Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Helene's Homegoing

One of our colleagues in Niger, Helene Zoolkoski, went to be with Jesus Sunday morning, about 3:15 a.m. Niger time.

Our SIM director in Niger wrote:

"Helene Zoolkoski went to be with her Savior this morning at 3:15 am. She passed away at their home in Galmi. Helene had been diagnosed with metastatic melanoma over 16 months ago. Upon receiving this news it was Helene and Chris's desire to return to Galmi and continue to work as long as they could, knowing that Helene may live out the rest of her days here in the country where they had invested so much of their lives already.

"Last Wednesday Chris and Helene quietly celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary. Though very weak Helene's thoughts were clear and she still had her pretty smile.

"One of Helene's favorite hymns is 'O Sacred Head, Now Wounded'. The last verse reads:

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,

For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?

O make me Thine forever; and should I fainting be,

Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

"When Mikki and I had the privilege of seeing Helene last week, she repeated several times, 'God is good...all the time!' Despite her suffering, her love for the Lord Jesus remained strong and unshakable until the end." (Steve Schmidt)

John and Suzanne were on their way back to Niger when Helene was ushered into her Saviour's presence so they did not hear the news until they landed in Niger early Monday morning. Many, many missionaries from Niamey drove the 6-7 hour trip east to Galmi and John and Suzanne were able to join the convoy to Galmi. John said the funeral was beautifully simple and glorifying to God. I don't have any other details at this time. You can also look at my friend Cindy's blog for more details: http://www.xanga.com/malamacindy; Rachel's blog: http://lifeinniger.blogspot.com; or Steven's blog: http://inotice.blogspot.com.

Helene and I were kids together at boarding school back in the 60's, though I don't remember her very well from those days. Before Helene and Chris were married, and before John and I had kids, she and I taught together at Sahel Academy...it was the 2nd year of the school which is now 20 years old. I always appreciated Helene's honesty, her professionalism, and her no-nonsense approach to life. Even though we seldom got to see each other due to the distance between our stations, we always enjoyed chatting when we were together. She often helped me gain a fresh perspective on things I was struggling with. (This picture of Helene is from one of their prayer letters.)

Please pray for her husband Chris and their three children, Elisheva, Zeb, and Joel. Helene's mom has been with them since about the end of January.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Family Picnic

It was a beautiful day for a picnic. Not too hot, not too cold. A brilliant blue sky and white fluffy clouds. No rain.

Dad was the master of the grill. Mom supervised. They cooked hamburgers, sausages, and hot dogs. We also had chips, baked beans, potato salad, and cake and "dirt" for dessert....everything you should have at a picnic.

My cousin, Julie, and her husband, Gene, came. Julie is my age and they already have an empty nest! She does NOT look like a grandmother, but she is! We always had so much fun together as kids. It was fun to see her again.

This is my cousin, Jeff, Julie's brother. I have some great memories of things he and Julie and Dean, Natalie, and I did together. His wife was not able to come, but he did bring two of his daughters and his son-in-law. He is a 5th grade teacher/track and cross-country coach.

My Uncle Dave and Aunt Gerry also came. Here they are with my mom. He brought his bagpipes along and played for us. Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures of that because Suzanne and Daniel had left for a different party by then and had taken the camera with them.

Enjoying the food and good conversation.

If only we could do this more often!

Monday, July 16, 2007


Our friends, Rachel and Sjoerd, are staying in our house this summer while we are here in the US. They are there so they can be immersed in a milieu of many Fulfulde speakers. The 2nd most frequently spoken language in Tera next to Songhai is Fulfulde (the language spoken by the Fulani people).
A week or so ago they heard rumors of an elephant wandering around in the bush near Doumba. They went out and were able to find this elephant. I guess he has wandered in from Burkina Faso which is only about 30 miles away.
We wish we were there to see him! This just seems to unbelievable! They sent us this picture. You can see another one of him on their blog: http://lifeinniger.blogspot.com/. Then on the right, click on photo album.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

What I've Been Reading

Before we left Niger, I was reading this book by Richard Foster: The Freedom of Simplicity. I hadn't finished it, but didn't want to bring it to the US and then have to carry it back to Niger. Books are too heavy to carry if I don't really need it! I need to see if I can find it in the library here so I can finish it.

Anyway, I would recommend this book. By Simplicity he means getting rid of things in your life that prevent you from concentrating on what is most important. He talks about getting rid of things that cause us to live beyond our means physically. He doesn't say that "things" are wrong or that you have to live austerely. He does say that simplicity looks different for everybody but how we all need to hold things loosely.

