Sunday, May 17, 2015

Changes in our Church

It's been interesting to watch the local church we attend go through some changes in the past four to six years.  Some of them are cosmetic, as you'll see, while others are more important than just how the church looks.  

This is how the church looked for a long time.

Facing the front, there were windows on both sides of the room.  The side to your right in this picture also had two doors, one on each end of the wall.
We would try to get there in time to sit by the window so that if the power went off we could still get some air!  I always put my Bible up on the window sill.  Then the Sunday before the flood I left the room quickly with our house guest who thought she was going to pass out.  I never went back in to get it....the flood happened that week....I never saw that Bible again.  

As you can see, it was pretty crowded with the choir there, the podium, and then....out the door.  In this picture, it looks like nobody came to church, but by the end of a service, the church is packed.  They had taken to moving the chairs closer and closer together until it got to the point that you couldn't even stand up, let alone do any dancing!  So, the church began working on knocking out a wall and adding on to the building.  But before they got that done, we had the flood and spent most of the next eight months meeting in a tent.  It was ok, and we managed, and it was a good reminder that we don't have to have fancy to do church.  But here in Niger, you definitely have to have shade to do church!
So,  our first Sunday back in our church building, we were still facing the same direction as the photos above.  But now the wall to the left was missing and construction was under way!

By Easter Sunday, just a few weeks after the two pictures just above, the roof was on the new addition. The way the room faced now rotated 90 degrees to the right. Now you can see that where the front of the church used to be was now the left side of the church.  The windows that we used to try to sit by are now the front of the church.  Right behind the choir in this picture was "our window".  Since this picture was taken, the choir has moved to the left of the podium.  We know have plenty of room for the musicians, there is a big space in front of the podium for when there are special presentations, and the chairs aren't squished so close together anymore.

Oh, and don't be fooled by those air conditioners up there.  One has been taken out and I've never seen either of them turned on, anyway.  

Then one Sunday we walked in and found that the walls had been painted (I'd never seen them anything but grey and white) and we had pretty wall hangings at the front.  And when those curtains or whatever you want to call them get dirty, the women take them down and rehang them in a different way.  I've never seen them rehung the same way twice.  Somebody definitely has an interior decorator's skills!  Take a look at the pictures below to see what can be done with drapery materials!

But there are other changes going on at our church that are much more important than the cosmetic changes!  It's definitely nice to have more room and I appreciate a place that looks nice.  But I've worshiped where we swept aside sheep poop and sat on a mat on the ground and I'm cool with that, too. 

The really exciting thing that's happening is the emphasis our church is putting on missions.  They've decided that they need to be a going and a sending church.  When we left where we used to live, there was a second village where we had planted a church.  We asked our church in Niamey if they could help with making sure that church wasn't forgotten.  They have since done a great job on keeping in touch with that church and joining them for evangelism campaigns a few times a year.  Now they have added a 2nd outpost and have plans for outreach in several quartiers here in Niamey.  And just recently the church brought on board a full-time missions pastor and his wife.  Now THAT's something to get excited about!  The same Sunday that he was commissioned, the evangelism outposts were named (I've blurred the names for security reasons).  Here are some pictures of that Sunday.

Please pray for our church as we get involved in missions and pray for our new missions' pastor and his wife.  Pray that a good number of people will be involved in the different outreach ministries and not just assume the pastor can do it all.  Pray that many in the church will give generously to missions and pray that the Holy Spirit will move among us and that everybody will be involved in some way!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A Book Review: Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses

Walking theBible:  A Journey by Land Through theFive Books of Moses by Bruce Feiler is a book that I downloaded for free on my Kindle.  Whatever the advertising blurb was, it sounded interesting.  After all, it was about the Bible and it was free!

I know this post will be a bit long, but I need to process some of the things this book got me to thinking about, so here goes!

