Sunday, November 29, 2015

Getting There in Style

This past week I got to do something I haven't done in years.... fly in one of our mission's small planes.  The last time I flew I was sick with shingles.  We were supposed to be going down to Nigeria for a vacation, which would be very good for getting the rest and time to heal that I needed.  The problem was getting there.  I wasn't sure I could take the two-day road trip with my back rubbing against the seat of our pick-up truck bouncing over rough roads.  So it turns out I was able to fly in the plane as far as Maradi and then we drove the rest of the way, so I only had one day of misery instead of two.  That must have been 2003.  Here's a picture of me when I had shingles....I'm not sure why somebody (shall remain unnamed here) took a picture of me when I was sick, but this picture only shows half the misery I felt.  Anyway, I digress.



Thankfully, this time when I flew SIMAIR, I felt great.  I was nominated to be on a committee and it was decided for everybody to meet half-way.  So three others and myself flew from Niamey to Galmi (it turns out with the fuel-efficient planes we have, it's not much more expensive to fly than to charge full mileage on a vehicle and takes up a lot less time!  Plus, it minimizes the need for an overnight stay in a guest house which would be a further expense.).  We were able to come and go in one day as it is a 1.5 hour trip by air whereas it is at least eight hours by road.

Our planes are all small four-seater Cessna 180's outfitted with diesel engines. 

 
They can carry three passengers plus the pilot.



We took off about an hour after sunrise, so the sun was still low in the sky.



It was interesting to watch the landscape below.  Flying out from Niamey, there was pretty much nothing down below, not even villages. 

 

Notice the little village backed up against the hill near the center of the picture.  I saw quite a few villages backed up against these mesas and wondered why.

As we got closer to Galmi things started looking a bit greener (green is a relative term when you're in Niger!) and we saw more villages. 

 
We were also closer to the main road so it would only be natural to have more villages near the road that connects one end of the country with the other.  


I never did get a shot of the Hospital compound since I was always on the wrong side of the plane, but here is one of the town.


  Our meeting went well.  We had lunch there, then the guys I was with had another meeting and we came home, arriving just before sunset. 
Taken just before take-off in Galmi.  Notice the fence to keep animals off the air strip.

By the way, our days are shorter now, but we are close enough to the equator that our shortest days and our longest days only vary by about an hour.  So all year long we have 11-13 hours of sunshine.  If you have Seasonal Affective Disorder, come join us in Niger!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Eating the Frog, Mentoring Like Jesus, and Being a Servant

I love reading, but I must confess that my favorite genre is fiction.  Reading is what I do in my spare time, so I enjoy a well-written story that takes me to another place.  But I also discipline myself to read non-fiction.  Biographies and auto-biographies are my favorite because they read like novels.  I also read quite a few books to do with the Bible or Christian living.  And I try to read several books a year for professional development.  These are three professional development books I've read recently.

Perhaps my favorite of the three is called Eat That Frog!  21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time.  The author is Brian Tracy who is a motivational speaker and writer.  Pretty much the summary of the book is if you do these 21 things you will be successful.  Hmmmm, well, he's never lived where the unexpected and uncontrollable is part of every day, I guess.  Never-the-less, he does offer some great tips and I found some of them helpful.  I was also glad to see that some of what he suggests are things I already do.  



Mr. Tracy says that "Mark Twain once said that if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst  thing that is going to happen to you all day long."  The premise is simple:  Make a list of your tasks for the day.  Which is the hardest and the most important?  Do it first.  If you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first.

Some of the other things he recommends doing are think on paper, plan every day in advance, tag your to-do list to indicate what is most important in descending order to least important and delegate what you can.  He also talks quite a bit about the 80/20 rule.... 20% of your tasks will account for 80% of the value of what you do.  So, if you have 10 tasks to do in a day and each of them takes the same amount of time to do, choose the one or two (the 20%) that have the greatest value to accomplish what you are trying to do (the 80%).

The second book I read was Mentor Like Jesus by Regi Campbell.  Mr.
Campbell's main premise is to spend more time with fewer people and to really make a difference in their lives.  He found he was meeting with 10-20 men regularly, but only for 30 minutes at a time and wasn't really making a big difference in their lives.  So he started mentoring groups in which he meets monthly for several hours a month for a year with a group of about eight guys.  His program is well-known and popular, so he spends time praying that God will send him the right men.  Then the men have to fill out an application form and from that he chooses the guys who will be in the group.  They have to sign a contract that they will come to every single meeting.  He feels that the advantage to a group is that as they discuss things they are all learning from each other.  It isn't just him telling what he knows, but them all sharing what they've learned in similar experiences.  They also really keep each other accountable.  And this is how Jesus mentored....he poured his life into 12 very specific people.  The men also need to commit to mentoring so that what they have gained from the group is passed on to others.

And the third book is called The Servant:  A Simple Story about the True Essence of Leadership by James Hunter.  Instead of just writing a how-to book on leadership, Mr. Hunter writes a story in which a struggling leader goes on a
leadership retreat.  The book recounts the discussions that the group had.  Mr. Hunter did talk a lot about how leadership involves being a servant and showing love. I have a hard time writing a review for this book because we read it together in our Admin meetings, but there were so many interruptions with people going on vacation and so on, that I had a hard time getting the flow of the book. I don't think it had anything to do with the book itself.   I feel like there were a lot of helpful things in the book, but as I said, I just am having a hard time pulling it together.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Dirty Hands, Clean Hearts

Yesterday we were able to take a group of young people from our mission school to a local church that had been burned in January. I can't explain here why the church has waited this long to start restoring their property, but they had their reasons.  About a month a go John and I were there for a church service and felt like the conditions were really demoralizing to the church members.  While in the service both John and I got the idea of bringing an outreach team from the school to help with a clean-up day in which they could work with the young people from the church.  John also encouraged one of the elders to get the funds available to them from the money that was raised by SIM and to start work on the church building.

