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

Part 2: I don’t need any more stories. I’m good.

The first half of this story can be found here.

The groundwork has been laid.  Or in the case of this story, it is very shaky.  As we were to find out as we entered my Red Sea.  See, it really is red.   Just as a reminder, here’s what it looked like.

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That trooper is Pastor Scott, getting ready to enter the muddy water.

So, the Hilux has come through grinning and we have decided that we too can take the plunge.  And plunge we did.  Literally.

I gunned it, and off we went.  Now my sense of time has been all messed up.  But I’m pretty sure it was a matter of seconds that it felt like we began to float.  Yep.  The wheels had left the ground – or what there was of it.  I kept gunning, I think we were all rocking or leaning forward, willing it to move forward.  NOT happening.

Living in a place like Niger, situations like this while not common, are not unexpected.  And you just sit and wonder, ‘Huh.  What do we do now’?  But I think this is the first time I’ve personally been in the midst of ‘a situation’ (that’s what the Jamaican’s call them.  Situations.  Not problems), that is ongoing – and has great potential for great danger in so many ways.

Amazingly, the engine kept running.  Based on instructions I was given, that was a good thing.  Something to be happy about.  While pondering for a minute or 2 (or was it seconds?), I realized that I felt cold water at my feet.  I looked down and said ‘The water is coming in”.  It was then that I was informed that the water was up to mid-calf of those in the back seat.  No one was screaming.  Everyone was praying, and I’m sure thinking a myriad of thoughts.  As was I.

Like:  It’s going to be dark in about 18 minutes.  Very dark.  Will  we get out before then?  Are we going to flip over in the fast flowing water (rapids) to our right?  I started to remember stories I’d heard of others and quickly dismissed those.  Or –  will I be spending the night sitting in the middle of this lake?  Because I’m not leaving this vehicle.  I will keep that engine running.  And, what about this team?  I’m responsible for them too.  And what about all those helping to push?  What if we do hit ground and we lunge forward and hit someone?    And, we WILL get out of this water and I refuse to go backwards.  We’re NOT going back.  We will only move forward.  All the while praying for God’s mercy, grace and gosh darn we needed His help!

As the car is filling up, I think we made a unified decision that everyone get out.  Except me.  I’d already determined I wouldn’t leave.  There were already loads of people at the sea, and at this point, most of them were surrounding us, and everyone started pushing.  I had it in gear and by golly we were going to make it. And we did – about 50 feet or so.  I think.  That was after much effort. Shouting was going on in probably 4 languages.  We were quickly filling with water and getting heavier.  I was sitting in the driver’s seat with water up to my waist. Because the back was filled with water it was heavier, pushing the front end up a bit. Maybe 30 degrees?  I looked back at one point and the water was up to the ceiling in the back of the vehicle.  All our stuff was floating.  We did manage to get our valuable things out – purses, camera’s, phones.  Except Delfin.  His phone was in his pocket.

So Tara is on the bank guarding our belongings.  Scott and Delfin were looking for some kind of help. Never mind that he doesn’t speak a word of the local language.  We got wind that a tractor was coming to pull vehicles out.  That was a real glimmer of hope as we sat waiting.  Josiah was near the vehicle with me, as well as countless other young men.  I had the window down, and we were just waiting.  Josiah was measuring the distance that the water was climbing up.

As I looked around, it occurred to me that I had a very captive audience.  So I decided it to be the perfect opportunity to share the Gospel.  By this time, darkness had fallen so I couldn’t see the dark faces I was talking to.  But I could hear them.  And they could hear me.  One of them told me he was cold.  Which made me realize I was cold too.  Whatever.  Seemed insignificant.   As I said, Josiah was standing there too, and even though he couldn’t understand the conversation, he did understand that I was talking to these young men about Jesus.  And he found it quite interesting.  Well, I’m not quite sure what he thought, but just that he said he would give $100 right then (and this is a guy who detests spending money) just to be able to have a picture of this scene.  So rather than write about it all here,  in the next few days, I will include Josiah’s thoughts on the whole experience in a guest post.

At some point while talking with these guys, my window went up.  It was down, then it was up.  The water was giving the electrical system a mind of it’s own.  The far back was full to the roof, the back seat was full to the headrests, and water was above my waist in the drivers seat.  I couldn’t get the window back down.  Things were beeping.  Extraordinarily, the engine was still running.  I had that.

Here I am in the drivers seat…

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I don’t see myself as stubborn, but I can be pretty determined when necessary.  But I began to think at this point staying in my running vehicle was stupid.  It was filling up with water, and my window was stuck up.  Scott (I) finally decided that I too needed to come out.  Dressed in a skirt and shirt, I half swam-half climbed out the passenger side window.  There were several hands helping me.  I was surprised at how weak and shaky I felt, but I blamed that on the uneven muddy ground and deep water. The engine was still running!  Scott and one of my new friends helped me to the ‘shore’.  While I was having church inside the vehicle, Scott was finally able to walk to where there was a signal (did I mention that even though I was able to talk to Neal at the mouth of the sea, once I entered there was no signal?) and he was able to make some calls.  Until that time, the last Neal heard from us was that we were going to try and plow through and he hadn’t been able to get us after that either.

Now that we know our people knew what was going on, there was some relief, knowing that help would somehow be on the way.

Meanwhile, shivering, I’m being pushed, pulled and steadied, while walking to the spot where Scott was able to make the call.  I was going to try and reach Neal. Remember it’s a dark night.  And what to our wondering eyes should appear, but some sort of tractor, wonderfully near.  He wasn’t a mirage – and you can only have those in sunlight anyway.  He was the real deal.  In Hausa it’s called a Dandankaro.  Some sort of road grader I’m told.  But his biggest asset was that he was big.  Very big.  As shaky as I was, we felt happy enough to abandon the phone call attempt and go back to the swimming truck.  This was going to be exciting.

Check it out!

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At this point someone decides (probably Scott), that I should go wait with Tara and Josiah while he goes and helps with excavation.  So we climb to the top of sand pile where tons of other people are watching as well.  There’s a village nearby, and I’m pretty sure the Red Sea was providing loads of entertainment for all the men from that village.

Here’s the scene when Mighty Yellow showed up.

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Mighty Yellow first pulls out the yellow van.  Just yanks it right up out of the water.  Happy screams and cheering.

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The blue truck is next.  Same result. More cheering.

My new found friends who are now quite sure I’m bonkers, were waiting with me and informed that as soon as mine was out they were going home. I found out some about them, and were surprised that some were married with children. They also assured me the engine would be fine =). Our turn has come. Scott is in the water with several others tying(?) whatever it was they were using to the bumper.   Second attempt.  Nope.  Somewhere here – I think after attempt #1, Scott got in the drivers seat.

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I’m trying to hold hope up, but it’s receded a bit, unlike the water.  Finally they are able to secure the rope (?) to something after they opened the hood.  After significantly more effort than what was used for the other vehicles, our shiny white 4Runner emerged from the sea.

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So many people were ‘helping’… And amazingly the trusty engine ran all the way until she was pulled out! (I don’t think I’ve ever called my vehicle a ‘she’ before, but somehow it seems appropriate here) Then….she gave it up.  Except for the electrical system. That was going bonkers!  It, and by ‘it’ I mean the electrical system, kept on trying to start the engine.  It was almost comical.  Funny or not, it couldn’t have been good, so Scott was able to disconnect the battery.

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After she was pulled out, the water began to drain from inside.  First I cheered.  And thanked God.  Then it was sad.  I don’t know why.  But to think that a couple hours earlier we were sitting in our comfortable and strong 4Runner, as she was returning us from a day of camp and ministry, and here she was all  soaked with water and sand.  In places where water and sand ought not be.  I guess it’s like anything after any kind of destruction.

I actually don’t remember getting back in the driver’s seat, but at some point I did.  Oh yeah, it was so that we could now be pushed up toward the road, to make towing home easier.

In comes my knight in shining armor.  Drove right by us actually.  I tried to honk but remember the electrical system was bonkers.  He was with Grampa in their vehicle.  The cars wanting to get to the other side were lining up and it was dark, so they went right past us.  But they weren’t going to get far – unless they entered the water.  Neal walks up to see me in the drivers seat and just smiles and says it’s ok.  Then I heard the familiar voice of my friend and co-missionary Lola.  I couldn’t see her  but I heard, “Danette?  Hello.  It is well.  Why don’t you let Pastor Nelson drive now.”  Such a welcome and soothing voice.  I think what I said is, “That would be wonderful.”

Knowing we would be leaving soon, so many people were crowding around – SO many people – telling me how much they had helped and what was I going to give them.  At that point I was so frustrated and spent.  My Knight showed up again and I told him I couldn’t deal with them anymore – please make them go away.  He did, as the team and I quickly got in with Dad.  We were all soaked and covered from head to toe in sand/mud.

From there things moved quickly.  Dad drove us home and Pastor Nelson and Pastor Koyejo and Lola had come in a Hilux and they were there to tow our 4Runner.   It was a great feeling to leave the whole ‘situation’ in someone else’s hands.  

We arrived home at 10:30 pm.  The tow-ers got our vehicle to our mechanic and parked it.  Neal got home after 12.

The hot shower was wonderful, and reminded me of a thought I had while sitting in the middle of the sea: this will be over at some point, and I will get to take a hot shower.  From the time we left Tamou to the time we got home was only 4 ½ hours.  For a drive that takes 90 minutes, we sure crammed quite an adventure in that time!

Our mechanic has taken stuff apart and is assessing and trying to dry stuff out.  Tomorrow we should have more of an idea of the damage.

Now, what are my ‘take-aways’ from this experience?  I think I’m still figuring them out.  But two things come to mind.

First, God is doing great things both among the youth in Niger, and in the Tamou region specifically.  The title of this post is “I don’t need any more stories.” But honestly, if ‘stories’ are what it takes to bring more people to Jesus, bring them on.  So many of our stories come from these trips and times in Tamou, which to me is a clear indication that God is doing great things there.  Even greater than we know.  So do we think it odd that the enemy would be against us?  Not really.  However, we are sure that if God is for us, who can be against us?  Ain’t no Red Sea stopping the Kingdom of God, and it’s not stopping us!

Second, Prayer.  It’s the backbone of what we do.  I’m never really sure that I can effectively communicate its’ importance.  Before these camps, I sent out a request for prayer email to almost 500 people.  The TTC team sent requests to around 200.  That’s a lot of prayer cover.

I don’t even want to consider what could have happened in this situation if we didn’t have that prayer, and I also wonder what could be done if there were even more.

The youth camps were effective and powerful, training up and army for the Lord in Niger.  And prayer for them needs to continue.

And yes, prayer for us.  For our team here.  For all of our families.  For our churches.  For our partners.  For the finances needed for things like vehicle repairs and church buildings and Bible schools.  I could go on.  So if you’ve ever wondered if prayer matters, take it from me, sitting in the middle of the Red Sea, we seriously depend on it.

The Seed is in You

I’ve had lots of people ask me when I’m going to add another blog post.  As I’ve said before, I’ve written lots of blog posts – in my head.  But until I make time to write a new one, I’m going to post an article I wrote for Daring Daughters in 2012.  So though it’s 3 years old, it’s still relevant.  And it also answers another question I’m frequently asked.  “How did I know I was called to missions.”

