Missionaries bringing hope to Graniteville
Scott and Tonya Shipes miss a lot of things about Botswana. While serving as missionaries in the African country, they enjoyed working with the friendly residents who treated them like family. They also had fun viewing exotic animals, such as elephants and giraffes, in the wild.
But the Shipeses, who returned to this country in July, don’t regret leaving behind the large caterpillars known as mapone worms, which Botswana’s citizens like to eat.
“The worms are dried out in salt, so when you go to buy them, they are crispy like a potato chips,” Tonya said. “Some people eat them just like that, but other people boil out the salt and then fry them.”
She described the taste of the caterpillars as “not good,” and then added, “They have sort of a liver flavor.”
Said Scott: “It’s not like chicken.”
Visitors to the Shipeses’ Aiken home don’t have to worry about being served mapone worms for dinner. But they will get to see beautiful baskets made out of palm fibers by Botswana’s women and other native crafts brought back to America by the couple.
“It’s bittersweet when you leave all the connections that you’ve made and the people that you’ve come to love,” Tonya said. “But then you realize that there’s work to do here, too.”
The Shipeses are the new directors of the Hope Center, which Christ Central is scheduled to open in Graniteville late this year or early next year.
The 15,000-square-foot building, which is undergoing a major renovation, will have a commercial kitchen, where the culinary arts will be taught. Other job programs and various educational opportunities also will be offered at the Hope Center, and medical, dental and vision clinics will be located there.
“The Hope Center’s name is a good one, because we’ll be bringing some hope to the area through job training,” Tonya said. “Getting a job is the way out of poverty.”
Tonya is a native of Aiken, and Scott grew up in Williston. Scott used to work for Color-Fi, which produces polyester fiber and pellets from recycled plastic fiber waste. When his career took the Shipeses to Sumter, they joined Alice Drive Baptist Church, and Scott went on a couple of mission trips to Botswana.
The plight of the country’s youngsters tugged especially hard at Scott’s heartstrings. Many were orphans in a land where the rate of HIV is high and illiteracy is a huge problem.
“Children are seen as a necessity, but they’re not of any value to the culture,” he said.
Scott wanted to become a missionary, working as an advocate for Botswana’s children, and Tonya agreed to join him.
Supported by their church, the Shipeses took their five sons with them to Botswana in August 2010. But their daughter was in college, so she didn’t go to Africa to live full-time.
“God had called Scott 13 years earlier to the ministry, but we had never worked that out; we had just stayed safe,” Tonya said. “I knew Scott was really struggling to decide what he really wanted to do, so when he told me he wanted us to be in the field in Botswana, I said, ‘OK.’”
In Africa, the Shipeses collaborated with churches to set up children’s ministries, and they also worked with leaders and teachers in the public schools to improve education.
Just before completing their three-year commitment overseas, the Shipeses got their positions at the Hope Center through Christ Central’s director, Judy Floyd, who was a mentor to Tonya when she was younger.
“We’ll be reaching out to people and trying to get them going in the right direction, which is basically what we did in Botswana,” Scott said. “Many of the needs are the same.”
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.