Sunday, June 28, 2009

Another Wedding

John's nephew, Caleb DeValve, was married on June 20. This is the 2nd wedding we've attended in a month and wow, what a contrast the two were. Each were beautiful and meaningful in their own ways, but they can't be compared and so I won't even try.

As soon as we got to the USA, Suzanne and I had to go shopping for something to wear. Suz bought the first dress she tried on. It fit her perfectly and was gorgeous on her. Mine wasn't so easy....I tried on a lot of different dresses and all fit weirdly in some way or another. Then I got rushed because I knew we were supposed to meet John back at a certain door at a set time....and that is when I found the right dress. I quickly found shoes which actually turned out to be comfortable even though they are dressy.

Also staying at my parents-in-law's house was Dave (John's brother) and Debbie and their four kids. About half an hour before the wedding Jim (another brother) and Beth Anne and their three sons and two girlfriends arrived from New Jersey. They needed to get changed and freshened up. We all managed to get ready in time...17 people in two bathrooms! It's probably a good thing that Suzanne spent the night at a friend's house and got ready there! John and his youngest brother look a lot. Nobody could doubt that they are brothers! So it got quite a reaction when they both appeared in the living room dressed almost the same.Here we are at the church before the ceremony.

We didn't know any of the bridesmaids but three of the four groomsmen were our nephews. My pictures of the ceremony didn't turn out very well because we couldn't use flash and the lighting was confusing my camera, so most of the pictures turned out blurry. They asked Grandpa (my father-in-law) to do the ceremony.It was possibly the shortest ceremony I have ever seen, but it was very nice and certainly had all the essential elements in it! (The longest I've ever been to was one in Niamey that was over two hours long!!)

The reception was at a beautiful country club. Here are Caleb and Keri during the bridal dance. The Bible says that he who finds a wife finds a good thing. Caleb has been blessed with a girl who is beautiful from the inside out. I think he looks pretty happy about it!

The best man was the groom's youngest brother. He is 16, I think, but his toast to the bride and groom was great. He used it to not only honor his brother but also to honor Jesus Christ.

I always get a bit teary-eyed when the bride dances with her father. The daughter/dad relationship is just something really special. The mother/son dance was also beautiful. My sister-in-law has been such a fantastic mother to her four sons and it has paid off.

Here are a few more fun shots from the reception:

Suzanne and three of her friends....two of them are dating DeValve boys. She got to know them because she and Daniel spent most of our week in CT over at the groom's family house.

The groomsmen (from left to right) Jacob, Seth, and Levi called their grandpa up to sing Happy Birthday to him. On his 79th brithday he had the privilege of performing the wedding ceremony of his oldest grandchild.

The groom's brothers: Seth, Levi, and Jacob (from left to right)

The food was really good (especially the hors d'oeurvres!) The cake was also beautiful. It was a true fairy-tale wedding.

If you know Caleb and Keri and would like to see the official professional photos, they can be seen here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Suzanne's Graduation

We are now in the USA. So much has already happened and the climate is so different that what happened just a few weeks ago in Niger seems so long ago and so far away. But it is time to take a short trip back in time and update you on Suzanne's graduation.

First, there was the junior/senior banquet. Because Sahel is such a small school, the banquet is for juniors, seniors, seniors' families, and school staff. It is a celebration of their accomplishments and a time to think about the future. There were ten in this year's graduating class...Sahel's largest graduating class ever! The banquet was held at a pretty nice hotel that overlooks the Niger River. In addition to lots of food, there was a program to honor the seniors. The juniors sang a song to them and had prophecies of what would happen in their lives. Suzanne's involved being a soccer player and marrying the coach and then being a missionary teacher. The parents also had a song....our last chance to embarrass our kids publicly. John put together a song to the tune of Gilligan's Island. Then each parent interjected a short song specifically about their kids at certain points in the song. Many of us wore some of our kids' clothes or something to do with their style of music. It was pretty funny.Then there was the graduation. It was held on the green at Sahel. It was pretty hot out, but at least there was a bit of a breeze. The graduates were really hot, though, with their robes and sashes.

Tam's dad opened the ceremony in prayer.

The worship team had a few songs.

A home-school student who grew up in eastern Niger graduated with the Sahel graduating class.

The seniors also sang a song...I Will Trust in You by Jeremy Camp.

Then one of the teachers gave a commendation to the students, saying something special and specific about each student. It was very moving.

Then each student gave a brief speech thanking certain people for their input into their lives and telling what they will be doing in the near future.

That was followed by a message about remaining in the vine. The speaker gave each graduate a key chain that is a representation of the Arbre de Tenere which was a tree that grew solitary in the desert but whose roots went way down deep to keep it alive (until a drunken motorist backed in to it and killed it!)

Finally, the long awaited moment came and each student received their diploma. Unfortuantely my batteries started to give out then and I didn't get a good picture of Suzanne.

The graduation was followed by a reception. It was a fun evening! And we now have two college students in the family!

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Wedding

Can you imagine if you were the first in your family or in your town to buck tradition and do things a new way? I'm talking about things that just aren't negotiable. That would take a certain amount of courage and bravery, don't you think? You would really need to be convicted that what you are doing is right and that it is something that God would want you to do.

Recently we attended a wedding that was the first Christian wedding to take place in that area. There are other Christian marriages, but the couples were either not Christians when they married or they were married outside that area. To make things even more interesting, the bride and groom had never even seen a Christian wedding. It's possible the groom had seen a western-style wedding on TV or video as he has done a fair bit of traveling. But keep in mind that their village doesn't even have electricity so they have seen little TV in their lives.

