Sunday, August 21, 2016

30 Years Ago

I know that most people do a big celebration for their 25th and for their 50th while their 30th anniversary is just kind of another anniversary.  Our kids did a surprise 25th party for us in 2011, just before we returned to Niger after two years in the US.  And who knows where we'll be for our 50th??

We have been involved in one way or another with the International Church here in Niamey for about 29 years. Even when we were in the village, whenever we came to Niamey, that was the church we attended.  And when we left our ministry there, the International Church took on partnering with the church we had started in another little village.  So we thought it was only fitting that we celebrate our 30th anniversary with our church here, even though it's a year that isn't usually a big celebration.

John and I gave the church a sum of money and the ladies planned the party. :)  John did ask a missionary lady to make a special cake and John made a cake to bring as well.  But that's all we had to do.  And I didn't even do anything!

At the end of the service we all went outside for the baptism of a girl who had been in our Bible study last year (the baptism pool is outside).  Then when we came back in and when the service was over, the pastor asked everybody to stay longer.  He asked how many people had been married more than 40 years?  No hands.  35 years?  No hands.  More than 30?  Only the pastor and his wife at I think they decided 33 years.  Wow! Only one couple in the entire church married longer than us!!!  No, we aren't fossils, we just have a really young church.  The pastor who spoke today said he estimates that 80% of the church is young and not married and probably under 30 years old.



He told everybody how we met without revealing who we were, although everybody had pretty much figured it out by then (seeing how we are the only old people in the church and all!).  Then we got called up to the front.  The youngest married couple were called up to pray for us (apparently there's an even more recently married couple, but they weren't there). 

 

They had a gift for us (a vase and silk flowers) and then we cut the cake.  The ladies had done sandwiches, drinks, and a variety of cakes.



Afterwards we were in lots of pictures as the choir members were also taking pictures of the girl who was baptized as she had been in the choir.  The Bible study group were also taking pictures since she'd been in the Bible study.  So we all ended up being in the same pictures.

Later that evening, three young people from the church came to visit us.  The two guys and John jammed with the guitar and piano and we had a good time.  Then one of the guys left and we found out that the other guy and the girl are engaged.  They started asking us some really good questions about the secret to staying married so long.  We had a great evening together and it was a fun way to end the day.

Our anniversary actually wasn't last Sunday.  It was on Tuesday, August 16. 

 

Our favorite restaurant is closed on Tuesday, so we went out for dinner on Monday the 15th.  This is a garden restaurant, though you can eat inside, too.  I had a chicken dish served with a mushroom sauce and noodles and John had a stew with mashed potatoes.  Both were perfect.



So, you may ask, what is our secret to staying married 30 years?  Here's what we told our young friends:
1.  Communication is key.  Talk about everything.
2.  Be fully committed.  Never mention divorce, not even as a joke.  Don't keep divorce open as an option if you're going through a rough patch.  Work through the problems you're having.  Get help if you need to.
3.  Be quick to ask forgiveness and be quick to forgive.
4.  Assume the best of the other.  If they hurt you, assume they didn't do it on purpose.  If they did do it on purpose, work it out immediately.
5.  Don't expect your spouse to meet all your needs.  Only Jesus can do that.



No, we don't have a perfect marriage.  As one friend said, "Did we ever consider divorce?  Never!  Murder? Yes."  Just kidding!!!  Marriage is more hard work than romance and lovey-dovey feelings, and from day one we committed to do the hard work.  Praise God, He has kept us from unfaithfulness to each other, from an abusive relationship, or from coldness in our hearts towards each other.  It's only by His grace that two imperfect people can live together in a relationship of love and respect.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Putting in an Appearance at Camp

As you may or may not know, this summer I covered for the Director while he was on vacation.  There were some challenging moments and some fun moments (this blog is about one of the fun ones), and I survived them all, mostly thanks to your prayers, I'm sure.  I know I grew through the experience, but I'm glad the Director is back now!!  Just a few days before he returned, I attended the closing session of a youth camp as his representative.

This particular youth camp is put on my three different church denominations who work together.  It's a great chance for the churches to pool resources and to share the planning for a rather large annual summer event which can be draining when you do it year after year.  This also gives a greater number of possible speakers to address the youth on all sorts of topics.  Since there are no campgrounds here, there are no extra activities like swimming, boating, or team-building obstacle courses, the camp is really a week of intense Bible teaching.   And, finally, it gives the youth a chance to meet other Christian young people from around the city.  This is a huge encouragement to them as many may be the only Christians in their school or neighborhood.  

