That Got Me Thinking…With God

Last night Neal and I got dressed up (African style) and went out. We looked pretty good! On the way to our destination, I commented that it was kind of like we were on a date.  It was a date. A date with about 3000 other Nigeriennes.  It was an evangelistic meeting with a ministry from Burkina Faso, and was organized in conjunction with the churches in Niger.  Here’s just a small part of the crowd.

IMG_2264 3

Many that came were Christians, many were Muslims, and many came out of curiosity.

IMG_2249

It wasn’t really possible to get a full crowd shot without rushing up on the platform, and as tempted as I was to do that, it may have gotten me arrested – or at least tackled.

IMG_2262

We arrived to our very own Pastor Nelson leading the praise – as only he can do.  And they had those speakers turned up loud.  I should know because we were sitting right in front of them.  After all the preliminary stuff and announcements, the Evangelist arrived.  First came the military escort vehicle, and then his vehicle.  All of the military police surrounded him as he walked to the front row and took his place.  He’s the man in the suit.

IMG_2245 2

What you may not see are all of the ‘bodyguards’.  Here’s a better shot.

IMG_2243 2

We were fortunate to sit on the front row so had a birds eye view.  Well, maybe not birds eye, but we had a view.  It was almost fascinating to watch these soldiers fan out in formation as the man of God arrived.  This guy and his ‘gear’ was standing about 6 feet in front of me.

IMG_2235

Now it’s pretty standard protocol that you never take pictures of police, military or government buildings. That’s seriously frowned on around here. So even though seeing the military police is pretty par for the course for us- as we see them around the city most days, I don’t have many pictures of them. (I’ve sneaked a few here and there but that’s a secret). Here, however, everyone had cameras, so I decided to join in the fun and snap away.

IMG_2236

The preaching was being done in 3 languages, unfortunately none of the languages we speak.  So we asked our trusty friend and master interpreter, Habibu, to sit with us and help us out.  Anyone who know’s Habibu, knows that he’s always happy to help out. Clearly.

IMG_2240

However, when the entourage arrived, Habibu looked anything but pleased.  There was even some eye rolling going on.  Then he started counting all of the soldiers out loud.  And pointing.  We had to tell him to stop pointing.  He thought it was serious overkill.

That got me thinking….I’m watching everything going on. All of our senses are involved.  It was hot, dusty, very loud and lots of interesting stuff to look at.  The only thing missing was taste.  But then I realized the dust in the air we were breathing had that covered too.

I understood where Habibu was coming from.  In our ministry, we sort of frown on big titles and positions that make one’s chest expand.  So he could not understand why the man of God needed all this protection.

And I was still thinking.  Here we are in Niger.  A nation where the vast majority of the people claim Islam as their religion.   And here they were. PROTECTING a Christian event.  An event where hundreds were giving their lives to Christ!  I can almost guarantee that every one of those soldiers was Muslim.  But they were committed to protect the man of God, and really, all those attending.  And they themselves, as ‘soldier like’ as they remained, were also hearing the Gospel.  There is no way they could turn off their ears.  I wasn’t kidding when I said it was loud.

Earlier today I was reading in Mark about the camel and the needle and things being impossible.  The disciples asked a question.  “How then can anyone be saved?”  Jesus replies, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

With God.

People are being saved in a place that once looked impossible for Salvation to penetrate. These are Muslim ladies rushing to the front for salvation.

With God.

IMG_2254

The government, in a nation that espouses everything Islam, is protecting massive evangelistic campaigns.

With God.

Hundreds ran to the front to receive Jesus.  I saw it with my eyes.

With God.

IMG_2261

It’s an amazing time to be in Niger.  We have been here for 20 years and have had the privilege to see the growth.  To see the Gospel expand.  To see the local church rise up in authority and boldness, breaking down denominational barriers.

With God.

When we arrived in 1998, we were told that there were probably about 3000 Christians.  Today, there are several hundred thousand of us.

With God.

And those were the thoughts I was having last night as I proudly watched ‘The Church’ in Niger very successfully host a mass evangelistic campaign.

The best is yet to come.

With God.

PS.  If you’d like to see a video of people rushing to the front for salvation, check out my Facebook page – Danette Goodmanson Childs

Continue reading “That Got Me Thinking…With God”

A Sunday Here, A Sunday There

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

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

IMG_3822

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

IMG_3780

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

IMG_3825

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

IMG_3748

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

IMG_3758

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

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

IMG_3789

 

IMG_3769

IMG_3768

IMG_3736

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

IMG_3739

 

IMG_3737

 

 

IMG_3818

 

IMG_3796

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

IMG_3807

 

IMG_3803

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

IMG_3812

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

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

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

IMG_3828

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seriously?

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

IMG_3822

 

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.

IMG_8361

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…

IMG_8369

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!

IMG_8372

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.

IMG_8374

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

IMG_8375

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.

IMG_8388

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.

IMG_8386

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.

IMG_8394

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.

family2

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.

IMG_2176

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

IMG_2179

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!

IMG_2180

A little bit mountainous.

IMG_2181

Landing in Abuja, Nigeria

IMG_2185

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.

IMG_2190

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

IMG_2188

 

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.

IMG_2199

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.

IMG_2192

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

IMG_2194

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.  

IMG_2193

 

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!

IMG_2195

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

IMG_2202

We’re in India!

IMG_2205

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

IMG_2206

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!

IMG_2207

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.

IMG_2209

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

IMG_2210

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.

IMG_2208

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.
IMG_2211

It felt so good to be on the ground.  Our bags came last, but they came!

IMG_2212

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.

IMG_2214

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

MVC-625F

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.

IMG_6842

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

IMG_6845

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!

IMG_0190

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

IMG_6849

Getting closer…

IMG_6851

Almost there….

IMG_6853

Finally!  Time to Praise God and rejoice!!

IMG_6857

 

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.

IMG_6860

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!

IMG_6862

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’.

IMG_6863

What a beautiful bride!  You think Sukala is pleased?

IMG_6867

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.

IMG_6872

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.

IMG_6874

Sukala’s ring.

IMG_6876

‘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).

IMG_6878

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!

IMG_6879

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.

IMG_6887

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.

IMG_6890

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!

IMG_6892

Neal’s signature.

IMG_6886

The groom.

IMG_6893

The bride.

IMG_6894

The Certificate.  It was signed by several pastors.

IMG_6901

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

IMG_6903

Here’s the official wedding party.

IMG_6902

The bride and groom and their friends presented.

IMG_6914

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!

IMG_6910

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

IMG_6915

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

IMG_6916

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).

IMG_6926

Dad

IMG_6934

Mom

IMG_6937

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.

IMG_6991

The brother.

IMG_6938

The Grandparents.

IMG_0309

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!

IMG_6933

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.

IMG_6944

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.

IMG_6929

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.

IMG_6931

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.

IMG_6939

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

IMG_6945

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.

IMG_6941

Here’s a ‘staged’ photo of them.

IMG_6943

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

IMG_6950

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!

IMG_6951

Are we really married??!!

IMG_6949

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!

IMG_6954

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