A Vacation for the not-so-faint-of-heart: Part 2

I guess I’m in a ‘writing in parts’ phase.  But I promise, this saga will not be 10 parts long.  I don’t know how long it will be.  Maybe it’ll be 11!  Won’t know until I write it.  I’m the type of writer that doesn’t write with a plan or an outline.  I just write.  Some might call it rambling.  Whatever it is, it’s me.

OK, so we were getting ready for Day 2.

Our plan, as is usually our plan when we travel to Benin, is to see Rev. Joseph and Joy Nwobodo and minister in their church.  Neal met Joseph in a conference he was speaking at in Cotonou, Benin several years ago, and we’ve been friends ever since.  We’re like family now.  So the plan was for all of us to spend the weekend in Cotonou, Benin’s capital – in the capable hands of Joseph and Joy.  What a great weekend it was.  But I digress – let’s get back to the journey.

Check out the palm trees!  Now that’s what I call tropical!

There were a few issues along the way – what a bummer.

Cotonou!

What a city!

Here we’re following Pastor Joseph to the hotel.

That evening we had an INCREDIBLE meal at an African restaurant – I think one of Pastor Joseph’s favorites.  So much food!  From salad with avocados to cous cous, rice, fries, fried turkey, fish – I could go on.  (On a side note, I don’t think I’ve mentioned how I couldn’t wait to get to the beach to eat avocado and pineapple.  So I was pretty excited about the avocado salad) We were stuffed!  Back to the hotel we went for the night.  As is frequently the case in I would guess many large cities in west African countries, the water was out.  The AC’s worked in some rooms and not so much in others.  But Pastor Joseph was all over it and made sure we stayed cool and had water.  He even hauled  20 gallon containers of water up 2 flights of stairs himself.  Sadly, I didn’t take any pictures at the restaurant or the hotel.  Don’t know what I was thinking…it’s just not like me.

Sunday morning bright and early, Joseph and Joy arrived with trays of tea, coffee, juice, bread and jam.  So sweet.  Neal was slated to preach at Kingdom Life Glory Mission’s 9th Anniversary service.  Quite a privilege.  We had also been there for their 5th anniversary.

Here’s Rev. Joseph Nwobodo

And his beautiful wife, Rev. Joy

The music was awesome!  Here’s the worship leader, band and choir.  I’ve tried hard to upload a 30 second video so you could hear it for yourself, but so far no success.  Our internet…

Before Neal preached, each of us shared testimonies with the people. Including Tobi.  He was so cute, and so nervous, but he did great.  Again – I FORGOT MY CAMERA!  I was so annoyed with myself.  And Tobi and Neal were even dressed alike – unplanned.  At least a few pictures were taken by others and I was able to get some of them.

Here’s me.

And Neal

Here’s part of our team.

The ladies.

The Guys

At the end, to celebrate the anniversary, we ALL got to be part of the cake cutting.

After the service, there was another incredible meal.  Yep.  More food.  Again, sadly, no pictures.  But trust me, it was good!

It was quite the lovely day.  Back to the hotel to rest and after that a trip to the beach with Pastor Joseph and his family (they have 5 wonderful kids).  That was the plan.  However….

They met us at the hotel at 5pm.  We’re all excited – finally – we’re going to see water.  You see where we live, we are surrounded by ‘beach’, but water is seriously lacking in the Sahara Desert.   We’re tooling down the busy streets of Cotonou, everyone crammed into 2 vehicles so as to cut down on the challenges that ensue when cars have to follow each other in the kind of traffic that lives in Cotonou.  We’re following Joseph.  Suddenly, our vehicle just stops.  What does one do when that happens?  We kind of looked at each other and said ‘Huh’.  By we I mean Neal and Don in the front and Jess, Erin, Kerrianne and myself squished into the back.  All 8 of our white (soon to be tan) legs were a scary sight all stuck together in the backseat.  Scary to us because in Niger, shorts attire isn’t very common – and would never be worn in public.  So we were trying to get used to ourselves in shorts.  It was quite humorous really, as 2 of us are tall and the other 2 of us – not so much.   Someone did take a picture of that, but I don’t have it.  Probably a good thing….