I should explain that "youth"  in Niger, by definition, is young adult, not-yet-married, so ages 15-30.  Most who attend are probably in the 18-23 age bracket.  Also, even though the camp is planned by three denominations, there were youth there who represented probably up to 10 different church groups.

When I got there, I had to sit up front with the other "important" people, aka non-campers.  And as soon as I sat down I was told I had the opening prayer.  Yikes!  At least I didn't even have time to get too nervous about it ... and praying in public is easier than speaking in public since you don't have to make eye contact!  



They had a lot of "fanfare", which was a marching band.  I assume this band comes from one of the sponsoring churches, but I don't really know.  But how cool is it that one of the trumpet players is a woman?  I have almost never seen female musicians, other than pianists, here in Niger (I've seen two different girls play the jembe [a type of drum] and there are a few instruments known as women's instruments).  I know she is in all likelihood not Nigerien, but I hope the girls looked at her and thought, "I CAN do things that are not traditionally female to do or that might be unique and radical."



The main leader seemed really good at engaging the youth.  The pastor sitting next to me told me that the leader had been up late every night just making sure everything was taken care of and that all details were in place for the next day.  He did a short session reviewing the week.  He would name a speaker and then ask the youth to say in one or two words what that speaker's message had been about.  So he'd say, "Pastor T____" and they'd chant, "Have faith! have faith! have faith!"  They came to one Pastor's name (I've heard him speak and he's one of my favorite speakers because he dishes up steak and solid food, not milk).  He called out his name and there was silence.  Finally somebody in the back yelled, "Beaucoup!  A lot!"  In other words, there was so much from his message that they couldn't condense it down to one word.



I loved the energy among the youth from enthusiastic singing and dancing to chanting the message themes to teasing each other and laughing together.  You could tell they'd had a great week together.



At the end of the closing ceremony, the church who had been in charge of this year's camp brought in the camp flag and passed it off to the church who will be in charge of planning next year's camp. 

 

They will have a committee made up of members of all the churches, but the main responsibility falls to that church.  They will find a location, choose a theme, make sure there is food and lodging for everybody, etc.  Next year the church we attend will be in charge of planning the camp.  I think it's a great idea for them to take turns like that as it allows the churches to take the main responsibility for planning only one year out of three.  It's really great to see these churches working together and I was glad I got to attend in the Director's place.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

July Reading List

Well, friends, this will be a very short blog post because I read only two books in July, but I'm going to include a third book that I finished off in August.  July was a pretty crazy month, so maybe as things settle down now I'll have time to get back to more reading.


There's nothing like a good novel to read when you're exhausted.  I usually ignore what I call "wanna-be" books, that is ones in which a writer is trying to mimic another writer.  So up to now I've managed to avoid all Jane Austen-ish books.  But, I discovered these two books, Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor and Jane and the Wandering Eye, in our lending library at the office and decided to give them a try.  The idea of both is that Jane Austen herself happens to be on the scene of a crime committed and is involved in solving the murder.  The author, Stephanie Barron, actually does a decent job of accurately portraying life in Edwardian England and makes the character of Jane believable.  There are some annoying things like footnotes explaining historical things and vocabulary that the reader might not understand.  I feel that if you don't know what something means, look it up yourself.  This is a novel, not a dissertation.  I also found that the author had so many characters I was getting confused about who was who.  I also thought they started out a bit slowly, so if you feel the same, keep reading and you'll probably find it gets better.  I enjoyed both of these books, but wasn't crazy about either.  I won't be intentionally looking for the rest of the books in the series.

The other book was called Porridge and Passion by Jonathan Aitken.  Jonathan Aitken was a Member of Parliament in England when he lied under oath in court and ended up serving a prison sentence.  Between the time he lied and the time he was sentenced, he ended up going bankrupt and being divorced.  He also came to know Christ.  He was a committed Christian by the time he went to prison, but it was in prison that he really learned what it meant to be in fellowship with others and to pray with others.  Also as a result of his time in prison, he has since done much work to reform the prison system.  I thought this was an extremely interesting book even though I'd never heard of Jonathan Aitken before.

In May my Kindle just suddenly stopped working.  Apparently the battery just completely gave out.  So I ordered a new one and it came with a friend traveling from the USA on Monday.  

It's nice to have it back and I can now finish some of the books I had started.  I got a fun cover for it, too. 

 

It's a touch-screen, so it's a bit different from my old one.  It also has a light in it, so I can read in bed without having to have the bedside lamp on.  And I can read in the car at night on those long road trips we take during home assignment.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Installation of a Pastor

The year was 1992 when we first moved to the town we called home for the next 16 years.  We were there to do church planting among the Songhai people.  A year or so into our time there, missionaries in the capital city told us about some young men who were from a village near where we lived who had come to Niamey and who had become believers.  They asked if there was any way we could follow up on them.

