Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Day in DC

We have been living in the DC area for about six weeks and hadn't yet taken time to visit the city.  Finally on Saturday we got a chance to go.  We can take a bus from the college straight to the metro station, but on Saturday the parking lot at the metro station is free, so we just drove down.  We bought tickets and were off.  There was only about two other people in the car on the train we got on.

First we went to the Library of Congress.  John wanted to get a Reader's Card so he can do some of his doctoral research there.  The Library of Congress has several buildings.  This is one of the newer ones and the place where one must obtain the card.  After he got his card he wanted to do some work in the periodicals room, also in that building.  So I went over to the older building...the one you undoubtedly picture in your mind when I mention the Library of Congress.  It is an absolutely beautiful building inside.  I could spend a long time in there just people-watching and enjoy the grandeur of the place. Unfortunately you can only go in the reading room if you have a Reader's Card.  Maybe I will have to get a Reader's Card just so I can go in there!  There was a door you could peek into, but I want to see and smell the books!  

From there I went back outside and found John and then we met Daniel for lunch.  We went to a Thai restaurant for lunch.  I thought it was a bit expensive at $9-something a plate.  But we got tons to eat and it was delicious.  Later on the mall I saw they were selling hotdogs, fries, and a cookie for $11.75 so that made our lunch deal look like money better spent!

After lunch we walked past the capitol and wandered around the mall.  They were having a huge book exposition on the mall...selling books, authors speaking, and book signings by authors.  I only saw two names on the list of authors that I recognized.  We didn't buy anything, but it was fun to wander around.  It was a pretty hot day and I was dehydrated so I finally found a place to buy a $2.00 bottle of water.  Wow, did it taste good!

From there we headed over to the Museum of American History.  Of course, since I was with my two war-history loving men we spent most of our time in the war section:  Revolutionary, Civil War, World Wars I & II, and Vietnam.  I must admit it was very interesting and I even learned some new things.  Then they humored me and we went to see Julia Child's kitchen, also in that museum.  Last of all we visited the transportation section.  We'll have to go back there as we only saw less than 1/3 of the museum.  And I've got to go see the First Ladies' Inaugural Ball gown display.  I've seen it before and definitely want to see it again.  

By then it was time to head home. First we took two very crowded trains back to where Daniel stays so I could get his prescription to refill for him.  Then we headed home.  My feet and back were so tired we just had left-overs for supper! 

Monday, September 20, 2010


Sounds like some strange, deadly tropical disease, doesn't it?

Well, it's not a disease....in fact, it's an emotion.  More than that, it's an action.  But it does have something to do with your stomach!

I've been reading through Isaiah and today's reading (actually yesterday and today....I didn't read yesterday and had two days to do today) had one wonderful verse after another.  God is warning His people that if they don't repent, He will have to punish them to bring them to their senses.  But He doesn't want to do that and so He begs them to repent.  The Lord says that his
"people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men." (Isaiah 29:13)  
He begs them to repent saying, "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength." (Isaiah 30:15)  
"Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.  For the Lord is a God of justice.  Blessed are all who wait for him!" (Isaiah 30:18)
"How gracious he will be when you cry for help!  as soon as he hears, he will answer you." (Isaiah 30:21)

The word and the concept here that really grabbed me is "compassion".  Reading these verses took me back to a message I heard back in January in which the meaning of the word compassion struck me like it never had before.  George Murray, the chancellor of CIU, was speaking at Cedarville University's missions conference.  He was speaking on Matthew 9:36, which says, "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."

Mr. Murray explained how the word translated compassion  is "splagchnizomai" in Greek.  Now, not being a Greek scholar, that means little to me.  But it means that it is a physical pain that hits you right in the gut.

Having spent time in Africa, I know what it is like to feel physical pain in your gut.  Anybody who has had a good case of amoebas or giardia knows what I'm talking about!  Sometimes that pain hits you so hard, you just double over with it.  Grabbing your stomach, you make a run for the bathroom.

Or imagine how you feel when you're scared out of your mind.  It hits you right in the stomach, doesn't it, sometimes making you literally sick to your stomach.