We managed to push the 4Runner to the side of the road in  spite of traffic (thankfully pretty light it being a Sunday night) and opened the hood.  The men in our group looked into the engine to see if there were any obvious issues.  By this time Joseph realized we were no longer trailing him and he turned around and joined the men – staring at the engine.  The oil seemed low so we added some.  Turned the ignition and what a wonderful sound when we heard it come to life.  Off we went.  The beach.  We girls all breathed sighs of relief (I know this since we were crammed together in the back seat) since the next day the plan was to get to our beach location and plant ourselves there for 5 days.  And vehicle issues would put a definite crimp in the plan.  We got 1/2 mile or so and again – we came to a halt – not a screeching one, but a slow ‘the engine just died’ kind of halt.  Once again, we all found ourselves standing around the vehicle, wondering what the ramifications might be.  I must say, everyone was very upbeat and positive about the whole thing.  No complaining – at least nothing that was out loud.  I’m big enough to admit that I was complaining in my head though!  And praying.  We were all doing that.  And we were realizing how fortunate we were that this happened where it did and not somewhere on one of the roads you saw in Part 1 of this post.

You must realize that having a vehicle issue this far from home – another country (far from your own trustworthy mechanic), can be a big wahala (problem).  Especially if you yourself don’t know much about vehicles.  And since you stick out like a sore thumb – a target of sorts – the mechanic will see you as  fresh meat, as an opportunity really, and will be strategizing as to how much he can get from you.  He may even thank God for sending you his way.  Not kidding.

We were thanking God for Pastor Joseph!  He immediately got on his cell phone and dialed his trusty mechanic, Ben.  Remember, it’s Sunday evening.  But Ben, from wherever he was, showed up to where we were.  And instead of having to pay big bucks for a tow, Joseph took Don to the hotel to get his vehicle and we were able to tow our 4Runner with his Explorer.  And by ‘we’ here, I mean the mechanic and his assistant.  It was a treacherous drive let me tell you.  I was in the ‘towee’ vehicle and the rope that attached us to the ‘tower’ couldn’t have been more than 4 feet long.   At night.  In traffic. In a very busy city.  With lots of big trucks.  Since the 4Runner was not on, of course the steering and breaks don’t really operate.  Needless to say, it’s not something I’d like to do again.  But I would.

Anyway….

We got the sick 4Runner to the ‘hospital’ and Joseph assured us that he had complete confidence in ‘Dr’. Ben and that the truck would be perfectly safe.  Good.  It would sleep there, we would sleep at the hotel and Ben would be back in the morning to make an assessment.  I should add here that Pastor Joseph was very insistent that Ben get the job done quickly.  Very insistent.

All this took place over a period of a couple of hours so it was now dark.    The beach option was out.  Next best thing?  Ice cream and pizza of course!  So off we went.  All the kiddos, Tobi included, had been so patient through it all – they deserved it, right?

Here we are – enjoying our ice cream….

…and pizza!

The kids really were with us – they were just sitting away from the adults.

Monday morning we all went to visit the 4Runner.

Here are some of her insides.  And I gotta be honest – at this point I was wondering if the beach was really going to be a reality…

This did not invoke confidence that hitting the road would happen today.

Here Dr. Ben is giving Neal the down low – at least trying to.  Language barriers are such a pain!

But wait!  There’s the pineapple lady!

Pineapple anyone?  Fresh Pineapple!!?

She was seriously good at cutting it up.

So while we waited for the news…we enjoyed more pom pom and pineapple.

And I mean enjoyed it!  Everyone had their own and paid about $.20 each.  Peeled and sliced.  Somehow, it made the waiting so much nicer.

That boy is carrying a radiator on the motorcycle.

Wait!  That’s OUR radiator!

Stay tuned til next time and find out if the beach remained a dream or became a reality…

A Vacation for the Not-so-faint-at heart.

