Sunday, July 24, 2016

Installation of a Pastor

The year was 1992 when we first moved to the town we called home for the next 16 years.  We were there to do church planting among the Songhai people.  A year or so into our time there, missionaries in the capital city told us about some young men who were from a village near where we lived who had come to Niamey and who had become believers.  They asked if there was any way we could follow up on them.

We did hesitate a bit and prayed about it because our focus was the Songhai people and these men were Gourma.  But when God opens a door of opportunity, even if it isn't a door you were knocking on, you need to walk through it.  It almost sounds silly now, because the goal is to win those who are living and dying without having heard the good news of Jesus Christ, no matter what their ethnic group!  And it turned out, they spoke Songhai amongst themselves as much as Gourmantchema, so it never involved us learning yet another language.

So every week until the time we left, John headed down the road to the next village to have a Bible study with the men who had become believers and with others who soon joined them.  It's not a large village and the group has always been small, but they have been faithful.  We also went for quite awhile on Sunday mornings until a church started in the town where we lived.  We spent Christmas and Easters in with the believers in this little village and later we would bring them into our town for a joint celebration.

They erected their own church building and we helped them in only minor ways with that.  At one point the church roof collapsed and we brought an outreach team from Sahel Academy to help them repair it.  Now one of the walls has fallen in and it's not safe to use any more.  

When we moved to Niamey, we asked our church in Niamey if they could help follow up with the church in this town.  They joined that denomination and our church had a pastor who went up every weekend for three years.  In the meantime, they trained another young man and a few weeks ago we got to go up with others from our church for his installation as pastor.  (I apologize for the quality of some of these pictures, but we were looking into the sun.)

We had some introductory remarks by our missions pastor and then our pastor.  The tall young man who is translating in many of these pictures is somebody John really dsicipled and mentored, truly a spiritual son.)

The church members sang in Gourma.  The Gourmas really know how to sing!

John preached in Songhai on being a shepherd.  

The pastor who came up every weekend for three years gave some remarks to the new pastor and his wife.

The new pastor and his wife came to the front and were given their charge as pastor and then prayed over.

He was given a pastoral Bible in Zarma.  Even though the church members are all Gourma they use the Bible in Zarma, a close dialect of Songhai.

The mayor came up and gave some remarks.  He said that even though he's not a Christian, he appreciates the work that Christians and churches do in Niger and gave some examples.

And then we had food together.  Our church had brought drinks and sandwiches, and the church in the village had made a big meal of rice with a meat sauce.

And, of course, wherever there are a group of people, especially if there is food, the children gather!

John poured so much of his time and his life into this group of believers.  Growing a church is so much like growing your family.  There are times when you are so frustrated with their slow growth.  He literally cried tears and poured buckets of sweat on their behalf.  There was probably some blood shed, too, though not his ... just midnight "ambulance" runs.  And then there are times when he would look at them with parental pride, realizing that they were getting it.  This dedication was one of those times.  All these years later, and even though they struggle still, they are standing firm.  While we didn't personally disciple this pastor, it good to see the group going forward.

Please pray for the pastor.  (If you want to know his name, let me know in an email message.)  He is still young and inexperienced.  He won't earn much salary, if any.  The church members are related and inter-related in complicated ways that have to be considered in inter-personal relationships.  Pray for him to have a vision for the area around their village and to really reach out in evangelistic ways.  Pray that God will use this group to reach the Songhai and other people groups in the area in ways that we never could.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Books Read in June

I read only two books in June and both of them were novels!    This has been a busy summer for me so I haven't had the mental energy to read more than novels.

So, the first book I read was called Quentins by Maeve Binchey.  Maeve Binchey is an excellent story-teller and she's a prolific author, but I don't read her books that often.  Of the ones I've read, this probably wasn't my favorite.  The basic story line was good, but even that was kind of sad since it was based on an affair the main protagonist was having.  Thankfully Ms. Binchey didn't have steamy sex scenes. The thing that really kind of annoyed me about the book, though, was that there were stories within the story and that kind of annoyed me because it was hard to make the mental switch, reminding myself, "OK, now, different characters, we're not in the main story any more."

The second was called The Garden of Burning Sand by Corban Addison, which I liked a lot more.  I have both good and bad things to say about this book. And whether you end up liking the book or not, it will make you think.

Zoe is a young American lawyer working with a Zambian NGO devoted to combating child sexual assault. She works with a team of Zambians to work for justice for a young girl with Downs Syndrome who has been raped. All evidence points to the rape having been carried out by the son of one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in Zambia. And as the book goes on, the reasons for the rape become more clear.

I liked this book because it was well-written, kept me involved in the story, and showed the complexity of life in Zambia. The love story is tame and thankfully there aren't any steamy sex scenes. Likewise the violence of the rape and the demeaning of women through prostitution is necessarily there, but it's not graphic. This is a book you could let your older teens read.