Mr. Feiler has a very engaging writing style. He has the rare ability of helping you imagine in your mind exactly what a place must look like, to make you feel like you’re there, experiencing it with him. For example, upon landing in Cairo, he writes, “The plane taxied to a stop on the tarmac and the door opened onto a slab of thick black air. Stepping on to the stairs, I felt the familiar slap of desert, like staring into a hair dryer.” Describing the traffic in Cairo he writes, “Streets have no particular distinction between where cars should be driven and where they should be parked. …[O]ne is overwhelmed by the sheer volume of cars. Cars in the left lane going in one direction, cars in the right lane going in the same direction. Cars on the sidewalk going in the opposite direction. Cars in the middle parked.”

Because of his engaging and descriptive writing style, the book is easy to read and moves along at a good pace in spite of its length (451 pages, including appendixes at the end).  However, I think the book probably has a limited appeal.  If you are interested in archaeology, the Bible, history (especially ancient history…which explains modern history), the three major religions of the world (Judaism, Islam, Christianity), or travel you would enjoy the book.  If none of those interest you, this book probably isn’t for you.

In brief, Mr. Feiler undertakes a journey to visit the sites where the main stories of the Five Books of Moses take place.  His travel companion was Avner Goren, described as “a romantic, a child of the desert”.  He had been the chief archaeologist of the Sinai region and adds a lot to the story.  Along the fringes of the story is their driver.  The story actually takes place over a period of years and is numerous trips pieced together to make a coherent story.

Most fascinating to me is that Mr. Feiler sets out on this trip to gather facts.  He was born and raised Jewish, but did not consider himself religious.  His faith really meant little to him in his day to day life.
So he was surprised as he traveled and explored how his Jewish faith became meaningful to him.  He says, in explaining different theories people have put forth to explain the plagues:
     “It’s certainly easier to look for naturalistic explanations for seemingly inexplicable phenomena, especially considering the alternative, which would be to attribute them to divine intervention.  When I first started reading the Bible {and by Bible he is referring to the Jewish Old Testament, not including the New Testament} closely I, too, wanted – maybe even needed – to hide behind the screen of history, topography, science.  I was interested in the characters, by which I meant the patriarchs, their wives, Moses, the Israelites.  But in doing so, I was strenuously –at times acrobatically—avoiding showing interest in the central character of the entire book.  I did this, I was coming to see, because I deeply wanted to avoid thinking about that character, about what that character meant to the story, and about what that character might mean to me.  But in doing so, I was shielding myself from a principal storyline of the Bible:  the relationship between humans and the divine.
     “Not until I reached Exodus did I finally begin to recognize the futility of this exercise in self-delusion.  As it happens, the text itself reveals precisely what caused the ten plagues.  God caused them.  To miss that point is to miss the essence of the tale, the battle between the god of the Israelites and the gods of the Egyptians….”

It is sad to me, though, that while he recognizes the Bible to be the story of the central character, of God, and of His relationship to humans, he never seems to quite grasp the eternity of God and is never able to see the full picture of the story of God’s relationship to humans, the redemption offered by the death of His Son on the cross.  Still, I like the way he states that we don’t need a human explanation for much of what happens in the Bible.  The only plausible explanation is that God caused them, God did it, God was at work.

About the Bible itself, Mr. Feiler comes so close to understanding that it is divinely inspired, but never quite hits the nail on the head.  He says:
     “The Bible is not an abstraction in the Middle East, nor even just a book; it’s a living, breathing entity, undiminished by the passage of time.  If anything, the Bible has been elevated to that rare stature of being indefinitely immediate…. [T]he text is forever applicable.  It’s always now.
     “The ability of the Bible to continually reinvent itself is matched only by its ability to make itself relevant to anyone who encounters it.
     “…Put tautologically:  The Bible lives because it never dies.”
He then says, this doesn’t mean the stories are true or that the details are exact and then concludes, “The Bible lives today not because it’s untouchable but precisely because it has been touched – it has been challenged – and it remains undefeated.”

