Thursday, December 14, 2006

This is a post I've considered not posting. Yet I know others are struggling with the discouragement and maybe something I say here will be an encouragement. Also, I'd welcome any feedback.

Even though I'm an introvert I'm not terribly introspective so I find it hard to put into words difficult situations I'm working through. And I want to be honest, but I don't want to sound hopeless.

As you may know, when we returned to Niger we found that none of the "Tera Six" were coming to church. Indeed, not one of them has come to a service since our return in August.

Recently we talked more in depth with one of them. He told us that "we offered a gift, but didn't make it possible to receive it." In other words, we offered salvation but we didn't make it physically and financially possible to leave their former religion and be independent of their families.

My first reaction to the situation was “Why continue on? What’s it all been worth? Why has John poured his heart and soul into these guys? For what reason has his health been weakened? Why not just go home now? What’s the point of putting in more time?” I spent most of September really depressed and discouraged.

Not only have I felt depressed, I’ve even felt a little angry that they’ve done this to my husband. How could they turn their back on somebody who cares about them so much and who has put so much into them?

And if I feel that way about John, how much have they hurt You, my LORD?

But, God has been teaching me some things.

1. I must be fully persuaded that God will do what He has said He will do. When we were home I had chosen this verse to pray for myself. Now it is even more meaningful: “Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact…. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he promised.” Romans 4:19-21

OK, let’s face the facts. The facts are, God brought us to Téra to reach the Songhai. Six Songhai men were saved and we began building a church with those men. Now not one of them has come to church since our return in August. It looks hopeless. But God has promised that He will build His church. He brought us here for that purpose.
So, I must not waver through unbelief regarding God’s promise to build a Songhai church. I must believe and then be strengthened in my faith. At the same time, I need to give God the glory. At this point I can honestly say that if a church gets going here, it won’t have been John’s doing, it will have been God.
Am I fully persuaded that God has the power to do what he promised? Ouch. Honestly? No, I’m not always full persuaded of that because if He can, what’s going on? I can say, though, that I’m moving towards really believing that He will do what He promised. Help my unbelief. Make me fully persuaded that You will do what You have promised.
God’s promise is in Matthew 16:18: “…upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.”
I may never see this promise fulfilled. But I read this recently and it encouraged me in being able to see the big picture instead of just what is happening now: "It was clear in Scripture that some trusted and were blessed, others trusted and died (Hebrews 11:35). But all godly faith will be rewarded -- one day in heaven." (Bruce McDonald, The Writing of The Fight of Faith in Inspire, Fall 2006) Maybe I personally will never see what God is doing among the Songhai. But I must believe He is doing it!

Not in Vain
(Habakkuk 3:17-18)

Not in vain, the tedious toil
On an unresponsive soil,
Travail, tears in secret shed
Over hopes that lay as dead.
All in vain, thy faint heart cries.
Not in vain, thy Lord replies:
Nothing is too good to be;
Then believe, believe to see.

Did thy labor turn to dust?
Suff’ring – did it eat like rust
Till the blade that once was keen
As a blunted tool is seen?
Dust and rust thy life’s reward?
Slay the thought; believe thy Lord!
When thy soul is in distress,
Think upon His faithfulness.

Though there be not fig nor vine,
In thy stall there be no kine,
Flock be cut off from the fold,
Not a single lamb be told,
And thy olive berry fall
Yielding no sweet oil at all,
Pulse-seed wither in the pod –
Still do thou rejoice in God.

But consider, was it vain
All the travail on the plain?
For the bud is on the bough;
It is green where thou didst plow.
Listen, tramp of little feet,
Call of little lambs that bleat;
Hearken to it. Verily,
Nothing is too good to be.
2. I need to pray continually for these men who are no longer following Christ. As I read Colossians 1:9-14 God seemed to be prompting me to pray these verses for IO and AD (which I will not quote in their entirety). “So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. "
I pray that AD will be like David and repent of his sin and yet be called a man after God’s own heart even though he will suffer the consequences all his life. “Against you, and you alone have I sinned.” (Psalm 51:4) I know that he (and IO) has not sinned against John, even though I may be upset with them for seemingly making all his work null and void. But they have sinned against God. And He will willingly forgive them if they ask.

For Hardened Hearts

For those with hardened hearts we pray,
Who hear and heed not, nor will move
Even to turn and look Thy way,
Although Thou art all love.

Lord Jesus Christ of Calvary’s Tree,
Who by Thy death wrought victory:
Renew in us a mighty faith
For them for who we pray.

The Drifting Ones

Lord, some who listened all but came
And touched Thy garment’s hem:
The blind, the deaf, the dumb, the lame—
Thou knowest them.

