Saturday, January 31, 2015

Liebster Award

Have you ever heard of the Liebster Award?  No?  Me neither, until yesterday!  Suzanne at The Glorious Mundane nominated me to participate in this get-to-know you blogging challenge.  So apparently the Liebster Award is when one blogger asks other blogging friends a series of questions.  Their blogging friends answer the questions, then nominate other blogging friends to answer questions.  So here are the questions Suzanne asked me:

1.  How did you decide on the title of your blog?  Most of you know me by "Nancy", but that's just an odd and unusual name here in West Africa.  A Nigerian friend, over 30 years ago, told me I needed to have an African name, so he called me "Hannatu".  The cool thing is that "Hannatu" would be "Hannah" in English and Nancy and Hannah have the same derivative word.  The name means grace.  Happenings just goes well with Hannatu as the blog is just kind of a journal of what's happening in my life.

2.  What are some of your favorite past-times?  My favorite is reading.  I enjoy looking around the internet at other people's blogs and Pinterest, but the internet is so slow here that really isn't that much fun.  I like going for walks.  My husband and I watch a movie just about every Friday night and have home-made pizza with it.  That's definitely a highlight of the week!

3.  Describe a typical day in your life.  The alarm goes off at 5:15 a.m. and I throw it across the room.  No, I don't really throw it, I just think about throwing it.  Before I leave for work I do some exercise (either something with weights or go for a walk), read my Bible and pray, eat breakfast, feed the cat, and some mornings throw in a load of laundry.  7:30 I'm heading out the door (or should be).  We have office devotions between 7:30 and 8:00.  I check Facebook, then get busy on emails.  I spend a large amount of my day answering emails.  12:30 I head home for lunch and a siesta.  Often I skip the siesta and just go back to work because I have so much to do.  More emails, talking to people, phone calls, etc.  At 6:00 I go home and make supper and we usually eat around 7:00.  After supper I put away laundry, check personal email and Facebook, take a shower, read for awhile, go to sleep.  I know it sounds super boring, but honestly, I never know exactly what a day will hold and there's almost always something surprising or challenging.  I'd like more days that are as boring as the one I just described!

4.  What is one thing you are sentimental about?  I'm not a very sentimental person.  I think I'm sentimental about anything I own that belonged to somebody no longer living.  I'm also very sentimental about family pictures.

5.  What is your most favorite or most read blog?  It's definitely The Glorious Mundane, and not just because I'm the mom of the author and I have to say that.  I really, truly enjoy it.

6.  What is one goal you have for 2015?  One of my personal goals is to take a picture each day of something I'm thankful for.  It's harder than it sounds!  A work goal is to revise the orientation handbook.  OK, that was two goals.

7.  What is your favorite blog post that The Glorious Mundane wrote?  Honestly, I don't know and the internet is too slow to spend hours browsing back through.  But in general, my favorites are the monthly update on my grandbaby's month birthday.

8.  What is your favorite aspect of blogging?  For me it's a good way to express myself.  When I sit down and write out what I'm thinking, it helps me process things.  I also love including photos and I feel like my photography has improved a lot since I first started blogging.

9.  What is the meaning behind your name?  Are you named after anyone?  See #1 for the meaning of my name ("grace").  I am not named after anyone.  But my middle name, Evelyn, is a family name passed down quite frequently on my mom's side of the family.  My grandma was Ada Evelyn.  Her mother's middle name was also Evelyn and either her mother or her grandmother had Evelyn as a middle name.  So both I and my parents were pleased when Suz and Theo gave Tera the middle name of Evelynne (they changed the spelling).

10.  What is your favorite season and why?  When I'm in the USA it's definitely spring.  I think snow is pretty but I just get so, so tired of being cold.  So I love when the days start to warm up, the flowers and leaves pop out, and birds and wild animals come back north or out of hibernation.  Spring is a season of growth and renewal and I love all that it symbolizes.  And because it has lilacs, daffodils, lily of the valleys, and crocuses.  When I'm in Niger, it's cold season.  Even though it's dusty then the temperatures are so pleasant and I feel like I have a lot more energy.

