Adventures in Europe

Back in March of 2020, I boarded a cruise ship headed across the Atlantic. You might have heard the story from a prayer letter back then. At the time I boarded, it looked like Covid wasn’t very widespread, but when we arrived in Europe the whole world had shut down. Not only that, but the ship experienced an outbreak. and we were quarantined in our tiny cabins for several days. That unfortunately experience resulted in a credit from the cruise line for another go at a cruise, and the time seemed right to use that credit on my way back to Togo in September. I’m glad to report the second attempt at a cruise went exponentially better than the first one! I toured the western Mediterranean and France with two of my best missionary friends. What fun to experience God’s creation and the richness of some of the older cultures in different parts of Europe! 

Barcelona held some fun surprises, since we hadn’t done much research in advance. We just hopped on a tourist bus and picked where we wanted to get off. Barcelona has its own Arc de Triomf, much smaller than the one in Paris, but without the crazy traffic circle surrounding it. It would have been just another monument if it wasn’t for a man creating bubbles of all sizes (including some bigger than a person) all over the sidewalk. Made us feel like kids at heart! 

Another fun surprise came as we looked at what bus stops looked most interesting. We debated about getting off at a place called Park Gruell. It was a significant walk away from the bus stop and we almost decided it wasn’t worth it. After huffing and puffing up the hill, we discovered that this park was 100% worth it! Unique architecture, especially mosaics, melded beautifully with the landscape, making it our favorite stop in Barcelona! 

The churches in Barcelona were quite unique. There were lots of churches in various cities we visited, but this place, the Basilica Sagrada Familla, wins the prize for creativity. Not only is it enormous, it also has distinctly different architectural styles on each side of the building-and it’s still under construction!

Our little tour of Spain ended at the island of Palma, where we took a catamaran trip and went swimming in the warm Mediterranean Sea. 

Next stop was Italy, starting with this quaint old town called Cefalu in Sicily. From the beautiful rocky coast to the narrow cobblestone streets, we had fun exploring this gem of a town. 

It would be hard to head to Italy and not see Rome. We took a more touristy tour of the main sites, getting quite a lot of steps in the process. 

Our cruise started and ended in Marseille, France. We took a brief tour of the town, and then had a bit of time left to kill. Not knowing where else to go, I looked at a map and said, “Not far from our hotel, there’s this garden, what do you think about going there to chill a bit?” We arrived by tram, descended, walked around the corner, and our jaws dropped when we saw this beautiful fountain! The unexpected surprises are the most fun, I think. 

Our time in France was split between north and south, giving us a sampling of many beautiful spots. This series of seven stair-step locks on the Canal du Midi in Béziers, near France’s southern coast, has been functioning continually since it was built in the 1600’s. We rented bikes and explored the locks and the countryside alongside the canal. 

After our bike ride, we wandered around Béziers for a while, coming across this beautiful garden by an old pedestrian bridge. Again, an unexpected surprise!

Nearby Béziers is Carcassonne, with its medieval city and castle. Not even a month earlier, I had been visiting friends in the US, and they proposed a game of my choosing. I glanced at their collection, and one game stood out. It was called Carcassonne, and I exclaimed, “Hey, I’m going there soon!” So we played a fun family game, and later I got to experience the real thing. 

The city of Avignon contains a palace that housed the Popes for a number of decades in the 14th century. Near that is this curious half-bridge, of which the other half apparently got washed out in flooding long ago.

An exploration of the countryside near Avignon for a day led first to a pleasant stroll around the quaint town of Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. This island town surrounded by a creek containing contains over a dozen old water wheels.  

The same creek that forms Isle-sur-la-Sorge originates from a fountain at the base of a mountain nearby, called Fountain de Vaucluse. Even though it had been incredibly dry over the summer, the water still flowed swiftly from the spring.

In that same region is this beautiful old town of Gordes, built into a hilltop. 

