Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas 2010

It has been nice to have Daniel and Suzanne home for Christmas.  "Home".....We had a discussion one night about how this is not really home to any of us.  I think "home" comes from living for a period of time in a place and experiencing things together.  For Daniel and Suzanne, they might call this "home" because we are together as a family, but they haven't been here enough to have shared experiences, memories, and traditions that are centered in this place.  We all feel a bit more like guests than anything.  Which is how we should feel on this earth in general.  Heaven is our true home and we are only temporary residents here on earth.

But we tried to do some of our usual Christmas traditions and we did some new things as well.  Since we live so close to Washington DC we took a day to do some more touring. This time we went first to the Library of Congress.  I love this building.  It is so majestic and beautiful.  Everywhere you turn there are interesting things to see.  Even though it is an old building (that's American old, not English old!) it is light, perhaps because of the white marble and skylights. You can see that even the ceilings are interesting.  Perhaps one of the most interesting things is the reading room. The general public is not allowed in the reading room.  However, John is because he has a Library of Congress member card.  In fact, he spends quite a bit of time reading and researching for his doctoral studies in this very room. I think I'd be so busy looking at all the architectural features that I'd not get much studying done!

Our next stop was the Thai restaurant.   Then we got back on the subway and took a ride over to the Museum of American History.  This was my 3rd visit in four months and I still haven't seen it all!  Suzanne wanted to see the 1st ladies' dresses so we went there.  I really like this one...Suzanne thought I was nuts. Maybe it's because with that fluffy thing on the side it would really disguise large hips! We also visited Julia Child's kitchen. Every time I look at her kitchen I notice something new. If you click on this picture and look at it larger you will see that there is even a jar of Skippy peanut butter on the counter, under the green canisters. Julia Childs loved pans and gadgets and they are all over the kitchen. This wall of her kitchen was removed to put up a plexi-glass wall so we can look in.  But it shows how all her pans were hanging there.  We then went up to the 3rd floor to see a pop-culture display that turned out to be disappointing.  But on the way we stumbled across this fantastic doll house!  We loved it and spent a long time looking at all the tiny miniature details.  It was a delight and took me back to my childhood of playing dolls.  I only wish I'd known it was would have been so much fun to have shown it to our friends' little girl a few weeks ago.

As we exited the Museum of American History, we caught the sun setting behind the Washington Monument.  Our next subway ride took us to the Portrait Gallery.  Again we visited the Norman Rockwell display which I highly recommend.  Then we went up to the President's Gallery. There is a portrait of every single president. I think this one of Bill Clinton wins the prize for uniqueness. It is like a pixelated picture or a giant paint by number.  I think you had to see it close up to see how it is done.  There was also a section on freedom-fighters.  Here is Suzanne in front of a picture of George Washington Carver.

We had thought of going to see the national Christmas tree, but it was getting late and we were all cold, so we decided to just head home.

On Christmas Eve we had a delicious dinner of chickencurry. 
Christmas morning we gathered for the reading of the Christmas story and for gift opening.  Daniel had gotten and painted this paint-by-number for Suzanne. We had all worked on it every moment we got, but it wasn't quite finished by Christmas morning.  We all worked on it more during Christmas day and finally got it finished.  It looks just like a photograph from a distance. Gift opening was immediately followed by our traditional sticky bun breakfast.  These buns were the result of a group effort by Daniel, Suzanne, and I.  I made the dough in the bread machine, prepared the sugar spread, and made the caramel sauce and then went to bed.  When the dough was done in the machine, Daniel and Suzanne rolled them out, put them in the pan, and then into the fridge.  While we opened our presents they finished rising and then I popped them in the oven.

For Christmas dinner we did a five-course dinner.  The first course was an appetizer:  cream-cheese roll-ups. The 2nd course was pumpkin soup.  The third course was broccoli salad.  By the 4th course we were so full we could hardly eat it!  We had roast chicken (I didn't do a turkey since it was just the four of us), sweet potatoes, green beans with garlic and butter, and home-made rolls.  As you can imagine, we couldn't even eat the 5th course:  cherry pie and apple pie.  Instead we had the pie for supper!  And this is our very special drink. I can buy Mexican cokes at the International food store.  They taste just like Niger cokes because they are made with sugar instead of fructose syrup.