Then he talks about how we live beyond our means emotionally by trying to do too much and by being over-involved in too many things. This is what he suggests....and I'm still mulling it over. He suggests recording all our activities and then categorizing them like this:

1. absolutely essential

2. important but not essential

3. helpful, but not necessary

4. trivial

Then he says we should eliminate everything in the last two categories, and eliminate 20% of the things in the first two. That would eliminite so much of the emotional bankruptcy we find ourselves under. So, that's my food for thought this summer.

Foster also says, "Joy, not grit is the hallmark of holy obedience. We need to be lighthearted in what we do in order to avoid taking ourselves too seriously. It is a cheerful revolt against self and pride. Our work is jubilant, carefree, merry. Utter abandonment to God is done freely and with celebration. And so I urge you to enjoy this ministry of self-surrender. Don't push too hard. Hold this work lightly, joyfully.

I love reading novels, but try to read some serious books, too. Here are some others I've read in the past year:

The Roots of Endurance: Invincible Perservance in the Lives of John Newton, Charles Simeon, and William Wilberforce by John Piper. John Piper gives brief autobiographical sketches of these three men and shows how each of them persevered against extreme hardship. It's a very encouraging book, especially if you are going through a discouraging time in your work or ministry.

You have probably all heard of this book, The End of the Spear, but if you haven't read it yet, you should! It is an autobiography that reads like a novel. It is very moving and challenging.

Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala describes how the Brooklyn Tabernacle grew from a handful of discouraged people to a huge, vibrant church. Jim Cymbala says people ask him all the time what the secret is to growing a big church. They want to copy his program and have a church like his. He says there is no secret. It has to be a work of the Spirit and the only advice he can give is to make prayer a priority. This was a timely reminder to me to keep praying and not give up when the church in Tera seems doomed to failure. God is still at work!

Do you think that in heaven we're just going to sit around on clouds strumming harps? Most of us think that sounds pretty boring. Heaven by Randy Alcorn explains what heaven will really be like. This is a long book, but worth it. You cannot read this book and not get excited about going to heaven!

The Red Sea Rules: The Same God Who Led You in Will Lead You Out by Robert J. Morgan was probably my favorite of all these books. God wants us to be quiet, stand still, and listen! Here are some of the "rules" to whet your appetite:

Realize that God means for you to be where you are.

Be more concerned for God's glory than for your relief.

Acknowledge your enemy, but keep your eyes on the Lord.


That's just a few of the "rules".....you'll have to read the book to find the rest. If you only choose one book in this list, choose this one!

I also read The Practice of the Presence of God with Spiritual Maxims. This is a Christian classic and was also challenging. In this book Brother Lawrence explains how to be aware of Christ's presence and live for his glory even when doing mundane tasks.

So, if you're looking for some "serious" books to read, these are some I would recommend!

Saturday, July 07, 2007


John, Suzanne, and I were able to attend the Creation Festival this year. As you may remember Suzanne and I were going to go last year but we couldn't because of the heavy rains and flooding. This year we took our friend's son, Luke and we traveled with our friends, Steve and Joanna Nunemaker.

Creation is on Agape Farm. It is in the middle of nowhere and, I think, has electricity only on one end of the farm. To give you an idea of the farm: At one end was the farmhouse and barn. The hot showers that we had paid extra to use were also at that end. From there as you walked towards the central "arena" area, there were tents, tents, and more tents. There was also a small area that had some games for kids and a skateboarding area. Then there was the fringe stage which is where a lot of the groups that appealed to a more limited audience were. Just beyond that were shops, offices, etc. Then there was the stage and a huge empty field that was the "arena". Behind the arena were more concession stands and some huge buildings where interest groups could set up tables of information or stuff to sell. Then on the other side of the stage and on and on were more tents and campers. Then a big field that was a parking lot for day visitors. Finally beyond that was our field where we camped. The other half of our field was also a parking area.

Here are Steve and John setting up our tents. We had a little square area the length of our van. So the Nunemakers had a little plot of ground and we had a little plot. We had three tents: Nunemakers, ours, and Luke's and still had plenty of room for a little table and a place to cook. Looking down the field you could see rows and rows of tents.

The first night a huge thunderstorm came. We had to wait it out in our van. Then the next day it rained off and on....mostly when it was time to cook. The 2nd full day we woke up to rain and we just stayed in our tents and slept until about 8:00. It was kind of nice since we never get to do that in Niger! After that it cleared and we mostly had sunny conditions.

