Sunday, September 27, 2015

Moving On

We have had a busy weekend with three separate un-related events that we attended.  Just to make a nice title, I wondered if there was a common thread in the three events and decided that they all have to do with moving on.

The first was Friday night and was a farewell for our friends, Jon and Christine and their kids.  I don't like good-byes in general and this one in particular as they have become good friends of ours.  For me, a good friend is somebody you feel completely comfortable with and can just be yourself around, and that is who Jon and Christine are for me.  Thankfully, they do plan to return to Niger.....but in the meantime, they will be very, very missed.

Preparing to send our text messages
We had an open house at the office and everybody bought a plate of goodies to share.  Steve directed a prayer time, but before that he reminded us that Jon's "love language" is texting and he had us all send Jon and Christine a message at the same time. 

Some of us shared what our message said

Then we spent time praying for them.

Yep, they're moving on and we're sad, but at the same time know that they are doing what God wants them to do for now.

Saturday morning we went with our house worker to visit his new house.  His wife works for several missionary families as a house worker and he works for us and for several others.  He has saved his money diligently and bought a piece of land and built a house.  Whenever people are throwing things out....a half used bucket of paint, tile from a floor that is being replaced, old windows, etc. he takes it and uses it in his house.  He wanted us to see his new place, so we went with our neighbors and with one of the missionaries his wife works for.  Our neighbors have a pick-up truck so he took advantage of that to take a load of stuff out to the house.

The house is not quite finished, but he does have the walls up and the roof on and they hope to move soon.  It's on the edge of town and doesn't have electricity yet.  I believe there is a well or a public pump near by.  He already has some trees planted and growing.  John asked if we could pray for them and he agreed, so we had a chance to pray that this house would be a place of refuge and peace.  Of course, our prayer is also that the entire family would put their faith in Jesus.

It's gratifying to see a family work hard and be able to move into their own place.

The third event we attended was a fund-raiser for Sahel Academy's senior class who will, of course, be moving on at the end of this academic year.  There was to be donkey basketball, but the rain came just as the event got started.  The donkeys were hired and grazing outside, but the game never happened because of the rain.  Of course, we're very thankful for the rain....but the donkey basketball would have been fun, too.  However, the real money-making events of the evening went on.  People brought in chili and there was a contest to see whose chili was the best.  The chili was then sold by the bowl-full for supper.  Soft drinks were also sold.  During the weeks students voted on certain staff and students who would get a pie in the face.  I think they had to buy their votes, so that contributed to the coffers, too.  In the end it was the dorm dad that got the pie smeared onto his face.  Then many people donated pies which were put up for auction.  Some of them sold for as much as 10,000 cfa or about $20.00 and I even saw one that went for 12,000 ($24.00).  I bid on several but John and I had agreed before hand to not go above a certain amount.  In the end, the pies I was interested in all sold for more than our agreed upon price, so we didn't get one.  At least we helped drive the price up! :)

All of the proceeds will go for the senior trip.  It was a fun evening in spite of the rain forcing everybody inside.  The disadvantage to that was that the noise level in the room was almost unbearable.  Oh well, small price to pay to help out our senior class!

Grandpas and proud of it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Eating Out in Niamey, Part III

In yesterday's post, I forgot one restaurant we went to.  I think it's called Les Delices, but we call it "Kentucky Fried Chicken".  

Their specialty is coated fried chicken.  For about $7.00 you get three pieces, a big portion of fries, and an off-brand soda.  I wouldn't want to eat there too often because it's not the healthiest plate of food, but it sure is good!

One of these days I'll do a blog on street food.  Now y'all come visit us because we have plenty of places where we can take you to eat!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Eating Out in Niamey, Part II

We had another two weeks of stay-cation the end of August and beginning of September.  This time I almost always remembered to take my camera along.  So you'll get to see pictures of the restaurants we visited.

Cote Jardin -- I mentioned  this one in Part I of this feature, so I won't do a lot of describing of it. 

