Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Whirlwind Trip

Yesterday we got to go up to the village where we used to work.  Two teachers from the school here came with us.  One of them is friends with Suz and Theo so it was really neat for her to see where Suzanne had grown up.

When we got there we went first to my friend’s house, but she is still living out on their farm as they finish up the work from the harvest.  So unfortunately we didn’t get to see her.

Our next stop was to visit John’s friend in his garden.  We couldn’t quite remember which garden was his and pulled over and parked a bit too soon.  But it was fun to walk down the road outside the town where I used to take my morning walks.  When told to skip, they gladly complied. :)

Unfortunately he wasn’t there so we moved on.

Our next stop was at the home of friends.  The lady had been our house-worker, but she was also my cultural mentor. 

Her husband had helped us out several times and even though he is strong in his M_ faith, he was always friendly.  He was genuinely happy to see us yesterday.  He had recently had a tumor removed, but because health care here is so basic, he’ll never know if it was benign or malignant.  He didn’t receive any follow-up radiation or chemo therapy, either.  While we were there a woman came in with six-month old twins, a boy and a girl (the boy in the pink socks).  They were as cute as could be.  She told us that she had been in labor two days and finally had a Cesarean.  I’m guessing that the presenting twin was breech.  Thankfully she survived the ordeal and both twins are healthy and doing well.

From there we went to see the lady who had been our next door neighbor. She is a widow now and just as poor as ever.  Her 20-year old son does what he can to help provide for her, but he doesn’t have regular employment, either.  Her 14 or 15 year old daughter is still in school and we are so proud of her.  Only she and her brother out of seven children attended school and she has stuck with it the longest.  She was sitting on the bed, the only furniture in the hut, studying when we arrived.  Her mom reminisced with us about Christmas celebrations she attended and how much she enjoyed them, especially the Gourma believers singing.  She knew it is almost Christmas time. 

Before we left, she stood with her hands cupped together in prayer, silently asking John to pray.  We stood under the tree next to the goats and prayed together before leaving.

Next we went back to the gardens to meet our friend there.  He works so hard and his garden looks pretty good, but he barely makes a living out of it.  We have helped him repair his pump and so on.  He sometimes gives us lemons as a thank you gift, which he did yesterday.  Here we posed for a quick American Gothic shot.  I didn’t know he was standing with us for the photo.

  LOL.  Hannah spotted a chameleon under a tree and she and Abby had fun taking a turn at holding it.

Finally it was time to go.  We met quickly with a pastor who is doing church planting there.  He said the work is slow and discouraging.  People will come for a while, but then their families harass them and they quit.

We found a quiet spot for a picnic lunch and then headed back to the big city.  It was a tiring day and our hearts are still burdened for our friends there.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Coconut, Coconut Milk, and Coconut Butter

Awhile ago I read that coconut is good for thyroid health. There seems to be some disagreement about that. But even if that is not true, coconut oil does have a saturated fat called lauric acid which increases the good HDL cholesterol in the blood to help improve cholesterol ratio levels. It is high in protein and potassium as well as other vitamins. In addition to these purported health benefits, it tastes good! You can read more about coconut here.

I found that I can buy tins of coconut milk here and I have bought some and have been using it, but the list of added ingredients is kind of scary. So I was excited to find a recipe for making your own coconut milk. The instructions are here. Since we can get raw coconut here I decided to try making it from a raw coconut instead of dried coconut like the recipe describes.

First I had to crack the shell, drain the water, and get the pieces out of the shell. A few good whacks on the coconut with a hammer is a good way to release some frustrations! As you can see, the pieces of coconut are a bit dirty from the coconut shell, but that is easily remedied by a quick rinse with water. I also saved the coconut water to use as part of the water to make the milk. I had to strain the dirt out of that, too. At last I was ready to shred it in my food processor. Then I put the shredded coconut in the blender and added the hot water as described. But that was too much for my blender, so I discovered I had to do half the amount at a time. The next step is to drain it through a "nut bag". I don't have a nut bag, so I used a clean linen dish towel. The liquid that comes out as you squeeze the bag or towel, is your coconut milk. It's a nice drink and only two ingredients: coconut and water! I know there are no nasty additives in this drink. The blogger does say you can freeze the milk, which I did. She warns that it will separate, which it did. She also says that when you shake it, it will blend back together, which it doesn't. So the frozen coconut milk looks kind of curdled, but it's not and it tastes fine in spite of its appearance. I don't think I'll freeze it again, though.

Another web site explained how to make your own coconut butter which I was excited to try. The recipe for that is here. The only ingredient it lists is dried coconut. So, I thought since fresh worked for the milk, why not for making butter. I grated it up in my food processor and then blended, blended, blended, blended, blended as the recipe says. I could never get it to reduce down any further than the fourth picture she shows. Reading through the comments on her blog I see the coconut has to be dried, so maybe I should try it again but dry the coconut first. Let's just say the way I did it didn't work.

