MIAMI COUNTY — Russ Lawson has been a prolific writer for most of his career in the ministry. After growing up in Miami County, doing missionary work in Africa for six years, and serving as minister in communities across the country, Lawson has returned to Ohio. He’s authored a series of books, including collections of devotional tales, and serves as a regular columnist for The Daily Advocate. Lawson’s latest book, “Living the Dream: Our Life and Adventures in Africa,” was released earlier this year.
Lawson’s decision to go to Africa came about as a result of a conversation he had with his wife, Melody.
“My wife and I had been married for about 20 years, and she asked me one of those wife questions: ‘What are you going to do after I’m gone? Will you get remarried?’” Lawson said. “And I told her, ‘Well, I’ll probably go and be a missionary in Africa.’ And she said, ‘I’ve always wanted to do that, too.’ So at that point we both thought to ourselves, why are we waiting?”
Within two weeks, Lawson and his wife found an organization, the Church of Christ in Livonia, Michigan, that was willing to send the two of them overseas. In fact, the church had been looking for missionaries to send there for two years.
“They sent us out on a survey trip first,” Lawson said. “We spent about two weeks in Cameroon and four in Kenya, spending time with missionaries that were already there, just to see if we could get along in that environment. In the end we decided this was definitely what we needed to be doing.”
Before leaving for Africa, the Lawsons sold most of their worldly possessions and told the church where Lawson was currently serving about their plans. In addition, Lawson and his wife had military-style dog tags made, bearing their names, social security numbers, and other identifying information, in the event that something unfortunate should befall them while they were away.
“You have to go into it with the mindset that you might not return,” Lawson said. “So of course thoughts like that gave us a bit of pause.”
Once they were there, however, Lawson and his wife found the experience to be extremely rewarding. They worked with inhabitants of slums and poverty-stricken rural communities, teaching them basic skills such as reading, how to prepare healthy food, and how to purify water for cooking and other purposes.
“We worked in a lot of villages, places that didn’t even have roads most of the time. Places where they’d never seen a white man,” Lawson said. “We also worked in two large slums in the city where we were living, dealing with just extreme, extreme poverty, disease, and so on.”
The city of Kisumu in Kenya, where the Lawsons spent the better part of six years, was a big adjustment from having lived in communities across the United States, however.
“My wife always likens it to going into an Old Western town,” Lawson said. “We had electricity and telephone service sporadically, but you never knew when they would be working and when they wouldn’t. Sometimes we had running water and sometimes we didn’t, so we had to collect it during times when it was working so we’d have it during times when it wasn’t.”
Afterwards, returning home was an equally huge shock, according to Lawson.
“You wouldn’t think there’d be a big adjustment going back to America, because you’ve been there most of your life,” Lawson said. “But you have to learn to drive on the right side of the road again. And the grocery store we had in Kenya had one shelf of canned goods, maybe four cans of tomatoes and three cans of peas, and if you wanted peas you’d better get them today, because they might not have them tomorrow! Then we came back and walked into a Meijer for the first time, and we were overwhelmed. We just stood there staring until the manager came up to us and asked if we needed help.”
Overall, Lawson said, the most rewarding aspect of his time in Africa has been friendships that continue to flourish to this day.
“The most rewarding part was building relationships with people we were working with out there,” Lawson said. “There was no internet there at the time, no cell phones. Then, when we went back in 2004, they had internet cafes and everything. Today I get Facebook posts from people we worked with there!”
Lawson’s book is available in print and electronic form on Amazon.com.