A Sunday Here, A Sunday There

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seriously?

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

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Tamou Guest House. It’s Not the Ritz, But It’s Pretty Close!

I began but never finished the following blog post nearly a year ago…. Why? I have no idea. Right now we’re in another cold season and are looking forward to being at the guest house again next week for children’s camp.

March 16, 2016
Today we went to Tamou. Tamou is our Discipleship Center in the Gourmantche region. The headquarters of the region is the Tamou Church compound. In addition to the church there is a discipleship school, men’s and women’s student dorms, the pastor’s home and we’ve recently built a guest house on the compound so we can spend more time there.

Here’s the church.  The dorms being built (now complete) are to the left.  The Guest House is at the back of the church – the green door at the back right is the entrance.img_0668

You see Tamou is a 90 minute drive (Neal’s driving, so longer if you’re not with him). It’s a pretty remote location without many amenities. So when someone from Niamey goes to teach in the school, it’s best to teach for the whole morning, 4 hours, to maximize your effort, and then drive back. It makes for a long day.

We’ve also done events in Tamou – all day events. And not many people go all day without having to ‘use the bush’ as we affectionately call it. When in Tamou, there is no place to use said bush – not really even any bushes – and certainly no place to rest or have any down time. But it’s a place we love to be, and a place God is moving.

Thus the guest house. Really, it’s a thing of wonder. It’s tucked behind the church and has it’s own wall so is quite private. But if you step outside the door you’re right there with everyone. Best of both so to speak.

The guest house is back to back with the church.

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Welcome inside!  This was taken as construction was being finished.  The 2 square holes are for trees.  We dug about 10 feet down, removed rocks and fertilized well in advance.  A picture at the end shows the progress of the trees.

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Neal and I have stayed in the newly built guest house a few times, trying it out, getting the kinks out, before we had our first team visit. That happened in February — last month. We had a children’s camp with a team of 6 from the US. It was WONDERFUL! Better even than we had hoped. That could be partly because it was such a great team. Thanks Bob and Team Christian Life! (Note: that was Feb 2016).

When you walk in (door on left like in above photo) you see the kitchen/common area to the right.  That is where this picture is taken from – the dining area.  From here, you are looking at the 2 guest rooms.  They mirror each other and there is a small veranda in between.  Each has it’s own bathroom.  If you look to the top at the center, you see the roof of the church.  Also, take note of the spots on either wall reserved for planting.

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And just for perspective, here’s what you see when you walk out that green door. The church is to the right.

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The dining/common area is open, but is attached to a kitchen that can be closed.  The kitchen is where this photo is taken from.

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And here’s the kitchen- from the outside in….

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And from the inside out…

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Like I said, that was February. February is still considered ‘cold’ season. And relatively speaking, it is cold. Like cold enough for me to wear a sweatshirt early in the morning. Of course I’m in a sweatshirt if the temperature drops below 72….you be the judge.

Until right now, March 16, 2016. February was our last visit to Tamou, on account of our trip to India and Philippines. But for pete’s sake it’s only been a month. Where did this heat come from?

This is our first time to stay out here during hot season. We’ve done all we can to make the place comfortable. Because we really enjoy being out here, and we feel that we can make much more of an impact when we can spend more time with the people. More time than just teaching in a classroom setting. But I’m not gonna lie. I really enjoy a real toilet. With toilet paper. And lights. And running water. We even have hot water (though one might wonder why, but when it’s only 72 degrees…) AND, drumroll please—we have air conditioning.

Yep. We’ve outfitted the guest house with AC. It was wonderful during the days of cold season – because the days still get quite toasty – 90’s. And at night it wasn’t even needed.

Here’s one of the the guest rooms – the one on the right.  Picture is taken from the bathroom.

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And here’s ‘our’ room.  Or the room we use when we’re here.  But it’s also a guest room.

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You can see from this angle where the bathroom is (white door). It’s a mirror of the bathroom in the other room.

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And here’s one of the bathrooms.  They’re both the same.  Strangely I don’t have any pictures of it finished.  It looks quite nice.

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And here’s the veranda between the 2 rooms.