The Seed

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost 15 years!  I’ve been a missionary in the West African country of Niger since July, 1998.   There are two questions I am often asked: Did I always know I wanted to be a missionary? Did I always know God wanted me to be a missionary?  No, and no.  But God knew.  Here’s my story.

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.  Before you were born, I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.”  Jeremiah 1:5

I was saved at the age of 7 and was raised in a Christian home by wonderful Christian parents.  I’ve walked closely with the Lord since but it wasn’t until adulthood that I became  acutely aware of God’s grace.  I used to think that I didn’t really have a ‘story’.  But a revelation while singing ‘Amazing Grace’ changed my mind.  I did have an amazing story.  It was the grace of God that saved me.  He not only saved me from my sins, but He saved me from the powers of darkness of this world and kept me walking in His light all these years.  It wasn’t my personality or my own determination or discipline that spared me from all the world had to ‘offer’.  Simply put, it was God’s amazing grace.  Now, the older I get, the more I see… and the more I see, the more thankful I am for that grace that saved me.

But I wasn’t just saved to be saved, I was called.  So are you. My calling was to be a missionary, reaching the unreached.   But fulfillment of that calling wasn’t going to just drop in my lap.  I had some responsibility.

The seed was in me – as a 4 year old.

Danette 4 years

The Bible is full of instruction for our lives.  There are a multitude of passages that talk about the blessings that follow us and our children when we walk in the way of the Lord.

We see in 1 Kings 2 where King David is at the end of his life and is giving instructions to his son Solomon.  Solomon was called to succeed David on the throne.

“Now the days of David drew near that he should die, and he charged Solomon his son, saying: 2 “I go the way of all the earth; be strong, therefore, and prove yourself a man. 3 And keep the charge of the Lord your God: to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His judgments, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn; 4 that the Lord may fulfill His word which He spoke concerning me…”

Solomon’s calling came with requirements:  Keep the charge of the Lord, walk in His ways, keep his commandments…  Then you will prosper and the Lord will fulfill His word concerning you.

 For God’s will and plan to be fulfilled in our lives, we must walk in His ways.

After high school, I attended Oral Roberts University.  My sophomore year I met Neal.  I was a chaplain and he was a freshman on my brother wing.  He came straight from Nigeria, where he was raised as a missionary kid.  He intrigued me.  He was, as I like to describe him, ‘bush’.  He spoke with a Nigerian accent and he thought downtown Tulsa was a huge metropolis.  As the girls’ chaplain I had the responsibility of pairing the brother and sister wings with prayer partners.  I did this by drawing names from a hat, but not before first pairing myself with Neal.  Sneaky, I know.

A friendship began to develop into something more and on our 2nd official date Neal informed me that he was going to be a missionary.  My thought?

“Whatever.  He’s a business major.  Once he gets going in his field, he’ll get over the missions thing.”

It’s not that I was opposed to full-time missions, I just wasn’t awakened yet to my calling.  I had a natural trust in God and a desire to do exactly what He had planned for me.  The seed was there, but it remained dormant.

Our relationship progressed as did Neal’s intensity for missions. I continued to trust God and prayed that if this was the man for me, that an actual desire to do missions would surface.  As an upperclassman I would get frustrated when I would hear my friends talking specifically about their careers, how many children they would have, the type of home they would live in –  all the way down to paint color!  I didn’t have specifics on any of those things – and I didn’t really care about a white picket fence.   All I knew for sure was that I wanted to do what God wanted me to do.   I later realized that if I had predetermined my exact job and house color, it would not have lined up with Neal, and I may have assumed he wasn’t the one.

Here we are at ORU, the seed in both of us. Any guesses to the year? Hint: Big hair.

Neal & Danette

Our love grew and in 1989 we married.  I graduated with a degree in Social Work and Neal, Management Information Systems.  We both got jobs in our fields, while still pursuing ministry.  We found a church home and were asked to be youth pastors.  It wasn’t missions, but it was something that our hands found to do and we were determined to do it with all our might.  It was preparation time.  During our 5 years as youth leaders we sent kids on more than 30 summer mission trips, while patiently (sometimes) waiting our turn.

God continued to lead us and 8 years of marriage and 2 great kids later, the Lord directed us to attend Bible School to officially prepare for the field.  During Bible School we received confirmation that the country of Niger would be our field.

We spent 10 months raising our support and during that time an amazing thing happened.  I was sharing in my mom and dad’s church about how I had recently come across some of my elementary school papers and discovered that I had written a report on the country of Nigeria the same year Neal moved there.  Coincidence?  I think not.  It was a germinating seed.  I told also of a report I had written in junior high titled ‘Understanding Africa’ where I wrote that I wanted to be a missionary in Africa.  I don’t even remember writing it, but my name was on it.   The seed was there.

Later that evening my mom questioned me.

“Don’t you remember the prophecy spoken to you when you were 12?  That you would be a rose, blooming in the desert?”

It wasn’t until she said that that the memory came back.  Mom continued.

“What about the time I found you crying because you couldn’t understand why everyone couldn’t know Jesus?”

I was 7.  The seed.

Our family in 1998, just before moving to the 10/40 nation of Niger, Africa.   Trae, Danette, Tanika, Neal

Family

Our family in 2001 with Tobi, our new addition.

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The amazing thing about a spiritual seed is that it won’t die.  It’s in you.  Even if you haven’t been pursuing God as you should or are new in your walk with Him, it’s not too late!  God’s seed, His plan for you – it’s in you.  Even if it’s dormant.  Wake it up!   Begin germinating it by pursuing hard after Jesus and by walking in His ways.  In Jeremiah 2:21 God said to the Israelites,

“Yet I had planted you a noble vine, a seed of highest quality.”

You are full of high quality seed!  

India: Getting There.

Well, I did it. I went on my first official missions trip. Laugh if you must, but it’s true. I live on the mission field. I’ve hosted countless mission teams. But I’ve never been part of team myself. Until now.

I enjoy hosting people very much – particularly because I love that they are coming to Niger and leaving with a part of Niger in their hearts, and leaving a part of their hearts in Niger. I like helping to facilitate that process. But I must say, I also very much enjoyed being ‘hosted’. Showing up to a place to stay, wonderful meals prepared and ministry all set up for us to step into. In other words, the only thing I had to plan was what to put in my suitcase. Well of course there’s ministry preparation, but that’s a different category of preparation.

Ministry prep done, house organized and details regarding Tobi and his stay with Grandma and Grandpa were more or less done by Tuesday.  Mostly.  Wednesday was packing day.  Packing takes a good portion of my brain cells, and I’m pretty sure it kills a few in the process.  Packing is one of my least favorite things to do.  Probably because I’m no good at it.  Which is odd, considering how often I do it.  But every time I put that open suitcase on my bed I stare at it like it’s the first time I’ve seen a suitcase before and have no idea where to begin.  What makes it all the more annoying infuriating is that Neal throws his bag up on the bed and within 30 minutes – 45 tops – he’s ready to go.  So sparing all the gory details, I finally got packed.   Just in time to leave for the airport at 5am Thursday morning.  No – just kidding.  We actually had a pretty relaxing evening and a decent night sleep.  Tobi moved to Grandma and Grandpa’s that night before so he didn’t have to get up at 4:30.  Grandpa took us to the airport – yep, at 5am.  What a guy!

Niger is developing, but there aren’t very many airlines that fly into our humble international airport.  So though our flight to India was on Ethiopian Air, one must use one of their ‘partner’ airlines, Asky, to get out of Niger.  We flew on Asky when headed to Ethiopia earlier this year and I was pleasantly surprised overall.  The Asky office told us to be at the airport at 5:30am for our 8:15 flight.  The Childs family is very well known for its’ timeliness and today would be no exception.  We arrived at 5:20.  I guess no one else got the 5:30 memo because we were pretty much alone.  The door to the check-in counter/room was closed and it was dark.  Though not surprised I couldn’t help but think about the additional 30 minutes (or more) of sleep I could have had…

Some time later….

There was movement behind the closed door and lights started turning on.  Other travelers were arriving and had the nerve to walk to the front of the line — in front of where our bags had been sitting for the better part of an hour!  I seriously wanted to express to them that we had been sitting there for some time now and who did they think they were to march right to the front of the line without even passing Go?  Someone should acknowledge that we followed Asky’s rules, even if we were alone.  And I should add that we have known this airline to take off an hour or more before scheduled flight time, without telling the passengers…so better wait than sorry.

We got through check-in with no problems, making sure that even though we had several stops, our bags were checked through to Delhi.  We made our way through immigration, said goodbye to the police and went to the ‘gate’ to wait some more.

I pulled out the homemade breakfast burritos and we enjoyed those while waiting to board the plane.  We took off more or less on time, and here we are somewhere over Niger.  We were obviously not on a large plane – check out the propeller.

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We were fed an overload of carbohydrates for breakfast, on our way to Abuja, Nigeria.  The orange juice, tea and fruit were lovely.

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We landed first in Abuja, but didn’t have to leave the plane – it was kind of like a bus stop.  Here we are descending in Nigeria – though it’s our neighbor, what a contrast!

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A little bit mountainous.

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Landing in Abuja, Nigeria

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I honestly don’t remember the time on the ground so it must not have been very long.  Next stop was Lome, Togo.  There we would change planes to a ‘real’ airplane for the journey from the west of Africa all the way to the east.

Here we are on the plane to Lome.

IMG_2196The airplane food was endless with so many flights, and I was dreaming about my breakfast burritos…I do however always enjoy drinking tomato juice when I fly.  And they even served it with fresh lemon.

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Landing in Lome, Togo.  That’s our shadow!

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By the time we got our boarding passes and seats we didn’t have long to wait before boarding.  And before we knew it – we were landing in Addis.

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We had several hours in the Addis Airport so we cruised around some shops for a bit, but that’s cumbersome with carry-ons and computer bags.  So we found a restaurant to kill time in because once we went through security, there was no food or drink allowed, and no ‘facilities’.  While sitting there, we noticed there was pizza on the menu.  We remembered how we enjoyed the pizza when we spent 3 days in Addis back in March, so we figured we should get some, you know, for old times sake.  It was worth it.  And here’s Neal, looking all bright eyed and bushy tailed, in spite of an already long day.  And I have no idea what time of day this really is.

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What I do remember is that it was cold.  Check out Neal’s winter ware!

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I was seriously cold.  Cold enough that it didn’t matter how dorky I looked.  These are my travel socks.  I always keep them in my purse when I travel be it by road, air or sea.  And they came in handy.  

Everything blurs together, but I do remember the walk to the plane was a long one.  Several ramps. And  the plane – it was huge!  Called a Dreamliner I think.  And we got exit row bulkhead!!  That is also huge.  And no one else was sitting in the 3rd seat in our group of 3.  We were counting our blessings.  This was the longest of the 5 flights.  And yes I actually walked to the plane looking like this.  

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And again, more food.  We usually accepted it, but then didn’t really eat it.  I think this is chicken.  Enjoyed my tomato juice though!

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I think we got some sleep on this flight.  Getting ready to land in Delhi.

