A Sunday Here, A Sunday There

We’re traveling to the US in 2 days.  So right now I should be packing.  Because I haven’t even started.  But I can’t. Because I have to get my thoughts down and I think my blog is the most convenient avenue for me to do that.

Today is Sunday, so of course we went to church.  We are usually in a different church each Sunday.  Neal is often preaching.  Today we went to the village of Fera.  Fera was started because Pastor Omar of Nikoye started evangelizing there.  It wasn’t long before there were new believers needing a church and needing to be discipled.  So Pastor Omar goes back and forth between his village of Nikoye and Fera.  He used to do that on his motorcycle, but we have learned that it is out of commission so now he walks.  About an hour 1 way.  In the hot sun.  With a smile.  Pastor Omar is always smiling.

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And here’s his beautiful wife, Aishatu.  She’s always smiling too.

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So we left this morning  and on our way out of town we picked up Pastor Jacques.  He’s coming to interpret because Fera is a Gourmantche village and Pastor Omar doesn’t yet speak Gourmantche.  But he obviously didn’t use that as an excuse not to evangelize.  We drove on the paved road for almost an hour where we met Pastor Omar and Aishatu waiting for us.  (They walked an hour to meet us there).  The drive (in our 4Runner) to Fera from there is 20 minutes into the bush.  Distance is difficult to nail down, because of the ‘road’ conditions, and direction is difficult too – which is one reason Pastor Omar was with us.  We’ve been several times, but still don’t know the way on our own. Don’t judge, if you saw the place, you’d get lost too.

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Had fun conversation about family as we bumped and jostled along.  We were in Maradi a couple of weeks ago where Pastor Omar’s daughter is part of Abraham’s Place.  I showed them pictures I took of her and told them how she is thriving there.  More smiles.  We talked about the church and its growth.  We arrived to the people gathered and already singing. The church is meeting in a thatch structure right now, but we are building a church there that will be completed in a few months.  The bricks are made on site, and the foundation is in the process of being dug.  And that is NOT an easy job.  The ground is incredibly hard and rocky.  So – just pour water on it to soften it.  Good idea.  Except that water comes from a well, and has to first be pulled up and then carried from a long way away.  In the hot sun.  The church members are helping with that.

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Here are bricks fort the new church.  The current church is in the back right.

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After some lively worship and dancing, the choir sang.  The choir is made up of young girls who are quite talented.  They do choreographed dancing while singing.  The dance moves are not something that you should try.  Unless you want to put your back or neck out.  Or unless you have Gourmantche in your blood.

I love taking close-ups of faces.  Here are a few from today…

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Then came time for my favorite preacher to preach.  That’s Pastor Jacques interpreting for him. He preached a message about ‘Invitation’.  Jesus goes where He’s invited.  It was a great message and the people were very engaged.  At the end they all prayed and invited Jesus into various situations in their lives.  Then we prayed for the sick.

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Then I greeted the congregation and encouraged them to act on what they’d heard.

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At the end of the service Pastor Omar asked Tobi to come and greet the people.  Omar asked Tobi to greet in Hausa so he could interpret for him himself.

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After the service we all shook hands with everyone.  Everyone shook hands with everyone.  Which everyone always does.  We did that outside of the church though, because only the children could stand up straight in most places inside.  Even me- as short as I am.  That made me feel tall, a very foreign feeling…

Outside as we were investigating the building materials for the new church, a dust storm rolled in.  It had been very windy all morning, And finally the dust came.  I had just made the mistake of applying lip gloss.  Bad decision.

Here’s a picture of our drive back home – to get an idea of why lip gloss wasn’t wise…

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We got back in our 4Runner with Tobi, Pastor Jacques, Pastor Omar & Aishatu.  We basically retraced our steps.  When we dropped Pastor Omar, we asked him about his moto.  He basically said it’s not worth repairing and that in fact with what he’s spent on repairing it, he could have bought a new one.  So they walk.  Another hour.  In the hot sun. (Note to self.  Help Pastor Omar get a new moto).

So. Back on the main road we were and we began talking with Pastor Jacques regarding his ideas about new pastors in villages that have believers but no pastors.  When one particular man was mentioned he just kind of laughed.  Neal asked him what was up.  He said basically that that guy wasn’t serious. “Why?” We asked.  Because he wants Nigelec and things like that.  What is Nigelec you ask?  Electricity!  Jacques very matter of fact like said that this man was not ready to be a pastor because he wanted, of all things, ELECTRICITY!  Can you believe it?  The gall of that man.  And there I sat, comfortable in our air conditioned vehicle thinking, “well I darn sure want Nigelec!  What does that say about me?