And now it's time to go on a diet! 

Monday, December 20, 2010

They Forgot Jesus

Christmas.....such a great time of year and I am really enjoying it.....
.....Daniel and Suzanne are both home.

.....It snowed a little on Thursday, so now it looks like Christmas (even though the snow is mostly gone now).

 .....We got our Christmas tree and decorated it.

.....We drove through the neighborhood and looked at Christmas lights.  This one was ridiculously lit up with a ton of JUNK.  I'd hate to be the one paying their December electric bill!  We also went to the Winter Festival of Lights in Prince George's County at the Watkins Regional Park.  They had lights in every shape and form and some of them were pretty cool.  There were candy canes, a Santa shooting hoops (this one appeared to move with Santa's feet on the floor and then dunking the ball), deer (my favorite one), a Maryland crab, and even a rock and roll band.

But as we drove through the park, we remarked that there was no Jesus.  No nativity.  No remembrance of what Christmas is REALLY about.  Christmas is really about Jesus' birth.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Sure we enjoy the lights, the tree, the gifts, but those all have symbolism in the the true meaning of Christmas.  But what does a Maryland crab, a rock and roll band, and high electric bills have to do with the true meaning of Christmas?

I'll tell you what the true meaning of Christmas is.  It's a program our church had called Feed the 500.  It's over 100 people from our church, New Song Bible Fellowship Church, coming together at 5:30 Saturday morning to unload 900 boxes of food from a semi truck to distribute to people in difficult economic situations.  It wasn't easy getting up that early and going out in the bitter cold, but Jesus said when we feed the hungry, we are feeding Him, so that made it worth it.  Daniel and John joined a group of men outside at the truck, offloading the boxes.  400 of them went on to another truck to go to a church in Annapolis and 500 of them were brought inside our church.  Inside, Suzanne and I helped a group of ladies unpack boxes of milk, rice, pancake mix, and eggs and put one of each into a grocery bag.  We left around 9:30, but throughout the day a constant stream of people worked to welcome the families who came to get boxes of food.  Each box, which were purchased from the AngelFood Ministries to be donated to families in need, contains enough groceries for three people for one week.  As families came in they were welcomed, given a warm drink, then ushered into the sanctuary where they heard the gospel message, could have their blood pressure checked, and could have somebody pray with them if they desired.  Then they moved down the hall to receive their box of food.  If they didn't want to participate in the activities in the sanctuary, they didn't have to.  Nothing was forced on anybody.  The sole purpose was to show the love of Christ and give opportunities for people to hear the gospel.  Many people who came to receive food would not otherwise come into a church.

Christmas is also remembering that CHRIST came as the Messiah.  What a fantastic church service we had yesterday, remembering that "unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."  
....Wonderful.  EVERYTHING Jesus did caused wonder and awe.
....Counselor.  Christ is God's Counselor.  He is the only One who can be in counsel with God.  We like to think we can tell God what He should do, but Christ is really the only One who God listens to for counsel.  And He counsels us how to act and behave as well.  He wants us to spend time with Him, love on Him, and sit at His feet listening to His advice.  With a Counselor like this, why do we act so confused and upset so much of the time???!!
....Mighty God.  We should fall at His feet!
....Everlasting Father.  He is the Man who abides forever, the Father of the future age, and the Father of eternity.
....Prince of Peace.  He removes all peace-disturbing powers.  Nothing outside of Jesus can give you peace.

When I looked through my pictures of the Christmas lights, this was at the end. I have no idea how or when I took a picture of nothing.  But with out Jesus, that's what Christmas is.  NOTHING.  Emptiness. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Frigid Day in DC

Our friends, Steve and Jo, and their three kids came down from PA to visit us.  They were our 2nd visitors (Mom and Dad had been here in October).  We've been pretty lonely here, so it was great to see familiar faces and to spend time with them.  We all feel comfortable around each other even though we are not exactly the same generation (not quite old enough to be their parents, but too much older to be siblings).  They came Sunday afternoon and we talked until quite late.  Not too late, though, because we needed to get up for our big day of touring DC!