But they have drifted; oh, do Thou,
Whose love is never bound
By our poor limits, follow now
Till they be found.

3. Is Christ alone enough for me? I’ve discovered that a lot of my identity comes from how much I’ve accomplished. Yes, we know it is difficult in a Muslim environment, so we never expected to plant a church with 5000 members. But we did want to leave here with an established church. The question is, can I find my identity in Christ alone? Is He enough, even if everything else fails? “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” Can I say that honestly? With the Lord, I’m free and I’m forgiven! So, get behind me, Satan. Quit dissing me, or my husband, or my God! As we used to sing at Cedarville, “Chirst is all I need!”

Wilt Love Me? Trust Me? Praise Me?

O thou belovèd child of My desire,
Whether I lead thee through green valleys,
By still waters,
Or through fire,
Or lay thee down in silence under snow,
Through any weather, and whatever
Cloud may gather,
Wind may blow—
Wilt love Me? trust Me? praise Me?

No gallant bird, O dearest Lord, am I,
That anywhere, in any weather,
Rising singeth;
Low I lie.
And yet I cannot fear, for I shall soar;
Thy love shall wing me, blessèd Savior.
So I answer:
I adore;
I love Thee, trust Thee, praise Thee.

4. God is a God of comfort and He is comforting me during this time. He loves me. He is here beside me. He will give me the strength I need for every day. Life is hard, and God is good. We may not ever know what God is doing in Téra, but I can rest in His comfort that He is doing something even if He doesn’t explain His time-table to me.

I Will Refresh You
(Matthew 11:28)

Heart that is weary because of the way,
Facing the wind and the sting of the spray,
Come unto Me, and I will refresh you.

Heart that has tasted of travail and toil,
Burdened for souls whom the foe would despoil,
Come unto Me, and I will refresh you.

Heart that is frozen – a handful of snow,
Heart that is faded – a sky without glow,
Come unto Me, and I will refresh you.

Heart that is weary, O come unto Me.
Fear not, whatever the trouble may be;
Come unto Me, and I will refresh you.
All poetry is from Mountain Breezes: The Selected Poems of Amy Carmichael

Church Work Days

Remember the wall we built around the church property? While we were gone on home assignment, a grass mat shelter was built so we could have church there. But during the rainy season we didn't meet there because we had to go way out of the way to get there because of having no good place to cross the river. Then the weeds took over.

So we organized some church work days to clear the property and we have since started meeting there. That is, the adults go over there and I stay in our ministry room with the kids for Sunday School. This picture was taken during the first work day. Does it remind you of another famous portrait?

This past Saturday there was another work day and Jeremy goes over there quite often on his own and works at clearing brush. We will have the Christmas service there.

I was not able to help this past Saturday. Years ago we met a Dutch lady in Tera and got to know her and her husband a little. They have since returned to Holland, but she comes to Tera every now and then to do research. I won't go into details her to protect her privacy, but last Friday she began having seizures. I was able to take her to Niamey on Saturday so she could be near medical help and so they could start the medical evacuation process to get her back to Holland as soon as possible. Fortunately her father traveled with her on this trip. She was hospitalized on Monday after having another seizure and unfortunately they couldn't work everything out quickly enough to get her out on Monday night. Now she has to wait until Friday night. We introduced them to our Dutch friend here in Niamey and he and his wife have helped them a lot. Then when we got back to Niamey on Tuesday we've been able to help them some, too. We had her dad in for supper last night.

My Double Found

You know how they say everyone has their double? Well, mine has been found. A little girl was looking at one of my old Good Housekeeping magazines. She came across a picture of Brooke Shields and said, "Look! It's Hannatu!" I said, "No, that's not me!" She declared, "Well, it looks just like you!"

Now, you look at these two pictures and be the judge. Do you see the similarity? Striking resemblance, don't you think?

By the way, that was supposed to be a baguette which are normally crunchy on the outside, but this one was soft all the way through!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

It's Cold!

It's cold, folks! The wind blows and howls and dust swirls in the air. People who normally sleep outside crowd into their small houses, close the doors and windows, and thrive in the warmth of each others' bodies. (Except Jeremy who started sleeping outside when it got cold.) Children squat around the cooking fires in the early morning and evenings. Skin dries out and chaps from the dry cold. People wear sweaters, hats, and winter coats.

And how cold is it? Down in the 50's at night, up into the 80's during the day!!!! It was down to 49 one night. But seriously, when you're used to 110 degrees, that's pretty cold. And it is dry -- if there could be negative humidity, we've got it. We don't know what the humidity is because our reader won't read below 20%. So all we know is that it's below 20%.