You’d be amazed to see the hoops we jump through to keep our electricity constant.  In fact that could be its very own blog post.

On our way back, we decided to stop by and visit Pastor Ibrahim and Hawa.  They have been pastoring a church in the town of Torodi for several years.  (It may be interesting to note that they don’t have electricity either).

The service was over but there were still lots of people hanging around.  Pastor Ibrahim and Hawa’s home is right there with the church.  They have the luxury of a well in the compound and people were lined up pumping water.  It’s not open during service, but starts up right after.  It’s a huge blessing for the people of Torodi and a great testimony for the church.

Unfortunately I left my camera in the car when we hopped out to greet.  I regret that, because so much took place in a matter of about 10 minutes that was photo worthy.

Hawa informed us that Pastor Ibrahim was meeting with some people in the church. She called him out.  Ibrahim was happy to see us, and brought out the group of men he was meeting with.  Turns out, they were guys from 4 villages where pastor Ibrahim has been evangelizing.  The villages are from 30-60 minutes away (again, in a proper vehicle), and are places that don’t yet have a pastor.  Ibrahim has a motorcycle with a small trailer so he sends someone from his church to pick them up and bring them to Torodi for service.  Then he takes them back home.

Oh, and yesterday we were told about an attack that was made a couple of nights ago on one of our village pastors and his family.  It was at night but they were still awake so they themselves captured the attacker and brought him to the village mayor.  He said his reason for attacking the pastor was because he doesn’t want Christianity in their village.  They didn’t warrant it big enough news to tell us about it immediately.

So why the play by play of our Sunday worship?   I think its because I started thinking about the contrast of where we’ll minister just 1 week from today, compared to where we worshiped today.

The way we worshiped today is considered ‘normal’ for our pastors and church members here. Just as ‘normal’ as the service we’ll be in next week.  The things are pastors here do and the things they face in order  to evangelize and disciple are considered normal, when in our reality there is nothing normal about it. Perspective.

I write because as I sit here in my electricity filled home I realize again how humbled, honored and proud I am all at the same time, to be serving with men and women like these.  People who consider things like running water and electricity to be frivolous and unnecessary to spreading the Gospel.  When Jesus said go into all the world, He didn’t mean go only where you find Nigelec.

This has been a great reminder to me as we struggle during this hot season.  It’s been a tough one.  We moved into a wonderful new home, but the electricity doesn’t come in at full power.  And then sometimes it’s not on at all. I can’t do some important things like run the microwave and toaster.  And then there’s the heat.  Did I mention how hot the sun was? Some days 112+ degrees hot.  With no relief.  I have an unfinished blog post about how much I detest hot season.  (I may or may not finish that one).

Seriously?

These men and women that we are privileged to work so closely with are really the ones who are daily laying down their lives for the sake of the call….with no electricity and smiles on their faces.

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You Know You’re on an International Flight when…


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Below are some random observations I have made on flights to and from West Africa.  Do you have any to add?

You take a bus to the plane.

The bus ride is 30 seconds long.

A man gets up to give a woman his seat on the bus.

A young man gets up to give an old man his seat on the bus.

The vast majority of people on the bus don’t speak your language and are holding various colored passports.

You understand what some of the people are saying because you speak their language.
You are the foreigner.

The bus takes you to the waiting plane on the tarmac where you carry your carry-on up a huge flight of stairs while wishing you had packed lighter.

The safety demonstration on the plane is done in 2 languages.

The safety demonstration suggests loosening your tie and removing your high-heeled shoes in the event of an emergency. I mean seriously, how many ‘westerners’ still wear ties or high heels when they fly?

Actual food, not just pretzels, is served on the plane.

There’s a good chance the food will be appetizing.

More food is served on the plane.

Nearby passengers have prayer beads.

Nearby passengers pray those prayer beads.

Nearby passengers bow down in the aisle and pray towards Mecca.

Passengers have multiple and massive carry-ons – causing you to wonder how they get them up those stairs.

Passengers argue with flight attendants about what they are allowed to keep in their seat.

‘Carry-ons’ are plastic bags, boxes, cages, suitcases, and anything else you can imagine.

There are a variety of smells-many unpleasant -on the plane.

The bathrooms get really nasty by the end of the flight.

The airlines typically use their ‘older’ planes for these flights.

You often have to go the ‘wrong’ direction to get to your destination i.e. Travel east before you go west.

Most men are wearing suits or long flowing african attire.

Most women are in fancy african dress complete with head tie and scarves long enough to hide several children.

You’re underdressed.

