Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Spiritual Life Conference

Imagine this...tired, exhausted, discouraged missionaries from all over Niger coming together to spend five days with each other. Imagine a big family reunion and you have a pretty good picture of our spiritual life conference. Throw in superb music and excellent teaching along with delicious meals and you've got the makings of a memorable time.

Our spiritual life conference is probably the highlight of the year for many of us missionaries here in Niger. Many come exhausted and discouraged. Others come encouraged and excited about their ministries. All come ready to listen to the messages and participate in the worship and just to hang out together. It's probably safe to say that all leave encouraged.

John was in charge of the worship this year, but there were some pretty big challenges in getting it all set up. A team came from Green Valley Community Church in CA. They brought with them the speaker, Pastor Ken Burkey, people to help with the kids and youth program, a professional photographer and a professional videographer, and a worship team. Ahead of time John had to coordinate with the worship team to make sure they did a fair number of songs we already know. Nobody enjoys worship if ALL the songs are new! He also needed to make sure that we did a lot of French songs. It's not always easy to communicate from out here when you're never quite sure if your email was received or not.

At any rate, they pulled it all together. A lot of it was last-minute, which isn't John, but he went with the flow and it came off well. They were a young, energetic group and John, knowing the mind-set of a lot of the missionaries, asked them at the beginning to tone it down a bit. They submitted to him and did the cultural thing...adapted themselves to their target "audience". They showed a lot of humility, love and Christ-like character. By the end of the week they had earned enough love and respect that they were able to pull out all stops and do music the way they enjoy doing it. It was really great!

The speaker was also excellent. His messages spoke right to the heart and confirmed that now is the time for us to move to Niamey. God really used him to speak to both John and me.

Suzanne enjoyed the youth meetings and she was also on the worship team. I don't have any photos of her singing, though. She was sick with asthma one day so she took all these photos. Her class, with my help, did a spaghetti supper the first night and they sold Cokes everyday. All the profit they made will go towards their senior trip. They are still juniors but wanted to get a head start. They made a good bit of money!

I was behind the computer doing power point, so no photos of me, either!

One night during conference the music team put on an outdoor concert. They did another one when the Sahel Academy students came back. This photo is from that night. In this picture the kids were all up front with the band. Suzanne is in the center.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


One day I was at my neighbor's house and noticed this calf and lamb. They are best friends, following each other everywhere. They even play together, butting up against each other. They seem to show affection by rubbing up against each other....but maybe they're just scratching an itch! It just goes to show that friendship isn't always what you expect it to be!

Can I be honest? Sometimes I feel like people like me for my money and for what they can get out of me. Especially since we've decided to move some people have expressed their distress over us leaving because it is going to hurt them economically. It is easy to convince myself that I am being used.

Then something happens to show that that isn't necessarily true.

Three of Suzanne's m.k. friends came up to visit during the Christmas holidays. We have really wide window sills, and one of the girls laid her cell phone and her jacket in the dining room window (this very window!). Later in the evening when she went to retrieve her phone, it was gone. They noticed that the screen had been pulled up and it was pretty clear the phone had been stolen. There are always kids peering in that window, but we have never had any of the kids steal any thing. They are naughty in a childish way, but we've never known any of them to be mini criminals. We did notice that there had been kids in the yard that we didn't know.

I told our house helper (one of the ones who I sometimes feel likes me for my money!) about it. She was really upset and went and told several key people in the neighborhood. Her husband was really upset and his reaction was, "They have been here 16 years and have never done anything to hurt anybody. It's not right that someone would take advantage of their guests like that." Two men down the street who sit outside all day started interrogating kids. They eventually found the one all the other kids were saying it probably was. He denied it, but when they went in his house, they found it! The men beat the boy, then brought the phone back to us!

If we did not have deep relationships with people in the neighborhood, people wouldn't really have cared if we got the phone back or not. But because they know us and know we have always been honest and kind they are willing to take justice into their own hands and to treat us right. Friendship may not always look the way you expect it to!

The next day a good friend of John's, one of the Tera Six, came to visit. He said, "When we've known you this long it is hard to say goodbye because it's like we are brothers." In this culture a brother can be anything from a brother to a half brother to a step brother to a cousin. But he used the term "nya fo, baabe fo" -- same mother, same father-- the closest kind of brother relationship.

Bearing our grief over leaving and bearing the grief of our friends that they seem to put back on us has not been easy. We know we are doing the right thing and have been able to make this move with joy, but it's not been easy. If you have a copy of Oswald Chamber's My Utmost for His Highest read January 11. He talks about when we obey Christ it is a joy for us, but it often costs others a great deal because their plans are upset, especially if they do not love Christ . He says, "We can disobey God if we choose, and it will bring immediate relief to the situation, but we shall be a grief to our Lord. Whereas if we obey God, He will look after those who have been pressed into the consequences of our obedience. We have simply to obey and to leave all consequences with Him."

Isn't it amazing how God sends the confirmation and the comfort you need at just the right time?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Christmas in Niger

Days spent going to the market, buying a 100-lb. sack of rice, big squash, spaghetti, huge tins of tomato paste, spices for the sauce, a nice fat goat, and firewood…… Preparing a message for Christmas….. Hiring women to cook the food….. Making numerous trips to Doumba to get people …. Trying to control unruly kids….. Preaching….. Singing and playing the guitar…… Hosting 100 people for the meal in our yard….. More trying to control unruly kids….. Playing games with people….. Making popcorn and Kool-aid for a late afternoon snack….. More trips to take people back to Doumba….. Cleaning up the mess….. EXHAUSTION!

This year, even before we decided to move to Niamey, we realized it was time for other people to take more responsibility for the Christmas celebration. We enjoyed it, but it was so exhausting every year. We felt like if everybody wanted Christmas, then they needed to get involved in it.

To make it simpler this year, we decided to go to Doumba since that’s where the greatest number of believers live. That would automatically eliminate the problem of crowd control with the kids who live in Tera! A_____ said he was willing to do the message and plan the program.

So, we packed our truck with 11 people and headed to Doumba. Once there, John made one trip out in to the bush to pick up people who live there. We waited in the quiet of the new church building. Most of the people who came with us were ladies from my Bible study group.

A______ led the service and gave the message. He did a good job. The Gourmas are very musical so we enjoyed their antiphonal songs as well as some western-style music.

Afterwards the women cooked a delicious meal for us. I didn’t help much….just held somebody’s baby, talked, and took pictures. Suzanne and I went and sat in some comfortable chairs in the shade of a tree. She had woken up that morning around 5 a.m. terribly congested and sneezing. She asked me for some medicine and without thinking I gave her a full dose of a Dristan-type medicine. It knocked her out and then three hours later I had to wake her up. Those pills last about 8 hours so she felt like she was on drugs all day.

I had some magazines I was looking at and the kids were fascinated by them. Good thing I don’t mind close contact with kids!

The food wasn’t served until 3:30, so we were good and hungry by then. It was really delicious. While I had my hands plunged into the rice, my parents called on the cell phone. I got up to go somewhere where I could hear better and when I came back all the meat had been eaten! Somebody went and found me a piece, so I didn’t have to go without after all.

It was one of the best church Christmases we’ve had in a long time.