And a bit further down the road still lies a former quarry for ochre, which is processed and used as a pigment. Nature took over when the quarry closed, and now you can enjoy a hike while viewing the contrast of green pine trees against the orange and yellow ochre rocks.

So far, we had been exploring southern France. We then took a train up to Strasbourg, which is right near the border with Germany. I enjoyed a couple of days with some good friends and missionaries who are planting churches, mainly among immigrants in this culturally diverse city. 

Strasbourg has some beautiful sights of its own: Notre Dame Cathedral of Strasbourg (which is probably the most beautiful Notre Dame you can get into these days, since the one in Paris is still under repair; although some people say this one is prettier than Paris’s Notre Dame). 

An old-fashioned little section of Strasbourg called La Petite France. 

A parc in Strasbourg called Parc des Orangiers, which was bursting with stunning arrangements of flowers. We hadn’t expected flowers to still be in good shape in September, so this was a lovely surprise! 

There’s a castle called Haut-Koenisbourg not too far from Strasbourg. It has been beautifully restored and furnished, and boasts amazing views of the valley, since it sits on the tip-top of a mountain. 

From Strasbourg, we continued on to Paris, although for a very short visit since we aren’t big city lovers. I had been to France, mainly Paris, once before this trip, when I was in high school (I won’t say how long ago that was!). We made a point to see two things I recalled enjoying the most from that trip:

The first was the Palace of Versailles, where Louis XIV lived. Its rich interior and vast gardens give a sense of the extreme opulence that kings lived with back then (although, despite the expansive space they lived in, they seemed to lack any privacy in their daily routines). There was no shortage of well-groomed, colorful flowers and fountains to delight the senses.

The other spot we longed to revisit was the famous Mont St-Michel, a well-known island town and abbey on the northern coast of France. 

Heading further east into Brittany, we lodged in this beautiful old manor that an American couple runs as a Bed and Breakfast, but its main focus is ministering to missionaries. It was a joy to get to know them!

Here’s a pretty medieval little town called Tréguier we visited in northern Brittany.

From that manor, we ventured north to the coast of the English Channel. There’s a stretch called the Pink Granite Coast with so many beautiful seascapes scattered with unique colored boulders. 

Heading south from the manor, we visited the city of Vannes, largely because a friend who owns our favorite in Togo comes from there and highly recommended a visit. The old ramparts with more colorful gardens were a delight to explore. 

On our way back from Vannes, we stopped at a little town on a hill. It was called Rochefort-en-Terre, and it was perhaps our favorite spot in all of France! The buildings were all old stone structures with cobblestone streets and flowers flowing everywhere!

To end our trip, we settled down for a few days in Albertville. This city could have been my home back in 2012 while I was studying French. Most of my colleagues studied at a school here, which teaches missionaries working in French-speaking parts of the world. I opted to study French in Lomé, the capital of Togo, instead. I sure missed out on some beautiful scenery and culture, but I still think it was the right decision for me. 

Not far from Albertville is the lake-side town of Annecy. We explored it with some French friends who volunteer in Togo from time to time. 

My travel companion studied French in Albertville, and was able to reconnect with her former language helper. We went exploring in the mountains together, including this deep blue lake high (really high!) in the mountains, called Lac de Roseland. 

Whew, that was quite a tour of so many beautiful spots in Europe! I hope you enjoyed this glimpse of it. It was stunning to experience all these new places, but I’ll admit I was ready to settle back down at home in Togo be done with traveling for a while.

Spring Beauty

Spring Beauties in Indianapolis-some of the first flowers to pop up as the weather warms up.

