Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Random Thoughts on This and That

John has been gone for almost six weeks.  He'll be home on Thursday.  Yeah!!!!  Six weeks is a long time to be apart. But I've managed to keep myself occupied and haven't just sat around moping.  It's not in my personality to do that, anyway.  Also, I was told once that only boring people get bored.  Between work and my own projects, bored is not one of my problems.  So I guess that makes me an interesting person! :)

One of my big projects has been scanning and digitalizing my late father-in-law's slides.  I worked on this project all winter and thought I was done.  Then in May when we went to my mother-in-law's house, she had found a whole bunch more slides.  So this past six weeks I worked hard to finish those.  I breathed a sigh of relief to have that project done....then this past weekend I went back and found a few more!  It has been an enjoyable project, really.  My FIL traveled widely.  He and my MIL worked in Turkey for four years.  While there he traveled to Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Libya, Iran, Greece, and all over Turkey.  Then they spent two years in Nigeria when my husband was young.  So he has some very interesting slides.  Here are a few of my favorites:
A village mosque with the Emadag Mountains in the distance

Inside the Blue Mosque, Istanbul

A street scene in Jerusalem

ceiling of main arch Masjede Sah, Isfahan, Iran

Masjede Sah, Isfahan, Iran

A shaking minaret.  This mosque has two minarets and somehow climbing one makes them both shake.  But it is still standing, 50 years after this picture was taken and probably since hundereds of years before it was taken.

The Olympian in Athens, Greece

I can't find the title for this one, but I believe it was in Ephesus.
As I was scanning these I found I needed to do a lot of color correction because they had turned strange hues of blue or red.  Then I would also get distracted by looking up stuff on the internet about the pictures.  I found this one very interesting. This was the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, a Roman Catholic church in Tripoli, Libya in 1960.  I looked it up on the internet and found that when Khadaffi staged a coup in 1972, this church was turned into a mosque.  This is what it looks like today:   

And while we're on the subject of the Middle East (I told you this was a very random post!)  I highly recommend this article in Christianity Today: 
I really want to get this book now.
Also while on the subject of my late father-in-law.....He was an avid coin collector.  Some of the coins he had were left from their days in Nigeria.  Many of the British West Africa coins had holes in the center so they could be strung on a string for safe-keeping.  My very creative sister-in-law turned some of these coins into jewelry. She also made jewelry out of some of his old keys. Here is what mine looks like:
By the way, if anybody can tell me why there's a star of David on the British West African coins, I'd appreciate it!  I tried to find some information and there are several theories out there but I'm not sure that any of them are based on facts.

Last week I went to Connecticut to visit my mother-in-law and to see my brother and sister-in-law who came up from Oklahoma.  I was privileged to attend the graduation of my nephew while there.
He's the tall one right in the middle.
He was part of a class of over 400 students.  We were in the "nose-bleed" section of the building (thankfully his parents got good seats).  Here's what our view looked like. Thankfully we could see well by looking at the big screens.  All these little symbols after his name means he had a lot of accomplishments!  Afterwards I got this nice picture of Seth and his two grandmas.  I am taller than his grandma on the left and shorter than the one on the right, so you get an idea of how tall he really is.  I am so proud of him....for his academic accomplishments, his athletic abilities, but especially his stand for Christ.  You can see proof of this in his acceptance speech of his athletic scholarship for Princeton University which you can watch here. 
I'm not a fan of football, but suddenly I think I'll become interested in the Princeton football team!

One more random thing.  I enjoy doing counted cross-stitch.  I finished this project awhile back, but hadn't gotten it framed yet.  Here is the final product.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Thoughts on The Cruelest Journey

One of my blogging friends recently had a post reviewing the book The Cruelest Journey by Kira Salak, which you can read here at "Our Wrighting Pad".  Her review got me interested in the book, so I checked it out of the local public library.

The book relates the story of Ms. Salak's kayak trip down part of the Niger River, from Segou in Mali to Timbuktu (yes, it's a real place). In some ways I cannot relate to Ms. Salak's story as I don't go in any kind of water craft that might possibly tip over, don't like deep water, and would not travel that distance alone.  But as she interacts with parts of the culture, I find myself identifying with her.  I love to read about different cultures and people's interactions with other cultures.  I also love to read anything about West Africa.
As she travels, she often spends the night in villages.  At the beginning people are friendly and open, but the closer she draws to Timbuktu, the more demanding people become for money, probably because of the way tourists have thrown money around. Ms. Salak often feels frightened, not knowing what people will do to her.  On one level I feel like her fear is a little overdone.  Demands for money in this part of Africa don't necessarily translate into personal harm.  But I have been pick-pocketed in the market and our house has been burglarized, so it could happen.  Also, there have been kidnappings in this region, and with her traveling alone her fears may have been well-founded.

But what I find myself identifying with is the pervasiveness of the poverty. Ms. Salak writes,
·         “Yes. Poor. ....I've been to other countries just as poor.....so that when I see Mali all around me, a strange numbness of familiarity comes over me. A numbness that is part acceptance, but part resignation, too. Inevitably, I become filled with this strong desire to Do Something about it, which often succumbs to feelings of futility.... The poverty greeted me on every street corner and along every road. I quickly ran out of spare change or bills to drop in all the extended palms.”

