I have got to get this finished. I did manage to figure out flickr photos and have finally uploaded everything I want to from our Benin trip. Our connection here is so slow it literally took days of being persistant. I love though that I can have this online photo album all categorized. It plays right into my need for organization.
On to Thursday. We had a leisurely morning and around 9 Pastor Joseph showed up at our door with breakfast. Put away the granola! He had omelettes, sardines (Neal & Tobi enjoyed that delicacy), tea, coffee, chocolate drink, juices, jam & 2 loaves of bread — all prepared by his wonderful wife. We enjoyed getting to know him better over breakfast, which was a bit awkward at first since he refused to eat with us. He said he brought it for us. We tried to insist but he persisted in his refusal. We then had more down time – Neal prepared for his message for that night and we read and relaxed. Trae had plans to spend the day with Rufus exploring Cotonou. The rest of us went with Pastor Joseph when he returned for us at noon. We took Tanika and Tobi to his house to hang out with his kids and he took us to a very nice, air conditioned, business center. It was nice with the exception of the French keyboard. It’s amazing how a few differently placed letters can really make a mess of things. We sent and received essential mail – and their ‘essential-ness’ was determined with the mis-arranged keyboard in mind. In other words I sent very few as typing was hen and peck. That done, we went to Mama Benin’s for lunch where we enjoyed real Benin food. Very fun. Pastor Joseph was so gracious not only taking care of our physical needs, but he spent all of his time with us as well. We spent lot’s of time at lunch talking about ministry, what we see going on in Benin, and what we believe will take place in Niger. From there we decided we needed to get some ice-cream. That is a luxury for us. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we entered what might has well have been a Baskin Robbins Ice Cream Shop combined with a Bob Evans Restaurant. The ice cream looked wonderful so we had some packed up to go (we’d have to ‘go’ quickly or melting would become a real issue). We got enough for our families and went back to Pastor Joseph’s house where we all enjoyed the ice cream together. Since he lives near the hotel, we were able to make our way back there on our own, where we went to prepare for the evening service.
Trae enjoyed his day and met us at the church for the service. More great music from their choir and very talented and anointed musicians. Neal had me come up to greet the people, and finish one of the stories he’d left unfinished the night before. Before doing that, I invited Trae up to give his greeting. He didn’t know I planned to do that but he did well ‘off the cuff’. Neal’s message ‘going forward’ was well received, and fit in well with the conference theme of Divine Advancement. The kids and I have heard the message before but I have to say that I don’t think any of us get tired of hearing Neal preach. Trae was even taking notes.
That night food was again prepared and brought to our rooms – French fries and plantain with a type of onion/oil/egg/tomato sauce to dip them in. I wish I could duplicate it! Though the electricity was off and on all evening, it ended up staying on all night so we slept another night with AC!
Friday morning we told Pastor Joseph that we still had plenty of the previous days food so there was no need to bring more for breakfast. There was a fridge in our room that they had filled with juice, soda, milk and fresh fruit – including grapes. They had no idea how huge the grape thing was. That’s something we never get in Niger. Grapes are imported but they are something like $15/pound. Maybe more. So finding them right there in our fridge for us to enjoy was quite a big blessing for us!
I spent the morning preparing for the evening service where it would be my turn to take the stand. Pastor Joseph then picked us up and wanted us to meet with his Bishop, a Benin national with an incredible church. He is building a new church and took us to see it. We were impressed. More than impressed. Inspired by what was being done in a country right next to Niger. The building was incredible. It was 6 or 7 stories high – we weren’t quite sure because of the different levels. It was beyond anything we’ve seen in West Africa. Our mouth’s were hangning open. It’s close to being finished and up to that point about 1.5 million dollars had gone into it. The reason that is so impressive is because it’s money that has been raised entirely in Benin! It really gave us hope as to what is possible when the people learn to give. That’s really what stood out to us the whole time we were there. The way people give. We don’t see that in Niger. We teach it, and it is slowly changing, but there is a long way to go. People in Niger for the most part live with their hands out. And why not? That’s how the government operates. But I truly believe that once they get a revelation on giving they will find a door out of poverty. We went to Benin expecting to take care of ourselves during this ministry time so we were amazed at the care that we were given. Blessed.
