Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Our Easter Celebration

When you think about it, Easter should be the most important celebration on the Christian calendar.  We remember Jesus' death and resurrection.  And it was both of those events that changed everything.  Unfortunately, for most of us, Easter is less of a celebration than Christmas, which is also important, of course.  Because if Jesus hadn't come to earth, he couldn't have died and rose again, either!

Every now and then I get nostalgic.  My Great Aunt Jeanette, who was one of my favorite people to ever live, loved holidays and always made them special.  In 2006 we were with her at her house for Easter.  By then she was about 89 years old, but she made sure we all dyed eggs together.  We also made a cake together for Easter dinner.  Her brother, my Great Uncle Carl, was visiting her from California.  The two of them really knew how to have fun.  I am so glad we spent Easter with them that year as it was the last time I ever saw either of them.







This picture is pretty typical of our years up in the village.  We'd have church on mats under the trees.  Afterwards the men would sit around and play cards or listen to music or sleep and the women would cook a big dinner.  Those are good memories, too, though sometimes those days were VERY hot (it's usually well over 100 degrees during the Easter season!) and so those days were exhausting.



Any way, on to this year's Easter, which will probably also be a year I'll never forget, though for entirely different reasons.  The Saturday before Easter, April 8, we went to an all-church concert at the biggest gathering place in Niger.  I took my camera, pulled it out to take pictures, and discovered that the battery was dead.  So I had to take photos with my cell phone, so they're not the greatest quality.

They had groups from different churches singing in different languages using traditional and modern instruments and styles.  There was a Zarma women's choir and they sang two songs two different ladies in the group had written.  That was really exciting for us as there has been a dearth of original songs in this language!  A lot of women in the audience got up and danced when they sang.  

The favorite group was definitely the Fulani.  They did a Wodaabe (a specific group of Fulani) style song.  The audience loved it! 



One group sang with a sort of desert blues style.  Others did more western-style singing.  All of them were enjoyed by the audience.  The cool thing about the concert was that all churches were invited.  The hall seats 1500 and it seemed that most of the seats were taken.

The Easter weekend started with Good Friday.  John found out Thursday night that he was to preach Friday night.  He managed to pull together a good message on Jesus' last words on the cross, with a special focus on "It is finished".  The French says it so much better than the English:  "Tout est accompli", which means "Everything is accomplished."  Everything that Jesus came to do was done.  Everything that we need for salvation and for living a holy life was done.  The final sacrifice was made.  There is nothing more to do but believe. 

The Saturday before Easter was crazy busy.  We went to our friend's son's wedding.  Some other friends went with us.  Our friend, "Moses", found us ladies a nice place to sit and food was brought to us.  It was pretty yummy, even if we did make a mess as only white people eating without spoons can do. Believe me, there is an art to eating with your hands and I don't have it!

 

Here is a picture of John with "Moses" and his family.  He has four wives and a bunch of kids.  In this picture are his wives, his mom, and just a few of his kids. I love how Nigeriens are so hospitable; wherever we go, we are treated like royalty, as are all the other guests.  The bridegroom, his son, had been in a bad motorcycle accident in January.  He had internal injuries and had to have surgery.  Thankfully he lived.

 

When we got home from that, John had his moolo lesson and I went grocery shopping.  After a quick lunch, John went to the doctoral defense of his friend, Nephtali.  He has been studying medicine with a specialty in ophthalmology.  After being grilled by the "jury", he was given "highest honors with congratulations by the jury".  Apparently when they say that, it's a pretty big deal and not something everybody gets, even if they pass.

That day was a big baking day for me.  I often spend much of Saturday trying to do cooking prep for the rest of the week, but that day I had an extra lot I was trying to do.  You know what they say about, if you can't stand the heat in the kitchen, get out?

 

Yeah, if I did that we'd never eat.  Yep, it was 95 degrees in there.



I put soup in the crock pot and then made corn bread to go with it.  I made two cakes for meetings coming up at the office this week, cookies for John, and hot cross buns for Easter breakfast. 

 

After eating our supper of soup (why soup when it's 95 in the kitchen?!) and corn bread, we went to a reception for Nephtali.  He is very musical so he and his friends did some singing, there was food, and, of course, speeches.  His mom, dad, siblings, and other relatives were able to come from Benin for the celebration.  John had met his mom and dad (pictured here talking to John) when he traveled to Benin with Nephtali.





