A Journey Through the Desert

We’ve made the trip between Maradi and Niamey, Niger over the last 15 years countless times.  Literally.  But I don’t believe I’ve ever dedicated a blog post specifically to the trip.  So here goes.

Niamey, the capital of Niger, is located in the south-western part of the country.  The majority of the population also lies on the southern border, known as the Sahel Region.  Not many people live up in the north, because that’s the Sahara Desert.  So this journey takes us about halfway through the country, from West to East, along the Southern border.

Niger Map

We once completed the 388 mile road trip  in 6 hours 45 minutes.  That was years ago. And I know that’s not going to win the Indy, but when compared to our longest time…. What was our longest time you ask?  Well that’s up for debate.  Do you count the trip with the 6 flat tires?  Or the one where the front tire actually flew off the vehicle?  Or what about the time the whole thing seized up and we had to leave our vehicle on the road and take public transport the rest of the way home? Or how about when the brakes went out and we had to completely turn around and go home to get them fixed and leave again the next day?   I could go on.   But I won’t.

This particular journey was just a couple of weeks ago.  We went to Maradi to celebrate the New Year.  Tanika was home visiting and hadn’t been in Maradi in a few years.  Since she spent nearly 9 years of her life there, it was time for a visit.  But I digress.  This is about the actual road trip.  Besides Neal and myself and Tanika in the vehicle, Tobi was of course with us, as well as Sukala and his new wife Rakkiya.  So the 4 of them were pretty cozy in the back seat. But the fun made up for the squishiness.  I think.

The road is always in various stages of repair and since we’ve lived here has never been completely good.  By that I mean there has always been a significant section of road that is in bad shape.  And I mean really bad shape.  Right now it’s the portion between Guidan Roumdji and Birnin’ Konni, closer to Maradi.  I can’t really say the actual distance, but it takes about 3 hours to get through it.  It shouldn’t take that long.  Fortunately, it is being worked on.  I’m trying not to notice the part of the road that is starting to deteriorate which will soon become the next really bad section.

Most of the rest of this post will be photos, most taken on our return trip to Niamey from Maradi.  But a few pics are actually from the trip to Maradi from Niamey.  Like this one.  This is the Niamey gate as we are leaving the city.  The sun is coming up.  We are driving toward the sunrise.  Pretty, but makes for a couple of squinty hours, even with sunglasses.


And now here we are on the other end.  Leaving Maradi, January 2nd, 2014 – the Maradi city gate.  We left at the same time as we did in Niamey 4 days earlier, but sunrise here is earlier.


The sun is behind us this time.


The open road.  Sort of.


All 6 of us, ready for the long journey.  Again – sort of.


This is the 2 lane road that crosses the country.


Overloaded trucks.


Often turn into this…


No potholes!  And fortunately these cows/carts were on the side.  Often, we share the road with them.


Here’s one way to move your goods across the country.


Check out the camels on the left.  Another mode of transportation.


There are countless small villages along the road.  All with their own speed bumps – usually 4 or 6 of them!


No, we weren’t off-roading.  This was a detour of sorts.

IMG_2781Hopeful signs of road construction.


On a journey like this, one does not like to hear unfamiliar noises coming from any part of the vehicle.  A couple of hours in, we heard such a sound.  And it wasn’t a good one.  First thought – a blown tire?  I can’t really describe the sound except to say it was loud and sounded like kind of a big deal.  We slowed and stopped with no problems (except for the sound).  Sukala jumped out and immediately saw the problem, which turned out not to be much of a problem at all.  The bull guard came loose/off.  Wonder how that happened?


It was a quick job to pick it up and pack it inside.


And to be on our way.


Lots and lots of trucks on the road today – both directions.  A railroad system in this country would go a long way to saving the roads!


Beggars often stand (strategically I might add) near the potholes where one is forced to slow down.


These donkey carts are pulling water that has been pulled up from a well and poured into the yellow plastic containers.


And these donkey carts are pulling what we call zanna – fences made from millet stalks.


This is the time of year that dry season farming is done.  There is no rainfall to speak of, but it is done in areas that can be irrigated.  These are onions growing.


Getting close to a town.  Various sized bags of onions being sold on the right.


Tight squeeze.  The trucks really are road hogs.  But check out the palm tree!


This is the town of Madaoua and the building on the right is the main mosque there.


More water being transported by the beast of burden.


Following trucks also causes this problem.


This little yellow sign is telling us that we get to do more off-roading ahead.


Time for a pit stop.  Boys on the left side of the road, girls on the right.  I’m guessing Tobi and Sukala didn’t know I took their picture!  =)


The ladies bathroom.


The ladies exiting the bathroom.


And now that the bladders have been relieved, its snack time.  Fried locusts!


I’m not kidding.  These guys really love them.  In fact it was a request Tanika had when she got here.  Tobi looks like he’s enjoying these bugs way too much!


Yep, my handsome husband/chauffeur loves them too.