We went on vacation.  But it wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill ordinary type family vacation.  No siree.  Nothing boring and average for us!  Our final destination was Grand Popo, Benin.  The beach – ocean included.  We’ve been there before, so we knew what was ahead.  Sort of.  It’s a 2 day drive over pot-hole infested roads – dirt and otherwise.  We started out on Friday morning, March 23rd.  Day 1 would consist of a 10 hour or so drive to Parakou, Benin .

Map of Benin Español: Mapa de Benin
Here's Benin. Niger is the large country directly to the North. Parakou is about 1/3 of the way down. Final destination was the coast.

By ‘we’ I mean Neal & I and Tobi, Don, Erin, Jessica & Kerrianne.  We drove our Toyota 4Runner and Don drove his Ford Explorer.

Leaving Niger — it’s obviously very dry and dusty.

VERY Dry and Dusty.

Off-roading anyone?

Or how about off-roading while on the ‘road’?

We’re getting close to the Niger/Benin border.

And here it is!  The bridge in the distance connects the 2 countries.

That building on the right is immigration – but I need to put the camera away so I don’t get into trouble!

Crossing the bridge into Benin.

The road is still ‘interesting’ on the other side, but it’s getting greener!

Jessica and Tobi chomping on the chocolate chip cookies!

Now that’s a road!

Getting closer to our destination (for Day 1).  That’s tapioca being sold on the side of the road.

And Pineapple!

Parakou!  It’s moving day for someone here.

The green and yellow guys are motorcycle taxis.

The SIM missionary guest house!  So thankful for this and other guest houses for missionaries all over.

Lovely place after our long journey.

We found a place to eat dinner, then someone in our party (who shall remain nameless except to say that he is the biggest among us) really wanted ice cream.  After all, we are on vacation!  So the search begins.  Our diligence paid off and we scored 2 containers of very tasty vanilla ice cream.  The 2 ‘containers’ amounted to maybe 2 cups of ice cream.  So we had to get creative.  We found some pom pom – a soft drink that we always enjoy getting when we’re in Benin.  It’s sort of an apple/cream soda blend.  We made pom floats.  They were yummy and everyone got a bit of ice cream.

I think Don found some orange Fanta -he’s transferring it into a more suitable drinking receptacle.  Don and Tobi were roommates for the whole trip.

Day 2 will begin tomorrow – but since we’re only expecting about a 6 hour drive, we don’t plan to leave until 9am.  We had a nice evening talking about books, then we went and read some of them.

Let the journey continue.

TTC & Vie Abondante The Finale. Finally.

I know, I know.  Will there ever be an end to this drama?  Pun intended.

The team is now home – and I’m still writing!  Just so much to say.  Thing is, we’re also getting ready to travel.  We’re leaving tomorrow morning for Benin Republic.  We’ll spend the weekend in Cotonou where we’ll minister in our friend Rev. Joseph Nwobodo’s church.  Then  Monday we’re off to Grand Popo – to the beach!  And by beach I mean the real thing –  complete with ocean and all.  I enjoy sand a lot more when it’s accompanied with a large body of water.  Quite looking forward to getting out of this dust for a bit.  In spite of the 2 day drive on rough roads.  But one thing we’ll be giving up is the dry weather.  It’s hot now, but it’s also dry.  Benin will be humid.  Very humid.  But it will be tropical.  But I digress.  Let me get back to the story at hand…

The youth meeting on Friday was great – and Saturday was just as powerful.

Neal and Scott opening the meeting.  They’re both wearing dresses.

TTC performing King of Hearts

Vie Abondante performing Thank You.

The youth responded to the call to GO into their world with the Gospel.  It was a powerful time of impartation.

Our pastors were very encouraged by the youth.  One of my favorite parts of the day was when Scott had everyone learn the sign language to the chorus of ‘Thank You’ and then he asked everyone to go and thank people that made a difference in their lives while the song was being played.   As soon as the music started, it’s almost as the youth all rushed together as one over to where all the pastors were standing – to say thank you.  A teary moment and one that I believe had great significance.  Here they are.

Then there was a time of prayer where the TTC team prayed for the Vie Abondante team.

The next generation was there to.  This is Bulus and Abigail – children of 2 of our pastors.  They responded to GO as well.