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Hot season though, that’s the real test. And we’re in that test right this minute. Today, it was 107. So while hot, 107 is still not THAT hot, compared to what will be coming. Needless to say, the AC came in handy. It would be interesting to note that Tamou doesn’t have 24/7 electricity. It’s a ‘town’, but an up and coming one. The town has a large generator that provides electricity from 10am – midnight each day. Except for Wednesdays. Lovely Wednesdays. Power comes on at 12 noon on Wednesday and because Thursday is market day, it stays on straight through to midnight on Thursday. In other words, 36 hours of beautiful, uninterrupted power.(Well, barring any generator issues…) Being the strategists we are, we try to plan our overnight trips to include Wednesdays/Thursdays…

However, so as not to be powerless in Tamou, we also purchased a small generator for guest house usage. Here’s what we now know.

We’re thankful for the generator.

There are 2 rooms for sleeping (each with an AC), and our generator is only strong enough to run 1 AC at a time.

The one AC takes the edge off the heat but isn’t strong enough to properly cool the room during hot season. In other words, walking into a room cooled to 90 feels like an arctic blast when it’s 115+ outside–until you’ve been in ‘cooled’ room for a few minutes and realize you’re sweating.

One working AC is better than none.

If a group of people is staying at the guest house, someone has to make the decision as to which subset of that group gets to stay in the AC room, providing a great opportunity for character growth.

Eventually, we will get a larger generator and install stronger AC’s.

My husband is not only a missionary, a great preacher, and great Bible teacher and a whole host of other things, he’s a great architect.

The Tamou Discipleship Center is amazing. We’re so grateful to those who gave to make it a reality. The guest house really has helped to advance what is happening there. Churches in the region continue to be planted, disciples are being made, and pastors are being trained.

Tamou Guest House update February 2017:
The guest has continued to be a blessing. Not only for ministry teams, for Bible School teachers, but also for the well drilling team. The first Vie Abondante wells were completed recently and the team was able to stay in the guest house multiple times for long periods, enabling them to spend more hours drilling rather than driving back and forth to Niamey (you may remember that’s a 90+ minute one-way trip journey).

The Christian Life team has come and gone- just a couple of weeks ago. We had a successful camp with 225 kids and about 50 volunteers. Neal and I stayed with the 6 member team in the guest house for 4 days/3nights. Why I didn’t get pictures of the 6 of us ladies crammed into 1 room with mattresses covering all available floor space, I don’t know. But what an awesome time we had.

And last, here’s the picture I promised.  Pastor Samuel is helping me show perspective on the size. These 6″ trees were planted about 9 months ago.  Nine months!  And check out the greenery on the walls.  This happened because of the diligence of Pastor Sule, the director of the Tamou region.  He not only waters the leaders and members of the now 14 churches in the region, has faithfully watered our trees 2X/day, month after month.  This is all fruit that will remain!

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No Notes.

I  dropped the kids off this morning at their ‘bus-stop’ carpool at 6:55.  Returned home and since I didn’t teach until 11am today, was going to enjoy a quiet, lazy morning with my Bible and a cup of hot tea (considering how chilly it is these days).  Right after Neal left for school at 7:40, the bug man showed up.  We forgot, but we made an appointment with him for today because I will normally be teaching at 8am.  However, since this week is orientation, the schedule is all different.  Anyway, Mr. Bugs appearance means you have to get out of the house.  I asked him to please spray outside first, trying to salvage some of my lazy time.   I then had him come in the house, expecting him to do all the rooms but my own.  I’m trying to buy all the time I can.  I was pretending to enjoy myself, but the fumes were getting to me.  Then I began to wonder if the nausea  and dizziness were my imagination.   At that point I decided I better get ready and leave.  I walked out of my room barefoot and stepped in a puddle of some kind of disinfectant outside the door.  At least I won’t have any critters bothering my feet.  I cleaned my feet and was on my way.  It was 9:55.