Oh yes, I can identify with those feelings of wanting to Do Something and then with the futility of it all.  I've often likened helping people there with putting a band-aid on a huge, open, surgical wound.  There are so many needs and so little I as an individual can do.

The poverty is everywhere you look, and life seems so unfair.  Why were they born into those conditions, while I was born to American parents?  Even though I am not rich by any means, why do I have enough money to buy all the clothes and food I need while they have one or two new outfits per year and don't know where their money will come from?  Why do they find themselves unable to come up with the $1.00 needed to go to the dispensary for medical help that leaves a lot to be desired while I can be medically evacuated from the country if need be to receive the latest in medical care?  Ms. Salak writes:
·         “I do have some bottles of ibuprofen that I brought to Mali to pass out as gifts and when a couple of old women with painful arthritis come forward I ask a young woman who speaks really good French to translate my instructions for taking the pills. When I hand the bottles over, the old women are so happy to receive then that they hold their hands toward me and start crying. I look down, feeling completely ashamed. Ashamed for all I have, and for all they don't. Ashamed that while American babies live, theirs must die. Mali has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world: 12 of every 100 babies die. And what to do about any of it? I know that the economy of my own country often flourishes by exploiting other countries' poverty and suffering. Sitting here in Nakri, in front of all these people, I feel a certain culpability from simply being American.”
Oh yes, I feel annoyed by being asked so often to help with this or that.  And I immediately feel guilty....culpable as Ms. Salak says.  And I believe that for Christians, it is even more complicated.  What would Jesus do?  At what point are we being compassionate and at what point are we being patronizing and colonial in our approach?  Does this person really need help to buy food or do they need to be taught better farming methods?  And anyway, I don't know the first thing about farming myself.  So how do I balance constant requests for help with the love of Jesus?  Do I respond from true love or from feelings of guilt?  

In SIM Niger we've been talking about the danger of the one story.  It is easy to label people and assign one story to them.  For me, it is easy to assign labels to Nigeriens....to see them as "poor" or "needy" and not to see each person individually with a more complicated story.  It is easy for Nigeriens to see me as "Rich White Lady" and to demand money from me rather than getting to know me as somebody who has her own story.  Ms. Salak said,
·         “People don't seem interested in me much beyond what I might be able to give them. They see my white skin and reduce me to an identity I can't shake: Rich White Woman, Bearer of Gifts, nothing more. This is an important lesson--the way people so easily label and dismiss each other. I'm dismayed by how simple it is for me to get caught in the same game, to start seeing every passing man in a canoe as a threat or as someone who only wants something from me. In this cordoning off of the people I meet, in this mistrust, I deny them their humanity. Do we ever greet people without wanting something from them? Without hoping they'll give us certain things in return--love, money, approval? Without wanting them to change, or to do what we want, or to see us the way we want to be seen? What's stopping us from simply finding joy in another's presence? I'm miffed by it all.

I think what it comes down to is that the difference comes when we build relationships. Ms. Salak didn't have the luxury of spending more than one night in a village.  Our family lived for 16 years in the same village.  We were adopted by families.  Yes, we got a lot of requests for help.  But we were also helped.  People gave us gifts.  We got to know people's stories and they got to know ours.  Yes, there was still a separation that we could never seem to bridge, a difference in culture that is always there no matter what.  But there was also a mutual respect.  That can't happen when you are in and out of a village, spending less than 10 hours there.

Ms. Salak writes:
·         “A crowd gathers nearby to stare at me, the kids asking me for money in incessant whispers. There are just too many of them to give money to. And beyond that, what would I be teaching them? Only the same lessons the other tourists have: that white people represent money and nothing more. Maybe it's foolish, wishful thinking that I want to be more to the people I meet. It seems crucial that I become more, that we understand each other, know the commonality of our existence, know how we can help one another. But here in Wameena we have only a single night together, and the women are busy patching houses and cooking, and the men are discussing plans language difficulties separating us more easily than continents ever can, and with much more finality. So here, too, is something I should probably learn to accept.”

There are no simple answers.  The only answer I can give is to not lose sight of why we are in Niger.  Simply put, it is to show the love of Christ, to know people, and to help meet their needs.  Yes, I must admit I become overwhelmed with the needs, with the demands.  I must admit that sometimes I don't respond in a God-glorifying manner.  In one village Ms. Salak gets angry with people because of the way they are crowding around her, demanding this and that, and then she regrets her reaction.  I have to admit.....been there, done that.  The best way to live in Niger is to really get to know people, to build relationships, to understand their story.

(All pictures from Kira Salak's website.)