Not me.  I’ll stick with fried fish.  (Thanks to the last team that was here!)


When homes are made out of the ground they are built on, they can be pretty hard to spot.  As can be seen (or not), by this village in the distance.  The white structure that can be seen is the village Mosque and is located in the right, front part of the village.


Some sections of the road are quite nice.  And what a view!  You should see it during rainy season.


This hill is steeper than it looks, and not everyone can make it up – even if they think they can…


This appears to be a temporary cement mixing factory…  We had to wait for the donkey cart to pass.


Another town, another mosque.


This is Galmi Hospital.  A hospital that is run by SIM, a mission organization that has been working in Niger since the 1920’s.  They have served thousands and thousands of people using medicine and the Gospel.  I actually had surgery here when I was pregnant with Tobi.


One of countless cell towers erected in the middle of nowhere.  What stood out to me was the dish covered in red dirt…Anyone got a hose?


This man is carrying a generator on his head.  Good thing, cause there is no electricity in site!


Another generator – This one will be used to run a pump to irrigate this field.


More positive signs of road work.


Getting close to another town – there are even road signs here.


More onions for sale.


Fuel stop.


And it’s full service!


This is not Quick Trip, but there are lots of things that can be bargained for – Tanika and Tobi I think were buying bread.  And check out the King Tat candy bars being held out for Tanika to consider.


Once again, thanks to our previous team, we also had M&M’s to snack on.


This camel really is owned by someone.


So are these cows.


We’re almost to the end of the bad road, but there are a few stray bad spots.


This man is carrying 20-gallon plastic containers – quite valuable they are.


The road smooths out some, and with full bellies…


This is what happens.


As long as the trip is, we can always be thankful that we’re not traveling like this!


Some villages put up speed bump signs to warn you of the impending obstacle.  That’s what the sign on the right is.


More onions!


This is a section of road that was repaired a couple of years ago.  There’s water here most of the year, but I have no idea the source.


These little boys are just having fun in their cart.


Islam, the predominant religion in Niger, is required to have beggars because they have to ‘give alms’.   So  as sad as it is, seeing beggars of all shapes and sizes is part of the culture and landscape of this nation.  This man is camped out at a speed bump, asking for those alms – or anything one wants to give him.


A church!!  There aren’t many as you make your way across the land, but there are many more than there used to be.  And they will continue to increase as we stand on God’s Word that He is giving us every place we put our feet!


This is a market place.  But it’s not market day here so it’s empty.


Yet another overturned truck.


This is one of the many, many busses we pass that transport people between cities.


For some reason tractors always make me laugh when I see them tooling down the road.


The people you see walking are students.  It’s noon, and the schools are out.  They will go back at 3pm.


Another one!


The mosques are usually the only thing in a village that gets a coat of paint.


I was kind of impressed by the artwork on this truck.


Dosso city gate!!


Yep – there are even traffic lights here!


This station looks pretty much like the first one.  We typically have to make these 2 stops for fuel, which is about $6/gallon.


Horsin’ around.


Standin’ around.


This station actually has a locked toilet that as far as I can tell is reserved for foreigners.  It flushes and has running water.  BYOT.P.  Unless of course all you need is the plastic tea kettle conveniently located.  As nice as it is, this isn’t always the best plan though,  because as opposed to the ‘bush toilet’ where everyone can go at the same time, this is a one -umm, ‘seater’,  so takes more time.


I took this picture because it’s the town of Birnin’ Gaoure, and we (Vie Abondante) have a church in this town.


This is a common way to carry babies, even on motorcycles.  There are 3 people on this one.  The little guy is tied to his Mom with a piece of cloth.


As we get closer to home, we have the option of getting fresh chicken at a ‘drive-through’.  We turned down the opportunity though, as it was a bit too fresh for me.


This mosque is made of mud hasn’t been painted.


You know those transport busses I mentioned.  These passengers got an  unplanned break.  They’re probably waiting for another bus to come and rescue them.


This one is a bit fancier.


Mango trees!  And they’re starting to bud.


The area around the mosque is kept quite clean.


I don’t know what’s inside this truck, but the all those things hanging off the sides are plastic teapots – like the kind in the fancy bathroom.  These are very common in this culture, because the Muslims pray 5 times a day, and they go through a ritualistic washing process before every prayer time.  That’s one of the main things they use these little kettles for.


Firewood is being loaded onto this vehicle.  It will likely be taken to Niamey and will be sold.  So I guess you could say this is the warehouse.


Same thing here, and believe it or not, they are going to add the firewood to that load.  There is always room for more stuff.


Getting close now.  This is the entrance to the ‘giraffe reserve’.  By entrance I mean the place you go and pay and pick up a guide.  By reserve I mean that the giraffe are protected, but as far as I know not really followed that closely.  We rely on the guides who rely on their good or not so good tracking skills.  Some are definitely better than others.   You drive your vehicle into the bush with the guide on the top, armed with a stick.  We’ve done it tons of times and it really is a pretty cool experience.   Not today though.


