WESTMINSTER - For 20 years, Sally Reinecke worked in the heart of Africa, teaching village women ways to improve domestic life.
She, too, was learning -- about the lives and beliefs of the Central Africans -- and shared that knowledge with friends and family to whom she wrote frequently.
In those letters, which have just been published by Westminster United Methodist Church, where Reinecke has been a member since her retirement in 1972, she tells many stories of Africa's people and culture.
One tells how a "dikishi," a talisman used to ward off evil spirits, was found in front of an African Christian's home. The object was inconsistent with his beliefs, and he was questioned about it.
"No, I don't believe in dikishis," he replied. "But someone who comes to my house to steal might."
Reinecke, 80, chuckled over the story, just one that makes note of the differences between Africans who have been converted to Christianity and those who have not.
She tells of the widely practiced African religion of animism, "a belief in spirits which may live in a person or even a thing."
But with the influx of Christian missionaries in the past several decades, some witch doctors are giving up their old practices and beliefs, Reinecke said.
"They're eager to learn about the Bible," Reinecke said. "They have many revival services where the witch doctors come up and confess their sins. They'll come and walk maybe 50 miles to a revival."
Reinecke, whose father, grandfather and great-grandfather were ministers, said she began her missionary work in Africa after she had "a religious experience" at Marble Collegiate Church, in New York.
She had first intended to go to India to help with literacy programs there. But she changed her mind while at the Koinia School in Baltimore, where she was in training for missionary work, when a letter came asking for people who might want to direct a school in the Belgian Congo.
So, in 1951, Reinecke flew to Brussels for a year to learn Congolese history, anthropology, French and a host of other subjects.
"Then I went to direct a home-ec school in the Congo, which taught from third to fifth grades and did that for five years."
With a bachelor's degree in home economics from Western Maryland College, Reinecke was a natural to teach the children, and later the women.
When the Belgian Congo, now Zaire, received its independence from Belgium in 1960, the missionaries were evacuated to Zambia for safety reasons.
In Zambia, she worked with two other missionaries to write books for the home-ec school, then returned to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to teach the women how to care for their homes and families.
"Congo men wanted wives to grow with them and make better homes for them."
The missionaries taught the African women, who were able to take over the teaching of their peers, Reinecke said.
After retiring from teaching in 1972, Reinecke was kept on by the Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church for another six months to give leadership training to women in five African countries.
"It just seemed like home to me," Reinecke said wistfully. "I knew that was where God wanted me to be."
Reinecke is now sharing her experiences in Africa through her book of letters, "Voices from Africa," a 150-page paperback that Westminster United Methodist members helped her put together.
"I'm really surprised they kept the letters for all this period," Reinecke said of those she wrote to. "They gave them (letters) back to me, and one of our members suggested that the church publish it."
Reinecke also lended the church a number of pictures she had taken in Africa for the book.
Printed by Cranberry Press, but pub lished by the church, the book is selling for $9, with all proceeds going to the Lodja Mission School in Zaire.
The church honored Reinecke Sunday for her 20 years of missionary work at both worship services. A reception followed, at which the book was sold and copies autographed by Reinecke.
Although retired, Reinecke remains faithful to the missions field, but in a different way.
"She bakes breads, cookies and cakes every Sunday," said the Rev.
Robert E. Zimmerli, pastor at Westminster UMC. "They're sold, and the money goes to the mission fund. She also bakes the bread for our communion services, which means a lot to us."
Zimmerli called Reinecke a "delightful witness and very loyal and active member," and noted that since joining the church, she has taught Sunday School and been active in the United Methodist Women.
Indeed, Reinecke said she spends all of Fridays and Saturdays baking for the church, to which she has devoted her life.
Other days are spent taking care of her brother, John, who lives with her, or shopping with her sister in Manchester.