So yesterday when we went we were pleased to see that in the church building they had pulled down the charred ceiling and had replaced it.  They were preparing the walls for painting.  And they had placed conduits to do the re-wiring.  We spent the day working in one of the houses on the compound.




We removed the rubble that was still in the house. 
 

This created a lot of dust in the air from the ash and the dust that is just pervasive here.  




The church guys knocked off hunks of plaster in this room that were loose.  They also hauled all of that out of the house.







Mr. K, a staff member who came along, has had a lot of experience in maintenance and building and he was a huge help.  He knocked out all the broken glass in the window frames and tore down the ceiling in one of the rooms (it had been burned out in the other rooms). 

 

We scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed the walls.  In some places it worked best to just attack the walls with a dry brush.  In other places, a wet rag worked better.  









In the back room that was the darkest, one of the boys discovered something we had not seen before.  He found this wooden cross hanging on the wall.  The heat in this room was so hot that Mr. K said the glass in the windows had melted.  And yet this wooden cross on a string was not burned!  To us it was a sign of hope, a reminder that God is in control even when all looks despairing.



Outside, two of the boys worked on dismantling the roof of an open-sided shelter that had been knocked down.



The house is definitely not move-in-ready at this point, but it sure looks a lot better.  They are one step closer now to being able to do repairs to once again make the house livable.

We were filthy by the end of the day!  But we had a sense of accomplishment and of having done a good thing.  It kind of reminds me of Jesus who taught us that having clean hands (an outward show of spirituality) is nothing if our hearts are dirty (our true spiritual condition).  

A clean(ish) living room!  




 A clean(er) kitchen!

 

 And a clean terrace!





Sunday, November 08, 2015

What Would You Do When Persecuted or Misunderstood?

January 16 and 17 are dates that no Christian in Niger will ever forget.  When the question is asked, "What were you doing on January 16 or on January 17?"  each of us will have a memory permanently etched into our minds.  

On January 16 churches, parsonages, and Christian-owned businesses in towns in the eastern part of Niger were burned.  The next day, the 17th, the same thing happened in Niamey.




In the United States, at this point, it is probably beyond our imaginations to think of this happening.  And yet, laws are being created the keeping of which may bring cause you to compromise your Christian convictions.  Perhaps you, my readers, already face mocking or disdain when you share your beliefs in the workplace or with extended family.


Honestly, according to the Bible, persecution or at the very least being misunderstood, is something that happens to believers.  That doesn't mean we need to go around making ourselves obnoxious in the name of the Gospel, but the truth is, not everybody understands what having a relationship with Jesus is all about and that that relationship affects how we think, act, and relate to the world around us.  And what is not understood is mocked and may even result in persecution.  


So, when persecution or misunderstanding happens, what are our reactions?  Fear is a very real reaction and I think on January 16 and 17, most of us experienced a very real sense of fear.  Betrayal?  People you thought you knew and trusted seem to not be who you thought they were.  Revenge?  I think deep in our human hearts we have a very real sense of fairness which can come out as believing that what you did to me, I'll do back to you.  Demanding my rights?  I think this is another gut reaction that comes automatically.  There is freedom of religion, so you all should treat me nicely because it's my right.


I recently read this, about the story in Acts 4, in a great little book called I Believe in the Holy Spirit by Canon Michael Green:  "Peter and John have been released from prison, after being grilled by the Sanhedrin, and told not to say any more about the resurrection of Jesus.  They returned to the Christian fellowship, and their immediate action was significantly different from what would happen in most Christian circles today.  We might organise a petition for civil liberties, or approach our Member of Parliament, or at least appoint a committee to look into the matter of these unwarranted threats by officialdom.  They did nothing of the kind.  They gave themselves to prayer.  This seems to have been a mixture of liturgical and free prayer.  The prayer as recorded is dependent to a very large extent on Psalm 2, and to it they appended their brief request.  But they did not prescribe to the Almighty what he should do.  They did not ask for protection.  They spread the matter before the Lord and asked him to 'behold' it.  They claimed his sovereignty over every threat of man.  And they asked for boldness in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus.  'And when they had prayed, the place was shaken in which they were gathered, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with confident assurance' (Acts 4:31).  Such was the reality of the Spirit's presence in their worship."




Wow!  They gave themselves to prayer.  And in their prayer they didn't even tell God what they thought He should do.  They simply quoted Scripture, claimed God's sovereignty over every threat of man, and asked for boldness to continue proclaiming the Gospel.


I'm so thankful that the churches here in Niger have claimed God's sovereignty over every threat of man and have continued in boldness to proclaim the Gospel and to rebuild.  They could have responded by going out and doing in kind to the houses of worship of the majority religion, but they allowed God to let them respond in a peaceful way.   


I'm equally thankful for each person who prayerfully gave to the persecution fund to help the churches rebuild.  Next week we will be helping a local church do some clean up and repair work.  Yes, this experience has been more difficult than anything the church in Niger has had to face, but by responding biblically, they are rebuilding and continuing to reach out to those around them.


And can I encourage you that if you personally face mocking and misunderstanding, let your first reaction be to give yourself to prayer, to claim God's sovereignty, and to ask for boldness to continue to proclaim the Gospel.


Even when our hardship is not caused by others around us but we are struggling to make sense of the crazy events in our life, I think this is a good formula to follow:  give ourselves to prayer, especially those based on Scripture, claim God's sovereignty, and ask Him to continue to make us bold.