I like taking pictures of tractors.


The top of the van is loaded with goats.


Pretty impressive section of road.  It’s all about perspective…


Water tower.


Village well in the foreground, but hard to see unless you’re looking for it.


Outskirts of Niamey.


This is called the Peage.  This is where you pay your road tax.  You know, to help pay for road repairs and stuff.


I snuck this picture a little closer.  That’s one thing I didn’t get pictures of that are a major part of this journey.  All the checkpoints.  Not a good idea to have your camera out at these.  A checkpoint is essentially a rope that crosses the road, that is often hard to see.  But that’s ok, because you can pretty much expect them in every village.  And there are 2 types.  Sometimes they are together and sometimes separate.  One is simply checking that you actually paid your road tax.  The other one is a police checkpoint.  More often than not they just wave you on, but sometimes they want to see your papers, and sometimes they just want to chat.  Especially if they discover you speak Hausa. Over the years, I have found that almost always the people at these checkpoints are very friendly and they smile a lot.


Niamey city gate!!


The airport is off to the right.


Airport entrance.  You can see the air traffic control tower on the left.


Construction is always going on in this growing capital city.


Getting busier.


This young man is selling boxes of kleenex.  The Grand Mosque is in the distance.


There it is as we drive by.  This is the main mosque for Niamey.


Getting close to the new overpass.


Going under the new overpass.  It’s really quite fancy.


I really like those carpets on the left.  They’ve been displayed there for quite some time.  I wish someone would buy them!


Some might find this sweet or productive, but for some reason it drives me crazy!  There are several intersections in town where these little guys sneak up from behind with their squeegees and wash your windows, uninvited.  They always startle me because they just appear, even when you’re looking for them!  I think the thing that annoys me is that even if you tell them not to smear your windows, they never listen.  (And to their credit, they actually do sometimes clean them).


A bike and a car meet unexpectedly.  Unfortunately a common occurrence.


We have arrived at Sukala and Rakkiya’s house.  Unloading their stuff.  They are both from the Maradi area, and this was their first trip their since their wedding.  So they are unloading gifts they were given.  Well, that and the bull guard.


A carton of ramen noodles was one of the gifts.


Thanks for the memories.


Sukala heading into his home.


Continue on to our home.


Our road.  Our gate is right after the big tree down on the right.


Our gate.


Home Sweet Home.




Guess she missed her pillow.


More stuff to unload!


Our Christmas stuff was still there to welcome us home, but that will come down in a few days.  I think.


So, there you have it.  A trip through the nation of Niger!  It’s not for the faint-hearted.  But much can be learned about the country and the culture as you journey across this vast and beautiful desert land – especially if you have a breakdown.  Which thankfully, we did not.  This time.

Fruit The Remains – Reminiscent Thoughts

In my last post I intended to write specifically about my reminiscent thoughts during Campmeeting.  However, I went off on a very long tangent about our car breakdown on our way back from Diffa in October – so it wasn’t really about camp meeting at all.  I will now attempt to remember and record  what was going on in my head during Campmeeting weekend…

We left on a Friday morning and completed our journey uneventfully in under 9 hours.  (The uneventful part is what got me off track in the last post).  We had dinner with the Jorgensen’s and were then off to the first meeting.  It was so much fun to just ‘show up’.  Our Vie Abondante Pastors had done a great job and all the groundwork was done.  People were in from the villages, they were all registered, sleeping arrangements were made, seating was all set up, lights were lit, food was prepared for the hundreds gathered there,and sound and instruments were ready.  The only thing we had to do was help put up the banner.  And that’s only because we brought it with us.  I found myself just looking around grinning at the gathering crowd.  Of course I loved seeing all the children in from the villages that were part of kids camp,  held in this same place.  Most of them had on their camp shirts.

I’ve already written about the events and speakers of Campmeeting.  You may remember the theme was ‘Fruit That Remains’.  But looking around at all those people – all those children – it really got me thinking.   Is my life producing fruit that remains?  Because if it’s not, what’s the point?  Really.

I may have been feeling somewhat melancholy partly because I was a bit under the weather.  That always puts me in a pensive mood.  As great as the evening was I felt worse as time went on.  I was somewhat suspecting I might have malaria but since I didn’t have the typical symptoms (severe headache, high fever), I kept ignoring that.  To be honest, I’d been feeling rather ‘yucky’ for a few weeks.  That’s probably why I just kept going – yucky became my new normal.  Maybe it’s because Maradi was colder, or maybe it was the long journey, but I definitely felt extra yucky.  I knew Dani (missionary colleague) had malaria testers so I went to her place after the meeting.  She pricked my finger and sure enough the little tester showed up positive for malaria.   In Niger, Malaria is one of those things that is par for the course.  It’s not that we expect to get it – as we believe we walk in divine health – but it does show up from time to time.  As terrible as it is (one of the leading causes of death here), it’s not all that ominous if treated properly.  The reason so many people die of malaria is either because they can’t afford an effective treatment ($6-$10), or their immune systems are non-existent because of malnutrition (which is also a financial issue).  Since we are in Niger long term, we have chosen not to take any prophylaxis (preventative) just because of possible long term side effects.  So we are always on the ready to treat for Malaria if symptoms arise – even if we can’t be tested.