11.  Tell me 10 random things about yourself.
*  I was born in Nigeria and have lived more of my life in West Africa than in the USA.
*  I used to have really blonde straight hair.
*  I have a degree in Elementary Education, but love my current human resources job more than teaching (which I also loved....but I love this more).
*  I once fell off the back of a motorcycle and my dad didn't believe my sister when she said I fell off.  Yes, we had three of us on the motorcycle and no, it wasn't on a main road, but on a bumpy path.
*  I've lived in seven different states in the USA.
*  I've lived in two different countries in Africa.
*  Purple is my favorite color.
*  I'm consistently late to just about everything.
*  I can speak three languages reasonably well (English, French, Songhai), but only one of them fluently (English!).
*  I love finding out the meaning of Greek and Hebrew words in the Bible and how that gives greater understanding to the Bible verse.

OK, so I nominate for the Liebster Award:
Serving in Sahel
Hannah Joy in Africa
Amanda's Musings

All you need to do is answer the questions below on your blog.  Then create a list of your own 10 questions for the bloggers you nominate.  Question #11 should be ten random things about yourself.

And my questions for you are:
1.  What is the most difficult thing for you about blogging?
2.  What is your pet peeve?
3.  If you could travel anywhere in the world where would you go and why?
4.  What book has influenced you greatly (other than the Bible)?
5.  If you could change anything about yourself, what would you change?
6.  What is your favorite verse in the Bible? 

7.  What was your most embarrassing moment?
8.  If you could meet any historical figure, who would you choose to meet and why?
9.  Do you enjoy taking risks?
10.  What was the best thing that happened to you today?
11.  Tell me 10 random things about yourself.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Beauty from Ashes

This past week has been difficult.  Very difficult indeed.  Last Saturday in about six hours, around 58 churches were burned in Niamey alone.  Churches were burned in two other cities and attempts were made in some other places.  John just told me that of the 12 churches in Niamey that we have visited this past year as part of his research, nine of them were burned on Saturday.

SIM has been working hard all week to set up a project to provide relief to those who lost their homes and to help rebuild the SIM-related churches.  I know other missions and aid organizations are doing similar things.  If you are from the USA and would like to help out please click here and mention "Niger Persecution Relief Project #97308".  If you live outside the USA and would like to help, please click here for information on a SIM office in your country.

Rather than doing a separate blog about last Saturday's events, I'm going to show you some pictures I took at two different local churches/pastor's homes contrasted with my thankfulness picture.  As I said last week, let's not take the little things for granted, but chose to be deliberately thankful!

 Monday--This smoldering pile of ashes was once Bibles and books from a Pastor's Book Set.  For those of us who can get books readily and often for a reasonable price, we tend to take books for granted.  But religious books in French are hard to come by and with generous gifts from many, SIM Niger has been able to do several Pastor's Book Set projects in which pastors paid a minimal fee to get a full set of study books.  Many of the pastors lost their libraries, as well as all the Bibles in the church.  So today I want to remember to be thankful for books.

Obviously we have a lot of books for which to be thankful!  There are more shelves in John's office/guest room.

Tuesday--This was once a church leader's home.  Their belongings were stolen, vandalized, burnt.  The wife and one of the children were gone from home.  The husband had only minutes to put his other two children on his motorcycle to escape to safety.

 Today I'm thankful for my own comfortable, cozy home like never before.  I don't even want to complain about the paint that's peeling off the walls!

Wednesday--So many Bibles were ripped up and burned.
 I'm thankful for my Bible.  
One thing that has come out of this is the way certain passages have deepened in meaning for me, and for that I'm thankful...I'm praying through the book of Philippians, for example.

Thursday...Qui est Jesus?  Who is Jesus?  I've thought a lot about Isaiah 61:1-4 this week: 
"The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion--to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.

Who is Jesus?  He answered that question in Luke 4:14-21.  I'm so thankful that He's the one who gives beauty for ashes, gladness instead of mourning, praise instead of a spirit of despair.  He is the one who is building His church and we don't need physical buildings to worship Him!

Friday...My husband, John, pictured here surveying the damage at one of the churches.  25 years he helped start one of the churches that burned.  Our hearts are lives are in Niger and this has been a painful week in many ways.  I'm so glad I've had him at my side this week.  He feels this deeply, but I'm thankful for his heart of love and compassion for this country, for people of both religions.

