Madison to Africa with love
With her heels dug deep in faith, it’s hard to drag Ms. Jani out of Africa.
Feasting on candy canes in June is no surprise to a girl who follows her husband to Ethiopia. Just ask Janice Connelly who has lived and worked in Africa beside husband John for the last 21 years.
At Christmas a few years ago, some local women prepared a care package bound for Ethiopia. The box contained scented soap, exercise clothes, Jelly Belly Sport Beans and candy canes. Janice had mentioned missing the red-and-white swirled candy in an e-mail. Once in the post to Africa, the box travelled around the world and made it to Janice just in time for her birthday – the following June.
No stranger to lost candy or living far from the comforts of home, Janice first traveled to Liberia with John in 1989. They left as missionaries along with their first child, Josiah, who was one year old. Back then, it took two weeks to correspond to the United States by letter. In the last 21 years, they have lived in Liberia, the Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone. Evacuations, life events and career changes have offered opportunity to travel back to Madison and see Janice parents, Fran and Gil Busenitz, family and friends.
Recently I had the pleasure of chatting with her in Madison. She was home on an eight-week visit from Africa where John is Country Director for Food for the Hungry Ethiopia, a Christian non-government organization (NGO). They live in Addis Ababa, the country’s capital and largest city with their two youngest boys, Kit, a high school senor and Nic, a freshman. The rest of the family is spread around the globe with their oldest son, Josiah, in the Navy on the USS Washington based in Japan. Son Jacob is starting his junior year at Young Harris.
Last fall after Kit and Nic returned to school, Janice saw an advertisement for a native English speaker for a local kindergarten at a grocery store. “I thought that’s probably just like what Senor Rodriguez does,” referring to Mr. Rodriquez, Spanish teacher at Morgan County Primary School. The position required teaching basic things like colors, numbers and months of the year.
Once hired, she taught three levels of children ranging in ages from three to six years. She drilled her young charges in phonics and RCL (reading, comprehension and listening) in English and their native language Amheric which has 300 characters “These children, being so little, are at such an advantage. I could tell they were picking it up.”
“I really appreciated all the things I learned teaching as a parapro with Pansy Paxson and Kathy Moorhead,” Janice recalled. She even incorporated the Animated Alphabet into her lessons with students.
Last spring on a field trip, Janice brought along her camera. Photography has been a love of hers since receiving a Brownie Instamatic from her parents. Seeing the resulting pictures by e-mail a few months ago, I was transfixed by the beauty of the children, the bustling urban landscape, the mountains and the bright blue of the local taxis. During our chat, I wondered about the differences of life there and here. The kinds of things she can’t express through a camera’s eye. After thinking a moment she said, “Life there is so transient. You make friends and then the next year they leave. The next year you make friends and then you are the ones that leave.”
That’s what makes visits to Madison special. “Here you have a great group of people who are always here when you come back – which is nice.” But giving of oneself is not without hardship. “Leaving is the hardest part. Even though I’ve done it so many times, the moment that you go – knowing it will be so long before you see family and friends again – is very difficult.”
Her faith sees her through when the unexplainable occurs. “Living in another culture, there are times when something happens and there is nothing I can do. I just have to trust God knowing He is in control.” She added, “Even though there is so much I don’t understand, it’s special to share our faith and know that God loves each of us even though we are so different.”
Seeing the peace reflected in Janice’s countenance, I remembered an Atlanta friend many years ago. She enthusiastically followed her husband’s dream to Ghana, Africa, leaving all she knew to raise her family in a remote spot of the country. After witnessing her disappearance off the face of the earth, whenever my husband did anything crazy I would think – well, at least he didn’t drag me to Africa.
Looking into the faces of those Ethiopian school children, I strangely felt envious of another friend who lived half a world away. One who knew the joy of bonding with a child in a completely different culture and of adventure found just stepping out the doorway. A woman intimate with excited, love-filled cries of “Ms. Jani, Ms, Jani” in Amheric-tinged tongue.
Janice said her theme this past year has been contentment. “God put me here and has given me so many blessings.” She added, “My contentment is a form of worship to Him.”
After our conversation, I can’t say I’d be very content living so far from family and friends. Or ever be satisfied with 6-month-old stick candy. But by relinquishing ease and comfort, I began to understand how one might gain a whole bunch more. How following a life’s call grounded deep in faith might cause the world to fling open wide.
Sounds highly improbable, I know. But there’s proof. It’s found brilliantly displayed through the life and lens of Janice Connelly.
Printed in the 9-9-10 edition