In what seems like a matter of minutes you go from being surrounded by darkness and an amazing blanket of stars to bright sun while zipping through time zones.

You see breathtaking sunrises and sunsets on the same flight.

You ugly sleep – mouth open, drool.

More food is served.

Upon landing, flight attendants walk through the plane spraying some type of ‘safe’ insecticide because you’ve come from a malaria infested country.

Your departure airport is hotter than you know what, but you wish you had a parka upon your arrival.

Your bus ride from plane to terminal upon arrival is much longer and further than the departure bus ride.

You have no idea what time it is where you are, where you came from or where you’re going.

You have a connecting flight to the ‘West’.

Your layover is either very long or very short.

Getting food or drinks in your connecting airport can be difficult because you don’t have their currency.

You learn that you can’t assume that the connecting gate listed on the monitor is correct.

You assume that your listed gate will change.

Sadly you can spot (or rather hear) an American from across the airport with expletives like ‘Oh sh**!’ Etc.

You wonder why people (Americans) are so annoyed with rather than appreciate extra security, particularly in an airport where recent attacks have taken place.

You may not have to take a bus ride from the terminal of your connecting flight to the West.

Passengers clap when you land.

You join in the clapping and dream of a bed.

Wogging. Still writing about it.

So here I am again.  It’s like visiting an old friend.  My blog.  It’s interesting that considering all of the experiences I’ve had since I last wrote (March), that I would choose to write again on the same topic as my most recent post (which isn’t recent at all).   It was a letter to myself, to get my rear in gear and be committed to my workouts.  Which I did. For a month.  In spite of hot season, I did my jog/walks (wogs) consistently.  In fact my record temp for running was 108.  No – not MY temp, the air outside!  And that was just stupid.  But that’s how committed I was.

What happend between then and now?  Well, quite a few things….

We have a well-drilling project underway, and beginning in March, we had 9 people in varying combinations, from various nations coming and going over a 3-4 week period. All of these people stayed in our home.

Above team, together with us and the local team we were training, went to the village where we were attempting to drill a well (a 2 hour drive, 1way) multiple times.  Well,  daily.

It was 115 degrees, daily.

Pipe stems got stock 180 feet underground. (They’re still stuck, but we expect to free them soon!)

A part on the drilling rig broke.

Tried to fix the part over and over again – to no avail.  A new part is needed from China.  (That part was delivered this week!)

I discovered I had gallstones.

I had Malaria while I had gallstones.

Went to Paris with Neal and had my gallbladder removed. Yep, Paris.

Returned to Niger and hosted another team.

Traveled to the US for 2 months,  logging 18 flights and changing locations 21 times.

Got to see our 2 incredible grandkids 2 different times.

Had an amazing time with family and friends all over the US.

Spoke 14 times in various churches/groups.

Returned to Niger – Thank God for rainy season!!

So, in my defense, it’s been somewhat busy.  And although I missed working out for 8 weeks (and I did miss it), I am happy to say that I kicked it back into gear 1 day after arriving into the US.  It was rough, but it was 5 weeks post surgery so I was trying to give myself a break.  Or at least an excuse!

Running the US is so lovely.  Well, the running isn’t at all lovely.  But the fact that I can wear anything I want and no matter where I am I can step out the door and run at any time of the day I choose.  Because nowhere was it about 108 degrees, and I knew that was my threshold!

I got to run in some pretty cool places all over our great nation.

Here’s one of them.  I got to run right along that beautiful ocean – and the temp was about 68.  I barely broke a sweat!

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From the East Coast, to the South to the West Coast to the North.  I ran by rivers, lakes, and mountains, through forests and in commercial areas and neighborhoods.  What’s not to love?  Well, the actual running part, but I can overlook that.

I just checked my journal and I am happy to say that I wogged 38 of the 62 days we were in the U.S.  I’m ok with that.  I would have preferred it be more, but I’m not complaining.  I averaged 3 miles each time.

Now, I’m back in Niger.  And between preparing to travel, actual travel and jet lag (which apparently I’m still dealing with because it’s 3:14AM while I’m writing this), I missed 8 days in a row.

But I got back out there this past Monday – back to my old stomping grounds.  And you know, I quite enjoyed it.  While slogging (that’s a slow jog) up the hill, memories came back of the last time I was running there.  I was sick and it was sickeningly hot.  But rainy season is now here, and since I went at 6:45AM (I am NOT a morning person, but Tobi’s school schedule is what got me out at that time) it was not hot.  It was really, really humid.  But it was not hot.  It was somewhere in the 70’s.  And that’s a far cry from 108.  And that 8 day break did me good because the 12 laps around the  ¼ mile loop that is ½ hill was much easier than I expected it to be.  That, too, was lovely.