Springtime: what a beautiful phenomenon. For the last five years, I have enjoyed the way the African savanna transforms from hot, dry, and brown into many beautiful shades of green each May and June. However, it’s not the same as spring in a temperate climate. It’s when the cold and snow of winter melts away, when the first brave flowers poke up from the moist soil and cover the forest floor. When leaves and blooms erupt from the bare tree branches. I loved spring each year when I lived in Ohio full-time, but since this year should be my only chance to savor spring for another five years or so, I enjoyed every moment I could get. It’s a visible picture of the renewal I seek during these months of furlough, when the pace of life and ministry can slow down a little, as I enjoy unhurried closeness with God as I seek His hand for these moments and those coming when I return to Togo, and as I enjoy His beauty through the beauty of His creation blooming around me.

On this last day of spring, please take a moment to enjoy some of the beauty of God’s creation this spring from my point of view. If you get the idea that I love waterfalls, you would be correct, especially since there aren’t many to see in the flat savanna near Mango!

Buttercups growing on the creek shore, near Beavercreek Ohio
A bee pollinating a bloodroot flower, near Cedarville Ohio
Bumblebee on a wild Grape Haycinth flower, near Beavercreek, Ohio
The bright greens of new foliage cover the ravine floor of Conkles Hollow in Hocking Hills, Ohio
Deep in the ravine of Conkles Hollow, this waterfall, well fed by spring rains, adorns a cavern.
These wild columbines brightened the gorge at Old Man’s Cave, also in Hocking Hills
Cedar Falls in Hocking Hills. The spring rains make this the perfect time to see it!
I’ve never visited Ash Cave when it was nearly devoid of visitors. The key is to go near dusk!
During a camping trip with my two sisters, we visited this lovely spot called Alarka Falls in the Smokies
Another short camping trip brought me to Big South Fork in TN, where these mountain laurel flowers collected drops of the mist in a creek.
Ferns and flowers adorn this rock formation, also at at Big South Fork
This last image isn’t necessarily spring-themed, but this bright spoonbill was a delight to observe at a park in Florida.

God’s Creation in Kenya

August presented an opportunity to get out of Mango and explore other parts of Africa. Before a Community Health Evangelism training in Nairobi, my sister and I enjoyed the abundant wildlife in Kenya’s parks. We had quite an enjoyable time seeing God’s beautiful creation in that part of to world. I hope you enjoy these as well!

Kenya’s southern border is close to Mount Kilimanjaro, so we started by heading down to a park within its shadow. It was covered by clouds most of the time, but it became visible just after sunrise for a few minutes

Besides being at the foot of the mountain, there was plenty of water in the park. The elephant and hippo above are actually standing in the shallow water, while the grass floats on top.

Later we headed to a second park called Maasai Mara. This cheetah was one of the first animals we saw while headed into the park; she was digging into a gazelle she had just caught.

Lions were a major theme of our time in Maasai Mara. It was mating season, and the male and female in three of these photos followed one another all over the savanna for a couple of days. When they are in mating mode, they don’t think about food, so the antelope standing right behind them had nothing to fear!

Elephants of all ages! I especially like the babies. The little one on the left kept flapping his ears, showing his displeasure at our presence. He’s so cute when he’s angry! The other baby is suckling.

August is part of the migration season, when wildebeest (also called gnus) come from the Serengeti during the dry season to find food. They cross the Mara river, seen below, which is a difficult and dangerous expedition (between strong currents, crocodiles and lions who take advantage of them). They weren’t crossing the day we were there but we waited patiently for hours for a herd to do so! Other interesting wildlife lives along the river, such as the Egyptian geese and hippos below.

From the top, in case you don’t know all of these animals: Cheetah, Eland (the largest antelope in the world), Thompson Gazelle (who in contrast are pretty small), Ostrich, Warthog, Water Buffalo, and Zebra.

Besides safariing, we spent a couple of days in the highland mountains, visiting a large mission hospital there. The high mountains with their cool climate are perfect for growing tea, which is enjoyed multiple times a day by most Kenyans, and the waterfall is not only beautiful but also provides hydroelectric power for the hospital.

I hope you have enjoyed this little tour of Kenya!