This is what Jesus felt when he saw the crowds of people and had compassion on them. It is what God felt when he begged the people to repent and that he would forgive them.  It is what God felt when He sent His Son so we could find true repentance.  The word picture here is like somebody punched Jesus in the gut and he was bent double with the pain. (Note: I wish I could give credit to the artist of this beautiful picture....I found it on the internet, but with no explanation of origin).

I wondered if today's meaning of compassion differs from the sense of the word splagchnizomai, so I looked it up.  The dictionary says it is "a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering."  Well, I wouldn't say it is as strong as splagchnizomai  but it does give the idea of a strong desire to do something about it.

The definition in Wikipedia was much more helpful.  It said that the original meaning of the word was "to suffer with".  It also said that an individual's compassion is "often given a property of 'depth', 'vigour', or 'passion'".  The idea is that it isn't just an emotion that you feel, but it is an emotion of feeling the same pain somebody else is experiencing and then doing something about it.

So, when God felt compassion  on His people, He did something about it.  In the Old Testament, He gave them opportunities to repent and promised to be gracious to them.  He showed His compassion by sending His Son.  
When Jesus felt compassion for the crowds, he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." (Mt.9:37, 38) He sent His disciples out to spread the Good News!  
He also laid His hands on people and healed the sick (Mt.14:14; 20:34; Mark 1:41;).  
He fed them (Mt. 15:32; Mark 8:2).  
He forgave them (Mt. 18:27).  
He taught them (Mark 6:34).  
He drove out demons (Mark 9:22).  
He comforted the bereaved and raised their dead to life (Luke 7:13).  
He also gave us two stories that demonstrate compassion:  The Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.

I have felt this kind of compassion for people.  I have looked at them and felt a pain deep inside for what they are going through.  But in Niger, the needs are so great and when you are constantly faced with this gut-wrenching feeling you soon begin to harden yourself so that you don't feel that pain.  Sad to say, but after awhile you can turn from a beggar and not feel anything.  You can go to yet another funeral and not shed a tear.  You can even feel yourself becoming cynical and bitter.

What a reminder from Jesus.  I can't imagine that He ever thought, "This hurts too much.  I'll just ignore these people today."  Lord, help me not to turn from the pain I feel when seeing somebody in need....pain that motivates me to help them.  Help me, instead, to know how to handle the pain, how to act wisely in dealing with it so that I don't burn out from the constant pain I see around me.  Help me to be willing to feed, to clothe, to heal, and most of all, to spread the Good News to those who are as sheep without a shepherd.

In researching splagchnizomai I came across a blog written by a Catholic priest who sums it up so beautifully.  Please take a moment to read this article by the Perpetual Priest.  I do not know who this man is, but I loved this article.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Desperate Needs

We have some desperate needs for key positions in Niger.

Perhaps the most desperate right now is the need for a grades 3 & 4 teacher at Sahel Academy.  School has started, but without a teacher for this class.  One of the moms, who is an Art teacher and would like to be able to concentrate on that, and the principal, who leaves for her home assignment in just a few weeks, have been covering the class.  This is a delightful and high energy class...and many parents are able to minister in Niger because of the good education Sahel Academy provides.
If you have training to teach at this level, are a committed Christian who loves kids, and if you would like to have an unforgettable experience overseas, this could be the job for you!  This link to SIM, would put you on the fast-track to get you to Niger ASAP.  Of course, you can also contact me directly and I will put you in touch with the person with whom you need to communicate.  You can also contact our sister organization, Teach Beyond, an organization that provides teachers for Sahel Academy and other mission schools.

Two other high-priority needs we have right now are at the Centre de Sante et de Leprosologie (CSL). 
We need a director and a doctor.  CSL was originally a leprosarium but is expanding to include more general health care.  It is also the site of the Worldwide Fistula Fund (WFF) hospital which is being built right now.  You may remember that I did a blog on women with obstetric fistulas.  We need a director now who can oversee the work of CSL and of WFF.  If you have experience as a hospital director, love the Lord, and have a heart for some of the most downtrodden and underprivileged people of the world, this could be the place for you.  Knowing French would be ideal for the director of this medical center.