Nephtali was singing and his mom danced up to the front and hugged him then she and I presume an aunt danced.  It was a very special and joyous occasion, but we did leave early because we were so tired.  We sure are going to miss this young man!  I know he will go far with God.



Easter morning we got up bright and early, ate our hot cross buns, and got to church in time for the 6:30 sunrise service.  





Immediately following the sunrise service, there was a baptism and two of the young people who attend our Bible study were baptized!  It was really a privilege to see them taking this step of obedience.







After the baptism, there was a breakfast.  Aren't they beautiful?  The joy of the resurrection is on their faces!



The breakfast was followed by a three-hour church service.  Our church has been through some hard times recently and as a result we "fasted" from having a lot of extra music.  We have had only the piano since December and no choir.  It was fitting that all the instruments were back and the choir sang to celebrate the most joyous day of the year!  The Sunday School children also did a presentation.  Amazing Grace was sung in English, French, and Hausa.  We had a message, the presentation of those who had been baptized, and communion. 





It was a full morning.  And did I mention that it's hot?  LOL.  We went home and had dinner and took long naps that afternoon!

What did you do for Easter?  I hope it was as memorable as ours.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Cooking Ex Nihilo: Making English Muffins

Living in a former French colony has its advantages when it comes to bread.  There's really nothing better than fresh baguette!  And then there are croissants and pain au chocolat, awesome in their buttery deliciousness.  As delicious and wonderful as these things are, every now and then one longs for a good old English muffin (which is probably more American than English!).

Now, I'm not gonna lie.  As with making any sort of bread-anything, there is a fair bit of time involved.  But a lot of the time is waiting for things to rise at which point you can do other things.  

I use a recipe in the More with Less Cookbook.  Since it's there, I won't write it out here, and I do encourage you to get a copy of that cookbook if you don't own it yet.  



I  cheat and make the dough in my bread machine, but it's easy enough to do by hand.  The main thing with dough, both in a machine and by hand, is to add the flour gradually.  If you add it all at once, it can get really tough and difficult to manage and will cook with the consistency of a rock.  You'll know you have the right amount of flour when the dough is no longer sticky and it is pliable and easy to manage. For some reason, the amount of dough the recipe calls for is not enough when made in my machine.



With English muffins, you let the dough rise and then punch it down and then cover it and let it sit for about 10 minutes.  You then roll it out and cut it into rounds.  



I used a large juice glass to cut my muffins, but you can also use a biscuit cutter.  Once you have them cut out, dip them into corn meal and place them on a pan to rise the second time.





English muffins are cooked on top of the stove, not in the oven.  We have a big griddle that fits over two burners and I can cook 8-10 muffins at a time.  The trick is to not have the heat too high or the muffins cook quickly on the surface but then they are gooey on the inside.



Once they are done, they are great with butter and jam.  We also like to make Egg McMuff*ns for a yummy breakfast sandwich.  They also freeze well.



These are not exactly like store-bought English muffins, but they are delicious, especially if you don't expect them to be exactly the same.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

March Book List

Well, y'all, this is going to be a very short blog!  I finished only one book during the month of March.  I also read most of a very long book, but that will be in the April list.

So my one and only book was called The Case for the Psalms:  Why They Are Essential written by N.T. Wright.  



N.T. Wright is passionate about using the Psalms in both private and corporate worship. His passion is contagious and I was reminded how seldom I am in the Psalms and was challenged again to be reading the Psalms each day; five Psalms a day.  On the day that you come to Psalm 119, just read that Psalm.





He shows how the Psalms relate to time, space, and matter: Time because they invoke the past and anticipate the future, Space because heaven and earth meet in the temple, and matter because God delights in all he has made.

I had a hard time staying engaged while reading, but that has more to do with my state of exhaustion than N. T. Wright's writing style, I'm sure. My favorite chapter was the last in which he relates real-life incidents from his life and how a particular Psalm spoke to him in a meaningful way during those times.





As a result of reading this book, I am researching sung recordings of the Psalms to listen to.  Is anybody familiar with the Psalms Project?  That looks interesting to me.  A google search for "psalms in song" or something to that effect, also revealed a Psalm Project Africa.  This is an Ugandan group setting the Psalms to music and they all have an African flavor.  How cool is that?  Is anybody else familiar with either of these?  I was just thinking how neat it would be to fill your home with Scriptures set to music on a daily basis.  Kids would learn not only about God, but they would be memorizing the very Word of God as they listen.  I will definitely be downloading all of these CDs when I return to the land of good internet!  I would also like to look for oral readings of the Psalms.  Any suggestions for other music compilations of the Psalms or of oral readings?