No matter that the rains are washing away the road.  Look at all that green!

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And besides, this is home.

 

 

 

 

iPhone was lost but now…

I have an iPhone.  It’s a 4S so yeah, I know it’s old.  But it’s mine and it works just fine.  I got it brand new and unlocked nearly 4 years ago.  It’s served me well in many countries.  And I’m sure it will continue to serve me well – even though it has a very slow response time….  The other day my son Trae was trying to convince us that it’s time to upgrade.  I told him that Dad might (he also has a 4S), but only because his has a cracked screen.

Yesterday Neal and I were out doing some errands.  The errands aren’t a big deal – but getting to them is.  Traffic in Niamey has become, how shall I say, HIDEOUS!  You get behind the wheel and you have to work at maintaining your salvation.   Going out to do the simplest things has become an event. The craziness that ensues is worthy of it’s own blog post.  That said, I decided to make a call while sitting in traffic.  Had an enjoyable chat with Lola, my friend and co-missionary working in Maradi.  She’s always encouraging – which is great considering the traffic.  We finally arrived at our destination  We were going to look at tile for the guest house we are building in Tamou.

We went in to the lovely air conditioned store, greeting the guard as we went.  We found lots of gorgeous tile with less than gorgeous prices.  But we did find one that would be a possibility.  We said thank you and headed back to the car as it was time to pick up Tobi from school.  This meant crossing the river.  That’s a big deal.  We wave to the guard and are on our way.  Within seconds I decide to check for my phone.  I can’t find it.  Think.  THINK!  When did I last use it?  Oh yes – my chat with Lola, just before we arrived at the shop.  That means it should be with me.  Neal pulled over and quickly called my phone.  It rang several times, then just quit.  Unfortunately, we didn’t hear any ringing.  This required further research.  What had I done with my phone?

I thought about it- and realized the most likely thing was that after saying good-bye to Lola, I set the phone in my lap instead of back into my purse.  And if that was true, the next likely thing that happened was that when we arrived at tile mart, I got out of the vehicle and my iPhone fell off my lap – OUTSIDE.  It’s important to note here (in my defense) that the parking ‘lot’ is sand.  You pull your vehicle just off the street (the one full of traffic) in front of the storefront.  So I’m sure my phone just dropped soundlessly into the sand and I went on my merry way, clueless.  I may have even buried it!

We hadn’t driven very far so I rushed back to the tile store to look around.  Nothing.  Except sand.  I explained my situation to the guard who was sitting on a bench with some of his friends.  We communicated using 3 languages, and he finally understood.  I of course knew it was entirely possible that he himself saw the phone and pocketed it, and he also knew that I was entertaining that thought.  He dramatically told me that if he found something like that he would take it in the store.  There wasn’t much more I could do but thank him.  And pray.  Though I did go back into the store – just to cover my bases – and ask if anyone had turned in a phone.  I knew how unlikely that was.  Due to language issues, their first response to my question was ‘we don’t repair phones here’.

The guard was still working on convincing me of his innocence while I walked back to our vehicle.  I actually didn’t think it was him, because any amateur detective could see that his view was of the drivers side, not the side where the phone dropped out.  But talk about a sick feeling in your gut.  Like anyone, I have everything on that phone.  LOTS of information.  While feeling sick, thinking of all that was lost, I also found myself praying.  But it seemed so impossible.  The phone was long gone.  And let’s face it.  The phone wasn’t stolen.  It was found.  By someone other than me.  On the way to get Tobi, we called my phone a few times but it was obvious it had been turned off.  We were now late for Tobi and I figured he had called.    I sent my phone a text message in Hausa that if the person that found my phone called this number there would be a reward.  Of course calling the number would be tricky if you couldn’t open the phone!

We are on our way to get Tobi and Neal was trying to make me feel better.  Which was extremely sweet of him — he could have been really upset with me, since it was my fault.  Instead he was reminding me of the age of the phone, and that when we get new phones we usually just give our old ones away, so just consider this giving it away.  A bit early. See what I mean?  Sweet.  We tell Tobi our reason for being late and he was bummed for me too.  He helped my try and activate ‘Find my iPhone on Neal’s phone, but the cell data signal was to weak to make it work.

We were on our return journey home (believe me, it’s a journey) and were processing what might need to be done, and what I would do for a phone.  While feeling quite hopeless, I said outloud, “God, you know that I have always turned lost things in – whether it be money or stuff.  Now it’s time for my harvest on that”.  That’s it.  And honestly, I went back to thinking whether I needed to change personal info etc.  

