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“LAGOS AND THE SUITCASE” – Sally Bruton Vann

Posted on June 4th, 2013.

“From childhood on — something or Someone has called us on a journey of the heart.  It’s a journey full of intimacy, adventure and beauty, but like any fairy tale it is also fraught with more than a little danger.  To ignore this whispered call is to become one of the living dead who carry on their lives divorced from their most intimate selves, their heart,”   “A Sacred Romance”  Brent Curtis and John Eldridge


I am a daughter of missionaries and I grew up in Africa.   Strokes of memory fall from my mind  as I write my story and slowly a painting on a canvas is beginning to appear with colors pale and vibrant.  God uses everything in our lives to help us see and understand HIS heart… if we but listen.

Sally ready for boarding school at age six

I was six years old when I was left in Lagos, Nigeria for a week.  Alone, far away from my parents, the story of “Lagos and the Suitcase” began my personal divine adventure with the Author of my life’s book.  “Lagos & the Suitcase” is one chapter in my story.

“Lagos and the Suitcase”

 The early African sun peaked over the eastern barren hill that bordered our mission compound.  I waved goodbye until the faces of my daddy and mommy disappeared  and the travel worn Chevy chugged up the graveled driveway. Winding onto a narrow two rutted escarpment, we finally intersected to the road to Lagos.

I lived in Dahomey, West Africa in the primitive village of Natitingou.  It was 1950 and the culture of the Somba Tribe had not changed for centuries. Their traditions steeped in voodoo and primitive rites of passage were commonplace to me. The Sombas did not wear clothes although women did wear a skirt of leaves. In 1872, the French colonized Dahomey and when Colonialism faded over the continent of Africa in the 1950’s, Dahomey became the sovereign country of Benin in 1960.

Our house had many windows allowing the breezes of the Sahara to sweep through our living room.  In the evening, light provided by a generator allowed several hours of electricity so my daddy read stories to me of adventure and mystery. The breezes blew the window curtains causing them to tangle and I imagined they brought messages whispered from other far flung places of the world.

The “Smokes” clouds of stinging dust and smoke, from bush fires caused by the hot winds from the Sahara” turned my skin brown. Every evening I bathed in a galvanized tin bathtub with precious water carried on the heads of African men to the cistern outside our bathroom.

The vista from our house looked over a valley where a small creek ran. I fished in the creek, climbed trees and caught tiny vibrant rainbow colored birds in bamboo traps. The fun of being home with my family made the days pass too quickly and soon it was time to return to Hillcrest, a boarding school in the neighboring country of Nigeria.

Arrangements were made for me to ride with fellow missionaries to the port city of Lagos, Nigeria. From there, a small plane would take me to Jos where I was enrolled as a first grader. The dreaded day arrived to say goodbye.

The short rains began early that year making our trek to Lagos extra challenging.  The rain came down like thick slanted sheets and the dirt road quickly became deep thick goo.  The car slipped from side to side and got stuck in mud pits that had once been a road.  African men appeared from the rain forest to help push the car free.  The stars of the Southern Hemisphere blanketed the African night as we arrived in Lagos and checked into the safety of the Sudan Interior Guest House. It was no surprise that I had missed my flight to Jos. There was not another flight for one week.

The torrential rains of the tropics can close roads for months. The missionary family packed their car the next morning. They had no choice but to return to their mission station, leaving me alone with strangers for one week. With a forlorn feeling, I waved goodbye.  Slowly, I turned and walked towards the Sudan Interior Mission Guest House where the caretaker and a few other missionaries were staying.

I was six years old.  Mom and dad were in another country and it would be four months until I would see them again. The convenience of internet or a cell phone in 1950 was unimaginable. Television was unthinkable.  Letters took months to reach family.  Fighting the harsh ache of homesickness, I took a deep breath, lifted my head with determination.  I was on an adventure.

With a lonely heart, but brave face I sat in my designated seat to eat lunch.  What does a six year old say to strange grownups?  Their awkward silence made me uncomfortable.  I’m sure no one wanted the responsibility of a rambunctious, red-headed six-year old for a whole week.

To be continued……


Sally Bruton Vann – 2013

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2 Responses to ““LAGOS AND THE SUITCASE” – Sally Bruton Vann”

  1. Can’t wait to read the next installment.

  2. Sally: Loved your story clips. Looking forward to the next sampling. Is your book released yet? We would like to get a copy when it comes out.

    We are back ‘home’ in Akron (we have our camper parked at Melody/Tom’s house (where we used to live). We’ll spend a few weeks with them before we go back to Florida.
    If we wanted to send a gift for your ministry in Africa, what would the details be ….. I pay bills on the internet and would need to fill in info to the bank for it to be sent to you.

    Love to you both – it was so good to see you. God has been so good to us. We just got home Saturday from our trip – 1 day short of 10 weeks – I drove the whole 9,017 miles … it was in my bucket list wish. I enjoyed doing that so much. So glad we were able to see you guys – thanks for taking time to come see us. Love to you all!

    Lorne and J.R.

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