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Top Five Favorite Pictures

It's been a long time since I've linked up with Show and Tell Tuesday.  But when I saw on Suzanne's blog that the theme for this week is your TOP FIVE FAVORITE PICTURES, I knew I had to link up.  I love pictures and I can't wait to go back and look through the other blogs that linked up, see their pictures, and hear why they chose those pictures. 

My problem is going to be to limit it to five!  But here we go.



In this picture I am helping my mom pack our belongings to head back to Nigeria.  Our loads would have been shipped on a ship while we traveled by plane.  Back then there were few household goods one could buy in Nigeria (now you wouldn't really need to take anything much), so we took it all with us.  I love this picture for the lighting, but also for the story it tells.  So much isn't said as well .... the tennis rackets waiting to be packed, knowing my mom is going to wrap that bowl in the towel, the vintage wall paper that was vintage even then reminds me of the beloved farmhouse we rented and lived in, and the fact that ladies and girls wore dresses or skirts on an every day basis.


Growing up we moved A LOT.  But I got to do all four years of high school at the same school.  It was a small Christian school, and we all had our typical high school teenage drama, but I had some great friends there, including these four:  Linda, Ann, Mert, and Marilyn.  I've kind of lost touch with Linda, but am in touch occasionally to this day with the others.  The lady in white was our class sponsor along with her husband who was our history teacher and she was my piano teacher.  I'm in touch with her, too!  Facebook is amazing for bringing old friends back together again.  This was on our senior trip to Colorado Springs.  I think we're dressed up because we had just been to church.



This one brings back so many memories!  We lived in a town in northwest Niger for 16 years.  This was probably one year after we had moved there.  This was "our" picnic spot which we dubbed Picnic Rock.  There wasn't a tree in sight, so we'd have to go late in the afternoon.  This day the kids had been playing "Indian" so they'd wrapped a piece of cloth around their heads and stuck a feather in.  Daniel is just typically dirty and I kind of have to laugh about his red socks and the way his pants got all pulled up.  And my glasses, oh my.  But I treasure this photo.



How's this for a couple shot?  Why yes, those would be giraffes standing right behind us.  The largest herd of giraffes in West Africa is found here in Niger!  It's pretty cool how you can go an hour outside of the city and just mingle in with giraffes.  No fences, no boundaries.  



This picture is just kind of a great summary of life in the village.  Life was lived surrounded by people, especially kids.  This was one Christmas Day.  We'd gone to another village, had a church service, and were waiting for the food to be served.  I'd brought along some magazines to look at, but of course, that attracted a crowd.  But I loved that life and miss it now that we live in the big city.

I could go on and on with other favorite pictures.  It's really hard to choose only five!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Fixing Our Focus, Part II

In the first of this series, I talked about how the photographer can focus on something in the foreground and leave what is in the distance of the picture blurry.  In my Christian life, I need to focus on what God has given me to do now.  I need to live in the present, not in the past or the future.  I have spent too much time either regretting the past or wishing I could return to it.  I have also spent too much time thinking about the future and wishing I was there.... only three months until we get to make the trip across the Big Pond and see our kids and grandbabies and our parents and other family.  Oh yes, I spend too much time there in the past or in the future and not enough being present.

But there is a sense where I do need to look at the future.  A photographer can focus on something in the distance, leaving the foreground blurry. 


 Paul also told us to do this in Hebrews 12: 1-3 (read the entire chapter for some great encouragement!).  He says (God's Word Translation):  

Since we are surrounded by so many examples [of faith], we must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially sin that distracts us. We must run the race that lies ahead of us and never give up. 2We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. Then he received the highest position in heaven, the one next to the throne of God.
3Think about Jesus, who endured opposition from sinners, so that you don't become tired and give up.

I am to fix my eyes on Jesus and keep the end goal always before me.  The present is sometimes difficult, very messy, and seems pointless to me.  I look around the world and find plenty to worry about.   But if I keep my eyes on the distance, on Jesus and the goal, I will be motivated to keep going.  Iwon’t be distracted, but I’ll keep running, keeping in my lane, until I finish well.  He is standing at the end with his arms outstretched, waiting for me, exhausted and worn out, to fall into them at the end of the race.


As believers, we live in a very real sense of right now / not yet. My life, your life now is so difficult in many ways.  But there is also the knowledge that it is going to get better.  We are going to be with Jesus.  There will be a new heaven and a new earth.  We long for what is yet to come, but we long with a hope that is sure.  This keeps us motivated and pressing on to that goal.


