tickets purchased, the passports are in hand –

not to mention the toothpaste and the tuna packets for Brandy, her missionary partner Kanesa, and short-term missionary Lauren Sharpe of Alabaster.

Just what will the three women do during the two-plus week stay in West Africa?

&#8220Storytelling will be a lot of it. We will be telling Bible stories using flannel boards and doing some prayer walking,” Salter said.

&#8220We will also be doing a lot of visiting - that is very important in their culture - and a lot of singing. They like that, and I can handle that,” Pickens, a Southside Choir member, said with a relieved smile.

The ladies will also be taking albums of family photos to share with their new friends.

&#8220We understand Brandy's home has electricity, which is a big draw to local people. It's a place to congregate and fellowship together, so we are looking forward to that,” Salter said.

In spite of a few nervous flutters, the ladies say they are ready to be &#8220a blessing and encouragement” to Brandy and Kanesa during their African experience.

&#8220We can really feel the prayers of people lifting us up as we prepare for this. We are so excited,” Seale said.

&#8220I hope this is just the beginning of many more mission trips from Greenville. We sure appreciate everyone's support and prayers,” Pickens added.