He also has an insightful section on the tension between Islam, which shares many of the same stories, and Jewish and Christian beliefs.  John and I have discussed this much and have come to the same conclusion.  Mr. Feiler is sitting one evening in a Bedouin tent discussing the Bible and the Koran with a group of Muslims and Jewish people.    They’re finding that the stories of the patriarchs often very widely.  For example, the Bible teaches that Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac while the Muslims say it is Ishmael.  The Bible teaches that Moses died on Mount Nebo and that his corpse was never found while the Koran teaches that his place of death is unknown.  During this discussion, Mr. Feiler is getting frustrated.
     “’Between the Koran and the Bible there is a difference over where Moses died,’ Mahmoud repeated.  ‘The Koran doesn’t say.’
     “’But the difference is bigger than that,’ I said.
     “’The main reference to Moses in the Koran –‘ Mahmoud started to say, but I cut him off.
     “’I know the story,’ I said a bit rudely.  ‘The point I want to make is this:  It’s not the same Moses. The Moses in the Bible and the Moses in the Koran are different people.’  Avner, who had been listening nearby, winced.
     “’You mean not physically, but their meaning?’ Mahmoud asked.
     “’Both,’ I said.  ‘We think it’s the same person, but it’s not.’
     “’You’ll never make it as a diplomat,’ Avner remarked dryly.
     “I know under the circumstances, that I should be more gracious, but I couldn’t help myself.  ‘I’m basing my opinion on the fact that for Moses in the Bible, the whole objective, the whole point of his life, is to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land.  To get them to Israel.  Moses in the Koran does not have that.  The Promised Land is not even a factor; it’s not mentioned.  Of course, the Koran doesn’t want to glorify the land of Israel.  It wants to glorify Mecca and Medina.  Therefore, the whole reason Moses lived –according to the Bible – is not mentioned in the Koran.  They’re the same person, but they have different meanings.’
     “…We were dealing with stories, passed around campfires not unlike this one, and written down many years later.  And yet, in each version of the story, the details were different, therefore the meaning was different, therefore the lessons were different.
     “’But we’re talking about different books, different characters, different everything,’ I said.  ‘We may be people of the Book, but since they’re different books, we’re different people.’”
That’s exactly it!  We may have some basic things in common and that gives a good starting point for discussion, but their Abraham is not exactly our Abraham, their Moses is not exactly our Moses, and most importantly, their Allah is not exactly our God. 

Mr. Feiler’s final chapter was very helpful to me.  During the story of Moses, he struggles with something I’ve often wondered about.  In my human mind, it seems so cruel of God to not let Moses enter the Promised Land.  Moses was so faithful, so diligent, he put up with some much junk from the Israelites, and all he did wrong was strike that rock instead of speak to it.  It just seems a bit unfair, like the punishment is way bigger than the offense.  Well, first of all, who am I to say how God should or shouldn’t punish.  But this by Mr. Feiler is helpful to me.  He describes how God took him up on the mountain and showed him all of the Promised Land.  Now, physically speaking, even on the clearest of clear days, it would be impossible to see all of the Promised Land from on top of the mountain.  But, says Mr. Feiler:
“He is given the ability to see what no one else sees.  Denied entry, Moses actually gets more:  He gets prophetic vision, personally granted to him by God.  The Israelites will get the land, but they will continue to struggle with God.  Their leader, however, has fulfillment.  And he reaches this pinnacle not by looking out from the mountain.  For looking out will not show him what he sees….  The land alone is not the destination; the destination is the place where human beings live in consort with the divine.  Ultimately it doesn’t matter that what the Bible describes is impossible to see.  It doesn’t matter because Moses wasn’t seeing as we do.  At the end, he wasn’t even looking at the land.  He was looking where we should look.  He was looking at God.”

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Show and Tell Tuesday: My Favorite Party

It's time again to link up with Momfessionals for Tuesday Show and Tell time.
 I almost didn't link up this week because anybody who knows me knows I'm NOT a party mom!  And then I look at some of the other blogs and think, nope, can't compete with that!  But then it's not a competition, and I'm willing to bet there are other moms out there who aren't party moms, either.  So here goes!

My idea of a fun party is that my kids got to spend quality time with their friends and that everybody had a good time.  Decorations, fancy cake, etc., not so much.  

I think my favorite party we had for our son, Daniel, was when he turned 18.  This was actually the last party we had for him since he was away at college after that and then got married.  