Well as I said, I didn’t have the typical malaria presentation.  I’m kind of weird that way though.  I’ve actually tested for malaria 3 times and every time the test is positive.  There have been a couple of other times I treated for it without being tested because I actually had the ‘normal’ symptoms and was in bed.  The times I’ve tested positive I was just not feeling right and I went on like that for awhile…weeks.  What I need to do is test when I’m healthy to make sure I test negative!

Anyway….back to Friday night.  Positive test – start treatment.  ‘Treatment’ sounds complicated but it’s easier than a course of antibiotics.  It’s just 2 pills for 3 days.  Went to bed.  Felt worse on Saturday morning but was determined not to miss the meetings.  After all that is why we made that 9 hour journey!  And I really dislike missing out on stuff that everyone else is experiencing.    Apparently I looked worse as well – judging by the comments and compassionate (pitiful) looks people were giving me…Made it through the 4 hour meeting and was glad I was there – even if I was thinking about a bed.  Went back to our room at the Jorgensen’s where we were staying and slept.  I really wanted to go to the evening meeting.  Neal highly recommended I stay home.  I thought maybe if I just got there, I could sit and enjoy what was going on, even if I couldn’t participate much (in our church – participation is required!).  Departure time 15 minutes and I still hadn’t made up my mind.  Neal left the room, ready to go.  I suddenly made a decision to go.  I began getting ready – putting on my camp meeting clothes – and it was during that process that I realized the fever must really be affecting something in my brain if I thought I could  go to the service.  I was sweaty and out of breath by the time I got dressed and had to sit down.  What was I thinking?  Neal walks back into the room and sees me sitting there, dressed,  and says, “You’re going?”  I just said,  ‘No, I just felt like getting dressed so I could be there in spirit.’  Then I told him he was right and that as much as I hated it, I’d stay home.  The main reason for my decision (other then feeling like I was going to pass out just by the act of getting dressed) was because I was the first speaker for the next morning, and I wasn’t going to miss that!  The hardest part was when everyone was leaving and I was left at home – alone.  I decided to do what I never do by myself – I watched a movie!  It felt funny at first knowing everyone else was in church, but it passed the time and kept my mind off of, well, whatever.  Why didn’t I just sleep you ask?   The ‘treatment’ affects people differently but for me – there’s some insomnia involved.  Nice, I know.  Feel cruddy, can’t sleep.  Thus, the movie.

The troops returned with reports of a great meeting – even without me there- and  off to sleep we went.  And I was actually able to sleep.  Sunday morning I woke thanking God that I was feeling much better- not 100%, but much better.

My message for that morning was ‘Preparing the soil’.  I started out with Psalm 127 – Our children are a heritage from the Lord.  A heritage is something precious that is passed down.  I even brought a beautiful silver teapot that had been passed down to us from Neal’s Grandparents via his parents.  Now Tobi is wondering if he’s going to get it!  When we consider our children as precious gifts, we need to care for them accordingly.  And part of that care is preparing their soil to be able to receive and grow good seed.  A seed is a seed no matter how you look at it.  If you plant a seed in good soil, it will grow.  But that same seed planted in bad soil won’t produce anything.  So we have to make sure the soil (heart) of our children is good!  That was the overall ‘gist’ of my message.

Neal and I have been talking about being generation minded for quite a few months now.  It’s really been on our hearts.  Maybe because we’ve been in Niger for quite awhile.  Or maybe it’s because we’re getting older and realize the time to make our life count is getting shorter with every day.  Or maybe it’s simply because of the command Jesus gave us when he told us to go and bear fruit – fruit that remains.  John 15:16   Well all that talk got me missing my kids.   We  have 3 of them – but 2 are now in the U.S.  Being in Maradi always makes me miss them more because that’s where they grew up.  Now that the youngest is nearly 13, I’m wishing we would have had more.  Because they are our seed.  Our fruit.

Neal and I began reminiscing about our kids because we really were missing them.   The fact that I had malaria didn’t help.  That always makes me a bit melancholy. I almost felt myself wanting to get panicky because Tobi is growing so fast. Being in Maradi, we talked about our days living here, when the kids were little.  Though they are great kids, they were not without challenges.  But those challenges could always be met with prayer and God’s Word.  And that’s not just a ‘pat answer’… it’s the truth.  The older the kids got, the more we realized the power of prayer in their lives.  We were thinking about the amount of time they consumed, that they sometimes made us crazy, and sometimes they made us downright furious.  Then Neal said – ‘But our kids were fun.  Even during those times.  I can’t imagine life without them.’  And it’s true.  We would be different people today if we didn’t have these treasures that had been gifted to us.