We did hesitate a bit and prayed about it because our focus was the Songhai people and these men were Gourma.  But when God opens a door of opportunity, even if it isn't a door you were knocking on, you need to walk through it.  It almost sounds silly now, because the goal is to win those who are living and dying without having heard the good news of Jesus Christ, no matter what their ethnic group!  And it turned out, they spoke Songhai amongst themselves as much as Gourmantchema, so it never involved us learning yet another language.


So every week until the time we left, John headed down the road to the next village to have a Bible study with the men who had become believers and with others who soon joined them.  It's not a large village and the group has always been small, but they have been faithful.  We also went for quite awhile on Sunday mornings until a church started in the town where we lived.  We spent Christmas and Easters in with the believers in this little village and later we would bring them into our town for a joint celebration.



They erected their own church building and we helped them in only minor ways with that.  At one point the church roof collapsed and we brought an outreach team from Sahel Academy to help them repair it.  Now one of the walls has fallen in and it's not safe to use any more.  


When we moved to Niamey, we asked our church in Niamey if they could help follow up with the church in this town.  They joined that denomination and our church had a pastor who went up every weekend for three years.  In the meantime, they trained another young man and a few weeks ago we got to go up with others from our church for his installation as pastor.  (I apologize for the quality of some of these pictures, but we were looking into the sun.)


We had some introductory remarks by our missions pastor and then our pastor.  The tall young man who is translating in many of these pictures is somebody John really dsicipled and mentored, truly a spiritual son.)



The church members sang in Gourma.  The Gourmas really know how to sing!


John preached in Songhai on being a shepherd.  


The pastor who came up every weekend for three years gave some remarks to the new pastor and his wife.


The new pastor and his wife came to the front and were given their charge as pastor and then prayed over.



He was given a pastoral Bible in Zarma.  Even though the church members are all Gourma they use the Bible in Zarma, a close dialect of Songhai.


The mayor came up and gave some remarks.  He said that even though he's not a Christian, he appreciates the work that Christians and churches do in Niger and gave some examples.


And then we had food together.  Our church had brought drinks and sandwiches, and the church in the village had made a big meal of rice with a meat sauce.


And, of course, wherever there are a group of people, especially if there is food, the children gather!





John poured so much of his time and his life into this group of believers.  Growing a church is so much like growing your family.  There are times when you are so frustrated with their slow growth.  He literally cried tears and poured buckets of sweat on their behalf.  There was probably some blood shed, too, though not his ... just midnight "ambulance" runs.  And then there are times when he would look at them with parental pride, realizing that they were getting it.  This dedication was one of those times.  All these years later, and even though they struggle still, they are standing firm.  While we didn't personally disciple this pastor, it good to see the group going forward.


Please pray for the pastor.  (If you want to know his name, let me know in an email message.)  He is still young and inexperienced.  He won't earn much salary, if any.  The church members are related and inter-related in complicated ways that have to be considered in inter-personal relationships.  Pray for him to have a vision for the area around their village and to really reach out in evangelistic ways.  Pray that God will use this group to reach the Songhai and other people groups in the area in ways that we never could.


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Books Read in June





I read only two books in June and both of them were novels!    This has been a busy summer for me so I haven't had the mental energy to read more than novels.

So, the first book I read was called Quentins by Maeve Binchey.  Maeve Binchey is an excellent story-teller and she's a prolific author, but I don't read her books that often.  Of the ones I've read, this probably wasn't my favorite.  The basic story line was good, but even that was kind of sad since it was based on an affair the main protagonist was having.  Thankfully Ms. Binchey didn't have steamy sex scenes. The thing that really kind of annoyed me about the book, though, was that there were stories within the story and that kind of annoyed me because it was hard to make the mental switch, reminding myself, "OK, now, different characters, we're not in the main story any more."


The second was called The Garden of Burning Sand by Corban Addison, which I liked a lot more.  I have both good and bad things to say about this book. And whether you end up liking the book or not, it will make you think.

Zoe is a young American lawyer working with a Zambian NGO devoted to combating child sexual assault. She works with a team of Zambians to work for justice for a young girl with Downs Syndrome who has been raped. All evidence points to the rape having been carried out by the son of one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in Zambia. And as the book goes on, the reasons for the rape become more clear.

I liked this book because it was well-written, kept me involved in the story, and showed the complexity of life in Zambia. The love story is tame and thankfully there aren't any steamy sex scenes. Likewise the violence of the rape and the demeaning of women through prostitution is necessarily there, but it's not graphic. This is a book you could let your older teens read.