So then I had all of this mushed up coconut, half way between grated and butter. What to do with it? I could throw it out....I mean each coconut was the equivalent of $1.00 so no big loss. But in a country where most people don't have enough to eat, that just seems really wasteful to me. So I found a cookie recipe for coconut cookies and used it in those cookies. They were super simple cookies and tasted delicious. Best of all, nothing was wasted!

By the way, the cookie recipe was in this gem of a cookbook I picked up on a missionary sale table some time. Apparently Meryle (whoever she was!) cooked for the hungry masses! There are old notes that she left in the cookbook, too. I like the book because it is from the 1960's and uses very basic ingredients.

Have you made coconut milk or coconut butter? Any tricks you can teach me about how to do it?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

An Undeserved Gift

Recently we were given a gorgeous quilt.  This is my thank you letter to the givers of that gift.  (I hope I don't embarrass them too much!)

Dear Jenny & Joel,

Have you ever received a gift that the generosity of it almost completely overwhelmed you?  Left you speechless?  Possibly made the person who gave it to you think you didn’t appreciate it because you couldn’t find adequate words to say?

That’s how I felt when you presented us with the gorgeous quilt that you spent hours making.  It is so gorgeous I was left speechless….or nearly!  You must have spent hours laying out the cloth, cutting the pieces, and putting it all together.  And then to hand-quilt it…believe me, I have an idea of the amount of time you spent on that and of the callouses you developed on the end of your sewing fingers!

My first thought was, “I do not deserve such a beautiful gift.  The time spent on this quilt far, far outweighs the time spent with you in pre-marital counseling.  The time spent with you was a delight and never, ever a burden.”  (Not that you ever thought that, but the time together was a blessing and gift enough.)

And then I thought of how I never deserve God’s gifts, either.  I could never do enough or be enough to earn what God gives me.  His gifts of salvation, healing, redemption, forgiveness, comfort, and relationship are things I don’t deserve.  His gifts of relationships with others, the creation of the world and the beauty around me, of delicious foods, and sunset skies are nothing I’ve ever earned.  I cannot say to God, “I don’t deserve your gift, so please keep it.”  How ridiculous would that be! 

And so we accept your gift, one we feel that we don’t deserve.  We will love it and cherish it and think of you both whenever we see it.  And believe me when I say that the friendship we’ve built with you is also one that we will forever cherish.


Nancy & John

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Grieving the Loss of a Colleague

Alou was a man who worked faithfully at our SIM office for over five years.  I probably worked more closely with him than with most of my other Nigerien colleagues.  It was his job to get everybody's permanent visas or to renew visas, to do background checks, to get driver's licenses, and to pay water and electric bills as well to advocate with the water and electric companies when something was not right.  I worked closely with him because every missionary at some time or another would need Alou to do something for them.  Together Alou and I would look at the passports of the new arrivals to see when their visas would expire.  We would also work together to find out who wanted to get a driver's license.  Many of our missionaries don't speak French so I was often the go-between, explaining to Alou what they needed to have done.

Alou served each person with a smile.  He was busy all the time, running from one government office to another.  He saved each of us hours of time that we would have spent running from place to place ourselves.  He never complained.  He had a passion for Jesus and longed to see his family come to know Jesus. He was faithful to attend devotions and prayer meetings.
Alou is the man in the white shirt in the center.

Two weeks ago he had traveled to another city on mission business.  While there he got really sick and was put in the clinic where he tested positive for malaria.  He may have had an ulcer, too.  He was so sick that he couldn't really travel back home, so the SIMAIR plane went up to get him.  He was sick all that next week, part of the time in the clinic and part of the time at home.

A week ago Sunday John and I were showing a visitor to Niger around town.  We were in that area of town and I said, "Hey!  Let's go visit Alou."  We turned around and went back and had a visit with him.  He was short of breath and said he was in pain and had gone to the clinic in the night.  They told him to come back on Monday morning. We are so glad we went to visit and to pray with him because that was the last time we ever saw him. 

Monday he went to the clinic and was re-admitted.  I don't know much other than that he had some tests done and they were waiting for the results.  They said it was a "heart condition".  

Friday morning (yesterday) we were having prayer meeting at the office.  At the end one of our employees, the janitor, opened the door and asked to speak to the Assistant Office Manager.  She came back in the room and said, "Alou is gone."  We couldn't believe it.  We all started crying and sat back down and prayed some more.  Then we tried to figure out what to do.  All the "Big Bosses" were gone.  One of them was on his way back from the central part of the country, one in the US, and one on vacation.  The Office Manager who was on vacation came in right away.  He organized to shut down the office and took everybody over to the family's house to sit with the family which is how we do it here.