As I wrote before, they do have a beautiful garden and absolutely delicious food.  The service is good and that combined with the ambiance makes it a delightful place to eat.  We went at night, so, sorry, my pictures don't really show what the garden looks like.  We went for our anniversary, which was really before our stay-cation.

This is a restaurant that has never failed to please.

 Les Roniers is a restaurant at a hotel. It is named for a type of palm tree common here in Niger. It is on the outskirts of Niamey and has a lot of trees and open outdoor space. It is right by the river. The hotel rooms are bungalows.  The pool is shady and has a lot of trees surrounding it.  The restaurant has been known to be one of the more posh restaurants in town, but we found it run down compared to how it used to be. 

There was a spot of spilled food on our tablecloth which is off-putting, there was sticky stuff on the floor and I.can't.stand.sticky.floors!  They didn't have the first thing I ordered.  In the end, we shared a salade nicoise that was delicious and absolutely perfect.  I don't remember what John ordered.  I got my stand-by:  steak au poivre avec frites.  It was really good, too.  There was one other group of people there, but other than that, we had the place to ourselves.  I think a lot of people like to go to Les Roniers to spend the day at the pool (I think the pool was 3,000 per adult per day, about $6.00 per adult) and get a meal because it feels like you are far from Niamey. 

While the meal was good, I was disappointed that they don't seem to be keeping it out and that it was a bit run down.  It wouldn't keep me from going back, though.  And the food was not expensive.  They haven't changed anything over the years, including the prices on the menu, so that's nice.

Our next restaurant to visit was the Dragon d'Or (the Golden Dragon).  

As you can guess by the name, it is a Chinese restaurant.  

We chose to eat outside as it was a pleasant evening, but there is an air-conditioned dining room inside as well. 

I had the chicken aigre-doux (sweet and sour chicken) and John had some kind of poulet citron (lemon chicken).  I liked mine quite a lot. 

John wasn't as crazy about his, but said it wasn't bad.

We also visited a restaurant called Rayan.  I'm assuming Rayan is somebody's name....I really have no idea.  Downstairs is a bakery with the best selection of pastries of any bakery I've seen in Niamey.  

Then upstairs is a restaurant.  There was only one other patron there the night we were there.  Oh, and somebody who came in and picked up carry-out.  I had a steak and fries with a mushroom sauce and I'm not sure what John had.  Something with chicken and a lot of onions.  Oh, and fresh, still-warm baguette. Yum!

The food was good.  The only problem is that you can't sit where you can't see the TV.  Most of the evening there was some kind of sports program on, but then they changed to a Nollywood soap opera that was a bit bizarre and that we didn't really want to watch.  Other than showing sports, I'm not sure why restaurants have TVs going.  

We like to sit by the big windows and watch the traffic going by down below.  The security guard directing traffic was very  entertaining....much better than the TV!  The other problem with Rayan is that it's on a really busy road and


there is a LOT of traffic between our house and the restaurant and we've never gone that it isn't heavy traffic, no matter what the time of day or night.  So, getting there and getting home is no fun and almost reason enough to not go there unless you're already in the neighborhood.

Next up was the pizza restaurant and I forgot my camera.  This restaurant is called Kubeyni -- Red Hot Club.  I kid you not.  I know it sounds like a place where missionaries should not go!  Kubeyni means "welcome" in Zarma.  Honestly, the red hot seems to be referring to the way your pizza is served and not the entertainment!  People had told us that the pizza there was really good, but John almost always prefers my pizza to restaurant pizza, so why go out and pay for something that he likes better at home?  Well, because, I must admit, it was as good if not better, than my home-made pizza.  It was some of the best pizza I've ever had.  The seating is in a small garden or you can eat indoors in a small room (with a TV).  The service was fabulous.  And it's in walking distance to our house.  Combine the atmosphere of the garden, the excellent service, the perfection of the pizza, and the distance from our house, and you get a place we'll definitely be visiting again.  This was, hands down, one of our favorite restaurants for this round of eating out.  And besides, I have to go back again with my camera!  I should also mention that you can order and take-out and they were doing a booming business, especially since it was a Friday night.