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We’re in India!

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We had to collect our bags, which both showed up – even though Neal is wondering…

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Immigration / Customs was a breeze and the officials were very friendly, welcoming us to their country and seemed sincerely happy that we were there.  It was a nice welcome and helped to revive me a bit.  I found myself smiling.  The journey had been pretty long to this point, and we still had an 8 hour wait until our next flight to Chandigarh.  Knowing what we know now, we probably would have just found a taxi and made the 5 hour road trip.

Things at this point were a bit confusing…We were feeling so excited to actually be in this country, but we didn’t know where to go.  We had to figure out how to leave the international section and get to the domestic section.  The airport was pretty secure, with guards/police at all the entrances.  We were hoping to be able to check our bags right away, so we didn’t have to sit with all our stuff for 8 hours.  We inquired and were told we had to go to such and such counter.  That counter was through a door that was being guarded.  The only hard copy evidence of our upcoming flight was a printout of all of our flights, and it didn’t have our names on it.  Without proper documentation, we weren’t getting in.  Babu shigowa – no entry.  We were told to go to such and such counter and get a print out of our ticket.  We explained that we had already tried such and such, but they wouldn’t let us in.  Because we didn’t have the right printout.  We finally found a way in, waited in line and were then told we had to pay 10 rupees for the printout.  We didn’t have 10 rupees.  We had plenty of dollars, but no rupees.  And to go change our dollars required us to go beyond the doors that we weren’t allowed because we didn’t have the printout.  Get the picture?  It was all quite confusing.  And probably even more so since little sleep had been had in the previous 30 or so hours.  The counter lady had mercy on us and gave us the printout for no dollars or rupees.

Printout in hand, we headed to domestic flights to hopefully check in.  When we got to such and such counter, they looked at the printout and smiled at us like we were overly excited about our flight and explained that this flight wasn’t until much later in the day.  I think it was just after 8am.  We smiled back and said we knew that, but we just arrived and were hoping to check our bags.  Counter lady  explained that there was an 11am flight to Chandigarh (ours was at 5pm) and she was concerned that they would be put on that flight so wisely advised us to wait until after that flight left.  She also explained that we were only allowed 15 kilos each.  We had more than that— forgot that international and domestic baggage allowances are not the same.

Waiting until after 11 gave us time to shuffle some things around in our bags, and add some heavier stuff to our carry-ons.  So in the end we only ended up paying about $20 for our excess bags.  They were quite gracious about it.  Could have (should have) been much higher.

Finally freed of our bags we could now wander around the terminal.  We found the food court!  KFC, McDonalds etc.  But none of that for us.  And keep in mind that beef is not eaten – so don’t be expecting two all beef patties. (But I think it’s debatable that McDonalds in beef-eating countries can claim ‘all beef’ patties either) We went straight for the Indian food.  And it was quite tasty.  Chicken biriyani, samosas, daal and some really tasty sauces.  Hit the spot!

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Now to go and find a place to clean up and wait for our last flight.  It was a pretty big terminal, and surprisingly sparse.

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Pretty nice place to wait.  I dozed, Neal read.

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But first, we took turns in the bathroom.  In Niger, the bathrooms in nicer homes or hotels all have boudets (it’s a French word that I have no idea how to spell)…kind of a cross between and sink and a toilet.  I’ve never used them – because to be honest, I don’t really know how.  Well the toilets I’ve seen here so far all have a spray hose/drain.  Again, something I probably wouldn’t use under normal circumstances.  But we haven’t had a shower in awhile, and that sprayer complete with water (it worked, I checked), looked like it had great potential.  Armed with my baby wipes and a hand towel, I took a mini-shower in the bathroom.  Washed my feet in the toilet.  No – not IN the toilet.  I held  my feet over the toilet, soaped them up with my travel shampoo and sprayed them off.  Nothing like clean feet!  I brushed my teeth and washed my face (no, not in the toilet!) and emerged feeling semi-clean and ready to complete our journey.

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Our 8 hour wait was finally up and we boarded the plane for our less than 1 hour flight.  Here we are landing in Chandigarh, India.  I know I’m not supposed to take pictures at airports with security around etc, but I got this one on my phone while I was walking away from he plane.   Managed to actually get a picture of our plane.  Interesting that our journey started and ended with a plane this size.
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It felt so good to be on the ground.  Our bags came last, but they came!

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We were being picked up by our host, Pastor James Chacko, whom we had only met via email/Facebook.  He was standing right outside the airport and graciously welcomed us and made us feel right at home.  Which is how we felt when we made the drive from the airport to his home. Driving in India may have the reputation of being crazy, but it really did make us feel at home. If you’ve been to Niger, you know what I’m talking about.

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It was Friday evening and we arrived at Pastor James and Usha’s beautiful apartment and were shown our room and got settled.  We enjoyed some Chai tea and got to know each other, and then Usha cooked for us.  Yep.  More food.  But this was by the far the best we had eaten, and it was only the beginning!

I’ve been wanting to write about this journey since arriving back in Niger almost 2 weeks ago, but today is literally the first day the internet has been good enough to do so.  Blogging with bad internet is quite tedious, but I’m determined to record the details of this amazing journey we had the privilege of making.

For now, I need to go make some Chai.

The Wedding! Sukala and Rakiya get married. Part 1

My last post was titled ‘The Dowry Has Been Delivered’.  I intended to write lots between then and now, but between our schedule and our internet (slooowww), that hasn’t happened.  So I will now write about the wedding (for which the dowry was delivered), and hope to catch up on other stuff ‘soon’.

Sukala.  He’s been a part of our family since we moved to Niger in 1997.  That means he’s been friends with Trae and Tanika since they were little kids.   Tobi too.  Here they are now.

Trae, Tobi and Sukala

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He’s the guy that saw Tobi take his first steps. MVC-862F

Over the years, through ups and downs, ins and outs and thick and thin, Sukala (his real name is Ibrahim), has maintained a place in our family, referring to us as Mom and Dad.  Neal’s parents are Grama and Grampa, and rightly so.

Though I could digress down several different roads (some paved, some full of potholes)  with lots of stories, I’m going to do my best to stick to the big wedding.  But no guarantees.

As I said in my last post, we met Rakiya last year right about this time when she interviewed for an assistant teaching position in our school.   (Well look at that, I’ve already veered from strictly wedding writing).  Though a tiny slip of a girl, she had a great personality and presence about her.  She was someone who obviously loved children, but had a level of confidence and sophistication that I really liked.  Though respectful, she wasn’t intimidated by us (Neal) =).  When she left our house I said to Neal something along the lines of, “This is exactly the kind of girl Sukala needs.”  You see Sukala isn’t just an ordinary guy.  He loves Jesus with all his heart,  is a musician, is great with kids, has lots of other gifts, is hard working, very generous, can do about whatever  you ask him to or will figure out how, and is part man and part boy.  He’s spastic and I’m convinced he’s an ADHD personality that is heading in the right direction.  Most of the time.   Not the kind of guy for just any girl.

Other than expressing my thoughts to Neal and Erin, the missionary/teacher she would be training under, I mentioned this ‘match made in heaven’ to no one else.  Erin agreed with me and even tried to get them in the same place at the same time whenever Sukala would be helping at the school.  Rakiya would have none of it.

We left for our ‘world tour’ in March, (which I’m still not done blogging about !), and soon Erin left for the US for the summer.  Sometime during the summer, we talked to Sukala by phone and he informed us that he was interested in a girl.

“Who”?  I of course asked.

“The teacher at the school”, he said.

Hopes raising I asked, “Which teacher?”

“Rakiya”.

I maintained my composure on the phone, while grinning very loudly to Neal.  I still said nothing but that we were happy for him, and gave him a few other words of ‘advice’.  “Thanks Mom”, said he and we hung up.  I was quite excited and I told Neal so.  And I offered a prayer of thanks.

The next phone call included the explanation that they wanted to get married.  Wow.  That really was fast.  In spite of the appearance of spontaneity, we were in agreement.  The only stipulation was that it could not be during children’s camp.  Sukala is a huge part of our camps, and to do them without him would be really challenging.  A hardship really.  It was currently July and the camps would be the first 2 weeks of September.

We arrived back to Niger on July 22nd and officially congratulated the happy couple.  The date was set for September 21, and wedding plans were under way.  As well as TTC drama team plans and CLC children’s camp plans.    When I asked Sukala what specifically he wanted me to do, he told me that he wanted me to walk him down the aisle, just like I did with Trae.  I said I would be happy and honored to do that, but also explained that in fact Trae was walking me down the aisle.  But who’s really ‘counting’?

The day quickly arrived.  Friday night, the plan was for Tobi and Sukala to spend the night with Alfred, the ‘other’ best man.  Sukala had been busy all day.  Well, all week really.  One of his biggest responsibilities was to secure a house for he and his new bride.  Sukala has been living in a room on our compound for almost 3 years.  We offered for them to continue living there post-wedding, but Rakiya preferred to get their own place.  Understandably.  So before camp started, Sukala found a place and even paid 4 months rent.  Monday before  the wedding, (we had just returned from camp in Maradi), he went to get the key to his house to begin preparing it, only to find that the landlord – or more likely the guy that is looking for a renter for the owner – decided that he would give the house to someone else while we were gone.  Someone else had already moved in.  Downright mean.  He did get his money back.  Sukala was stressed and the house hunt was on once again.  Wedding: T-5 days.  Having a house was a requirement, because what happens culturally the night of the wedding is that the bride is brought to her husband in the house that he has provided for her.  More on that later…

Long story short and lots of blood, sweat and tears later, a house was secured.  Sukala threw up a paint of coat and we (Neal and I) convinced him that he needed to install a fan in at least one of the 3 rooms.  He argued that he didn’t have money and we argued that we would help. It was HOT and it’s amazing the difference a fan makes when it’s that hot.  I was actually thinking of Rakiya and didn’t want the memory of the first night in her new house to be all about sweating!  The ceiling fan was purchased (this is on Friday) and Sukala asked someone to install it.  Check that off the list.

So Tobi and Sukala were headed to Alfred’s on Friday night.  Here they are just before they left.

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And here’s the next time I saw them – Saturday morning.  Sukala is nervous and Tobi is tired!

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We arrived at the church at 9am for the 9am wedding.  Lots of other people were there too, but it wasn’t yet full.   Weddings  are chronically late but there’s nothing fashionable about that when it’s 150 degrees.  Ok, it’s not that hot, but when you’re wearing lined lace that weighs a ton, it sure feels like it!

Since I was going to be walking Sukala down the aisle (remember, it’s what he wanted), I went out to see him when he arrived and that’s when I took the above picture.  I asked him how he was doing and he just sort of nodded as a tear ran down his cheek.  I don’t think he will mind me sharing…

The sun was hot (have I mentioned that?) so I opened the door, he moved over, and I got in.  A church member loaned Sukala this really nice vehicle complete with driver for the day.  It had AC.  And God bless the driver for letting the vehicle run while we were sitting there.  Waiting.