So how do you do a Christian marriage that is definitely Christian but is allowed to keep traditions that aren't contrary to the Word of God? I want you to know that this wedding took a great deal of advanced planning and council from different people as well as discussions with both the bride, the groom, and their families.

Here in Niger, at least in rural areas which is all I know about, the bride and groom don't show up to the marriage ceremony. There are usually two parts: the "tying of the book" in which the families agree that this couple are married and the bride price, etc. is agreed upon. Their uncles do this arrangement at the mosque while the women gather together at home waiting to hear the news that the marriage has been agreed to. The bride is sequestered in the back room of the house with her girlfriends. Who knows where the groom is? Then, usually later but sometimes the same day, the bride is brought to the groom's house. Again, the bride is sequestered and then is taken under cover to the groom's house. The friends and family celebrate, but the bride and groom are not in the middle of the celebrations!

So this was highly unusual to have the bride and groom come out in public.

The friends and family sat on mats and benches in the shade of a huge neem tree. All family and friends were invited. It was nice that it was outside so nobody felt excluded. We sang some songs while the bride and groom came to the gathering (can't really say "came in" since we were all outside; can't say "came down the aisle" because there wasn't one). The idea was for her parents and the representatives from his family to come in and then the bride and groom. But her entire extended family came in together. I really liked that because solidarity and community is extremely important here.Here in Niger, and especially in rural areas, engaged couples do not show displays of affection in public. So, the bride sat turned away from her groom and the groom sat with his head down to show respect and humbleness. None of this indicates that they don't like each other.

First, John gave an excellent message on marriage. He preached in French and it was translated into Songhai.Then the pastor from our church in Niamey had them stand up to exchange vows. He asked them the usual vows and also one that is done here in Niger....will you stay with each other even if there are no children? The culture here allows for divorce if the wife doesn't produce any children. During weddings brides and grooms are meant to look serious and not be silly to show the importance of the occasion. But the groom just couldn't keep the smile off his face.

The pastor and others who came from Niamey wanted the bride and groom to kiss, but we said that just isn't done in public here and it would be a highly uncomfortable situation for the bride and groom as well as for those watching. Even holding hands would cause some embarassment, but he did get them to do that. They also exchanged rings. We don't believe that the Bible says a couple needs to have rings, but the symbolism of never-ending love that is found in a ring is a good one. Look at the little girl on the ground behind them!
The pastor then blessed the couple and they knelt and the elders and pastors who were present laid their hands on them.

Because the bride is still very young, they will not live together for another year or two. As I mentioned above, this is not at all unusual here in Niger. The couple are married .... it's very much like Joseph and Mary in the Bible. They were married, but not living together at the time of Jesus' conception. Mary also was probably very young when her marriage to Joseph took place. (I love how the culture here makes the Bible come alive!)

Pulling this wedding together caused John a lot of stress for reasons I can't go into here. But in the end it was God-honoring and beautiful in its simplicity. Some young people from one of the churches were there....they also have never seen a Christian wedding, so we pray this will set the trend for many of them. Those who attended seemed to really enjoy and appreciate the wedding and I think it was a great testimony for Christ.

Here are a few more shots from the wedding day:Don't you love all the colors?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

CSEN Community Service

A lot of things have happened in the past few weeks. I hardly know where to begin, so I'll start with the community service team I'm on. We still don't have internet back at our house, so I'm doing this from the office.

It has been my privilege this year to drive a group of high schoolers to the children's home. We call it "the orphanage", but the children there aren't orphans in the strictest sense. They are children at risk either from poverty, abuse, or neglect and CSEN provides a safe home for them. There they are fed, clothed, taught, and kept off the streets. Best of all, they learn about Jesus.(Daniel and Trae unintentionally dressed in almost the same shirt. They are both wearing #22 for Kaka, a Brazilian Christian football (soccer to the Americans) player.)

The Sahel students go once a week to play with the kids there. I provide transport, but I enjoy being with the kids, too. So the last day of our time with the kids, instead of going to their place we brought them all to Sahel Academy for a party. There are about 30 kids and we stuffed them all in two vehicles.

They played on the playground equipment for awhile, but the highlight was when somebody turned on the hose and started spraying the kids. There were shoes, shirts, and shorts strewn all over the school yard as they stripped right down to their undies to enjoy the cool, refreshing water. When it's over 100 degrees that hose sure feels good!

Moise has become my little buddy this year. He doesn't laugh a lot, but he loves being tossed up in the air. I can't really throw him....he's too heavy and my shoulder hurts....but holding him up high like this gets a good laugh out of him. You can see he's not too sure about it, though, because he's holding on to my shirt for dear life.

After playing for awhile, we had snacks for them. There were also some gifts for them. My dad used to always say he could tell when we'd had a party at school because we'd come home with Kool-Aid mustaches and glazed eyes. I think these kids went home looking the same way. They had so much sweet stuff to eat they probably were all hyper the rest of the afternoon and they probably all refused to eat their suppers!

The same day, as we were having our party, about half of the Grand Marche burned to the ground. I never have heard how the fire started, but many of the shops were made of plywood and tin and they burnt quickly, spreading from one little shack to the next. The firemen had a hard time containing the fire because the wind kept switching directions. Sadly, a lot of people lost their livelihood. It is a real blow to the local economy. I loved shopping at the Grand Marche, so I will really miss not being able to go there. Maybe when we return in two years it will be rebuilt. Check out John's blog for a full description of the fire: Here (click on the word "here").

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Life is a Whirlwind!

Life is a whirlwind of activity right now. I have tons of things to blog about, but the internet has been down at our house for five days and counting. Not only that, I just don't have time to post anything. So, I'll be back soon....and when I am I'll have to post every day for a week to let you know what all has been happening!