Chris and Beth Windom and their 10-year-old daughter Anna are about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.
On Wednesday, the Toledo family will pack up what's left of their earthly possessions and board a plane bound for the Republic of the Congo, where they plan to work as missionaries in Pointe-Noir, the second-largest city in the equatorial African nation of 3 million.
"I never dreamed I'd be doing something like this," said Mr. Windom, 47, an electrician by trade.
Beth just smiles.
A registered nurse, Mrs. Windom had been thinking about going into the mission field for years. At first she thought it would be in the Philippines, but she shifted her eye to Africa after meeting Gary and Janice Dickinson, Assemblies of God missionaries to the Congo who were on furlough in Toledo.
"I felt called but I had to stop saying, 'Let's go, let's go!' " Mrs. Windom, 45, said. "It was all me. I had been a single mom and I was used to taking the lead. But I had to let Chris take over."
She said her two adult daughters, Emily and Cara, used to tell her that she couldn't go anywhere until they were out of high school. That's now the case. Ten-year-old Anna, meanwhile, hasn't put any such restrictions on her parents.
"Beth tried to get me excited about being missionaries," Mr. Windom said, "but I prayed about it and didn't feel like it was time for me to go."
His perception began to change about two years ago when daughter Emily spent the summer of 2002 in Pointe-Noir helping the Dickinsons to start churches in the Republic of the Congo - a nation that is more politically stable than its larger neighbor to the east, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In helping Emily prepare for her trip to Pointe-Noir, the Windoms got to know the Dickinsons well and that relationship started Chris thinking about going to the Congo.
Mr. Windom decided to try a short-term mission trip and traveled to Point-Noire for two weeks in the spring of 2003. On his first visit to Africa, he said he experienced an "immediate case of culture shock."
Porters at the chaotic airport were so eager to help the Ameri-
can traveler that they literally fought over who would handle his luggage. The same thing happened at the taxi stand. "Gary [Dickinson] literally had to separate the drivers who were fighting for our business," Mr. Windom said.
In all the chaos, one cab sped away with the carry-on luggage of another minister. Police tracked the culprit to his home, where the driver opened the door wearing the minister's headphones and listening to his portable CD player.
"The judicial system there is not like ours," Mr. Windom said. "The police asked the minister if he wanted them to beat the thief, but he said no, he just wanted his stuff back."
The Windoms are prepared for major lifestyle adjustments.
There is not enough electricity generated in the Congo for everyone, for example, so the utility cuts power to some households for hours while electricity is distributed elsewhere, Mr. Windom said.
Virtually all Americans are considered rich by Congo standards, where workers typically earn between $2.50 and $4 per day. Like most Westerners there, the Windoms plan to hire household help, including a guard and a cook.
One project awaiting them will be teaching Congolese women to sew. Mrs. Dickinson has been collecting pedal-powered sewing machines from U.S. church groups and Mrs. Windom will help teach sewing. She also plans to use her RN training and to help with bookkeeping at the churches.
Mr. Windom will put his electrician skills to work at a dormitory bing built at a Bible school Mr. Dickinson founded in Pointe-Noir, and will work on other church building projects in the region.
He doesn't plan to preach, but isn't ruling anything out.
"I'm doing a lot of things I never thought I'd be doing, so I can't really say," Mr. Windom said with a smile. "I don't know what God wants me to do."
The Windoms made a two-year commiment to the Congo, with financial needs covered by donations from individuals and a cross section of Ohio churches, and may extend their mission work.
Young Anna said she can think of two things about Toledo she will miss the most: "the stores, and the food in the stores."
One of the toughest parts of the job will be leaving family and friends.
Mrs. Windom's parents, Rita and Jerry Dahoney, said they have "mixed emotions."
"Africa is a long way away," Mrs. Dahoney said. "But they're being obedient to the Lord. We had to let them go. We can't stand in their way."
She wiped away a tear.
"Still, it's a joy to know they're doing what they're supposed to be doing."
- David Yonke