We went out for supper to a Chinese restaurant and ordered "hot pot", sometimes called "Chinese fondue".  And obviously there's a proper Chinese name, but I have no idea what it is!  Any way, with hot pot, there is a large boiling pot of broth with spices in it in the center of the table.  Then they bring plates of vegetables, raw meat sliced paper thin, quails eggs, tofu, dumplings....pretty much anything you can imagine.  You put it in the boiling pot to cook, then pull it out.  You also have a dipping sauce on the side.  My brother told me that in China each person actually makes their own sauce so you can make it as spicy or not as you want.  We had a great time at the restaurant and they brought Daniel an ice cream or something with a sparkler in it for dessert.  In this picture you see our family with our "adopted" son who lived with us for about eight months.

At this point in time, we lived in a village, not in the capital city, but our kids were going to boarding school in the capital.  So we came down for the weekend and stayed in the guest house.  It was always challenging for me to cook in the guest house kitchen without my own equipment.  But this cake was pretty special because I made, FROM SCRATCH, an angel food cake.  Also, there is only a two to three month window of time when we can buy strawberries.  So, yep, a pretty special cake, alright!

Four or five of Daniel's friends came for cake and gifts.  Our gifts were always pretty simple, too, because there just isn't a lot to buy, especially for teenage boys, in Niger!

Coincidentally, one of the most fun parties we threw for our daughter, Suzanne, was also her 18th birthday. 

And, I had forgotten until I went through these pictures, that we also went to the Chinese restaurant and had "hot pot" for her 18th birthday, too!  I don't think it was ever in our minds that we had to do the same thing for her that we had done for her brother.  I just think when the question was asked, "Where should we go?" that that was a unanimous choice. (I'm pretty sure she's not upset in this picture, just striking a dramatic pose.)

At this point in time we hadn't seen Daniel for almost two years (the downside of missionary life!) so it was an especially nice party for us to have the entire family together again!

Suz's birthday was on a school night, so on the weekend we had all her friends come over and we borrowed a 2nd vehicle and took everybody out to the dunes.  I think somebody else drove a 3rd vehicle...I'm not sure how we could have fit everybody into two vehicles.  Her classmates were all really close and did just about everything together. There were also friends from the next class down that came, too.  We had a blast at the dunes, but had to call it quits earlier than we had planned to because we hadn't taken enough water to drink.  We thought we had plenty, but it was about 108 degrees out (that's not an exaggeration!) and the kids went down in the river bed and played football (aka soccer) with some local kids that were down there and worked up a sweat.  They drank every drop of water we had and were begging for more, so we ended up going home even though we had wanted to stay until dark and sing worship songs with the guitar.  So we came home and they played some kind of group game (in our very small living room).  
One thing I'll say about this group of kids was that they were great about creating their own entertainment.  That's perfect for a non-party-mom who loves having her kids and their friends around.

I'm easy to please for my birthday, too.  As long as I don't have to cook the meal and it in some way involves chocolate and just a few friends, I'm happy. 

John has been working part-time on his doctorate since 2010.  Every year he has to be on location in the UK for six weeks and it pretty much always ends up being April and May.  So every year since 2010, except one, he has been gone for my birthday.  (No, I'm not complaining, just stating a fact.....and my neighbors always remember me on my birthday.)  But in 2010 we were in the US and Suzanne and my parents invited two of my friends over, made a delicious curry supper, and we laughed and laughed and laughed all evening.  

 I think Daniel was telling my friends about Kelly and Suzanne about Theo. :)

 So come on, all you other non-party moms!  Come and share about your favorite party.  Having fun is all that matters, after all.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Thankfulness this Week

You may have noticed I didn't do any thankful pictures last week.  It's not that I wasn't thankful.....but three days of eight-hour long meetings didn't leave me much time for anything else.  

So, this week,

Monday -- We got in a container of medical supplies that will be going to our medical centers.  Meanwhile they line the halls of our office.  The added benefit?  It muffles the sound of a hallway that normally exaggerates and echoes sound.  It's so much quieter with all this stuff in the hall! 

Tuesday -- I'm very thankful for a nice pool where I can go to get some exercise when it's so hot.  And this picture is for my sister, to show her that not only do we eat in a "prison yard", we also swim in one! :)

Wednesday -- I'm thankful for my kitty, Queen of Sheba, who keeps me company.  I don't know why, but suddenly she's become a TV watcher.  She'll actually sit in front of the TV and watch it.  She never used to do this.