 Saturday...Many of the pastors or church leaders whose homes were burnt left with only the clothes they were wearing.  The rest were stolen or burnt. 

 As I hung clothes on the line on Saturday, I was reminded to be thankful that I have clothes.  I'm also thankful for the way other Christians are donating clothes, kitchen equipment, bedding, and household items to those who lost everything.

Sunday-- Over 60 churches burned or damaged in some way.  Somehow our church escaped.  But today we had only a few lights at the front, a make-shift podium, a jembe and a guitar for music, no sound system, and no fans.  We chose to worship simply out of respect for those who lost so much.  I'm so thankful for the Church....the family of God.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Choosing to Give Thanks

There are days, weeks, even, when my natural reaction is not one of thanksgiving or praise.  On Monday morning when I connected to the internet, the first thing I found out was of the death of a young man just a few years younger than Suzanne and who had been in the same youth group as our kids in one of our supporting churches.  Then the week ended with churches and Christian schools as well as businesses and homes owned by Christians being burnt in three different cities in Niger.  

How can I give thanks for those things?  It's interesting that "rejoice in the Lord always" and "in all things give thanks" are not "if you feel like it" sometimes, maybe statements.  They are commands.  And it's hard.  I think the key word here is to have "joy" which is not to be confused with happiness, silliness, or frivolity.  It means to see how God is present in the situation.

For example, I remember the smiles this young man who died so young shared with everybody.  Wherever he went, he brought joy.  I'm not saying his life was easy or that he didn't have struggles, but he loved people and it showed.  

This weekend was tragic here in Niger, but we can be thankful that buildings and not lives were targeted.  We can look forward to see how God will rebuild, how churches will be unified, how God will use this to bring glory to His name.  There is still hope and for that I can be thankful.

Sometimes it seems that giving thanks for a cup of hot Milo is frivolous, but there are pastor's wives this morning who would have been thankful to be able to come up with a cup to give their children a hot drink.  A warm blanket may seem like a given, but so many people slept last night without one.  I never want to take little things for granted. So here is my thankful list for this week.

Sunday -- I finally had time (or maybe I should say MADE time) to catch up on some letter writing.  I'm thankful for people who still send us "real letters".

Monday -- I'm thankful I had a few weeks to get up whenever I felt like it, but I'm equally thankful to get back into my routine. Yep, that's a 5:30 a.m. wake-up call.

Tuesday -- I've discovered my best time to get some exercise is early in the morning.  Exercise isn't something I really enjoy, so if I plan to do it later in the day, it just doesn't get done.  If I do it first, then it's done. I'm thankful I've found the right time for me to take my daily walk.

Wednesday -- I'm thankful that we're back to having weekly Bible studies.  We had almost a month off for Christmas, New Years, and our conference.

Thursday -- One of my friends, Joy, has cancer.  She's currently in the US undergoing chemo.  We ladies here in Niger each have a bracelet to wear to remind us to pray for her.

Friday -- A cup of hot Milo, yum yum!  I'm thankful it's cool enough for this comforting drink.  I don't drink it much when it gets hot.

Saturday -- Saturday was a dark, difficult day.  I spent the day staying in touch with people by phone and internet.  I'm thankful we had phone service all day and that I didn't run out of credit.  

Sunday -- It sure is nice to need to use a blanket on our bed.  I'm thankful for cool nights and warm blankets.Your prayers for the country are appreciated.  Pray for God's name to be glorified and for attitudes of love and forgiveness.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Conference, Cold, and Cleaning Up

This has been a busy week!  Our Spiritual Life Conference started a week ago Saturday.  We had meetings and times of fellowship every day through Wednesday.  Thursday it was back to work and trying to settle down into a routine again.

 Our speaker for conference was Joshua Bogunjoko who is the Director of SIM.  He is on the right in the purple and black shirt.  He was being translated into French by Gaston Slanwa, the Director of TearFund in Niger, but who is a Field Associate of SIM.  Both are men I respect greatly and I'm thankful for their godly leadership.

 Ever since Tuesday we have had harmattan....dust that blows down from the Sahara Desert.  What you see in this photo is not an out-of-focus picture nor fog, but dust in the air.  I'm thankful for the harmattan (even though it makes a mess of the house!) because it keeps temperatures cooler as it blocks the heat of the sun.  The harmattan today was even heavier than in this photo.  I doubt if one could even see across the river.