So now we are working on transitioning to a new phase in our life.  I don’t want to mourn the loss of childhood but I want to embrace with joy what my kids are becoming.  I rejoice in seeing them walk out the plan and purpose for which God created them.

And if anyone is wondering about our kids…

Tobi is 12 and is an amazing young man who loves people and loves God more.  He even has his own page on this blog.

Tanika is a wonderful 20 year old sophomore at Oral Roberts University.   Her unique personality includes both compassion and a tell-it- like-it- is truthfulness. She draws both children and adults and is  studying Special Ed/Early Childhood Development – she was made for this!

Trae is a 21 year old new graduate (this month) of Oral Roberts University with a degree in International Community Development and a minor in Business.  He was married this past summer to the amazing and beautiful Christi Dunagan (now Childs) and together they are pursuing God’s plan for their lives.  (Another reason to rejoice – I wanted more kids, now I have one!)

Enjoy your children as the treasure they are!

From Famine to Flood:The Niger River

We live in the desert.  In Niger.  Where drought is a way of life.  I’ve heard it referred to as ‘the forgotten famine’.  We’ve heard it said that every year is a famine year in Niger, it’s just that some years are worse than others.  Like this year.  Here’s just a snippet of an article I came across:

In markets all over Niger, hungry people are selling hungry animals for half their normal value, giving up on the milk and money of tomorrow so that their children can eat today. Their plight is a sign of how far the economy of the desert has broken down, leaving its people unable to feed themselves in drought after drought. abcnews.go.com

Niger has received quite a bit of press this year because of the drought. But we are in the news once again  – but not because of drought.  Because of flood.  Yep.  Flooding in the desert.

It seems that the Niger river is the highest it’s been in recorded history.  We are in rainy season, so the river is expected to grow.  But when it grows from this:

to this:

…in a very short period of time, well, that’s just too much water.  That, and the fact that the dikes around here have broken…

Rivers are sources of life.  Cities, towns and villages are built around rivers because of all they offer. They provide some industry.  They’re beautiful.  It’s cooler on the river.   In fact I can’t count the number of times Neal has told me how much he’d love to build a house on the river.  Almost every time he looks at it I’d bet.   And he says it like he’s saying it for the first time.  But then there’s that pesky  flooding issue.  I know some places are expected to flood regularly and life has prepared for that.  But here in the desert, one does not expect serious flooding to be the norm.  However, this year, the Niger River here in Niamey has burst the dikes and burst its banks.  According to reports, 65 people have been killed and over 125,000 are homeless.  And I’m sure those numbers  have increased.  There’s nothing pesky about that.

It doesn’t matter if you possess a little or a lot.  Losing everything is everything.  And I would daresay that if what you lost was ‘little’, replacing that may be more difficult than if you had ‘a lot’.  That’s just my analysis.

I didn’t take any of these flood pictures.  But they were all taken in Niamey by my Facebook friends.  (Hope you guys don’t mind me using them here -Lisa Rohrick, Nancy DeValve, if I missed you, let me know and I’ll add your name).  But most of these are just the areas near the bridge.  Down or Up river there are neighborhoods that were wiped out.

Could you carry your bed in a flood?

Here, the bank of the river is ‘normally’ on the right side of the boat.

The flooding has not only affected the people in Niger that we are here to serve.  It has also affected those that are here to serve.   Though there were many affected and I’m sure I don’t know the half of it, those I’m referring to here are the missionaries and Nigerienes who are Sahel Academy.   S.A. is where our kids have attended school since we have lived in Niamey.  Trae and Tanika have both graduated from there.  Tobi has been a student there since 1st grade.  It’s a beautiful school with wonderful and godly people that teach and serve our children.  The school has provided many memories for our kids and for us as well.  Here are some of the things that have taken place over our years associated with Sahel Academy.

Tobi with his friends at a banquet.

Tanika with John at a banquet.

More banquet…

The famous Casa del Burrito  – senior fundraiser and best (and only) Mexican Restaurant in town!

Open for business.  More chips anyone?

Then there was the Medieval Festival.  Tobi and Micah have grown a bit since then.

Mr. Ben  teaching Tobi the ins and outs of bow-hunting.

Then there are graduations.

Trae’s class. 2009

Ms. James giving Trae his diploma on The Green.

Tanika sang at Trae’s graduation.

And Tanika’s class – 2011.  Same place.  Different year.

Trae sang at Tanika’s graduation with Chantelle and Joy.

Tanika sang at her  grad too – with Julie and Eli.  I know, it’s all rather confusing.  But it’s fun!

Even those in our ministry were a part of Sahel events.

And of course I can’t leave out all the NUTS Softball tournaments that Neal and Trae played in together – and Neal continues to play.