For the Birds

The more I pay attention to God’s creation around me here in Mango, the more I notice the wide variety of strikingly beautiful birds He has put here for our enjoyment. So I hope you enjoy these as much as I did!

Here are two of the many types of bee-eaters that live in Togo. 
It would seem that bee-eaters don’t only eat bees, since this multi-colored fellow seems to think grasshoppers are delicious as well.

Kingfishers are fascinating to watch, as they hover in place and when they spot a fish the dive into the water and quickly emerge again to try again until they catch their prey.

Here’s another, more colorful, kingfisher.
Hornbills are one of the most common birds you’ll see out in the bush here.
Abyssinian Rollers are another common, although uncommonly beautiful, bird in our area.
This time of year, weavers are starting to build their nests, sometimes dozens in a single tree.
Cattle are everywhere around here, and where there are cattle, there are sure to be birds looking for a snack of bugs on their backs, like these oxpeckers. 
If you keep your eyes and ears open, you might see one of these large green parakeets streaking across the sky.

Consider the Birds

There are so many species of birds all around my home in Mango, Togo. Whether they are vividly colored or more camouflaged, our heavenly Father cares for them all! Here is a sampling of the variety I discovered while walking around the hospital property one morning.

Birds at HOH 54

These weavers are in their nesting season, and they have chosen the trees planted right outside the clinic to build dozens of nests. It brings a bit of joy into my work day to hear and see them flying about.

Birds at HOH 108


This vibrant scarlet bird is called a red bishop, and is a pretty common sight around the compound.


A Senegal Wood-Hoopoe

Birds at HOH 48

Birds at HOH 78


The male Pin-tailed Whydah seems to bounce through the sky. It can’t be easy to fly with such a long tail dragging behind! 



Birds at HOH 14

The black birds often hangs around, or more often on, the livestock. This sheep has quite a lot of patience to tolerate five birds jumping about on its back!

Birds at HOH 69

Family Photo: Male, female and juvenile of the same species (don’t know what species though)

Birds at HOH 95

African Wattled Lapwing


And, on a different day, a visit to a pond provides opportunities to see some different species:

Lily Pond 30-blue birds

A pair of Senegal kingfishers

The ducks that we see commonly, the white-faced whistling duck, actually whistle instead of quacking while they fly. Ducks 4

And while I was down by the water, I went to check out our local hippos. Granted, these are definitely not birds, but they were more active than I’ve ever seen them and can’t resist including a few shots.

Hippos 6.2020 24The family is on the move!

Hippos 6.2020 54-fightUsually they are standing around doing nothing, but sometimes a little spat arises.

Hippos 6.2020 36People fish in this pond, fearlessly walking right past the most dangerous mammal in Africa!


A friend accompanied me on cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Marseille, France, which was intended as a fun alternative to flying over the ocean, and to give a break between furlough and returning to Togo. The cruise turned out to be a nearly complete disaster, thanks to Coronavirus, a grand misadventure which I’ve described in my latest update (feel free to contact me if you didn’t get it!), but that doesn’t mean there weren’t a few beautiful views of God’s creation along the way!

San Juan 6-Fort San Juan, Puerto Rico, which turned out to be our one and only opportunity to get off the ship to enjoy the scenery.

Puerto Rico Rainforest 2Puerto Rico Rainforest 35-riverPuerto Rico Rainforest 43-red flower

The beauty of the rainforest in Puerto Rico

Sea Trek 50Sea Trek 10I took a hike under the surface to enjoy God’s creativity in the aquatic world.

Cruise-Rainbow 5Cruise-Sunrays 4

Some beautiful skies over the ocean to remind me that God keeps His promises! In the bottom image, the sun’s rays spoke of His light and hope in a dark situation (we were quarantined in our cabins at the time).

Changing Seasons

In early October, I found myself traveling from Togo’s hot climate to the US for furlough. Surprisingly, the weather in Georgia, where I started my furlough travels, was unseasonably hot, not unlike the temperatures I had left in Togo.