And last, but not least, back to our favorite restaurant, Le Sangria, behind the Sahel Hotel. 

As far as we're concerned, their brochettes and fries cannot be beat.  My only complaint that night was that they didn't have any ice for the cokes.  

I look like I need a vacation, alright!

 It sure was nice to get a break from the kitchen!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Grandparents' Day

My calendar tells me that today is "International Grandparents' Day".  Well, that's news to me since Grandparents' Day is not a day I've ever celebrated or even heard of.  But why not take this opportunity to honor my grandparents?

Interestingly, today is also my parents' 63rd wedding anniversary.  

So, since my story starts with my parents and their story starts with my grandparents, I thought I'd share a bit about their stories.  Mind you, I wasn't there for most of what I'm recording here, but these are the stories as I've heard and remember them.

My dad grew up in a small town in Susquehanna, PA and my mom on a farm 
My Grandma Hall with my dad, in the sailor suit, and his two brothers
outside Mishawaka, IN.  They met at the wedding of mom's close friend married my dad's roommate from Bible College.  I'm told it was love at first sight.  They carried on a correspondence for a year and saw each other only twice during that time.  After all, in 1952, the trip from Pennsylvania to Indiana was long and expensive and usually done by train.

My Grandpa Hall, Rexford Hall, had grown up on a dairy farm outside of Susquehanna, PA.  His father farmed with a horse-drawn plow and milked by hand.  My Grandma Hall, born Wanda Wheeler, had grown up in a nearby town called Lanesboro.  Grandma had grown up in a close-knit family of nine children.  I have no idea how they met or about their wedding....those are the questions we wish we'd asked!   I'm told that my Grandpa was a young married man and set to inherit the family farm when the depression started.  At about the same time, and unrelated to the depression, the cows on the farm were tested positive for bovine tuberculosis and were carted off.  That left my Grandpa with no work, and the depression upon them.  My dad said he found day labor wherever he could.  Some days he'd come home with a bag of potatoes as payment, some days a gallon of milk, some days a bit of money, etc.  

My Grandpa Hall was one of the hardest working men I've ever known.  My dad says America was built on the backs of men like him. I believe he only had a 6th grade education, but I can remember him sitting down every evening with the newspaper and his Bible.  He'd read through the paper and then read his Bible.  He also had an amazing garden and knew massive amounts of information about, animals, farming, etc.  He worked in a machine shop after the depression until his retirement.  He bought a shack after the depression and single-handedly turned it into a nice little house.  He was a stern man and I was a bit afraid of him as a child, but when I knew him as a young adult, he seemed to mellow and I believe I also got to know him better and understood that he had a loving and gentle nature.
Grandma and Grandpa Hall's wedding portrait
I don't know much about my Grandpa's and Grandma's conversions.  I know both of them had grown up in Christian homes.  My dad tells the story that my Grandpa smoked a pipe.  Grandma didn't like him smoking, so he'd smoke outside and in the outhouse.  One night at a church revival he become convicted that he shouldn't smoke, so he went home that night and threw his pipe and tobacco in the wood stove.  My dad said his black hair fell out in handfulls, presumably from the shock to his system, but also he was under a lot of stress at the time.  When it grew back in, it came in white.

My Grandma Hall passed away from cancer when my dad was in high school, so, sadly, I never got to meet her.  My dad speaks highly of her, and I like to imagine that she was a lot like her sister, who was one of my favorite people in the world, my Great Aunt Jeanette.

My Grandma Margie and Grandpa Hall with my parents, my sister, and my brother.  Ummm, yeah, I don't know what's wrong with them!
Before I was born, Grandpa married Margie Ketchum, who I always knew as Grandma Margie.  Grandma Margie was so sweet and I think gifts must have been her love language because whenever we came, she would have some kind of gift waiting for us.  She also made sure there was Captain Crunch cereal in the house, something we never got at home!  She was the secretary at their church and served there faithfully for many, many years. 