I’m showing all these pictures not just for the sake of all the memories that have been made on this campus, but also to show what Sahel looked like before the Niger River decided to join it.  The following pictures were taken in the last few weeks, after the river swelled and the dike broke.

This is Sahel Academy today.  Again, these are not my pictures. I really had no desire to go and see the flooding.  Pictures were enough.  I know it’s real, but I’d rather not see it ‘in person’ at the moment.


Brian & Kathy Bliss, the school directors, canoeing to get around campus.  Their home, along with lots of other missionaries, are here as well.  To be exact, 53 people from the mission community were displaced.  Proud to know them and their smiles.

An elementary classroom.

Classroom buildings.

Dining Hall and High School Building.

This is the new administration building on campus.  Many of us have canoed on the Niger River, but never this close to the school!

Inside the administration building.

There’s more than one way to go canoeing.

Toilet paper commercial?

This is Centre Biblique, an SIM compound right next to Sahel Academy.  It was also flooded and many displaced.

Music room.

Enter the community.  Quite an amazing community.  Every Sunday evening here in Niamey there is a NEWS service.  No – not the communication of newly received information variety – but NEWS: Niamey English Worship Service.  Sunday, August 26th, a ‘town hall’ meeting preceded the regularly scheduled NEWS.  It’s location had to be changed though, because the services are usually held at Sahel Academy, which we know is now part of the Niger River.   The discussion was about what has happened, and what to do from here.

Because a large percentage of NEWS attendees are in some way involved with or touched by Sahel Academy and Centre Biblique, one might have expected a sober atmosphere.  But what we found when we got there was a spirit of ‘rallying’.  In spite of the fact that life as we know it for many has dramatically changed, there was a ‘with God,  we will pull up our boot straps, work hard, and see what He’s going to do for us’ attitude.  And the evening’s discussion didn’t only include talking about what we need to do to find homes for our missionaries and a location or locations to start school, there was a big emphasis on what needed to be done for the nationals involved in the school as well as the help that needed to be provided for the many Nigerienes who had lost their homes.

To be honest, what has happened has not affected me directly.  Indirectly, yes, but not directly.  In fact this year we are even homeschooling Tobi.  That decision was made almost 2 years ago so has nothing to do with these events.  So the flooding of the school isn’t affecting the education of our child.  And I haven’t lost anything in the flood.  Not one thing.  I haven’t heard of any of our church members that have lost homes either.

But I can relate on some level to what has happened.  No, I’ve never lost my home in a flood.  But I have been a part of pouring my whole heart into something and seeing it destroyed.  I’m thinking specifically of when our church and bible school compound in Maradi was burned.   Almost completely destroyed.  We had only been in the country for 2 1/2 years before dedicating the new church God helped us build.  And in one day, one hour really,  it was gone.  That’s a whole long, victorious story by itself.  But it was painful in the beginning.

We were reminded once again that when you are doing what God calls you to do, there will be opposition.  Many are the afflictions of the righteous.  So often we think when challenges and problems occur, it’s God ‘closing a door’.  I beg to differ.  There is an enemy out there that is working overtime to stop us from fulfilling God’s call on our lives.  In our case it is to plant churches among the unreached and disciple the new believers.  But that verse in Psalms doesn’t stop there.  It goes on to say ‘but the Lord delivers him out of them all’.  ALL.  The attack on our church that day felt personal.  We’d come to a foreign land and poured our heart and soul into the people.  And for that we get attacked and burned out?  But through the pain of that, one of my very first thoughts was ‘the enemy is going to so regret what he’s done here today…’.  And so he has.  That attack provided us lots of free advertising and raised our ministry to a new level.  The opportunities to witness were everywhere.   People were coming to us.  When stopped at checkpoints while traveling through the country, we would be asked if we had any tracts on what we believed.  Someone once stopped Neal in the market saying that he saw him on TV, saw what happened and wanted to know why he was smiling while smoke was going up all around him.  And – God not only provided enough for the church and compound to be built back, but to be built bigger and better!  I’d say God delivered us.  Press on.

So while we’re looking at a tragedy, God is working and will deliver.  Just as our church not only recovered but grew, God will do some amazing things through this event.  If we trust him.  The missionary community has already shown great trust in the Lord by the way they have responded.  Our churches and pastors have visited some of the schools where the displaced people are staying.  We are giving out food and clothes along with the preaching of the Gospel.  Before giving out boxes of food, our Pastor Zabeyrou preached about the love of God.  It wasn’t without chaos, but still, the Word of God was preached.

I remember that outdoor Sunday night NEWS service 2 weeks ago.  We stood and sang Great is Thy Faithfulness and I’m sure some were shedding tears as we looked at the beautiful, flooded river peacefully flowing by.

Great is thy faithfulness                  

Oh God my Father

There is no shadow of turning with Thee

Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not

As thou has been thou forever wilt be.