We were close to home, stuck in the thick of everything when suddenly Tobi is shoving his phone to the front seat, telling me its my phone calling.  What?  I didn’t realize it, but he had called my number again – even though it had obviously been shut off.  This time ‘it’ answered.

” Uhh, hello?  You have my phone?  Where are you?”

“Yes.  I’m at BIA” (BIA is a bank, across the street from the tile place).

I hand the phone to my husband who has stopped our vehicle in the midst of the chaos around us.  I wanted to be sure I heard correctly.  “Yes”, I heard him say, “We’re coming.  We’ll give you 10,000 for ‘calling’.” (10,000 is around $20)

“No problem” said the voice on the other end.  Of course this was all done in Hausa.

We wondered as we made our way back through the maze of traffic if he would actually be there when we got there.  We would know soon enough.

The hope of recovering my phone made rush hour traffic a bit more bearable.  I began thanking God for such a quick and amazing answer to prayer – in spite of my doubt.

We pulled up to the bank and called my phone again.  Neal and Tobi got out to see if they could spot the voice in the midst of so many people.  Who was he?   It was kind of amusing.  Felt a bit like a scene from a movie.  Any one of the people around us could be the one who ‘found’ my phone.  I saw them walk around a bit more, call again.  Then we see 2 young thugs guys dressed in black jeans and t-shirts.  One of them needed his drawers pulled up – but at least his unmentionables were black as well (and by that I mean his undergarments).

The transaction happened quite quickly.  He held up the phone, Neal took it and handed him 10,000 CFA with a thank you.  Mr. findmyphone and his sidekick walked away very quickly, twenty bucks richer.

We’re pretty sure that our benefactors were watching from across the street to be sure we didn’t bring the law with us before they revealed themselves.  The fact is however, they didn’t steal the phone.  Based on my synopsis of what happened, I lost my phone.  They found it.  Now, given where we were (a well-known area for petty theft, pick-pockets etc), I have little doubt that given the opportunity to steal they would have.  But this particular phone just fell into their laps (and out of mine!).  If you were to ask me to describe what petty thieves looked like, I would tell you to look at these two.

Let me add here that I’ve never felt scared/nervous walking around Niamey.  People are generally quite friendly.  Yet they themselves know that thieves are lurking around.  While I’ve never had anything stolen while on the street, I have had strangers walk up to me and highly recommend that I zip my purse up.  Don’t I know there are thieves around?  We laugh and I thank them.  And try to remember to keep my purse zipped and close to me.

I’m not sure what made those boys turn the phone back on and answer that call.  Was it because they realized that without the passcode they couldn’t even make a call, let alone get into the phone?  I realize that it’s not that difficult to wipe a phone like that, but I’m sure these guys didn’t have the know how. They could easily find someone who did, but not without lots of questions.

Or was it just the Holy Spirit moving in answer to prayer.  He does that.

As we backed out, phone in hand, I prayed for those 2 guys – that they would be confronted with the reality of the Gospel.  I felt like celebrating.  Maybe a bit like the lady and the lost coin.  And wow – this is how Jesus feels when 1 lost sinner turns to Him.  I get it.

Regardless of the reason, what seemed a hopeless situation was turned around by the simple fact that God is faithful!  He always has been and always will be.  And that’s one thing I can take to the bank!

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I’m a Wogger.

Yep.  I’ve decided.  I used to call myself a ‘Slogger’, which was my word for the way I run.  Not run really.  It’s a slow jog. A very slog jog.  More like a shuffle really.  And ‘slog’ just feels like what it probably looks like.  In fact the average person that happens to see me as I trudge along would probably think something like – ‘well isn’t she motivated – just slogging along like that’.

But in all honesty, I don’t slog anymore.  I Wog.  My new word for what I do.  I Walk/Jog.

I went wogging on Wednesday.  For the first time in exactly 14 weeks.  Now for those who know me, you know that that is a VERY long time for me to go without intentionally exercising.  But it happened.  I’m not happy about it, but it’s a reality.  So just move on, right?  But the consequences? Those come with regret.

Another one of my realities (not whining here, just facing the facts)  is that I need to exercise regularly to simply maintain my weight.  Losing weight takes more drastic measures then a 3 mile wog 5 or 6 times/week.  So combining my exercise hiatus with eating being in the US,  we’re looking at 15 pounds. And believe me, they can be clearly seen.  Add that to the fact that I should have actually been losing 15 pounds,  and you get – well, you can do the math.

