We came back to tell them we still loved them

GREENFIELD — They always had lemonade at Madam’s house. She hugged them no matter how dirty they were.

She got up in the middle of the night once to give a pint of blood to a man having surgery.

Lee Dillinger muses that these are the things people remembered about the years she spent as a missionary in Ivory Coast — not Bible studies she taught but personal touches bestowed.

Dillinger returned to the area recently as part of an eight-member mission team from Park Chapel Christian Church that traveled to Burkina Faso in February. Though the team turned out to be traveling about a month after a terrorist attack in the West African nation’s capital, its members continued and sought prayers for a safe trip.

Kathy Larson, Dillinger’s daughter, said she didn’t notice evidence of the attack but heard that an annual international music festival took a hit in acts canceled and tourism dollars lost.

The Park Chapel team delivered medical equipment, brought beekeeping supplies, organized a soccer camp and celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Larry Ebert Clinic the church helps support.

Also serving the Ouagadougou area is the Dr. Stephen Dillinger Maternity Center, named for Lee Dillinger’s late husband.

Working at the medical clinic is Dr. Felix Kohol. During his medical training he became friends with the Dillingers, who served for 28 years as missionaries in Ivory Coast. Kohol’s wife, Nema, was the first baby Stephen Dillinger delivered there.

Lee Dillinger said it’s possible to go through one’s life and not ever see what that life accomplished. Knowing that, she was thankful for glimpses into the important work the Kohols are doing and, in a way, what she and Stephen did.

“It was so touching to think we had a part in the discipling of this young girl and the formation of Dr. Felix … to realize how much God was going to be able to use them in the future,” she said.

The celebration drew dignitaries, including U.S. Ambassador Tulinabo Mushingi, who planted one of three trees planted during the celebration. There was doughy futu to eat and a drink made from hibiscus flowers.

After the celebration, most of the Park Chapel team traveled to visit a missionary the church supports in a location they don’t disclose for safety reasons. Dillinger and Larson, however, boarded a plane for Ivory Coast, where they braved a pothole-laden, 12-hour road trip to the area where they used to live.

The church there learned of their coming and planned a celebration complete with choirs. The service was opened up for sharing memories. Lee Dillinger had forgotten about being wakened to give blood until the man who received the blood told his story.

“I used to be kind of the A-positive person on call,” she said.

Those too feeble to make it to the service sent word: come see us. And they did.

One friend from years past hung onto Lee’s hand for a long time. He said during those 28 years they had come to love the Dillingers. Then the couple went back to the United States, and a part of their hearts left, too. You’ve come back, Lee remembers him saying, and that means so much to us.

“That was kind of the theme of our time: we came back to tell them we still loved them and that they were important in our lives,” she said.

Someone came back to her, too, with a story to tell.

She and Kathy were at the airport to leave Ivory Coast. A woman who’d been out of town and had just heard of their visit took a taxi to the airport. As the bags were checked, she told her story. Lee remembered her from the late 1960s.

“She came to Sunday School as a 10-year-old, and she decided to follow the Jesus way,” Lee said. “She was the only person in her family who did.”

The young woman was faithful to that decision in her high school and college years, Lee said, and eventually, her family joined her in it. Today she works for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship with French-speaking students in West Africa.

It was one seed planted, the woman told Lee, but it grew in her family, and now she is the one looking for ways to plant that one seed that will grow.

Lee said it was one of a number of moments on the trip, moments when she saw what had come of her and Stephen’s years in Africa, that made her thankful.

“God just so reaffirmed in our lives that we spent our lives doing what he wanted us to do.”

Author photo
Anne Smith is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at annesmith@greenfieldreporter.com