Along with that goes the need for a doctor at CSL.  We have one doctor right now, but really need two.  Again, if you are a Christian doctor who loves the downtrodden and underprivileged, this is a place for you!  Of course, some experience in tropical medicine and especially in leprosy treatment would be ideal.  It is not necessary to know how to treat obstetric fistulas as specialists are brought in for that.

The final desperate need is for a director for Sowing Seeds of Change in the Sahel (SSCS)
As you know from other blogs and from current news stories, existence in Niger is tenuous, always depending on whether or not there is a good rainy season.  SSCS  exists to show local farmers better farming methods and alternative crops so that when there is a drought or a poor rainy season they have something other than millet to fall back on.  Much progress has been made in the Maradi area in getting farmers to use alternative food sources, but we need somebody to oversee this work.  If you are a believer who has a degree in agriculture or experience on a farm and who has a heart to help the poor, this position could be for you!

In each of the above job descriptions, I have put several links that explain more about the position or that help you start the process of applying to SIM.  Where ever there is a link, the font is in purple.  Just click directly on the purple writing and you will be taken to another web site.  You can contact me or SIM directly if you are interested. 

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Let Us Not Give Up Meeting Together

Hebrews 10:25 tells us, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another -- and all the more as you see the Day approaching."  Attending church is important to us.  It is where we are encouraged and fed and get our strength for the next week.

In Niger we were involved in a church-planting ministry which was difficult, rewarding, frustrating, blessed.....you name it, every emotion is involved in that kind of ministry.

In Niamey we were involved in a much larger international church. 
Because it's in French I struggle to understand much or to get very involved, but I still benefit from fellowshipping with Africans and Europeans from all over the francophone (and anglophone) world. 

In the USA, we are members of Trinity Covenant Church
in Manchester, CT.  This is my in-law's church and so I married into it, so to speak.  We know a lot of people there and many, many of the members support us.

The church I feel most at home at is Grace Bible Church in Dunmore, PA. 
We have lived near this church during every one of our home assignments and over the years we have gotten to know a lot of people really well.

Since college I have not been in a situation where I had to CHOOSE a church, with the exception of the time John and I studied French in Quebec.  

When we first arrived in Niamey back in 1987 there weren't many churches and we just went to the SIM-related church that spoke French.  I have to admit that church was a real drag for me then.....it started at 11 a.m. and went until 1 p.m. .......the hottest time of the day.  Not only was the building hotter than blue blazes, the benches were backless.  And I didn't understand a word and I felt totally lost.  Well, things have improved since then.  The service is earlier and the backless benches have been replaced with plastic chairs.  Yes, it's still hot but at least you don't have to try to hold yourself up!  Also, the music has really improved and I understand French a little better.  So going to church there is enjoyable now.

In our ministry in the village, we were the church-planters, so we didn't really have a choice about what church to attend!  Especially since there was no church.

On home assignment, we just attend churches that support us, such as Trinity and Grace.  Over the years we have built up a relationship with all of our supporting churches and enjoy each one of them.

So, then we move to Maryland and we don't know where to go to church.  We don't want to spend months "shopping" for a church.  Of course, the prerequisites are that they preach the Gospel, that they are doctrinally sound, and that we enjoy the worship service and benefit from the pastor's messages.  But aside from those things, how do you know if a church "fits" you?  

One thing that is bothering us is that the churches we've visited (two mostly white and one all black) is that they don't seem to reflect the demographics of the area.  The US Census tells me that Prince George's County, where we live, is 65.6% black, 28% white, and 4% Asian.  So, in an ideal world, the church should reflect that.  It seems to me that in a church of 100 people, about 66 of them should be black, 28 should be white, and 4 should be Asian (I know that isn't exactly 100).  But that's not the way it is, at least not in the churches we've visited.

I think the reality is that even if we aren't racist, we still like to hang out with those who are most like us.  And yet, the church is made up of people from every tribe, every language, every nation, every color.  Maybe I'm being idealistic......  And maybe a church with a bigger mix exists in this area and we just haven't found it yet.

We're praying and talking and hope to make a decision soon about which church to attend.  We would appreciate your prayers.  And I have a new-found sympathy for people moving to a new area who are trying to find a church!