Waiting for what?  And why the tears?  Well first, lack of sleep.  It’s no mystery there that missing major chunks of sleep over a week will make you feel a bit more emotional than normal.  And normal for Sukala is already emotional.  Because Sukala is almost always ‘up’, he can’t hide it very well when he’s not up. He can’t hide it at all.  Up and bouncy are also his normal.  Unlike myself.  There’s not much variation between my high, medium and low.  So one may not quickly perceive my mood.  But with this guy, it’s easy.   He was fighting tears and feeling very emotional.  And waiting for the bride to show up was not helping.  There were several phone calls back and forth.  They were on their way to the church in two vehicles, one of which apparently had ‘broken’ on the way.  I heard Sukala insist that they leave the broken vehicle there and just come – ‘that you are the one everyone is waiting for.’  I correctly assumed he was speaking to Rakiya. More time passed, people continued to come, the church started to fill up.  I told Sukala some stories from my own wedding to pass the time.  I think Tobi was sleep sitting.  I checked to see if the AC fan in the car was on high.  He was getting agitated because he knew that everyone was waiting for this thing to start.  I assured him that everyone was fine.  Look, people are still coming.  And today, this day, was about Rakiya and him.  People don’t mind.   Finally she showed up – I honestly don’t know if the 2nd vehicle came or not – and he started to loosen up and cheer up.  Relief.

We waited still longer for our cue to begin our walk up the aisle.   My best guess is that so far the wait had been about 30 minutes.   The guests had been singing the whole time.

The time had finally come for this guy to get married!

The car had started to feel pretty warm, but when we stepped outside I realized that comparatively we had been enjoying a refrigerator.

We began our walk into the church compound, took a left and proceeded to walk to the back of the church, from the outside.   Even though the guests were inside, we did the traditionally slow walk – even outside.  Well, Sukala did.  I took off at what seemed a hare’s pace (in spite of my heels sinking into deep sand) when compared to the expected snail’s pace.  Sukala reminded me to slow down.  I then remembered  all the weddings I had been to in Niger where the betrothed walk down the aisle with their supporters at a painstakingly slow pace.  Not exactly sure the reason but I say let them have their day!

I was doing my best to keep time with Sukala and reminded him to smile.  I told him in the car that if he walked in all somber like is traditional, I would walk away.  That’s not the first time he’d heard me say that.  There’s a cultural thing here, even among Christian weddings that I dislike very much.  It stems from Islam.  First, the groom  comes in with a group of his friends escorting him.  And even though they may be excited, throwing confetti and spraying perfume, the groom looks like he’s walking in to a funeral.  The same thing happens with the bride.  That’s one area that we have tried to change in this culture.  Wedding’s are a joyous occasion and should be celebrated as so.  We’ve been told that they walk in with such somberness as a sign of humility.  Anyway, both our bride and groom agreed that they wanted to walk down the aisle in a non-traditional way – smiling.

Here are Sukala and I, finally walking into the church.  Followed by lots of supporters.  The best men are behind us.  If you look closely you’ll see some white specks in the photo.  Those aren’t spots on the lens, it’s the traditionally thrown confetti, thrown by the supporters.  Perfume is liberally being sprayed everywhere!

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And now for the big moment.  Here comes The Bride!  Waiting expectantly.

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Getting closer…

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Almost there….

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Finally!  Time to Praise God and rejoice!!

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It was during this time that my wardrobe issues started.  After leaving Sukala, I walked up to sit down in my seat next to Neal on the platform.  As I sat down, I felt a sudden breeze rush down my back.  My pretty lace top, that zips all the way down the back, came unzipped.  Completely.  Now as refreshing as that breeze felt, I’m pretty sure wearing a backless dress for the wedding would be severely frowned upon.   My mother-in-law to the rescue.  She’s one of those people that will always have whatever you need.  Thankfully she was sitting right by me.  She had a scarf and quickly helped me get it around my shoulders.  I then backed over to her and she began working on the zipper.  It took a couple of tries but we were finally successful.  Fortunately there was no one behind us, and no one else was really paying attention to us anyway.  I don’t think.  I was back together and trying to be careful with my every move so as not to irritate the zipper again.  When I wore this lace in the US, the same thing happened, but with the skirt.   But in defense of the tailors in Niger, (and in my defense as well- it wasn’t too tight!)  their sewing isn’t  the problem, but the materials they have available.  Inferior zippers.

But where were we?

Oh yes.  First a message was preached by Rakiya’s pastor.  Her ‘home’ church is not the same as ours.  In fact one of the great things about this wedding is that it brought 3 large ministries together and everyone had a part.  After today, Rakiya is officially a part of Vie Abondante though, and we’re happy to have her!

I couldn’t find a picture of her pastor preaching – though I thought I took pictures of everything.  Unfortunately I wasn’t as organized as I like to think I am and my camera batter was flashing empty.  I thought about it the night before and was sure the battery was charged.  Think again.  No worries though, isn’t that why I carry a spare?  Insert spare and it too is flashing…empty.  So I was conserving the time I had the camera on.   I spied an extension cord in front of the pulpit and at first dismissed the idea of trying to plug in my charger during the service – right there in front of everyone.  But this was a big event and I wanted pictures.  So as carefully and discreetly as I could (not very, remember I’m wearing  lined lace complete with fragile zipper), I plugged my spare battery in.

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After the message, it was time for the vows, the ‘daure aure’ (Hausa).  Our very own Pastor Nelson was the director of the whole event and he did an incredible job.  He called Neal up to do the knot tying.

“Who gives this woman…” This is another interesting cultural difference (different from American culture).  The father isn’t the one  who does the giving.  It’s a representative for the family.  In the case I think it was an uncle.  Here he is giving Rakiya to Sukala.  Check the packed out church!

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Neal is asking Sukala to move the veil back so we can see her face.  Often we have found that they like the veil to stay in place til the end, but when Neal does a wedding he always asks for it to be ‘opened’.

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What a beautiful bride!  You think Sukala is pleased?

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Repeating the vows.  Neal did the vows in Hausa and I thought he did an excellent job.  He was later told that our Hausa pastors were congratulating him on how good his Hausa was too.   I was right!  The Big B guy is hold a mic so they can be heard.

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Rings.  A tradition not always followed.  But it seems to be getting more and more common.  I’m glad.  Sukala purchased silver bands for both of them.  Notice the henna tattoos on Rakiya.  This is very traditional here.

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Sukala’s ring.

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‘You may kiss the bride’.  Another thing that would be a rare find during a Niger wedding ceremony.  Remember, typically there’s not even a lot of smiling done, let alone looking at each other.  This wedding was unique in several ways.  What isn’t rare though is the whooping and hollering that is done by the guests after the vows are said.  So you can imagine the whooping after the kiss!  (I should note that it was a kiss on the cheek).

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Next, the newlyweds kneeled down and all the pastors that were there came up and laid hands on them and prayed.  Check out the paparazzi!

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Neal then asked Sukala if he wanted to sing.  That’s one of his many gifts.  He certainly did and quickly grabbed the mic and began to sing – leading the guests in some praise.

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While singing, another cultural thing occurred that I realized would be foreign to a foreigner.    When people are enjoying the music/musician, they will come to the front and ‘press’ money on them.  By that I mean one would take coins or paper money and press it on to the person – usually onto the forehead.  Usually that person is sweating  (Niger being the Sahara desert and all), so the money will stay put for a second or 2, then fall to the ground.   Someone designates themselves to collect the money and give it to the ‘performer’.  That’s what the woman in this picture is doing.

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It was now time for the happy couple to make it all official like and sign their marriage certificate.  Here they come up on the platform.  So happy that they are so happy!

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Neal’s signature.

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The groom.

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The bride.

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The Certificate.  It was signed by several pastors.

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One of the choirs singing.  They were great.  There were choirs from 3 churches that sang.

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Here’s the official wedding party.

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The bride and groom and their friends presented.

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The guests were invited to come up and greet the new couple and bring an offering.   Sorry about that pesky fan in so many pics, but believe you me, if you were here you’d totally understand that the fan was a necessity.  No, a requirement!

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The final prayer prayed by our very own Pastor Mercy.  Habibou is interpreting and Pastor Nelson is on the right.

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Mr. and Mrs. Ibrahim Sukala!  Spray confetti and perfume filled the place!

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This would be a good place to talk about names.  It’s all rather confusing really.  A person is given a first name when they’re born.  Typically there are no middle names.  Their last name becomes the first name of their father.  And when a woman marries, she takes the first name of her husband as her last name.  For example, our son Tobi would be ‘Tobi Neal’.  And my name would have changed from ‘Danette Don’ to ‘Danette Neal’.  Simple enough.   However this is Sukala we’re talking about and nothing is ever really simple.  Sukala’s name is really Ibrahim Ismaila.  Sukala’s father was our guard so was around us a lot.  His name  is Ismaila but his nickname is Sukala and he was referred to by both names.   When our Sukala was young, we typically called him Ibrahim, but Ibrahim (Abraham), is a really common name here – something akin to ‘John’.  So when referring to our Ibrahim it was usually followed by someone asking,  ‘Ibrahim Sukala’?  Because of that, we just started calling him Sukala, to make things ‘easy’.  Yea, right.  Now there is also the name ‘Mailiou alou’ in the mix.  I honestly can’t figure out where that came from, except as a form of Ismaila.  So officially, at least according to the marriage certificate pictured above, Sukala’s name is “Ibrahim Mailou Alou”.  Sukala isn’t even there.  But he asked Neal to present he and Rakiya as “Ibrahim and Rakiya Sukala.  So, figure that out!  I have no idea what name their kids will take.

Ok.  Now that we have that all figured out, lets get to some more pictures.  I had intentions of trying to take some nice ‘wedding party’ pics, but quickly realized that wasn’t going to happen.

The crowd followed Mr. & Mrs. Sukala out and EVERYONE wanted pictures with them.  So every time I’d try and ‘set up’ a picture, a bunch more people would photo bomb it.  So I just took as many as I could with as many as I could.  It was quite joyous really.  Except for the heat.  That was nasty.  Especially in my lined lace.  I wore that lace outfit in the US this last summer almost every time we were in a church (a lot), and never had a problem with it.  The skirt just zips up and there isn’t really a waist band or anything.  So it sort of slips down, but it wasn’t a big deal to pull it up every so often.   Today was the first time I wore the lace in Niger (heat).  Churches in the US are freezing and I often wish I had a blanket.  But pulling up that skirt when when you’re soaked with sweat is a different story.  Not trying to be gross – just telling it like it is.  I couldn’t pull it up with just one hand because the lining was stuck to me.  So it was like trying to pull up something that was glued on.  That was a problem because there was never a time that I wasn’t carrying something and I only ever had 1 hand, and sometimes no hands.  I started to feel like I might be looking like a gangsta with my skirt riding way low on my hips.  Fortunately my top came down far enough to cover any indiscrepencies – as long as I didn’t move in a way to make the zipper break and cause everything to come flying out.  And I can assure you, people would be paying attention this time.

Here we are with the happy couple, me showing no sign of how uncomfortable that skirt really was – well, maybe just a little.  (Note to self: only wear lace during cold season).

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Dad

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Mom

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I should mention here that though Sukala’s Dad wasn’t able to make the loooong trip from Maradi to the wedding, his mom was here.  She used to be a cook in our Bible School year’s ago.   Sukala started calling us Mom and Dad quite some time ago, since he really was part of our family.  But this is his mom and we were so thankful she was able to be there.  As you could see with Rakiya’s family, the parents traditionally don’t have much to do with the ceremony.  But they’re busy behind the scenes.

