Natchez woman finds family in missions

Published 12:01 am Saturday, March 22, 2008

NATCHEZ — A desire to take a mission trip led to several sojourns to Liberia, where eventually Nelda Thomas gained a husband and a daughter.

In 2001, Thomas was living in Wisconsin when she first looked in to going on a mission trip. Her two daughters were grown and gone and she wanted to do something new.

She wanted to go for three months and in her research, found that it would be relatively costly. She needed to find a way to finance the trip, so she signed up with an employment agency to get a job to make enough money.

Email newsletter signup

Thomas, a physical therapist, ended up getting a job in Natchez.

She met her current husband, Charlie, while she was working and found out he had been on a mission trip to Africa.

“That prompted our interest in each other,” Thomas said.

Thomas earned enough money to go on the mission trip and soon arrived in Ganta, Liberia to help with an orthopedic workshop.

The war-torn country had an array of injured people, some of which required artificial limbs. Although that was being taken care of through orthopedists, there wasn’t a physical therapist to rehabilitate the amputees.

“I knew that it would be a place where the need was great, so I thought that’s the place,” Thomas said. “Although, I expect the Lord had a lot to do with it.”

While in Ganta, Thomas met and bonded with Yei, the girl they eventually adopted at age 14. They grew to be closer with each visit Thomas made in the years to come.

Thomas, who married Charlie in 2001, returned with her husband in 2002 and 2004. It was in 2004 when Yei asked Thomas if she would take her back to the states.

Thomas was touched by Yei’s question, but was uncertain that it could be done. But when Charlie asked Thomas on the way home if she would like to bring Yei home, that’s when the idea was really set in motion.

They discussed it for two months before beginning the adoption process. In 2005, Thomas went to Ganta and came back with a daughter.

Yei is being educated in the Natchez public school system and goes to youth group at Jefferson Street United Methodist Church.

“Youth group has been a blessing for her,” Thomas said.

She enjoys the food in America, but continued on to list many other things.

“I like it when I travel to (other) states,” Yei said.

Indeed, Yei has become quite a cross country traveler since coming to America. In her room hangs a map of the United States, and on each state that Yei has visited or traveled through, there is a sticker.

Like any other teenager, Yei, who’s turning 17 today, enjoys dancing, music, movies and television, and even laments Natchez’s lack of activities for teenagers.

“There’s not much variety of things to do, like roller coasters,” Yei said.

Thomas is planning another mission trip for this year. She doesn’t have an exact date, but knows it will be in July. She encouraged people to look into participating.

Jefferson United Methodist has invited the Rev. Herbert Zigvou, superintendent of the United Methodist Mission Complex in Ganta, to come to Natchez. The church raised the funds to bring him over.

He will speak at Rotary at noon and the church at 6 p.m. on March 26.