From a 3-year mission and a decade of recollection, a bookPublished 12:07pm Friday, March 1, 2013
Former Pacelli principal, wife spent 3 years in west Africa
Sixteen years after he and his wife left to live in Africa, Terry Nelsen published his first book about the challenge of living and serving in some of the world’s toughest conditions.
The book, “West African Predicament,” summarizes the mission work Terry and his wife, Connie, undertook in a remote village in Ghana, Africa, from 1997 to 2000 and then goes a step further. Terry included every journal entry his wife wrote from the day they left the country on July 17, 1997.
“We did a lot of work in some very remote villages,” Terry said.
After training with the Comboni Lay Missionary Program in Chicago for six months and spending a few short days in Italy, the Nelsens flew into Africa and went to the remote village of Abor. For 1,020 days, they never looked back, struggling with tropical diseases, severe poverty, strenuous living conditions, language barriers and a cultural divide.
“We were totally out of our league culturally,” Terry said.
So why do it? Terry sums it up with one word in his book: “Faith.”
Terry, the Pacelli High School principal from 1988 to 1996, and Connie, a psychiatric nurse at the Austin hospital, wanted to give something back to the world.
“I think it really did change our lives,” Connie said. “We learned so much of what’s important.”
The couple researched plenty of missions and settled on this one. For three years, Africa tested them every day.
“Any weaknesses you have become apparent almost immediately,” Terry said, who added it didn’t take long to start missing home. Had Connie not been there, he likely wouldn’t have fulfilled the three-year mission agreement. When Terry was down, Connie was healthy, and vice versa. It was like that constantly, he said.
“Dysentery, malaria, typhoid fever, which if you’re going to live there, you’re going to get,” Terry said.
They seldom had electricity, and when they took showers, eyes and mouths stayed shut.
For three years, the Nelsens helped the Abor locals and other villages with medical needs, dug wells, remodeled hospitals, started feeding programs and more.
“She did all the work,” Terry joked about his time in Ghana with his wife. “And I passed out the vitamins.”
Though they grew close to the people, the Nelsens were ready to come home on May 3, 2000. They fulfilled their commitment. Still, the Nelsens went back to Ghana from 2001 to 2002 to help inner-city children. They have even adopted a daughter, Josephine, who is now 16.
Then Terry wrote the book. He waited for more than a decade, though.
“I’ve thought about writing it for 10 years,” he said.
In April 2012, Terry finally began compiling material along with his wife’s journal entries.
“The more involved I got, the easier it was,” Terry said.
The book is a day-by-day account with overviews of significant times and issues. Connie sees it as a way to also recognize the efforts of all the people who helped them along the way. Furthermore, Terry’s second book is in the works and may be available by fall.
“West African Predicament” is available on amazon.com, Kindle or directly from Terry.
Those who want to know more about Terry and Connie’s grueling mission work and the book will soon get their chance, too. Terry will hold a program at 1:30 p.m. March 30 at the Austin Public Library with a film and a book signing afterward.