So, that’s where I am right now.  Thus, the wogging.  And why do I wog?  I think it’s because I can’t or won’t jog for long distances.  Especially uphill.  I walk up hills.  I’d rather do burpees than jog UPhill.

And believe me this is much steeper than it looks!

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Despite the heat in Niger I have a pretty nice place to wog.  It also happens to be where my mom and dad in-law live.  Here’s my ‘track’.

This is the top of my ‘track’.  It’s kind of like a teardrop.  I walk up the hill on the right, to where I’m standing taking this picture, then I begin my ‘slog’ down the hill on the left.

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From the tip of the teardrop and around, it’s ¼ mile.

I knew I was out of shape, but I had no idea how bad it really was.  I started off at a walk, to warm up don’t ya know.  I walked up that hill and Oh. My. GOSH! I began to wonder if that’s what it felt like to sprint a marathon.    Now the fact that it was 130 degrees (ok, so it was only 97) might have had something to do with it, but man were my muscles screaming!  It was quite pathetic really.  When I get to the downhill side of the teardrop I jog.  When I picked up my pace, I kept turning around, wondering what was back there.  Until I sadly realized it was just me.  The extra 15 pounds of me.  Ugh!!

My goal was to wog between 30 and 45 minutes for starters.  After I felt I had been going for a good long while, getting pretty close to my goal, I allowed a quick glance at the time.  Lord have mercy it had only been 12 minutes.  TWELVE MISERABLE MINUTES!  Why is it when I allow myself 15 minutes to look at Facebook, then I guesstimate my time, 30 minutes have actually passed?

So I wogged on.  And on.  I was trying to keep track of my laps, but I think I lost track.  I walked for about ⅓ of each lap, then jogged the rest.  When I finished what was either my 11th (2 ¾ mile) or 12th (3 mile) lap, I looked again at the time.  42 minutes.  That meant I had to go one more lap.  To make the 45 minute goal.  Which I exceeded. =)  And whereafter I felt like I had completed an Iron Man competition.  And I looked like it too.  Ask anyone who saw me. I was redder than my friend Patty’s very red and very beautiful homegrown tomatoes.  Yep.  I actually let people see me looking like that.  I was even going to take a picture and show it here, but I forgot.

Instead, I’ll include this one of the last time I ran 14 weeks ago.  I remember my last run because we were in Georgia, and I took a picture because Tobi ran with me.  That doesn’t happen very often.

This right here is a scary photo!

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So, in spite of the heat, and in spite of my screaming muscles and my red face, I will continue to wog along.  And go from there.

Josiah’s Perspective of our Red Sea experience.

So to add even more color to this story, I’ve decided to post Josiah’s perspective on it.  Josiah has been here 2 other times with TTC, so he’s not a newbee.  He’s 20-something and is a long time family friend.  We’ve known him since he was 8 months old.  He’s staying with us until December.  I’m rather hoping that the rest of his time in Niger is a little less exciting than this.

As soon as we arrived home late Monday night, well, as soon as he took a shower, Josiah was chatting with a friend telling him about the experience while it was fresh in his mind.  His words are cryptic yet detailed and I enjoyed hearing his take on things.  The response of his friend is even more cryptic, and quite humorous.  Those are in italics.

Josiah’s Journey

Well, it was quite a day. Among other things: It poured rain for hours, a bridge went out, we sank an SUV into a river, and someone almost died.

And I have sand EVERYWHERE.

You know how your feet can move around a bit in your shoes? Not mine. No wiggle room. Sand. My entire body, caked in sand. My underwear had at least a full cup of sand in them.

(Friend D): ahaha wow! is that from being in the river? What happened?

Well, the bridge went out. We had to get home. The water was rising. We watched someone else successfully cross. We tried to cross. Got 1/3 of the way through, started floating. Shortly after we started floating, we started sinking.

Water starts coming in the doors. The car slowly fills. The engine doesn’t die, we try to get some people to push us. No luck. Water in the car continues to rise. Reach back and grab soaked bags from the trunk, at least the ones I could reach. Clutch tablet closely. Water rises. Climb out window onto roof.

After transferring what we could save to dry land, try to push/pull/lift car out of sandy river. There are maybe 30 local villagemen watching/trying to help. 3 or 4 languages being spoken, none of which I understand. As the river washes away the sand behind the car, it tilts up at a steeper and steeper angle. We try to push it, and get it out of the hole. Water is neck-deep behind the car. We keep pushing. We make progress, but the sand keeps collapsing, and the hole pretty much moves with us. Car ends up pointing up at around 30 degrees.