Some things I didn't like were: 1. A rich American assuming she can save the world. Thankfully this was balanced by the team of extremely competent Zambians she worked with. 2. Painting Africa in very stereotypical ways (but then stereotypes come from frequent observations, so there is perhaps a grain of truth): corrupted powerful people, witchcraft controlling life, more problems than good things happening, westerners as rich, etc. 3. I'm not sure the answer to justice in the world is best provided by western governments.....but at least the author gives you something to think about. How do we get involved without acting like the saviors of the world? 4. The book has some anachronisms, such as I've never heard anybody here in West Africa use the term "SUV". Maybe they do in Southern Africa, but it seemed like an Americanism being used in an African setting. 5. Simplistic solutions to Africa's problems and to America's involvement in those problems. 6. They risk life to get Anna's story and then she never appears in court???

That said, I would still recommend reading this book.
 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Visiting the TIMO team

On July 1st, we got to visit the TIMO team.  We are partnering with AIM to use their program known as TIMO, which stands for Training in Ministry Outreach. It is a program in which a team lives as closely as possible to the group they are trying to reach.  If the target group lives in huts, the TIMO team will probably not live in huts, but will have a style of house that is not unusual in the area and they will live very simply. If the target group lives in a city, the team members will live in housing similar to what their target group lives in (apartments, small houses, etc.) and will probably have appliances (or not if their target group doesn't).  The TIMO teams have focused mainly on rural areas, but are moving into city and more settled areas as well.  In brief, the team lives as closely to the people as possible, follows a missions study curriculum, and immediately gets to practice what they're learning.  It's missions training on location.

I'm serving as the TIMO Program Coordinator and John is the Vernacular Language Learning Coordinator, so when we saw there were some empty seats on one of the planes, we took advantage of it to visit the team on location.  It turns out with our diesel engine Cessna 180's, it's cheaper to fly that far than to take our car and have to pay mileage and gas.  Not to mention it takes a fraction of the time!



I always enjoy seeing things from the air that you normally see from the ground.  Seeing things in toy-size versions always reminds me of my relative insignificance in the grand scheme of things.



Our team has two families, three single ladies, and the team leaders and their family living in close proximity to each other, reaching those who are living and dying without ever having heard the gospel.  They are truly reaching those who live where Christ is least known.

Each unit lives in a very simple house.  They haul in water from a well, just like all their neighbors.  During the rainy season, they have a system set up to collect water from the rain troughs.



They have no refrigerators and only have a one-burner cooker.  One of the units has a solar cooker.  Their houses are small, but adequate and are set up to get a beautiful cross-breeze.  That's a real life-saver as they have no electricity, so therefore no fans or air-conditioners.  Can I remind you that at certain times of the year, 115 degrees is not unusual?  



They all seem to be doing really well.  It took them all awhile to figure out how much longer house-hold chores take to do when you're living "pioneer" style.  Doing laundry by hand especially takes a long time.  Because of the constantly swirling dust, it's hard to keep the houses clean, but you also learn to live with a certain amount of dust. Of course, the house is so small it doesn't take long to clean, either! Learning to cook with only one burner is a challenge, too.  Think of how many meals you cook that require two to three pots or an oven!



Now that they've gotten their daily living routines down, they are all starting to really focus on language learning.  This is language learning without a teacher, so it involves a lot of listening, sign language, and .... frustration.  But if you think about it, it's how kids learn a language, so it's not impossible.  It does take time, though, and it's hard feeling like a one-year old when you've got important things to tell people!



All of the team members mentioned that the best thing about being on the TIMO is their host families, the people among whom they live.  They have opened their hearts and homes to them even though they have no language in common.  They already feel part of their families and are looking forward to building deeper relationships with them.

The team leaders are working really hard to help everybody settle in and to get a routine going of team days, weekends-out, etc.  I think that as everybody becomes more independent the work load will settle down for them, but it's a lot right now.  They are really doing a spectacular job, though.

Our day went so fast and it was already time to head back to the airport.  We realized about then that we probably should have planned an overnight trip!  We still hadn't spent a lot of time with the team leaders, but we got to talk a lot with them on the hour trip back to town.

On the way back we had to fly up really high to get over storm clouds that were building.  We also flew a bit south to go around the storm. 



I felt like my breathing was a bit shallow, but I had no idea until we landed that we had been up 13,200 ft.  It was 48 degrees up there, so the fresh air was really nice!  We saw a second storm off in the distance and even got to see a rainbow from that.





We landed just before the second storm we had seen hit.  



We really only got the edge of it, and didn't get that much rain.  It's been over two weeks since we've had a good rain here in the capital city and we desperately need more soon! 



It was a great day and we were so happy it all worked out for us to go.