I wasn’t in a particular hurry, but it’s amazing how annoying it can be when you are behind a slow driver.  Especially one on a little motorbike, talking on his cell phone.  I couldn’t get around him!  I get near the Government offices and although there was a detour up a bit further, I was the last vehicle allowed through before the police closed the road for some VIP coming through.  I was thanking God for that.  I followed the detour around without making a wrong turn (that’s a big accomplishment for me) and ended up behind Mr. I’m out for a stroll in my car while I talk on the phone.  Ahhhgggg!  I couldn’t get around him on the bridge either.  No worries.  I’m in no hurry and have plenty of time.  I finally get across the bridge and to the school.  I pull up on the pile of rocks that haven’t been moved yet since we finished the building but were supposed to have been moved awhile ago…and I turn off the engine.  It was 10:25.  I reach to the seat to grab my stuff and all I see are my water and my purse.  No Bible, no study notes that I’ve put together over the past week.  I suppress panic, called Pastor Abdu over and explained that I had to go back home for my stuff, but would be back for my class.  Start car, back out of rock pile and start down the road.  I’d be kicking myself, but both feet are busy driving.  Now it normally takes 15-20 minutes to drive to church, not 30 as this trip took.  I began to do the math and thought there was a good possibility I wouldn’t be back by 11.  Especially with all the ‘circus’ events going on on the roads.  I talked to God.  I DO NOT teach without notes.  Oh really?  Yep!  I arrived at the roundpoint and had to make a split decision of whether or not I was going to turn right to cross back over the bridge, or trust God and continue straight back to the church.   I said out loud “Oh all right!”  But I reminded God that He will need to bring it all back.  That’s what the Holy Spirit is for.  Pastor Abdu saw me drive back into the rock pile.  I explained things and he said to me “The Holy Spirit is your teacher.   Many of the students are very ‘green’ as far as the Bible is concerned, so in the orientation Neal has classes set to teach major Bible characters and origin of the Bible.  My topic was Joseph.  Don’t laugh.  I know it’s almost a no-brainer but you must remember…I DO NOT teach without notes.  And I had some really good points about Joseph’s life that I didn’t want to forget.  Fortunately I caught Neal just as he was leaving so I was able to get his Bible.  Although it was an unfamiliar Bible to me, at least it was English!  I had a few minutes while Dad finished his teaching so I was able to scribble down a few things.  About 1/2 the class knew the story of Joseph.  When it was all said and done, everything went fine.  The students enjoyed the amazing story of Joseph’s life.   I even wondered if some of the students believed everything I was saying, since his character was so incredible.  Joseph trusted God to bring to pass the dream – against all odds/circumstances.  Certainly I can trust him to help me remember the things I’ve studied!  But I still WILL NOT teach without notes – at least not by choice!

Big is Beautiful?

I happen to live in a country where the bigger you are, the better. I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. It’s a sign of prosperity – you can afford to eat! I also live in a country where the dress code is conducive to unnoticeable weight gain. Take the common wrapper for instance. It’s a piece of cloth, 3 yards long. It’s standard wear for women. Skinny ones, fat ones (of which there are very few), and pregnant ones (of which there are very many).   One size does fit all. Now consider the smock or baby doll style top. Standard cover for the upper half. Can you see what I’m getting at? One could easily gain 10 pounds wearing these clothes and have no clue!

And if that’s not enough, one is encouraged to be big. In fact if one embarks on any type of weight loss effort and does begin to lose weight, he or she is constantly asked if he is sick. Why would you want to lose weight on purpose? Take Hannatu for instance. Remember the crying bride from my first post? Well Hannatu helps me in the kitchen. She worked for us in Maradi and when we moved, I hated to lose her. But I was not interested in being responsible for a single girl in Niamey. Besides, her fiance’, Yahaya, worked at our cake bakery in Maradi. This past year, we took over a bread bakery here in Niamey. We needed someone to bake the bread. Yahaya knew how. I was thrilled, knowing that they were soon to be married and he would bring her to Niamey as well. She’s back, and I’m happy. I think she’s happy too. I taught her how to make things like tortillas, bagels, pizza, lasagna, enchilada’s etc, and wasn’t really interested in starting all over. Back to big… We were working together in the kitchen yesterday, and I was telling her about the weight reduction plan Neal and I were on. Her enviously slim self replied. “Why? I can see you’ve already reduced. You’re good like this.” Now one might think that to be a nice complement. But you didn’t see her body language. While telling me how good I looked, she assumed a sort of sumo-wrestler stance – arms and legs straddled indicating there was too much fat in the way for them to hang loosely. Enough encouragement to make one forget the reduction plan and run straight to Taco Bell – if in fact there was one available.

And then there was the ministry team that came to visit several years ago. (Not mentioning names, you know who you are!) On the team there were some generously bodied ladies, myself included. We took the team to a village we hadn’t been to before to ride camels. Some of the ladies in the village were chattering among themselves. Nothing strange about that. But one lady finally approached me, and asked me a very sincere question. I started laughing so hard, I couldn’t even translate it to the bewildered team around me. This lady was looking around at all of us and said, “Where can we get some of that medicine that makes you fat?”

Such are the trials and tribulations I face at trying to be thin in a ‘wannabe fat world.’