Touching Down in Togo - a Teen’s First Mission Trip
by Tristan Curl
Hello. I am Tristan Curl and I am 15 years old. I recently returned from my first international mission trip. My mom and I went with a group from Christians for Worldwide Evangelism to Togo, West Africa. It was awesome. Since we’ve been back from Togo, several people have asked me, "What's it like? Weren't you scared?" I can honestly say that I didn’t have a moment of fear and the trip was amazing. Mom and I compared notes and we agree that we loved the landscapes and new ways of doing things in Africa but were even more charmed by the wonderful people we met and seeing the great friends we already knew from Mom’s trip two years prior.
The ABWE missionaries and Togolese national sponsors who assured the prosperity of our CWE mission were truly incredible. I noticed how open and giving they all were. They made me feel comfortable and at home immediately. When Kofi met us at the airport and my Mom said, “Tristan, meet my very first Togolese friend!” as she hugged him and they both smiled from ear to ear, I knew we had no worries. My Togolese big brother, Mensah, and his brother, Samuel, were on the translator team and took us under their wing from day one. Pastor Jeremie, a man my mom had told me to watch in the Evangelists’ room, was on fire with the Gospel. He speaks more languages than I have pairs of soccer shoes—a lot! Mom and I both could not help falling in love with the Togolese children, their parents, and the elders. Mom, being a geriatrician, kept saying “my people” to every African over 80. She is so embarrassing sometimes. Ha Ha! The fabrics are incredibly varied and vibrant, and the sights and smells of Africa will be with us for a lifetime. I will definitely be returning to Africa.
This article is not, however, really about Africa. It's about our American family. It is homage to the people who love us, and the family God has given us through the ministry of CWE. I have to say from the get-go that my reflections center around the men. Ladies, you were wonderful to me and I appreciate every single kindness. You are amazing women of God and it was my privilege to be with you. As a boy growing into being a man, however, having the men of CWE surround me with their mentorship felt a bit like a rite of passage. When we flew from the Portland, Oregon airport in the Pacific Northwest to Atlanta to join up with people from Midwest, Southeast, and all over our country, I wasn’t positive we would all mesh together. My mom knew some of the people, but most of them were not known to me. However, here is the truth: we are family. This became very apparent when we were far away from the shores of the U.S. and it is a gift that I will never forget. This article is the story of how I came to recognize my CWE family. Here’s my story. I hope you enjoy.
What could a 76-year-old neurosurgeon and 15-year-old high school football player have in common?
A 76-year-old neurosurgeon and 15-year-old high school football player, both wearing canary yellow polo shirts, bump into one another at the Delta counter in Atlanta’s Hartfield-Jackson airport... This isn’t the beginning of a joke; it’s the story of my launch into missions surrounded by a loving, kind cloud of witnesses. The neurosurgeon is CWE’s very own Jack Maniscalco on his “too numerous to count” mission trip and the student is me, Tristan Curl, on my very first international evangelism adventure.
The experience of traveling with a group of 22 people who need to stick together through security and customs on three continents in one day is quite the orchestration. (I cannot imagine how much more complicated it would become if we weren’t wearing bright yellow polo shirts). Thankfully, CWE had the wisdom to bestow “duckling” status on us all, so visually distinguishing my fellow missionaries was a breeze. We “waddled and quacked” through Atlanta, Paris, and Lomé seamlessly. I even had a few people ask what CWE means and was able to proudly tell them. Mom shared a Bible pamphlet in French with a woman going from France to Togo for vacation, starting with that woman’s curiosity about our stand-apart flock. At every turn, Dr. Jack was watching out for us and making sure all 22 were counted. After making it through the treacheries of the Atlanta and Paris airports with our loveable gaggle and arriving at Lomé, Togo we journeyed together to the Hopital Baptiste Biblique in Tsiko, Togo West Africa. From that point on, Dr. Jack’s official position was a physician and our devotional leader. I was there as mobile clinic crowd control assistant—but God had a different plan. God made room in the eyeglasses staffing and put me in charge of matching reading glasses in the medical team room.
On our first morning, we awakened to a breakfast granola bars and the promise of a new day. The sense of expectation was a palpable buzz around each person. The courtyard with peaked Middle Eastern style windows and banana trees, intermixed with birds of paradise, began the call for me to notice that we were in a tropical climate—switching from 7 degrees Celsius to 37. The humidity bathed us, even sitting still. Faces dripped with “perspiration.” The adults mingled and started to learn more about each other. I quietly took it all in. I was among doctors, nurses, dentists, business professionals, and many “high-status” people from literally all over the U.S. My mom makes a big deal about being a humble, approachable doctor, but you can’t help but feel the “brain power” in the room when you start to listen to the doctors on this team. These are people of gravity; yet each one went out of their way to make sure I felt welcome.
I was also so impressed with our hosts. The smiles and warm greetings from the Togolese men felt like they were literally welcoming us to their family. To a man, they smiled with their whole face and heartily greeted me just as they did the adults. They laughed openly and made me feel welcome from the very first moment. Soon, we were on our way to the ABWE compound in Tsiko. Just three and a half bumpy hours in the bus and we were there—home sweet home. I could see what my mom loved. I leaned over and said, “Yep, I could live here.” She was pretty happy about that one.
Later that afternoon, my admiration for Dr. Jack deepened during an event they call “pill packing.” This is what the medical team calls it when they are preparing their gear, supplies, and medications for the mobile clinics. It’s a decent amount of work and they let me help. You could tell Dr. Jack had done it at least 3,000 times. While he was gracious to say that people could do it how they saw fit, he knew the best way to do it. I was fascinated as I watched everyone interact.
Dr. Jim Smith was our group leader, guiding the team and working out all of the logistics of the trip. However, from the organization of the clinics to our daily routine of waking, eating, travelling out, then doing mobile clinic, I also saw Dr. Jack tending the group. As the devotional leader, Dr. Jack had a particular investment in the status of the crew. It was my distinct impression that he had been praying for us for a long time prior to the trip and that his prayer cover was substantial. He was also prepared in his devotional messages. The theme couldn’t help but get my full attention because, not only was it led by a respected surgeon, it was anchored on football analogies. My dream come trueJesus and football. The lessons were a mix of motivational speaking and deep Biblical truth. Dr. Jack would get down in a three-point stance and yell, “READY! SET!” at the top of his lungs, then explode a truth bomb on us. The message way dynamite! How could you not jump in?
Complimenting Dr. Smith’s leadership and Dr. Jack’s unabashed enthusiasm were Dr. Terry Schmidt, who was an actual professional football player, quietly doing his dentistry, and John Twining, sharing the Gospel like Billy Graham. John Twining, like me, played high school ball. Don’t tell my mom but being with John in the evangelist room was even better than the medical room. Between John, Mensah, and Pastor Jeremie, if those patients and their families weren’t lit on fire with the Holy Spirit walking in, they could not help but be engulfed in flames as they left. This was a slice of heaven!
The verses that God gifted me while we were in Togo come from Isaiah 41:9-10: “I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
As we were getting ready to leave the ABWE compound on the last day, Dr. Jack shared with me about photography and gave me some advice about equipment. (Definitely working on a Rebel set for my next Christmas present. Thanks, Dr. Jack). As we boarded the bus after stopping at Village of Light, Ion Rotaru (the dentist that worked with Dr. Schmidt) and Dr. Smith had a deep conversation about some health stuff. Something about LDL and fluoride or something. I was a little tired and it was a little over my head, but I loved hearing them talk. I didn’t want to leave. I couldn’t wait to go on another trip with them. No doubt I was blessed to be there. Thank you, God, for CWE.