Some things I didn't like were: 1. A rich American assuming she can save the world. Thankfully this was balanced by the team of extremely competent Zambians she worked with. 2. Painting Africa in very stereotypical ways (but then stereotypes come from frequent observations, so there is perhaps a grain of truth): corrupted powerful people, witchcraft controlling life, more problems than good things happening, westerners as rich, etc. 3. I'm not sure the answer to justice in the world is best provided by western governments.....but at least the author gives you something to think about. How do we get involved without acting like the saviors of the world? 4. The book has some anachronisms, such as I've never heard anybody here in West Africa use the term "SUV". Maybe they do in Southern Africa, but it seemed like an Americanism being used in an African setting. 5. Simplistic solutions to Africa's problems and to America's involvement in those problems. 6. They risk life to get Anna's story and then she never appears in court???

That said, I would still recommend reading this book.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Visiting the TIMO team

On July 1st, we got to visit the TIMO team.  We are partnering with AIM to use their program known as TIMO, which stands for Training in Ministry Outreach. It is a program in which a team lives as closely as possible to the group they are trying to reach.  If the target group lives in huts, the TIMO team will probably not live in huts, but will have a style of house that is not unusual in the area and they will live very simply. If the target group lives in a city, the team members will live in housing similar to what their target group lives in (apartments, small houses, etc.) and will probably have appliances (or not if their target group doesn't).  The TIMO teams have focused mainly on rural areas, but are moving into city and more settled areas as well.  In brief, the team lives as closely to the people as possible, follows a missions study curriculum, and immediately gets to practice what they're learning.  It's missions training on location.

I'm serving as the TIMO Program Coordinator and John is the Vernacular Language Learning Coordinator, so when we saw there were some empty seats on one of the planes, we took advantage of it to visit the team on location.  It turns out with our diesel engine Cessna 180's, it's cheaper to fly that far than to take our car and have to pay mileage and gas.  Not to mention it takes a fraction of the time!

I always enjoy seeing things from the air that you normally see from the ground.  Seeing things in toy-size versions always reminds me of my relative insignificance in the grand scheme of things.

Our team has two families, three single ladies, and the team leaders and their family living in close proximity to each other, reaching those who are living and dying without ever having heard the gospel.  They are truly reaching those who live where Christ is least known.

Each unit lives in a very simple house.  They haul in water from a well, just like all their neighbors.  During the rainy season, they have a system set up to collect water from the rain troughs.

They have no refrigerators and only have a one-burner cooker.  One of the units has a solar cooker.  Their houses are small, but adequate and are set up to get a beautiful cross-breeze.  That's a real life-saver as they have no electricity, so therefore no fans or air-conditioners.  Can I remind you that at certain times of the year, 115 degrees is not unusual?  

They all seem to be doing really well.  It took them all awhile to figure out how much longer house-hold chores take to do when you're living "pioneer" style.  Doing laundry by hand especially takes a long time.  Because of the constantly swirling dust, it's hard to keep the houses clean, but you also learn to live with a certain amount of dust. Of course, the house is so small it doesn't take long to clean, either! Learning to cook with only one burner is a challenge, too.  Think of how many meals you cook that require two to three pots or an oven!

Now that they've gotten their daily living routines down, they are all starting to really focus on language learning.  This is language learning without a teacher, so it involves a lot of listening, sign language, and .... frustration.  But if you think about it, it's how kids learn a language, so it's not impossible.  It does take time, though, and it's hard feeling like a one-year old when you've got important things to tell people!

All of the team members mentioned that the best thing about being on the TIMO is their host families, the people among whom they live.  They have opened their hearts and homes to them even though they have no language in common.  They already feel part of their families and are looking forward to building deeper relationships with them.

The team leaders are working really hard to help everybody settle in and to get a routine going of team days, weekends-out, etc.  I think that as everybody becomes more independent the work load will settle down for them, but it's a lot right now.  They are really doing a spectacular job, though.

Our day went so fast and it was already time to head back to the airport.  We realized about then that we probably should have planned an overnight trip!  We still hadn't spent a lot of time with the team leaders, but we got to talk a lot with them on the hour trip back to town.

On the way back we had to fly up really high to get over storm clouds that were building.  We also flew a bit south to go around the storm. 

I felt like my breathing was a bit shallow, but I had no idea until we landed that we had been up 13,200 ft.  It was 48 degrees up there, so the fresh air was really nice!  We saw a second storm off in the distance and even got to see a rainbow from that.

We landed just before the second storm we had seen hit.  

We really only got the edge of it, and didn't get that much rain.  It's been over two weeks since we've had a good rain here in the capital city and we desperately need more soon! 