TTC & Vie Abondante.  What a team!!

It wasn’t over though.  Sunday morning we took the team to 2 of our churches in town.  First, it was Vie Abondante – Ali Dan Tsoho

Then it was on to Vie Abondante Maradi to minister with more dramas.  The people loved it – even though we went beyond the normal time to dismiss.

Taylor, Nichelle, and Emily have collected several kiddos they’d like to take home.

At the end of the service, the church prayed for TTC.  It was a special time.

After the service, TTC leaders met with Vie Abondante pastors and youth leaders to talk about how to continue what’s been started.  The training provided tools and now our youth will use those tools and will do greater things than any of us could have done alone.

For lunch, we headed to the French Club.  The term ‘French Club’ could conjure up all kinds of images  – likely none of which are correct as it applies here.  I didn’t get pictures of Neal & Scott playing tennis on the clay court but I wish I would have.  Actually, video (at least sound) would have been even better.  They used to play each other many, many years ago.  Who thought they’d ever play tennis together in Niger!  Here’s where we ate – and you can see the lovely pool in the background.  And it really was lovely.  Too cold for me to go in until I commandeered Emily to work out with me so we’d stay warm.  We did dorky laps.  Sort of.

Now, not just any French Club comes equipped with camel rides.  This one doesn’t either.  But Mainassara, the man who has worked at the club for over 30 years, was able to contact some friends in a nearby village and they brought a couple of their camels over for our team to ride.  If you’ve ever been on a camel before, you know it’s just for a photo op.

Pretty sure Taylor is loving it.

Josiah – and that ‘saddle’ really is that uncomfortable.  And crooked.

Nichelle

Keagon.  Ride ’em —-cowboy?  Check out the guy on the left.  Wonder what he’s thinking…

Look Ma!  No hands!

Emily – really, she’s enjoying this.  I have no idea what’s up with the santa hat though.

And the fearless leader.  I think.

Take The Challenge!  I’m talking about serving God, not riding a camel.

This is the SIM guest house – their home away from home away from home.  One is never too old to enjoy the merry-go-round.  I take that back.  I’m too old for that.  I can NOT spin like that.  But looks like they’re having fun!

Monday morning we packed up for our return trip to Niamey.  It was a long one.  It was without incident, if you don’t count being asked for papers at the police checkpoint and having to return to Maradi to renew our insurance and start out again 2 hours later.  But we made it.  If you want pics of that – refer to the previous post about our journey here.  Not sure which one that was.

Tuesday morning Scott taught 4 hours at our Bible school, while I took the team to the National Mussee.  They saw some cool stuff, saw some crafts being made and did some shopping.  Didn’t take any pictures because frankly, I was tired of carrying my camera around.  We met Scott and Neal to finish up souvenir shopping then had lunch at Chez Chin – yep, a Chinese restaurant.

After that, we took the team to see our primary school.  It’s a great vision and a work in progress.

All too quickly it was time for everyone to pack up and get ready to say goodbye.  Several of our pastors came by to do just that.

Jenga – passing the time before going to the airport for the 12:45am flight.

It was pretty hot… and this was with the AC running – the one you see at the top of the picture above.

Here we all are together.

Some sad faces ready to go to the airport…or not.

Me and the girls.  And what great women of God they are!

This is the temperature on the porch after we got back from the airport.

TTC has arrived home and our team members have returned to their villages and homes.  But no one has returned the same.  God used each of them to effect the lives of each other.  And they have all made an impact on the nation of Niger.  And this is only the beginning.

To God be the glory great things He has done!

Adventure in Benin – Days 6 & 7

I have got to get this finished.  I did manage to figure out flickr photos and have finally uploaded everything I want to from our Benin trip.  Our connection here is so slow it literally took days of being persistant.  I love though that I can have this online photo album all categorized.  It plays right into my need for organization.

