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Roxane B. Salonen, Published January 17 2014

Faith Conversations: Faith abroad: Women warmed, body and soul, in Nigeria mission

Fargo -- As the 30th birthday of Danielle “Danie” Remmick approached, she and her friend and co-worker, Dawn Endres, began dreaming and scheming.

The more the Fargo mothers talked, the more energized they became by the thought of celebrating in a sunny place with warm, sandy beaches. So they turned to the Internet for help.

“We were Googling ‘swimming with dolphins in Hawaii,’ thinking, ‘Can we really do that?’ ” says Remmick.

Endres was with her, at least on the surface. But underneath, another thought was spinning – a longtime dream to go on a mission trip to Africa.

Endres’ friend from church, Bonnie Boehning of Moorhead, had done mission trips before and had tried convincing Endres to join her.

“Danie and I kind of had a plan, but then I said, ‘How about Nigeria instead?’ ” Endres says.

After realizing she wasn’t joking, Remmick got excited.

“I thought about it and realized, ‘This feels in my soul so much better than being a tourist and going on vacation,’ ” she recalls. “It just felt right for us to do this as friends together.”

Within a short time, with Boehning at the helm, a plan was put in place, and by November the three women, along with several others from the mission organization, WillGo Inc., were at the airport in Minneapolis bound for Nigeria.

Remmick, a native of tiny Argyle, Minn., had only been on a plane one other time before when she and her husband, Jamie, went to Florida for their honeymoon.

“I had a little bit of worry in my heart,” says Remmick, mother of 4-year-old Eve. “But what we were going to partake in was something I knew was so much greater. This was a right turn in my life’s path, so I knew it was going to be OK.”

A different world

The minute they stepped onto African soil, they knew they were no longer in North Dakota.

“It was like a sauna,” Remmick says. “You sweat instantly.”

Remmick also recalls the frightening traffic with roads and vehicles that didn’t seem to have any logical pattern.

When they arrived at the village of Owode in central Nigeria, they were in awe.

“The whole village was standing at their doors, clapping and singing and welcoming us,” Remmick says. “Everybody wanted to touch our hair and skin and be close to us.”

Endres mentioned how much she loved their hair, and by the next day, she and Remmick were surrounded by four villagers each, who, with a mix of synthetic hair and braiding, transformed their new friends’ blonde hair into a “weave.”

“It was very heavy and hot, but it was beautiful,” Remmick says, noting that their new hair gained them quick acceptance.

“They said, ‘You’re an African woman now,’ ” she explains. “I think they could relate to us more when we looked more like them in a sense, and it gave us a conversation piece.”

“It was so interesting,” Boehning says, “because they’d take your hand and rub your skin, like they were trying to get the white off.”

“They said it was a blessing to be visited,” Remmick adds, noting that they were the first Caucasians to visit the village.

More than skin deep

With the introductions complete, the crux of their mission could begin. The villagers had smiles, love and shelter to offer, and the visitors had smiles, supplies and knowledge.

“They wanted to be taught,” Boehning says, so the visitors offered a Bible school for the children, a women’s faith conference and a session for married couples, to whom they showed the film, “Fireproof,” using a solar-charged viewing system.

Toy cars crafted by Ken Peterson of Lake Park, Minn., with scripture verses were given to the children, who gleefully received them.

The group also traveled beyond the village to more remote areas of the region, led by an African pastor, “Pastor John,” considered a king by his people. The pastor makes a monthly trip to the area, Boehning explains, sleeping in a field or car, bringing resources to help the people survive.

The adventure involved driving four hours on a poorly maintained gravel road and through fields, at about 3 mph, beeping at cows along the way, Remmick says.

Upon their arrival, they saw a woman crawling on the ground with flip-flops on her hands to help preserve her worn extremities. Born disabled, she’d never walked upright and relied on her children to help with daily tasks.

But the visitors had come prepared with a wheelchair. “Nobody there had ever seen a wheelchair before, but she knew just what to do,” Remmick says. “She climbed right up on it, put her hands on the wheels and started going.”

The children were just as excited as she was, and began laughing and talking very fast, she adds. “One of her daughters stood behind her and pushed her, and toward the end of our time there, she had a bowl of rice on her head and was wheeling herself home.”

They also met a young boy, Daniel, born blind. His mother shared in a prayer circle that more than anything, she wanted her son to be able to see.

“I had a nice conversation with her about how whether he can see or not, he can still be a child of God,” Remmick says, “and he can be a testament to God’s glory and honor, because he was created by God.”

Mission complete

Back at the Anne Carlsen Center in Fargo, Remmick’s and Endres’ office mates were rooting for their friends in a land far away.

Though the mission wasn’t company-sponsored, co-workers had been generous in donations, Remmick says, and there was a synchronicity with their everyday work here and their work in Africa.

“Seeing that woman being able to take care of herself and not rely solely on her children – that was a picture of independence,” she says. “And our mission at Anne Carlsen is that independence is a gift for all.”

While not overtly promoting faith, Anne Carlsen has faith at its base, Remmick says, shown through filling people with hope – like Daniel’s mother – and helping them see their disability in perspective.

But that same mission was reflected back at the light-skinned visitors by the people of Nigeria many times over, she says.

“They didn’t see what they didn’t have. What they see is, ‘I’m alive and I have the people around me that I love, and I’m going to care for them and love them and do what we need today, and nothing is going to hold me back,’” Remmick says. “They embodied Anne Carlsen’s mission way more than we did.”

Enders’ says she was impressed by how the African people worked together and didn’t get stressed or upset when things didn’t go as planned.

“We had so many things that happened that caused delays or whatever and it was never an issue,” she says. “It was like, ‘OK, this came up so we’re going to pray and believe in God and God’s going to take care of the rest,’ and he did.”

Roxane B. Salonen is a freelance writer who lives in Fargo with her husband and five children. If you have a story of faith to share with her, email roxanebsalonen@gmail.com