Meanwhile, my mom was growing up on a farm in Indiana.  
My mom, in the white dress, with her parents, sister, and two brothers
She said she was not really aware that there was a depression because they were poor anyway and since they lived on a farm, they grew what they needed for food.  My Grandpa, Harold Gay, had grown up in Mishawaka, Indiana, and had a love for machinery.  He raced motorcycles in the 1920's.  

They weren't much more than a bike with a motor on it, but it was pretty daring back then! 


My Grandma, Ada Carswell, had been born in Nebraska where her parents had been pioneers.  They moved back to Indiana and obviously my grandparents met, but, again, I have no idea how.  

Grandpa and Grandma Gay's wedding portrait

My mom tells me that when she was young her parents were not Christians  (My Grandma may have been a Christian, I'm not sure.).  They may have called themselves "Christian" but it was not a relationship with Jesus that affected their daily lives.  She said that my Grandpa, who was also working in a machine shop, met a man who kept witnessing to him.  He went to church with that man, but it was a Pentecostal church and he wasn't really comfortable with the emotion there.  However, the man's testimony and enthusiasm for things of the Lord really made an impact on my Grandpa.  At the same time he met another Christian man who eventually brought my Grandpa to the Lord, he and his household. 

My Grandpa and Grandma Gay.  This was probably taken the last time I saw my Grandpa.

My Grandpa Gay loved  his grandchildren!  When all of the cousins were together we would fight to sit next to Grandpa at the table.  He said he needed to build a round table with a hole in the middle.  He'd sit in the hole and we could sit equal distance from him around the edges of the table.  He had a model train set in the basement and it was our delight to sit with Grandpa and play with his trains.  Grandma Gay was an amazing cook.  Some of the cousins tried to get recipes from Grandma, but she never used a recipe.  She just threw in a little of this and a lot of that, and it turned out perfectly.  Grandma and Grandpa were both very active in their church and were godly people.  Sadly, 
Grandma Gay with our family.  I'm the blonde one.
Grandpa died suddenly in 1970 when I was only 11 years old.  We had just returned from Nigeria a day or two before and never got to see him.  So the last time I saw him was when I was seven years old.  Grandma lived to a "ripe old age" and so I got to know her well.  

And, since it's Grandparents' Day, I just want to say that my parents and John's parents were also excellent grandparents.  I already wrote a blog about how our kids didn't get to see their grandparents much, but I'm so thankful that both sets of grandparents were able to visit us in Niger.

Both my parents and John's parents did a short term in Nigeria and we got to spend time with them there.

And now we are grandparents!  And, as my father-in-law used to say, "If I'd known grandkids were this much fun, I would have had them first."

"LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.  The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance."  Psalm 16:5, 6

Friday, September 04, 2015

Thriving or Surviving

Imagine that you are a well-adjusted adult, happy and well-trained in your career, surrounded by friends and family who understand and love you, and involved in a church where you can both give and receive.  That's not hard to imagine, right, because that describes you!

Now imagine that God has called you to be a missionary, to live cross-culturally in a country where you've never been.  Life will be exciting, challenging, and meaningful.

And then you get to that new country.  Everything is new.  You can't understand a word people are saying and they can't understand you.  And that in spite of having spent a year of your life in language study.  You haven't got a clue where to go shopping and when you do go you don't recognize any of the food products on the store.  Not to mention that when you get it home, the stove is like nothing you've ever seen before.  Nothing is done the same as "back home".  Why, for example, can't the car insurance company send you a reminder that your insurance is due?  And what's with buying little cards to put credit on your phone so you can continue to make calls?  And that's not even talking about this brand new culture you've landed in.  All of a sudden you don't know what to do at weddings, with new babies, or in a room full of talkative women.  Church feels a little more comfortable because the service is conducted in much the same way as back home.  But then you can't follow or understand the message, all the songs are new to you, and you don't know how to get involved because, yeah, that language problem again.  And even as a professional, suddenly everything is done differently and there's a steep learning curve.