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Ways God Answers Prayer

When we were in Maryland, we had a guest speaker at our church.  He spoke about prayer and shared an illustration I loved.  He said that we pray for something, anything, that we desperately need an answer to.  He said, let's call that prayer 2+5.  So we pray for 2+5.  "Lord, please give me 2+5.  Lord, please answer this prayer.  Lord, 2+5 is not outside your will, so please answer.  Lord, we desperately need 2+5."  And we pray in faith, knocking and knocking on heaven's door.  And then the Lord answers, but sometimes he gives us 3+4 or 9-2 or 70 divided by 10 or 100-93.  And if we're not careful, we totally miss the answer because it came to us in a way totally unexpected and usually more wonderful than we ever could have imagined.

The example he gave was that his church was going to open a Day Care Center to meet the needs of families in the area.  But when the building was inspected, the Fire Marshal told them they had to have electronic smoke detectors....about 10 of them... in the center.  The cost estimate was in the 10,000s of dollars because they would pretty much have to completely rewire to install them.  They had a sprinkler system already, but not this type of smoke detectors/alarm system.  So the congregation met every week and for an hour all they prayed about was money for the fire alarm system.  "Lord, we need money for this alarm system.  Please give us $20,000 (or whatever the amount was).  Lord, give us 2+5."  They prayed like this for a month and they still only had about $300 in their fund for the fire alarm system.  At the end of the month, the Fire Marshal called him on the phone and asked how it was going.  The pastor said, "Well, we've been praying for a month.  We know God is going to do this for us, but we don't have the money yet and we won't go in debt, so we'll let you know when we get it."  The Marshal said, "Well, here's the thing.  I reconsidered and since you have a sprinkler system, I'm going to let you go with battery-powered smoke detectors.  You have to have just as many, but you can go with the battery detectors."  The total for all those detectors?  About $300!  They prayed for 5+2, but God gave them 49 divided by 7.

We've been praying for a job for Daniel.  He had graduated from Cedarville and needed a job!  Specifically we were praying for 5+2:  a job in Columbus.  It didn't seem to really tie in with what he'd majored in, but it felt like a good foot in the door that might open up the right doors.  We were really disappointed when he didn't get the job (he is on the list if anybody else cancels he could get it).  

He has been living with my sister in Ohio.  He ended up getting a job feeding leopard geckos. Yeah, not what he went to college for, but at least it was a paying job.  But, as he said, that's the kind of stuff he did when he was 10 years old.

Then less than two weeks ago he sent me an email telling me that he had applied for a paying internship in March.  He never heard back from them, so he assumed they weren't interested.  He pretty much forgot all about that position.  Then out of the blue he heard from them saying they were really interested in him and could he come to Washington, DC.  This job is exactly suited to his interests and abilities, doing research on North Africa and the Middle East.  He had no idea where he'd live when he got there, but he decided to accept the position.

He got down there and was able to spend a couple of nights with friends of ours.  He found some kind of Christian classified ads and has been able to locate a apartment he will share with another guy.  This makes the rent more affordable (housing is terribly expensive in that area).  

Not only that, but he's been told the internship might turn into being offered a full-time job in August.  I don't know yet if Daniel is interested in that or not.  But the possibility is there!

We prayed for a job for Daniel.  We prayed for 5+2, specifically the job in Columbus.  And God gave us 77 divided by 11.  He gave Daniel a job and it's even better than we could have hoped for!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Waging War on Rodents

We are back in Pennsylvania.  We are staying in the same house we've lived in every home assignment since Suzanne was 4 years old. We love it here.  It is so quiet and peaceful.

Until the evening when the mice come out to play. They are not even afraid of us....or they are too dumb to notice us.  We have seen them run out from the drawer in the bottom of the stove.  From under the burners on the top of the stove.  Across the kitchen counter.  Practically right over my feet at my desk.  And in the TV room.  We have heard them scurrying around behind the fridge.
So, we decided to declare war.  We set two traps.  One on top of the stove and one right in front of the stove.

The first night after we set them I went to bed.  Sometime in the night I heard the trap snap.  Then I heard it flopping all over.  Finally there was silence and I thought, "Good.  He's dead."  When I came out in the morning the trap that was on top of the stove was laying on the floor and there was no mouse in it.

So we set them again.  A few nights later I heard it snap.  Then I heard it thrashing around the kitchen and again silence.  "Good," I thought. "He's dead."  When I came out in the morning the mouse trap in front of the stove was gone.  It was no where to be found.  I searched high and low and finally I found it way back along the side of the fridge.  I got a broom and finally managed to pull the mouse trap out.  But, you've got it, no mouse.

A few nights later, Suzanne and I were watching TV when we heard the trap snap.  Then the flopping started.  We came running to the kitchen and there he was lying there in the trap, bleeding from the nose.  We thought we'd have to watch a slow and painful death.  But upon closer examination we realized it was only his paw caught in the trap.  When it snapped it had hit him on the face, causing the bleeding, but he wasn't mortally wounded.  So, you know what I did?  I took the easy way out.  I took him outside and let him go.  I couldn't just kill him!

Finally early one morning I heard the trap go again.  This time I came out in the morning, and a mouse was in the trap on top of the stove.  Poor little thing.  But he really was good and dead.  I haven't heard or seen any since, but the traps are still set, just in case.

Here's Suzanne's foot protection so she doesn't step on the trap....her Dad's big shoes.