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Helping and Being Helped, Part II

Helping is something we do a lot of here in Niger.  After all, according to the Human Development Index, Niger is the poorest country in the world.  And on the years that it's not, it's not far from the bottom.  So there is plenty to do to help.

In fact, when we are surrounded by poverty, it's easy to feel guilty when others help us or do things for us.  Here in the big city we know many who live at an economic level similar to ours.  But when we were in the village, even though we tried to live simply, we were still at a much higher economic level than anybody else we knew.  So when people would help us in some way, we would actually feel guilty and embarrassed that they were giving to us from out of their poverty.

But there were times when we really did need help.  Other times we didn't know we needed help, but were given it.  When we look back now, we can see how others came along side us.  John often said it's times like those that actually made people more open to us and receptive to our message.  They were times when people saw we were human and just like them.

In January, our conference speaker, Dr. Joshua Bogunjoko, who is also the International Director of SIM, spoke from the book of Philippians.  Paul starts the book right off by saying he is a servant and the people he is writing to are saints, setting the tenor by not exalting himself above the Philippian believers.  Then in chapter 2, Paul talks a lot about how we should be mutually submissive, helping each other.  It's not just me helping you, but also letting you help me.

This sent me reminiscing a bit about times we needed help from others.

For starters, when we first moved to the village in 1992, we didn't know anybody and knew only a few greetings in the Songhai language.  Within a day or two of our arrival, a neighbor introduced herself to us.  She quickly became a friend, but more than that.  She worked for us in our house, but she also "adopted" me into her family.  She would come and tell me that a neighbor had just had a baby, or was getting married, or had just died and we needed to go over and greet the family.  When we got there, she would tell me where to sit or stand, what to say, and what to do.  Whenever I made a cultural faux-pas, she wouldn't get upset with me, she would just say, "You know, in our culture we .....".  John also had a friend who did similar things with him.  This is an excellent example of a time when we needed help and didn't even really know it!  

I remember one night John took some people home to the next village, about five miles away.  He was gone for a really long time.  This was before we had phones and I was really starting to get worried about him.  I told my friend and she came and sat with me for awhile and then she started to get worried, too.  So she went and got her husband who had a driver's license and access to a vehicle and he went out looking for John.  John had had a flat tire and was on his way home by the time our friend found him and was embarrassed that I had sent out the search party.  But it just illustrates how people were willing to help us when I was afraid and feeling vulnerable. 

When Suzanne was little she had a lot of problems with asthma, but we didn't even know it was asthma until it was officially diagnosed when she was in 4th grade and we were on home assignment.  Interestingly, it was Dr. Joshua Bogunjoko mentioned above who first told us she probably had asthma.  If I remember correctly we were staying in the guest house together and he just said that as an observation.  He and his wife were serving at Galmi Hospital as doctors back then.  But I digress.  Back to my story.  So Suzanne would start these coughing spells in the evening and then she would have a really hard time breathing.  We thought she had pneumonia because that's what the doctors in Niamey would say whenever we'd bring here down for medical help.  Anyway, she started one of these episodes in the village late in the afternoon.  By evening she was really having a hard time breathing.  Some of John's friends were around and saw her.  We really didn't know what to do and driving to the capital city in the dark was not something you did unless it was an absolute emergency.  So John's friends stepped in and said, We're taking her down to the hospital to the doctor there.  We all piled in the truck and went down to the hospital.  Mind you, the hospital there was NOT NICE!!!  But they took us in the operating recovery room which was pretty clean and put Suzanne on oxygen.  I'd like to say it helped, but somehow it wasn't working right and it made her feel even more like she was suffocating.  We left at the crack of dawn for the big city and got her the help she needed.  Just as an aside, when she was in 11th grade, she prayed for God to heal her and He did and she hasn't had any asthma episodes since then and has even run a marathon!  Anyway, this was another example of a time when we were scared and at our wits' end and our friends stepped in and helped.

I mentioned our neighbor who lives in a grass hut and who we help a lot with food and housing needs.  
But do you know that she helped us, too?  Just to show her gratitude, every day she would come in and sweep the sand in our yard (that's what you do here).  She'd clean up all the dead leaves and junk that had blown in overnight.  And all that in spite of having a bad back.

One time Suzanne's missionary friends came up to visit her.  One of the girls put her cell phone on the window sill.  In all our years in the village, I think we had three things stolen from outside and never anything from inside the house.  Well, there was once from inside the house by a cheeky kid, but that's another story!  So when this girl couldn't find her phone, we never dreamed that it had been stolen.  But when we saw that the window screen had been pulled out and she remembered that as the last place she'd seen it, we knew that's what happened.  The next day we told our friend (the one mentioned in the first story) about the missing phone.  She told her husband who was very angry.  He said, "Yaaye and Hannatu have helped so many people in this town and they have never done anything bad.  It's not right that people treat them this way by stealing from them!"  He started talking to people up and down the street.  A man across the way that we knew well had a little table he'd sit at all day and sell candy and cigarettes.  He said, yeah, he'd seen some kids coming in our yard that weren't the regular kids that came in and out.  He knew their brothers to be known as thieves.  So he went to their house and demanded the phone back (not even being 100% sure it was them).  Sure enough, they brought it out and he got it back for Suzanne's friend!  And this is another example of a time when people helped us in a situation in which we would have been powerless to do anything.

So many times people have given us a bag of peanuts, sesame seeds, dried hibiscus flowers, a chicken, or eggs.  The people who gave those things literally needed them themselves to eat or to sell to get food.  But they generously shared with us.  Recently a friend gave me a bag of sesame seeds that will last me a very long time.

 For me this is the hardest time to accept help, because I really don't think I need it....and they really can't afford to give me something I don't need.  But I think our relationship needs for me to accept something from them, to allow them to bless me, to let them enter into my life in the only way they can.  We also have the danger here of helping so much that we begin to feel that people like us only for our money or for our stuff.  So when you are helped it begins to feel like a real friendship.  Not allowing others to help us is prideful.

If you are, by personality, a "doer" or a "helper", I encourage you to let others do for you and to help you from time to time!  You will be blessed and so will they.

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