Sunset Rock-View 3

View from Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, while enjoying a hike with my two sisters

Over the next month and a half, as I made my way north, the warm temperatures quickly cooled, and I enjoyed watching the colors changing, which is a completely foreign concept in the savannas around Mango.

Blue Ridge Parkway-pond-peaks of otter 2

Blue Ridge Parkway-AT view 2

Views along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Kensington 32-cattails and fall colorsFall colors-Ceasar Creek 8-trees and lake

Fall colors-Bill Yeck 22-leaves in water-reflection

By the time I arrived in Ohio, and later Michigan, the colors were spectacular. 

The fall colors hadn’t quite disappeared when a surprise snowstorm came to Ohio in mid-November. I braved the frigid temperatures to enjoy the snow-blanketed landscape the next day.


Thus, in just 1 ½ months, summer, fall, and winter transitioned one to the other so quickly that my body has been shocked, as I now sit cuddled under a blanket while writing this post. My life as a missionary on furlough feels like it transitions even faster from vastly different cultures and ministries between Togo one day, and in the US for furlough the next.

Savoring Southern Africa Sights

Missionaries from across West Africa traveled to South Africa for an encouraging and refreshing conference last week. Three friends, Sharon, Judy, and Annette, and I decided to take advantage of the occasion to savor the spectacular Victoria Falls and a safari in Botswana before the conference, which was in picturesque Cape Town. God provided some amazing sightings of a wide variety of animals and beautiful sights during those memorable days! I love seeing God’s majesty and creativity in the things He has created! Just as fun was photographing it all, as I had gotten a new long lens just for this trip and learned a lot from my pro-photographer colleague, Judy.

Our adventures began in Victoria Falls. We enjoyed the beauty of the worlds largest waterfall from the air and from the ground. Fun fact: The local tribe’s name for the falls means “The Smoke That Thunders” because of the continual mist that fills the roaring waterfall and creates a constant rain, along with rainbows, along the falls.



Our safari started right on the hotel grounds, where monkeys played in the trees and baboons, warthogs, and even elephants wandered around the town.


From there it was on to Botswana!

We have hippos in Mango, but I’ve never seen them so close up! DSC_5382

Often found near water, these antelope called red lechwe ran like the wind and leapt unbelievably high in the air over the water.



Giraffes often dotted the landscape as we toured the bush.



Zebra were also plentiful. One day we stopped at a water hole and multiple dazzles of zebra showed up over at least a half hour. Even our guide was excited about seeing so many of them! Hundreds of animals just kept on coming, each group taking turns to drink and run or even fight in the water. DSC_2929


From the deck of our second camp, we could watch huge herds of elephants passing by. This one included a baby elephant that was likely less than two weeks old.


This young elephant is “putting on sunscreen,” as our guide liked to say.


The warthog is one of “The Ugly 5” (a list that’s a spin-off on the Big 5). But I think they’re kind of cute and so funny when they run!


Wildebeest are another of the Ugly 5. We actually saw all 5 on the list (the others are the hyena, marabou stork, and vulture).


We spotted (pun intended) this leopard crossing the road and followed him for a while. He was hunting impala and was trying to sneak around unseen.


Impala, a.k.a. lion snacks, gathering in the shade of a tree during a hotter time of day.


We saw many lions during our drives. This one was part of a pride of 7 or 8, including several adolescents. We watched the whole group playing in the grass just before sunset on our first day. It surprised me that we could drive up right next to lions in our open vehicle and they would not bother us. Apparently, they do not see six very vulnerable individual humans in a vehicle, but instead they see a large vehicle as one “animal” and think it’s too big for them to attack.


Later on, we came across this majestic male lion hunting a herd of cape buffalo. Three times he started racing after the beasts, but he couldn’t made a kill.