Local dude passes out from the fumes behind the car, gets a lungful of water before anyone notices, stops breathing. Carried to shore. Is unconscious and not breathing for something like 2 minutes. Comes to somehow, walks away.

Car is clearly stuck at this point, at a rakish angle, and completely full of water. Engine is still somehow running.

Danette doesn’t want to get out because if she shuts off the engine, the water will flood up the tailpipe and wreck the engine with sand and such. But she was in the car, and my dad went to try and get cell coverage. Tara, our other American, was watching all the stuff we had saved, mostly electronics, on the shore.

So, picture this:

Danette is sitting in the car. It’s at a 30 degree angle, front up. The water is above her waist. She’s got the window down, one hand on the wheel, and one hand resting on the edge of the window. She was a bit fazed at first, of course, but at this point, she’s smiling, and talking to the group of ten or so locals who have gathered around her window in the rushing water.

Standing just outside her window, it’s about chest high.

Most of the locals prefer to speak French, but she doesn’t know it, so she asks if they know Hausa, the trade language. Some of them do. So she starts sharing what we’ve been doing, that we just came from a youth camp we’re hosting, and how she’d like some hot tea. (It was cold water!)

The conversation continues, and she decides to ask them, “have you ever heard the story of Jesus?”

“Oh, a little bit.”

“Where?”

Some town nearby.

“Well, Jesus is God’s son. I know you don’t like to hear that.” [Muslims don’t believe that God had a son.]

“So, have you ever sinned? Ever made a mistake? We’re all sinners.”

“Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.”

“Well, God sent Jesus to take all our sins, and he died for our sins, and when he rose he took them away, because he loves us.”

The guys around are all saying – “Yes, yes, it’s true!”

“You’re saying ‘yes’, but do you really believe it?”

Islam is all about works.

“You know, when I say we’re saved through Jesus, it has nothing to do with works. You accept his grace and forgiveness through faith.  THEN He gives you work to do.  He shows you His plan for your life.  So, you can accept Jesus, but after that it doesn’t mean that it’ll just be an easy life. There’s gonna be problems. I’ve been in Niger 17 years and I came here with my family to tell others the truth about Jesus and look where I’m sitting right now [in this car]. But when you have Jesus, you have someone to go through the problems with you. And God has a plan for your life.  And what about heaven?  I know that you don’t think you can have assurance of going to heaven.  But you see as believers in Jesus, we have the assurance of eternal life.  In fact, if this car washes away right now and I drown in it, I’ll immediately be with Jesus in heaven.  You can have that assurance too.”

So yeah.

She’s just sitting in this flooded car, in the middle of the river, happily sharing the gospel. Smiling like the sun, as if she’s a queen on a throne instead of a woman covered in mud sitting in a flooded car. It was really something.

(Friend S): that’s insane

She and her husband head up the ministry over here – 35(ish?) churches, 2 or 3 bible schools, 2 primary schools… She’s totally awesome. Oh, and while all this is happening, the sun goes down. Dad’s off looking for help, Tara is covering the stuff, and I’m making sure Danette doesn’t get washed down the river and killed or something. And it gets really dark. And the car is still in the river. And the water is still rising.

So there’s the question – will there be help soon? When do we just abandon the car?

(Friend S): I feel like the most pathetic human being / Christian right now…

Because somehow, it’s still running. Normally it’s unable to push the exhaust out the tailpipe because of the water pressure and your car dies. But for some reason it was still going, even with the tailpipe like 5 1/2 feet under. So what do you do? And then the electrical system on the car starts going nuts. Lights turn on and off, and Danette’s window rolls itself up. She can’t get it to go back down. That’s bad, of course. That’s how people die in situations like this.

So Danette climbs out the passenger window.

And lo and behold, the cavalry arrives. My dad has conjured up a MASSIVE road grader. Which pulls out the two other cars that are stuck with no problem. But then comes our car. It’s further out, and, like I said, the back end is way, way down in the water. They can’t find anywhere to hook the cable to. They try 3 or 4 times, and it breaks each time.

Finally, success.

Once the car is out, everyone wants money. The people who helped us try to push it out early on, the guy with the grader, and probably a bunch of people who did nothing at all. It was bedlam.

Meanwhile, the car finally died as we pulled it out. But the electrical system isn’t willing to give up yet. It’s going absolutely nuts. The car begins to try and start itself. Nobody is doing anything. The key isn’t being turned. But it keeps repeatedly trying to start. This goes on for about 5 minutes, until my Dad manages to disconnect the battery.