The Moms.

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The brother.

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The Grandparents.

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Pastor Hasimu.  He’s not only been Sukala’s pastor for many years, he is a regional director in Vie Abondante.  So happy he was able to be at the wedding, in spite of the long, hard journey.  And look who’s photo-bombing this one!

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Pastor’s Moctar and Mercy and their family.  Pastor Moctar is Sukala’s pastor here in Niamey, and is the other regional director for Vie Abondante.  However, he isn’t in this photo because he had a previously scheduled trip out of the country that prevented him from being there.  But he was quite involved up to the wedding.

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Pastor’s Nelson and Rose.  They are missionaries from Nigeria and are on the Vie Abondante leadership team.  They have been a huge part of Sukala’s life since he was a boy.

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Here are Jessica and Erin, also missionaries that work with us.  Jess – on the left- works at Sahel Academy (the missions school here) and Erin works in our primary school.  Rakiya was Erin’s teaching assistant last year and she’s the one that was working behind the scenes trying to get these two together.

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Oh, and all he matching outfits?  Another tradition here is for the bride’s family to pick some cloth and the groom’s family to pick some cloth and give the guests an opportunity to purchase the cloth and have an outfit made with it to wear to the wedding to show their support.  I got to be the designated ‘cloth-picker’ and looking at these pictures I think I did a pretty good job!  I was trying to pick something that would favor all skin shades.

More friends!  Nate, Justin, John and Phil.

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Another friend who jumped in to have his picture taken and is obviously enjoying himself!

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This is a candid shot I snapped but didn’t see the flower girls off to the side until I later looked at the pictures.  Those looks are priceless.  They are missionaries here with another ministry and are quite close to Rakiya’s family.

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Here’s a ‘staged’ photo of them.

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And a few more of our handsome groom and beautiful bride.

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Rakiya.  Though it’s been much more popular in recent years, the ‘western’ type wedding gown isn’t what’s traditionally worn here.  Typically they will pick out cloth and have something sewn specifically for their wedding, but it wouldn’t resemble a gown.  It would be more like a skirt or wrapper with a matching top.  The white wedding gowns have become much more popular now, but there is no such thing as a bridal store.  There are a few people that have started businesses that rent wedding gowns.  That’s what Rakiya did.  And it was surprisingly more expensive than what I would have thought.  If memory serves, she paid about $80  to rent her dress.  It is beautiful!

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Are we really married??!!

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Yep!  It’s real.

IMG_6946The getaway car!  No, not really.  It is however the vehicle that took them to the reception that was held at our primary school.  That story, and what happened the rest of the day/night  is going to have to wait for another post.  It was all quite fascinating to me.  I’ve been to lots of Niger weddings, but I’ve never been as closely involved as I was with this one and I can tell you I learned a thing or three!

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God Bless Sukala and Rakiya – truly a match made in heaven!!

The Dowry has Been Delivered

I recently  experienced something new.  I’ve been to lots of weddings during our 15 years in Niger, but I’ve never been part of delivering the dowry.

Before I go on let me say that I have decided I must break out of my chronological rut.  I have several blog  titles waiting to be written – still in month 2 of our 5 month journey – but I’m realizing that I am going to have to insert current stuff in the midst of those posts, or none of it will ever get written.  So here’s to flexibility.

Back to dowry day…

Sukala, aka Ibrahim, has been a part of our family since we arrived in Niger in 1998.  He and Trae ‘grew up’ together, even though he’s several years older than Trae.  Sukala learned English by spending most of his time in our house.  He calls us Mom and Dad.  He call’s Neal’s parents Grama and Grampa.  If you’ve ever visited us in Niger, you will remember Sukala.

He and Tobi painting the Cornhole game

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He’s now and grown and works with us in the ministry.  He is a man of many talents, some of the strongest being children’s and music ministry.  I’m convinced he’s ADD and that has driven him to figure out how to fix electrical and plumbing stuff, play the piano, drums, guitar and who knows what else.  He can work as an interpreter and he can cook.  Yesterday he was out chopping down (with a hatchet) a huge branch that broke off our mango tree in the dust storm.  Today he’s helping to lead the youth meetings with a drama team we are hosting from the U.S.  He is a great multi-tasker (also known as getting off focus!), is very giving, and often the life of the party.

He also helps put up Christmas trees.

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He loves God and he has finally found the love of his life.  Rakkiya.  We’re excited for him.  We met Rakkiya when she interviewed for a teaching position in our primary school.  Neal and I liked her immediately and felt she’d be a great teacher.  When she left our house, I told Neal that this is exactly the kind of girl that Sukala needs.  But we didn’t / couldn’t say anything to him.  I did however pray in that direction.  While we were in the U.S. this summer we talked with Sukala and he told us that he ‘met’ someone.  I was quite excited when he told me that someone was Rakkiya.  It was then I told him my thoughts about her.  He was happy about that!

Culturally in Niger when you ‘meet’ someone, that typically means it’s someone you are interested in marrying.  Sukala talked with Rakkiya’s family and also with his pastor, Pastor Moctar.  Everyone was in agreement but they were waiting for us to return from the U.S  before setting a date.  The setting of the date is similar to an engagement.  And there are several things that need to take place – protocols if you will.  Since I am the ‘mom’ (one of them, Sukala has several people he would consider mom), I was asked, along with a group of 3 other ladies to bring the sadaki (dowry).  The dowry had already been arranged between the family and the pastor.  Sukala and Rakkiya wanted to do all the protocols at one time, which suited me just fine!

Here’s what was required of Sukala:

1. Alkawali or Tambaya (the promise or the ‘will you marry me’ question) – ~ $100

2. Valise – the giving of a suitcase filled with new clothes, shoes and other personal things for the bride.  This is given to her family.  ~ $200

3. The actual Sadaki (dowry)  ~$600

4. Goro (kola nut)  This is given to be handed out to people when they are told about the wedding.  It’s part of the celebration.  ~$40

The prices are set by the family of the bride.

As I said, this was all new to me and I had much to learn.  The delivery date and time had been set.  So off we went.  Salamatu, Me, Mariama and Natalie.  These are all ladies I know well and I was so happy to be in their company.

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Here is Sukala modeling with the suitcase (4 suitcases it turns out) and the big bag of kola nuts in the back of our truck just before we leave for the event.  I think he’s a bit nervous.

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Have I mentioned that I’ve not done this before?  Though my friends had much more of an idea what to expect than I did, I think we were all surprised when we arrived at the house to a large group of ladies waiting for us.

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Since I was the one that was expected to deliver the ‘envelope’, I made sure someone was nearby me at all times, whispering instructions in my ear.  One thing I did understand is that this was serious business and setting a good foundation with the family was important.  I didn’t want to do it wrong.

We took off our shoes, went into the house,  sat on mats and chit chatted for a bit.  I asked some questions and tried to figure out who Rakkiya’s mom was.  A woman who was quite up in years was pointed out to me and I was quite surprised since I know Rakkiya to be in her 20’s.  I talked some with the ‘mom’ and she was happy to know that I spoke Hausa.  This was a large group of Hausa women which rather intimidated me.  I can manage in Hausa pretty well when I’m speaking to people who don’t use Hausa as their first language.  We’re both on the same page then.  But now I’ve been thrown into a room of experts.  A bit scary.  Water was served and then Natalie whispered to me that after the water we should go back outside and I would give the envelope to the man sitting outside the house – in the  courtyard area.  There were actually 3 men out there.   We put our shoes back on and the 4 of us went out.  You must picture this – the doors and windows are all open so the ladies inside can see us outside, and vice versa.  The man you can see in this picture is the first man I gave the money to.

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I wasn’t sure what I was expected to say but I carried the envelope with all the cash out and handed it to the man sitting there (making sure to use my right hand).  I said that we were very happy to receive Rakkiya into our family.  He took the envelope, took out the money and counted it.  Good, we’re done then.

Nope.  He puts the money back into the envelope and hands it back to me!  Ummm, Natalie!?  Help?  She indicates that I should now give the envelope to the other man.  He takes it and hands it to the man sitting next to him, who proceeds to hand it back to man #2, who then hands it back to me!  Again!  NATALIE?

Natalie and I were getting pretty skilled at communicating with very little communication (she’s so gracious and doing her best to make me look good), and I figure out that I’m to go inside and give the envelope to the woman who I was told is the mom. Turns out she’s Rakkiya’s aunt.  Culturally neither Rakkiya or her family are around for this event.  I’m wondering the same thing you are.  Why?  I don’t really know the answer except to say ‘it’s cultural’.

She takes the money and there is some discussion about counting it.  I didn’t follow it all but was later told that they said there was no reason to count it because I was a white person.  I’m just telling you what was said so no discrimination comments!

Now it was time to unwrap the suitcase(es).  It was a big box that we ladies carried in together with the big sack of goro (kola nut).  Another woman was given the honors.  She got the box off and tried to open the suitcase.  It was locked with a combination.  After an appropriate amount of attempts and fails, I decided I should try and help.  No directions, no combinations given.  I decided to try 000. It worked.  Thankfully.  We did this 3 more times.  I found it funny that there was a plastic hanger in each suitcase.  The discussion ensued about the suitcase.  Often the groom will fill the suitcase himself.  I explained, as Sukala had explained to me, that he would rather just give the money and let them do it.   Then I said, “Well, I’m sure Sukala knows you will know much better than he what to put inside.”  For some reason that brought gales of laughter.  Yep. Gales.  I’m not sure why, but maybe under clothing is included in that and they found it funny that Sukala didn’t want to deal with that.  Anyway, they were happy.

Unwrapping the suitcase.  The kola nuts are on the right.

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Displaying the suitcase.

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After the unveiling of the suitcase, the aunt began to dance and sing around it and everyone joined in.  I knew the song too, so that was fun.

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We sat for a few more minutes and I asked my ladies if it would be appropriate for me to share a testimony about Rakkiya and Sukala.  I was given the go-ahead by all so I stood up.  I first asked if they were understanding my Hausa.  Affirmative.  I started by saying how much we had appreciated Rakkiya in our school and that she had an excellent testimony there.  Then I shared the story of the interview and our decision that this was the girl for Sukala.  They loved hearing that, so I’m glad I shared it.  There were gasps and comments like ‘aikin Ubangiji! (the work of the Lord).  I then asked Salamatu to pray before we got ready to leave.  After that some of the ladies brought out some drinks and yogurt and some kola nut.  There was also sugar and a bucket of millet paste (used to make the traditional millet drink called fura).  I thought they were going to pass them around to everyone there.  But they sat it next to me.  Then they handed me some money (about $40).  They said this was a sign of their thanksgiving, and their acceptance, really, of Sukala. It was pretty cool.

Here they are before we put the stuff in the car, discussing what is to be done with it.