 I'm thankful for my sisters in SIM.  Here we are at our prayer breakfast.  We spent some special time praying for one of our sisters who is currently in the USA undergoing chemo-therapy.

 Good music is another thing on my gratitude list this week.  This year John organized three worship teams and gave them latitude to organize their own sessions.  It worked really well and I appreciated the different styles the three leaders had.  John led from the piano, Collin did vocal and guitar, Alicia did vocal, and off just out of the picture was Josiah on the bass guitar.

 Thursday it was back to work.  Our office is the brown building on the center left part of the picture.  In front of our office is a wide open area, sort of like a cul de sac.  We park in the area to the right of the pink gate.  The owners of that gate had gotten really upset when somebody parked right in front of their gate.  So they piled up rocks so that we couldn't park near their wall.  Then the trash was all over and their "guard" (who seems to only sleep and smoke) would rake up leaves and they were all piled up where we needed to park.  It was a bit frustrating and it looked terrible.  Between Christmas and New Years the people behind that gate had a big wedding.  They moved the rocks, cleaned up the trash, and brought in fresh sand.  So I'm VERY thankful the rocks are gone and that it looks much nicer out there now.  Let's hope it stays that way!

 I'm thankful that it's cool enough to wear a sweater and a scarf.  You may not think 57 degrees in the morning is that cool, but when it's also 4% humidity, that feels pretty cold.  I'm trying to enjoy it while it lasts!

John got me some potted plants for Christmas, including this rose bush that has its first little yellow rose on it.  I'm thankful for thoughtful gifts and for yellow roses.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Thankfulness Photos

Two years ago I read Ann Voskamp's book, One Thousand Gifts.  She challenges her readers to write down three things a day for which they are thankful.  If you do that, you can easily get to 1,000 things a year for which to give thanks.  I've been doing that for the past two years, but as with anything one does repetitively, it has begun to feel like I've fallen into a rut and that I am just writing things down to fill out a list and get to 1,000 in a year without really focusing on being thankful.  So this year I thought I'd change things a bit.

One thing I really enjoy as a hobby is photography.  I'm not professional by any means and would really like to learn more about taking good photos.  I like the way taking pictures causes me to look at the world differently and in a fresh way.  So I thought I'd combine photography with thankfulness.

My plan is to take a photo a day of something for which I'm thankful.  I'll post the photos on my blog and on Facebook at the end of each week (either Saturday or Sunday).  Of course, WHEN and IF I post are highly dependent on working internet!  And I'll be the first to acknowledge that I probably won't really get around to taking a photo every day.  But if I don't set a goal, I won't do it ever.

If you'd like to do this, too, go ahead!  I don't hold any copyrights on this idea.

So, this week was short....only three days if I start January 1.

January 1, 2015--Normally I make sticky buns for the day we open Christmas gifts.  But there is so much to do in preparing meals for Christmas that it didn't happen.  Then I was so exhausted and not feeling great, so I didn't make them.  By the time I got around to making them, it was New Year's Day.  And this may be a new tradition for us....sticky buns on New Year's Day.  I'm thankful for sticky buns and I'm thankful to feel well enough to make them.  

January 2--A picture of a store room?  Yes!  Our store room.  Let me explain.  Yesterday I had so much to do and part of it was my fault because I hadn't even thought that one of the empty houses we are using for conference housing needed to be cleaned.  Before I went racing out the door I had gathered all the Christmas decorations in one place with the intention of storing them away "later".  When I came home John had put away all the decorations, put all the regular pictures and stuff back in their places, and had tidied up the store room.  Wow!  What a gift that was!!!!  Today I am thankful for a husband who is a true servant and who makes me feel loved (can you tell acts of service is my love language?).

January 3--At our conference we have coffee break several times a day.  The past few years we have hired somebody to make cakes, but this year that lady is doing a lot of the meal prep.  So a missionary is making the cakes.  This is a lot of cakes, people!  So I volunteered to help her a bit.  She asked me to make white cakes for the kids, so I thought I'd add a bit of colored frosting for fun. I'm thankful today that I could help a friend.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

The Ghost of Christmas Past

I've been using some of my holiday time to organize my pictures.  It's fun to look at old pictures and it brings back a lot of memories.  I thought I'd share some of these priceless photos with you. Looking back at all my pictures, I wish that we had gotten a family photo every Christmas.  But we never did.   