I've posted some of my favorite pictures of people trying to keep warm in the cold season. This is our favorite season, by the way, because we feel more energetic than we do in the exhausting hot season.

These two had several layers on, including the sweaters. They were enjoying their breakfast in the sunshine.

This little cutie often has on a winter hat and long knitted pants. Her parents come to church every single Sunday. They are from another part of Niger, but work in Tera.

And here's John in his sweatshirt. He actually sleeps in this thing some nights. That's because I like the windows wide open and the fan on full blast, so he puts it on in self-defense.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Our First Funeral

We had a very sad thing happen on the same day as Jeremy's birthday. The same day that we celebrated his life, we mourned the death of a believer.

John and I had just started peeling potatoes when Maimouna came and told us that Mariama had died. Mariama attended our church faithfully last term. Then when we went on furlough she began going elsewhere. I had gone to visit her twice since our return to Tera, but she was not home either time.

Anyway, we went down to her house to mourn with the family, but nobody was there. Mariama's children told us that they were all at the hospital and that she hadn't died yet. We went immediately to the hospital. We met another believer on the way and he went with us. As soon as we went in her room we heard the death rattle and knew it wouldn't be long before she would be gone. Her mother told me later that her heart had been bothering her and that she had been in the hospital four days. We prayed for her and then went home to finish supper preparations.

The boys had just arrived for supper when some men from another church arrived. The pastor of the church she was attending was gone. Anyway, they came to John to ask if he would do the funeral. Mariama's relatives had always told her that since she was a Christian nobody would bury her when she died. She said she didn't care since she'd be in heaven then anyway. John and the handful of Christian men that they could gather together at short notice arrived at the cemetary just before the others arrived with the body. As she was well-known as a Christian, they did not attempt to do any Muslim prayers for her, but stood back and let John do it. There were sounds of contempt from the listeners, but no outright problems. John knew someday he'd have to do a funeral, but had never prepared for the moment. We were in a bit of a panic trying to pull together some verses and thoughts in the five minutes he had to prepare. He spoke briefly, read verses, and prayed.

Anyway, we felt that she had triumphed in her death by having a Christian burial -- just what she would have wanted. Sadly, we did find out that she had married a Muslim man during the rainy season. Maybe God in his grace saved her from a horrible situation. We'll probably never know.

It was a sad day and hard to celebrate Jeremy's birthday with all the joy it deserved.

Jeremy's Birthday

Jeremy asked if he could invite three of his friends for his birthday supper: Sumeyla, Ibrahim, and Moussa. We said sure and we'd make American food. So I made hamburger buns on Saturday, then Sunday night we made hamburgers and French fries (that means the potatoes had to be peeled, cut up, and deep fried). John helped me with the cooking. We also made a salad and a marble cake (white and chocolate swirled together in a marble pattern).

The boys came dressed in their most cool clothes and sunglasses. They loved all the food, especially the cake. That really surprised me because they often don't like sweets. I wanted to serve them Cokes, too, but there were none to be found in Tera that week.

After declaring that they were going to die of happiness because of the delicious food, they got out the Twister game. At first they all played, but then they became more competitive and played by twos. The winners of each group then played against each other. I think Jeremy won this particular round.

Pray for Jeremy as he relates to Ibrahim (in the white shirt). He isn't always easy to get along with, but it seems that he is beginning to be moved by Jeremy's Christian testimony. He even came to church with Jeremy last week.


Palmer asked how I dust in a house made of dust. That's one of those questions that made me laugh out loud. If he only knew!

The house itself isn't too bad because it's covered with cement inside and out. It has a mud foundation which has sunk or "melted" and so the house is developing huge cracks. Indeed, mud houses aren't expected to last forever.

The real challenge to dusting is not the house itself so much as it is the climactic conditions in which we live. As you probably know we live fairly close to the Sahara Desert. This time of year the wind blows from the north and brings with it the Sahara dust. Some days we have a clear blue sky, but others, like today, the dust is visible in the air. It even has a special name: harmattan.These pictures were taken this morning at around 8:00. We could look directly at the sun because its brightness was obscured by the dust.

We can close our windows, but the dust still drifts in. Usually we decide fighting the dust is a hopeless battle, so we just leave the windows open so we can have air. I can wipe the table off in the morning and write my name in the dust by evening. But, remember my talking diswasher called Maimouna? She dusts, too. It's her least favorite job, though. She dusts once a week, but within two days you'd think she never dusts.

People with allergies really suffer. Suzanne said last night her nose was itching and her eyes were watering. She finally had to get up and take an antihistimine. John also suffers and has had a dry cough for several months now.

That's why I laughed at Palmer's question. One never fully wins the dust battle here!