Thursday -- We had a power cut on Thursday that went from about 2 p.m. to midnight and then again from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. on Friday morning.  I'm really thankful for a fridge that stays cool even when the power is off that long!


Friday -- May 1st is a holiday in Niger (Laborers' Day) and the women of the five assemblies of our church association always get together for the morning.  Some women from other churches come, too.  Each group does special numbers, we have a message, singing, etc.  There is a lot of lively dancing and fun, in spite of the heat.

I love how this mom danced with her sleeping baby....and brought her handbag along, too!
This is one super talented kid.  He's about five, but looks small for his age.  There are two drum sets and the musicians let him play one (he'd love to do that every Sunday!).  He has amazing rhythm.  Yeah, and playing the drums doesn't keep one from enjoying their juice-in-a-bag!
Saturday -- I love finding evidence that the neighbor kids have been playing in my yard.  Because I'm pretty sure that's the only explanation for polar bears in the trees on the edge of the desert!

Sunday -- I'm trying to cut down on the amount of sugar I eat/drink.  I used to drink a Coke a day.  That was my treat and sure tasted good on a hot day.  Now I allow myself one Coke a week.  But I get tired of just water, so I drink quite a bit of iced tea with no sugar.  This is a little different.  I use a small handful of dried hibiscus flowers, two sprigs of mint, about a teaspoon of grated ginger, and a large tablespoon of Kenyan Marsala chai tea (any spicy type of tea would be good:  chai, Earl Grey, Constant Comment, etc.).  I also use about 1/4 cup of sugar because the hibiscus is very tart.  This makes a two-quart jug of tea and is very refreshing!

Friday, May 01, 2015

Currently I'm _____

I'm linking up with Suzanne for Thursday's Question at The Glorious Mundane for "Currently I’m ____" (you fill in the blank!).  Yes, I know it's not Thursday, but we had a 10-hour power cut on Thursday.  No power = no internet.

Listening: to the ceiling fan whirring.  I can hear music from a nearby restaurant/bar.  Otherwise it's pretty quiet!  (Oh!  Just heard a loud noise and squealing accident out on the main road, maybe?)

Eating: I'm not eating anything! But I'm pretty proud of myself that even though John's gone I made a Hawaiian pizza for supper.  (I don't cook nearly as much when he's gone.)  Actually, I have my meals for next week all planned.  I cooked a pasta dish last night and will have the left-overs for that on Tuesday and Wednesday (I put it in the freezer last night during our 10-hour power cut because I wasn't sure the fridge was cold enough).  Tomorrow I'll make au gratin potatoes in the crock pot and have the left-overs on Monday night.  Thursday night I'll have left-over peanut butter sauce I put in the freezer earlier this week.  And Friday night I'll have the left-over pizza I popped in the freezer.  So  I'm all set!

Drinking: Ice water with lemon in it.  It seems like I drink all day!  I did have a Coke with my pizza and a cup of tea earlier in the day, but other than that it's been water all the way.

Wearing: Shorts and a t-shirt. Today was a holiday, so I can wear shorts since I'm not going out anywhere.  Actually, this is the 2nd outfit of the day.  Earlier I went to church for the annual May 1st Women's meeting, so I wore an African outfit and headscarf to that. Came home very hot and sweaty!

Feeling: pretty lonely without John.

Weather: HOT, HOT, HOT!!!!  This afternoon it was 108 degrees.  Right now at 9:44 p.m., it is 100.  Thankfully it's only 8% humidity. I mean hot is hot, but it feels even more hot when it's humid.

Wanting: John to come home.  But more than that, I want him to achieve his dreams and accomplish his doctorate.

Needing: Faster internet.  LOL.  Do I really NEED internet?  I used to live just fine without it.

Thinking: that I wish there weren't problems like B*ko H*ram, Baltimore riots, meningitis epidemics and not enough injections to go around, and killing going on in the Middle East.

Enjoying: seeing women from so many countries and ethnic groups worshiping God together this morning.