Sunday, September 18, 2016

Preparing Houses

When people ask me to describe what I do, it sounds kind of boring.  Ummm, well, I answer emails.  A lot of them.  Some of them take a lot of conversations behind the scene before answering.  Some of them are pretty complicated.  So, yeah, lots of emails.  I know, it sounds pretty boring.  I help people a lot, too.  When people don't know where or how to do something, they come to me or my co-worker and we consider it part of our job to help them.  A lot of what I do, because it's personnel (human resources), is confidential, so I really can't talk about it much.  

So, if you ask me what I do, my answer probably leaves you thinking I have a pretty simple and boring job.  Which really isn't true as almost every day is different and challenging in new ways!  

One of the things that the personnel team (two of us in Niamey and one in Galmi) do a lot of is to prepare for new arrivals.  One of us makes sure they have a guest house room reserved and that somebody is scheduled to meet them at the airport.  If they have just an overnight in Niamey, we make sure they have a plate of food at the guest house that they can warm up and something to eat for breakfast.  Oh, and yes, the inevitable packet of paperwork to read and sign. :)  If they end up needing to spend a few days in Niamey, we withdraw local currency from their account for them or take them to an ATM machine to get money so they will be able to go out to eat or to walk down the street to buy some food.  My co-worker will often take them grocery shopping.  One of us tries to go over to the guest house to make sure they are ok, that they understand how to use the air conditioner, and that they know which water is filtered and safe to drink.

If they will be living in Niamey, we need to get housing ready for them. My co-worker does the housing for the short-termers and me for the long-termers, but we help each other out a lot. If they will be moving in to a house or apartment just vacated by another short-termer, the set-up is fairly easy.  The furniture, linens, and kitchen equipment is already there, so we just need to make sure it's clean, which usually involves hiring somebody to clean.  It usually means great amounts of laundry, as well. We try to make sure they are invited out for meals for at east three nights and we put some basic food supplies in their house for breakfasts and lunches.  That way they don't have to do a major grocery shopping the day after they arrive.

Other times  a long-termer is going on home assignment and will let a short-termer use their house while they're gone.  They'll usually leave out their furniture and appliances, but we need to then set it up with kitchen equipment and linens.

A more complicated set-up is when we get a "new" house or apartment that has just been vacated by another missionary family and it's in fairly good condition.  We'll have the painter come to give it a fresh coat of paint, get repairs made that are usually minor, and then move in furniture, appliances, kitchen equipment, and linens.  For short-termers, we provide furnished housing. For long-termers, if we have enough furniture and equipment, we'll let them borrow stuff until they can get their own.

And the most complicated (and perhaps rewarding) set-up is when we go house-hunting and then set up a completely new-to-us house.  I really enjoy the process of finding the house, seeing what it can be like, and making it happen.  I've blogged about this in past blogs:  Here, here, here and here.

When we get a brand new house, it's seldom up to the standard we want.  We recently rented a house for a long-term couple returning to Niger, but changing location to Niamey from another location.  We found the house back in May and felt like it had a lot of good potential, though we weren't aware of all the problems at that point (all you home-owners out there are smiling at that one, I'm sure!).  The "real-estate agent" assured us that the owner would make all the repairs we pointed out.  So when I returned from my trip to England in early June, I assumed the house would be more or less ready.  Ha! ha!  Our office had changed the water and electric meters to SIM's name, so we were good on that one.  The landlord had painted the house.  And that's ALL he had done!  So one of the first things we did was make a list of all the repairs that still needed to be done. Here's my two-age list.



I lost track of how many trips I made to the house to meet with the landlord.  We argued for a long time about him repairing the screens on the windows and putting screens on the windows that had none, but he adamantly refused to do it.  So that meant I had to hire somebody else to do it.  I asked him to take down the ceiling in the guard house and toilet because it was rotten.  That took several trips out there and reminders to get done.  Some of the jobs were simple and quickly done, such as making sure the windows actually shut.  He claimed he had cleaned the trash from the yard.  Yes, it looked better, but sorry, my friend, that is NOT clean!  I finally just hired somebody who did the job properly.  



We're still waiting for him to repair the roof.  

Setting up this particular house also meant meeting somebody at the house who was delivering furniture the soon-to-arrive missionaries had bought, and going out and buying a fridge and stove for them, then meeting the delivery guys there.  I needed to also arrange for cleaning and servicing the air conditioner in the bedroom, make sure somebody cleaned the house, and hire a guard (that was quite the drama as every guard we thought we had fell through).  My co-workers moved in some borrowed furniture and equipment and helped make sure the new arrivals had food for their first few days.

I am sure grateful I don't have to do all of this by myself!  I have the best co-workers and team.  And I'm also thankful to my Father for giving me a job that I enjoy and find fulfilling.  I admit it is often tiring, but as a friend said once after a long day of work, "it's a good kind of tired".

Sunday, September 04, 2016

August Reading List

Usually July is our busiest month in the personnel office and then things slow down a bit in August.  But this year August has been as busy as July.  I'll write more about that in my next blog!  All of this business has been reflected in my lack of reading.  I read only two books this month, though I've got several I'm part way through.

The first is by Beth Moore and is called When Godly People Do Ungodly Things. We've all been stunned by the news of a well-known Christian leader embezzling money or having an affair with a woman on his staff.  Or perhaps the person is not well-known, but close to us.  She has been used greatly by God in your life and then all of a sudden she just walks out on her family.  And all of us who are honest have to admit there are times we wonder, "Where did THAT thought come from?" or "Why was I so tempted to do that?  I certainly know better."  Beth Moore deals with why and how the Evil One seduces Christians, and especially those who have had abuse in their backgrounds.  She encourages all believers to being fighting the spiritual battle that is necessary to stand our ground against Satan.  Perhaps most helpful of all, she shares how those who have fallen can and should be restored if they repent of their sin.  Personally, I find that Beth Moore is a better speaker than writer and it was sometimes a bit hard to track with her.  Also, she's so emotional, which I'm not.  But the section on restoration was extremely helpful.  I would especially recommend this book to those who are at a place of repentance, moving into restoration or to their pastors or loved ones.

The second book I read was Oswald Chambers -- Abandoned to God:  The Life Story of the Author of My Utmost for His Highest.  I've read and been blessed by My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers ever since my parents gave me my first copy after my first year in college.  But I never knew much of his life other than that he was a Bible teacher. This is a fascinating and well-written biography about his life which also shows how the woman who stood beside him as his wife had a vital part in his ministry. As a young man Oswald Chambers went through a time of deep depression and struggle with God from which he emerged stronger. At the end of that time, he had what he described as a baptism of the Holy Ghost. He gave himself fully to God at that point and it seems that his struggle with depression was then a thing of the past. His wife, whom he nick-named Biddy, was a stenographer and trained secretary. She took short-hand notes of all of his messages and lectures. After his death as a fairly young man (only in his 40's), she made it her life work to type out all of his messages and lectures and to turn them into books. The most famous, of course, is My Utmost for His Highest. This was also the most difficult to compile as she took bits from many different messages and compiled them around a common theme for the day. Now that I know the story behind My Utmost for His Highest, a book that I've read through many times before, it has become even more dear to me.  In addition, we as a mission family talk a lot about how we have to first BE a disciple before we can MAKE disciples.  Oswald Chambers' life exemplified how to do that.

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.