On to Thursday.  We had a leisurely morning and around 9 Pastor Joseph showed up at our door with breakfast.  Put away the granola!  He had omelettes, sardines (Neal & Tobi enjoyed that delicacy), tea, coffee, chocolate drink, juices, jam & 2 loaves of bread — all prepared by his wonderful wife.  We enjoyed getting to know him better over breakfast, which was a bit awkward at first since he refused to eat with us.  He said he brought it for us.  We tried to insist but he persisted in his refusal.  We then had more down time – Neal prepared for his message for that night and we read and relaxed.  Trae had plans to spend the day with Rufus exploring Cotonou.  The rest of us went with Pastor Joseph when he returned for us at noon.  We took Tanika and Tobi to his house to hang out with his kids and he took us to a very nice, air conditioned, business center.  It was nice with the exception of the French keyboard.  It’s amazing how a few differently placed letters can really make a mess of things.  We sent and received essential mail – and their ‘essential-ness’ was determined with the mis-arranged keyboard in mind.  In other words I sent very few as typing was hen and peck.  That done, we went to Mama Benin’s for lunch where we enjoyed real Benin food.  Very fun.  Pastor Joseph was so gracious not only taking care of our physical needs, but he spent all of his time with us as well.  We spent lot’s of time at lunch talking about ministry, what we see going on in Benin, and what we believe will take place in Niger.  From there we decided we needed to get some ice-cream.  That is a luxury for us.  We couldn’t believe our eyes when we entered what might has well have been a Baskin Robbins Ice Cream Shop combined with a Bob Evans Restaurant.  The ice cream looked wonderful so we had some packed up to go (we’d have to ‘go’ quickly or melting would become a real issue).  We got enough for our families and went back to Pastor Joseph’s house where we all enjoyed the ice cream together.  Since he lives near the hotel, we were able to make our way back there on our own, where we went to prepare for the evening service.

Trae enjoyed his day and met us at the church for the service.  More great music from their choir and very talented and anointed musicians.  Neal had me come up to greet the people, and finish one of the stories he’d left unfinished the night before.  Before doing that, I invited Trae up to give his greeting.  He didn’t know I planned to do that but he did well ‘off the cuff’.  Neal’s message ‘going forward’ was well received, and fit in well with the conference theme of Divine Advancement.  The kids and I have heard the message before but I have to say that I don’t think any of us get tired of hearing Neal preach.  Trae was even taking notes. 

That night food was again prepared and brought to our rooms – French fries and plantain with a type of onion/oil/egg/tomato sauce to dip them in.  I wish I could duplicate it!  Though the electricity was off and on all evening, it ended up staying on all night so we slept another night with AC!

Friday morning we told Pastor Joseph that we still had plenty of the previous days food so there was no need to bring more for breakfast.  There was a fridge in our room that they had filled with juice, soda, milk and fresh fruit – including grapes.  They had no idea how huge the grape thing was.  That’s something we never get in Niger.  Grapes are imported but they are something like $15/pound.  Maybe more.  So finding them right there in our fridge for us to enjoy was quite a big blessing for us! 

I spent the morning preparing for the evening service where it would be my turn to take the stand.  Pastor Joseph then picked us up and wanted us to meet with his Bishop, a Benin national with an incredible church.  He is building a new church and took us to see it.  We were impressed.  More than impressed.  Inspired by what was being done in a country right next to Niger.  The building was incredible.  It was 6 or 7 stories high – we weren’t quite sure because of the different levels.  It was beyond anything we’ve seen in West Africa.  Our mouth’s were hangning open.  It’s close to being finished and up to that point about 1.5 million dollars had gone into it.  The reason that is so impressive is because it’s money that has been raised entirely in Benin!  It really gave us hope as to what is possible when the people learn to give.  That’s really what stood out to us the whole time we were there.  The way people give.  We don’t see that in Niger.  We teach it, and it is slowly changing, but there is a long way to go.  People in Niger for the most part live with their hands out.  And why not?  That’s how the government operates.  But I truly believe that once they get a revelation on giving they will find a door out of poverty.  We went to Benin expecting to take care of ourselves during this ministry time so we were amazed at the care that we were given.  Blessed.