It was so much fun to have their three kids with us.  Everything was an adventure for them and I never once heard one of them whine or complain.  It's always refreshing to see things through the eyes of children.  Maybe that's why Jesus said we should come to Him as little children.

After the experience in which our friend's car was stolen at the metro station, plus the fact that we don't have a Park 'n Ride pass, we decided to just take the bus to the metro station.  We got out there a bit early and had to stand in the bitter cold waiting for the bus.  At the station it took us forever to figure out how to buy tickets.  I don't believe anything is obvious in Washington DC!  But finally we were on our way.

Our first stop was the Portrait Gallery, one of the Smithsonian Museums.  Our metro station came out right at the Gallery, but we discovered it didn't open until 11:30 so we had 45 minutes to waste.  The guys ran across the street to the Spy Museum (which cost too much when they'd only have 45 minutes there).  Us girls browsed in the tent shops that were set up outside the museum.  Little Miss C was given a job of helping to arrange some cards in a basket at one of the shops.  I must say that she can wrap anybody around her little finger.  Not because she tries to but she just has an honest and innocent way of speaking to people that endears her to them.

The museum finally opened its doors.  We went to see a display of Norman Rockwell Art, but we had to go through this atrium to get there.  I just loved this room.  Because the ceiling is glass, it is all natural light.  The floor seemed to be tiled with something that absorbed sound.  So it was like even if people spoke at a normal level, it just felt quiet in there.  And I love natural light, so this room was full of it.  It was also decorated for Christmas with trees and poinsettias, yet it almost felt tropical.  

Norman Rockwell has always been one of my favorite painters because his pictures tell stories (generally if I have to try to figure out what in the world the artist is trying to say, I don't like it!).  The display showed how he would pose his subjects and then he usually took photos of them.  He might take three or four photos of different aspects of a picture and then combine those photos in his painting.  For example, there was one of a sole lady on the jury and she was the only one with a different opinion, so the 11 men were trying to convince her to change her mind.  He had a picture of the woman sitting at the table alone, a picture of the table littered with papers and cigarette butts, etc. and a picture of the jurors around the lady.  Then he combined those three pictures into one picture.  There were pictures of his in the display I had never seen before.  And of course some of my favorites weren't there.  He painted thousands of pictures and they are in different collections.

From there we made a quick trip to Burger King for lunch and then over to the Ford Theater where Lincoln was shot.  There is a museum in the basement, so we went through that.  It could take hours to read every single thing, so we didn't do that.  It was interesting, but the highlight was to go in to the theater.  Of course, back in the day when Lincoln was shot, it had been bad for business and things fell in to disrepair.  It wasn't until years later that it was restored.  In Lincoln's day the theater sat 1,000 people.  Today it only seats 650.  That's because the seats are much wider today than they were back then.  Also, the 2nd balcony had been benches and were .25 cent tickets, so people just crammed in there.  Now the entire 2nd balcony is sound booth.  This is the presidential booth and it is replicated as close as possible to the way it was the night Lincoln was shot.
After touring the Ford Theater, we got back on the subway.  The ladies went to the Museum of American History and the guys went to the Air and Space Museum.  We girls wanted to see the 1st ladies' inaugural gowns.  Many of the gowns weren't on display but there were pictures of them.  One of the prettiest gowns is Michelle Obama's.  We also got to see Julia Child's kitchen.  "Bon appetit!"

By then it was getting dark out and we wanted to see the national Christmas tree and the White House all lit up with Christmas lights.  Not only was it dark, but it was incredibly windy and extremely cold.  The temps were in the 30s but the wind chill factor was down in the teens.  If we all look a bit funny in these pictures with our scarfs around our necks and our hats and hat hair, well, it's just because we were trying to stay warm!