Fix your focus on Jesus!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

You Know It's Time for Home Assignment When.....

We took a two-year home assignment from June 2009 - July 2011.  Then in 2013 we took a short three-month home assignment. We spent so much time traveling and none resting that we came back to Niger feeling like we hadn't had a break at all.  Now we're wrapping up a four-year term that has felt like a six-year term.  Here are some signs that we'll be coming on home assignment in July.

You know it's time for home assignment when ...

...your sheets (and your underwear) start falling apart and your clothes look faded and worn out.



...your trash cans start overflowing with stuff you are getting rid of and boxes of stuff to give away or store start accumulating in the storeroom and in random corners of the house.



...you spend every Saturday doing a sorting out chore.  I found a great website called Declutter 365.  She gives you one 15 minute task a day to declutter.  A lot of it doesn't fit me such as clean out your garage or sort through your kids' clothes.  So I looked at her one-year list and condensed it down to give me a task every Saturday for the weeks between the middle of January and the middle of July.  So, for example, yesterday I went through my food and spice cupboards and got rid of everything that is expired or that I won't use before July.  

...your cupboards start to look bare as you get rid of things you won't be using.






...you finish the massive helping-John job of cutting up his interview texts and pasting them on cards for easy easier sorting through and compilation of data.



...you try to share the load as much as possible as your husband heads toward the finish line of the marathon that getting a doctorate has turned out to be.



...you start corresponding with supporting churches and supporters to plan out visits.



...you work hard at the office to finish up two big projects required by your international office so that things are in good shape for whoever takes over your job.  You also pray hard for somebody to replace you!

...you are tired and worn out and ready to have some time to spend with family, friends, and supporters.  But you still have the hot season to get through!

Somebody will live in our apartment while we're gone, so we need to put away everything personal.  We'll leave out kitchen equipment and linens and our furniture, but everything else needs to be stored.  No matter how hard we try to get things done ahead of time, we always end up with a bit of a panic our last week here as we pack.  Please pray for us as we sort and pack, for John as he finishes up his doctorate, and for us as we prepare to share our ministry during home assignment.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Cooking Ex Nihilo -- Using Ginger



I thought I would occasionally do a food-related post in keeping with my October theme of cooking ex nihilo (from nothing).  If my recipes work here in Niger with a limited list of ingredients, they will work anywhere.   If you are looking for gourmet, this will not be the blog for you.😋

Ginger is one of those things I use on occasion, but certainly not every day.  I always struggled with ginger because I would end up with too much of it and then I didn't know how to keep it fresh and it would just get yucky.  Then I discovered that you can freeze ginger.

Last week I asked my vegetable man for 100 cfa of ginger.  This is the amount I got (some peeled, some not peeled, plus a pile of peelings).  So 100 cfa is about .16 cents.  Since ginger is so abundant here and so cheap, one should make good use of it, right? 

 

I washed it off a bit since it was pulled from out of the ground and may have sand sticking to it. (Actually I might have forgotten to wash it this time, but I peeled it!) Then I peeled it with a potato peeler.



Next step, I grated it with a vegetable grater.  I only nicked off the corner of one finger nail doing this! 😌



To freeze the ginger, I discovered it works best to spread it on a cookie sheet and then put that in the freezer. 

 

If you cram all the ginger into a container, it will freeze stuck together into one big blob.  Once that is frozen, which did't take long at all, I put it into old margarine tubs and popped it in the freezer.  Now it's ready to use any time.  I just pull it out and grab a pinch of ginger for whatever I want it in.





I use it in a lot of my stir fry dishes.  John doesn't like spicy, so I don't add too much.  I make a nice tea with regular tea and hibiscus flowers and it's really nice to throw a bunch of ginger in there.  I'm sure there's a lot more it could be used for, but as I said, this amount of ginger last a really long time for me.

We have friends who make a non-alcoholic ginger beer that's really delicious and refreshing on hot days.  He gave me the recipe, but I have yet to work up the courage to try it.  It looks kind of complicated.

Ginger has lots of health benefits, too.  It's good to combat nausea, it is apparently helpful against joint pain, and it boosts the immune system.

So, there you are with a tip for cutting back on waste.  It may take you extra time to grate all the ginger at once, but you'll be glad when you want to make a stir fry and all you have to do is grab the ginger out of the freezer.