From there we went to Pastor Joseph’s house where his wife had prepared a vegetable stew to be eaten with Semolina (I think that’s what it’s called.  It resembles cream of wheat prepared like mashed potatoes, to be eaten with one’s hands.)  The stew was made mostly of fresh greens, onions, tomatoes, meat, oil, peppers and crayfish.  This is one of Neal’s favorite things to eat.  I would have absolutely loved it myself without the fish.  The proper way to eat it is to dip your right hand into the provided bowl of water.  Then you take a small handful of ‘paste’and sort of roll it with one hand and then flatten it between your thumb and fingers, sort of making a well in it.  Then you dip it into the stew, scooping up a good amount which is then quickly transported into your mouth – preferablly without losing any stew along the way.  Tobi is quite good at this, though he does get both hands involved.  He and Neal love the fishy taste.  Tanika, Trae and I could do without it but we all enjoyed and were very thankful for the food provided.  I can be thankful that the training our kids received when they were small pays off in these situations.  They eat and enjoy all kinds of food, but I knew this was something neither Trae or Tanika would be particularly fond of.  However, without a warning from me they ate what was set before them without complaint and were thankful.  I appreciate that.

After lunch, we took advantage of our only opportunity to visit the market.  Pastor Joseph insisted that both he and his wife go with us, as they didn’t want us to get cheated.  We really were monopolizing their time.  In fact we later learned that Pastor Joseph never goes to the market.  They asked what we wanted.  The problem was, we weren’t shopping from a list.  We just wanted to see what was out there.  A different concept for our hosts.  The market in Cotonou is much bigger than the one in Niamey so when we arrived, I was thankful we weren’t alone.  We started pricing already made clothes.  That probably sounds like a funny term.  In Niger – and I’m sure many other parts of the world, most of our clothes get made by a tailor.  Yep, I pick out my own cloth, I have a tailor and my clothes are custom made.  (Sometime I need to include a picture of what that tailor shop looks like, but let me just say the sewing machine is powered by said tailor’s feet)  Let me also add that getting my clothes made is one of the most frustrating things I do.  That said, I was interested in looking at ‘ready-made’.  We all found stuff we liked, with the excpetion of Trae who for some reason has an aversion to wearing African outfits.  He’s ok with the shirts, but he can’t bring himself to wear the print trousers.  And the stuff we found was so cheap.    Especially with the help of Pastor Joseph.  Entire outfits for $7-10.  They thought we were hilarious with how excited we were over stuff they thought was too expensive.  I’m sure they heard more times than they wanted “but in Niger it’s so much more expensive”.  We ended our excursion buying inexpensive avocadoes, pears and apples. 

We couldn’t pass up one more opportunity for ice cream so we all hit that shop before heading back to our hotel to prepare for the evening service.  I was pretty nervous at this point.  I even thought I might ask Neal to fill in for me – except it had already been announced that I was that evening’s speaker.  So I just swallowed hard and looked over my notes again.  And prayed.  But that had been going on almost non-stop! 

More great praise and worship, then I was called up.  Rev. Mrs. Neal Childs.  (hee-hee).  I wanted to look around to see who that might be.  I started by inviting Tanika and Tobi up to help me sing and drum a song in Hausa.  I also employed the talented band.  That was fun.  Then I began my message.  I was being interpreted into the local language, Fon.  Neal is a preacher – in every sense of the word.  And this group of people love that.  I on the other hand, am not.  I am a teacher.  So all week I had been trying to figure out how I would be received, knowing how much they were loving Neal.  Neal kept telling me they would love me too, since I was so different.  Okay….different is good, right?  I was nervous to start but kept praying.  I knew that I had a message that would bless and help the people.  It was the delivery of it that concerned me.  I finally felt like I got into my groove and begin to enjoy it.   My message was basically that God has an intense desire to bless us but in order for that to happen we have to obey Him and His word.  Disobedience ties His hands.  When I was finished, I asked Pastor Joseph to come and pray with the people.  He came up and talked about the revelation he had received and basically ‘re-preached’ my message.  He later said that it was ‘like a bomb going off in our hearts’.  I thank God for his help, and for the opportunity.   I so want people to get that God wants the best for us.

More food back at the hotel – Jolof rice, one of my favorites.  Then another nice night of sleep, complete with air-conditioning.