While Alou was a Christian, his family is not.  His pastor is out of town and couldn't get back until Sunday afternoon at the earliest.  The family wanted him to be buried that day (Friday) as is the tradition. Our Office Manager did an amazing job of negotiating between the church, the office staff, and the family and finally reached an agreement to have the funeral on Saturday afternoon with a different pastor officiating.

This afternoon we all met at the morgue and then drove together to the cemetery.  The procession was long and I was really touched to see how many lives he had touched and how many people came.  As we stood in the hot sun, the pastor gave a good message, explaining how we don't pray for his soul to be saved like the predominant religion does. Once a person is dead, it is too late for that. Alou knew he was saved and we know where he is.  He explained how you can choose where to go after death, but that the only way to heaven is through Jesus. Then the thwank, thwank of dirt being shoveled onto the coffin and it was over.

It's so hard to believe he's gone.  That we'll never again see his cheerful face in the office.  That he'll never again come into my office to tell me that he got the needed paperwork done for somebody.  That I'll never again hear him having a very loud phone conversation in the office next door or laughing in the hall.
Alou is in the back row, third from the left.

Thank you for your faithful life of service, Alou.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

One of the Perks of Doctoral Studies

One of the perks of John's doctoral studies is getting to know pastors as he does case studies at local churches that use the Zarma/Songhai language in their services. When he identifies a church where he would like to do a case study, he visits the pastor and explains his thesis to him and obtains permission to come to the church, take notes and photographs in the service, and interview different members of the congregation.

Last year at this time we did a case study in a Baptist church of about 50-60 members and we enjoyed meeting regularly with them. This time we are at a much smaller Assemblies of God church of about 12-15 members.

In just a few weeks we’ve really grown to admire and respect the pastor of this church.

Pastor A___ is a Songhai man who grew up in the Sorko clan. Not only are the Sorko fishermen, but they also have certain spirit-world powers. They can reportedly walk under water where they can breathe for long periods of time and perform magical arts. He is also, on his mother’s side, from the Sohanci clan, the clan that are sorcerers of “good magic” (their explanation, not mine!). They know many incantations, etc. but say they are good because they use them to counteract "bad magic" and not to curse. Like other Songhai, A___ also grew up in a Mus[]m belief system.

Several years ago A___ worked for World Vision and was in a vehicle one day with a Christian man who, it happens, had attended our church in the village. This Christian man had a Koran in the car and A___ asked why, as a Christian, he had a Koran. Our friend explained that he likes to know what the Koran teaches so he can talk to Muslims about Jesus. “For example,” he asked A___, “Which teacher do you think is more powerful, Mohammed or Jesus? Mohammed has been dead for a long time and people visit his grave. But even the Koran says that Jesus is alive. So who is more powerful, the teacher who is dead or the teacher who is alive?” This really struck A___ and he kept thinking about it. He really understood that Jesus was the better teacher and chose to follow Jesus. He explained last Sunday in his sermon that following Jesus means giving up completely your past life. He gave an example of how he was at another church and his daughter was eating a fish. A fish bone got stuck in her throat. He knew the incantation for removing a fishbone and he had to choose…..would he revert back to the power he knew to save his daughter or would he rely on Jesus? He knew he had to completely give up his past and told the other pastors to pray to Jesus to remove the fishbone from her throat. After praying, she coughed it up and was fine!

Pastor A___ is one of the best Nigerien teachers we've ever heard.
The Assemblies of God usually have Sunday School before church (most churches here in Niger don’t do Sunday School). They have a manual to follow, but we've never seen him use it. Instead, he chooses a relevant topic, starts the class by asking a very thought-provoking question, and teaches from there. He keeps the class moving, he involves everybody, he never belittles when a wrong answer is given or even says it is wrong but simply and quietly turns to the Bible to show what Scripture teaches, and somehow keeps people from following “rabbit trails”. The last two Sundays he has taught on two very relevant topics: sorcery and money. He’s done it in a way that is very culturally relevant, he gives ways to apply the lesson, and he ends with everybody memorizing a verse together. He’s also a good preacher, but he really excels at teaching! He studies extensively and I call his chair and study books at the front of the church his "holy place".
Pastor A___ is one of many Nigerien men who, along with their wives and children, lead churches while barely earning enough to keep themselves alive. Many of them, such as A___, are extremely gifted. Some specific requests for Nigerien pastors are below because, as he said in the lesson this morning, the best way to destroy the church is to corrupt the pastor.

1. Pray that A___ and other pastors would not be corrupted by money, power, or sex, or by a pull back into their past lives of sorcery or [s]am.
2. Pray that God will bless their faithfulness in teaching and preaching and living simply.
3. Pray that as John observes in this church he will get some good interviews and information.

1. Praise God for Pastor A___ and others who serve faithfully under difficult situations. Praise God for their wives and children who serve alongside them.
2. Praise God for putting us in touch with this church and for the encouragement it has been to us personally.