You've just gone from feeling like a competent, well-educated, well-loved, involved individual to feeling like a two year old who can't speak, communicate, or understand.  You feel like a nobody and it's not a very comfortable feeling.  In fact, you're not very sure you like it here or that this is really what God wanted you to do after all.  And where do you go to buy a ticket home?

Working in personnel, part of my job is to help people through this very uncomfortable adjustment phase.  John works with me a lot in this area as well.  So how do we walk beside new missionaries and help them to adjust and not to just survive, but to thrive in their new location, in their new ministry?

First of all, it takes an attitude of being willing to learn.  If a new arrival just wants to be the way they've always been and can't get over being an American or a Brit or a Korean, they probably won't go very far in adapting.  Thankfully the greatest majority of missionaries arriving on the field are adaptable and are learners. (As one missionary says, "Flex and obey, for there's no other way, to be happy in missions, but to flex and obey.")

Secondly, it takes team-work.  John, Crystal (who works with me specifically with short-termers), Regional Directors, and I don't have time to spend dedicated time with each new arrival and make sure they are ok.  That's where other experienced missionaries come in.   We've been asking missionaries with some experience to come aside new arrivals and mentor them.  Mentoring new arrivals takes involvement in their lives, giving them a chance to ask questions, sharing what you've already learned, and praying with them.  Mostly it takes time.  It's not a glory job, that's for sure.  Regi Campbell in Mentoring Like Jesus, says, "The selflessness of a good mentor is obvious.  There's a willingness to invest time in others when there is no return on investment for yourself, at least nothing tangible."  And later, "This is a one-way street ... from mentor to mentoree.  No payback.  No quid pro quo.  Just selfless giving.  And it's wonderful."

Thirdly, the personnel team does some very intentional orientation.  Within a few days after arrival on the field, we invite new arrivals to the office to meet the staff there, to get them started on getting driver's licenses, permanent visas, etc., and to fill out the ever-necessary paperwork.  Hopefully in this initial visit they at least get an idea of where they can go with their questions. We tell them a few things about living in Niger, but unfortunately in their jet-lagged state, information we feed them that first week pretty much goes in one ear and out the other.   So twice a year we do a two-day orientation when we focus on some important topics in more depth.  These include handling stress, language learning, understanding Islam in this context, and the history of the church in Niger.  

But this year we added another facet to our orientation, at least for those living in Niamey.  We actually got this idea from another of our missionary centers here in the country.  We get a large influx of new arrivals every summer, so we decided that during the month of August we will ask them to meet with us every Saturday evening in the month.  We have made it a potluck and decided to meet at the home of the family that has small children to make it less disruptive to their bedtime routine.  After eating together, we sit down and discuss some of their frustrations, challenges, and blessings from the week.  Then we talk about a specific topic (they chose the topics).  We end by spending time praying for each other.

I think this has gone really well.  The disadvantage, of course, is that people arrive in the country at odd times of the year and never get to be part of the group.  For example, we have two Sahel staff members who couldn't arrive before school started, so they completely missed out on this.  Overall, I think we could make improvements and we have some ideas on how to do that.

The main thing, though, is that everybody in the group seems to have enjoyed it.  It's been good to get to know others who are experiencing the same things you are, others who also feel like two year olds.  Sitting around a living room with a plate full of food is more conducive to a good discussion than sitting in my office or in a classroom.  And at the end of the evening, everybody continues to sit around and talk and aren't in a big rush to go.  So this will definitely become a part of our orientation and mentoring program.

Yes, adjusting to a new environment, a new culture, a new climate, new friends, a new church, and a new job is hard work.  But we hope that spending time in mentoring situations will help each person to thrive, not just survive.