Press on.  Your deliverance draweth nigh!!!

Tanika Turns Twenty

Today Tanika turned twenty – at 12:04am CST to be precise.   Here she is, in her element.

I wrote the following ‘speech’ for Tanika’s high school graduation banquet last year – with a few pictures sprinkled in.  I thought it summed up pretty well who she is.  Next week she’ll be starting her sophomore year at Oral Roberts University (ORU).  I know. I know.   Time goes by so, so fast.  Can she really be 20?  We are proud.  Can’t wait to see what the future holds for her.  Because I know who holds her future.

Here she is with her brothers – Trae and Tobi.

June 9th, 2011

Dear Tanika,

“It’s the Fall of 1992 and I’m at the hospital sitting next to the isolette that holds your 1 ½ pound body and I’m reminding you of Psalm 118:17 – You will live and not die and proclaim what the Lord has done.  What I’m really doing is reminding myself, because we’ve been given the worst prognosis by the doctors.  They have told us that statistically it is highly unlikely that a baby born 4 months premature can survive.  They tried to encourage us by saying that if you did survive, you would have cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and if you ever went to school, it would be in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank.  As I sit there longing to hold you but not able to because of all the machines you’re attached to, I try to picture what you’ll be like grown up – fulfilling God’s call on your life.”

You were nearly 2 months old when I was finally able to hold you.  Check out how big my hands are compared to her body…

Look at you now.

“Have we ever told you how stubborn you are?  I haven’t figured out whether God gave you that character because He knew you’d need it to survive, or if it was developed as you fought to live.  You have a unique combination of compassion and intolerance.  That, together with your stubbornness makes for quite a personality.  To most, your compassion is evident – the stubbornness doesn’t show up though unless someone gets to know you well.  Remember the time you kept cabbage in your mouth for hours, me refusing to let you spit it out and you refusing to swallow?  A battle of the wills.”

If this doesn’t say stubborn…

“But what a heart for the lost you have.  When we started raising support to come to Niger you were 4.  You prayed every night that we would get enough money so we could tell people about Jesus.  Remember when, after only being in Niger for a few months you overheard me witnessing to one of the young boys that played in our compound every day.  After Sani left, you said ‘So Sani is a Christian now, right?’  I was surprised, but had to explain that no, he hadn’t made a decision yet to follow Jesus.  Your 5 year old heart was so distraught and you were almost angry with me.  You said “but you told me that we were coming here to tell people about Jesus.  He knows about Jesus now!”  You were upset the rest of the day – even in tears telling Grama that Sani was going to hell.”

“Do you remember your 7th birthday?  We had planned a party with several of your friends.  During the party, we asked the guard to keep the gate closed.  Children kept on coming and he kept on letting them in.  As the numbers grew, we finally told the guard we were serious about the gate – but he told us that all the children coming said that Tanika had invited them.  Indeed you had.  That day we saw the miracle of multiplication and there was enough food and prizes for everyone.”

“I could literally write a book about all the things God has brought you through and saved you from.  There is no doubt that we serve a miracle working God.  You are proof.   The doctors even say so.  We are fully convinced that God has an amazing plan for your life.  He has things in store for you that even you can’t imagine.  But as we have always taught you, those things will only come to pass as you fully give your life to Him.  We are sure that your heart desires to serve your Lord.  Remember though that it’s a decision that you have to make daily.  Daily take up your cross to follow Him – no matter what the world says.  Because when you live in obedience to His Word – the blessings that He has for you?  Well, you won’t have room enough to contain them.

We love you and your stubbornness so much, and can’t wait to see how the next chapter of your life unfolds as you seek God First!!

So as I reminisce about the hours and days and weeks and months we were with you in the hospital all I can say is ‘Look what the Lord has done.’  Look at you now.  You will proclaim the glory of the Lord.”

Love,  Mom & Dad

Happy Birthday Tanika!  I love you!

Tanika: Fill in the blank.

Tenacious.  Determined (aka stubborn).  Compassionate.  Beautiful. Impulsive. Unassuming. Real. Unique. Candor.  Spiritual. Scattered. Strong.  Stubborn. Did I already say that?  I could go on…

Isn’t that what comes to mind when you look at this picture?  I’ve been missing Tanika and thinking a lot about her, so I decided to write about her.  That’s one of the areas we’re similar.  We both like to write when we feel emotional – good emotions or bad ones.  This is a girl that still writes and sends snail mail.  So if you need a real pen pal, get in touch with her.

I’m sure I’ve shared before in this blog the testimony of Tanika’s life.  She was born at 24 week s – 1 pound, 7 ounces.  The docs gave her a 20% chance of survival but warned us that if she lived, she would have cerebral palsy, and if she ever attended school, it would be in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank.  That’s ‘if’ she lived.  We knew what God’s Word said about our children being blessed, and that report didn’t sound blessed, so we began believing God for her to be completely restored to health – the way God created us.  Whose report are you going to believe?  We shall believe the report of the Lord!