A bit later, some  pastors and Danette’s husband arrive. But they don’t have any chains or other elegant way to tow the car. So they take giant springs, run them through random points of metal at the corner of the car and the truck that is towing it, and then through holes at the ends of a metal bar. Apparently they’re still slowly towing it somewhere.

But we made it home, and I finally got to get all the sand off. I have sand in my hair, behind my ears, because when we were pushing from behind the water was so deep you almost went under.

(Friend S): dude… I don’t even lift.

And on the way back, we’re trying to figure out how we’re going to get out to the camp tomorrow, since the bridge is out and our car is useless. And I’m just sitting in the back thinking to myself, “my life is a party.” I mean, it might be a mess, but that’s what you should expect when you’re out here – I didn’t even mention what we did today, that was just the trip home.

(Friend S): soooo uhhh… I filled out a spreadsheet today. yep. that’s about it.. . . that’s insane dude. 

So.  There you have it.  The story from another angle.  And for those who think being a Christian is boring…all I can say is – “Seriously”?

Oh – and a friend who has been here and traveled that road with us during dry season sent me this picture.  It’s the reason we had to drive around on the riverbed ‘road’.

Washed out road dry

Community in Niger

I’ve finally done it. I’ve taken the plunge. I’ve joined the world of bloggers. You’ll have to forgive my ‘site’, but I’m still working on it. I really don’t know what I’m doing, so not even sure how it looks. I have been very lazy in my journal writing for a very long time. I’ve written it in my head dozens of times. And now that so much time has passed, I’m very annoyed that I haven’t done it. I’ve missed writing about so many great (and I suppose not so great) things. I continue to be amazed at how many people were interested in my journaling, and have asked why I haven’t been writing. So, I’m trying something new. I thought maybe if I used this format, I’d be more committed to my writing. I was actually inspired by my friend’s blog site – thanks Patty.

There’s no way I can catch up with all I’ve missed, but maybe as I write, past things will come up. But for today, I want to write about community.

I live in Africa. There are many misconceptions about life here. But one thing I think most people understand is that community is a way of life in Africa. By that I mean people’s lives revolve around each other. Not just their families, but their entire village. In Niger, a good majority of the people are born in their village, live there, and die there, never having gone further than the nearest market – on foot. Most ‘Westerners’ first response to that would be to think how tragic it is. But I’ve driven or walked through many of those villages. Though most of the people have been through at least one tragic event, tragedy is not what you see on their faces. They are smiling faces. Women laughing and chattering around the well as they pull up their water. This is where information is exchanged. I guess I can call it like it is – gossip! They pound their grain together – 2 pestles pounding rhythmically in the same mortar. They make the work look easy – even fun! Everyone knows everything about everyone. The good, the bad and the ugly. The men sit under trees weaving, playing cards and yes, gossiping. Children are everywhere – they are running, teasing, rolling old tires with sticks and making ‘cars’ out of tin cans. Baby naming ceremonies are huge events, with most of the village attending, as well as people from surrounding villages near and far. Same with weddings. But those who live in the developed world and visit a Niger village can see only what they consider to be sub-standard living conditions. They have to pull water from a well by hand, they cook outside over an open fire, they have their babies in their mud homes, they live in temperatures greater than 110 degrees much of the year – with no electricity to even run a fan, they eat from a community tray – with their hands! But if you look beyond all of this, you will see happiness on the faces you look at. This is their life. There is no doubt, they face much tragedy: most have had a baby or child die, disease is common, hunger is common, education is lacking-if not non-existent. I could go on. But in all of that, they have each other. The whole village is there to help them, and to just be with them in the situations they face. And then they go on. These things aren’t the reasons their lives are tragic. We are working to help them improve their living situations, but the biggest tragedy is the fact that most of them don’t know Jesus. (We are working to change that too!) Where will they spend eternity? Their life on this earth is short compared to that!

Today we had a wedding in a village, uniting the children of 2 of our pastors. It was wonderful. But the bride cried during the ceremony. She cried the entire 30 minute drive we took to her new husband’s village, and cried (sobbed, really) as the village ladies came by to greet her. You see, she grew up in her village. Spent all of her life there. Hannatu and Yahaya were very much looking forward to getting married, as they had been ‘promised’ for more than 2 years. But today, reality hit home. Hannatu was leaving her community. And it was hard. I was sitting next to her on the mat covered dirt floor, pretty much at a loss for words, as the women came to see her. I told them that she was sad and they should encourage her, as they understood how she was feeling. Many of them were transplants themselves. One lady said to me, “Don’t worry about her. She’s not sad, she’s really very happy.” What was I thinking? A new community has already begun!