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Culturally, I guess when something like that is done, it’s ‘shared’ between the dowry deliverer’s and the groom.  Again, new to me.  But not surprising.  So we made our way back to my house, where Sukala was very anxiously waiting.  He was outside the gate when we pulled up.  He was jumping around like a typical ADD person.  I got out and said to him, ‘Sorry, they didn’t agree’.  I then went to open the back and he said ‘I know there’s nothing in there!’.  He thought I was opening it to show them that his suitcase and kola nut were still in there – unreceived.  So he let out a shout (a loud shout) when I opened and told him all these things were given in thanksgiving.

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Sukala is excited!

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We unloaded it and my ladies began to divide everything into to piles of 5.  One for the groom, and one for each of us.  The stuff in the front is the millet.  Tobi’s excited too!  He and Tobi are like brothers.

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This is what the kola nut looks like.

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It was a great experience and one I was honored to be a part of.  I overheard conversations and have found that the job of we 4 Musketeers has just begun.  The dowry delivery was only the beginning of our wedding responsibilities.  I don’t  know what else will be expected of me, but I’m confident my friends will let me know!

Oh, by the way, the wedding date has been set for September 21st.

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It was an honor to be a part of this significant event in Sukala’s life and I’m so glad I agreed to do it.  I’ll admit I hesitated for a tiny second when he asked, only because we have been back in the country less than a week after 5 months away, I was still very jet-lagged (functioning on 3 hours of sleep in 2 days), and preparing for a team from the US arriving in 2 days.  But there are just some things  you do no matter what.  This was one of them.

Lusaka, Zambia, here we come!

Thanks to the coffee I shockingly enjoyed, I slept not at all the night before our flight to Lusaka, Zambia.  Have tried but not enjoyed coffee since.  I’m a tea person through and through.

Here are more airplane shots – I could probably use the same ones over and over again, but I did take photos on each flight – partly to help me document.   Here we’re leaving Addis Ababa.

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It’s a direct flight to Lusaka, Zambia.  These guys are big fans of the personal screens.

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Just 3 1/2 hours later we touched down in Lusaka.

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Things are a bit greener here…

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Customs/immigration was relatively simple – as immigration goes.  Visas can be purchased at he airport and we were prepared with cash to pay for them.  We were pleasantly surprised when they returned some cash and informed us that Tobi was free.  The boy was saving us money!

Our plan in Zambia was to be a part of Africa Outreach – a ministry started by our friends Walker and Haley Schurz.  They are fellow ORU grads and they are the ones who helped us settle in South Africa 13 years ago when we went there for Tobi’s birth.  We were only in South Africa for 5 months and the Schurz’ moved from there to Zambia a few years later.  They  are now pastors of Miracle Life Family Church and they started and operate Rhema Zambia – a bible school.  Brandt and Pam Prince joined Africa Outreach recently, and they are the family we stayed with.  Amazingly, they are Agape Missionary Alliance Missionaries just like us.  But as is the MO for missionaries, we’re not home very often – so we had only met these folks briefly one time – back in 2001.  So what a blessing it was for us to get to know them and to stay in their home.  They  and their 4 kiddos were fun hosts. And we had some of the best food!  But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Brandt picked us up at the airport and took us to meet Pam for lunch.  In a Tai restaurant!  We then made our way to their home, met the rest of the family and got settled in our room.  We were quite amazed at how developed Lusaka was.  The Prince’s appreciated our amazement because having lived in the Congo for many years, they felt the same way we did.  Incidentally, Niger and Congo are at the bottom of the pile of developed countries.  So we shared our shock and awe of the ‘niceness’.

Tobi was pretty pleased with our accommodations because they came complete with 3 boys and 1 sweet 2 year old girl.  Here’s Tobi with Austin, Tyler and Ben.

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Juliana gets a photo of her own – she’s adorable.  The Prince’s are in the midst of adopting her from the Congo.

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The following pictures are some of the first we took – the things we were amazed by and made us feel like we weren’t actually in Africa.

Pam goes to the grocery store a lot!  But we’re glad she did because she made some amazing meals.

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The mall.

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It really is a mall!

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Not only were there real toilets -they came equipped with toilet paper!

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Appliance store.

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Escalators!

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Are we really in Africa?

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Sunday lunch at KFC.  Yep. The real Colonel and everything.

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Our first Sunday we went to Miracle Life Family Church.  We were so encouraged to hear that 90% of the money used to build this church came from the Zambians.

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Pastor Walker invited us to greet the congregation.

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This isn’t a great picture but it’s the front of the church.  It’s a big one!

IMG_0846We arrived in Lusaka on March 7th.  Tobi’s 13th birthday was the next day.  Pam graciously volunteered to make the teen-to-be a cake and told us about a paintball place right down the street from their house.  Paintball would be a perfect birthday gift.  Austin, the Prince’s oldest son had a knee issue so couldn’t ‘paintball’.  Ben was too young.  But Tyler was all for it.  So off we went.  The paintballers and the spectators.

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Tobi and Austin.  Nothing like making a brand new friend and then trying to shoot him!

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This was new to Tobi so lots of instruction was given.

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Even Brandt gave Tobi some pointers.

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Is the helmet really necessary?

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The guy running the show was having fun just watching and instructing our 2.

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They had several different competitions.  And they had the battleground to themselves.

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This is the spectator window from where Neal provided much instruction…And at the end, high 5’s for a job well done.

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I don’t think there was a clear winner, but when it was all said and done, the boys were still friends.

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Pam made one of Tobi’s favorites for dinner, and even a few more boys joined for the festivities.

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Then there was a really yummy cake.

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Our youngest is officially a teenager!

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Then the electricity went out.  We’re pretty sure that was for our benefit – to remind us that yes, we were still in Africa.

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It’s always so much fun to watch people open presents.  Please excuse the wrapping job…

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He’s wearing his Nigeria soccer journey and loved getting a Zambia jersey.

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We’re proud of our 13 year old.

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Did I mention how well we ate at the Prince’s home?

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This is just one of many wonderful meals.  Grilled chicken and twice baked potatoes.

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The broccoli was special for Tobi.  He loves the stuff – he’s kind of strange that way – and it’s rare that we get to eat it.

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One of our reason’s for going to Zambia was to teach in the Rhema Bible School there.  Neal taught Bible Doctrines to the first year students, and I taught Children’s Ministry to the 2nd year students.  What fun we had!

Here’s Neal teaching his class.

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Makes you wanna know what he’s saying doesn’t it?

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I, too, had fun teaching a great group of students.

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They were so responsive and I know they received revelation on how important ministry to children is.  That was my goal.

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I like to teach with lots of object lessons…

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This one used popped popcorn and popcorn seeds.  Any idea what  lesson that taught?  Hint:  what happens when you add heat and oil…

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At the end of the class I had a group of students do a ‘practice children’s service’.  It was so fun and I was impressed.

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In addition to teaching in the school, Walker and Haley invited us to speak at their first annual Rhema alumni meeting.  Here we are together.

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Walker giving the vision of the Alumni program.

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First Neal spoke.

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Then me.

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Then we spoke together.  I don’t remember what was being said here – but it looks interesting…

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Of course a meeting is never complete until we introduce the rest of our family.

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Speaking into these lives was an honor we will always remember.

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The Bible School has chapel services and Neal preached there as well.

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We were also asked to meet with the children’s workers of Miracle Life Family Church.  We had a ‘pre-meeting’ to discuss what they wanted us to cover.  We were amazed at what they already have established.   Everything we brought up they were already doing.  We did meet with them on a Saturday morning and just encouraged them and brought a few new ideas.  But it was truly a mutually encouraging time.

The lady on the left is the Children’s ministry director.

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Many of the students are already pastors and we were invited to minister at Mount Moriah – with Pastor Julius Mwanza.  We were SO blessed!  We walked into the church and felt right at home and the music was wonderful!

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Neal preached…

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The room to the right is the overflow room.  They could hear but not see.

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It was the Sunday that the children were receiving their Samaritan’s Purse shoeboxes and they had a special presentation.  Every one of these children quoted a scripture verse of their choice.  From long ones, to “Jesus wept”.

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This little guy dressed for the occasion!

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Tobi and I got to help hand out the boxes.

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They opened their gifts as soon as they got them outside.  I talked to this sweet girl and when I asked her what she got.  She replied, “There was a letter inside and they said they were praying for me.”   So if you’re involved in Operation Blessing / Samaritan’s Purse and have told someone you’re praying for them — I hope you are.

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Pastor Julius and his family.

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They took us to a great place for lunch – burgers!

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Everywhere we’ve been, Tobi has been diligent to do his school.  He’s had lots of different work areas.  This is his classroom at the Prince’s house.  The boys went to school, we went to the bible school and Tobi stayed at the house and did his school.  Well, except for the day he came to visit our classes and greet the students and hear his Dad preach in chapel.

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Then the boys would get home and rescue Tobi.

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Movie time our last night there.

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We enjoyed spending time with friends – but our time went so quickly.

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Had fun at the Schurz home – volleyball!

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Ping pong!

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Serious ping pong!

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I’ll let you guess who won.

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But lots of games were played.

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The only competing I did was to try and get as tall as Haley.  That’s never going to happen….

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Neal cooked his famous Nigerian rice and stew – minus the pepper.  As always, it was a hit.

Dishing up dinner.

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Walker and Neal enjoying dinner.

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The boys table.  And apparently no one else was welcome to join them.

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As I already mentioned, Walker and Haley are the friends and supporters who hooked us up in Johannesburg when we went there for Tobi’s birth in 2000.  We were so blessed to be a small part of their ministry in Zambia and are impressed by their ministry there – Africa Outreach.  Thanks guys.  We had a blast!  And we’re expecting your visit to Niger.

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And a special thanks to Brandt and Pam Prince who we had so much fun with.  They were the best hosts!

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Our journey thus far has been more than we could have expected (that’s just like God, eh?). Eve though our  time in Lusaka was coming to a rapid close,  we were excited about the next leg of our trip – a bus ride to Livingstone – and Victoria Falls!  Hopefully I’ll get to that soon…because it was truly amazing!

Missionary Journey to Nigeria Finale – Our trip home

Well, this is it.  What a journey it’s been.  Even though we do it all the time it always amazes me when we make a plan, then execute the plan, then go on to the next plan.   We are now home and ready to execute the next plan.  Well almost.  But that’s another story.  On a side note, we know that God orders our steps but we have to take those steps once we hear His direction.  Thus, we make and execute plans.

And now on to our 3 day journey back to Niger…

Just as we were getting ready to leave Benin City on Thursday morning we received a phone call from the Bible School asking if we could stop by on our way.  So with our vehicle loaded we headed back to the school.  We were met by some representatives of the student body expressing their love and appreciation for our coming and for Neal’s teaching.  They handed us an envelope explaining that they had taken an offering for us and wanted us to know how much they had received.  Wow!  We stood there grateful, blessed and shocked.  We know what it’s like to be a student.  After more hugs and goodbyes and promises to return, we had to hit the road.  What a sweet send off.

Leaving Benin City

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Not only are there creative business names – check out this bumper sticker.  It had to have been created by a Nigerian!

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Takes a long time to get through the city.

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A LONG time.

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I think this guy was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the thought of 3 days of this…

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Finally some open road.

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Love these plantations.

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Lots of ‘markets’ on the side of the road.  Would have loved to bring some of that stuff home!