Here’s Tanika when she was 8 months old.

Jump ahead 19 years.  God gave us our miracle.  She is alive and very well.  It’s not been without many battles.  I could write  volumes.  But God continues to give us victory.  To give her victory.

One of the things that Tanika continues to believe God for is the complete restoration of her sight.  Because of the prematurity, she had a detached retina among other eye issues.    Her visual issues are not noticeable unless you are around her for a length of time, or you see her reading or watching TV.  She has adapted amazingly well, even though she is considered legally blind.  She’s always been told she won’t be able to drive.  Before she left for college, her dad gave her a driving lesson.  When she had her eye appointment this past August, her doctor told her that she should talk with him about some specific eye tests if she was interested in driving.  That may not sound like a big deal – but it really is.  Because when we were told she wouldn’t drive, we were also told that there was nothing more that could be done medically for her situation.  Only that it needed to be checked regularly be make sure things didn’t worsen.  So a report that driving is even a remote possibility – well, that’s a miracle.

We know Tanika believes as the Bible says that first, faith is now.  It is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not yet seen.  Tanika is hoping for her vision to be restored, even though we have not seen that with our physical eyes.  Yet. She also knows that faith without works is dead.  Well, let no one ever accuse Tanika of not taking steps of faith.  Here is the latest one.

Making friends for Tanika has never been difficult.  I remember a birthday party here in Niger – I think it was her 7th.  We had invited a group of kids for her party and planned food/cake/gifts accordingly.  We weren’t surprised when children kept coming to our gate, wanting to come in.  We were surprised that our guard was allowing them in.  We finally told him he had to stop letting kids in.  He then told us that the children were all showing up, dressed in their best, and came because Tanika invited them.  Indeed she had.  I think a good percentage of the Maradi children were at her party that year.  But I digress…  Back to her latest step of faith.

Was I surprised when Tanika, (who is now a freshman at Oral Roberts University),  told me about helping her new blind friend run her 2 mile field test?  No.  It was then that she told me about Sarah.  Sarah was born prematurely like Tanika, and had the same eye condition, but it left her completely blind.  Tanika told me that she likes being around Sarah because she’s fun, but she doesn’t feel sorry for her at all.  (I believe candor is one of the words I used to describe Tanika).   Here they are together.

Here’s the amazing, hilarious, fantastic part of the story.  And Tanika, you can correct me if I don’t have all the facts right.  Sarah’s parents have provided her with a golf cart to get around on campus.  Of course she would need a driver.  Well guess who Sarah’s driver is on Thursdays.  Do we need a drum roll?  None other than Miss ‘you’ll never drive’ Tanika Childs.  I’m totally serious.  I don’t think Tanika even realized the significance of her being the designated driver.    She didn’t write or call and say “Hey Mom.  Guess what!?  I’m driving a golf cart for my blind friend!”  In other words, I don’t think she saw it as that significant of a thing.  Does she really realize what a step of faith this is?  But however the opportunity presented itself, I’m also sure she didn’t say, “Well, I can’t see very well myself, so I’m sorry, but I’ll have to pass”. Maybe she did realize it was a step of faith…I suspect that she never even considered the irony of her driving around a blind young lady.  The way I found out about it was really funny though.  Tanika wrote an email telling me that she was having a frustrating day.  One of the frustrations was that while she was driving the golf cart – on her way to pick up Sarah I believe,  she got stuck.  I’m sorry Tanika, but at that point, I was already laughing.  I know the ORU Campus and Tanika is one of the few that could get a golf cart stuck on a sidewalk.  Thanks so much for the belly laugh!!!  She called security for help, but that took some time.  I can’t remember how she resolved the situation, but we were laughing crocodile tears when she finally told us that it ended up that it wasn’t really stuck, but was in neutral so she couldn’t get it to go.  But a little grace here…how could she, an inexperienced driver, know what neutral was?  What a girl!  What a faith-filled girl.  I think of a song I knew from years ago…

“Faith without works like a song you can’t sing,
It’s about as useless as a screen door on a submarine…”

Now I’m in Maradi – we’re here for an evangelistic outreach/crusade that is happening next week.  We lived in this city for 9 years so Trae and Tanika really ‘grew up’ here.  Did I mention Tanika makes friends easy?  I’ve been around the town since I’ve been here – to several places.  In every place I’ve gone, without fail, people have asked me about Tanika.  I reply  “Oh!  Ku san Tanika?”  (You know Tanika?)  They say, “Mu san ta sosai.  Kai, tana da Hausa kwarai – fiyyada ki.”  (We know her so well.  She has very strong Hausa.  Better than you.”) Thanks.

Tanika, you have made your mark.  You make your mark wherever you go.  And the mark you will make is so much greater than anything you can even imagine.  Because the Lord has chosen you and called you for a purpose.  His purpose.  I love you.