1986:  The year John and I got married.  We were living in Susquehanna, PA in my Grandpa's house.  He had moved into a nursing home just down the street from his house, so we got to visit him quite often and he was still able to walk up to his old house (though I think the nursing home staff considered him AWOL when he did that!).  I know we celebrated Christmas with my parents and my sister, Natalie, her husband, Duane, and their baby, Alesha.  You'd think that our first Christmas as a couple I would have taken a lot of pictures, but nope!  Alesha seems to have been the center of attention as the three Christmas pictures I have from that year have Alesha in them!
 As they say, Christmas is definitely more fun when kids are around!

1989:  Our next few Christmases were in Niger, two without kids and then one which was Daniel's first Christmas. And as is typical of kids, he would have been happy if we had just given him wrapping paper to play with!  He was 10 months old here.

1991:  Skip ahead to Christmas of 1991 which was Suzanne's first Christmas. She was seven months old. Again, we have the wrapping paper theme going on here!

1993:  Our 1992 Christmas was our first in Tera. But 1993 is big in our memory because we traveled down to Nigeria for Christmas.  Both my parents and my brother and his family were serving as missionaries there.  My sister and her family were serving in The Gambia and were able to fly to Nigeria.  This was the last Christmas that we were all together in the same way and we look back on it as one of our best Christmases.

Fast-forward to 1998.  By then there was a small group of Christians in a nearby village, so we met with them for a Christmas service and feast.
 This was probably the year we made the switch to opening our gifts on December 26 so that we could have more time to enjoy the family time instead of trying to cram everything into one day.

It looks like 2001 was our first Christmas to have the Christmas service and meal in our yard.  Those were busy Christmases with shopping for food to feed around 100 people, traveling to a village north to get a family who were the only Christians, and being responsible for the service.  In the afternoon we showed the Jesus film.

We have no pictures at all of Christmas 2003.  That was probably our hardest Christmas ever.  Daniel had started boarding school and was home for Christmas.  One night Suzanne told us in the morning that Daniel was making weird noises in the night and she told him to stop and he did.  Then about two nights later (probably December 23) she came to me in the night and said, "Mommy, Daniel is making really weird noises and acting strange and he won't stop and it's really scaring me!"  I went in their room to find Daniel in a full-blown grand mal seizure. It really scared me, too, and I got John up.  It eventually ended and we all tried to get some more sleep, but as soon as it was light we packed all of our Christmas gifts and grabbed some clothes and headed to Niamey.  We managed to get a guest house room and an appointment to see a neurological surgeon.  We had Christmas in a guest house in Niamey and apparently didn't bring the camera with us or were too stressed to take any pictures.  I know we did open gifts, but that's all I remember. I'm sure some friends invited us over for Christmas dinner, but I have no memory of who it was.  I'm sure we had a good day, but I just don't remember any of it. I have no idea what the believers back in the village did while we were gone!  Whatever we had planned was abandoned by us.

Christmas 2005 we were back in the USA and some of the Hall family were able to get together.
Again, why don't I have a group photo or a family photo?  One fun thing I remember that Christmas was that my aunt and uncle were working as managers at a rest area on Christmas Eve.  It was about an hour north of us, so Alesha suggested we go up and sing Christmas carols to them.  It was fun to see their surprised looks when they came out to see what all the ruckus was about in the lobby of the rest area.

2007 was our first Christmas without Daniel as he was in his first year at Cedarville.  We also had Christmas that year in another village nearby.  Here I am waiting for the Christmas meal.

2009 and 2010 were fun Christmases.  We were in the US those years and were the last two years we were all together as the family of four of us.  Our family is growing, but so far we've never all been together for Christmas.  Little did we know, but 2009 was the last Christmas we spent with Dad DeValve.

And 2011 was Christmas back to just me and John.  We do enjoy church activities and getting together with friends.  But we are looking forward to the next Christmas we can once again spend with family.  

So, there's a little bit of family history as told by looking back at some of our Christmases.