From there we went to Pastor Joseph’s house where his wife had prepared a vegetable stew to be eaten with Semolina (I think that’s what it’s called. It resembles cream of wheat prepared like mashed potatoes, to be eaten with one’s hands.) The stew was made mostly of fresh greens, onions, tomatoes, meat, oil, peppers and crayfish. This is one of Neal’s favorite things to eat. I would have absolutely loved it myself without the fish. The proper way to eat it is to dip your right hand into the provided bowl of water. Then you take a small handful of ‘paste’and sort of roll it with one hand and then flatten it between your thumb and fingers, sort of making a well in it. Then you dip it into the stew, scooping up a good amount which is then quickly transported into your mouth – preferablly without losing any stew along the way. Tobi is quite good at this, though he does get both hands involved. He and Neal love the fishy taste. Tanika, Trae and I could do without it but we all enjoyed and were very thankful for the food provided. I can be thankful that the training our kids received when they were small pays off in these situations. They eat and enjoy all kinds of food, but I knew this was something neither Trae or Tanika would be particularly fond of. However, without a warning from me they ate what was set before them without complaint and were thankful. I appreciate that.
After lunch, we took advantage of our only opportunity to visit the market. Pastor Joseph insisted that both he and his wife go with us, as they didn’t want us to get cheated. We really were monopolizing their time. In fact we later learned that Pastor Joseph never goes to the market. They asked what we wanted. The problem was, we weren’t shopping from a list. We just wanted to see what was out there. A different concept for our hosts. The market in Cotonou is much bigger than the one in Niamey so when we arrived, I was thankful we weren’t alone. We started pricing already made clothes. That probably sounds like a funny term. In Niger – and I’m sure many other parts of the world, most of our clothes get made by a tailor. Yep, I pick out my own cloth, I have a tailor and my clothes are custom made. (Sometime I need to include a picture of what that tailor shop looks like, but let me just say the sewing machine is powered by said tailor’s feet) Let me also add that getting my clothes made is one of the most frustrating things I do. That said, I was interested in looking at ‘ready-made’. We all found stuff we liked, with the excpetion of Trae who for some reason has an aversion to wearing African outfits. He’s ok with the shirts, but he can’t bring himself to wear the print trousers. And the stuff we found was so cheap. Especially with the help of Pastor Joseph. Entire outfits for $7-10. They thought we were hilarious with how excited we were over stuff they thought was too expensive. I’m sure they heard more times than they wanted “but in Niger it’s so much more expensive”. We ended our excursion buying inexpensive avocadoes, pears and apples.
We couldn’t pass up one more opportunity for ice cream so we all hit that shop before heading back to our hotel to prepare for the evening service. I was pretty nervous at this point. I even thought I might ask Neal to fill in for me – except it had already been announced that I was that evening’s speaker. So I just swallowed hard and looked over my notes again. And prayed. But that had been going on almost non-stop!
More great praise and worship, then I was called up. Rev. Mrs. Neal Childs. (hee-hee). I wanted to look around to see who that might be. I started by inviting Tanika and Tobi up to help me sing and drum a song in Hausa. I also employed the talented band. That was fun. Then I began my message. I was being interpreted into the local language, Fon. Neal is a preacher – in every sense of the word. And this group of people love that. I on the other hand, am not. I am a teacher. So all week I had been trying to figure out how I would be received, knowing how much they were loving Neal. Neal kept telling me they would love me too, since I was so different. Okay….different is good, right? I was nervous to start but kept praying. I knew that I had a message that would bless and help the people. It was the delivery of it that concerned me. I finally felt like I got into my groove and begin to enjoy it. My message was basically that God has an intense desire to bless us but in order for that to happen we have to obey Him and His word. Disobedience ties His hands. When I was finished, I asked Pastor Joseph to come and pray with the people. He came up and talked about the revelation he had received and basically ‘re-preached’ my message. He later said that it was ‘like a bomb going off in our hearts’. I thank God for his help, and for the opportunity. I so want people to get that God wants the best for us.
More food back at the hotel – Jolof rice, one of my favorites. Then another nice night of sleep, complete with air-conditioning.