It was pretty simple camping...port-a-pots, the water for cooking was clear across the field and, worst of all, the hot showers we had paid for were clear down at the other end of the farm. We estimated that we had to walk a mile to the showers! I only took two while I was there. That was a $5.00 shower!!! But if I'd had to take cold showers I probably wouldn't have had any shower!

The concerts were good. They had lesser known people on in the morning, then better known people in the afternoon, and the really well-known groups in the evening. The concerts or special events went on until about 11:30 every night. There were about three messages a day and during that time all the shops and stands closed down. I really liked the emphasis they put on the Word of God. Here are Steve and Joanna enjoying one of the concerts. Actually, it looks like they were waiting for something to happen! They were braver than us and went right up to the "mosh pit" for some of the concerts. Suzanne's roommate, Tam, was working at Creation. Here they are sporting little frisbees from the Toby Mac concert. Check out the lady behind them!!! She has her fingers in her ears!

The candlelighting on the 2nd night was really amazing. We heard that there were 70,000 people at the evening concerts. So, after sundown they turned off all the stage and side lights and gave us all candles. Then somebody down in the front lit their candle and then the person's next to them and so on until all of our candles were lit. It was hard to get a really good picture since we didn't have a tripod, but I think you get the idea of how amazing it was. It was a vivid reminder that a
city on a hill cannot be hidden!

It was a fantastic experience, even for inexperienced campers. It was definitely one of those never-to-be-forgotten experiences!

Monday, July 02, 2007

A Golden Anniversary

My mother and father-in-law celebrated their 50th anniversary. The celebration took place from June 20-24. It was like a big family reunion.

On the 20th Tim and Laurie and their 4 sons came over for Dad D's birthday. After supper he said he wanted us to sing at the piano. We all enjoyed that immensely. Here we have Jacob leading the singing and John playing the piano. Too bad you can't hear all Jacob's sound effects!

Mom D's 4 sisters and their husbands arrived in the evening of June 21. The next afternoon they came over. Dad D entertained us by showing us all his hats. We also had another hymn sing around the piano. This photo shows Uncle Willard, Aunt Lucille, and Aunt Bev singing. Let me digress a moment....Uncle Willard and Aunt Lucille have been to Niger! Uncle Willard set up our solar system for us back in our pre-electricity days!

That evening we had a picnic at Tim and Laurie's house. Unfortunately it decided to rain right at picnic time! This is Mom D and Aunt Muriel and Aunt Lucille waiting for the rain to go away!

On Saturday Mom and Dad D took us all to the Chinese Buffet for lunch. Here we have from left to right Aunt Muriel (Uncle Sev went to heaven about two years ago), Aunt Bev, Uncle Walt, and Dad and Mom D. On the other side of the table was Uncle Willard, Aunt Lucille, Uncle Bob, and Aunt Joyce. Then there was the "middle aged" table with John and I, Jim and Beth Anne, and Laurie. Tim had taken Seth to a sporting event and Dave hadn't arrived from OK yet. Then Jim's sons and their girlfriends were at a table and Daniel, Suzanne and the other cousins were at a table.
In the afternoon Laurie, her mom, Suzanne, Caleb's girlfriend Carrie, BethAnne, and I went to the church and did as much ahead-of time food preparation as we could. Meanwhile John went to the airport to pick up his brother, Dave. And Mom and Dad D went to the airport to pick up Dad's brother, Herb, along with his daughter and son-in-law. That evening we went out for supper with my parents who were staying at a hotel. It happened to be the same hotel where the aunts were staying! We went to Friendlys and just had soups and salads since we'd had such a big lunch. Mom and Dad D went out to a really posh restaurant for supper with their sisters and brothers and in-laws.

We had the anniversary party Sunday afternoon. Here's Suzanne helping to set out some of the food.

The aunts and some of the cousins sang "Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us". I think they had had that song at their wedding.

Cutting the cake which I guess was pretty much just like the one they had at their wedding. The cake topper was the same one they had on their wedding cake.

The four sons...John, Jim, Dave, and Tim. If Dave and Tim switched places, they'd be in birth order.

The oldest and the youngest, John and Dave, look the most alike. In fact, somebody came up to John and asked how the house construction was going....it's Dave that's building the house. Somebody else asked Dave how the water situation is in Tera....uhhh, he hasn't been there so he doesn't really know!

Here's a shot of Mom D and her four sisters in birth order from right to left: Jean, Muriel, Bev, Lucille, and Joyce. The other four all live in Tacoma, Washington....or near Tacoma, anyway.

Caleb designed a new DeValve family crest that was really cool. That was the family gift to Mom and Dad D and they also got polo shirts with the crest on it. In fact, we will all be getting these shirts. So, it was a really great party!