These are the cape buffalo our lion friend had his eye on. They were very aware of his presence and stayed alert but were a little stuck between him and a swamp.


This beautiful antelope is called a kudu. Each twist of his horns grows over two years, so this guy is six years old.


We came across this pack of wild dogs running along the road. They have intriguing markings and big round ears.


Each evening after sunset we would search for nocturnal animals as we made our way back to camp. One evening we spotted this, an animal I didn’t know existed until then. It’s called an aardwolf, and it is such a rare animal that the last time our guide saw one was 15 years ago.


This guy is called an eagle owl, which is the biggest owl in Africa.


There were so many beautiful birds along the way, but I won’t bore you with pictures of all of them. The multi-colored bird on the left is the Lilac-Breasted Roller, and they were so plentiful we just started calling them LBR’s for short. The one on the right is a bee-eater. Birds

This is a red-billed hornbill. They were also very common, so we started calling them flying chili peppers!


Small wonders: a butterfly on a pretty flower.


We prayed for days to see a cheetah, but up until our last 24 hours it seemed like God wasn’t going to answer that prayer. Then we came across three of them on our last evening, a mom with two adolescents! The next day we saw the family again! They were searching for a meal but didn’t get close enough to an impala to make a run for one. Not 30 minutes later we stumbled upon three adolescent cheetahs laying on the side of the road!



From Botswana, we headed to Cape Town to join up with all the other ABWE missionaries from West Africa. This was the view from our hotel as we enjoyed time fellowshipping together away from our usual work, and growing in God’s Word.


We enjoyed opportunities during the week to get away together and enjoy God’s creation. A friend and I climbed up Table Mountain while our other colleagues took the easy way (cable cars). In this view from the top, you can see Cape Point off in the distance.


And this is Cape Point close-up.


Some of my friends and colleagues at Cape Point.


Just because we had left Botswana doesn’t mean we were done seeing animals! A short boat ride brought us to hundreds of seals sunning themselves and swimming on an island just off the coast.


South Africa is home to a large penguin colony, and we got to watch these cute birds waddling and swimming at the beach.



Spectacular Southern Scenery

The region around Tsiko, home of the southern hospital, HBB, is filled with jaw-dropping beauty! While taking some time away from Mango, I love seeing evidence of God’s creative hand as I enjoy His creation.

Most mornings around sunrise, I take a hike up the mountain just beside the hospital. The sunrises and views often interrupt my exercise with their beauty!

Sunrise-valley-from Tsiko mountain 2Tree-valley from Tsiko mountain at sunrise 1

The mountains are sprinkled with bright red flowers this time of year.

Red trumpet flowers Tsiko 15-mountain background

Another thing we don’t have in Mango is waterfalls, so I enjoy seeing them when I am in the south. This small waterfall is a short, easy walk from the hospital.

Small waterfall behind HBB 13-lower

And this waterfall, the tallest in Togo, required a treacherous ride down a deteriorating road followed by an hour and a half hike up and then down a mountain. It was a great Saturday trip with a couple of friends!

Wli waterfall-bottom of falls-grass 2

Here’s a view of the top of that waterfall as we descended the mountain towards the base:

Wli waterfall hike-Top of falls from path 5

The mountain views from this hike were equally spectacular!

Wli waterfall hike-Mountains from path 1

Rainy Season in Mango

Rainy season is my favorite time of year! For June, July, and August, the temperatures are usually quite comfortable (for Mango anyway), and the landscape turns a brilliant green.

I just love the way dew drops cling to the grass!


These grasshoppers are so pretty, I always think God was working His creative skills with a fine-tipped paintbrush when He created these guys!


Big beautiful baobab trees come in all kinds of twisted shapes!


It took wading through a thigh-high overflowing creek with our bikes to get to this long lake out in the bush.


This is the closest thing you’ll find to a forest around Mango. Elsewhere they are cutting trees faster than they can grow but these trees are protected.