Us girls walked down to the tree, going near the Washington Monument on the way.  While waiting for the guys to come, we took shelter in an alcove of a gift shop building.  It's hard to see in this picture of the monument, but the flags were flying straight out.  It was a bone-chilling wind, let me tell you.  Finally the guys came and we let them warm up a bit before we went out to the tree.  The idea is that you walk around the tree through a path that has barriers on either side and when you get to the other side you can also see the White House.  When we got up to the fence the Park Ranger said he couldn't let us in because it was temporarily closed and he didn't know when it would open.  (We had just seen a helicopter flying very low, so I imagine President Obama had just been brought home for supper!  Who knows?)  We took a vote and decided it was too cold to just wait for who knows how long to see the lights on the White House.  That was the closest to complaining anybody got all day!  So we headed back to our metro station.  Have I said it was cold??? Boy, were we glad to get on the train and be headed home.  Back at the home station we caught a we knew went near the college where we live.  Unfortunately it didn't drop us off right outside the gate like the one we had taken in the morning, so we had more walking to do in the cold.  Boy, did the warmth of home ever feel good!

By the way, just so you don't think I'm exaggerating about the cold or anything, the weather man says this is one of the coldest Decembers on record.  So far we've only had two dustings of snow.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Facts about Niger

John spoke in chapel last week, introducing the country of Niger to the student body.  I made a power point presentation to go along with his presentation.  We talked about the challenges in Niger.
1.  The Challenge of the Heat 
Niamey is the 2nd hottest capital city in the world.  Niger's average temperature is 84.6.  Compare that to 55.7 degrees for Maryland and 49.9 degrees for Scranton, PennsylvaniaWe're talking hot, folks.  (And that also explains why we're always so cold here in the US!)  For about eight months of the year temperatures are routinely over 100 degrees.  In May the temps don't even go below 80.  This extreme heat leads to
2.  Extreme weather.  For eight to nine months of the year there is absolutely no rain at all. When the rains come, they are accompanied by violent dust storms.  Sometimes there just isn't enough rain and famine results.  This extreme climate and frequent droughts lead to
3.  Extreme poverty  The average yearly income is $391.00 which is less than $2.00 a day.  Can you imagine working for even $2.00 an hour?!  Millet is the main crop and the main source of food.  The majority of farms are worked by hand.  When the drought comes, the harvest fails, and people don't have jobs, making for very hard times.  Niger is rated #167 out of 169 countries on the Human Development Index.
The poverty results in inadequate health care.  Doctors and nurses are overworked as there are three doctors per 100,000 people.  Of course that is an cities it is much higher and in rural areas it is much lower.  
About 40% of Niger's children are moderately to severely underweight.  Our little neighbor girl, for example, was 10 and looked like a six year old.  167 babies out of every 1,000 will not live to see their 5th birthday.  The average life expectancy in Niger is 51 years old.  That makes me among the old people!  This man was our neighbor in Tera and was a very old man at about 70 years old.

Only 37% of Niger's primary age children go to school.  For example, the man pictured above and his wife had eight children and only two of them went to primary school. The literacy rate in Niger is 42.9% among men and 15.1% among women. 

Niger also faces the challenge of
4.  A fast growing population  When John gave his presentation in chapel somebody was quite vocal about children being a gift from God and then they got up and walked out.  We are NOT saying that family size should be limited.  We were simply stating the fact that Niger's population growth rate is 3.9%, the 3rd fastest growing in the world. Most families cannot be fed on the amount of grain they are able to raise each year.  The problem is mainly polygamy, not God blessing families with children.  So please don't misunderstand me here!
Each woman bears an average of 7 children.  So if there are two wives, that's 14 children; three wives, 21 children; four wives, 28 children.  Or more.  My dear friend seen in this picture has had 11 children.  She is one of three wives.  (Not all the children in this picture are hers....most of her children aren't in the picture.)  Half of Niger's population is under the age of 15.
The final challenge of Niger is that of
5.  Islam  I won't elaborate much here since this is a public site.  The statistic of how many in Niger are Christian is debated, but Operation World says only .33% of Niger's population are Christians.  We have a deep love and respect for our Muslim friends in Niger, but we long to see them come to know Christ as their Savior.

Niger has made many improvements in the years that we've been there.  They continue to address the issues and are doing much to improve healthy living, to encourage girls to go to school, etc.

SIM Niger, as well as other missions and non-profit organizations are doing what they can to help.  We'd love for you to volunteer a year or more of your time to come to Niger to work.  We have positions in church planting, medical work, agricultural work, health teaching, education, literacy, translation, IT, theological training, and education of missionary kids.  Please visit SIM's web site and have a look at the Niger page.