It was a great day and we were so happy it all worked out for us to go.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Bible School Graduation

"If you want to grow something fast, plant millet. If you want to grow something strong, plant a tree. If you want to grow something that lasts forever, train a person." That's a rough translation from the French of a quotation cited by the Archbishop of Niamey who was invited to say a few words at the Bible school graduation. Paul told Timothy something similar: "You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others."   (II Timothy 2:2).

This year three men who are now trained to pass on biblical truths to others graduated. We attended the ceremony a few Sundays ago. John has taught at the school for several years, so we wanted to be there to encourage the students and staff even though he hadn't taught this past year.

One of the professors of the school gave a speech and mentioned how the early missionaries were effective at sharing the Gospel. Many of them had attended Bible school, but hadn't had much theological training themselves. The exception was the Catholic church whose priests who came as missionaries were generally well-educated in theology. Eventually the need for Protestant theological training schools was recognized. This Bible school was established to make sure that men and women in Francophone West Africa have a chance for a good theological education.

There were other speeches made by the Director of the school and by the student with the highest marks. The diplomas were handed out and the students signed their diplomas in front of those gathered to celebrate with them.

Afterwards there were lots of congratulations, photos taken, and, of course, some food.

It is not always easy to run a school here in a country with such a small Christian population, so please keep it in your prayers.

When I was growing up in Nigeria, my dad taught at a Bible school, and he was one of those who invested in church leaders.  Here's a throw-back to those days.  (My parents are right in the center, with me on my dad's lap, my sister on my mom's lap, and my brother to the right of my mom.)

My mom also invested in the lives of men and women.  This was the staff at the Correspondence School that she worked with.  People from all over Nigeria would do Bible studies by correspondence then send in their lessons to be graded.

And this is our family with the Olutimayin family.  Dr. Nathanael Olutimayin was a true theologian and a colleague of my parents.  He went on to become the president of the ECWA denomination.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

May Book List

I've been writing book reviews kind of randomly, but I like Suzanne's (at The Glorious Mundane) idea of reviewing all the books read in month at the end of the month.  So for this blog we're going all the way back to May, in which I finished four books.

The first is called The Unseen Face of Islam written by Bill Musk.  This is a book I would highly recommend for anybody living in an Is[am]c country or who has Mus[]m neighbors.  In the first half of the book Mr. Musk gives a case study, telling a story that illustrates world view that might be other than what you think you would see in that religion.  In the second half of the book he goes into greater detail about what is often referred to as "folk Is[am".  For example, here in Niger, during the fast month, little boys paint themselves white, glue cotton balls on themselves, or put paper on themselves.  They call themselves "tobey" (bunny rabbits) and go around during the fast month asking for money.  It's very similar to trick or treat.  You won't find that any where in the K*ran or in the Had*ths, but it's a common practice.  Another example is a wide spread belief in the "evil eye", in the power of curses, and in the need to protect yourself from harm.  Mr. Musk does a great job of broadening our knowledge of what Is]am looks like for an ordinary Mus[]m.

When we were in England I grabbed a book off the shelf of our hosts.  I've heard a lot about it, it was short enough I knew I could finish it while I was there, and I wanted something to read on bus rides.  The book was Marjorie Foyle's Honorably Wounded. She writes about what good member care for missionaries and other full-time workers should look like and some of the unique struggles they face.  The book was the original 1987 version I think, and it was gratifying to see how many of her recommendations are done as common practice in SIM today.  I'd like to see how the updated version differs.  One of the biggest things I took away from the book is that she talked about how she doesn't like the term "burnout".  Technically, in space craft, when burnout takes place, the craft is rendered useless.  However, in people when burnout occurs, they are not rendered useless.  They inevitably have to cut back and have a time of recovery and they may never again be able to do all they did before.  But they can still have a very useful ministry.  They aren't finished.  She prefers to call out "brownout" which is like our power here in Niger sometimes.  It just isn't up to full speed and the lights dim, the voltage regulators start clicking.  Something is wrong and it's wise to turn off all electronics until the voltage stabilizes.  Similarly a person going through "brownout" needs to unplug and remove themselves from the situation until they stabilize.  But they aren't forever useless as the term burnout indicates.

The third book was The Warrior by Joyce Swann.  I got this book free on my kindle and when I started reading it, I thought, well, this will be hokey.  But I really got into it and even though the writing style seemed stilted to me, I ended up thinking it was an excellent book.  I don't want to give away the entire story, so I'll just summarize by saying the author successfully shows the importance of intercessory prayer by telling a powerful story while never being preachy.

And the fourth book was Pride and Prejudice.  This was a repeat read for me, but, you know, everybody needs a little Jane Austen now and then.  I'll have to watch the movie again now.  Did you know lots of classic books are free for Kindle?  This was one that I got free.