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Lots of curves in these jungle roads.

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That’s one way to look at life… but not fun to be behind him!

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On and on we go.

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Entering another town.

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Thought this was funny.  “Progressive Remedial Class”.

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From Palm trees to traffic.

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Lots of traffic!

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Another interesting business – Islamic Store and Honey Depot.  Really?

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Lunch! The food here was good – well, the rice.  We weren’t as impressed with the chicken and the tables were literally covered in dirt.  Fortunately I travel with wet wipes.

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More markets.

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More trucks.

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More cracked up cars.

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MorIMG_1511e Jungle.

More city.

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We weren’t this packed.

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Some of the ba-zillion trucks we had to pass.

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Now this looked familiar to us.  These Fulani people were probably from Northern Nigeria, and maybe even Niger.

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The guys on motorcycles were traveling with their counterparts on donkeys.

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Cattle!

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This truck was at one of the places we stopped for fuel.  And I can testify that those are some of the best pineapple you’ll ever eat.

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Entering Abuja.  Our stopping place for the Night.  Abuja is Nigeria’s capital city.  The part we were in was quite modern.

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When we were here over 3 weeks ago, we had a taxi man direct us to our hotel.  We took his phone number.  We were able to find him again and he helped us get there again. Yes, it was the same place, and no – we couldn’t remember how to get there.  In fact we told our taxi man that we’d meet him where we did before, only to find out we had no idea where that was.  He found us.

We checked into our room.  It was 4:30.  The journey had taken us 7 1/2 hours.  We felt like visiting the city (at least the part we were in) more than we did when we arrived from Niger.  That’s a longer part of the trip.  Of course we only explored the parts we could walk to, and that before dark.  So that gave us about an hour.  As I said, this part of the city is very developed and modern.  If I didn’t know from where I had just come and where I was going, but had been airlifted and dropped right on this street, I might assume I was in some city in America.  Keep in mind that my perspective is Niger….  Anyway, we spotted a little place called “Chloe’s Cupcake Heaven”.  That looked intriguing.  But I also wanted to visit the grocery store I saw.  There we purchased a few packages of Oreo’s to give as gifts (and to eat- we needed food for the trip of course).  We made our way back to Cupcake Heaven and decided to have dessert before dinner.  Scandalous.   Neal and I both had ice cream – go figure, since we were in Cupcake Heaven.  But Tobi had his eye on a peanut butter cupcake.  Then he had his mouth on it.  He gave great reviews, and the ice cream was pretty delectable too.  I didn’t have my camera, but as always when I don’t, I wish I did.  So, no pictures of peanut butter cupcakes.  Oh – on a side note, while we were in the grocery store, I saw a young white lady.  I specify that she was white because it was the first white person we had seen that we didn’t know in almost 4 weeks.  It was remarkable and we quietly commented to each other – “Hey, look!  A white person!”  Then we saw a 2nd one getting cupcakes.  What a novelty that was.

We made our way back to our hotel, had dinner (more rice and spicy red stew), then made our way to our ultimate goal of sleeping.  While we were relaxing, Neal (who has better hearing than I), heard a sound in our air conditioner.  Not a big deal thinks I, who supposes it’s a lizard.  We like lizards.  They eat mosquitoes.  But he’s not convinced it’s a lizard.  Because he can see little ‘hands’ reaching up and grabbing pieces of wood from the frame around the AC.  Lizards don’t have hands.  Rats do.  Sort of.  Lizards we can do.  Rats, not so much.  We made a call to the front desk to explain our situation.  They said they’d be right up.  I think it was close to 11pm.  Right up they were with with I think was mosquito spray.  If it had been a lizard, he would have taken care of the mosquitoes.  They explained that the place had recently been fumigated.  Good to know.  They sprayed and we thanked them.  The scratching stopped.  We knew the critter wasn’t’ dead, but hoped that he had moved on to greener pastures.

My mind was going way too fast and the wave of exhaustion that wafted over me while eating ice cream in Cupcake Heaven was gone.  The internet at this hotel was so fast and I wanted to take advantage of it.  But I knew I needed to sleep.  After almost 2 hours of working really hard at getting to sleep, I finally got up.  I got some stuff done on our website of all things.  Until 3:30 am.  Then it took probably another hour to get to sleep after that.  At least I wasn’t driving…

Six o’clock came right on time, just as I had gotten into an amazingly restful sleep.    That ended quickly as we got up, repacked the car and tried to eat breakfast but discovered it was just too early to eat.  Taxi man was there waiting to lead us out of the maze we were in.

On our way were we with a beautiful sunrise and lovely view of Zuma Rock.

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This is as far as Taxi Man needed to go.  We stopped on the road to pay him.

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The rock is big.

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So we were able to see it for a long time.

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Quite a long time.

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It looks like there’s a face etched into the face of the rock.

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Here’s a closer look.  It’s upside down.  Tobi noticed it first.

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We weren’t done with trucks.

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Or open roads.
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Or tiredness.

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Or trafficIMG_1554.

Or cities.

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OrIMG_1561 markets.

This is the only picture I got but if you look closely on the right you’ll see a small sign that says ‘Yes Fuel’.   This is because there are loads of fuel stations on the road, but only a small percentage of them actually had fuel.  Thus the sign.

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Getting closeIMG_1565 to the Nigeria/Niger border.

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Thought this was a funny truck.  Grabbed a snap even though it was in line at the border.

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When we were traveling down from Maradi to Abuja on our first day it took us 11 1/2 hours.  We made much better time today and arrived in only 9 1/2 hours.  That thanks in part to the iPad that told us where we were going with a little blue dot.  It was extremely helpful.  We knew where we needed to be and that knowledge combined with the little blue dot and we could see which way to go.  We didn’t get lost once.  And though driving through Northern Nigeria can historically be a big hairy deal, we had no problems.  My Nigerian husband (don’t worry, I didn’t get married again in Nigeria, I’m talking about Neal) is a pro at talking with the police.  One of the police even said ‘You’re the white man that speaks Hausa’.  He remembered us.  So we had no issues at police check points, no one demanding puppies or road rule books.  (see previous posts).

We are not fearful by nature, but we do like to be wise.  And that means at the very least not driving into crowds.  We got to one small city and we could see from a distance that there was a crowd.  But there was no where else for us to go.  People were obviously dressed up and heading somewhere.  The further we drove, the bigger the crowd got.  Neal kept saying, “This isn’t good.  We shouldn’t be here.”  I pointed out that this appeared to be an organized demonstration/event as there were guys in uniforms directing traffic.  Sort of.  So in spite of the excitement and Arabic banners we counted on this being something peaceful.  Maybe a party of some sort….

We were traveling behind a transport vehicle that was packed full of people.  We were in a Toyota 4Runner, but this truck was much bigger than us so the people could look down into our vehicle.   I’m guessing we looked pretty conspicuous, being white and all.  They just stared at us as I resisted the urge to whip out my camera and begin snapping pictures of whatever this was.  Because I was smart enough to know that that is the very thing that could turn an intended peaceful event into something not so peaceful (aka: Riot)  The crowd grew larger and more colorful, and finally swelled at the entrance to a big mosque, which was obviously the final destination.  For them, not us.  We were able to quietly move along.  The whole procession I’m guessing was about 2 kilometers.

Other than that little bit of excitement, our trip to the border was uneventful.  And the border was pretty uneventful too.  They remembered us and asked if we liked their country which we of course responded in the positive.  And it was true!

Tobi and I stayed in the car and I snuck this picture while waiting.  They’re writing down all our passport info by hand.

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Entering Maradi.

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We spent the night with Jonathan and Dani, our friends and fellow missionaries in Maradi.  We had a great meal (chicken enchiladas) and a quick night of fellowship.  They got an earful about our trip, as they were really the first we talked to about the amazing adventure we had been on.  Sadly, I didn’t take any pictures there either.

Fortunately I was able to increase the hours of sleep, as did Neal, and we were on our way to Niamey (home) early the next morning.

Leaving Maradi.

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This is looking more like home.

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Such a stark contrast to where we’ve just come from.

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At least they’re working on the roads…

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Now that’s the Niger I know!

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8 1/2 hours later we arrived in Niamey.

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For now, there are more mosques than churches.  But we can see what can be in a West African country.  If God can do it in Nigeria, He can do it here!  And I believe he is calling the Nigerians to help.

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Downtown Niamey.

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The Niger River in the distance.

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Our gate is straight up ahead. Under the big tree.

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Home sweet home

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We’re thankful that God ordered our steps to Nigeria and back, and I know we’ll be processing all that He did for some time to come.  We so appreciate everyone who spent time praying for us.  Prayer works and we know that is why this trip was such a great success and something we’ll always remember with great joy.  And we believe that there were seeds that were planted that will produce fruit – fruit that remains.

Missionary Journey to Nigeria – Part 8 ‘Final Days’

My last post was about our last Sunday in Nigeria.  After that, we had 5 more days before beginning our journey back to Niger.  Here’s what those days looked like.

Neal continued his last week teaching missions at ANFCBII.

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This is the road he took every morning to get there.

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The entrance.  The Bible School is on the same campus as Benson Idahosa University (BIU)  We didn’t have a chance to be involved there as they were in exams, but we hope to next time.

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Bible School classrooms on the right, University at the back.

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into all the world…

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This is also part of the Bible School.  Mostly offices.  There is a large auditorium at the back.

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Neal in the office where he spent time between classes.

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This is one of the foundations of the school.

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The Hausa class.

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French class giving Neal a gift.  During the last class, one of the students was so moved he took off his watch and rushed up while he was teaching and put it on the pulpit as a gift.  Neal was so touched.

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The students were great and so grateful for all they received from Neal’s teaching.

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The French interpreter.  Yes, that’s sweat.

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The Hausa prefect.

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Neal was blessed to preach to all the students at once in one more chapel service the day before we left.

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You may or may not understand Neal, but you can understand the reaction of the students!

He’s talking about being in position.

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He even loosened his belt!

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See and hear for yourself.

This was kind of a cool effect.  I noticed a mirror in the back and could see the front of Neal whenever he walked by it – which he did a lot.  So I decided to see if I could get a picture of it.

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I can see him from the front and back at the same time!

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The students were so responsive and cheered when Neal started and finished.

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At the end of the chapel, the faculty, staff and students prayed a powerful prayer for us!

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Then we went out for lunch to what we’ve been told is the nicest restaurant in Benin City.

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Neal & I with Rev. & Mrs. Andrew Daniels.

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It was good and we were hungry!  Can’t imagine why since we’d been eating 3 squares a day…

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This is where we ate them.  Breakfast.

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We also took some time while here to tour the Church of God Mission (CGM) international offices.  Beautiful!

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Archbishop Benson Idahosa, who now resides in heaven.  God used him to change Nigeria, Africa and the world.

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His wife and partner is the presiding Archbishop and continues the legacy of this incredible ministry.  We are so thankful to be part of this family and so appreciative of how they have hosted us so graciously in their home – even in their absence.  Next time we hope to come when they’re around.

Archbishop Margaret Idahosa (Mama)

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Their son, Bishop Feb Idahosa, is the President of Benson Idahosa University.

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Tobi and I chatting in Mama’s office.  OK, this is posed.  But it could have looked real if one didn’t notice the snicker on Tobi’s face.

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The International Office is 4 stories high and has pretty cool architecture.

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This is Pastor Blessing.  He remembers Neal’s family.  He gave us our tour.

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This is IMG_1324some of the staff from the publication department.   Fun people!

From the top floor of the offices I was able to get some good pictures of the whole complex.   This is Faith Arena – the church.

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Yes He is!

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The Buildings at the back of the photo are just part of Faith Christian Schools.  Another arm of this ministry.

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View from another side.

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One of the busses and the generator house.  The electricity is off more than it’s on so a generator is pretty standard equipment.  We were thankful for that!

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Back on the home front….I mentioned that we changed rooms and would include photos of our new diggs.  Here they are.  Here it is.  It was very comfortable.

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From the other end…
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We had lots of space.  Which was so nice.  One thing that is challenging to me with all the travel we do is not having much space.  I’m not very neat and do better when everything can have a place.  This was wonderful for my organizational addiction.   It doesn’t look particularly neat right now, but that’s only because we were getting ready to pack…

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And of course there was a lovely bathroom!

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We also took a few trips to different markets.  As you know I live in Africa.  Niger to be specific.  So an outdoor market is not an unfamiliar thing to me.  But I discovered that being a foreigner in Nigeria is much different than being a foreigner in Niger.  In Niger there are so many NGO’s (non-profit organizations) that I am only one of probably hundreds of westerners here.  So seeing faces other than African in the market isn’t that remarkable – especially here in the capital city.  That combined with the personality of people here (friendly but passive) you will find the experiences in the two places are as different as hot season and cold season.  Now consider the bold, aggressive, take charge Nigerian.  He or she is confident that you want to buy what they have to sell.  You are a target because you stick out like a white crayon in a box of colored ones.   If you’re me, you probably look like you don’t know where you’re going.  Not a good look in a market.   Our group was 6 in number, 1 of us being officially Nigerian.  I was looking for cloth.  Lace to be exact.  Lots of people sell lace.  And every one of them has a better quality then the person next to them.  To the untrained eye they all look the same…beautiful.   So thankful Augusta was with us.  After looking, finding and purchasing some lace, the other members of our group were interested in looking at soccer jerseys.  After all, Nigeria had just won the African Cup – and we were there to see it!  The jerseys weren’t in that market, but across the street.  So our small band of white crayons started very conspiculously making our way.  However there was some lace that I saw that I didn’t buy and I kept thinking about it.  We continued to walk the other direction.  I knew I would be kicking myself if I didn’t go back and get that cloth so I informed the others of my plan.  Augusta graciously said ‘OK, lets all go back in’.  It was hot and very sweaty and our time was running short. I didn’t want to waste any of it.  I assured her that I’d be fine on my own and that she should continue on with the others to the next destination.  She showed me where it was (across several ‘lanes’ of traffic on the 2nd floor of a large 2-story building) and the plan was if I didn’t see them there that we’d meet at our car.  Off I head back into the market. I’m pretty directionally challenged so thankfully the place we had been was pretty close.  Down one alleyway past seller after seller, turn left, more sellers (all wanting me to buy and telling me so), take a right – yep, more sellers and more offers to ‘just look’, another left, and now to find the lace I remember seeing hanging somewhere on the left.  Or was it on the right?  Keep in mind my directional issues.  You must understand, there are 100’s, no, 1000’s  of pieces of cloth hanging in the stalls.  I spotted my lace!  In spite of being proud of myself I attempted to maintain a calm ‘not caring if I really get it or not’ demeanor so as not to cause the price to go up.  You’d be proud.  I was.  I almost walked away.  But I did get my cloth and I did manage to make my way out of the market without getting lost – even though I came out a different way than going in.  I ‘threw my face’ across the street (that’s Nigerian English for turned my head, or looked) to see if I could see a gaggle of tall white guys + Tobi.  Couldn’t be that hard to spot in the midst of so much bright color.  Not to be seen.  So rather than make my way across the sea of people and their goods, I decided I’d just head to the car – through a different sea of people and goods.  That’s when I started to feel, well, it’s hard to describe.  I wasn’t at all fearful.  But I felt so obvious.  Like everyone was staring at me – wondering what this white lady was doing by herself in their market.  And I’m pretty sure I wasn’t imagining it.  I was the focus of attention for many.  I’m sure there were many thoughts going through many heads as I’m seen making my way through the people and ropes and gutters to get back to our car.  It was so different than in Niger.  I don’t really think twice in the market there.  Sure I get approached by sellers there in hopes that I’ll buy something but it’s different.  In Niger, I’m a dime a dozen so to speak.  But in Nigeria, I think I (we) really were a novelty.   I then began to think about it.  It occurred to me that other than the few foreigners that were there working with Church of God Mission, I realized that I had not seen one single white face since we’d been there.   Not one.  Then I began thinking why that was.  And I came to the conclusion that Nigeria doesn’t need foreigners helping them.  They are more than capable of leading and developing their own nation.  That doesn’t mean that it’s always being done the right way, but it’s not for lack of ability or resources.  That goes hand in hand with my theory that all of Africa and probably the remaining unreached world could be reached if Nigerians made a decision to do it…

But, I was talking about the market.  Anyway, I literally stood out like a sore thumb as I waited by the car for the other foreigners to arrive.  People were pleasant enough, of course greeting – but with an edge of ‘whatever are you doing in our market?’  I tried to call Neal but of course his phone was in the car – where I was standing.  They finally arrived after I’d sweated a couple of buckets, soccer jerseys in hand.  And because of Neal’s expert driving we were able to drive out of the crowded market without incident.  Quite remarkable really.

I took these pictures as inconspicuously as I could with my phone while I was waiting.

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Unloading the bread truck.

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From that market we headed to the silver man – he had some pretty stuff.  One of the benefits of living in Africa – jewelry design.

Danette with silver guy

The day before we left, I made sure to get some pictures of new friends.  Tobi had a blast with these two – Osassu and Osagie.  They are 2 of Archbishop Margaret’s adopted children.  Fun guys!

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Osagie really was quite the ham.  I think they enjoyed hanging with Tobi too.

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This is an incomplete group of guests and staff at the house while we were there.

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These 2 guys are from Tulsa and were there when we arrived.  They were on a short term trip and were involved in various aspects of the ministry – churches, university, hospital.  Michael and David.  Again, Tobi had a great time with them as well.  Kind of like having 2 big brothers!

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This is Stephen.  He was invaluable to us and our ‘go-to’ guy for whatever we needed.  Such a sweet servant.

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We were blessed with a gift from the University – we love souvenir type stuff.

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Even though soccer was usually played on Saturday mornings, I think this impromptu game was for Tobi’s sake – since we would be leaving the next morning.

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The drive (aka running track) is around the permitter of this field / home.  I reached my goal of running 3 miles before we left.   This was my view and my final run.  Well, this and the soccer match.

Sunset while running

Didn’t take pictures of packing up.  It would be nice to be home but we were feeling a bit sad about leaving.  We’d had such an amazing time.  I guess that’s how it should be though.  Leaving on a high note – wishing there was more.  And we certainly didn’t want to wear out our welcome.  God had truly blessed us and we believe there will be fruit that remains from this journey.

The next and last post about our trip will be the journey home…which is where we are now.

Missionary Journey to Nigeria Part 7 – Sunday

So, Sunday.  Our 3rd and last Sunday in Nigeria.  At least for now.  The first 2 Sundays we were in churches here in Benin City – Miracle Center and Faith Arena.  We were able to get in touch with a long time friend Rev. Matthew Okpebholo who insisted that we come to his church in Uromi.  He’s the overseer of all of the churches in the Ishan area.  That would be Sunday #3.  We were more than happy to oblige!  We arrived there on Saturday to visit and if you read my past post, that day is very well documented.

Rev. Matthew is not only a pastor.  He is a Bishop – elect.  He is a business man.  And not just any business man.  A very hard working one.  It was  such a blessing to be around him.  He is an amazing testimony of God’s faithfulness.  This is a man that has proven God’s principles.  He has been faithful, is an extremely generous giver and practices what he preaches.  And God continues to bless him.  He has built a beautiful church, as you will see.  And this is the first church I’ve attended in Africa that has air conditioning.  I wasn’t sweating in church.  That is notable.

In addition to a beautiful church full of beautiful people, Rev. Matthew has built a beautiful home.  This is where we spent Saturday night.

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One of the sitting rooms.  Pictures of their 6 children on the right wall.

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Dining room.

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Another sitting room.

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I forgot to get pictures of our room, but it was equally lovely.  So in case anyone was still thinking we have been ‘suffering for the Gospel’ on our mission trip, think again.  We have been well taken care of wherever we’ve been.

After a great night, we were excited to get to church on Sunday morning.

On our way…(it was just down the road apiece)

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Archbishop Benson Idahosa Cathedral

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The church was dedicated in 2000 and has been growing ever since.  Tobi has developed an eye closing habit for pictures – maybe because he has to pose for so many!  He’s such a good sport about it.

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This is the lobby area.

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ItIMG_1141 enters into the church.

This is the children’s hall – it’s on the 2nd lIMG_1143evel.

Neal & I with Rev. Matthew – Tobi’s there too, and some other pastors.

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The choiIMG_1171r.

Neal is being introduced.  Rev. Matthew is talking about how we live in Niger – in the desert, where no one wants to go.  He is saying that Neal’s parents are still there working – and everyone cheered.

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So Neal got up and of course greeted them all in Pidgin which as always hits the people first with shock, then awe as they see this big white man sounding like a real Nigerian.

Neal is giving testimony of the honor he received in Emu the day before – about the traditional chief’s robe he was given.  He is saying how Daddy will want it, but he will tell him that he has to come back here for  himself and get his own.

The preaching begins…

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Such a fun crowd to speak to.

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Again, IMG_1186constant motion.

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The church is both big and beautiful.

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Beautiful architecture.

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Love the slope.

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Rev. Matthew was so excited about the message he stood up and helped Neal preach some of it!

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Praying for the people.

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I hope no one gets offended by this, but I thought it was a beautiful picture.  When Neal was done, Rev. Matthew came up and also wanted to pray for the people.  Neal’s message was about being mindful of the next generation.  So Rev. Matthew told of how he has noticed that sometimes when he prays for women, they hold their breasts.  They do this because whenever they receive prayer, they are also thinking of and wanting prayer for their children.  So he said, “As I’m praying for you, hold your breasts and pray for your children.”  Now I know how this would sound in an American Church, but it was so normal here.  No pretenses, no one twisting things into something they’re not.  Just a back to the basics way of having a point of contact for your children.   That’s what you see here.

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It was youth Sunday – which happens 1 Sunday a month.  So all the youth were called up to be prayed over.

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Here we are with Rev. & Mrs. Matthew Okpebholo.  They have 6 children and 8 grandchildren.

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After the service — the parking lot.

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There are 3 story buildings to the right and left of the church – being utilized for all different ministries in the church.

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This picture reminds of what Rev. Matthew said to me as we were chatting after the service  — Referring to Neal he said – “You have a great man.”  My reply?  “I know.”

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It was another fruitful day that brought us great joy.