The Seed is in You

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

The Seed

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

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

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

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

The seed was in me – as a 4 year old.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neal & Danette

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

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

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

Later that evening my mom questioned me.

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

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

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

I was 7.  The seed.

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

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Our family in 2001 with Tobi, our new addition.

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

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

You are full of high quality seed!  

The Wedding! Sukala and Rakiya get married. Part 1

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

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

Trae, Tobi and Sukala

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who”?  I of course asked.

“The teacher at the school”, he said.

Hopes raising I asked, “Which teacher?”

“Rakiya”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Getting closer…

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Almost there….

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Finally!  Time to Praise God and rejoice!!

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

But where were we?

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

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

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

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

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

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What a beautiful bride!  You think Sukala is pleased?

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

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

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Sukala’s ring.

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

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

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

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

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

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Neal’s signature.

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The groom.

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The bride.

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The Certificate.  It was signed by several pastors.

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

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Here’s the official wedding party.

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The bride and groom and their friends presented.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dad

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Mom

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

The Moms.

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The brother.

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The Grandparents.

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

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

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

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

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

More friends!  Nate, Justin, John and Phil.

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

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

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Here’s a ‘staged’ photo of them.

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

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

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Are we really married??!!

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Yep!  It’s real.

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

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

The Dowry has Been Delivered

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

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

Back to dowry day…

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

He and Tobi painting the Cornhole game

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

He also helps put up Christmas trees.

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

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

Here’s what was required of Sukala:

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

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

3. The actual Sadaki (dowry)  ~$600

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

The prices are set by the family of the bride.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Displaying the suitcase.

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

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

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

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

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Sukala is excited!

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

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This is what the kola nut looks like.

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

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

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

Full Heart, Sore Muscles

We’re here.  By ‘here’ I mean in the US.  We arrived on June 2 and yes, time is zipping by at warp speed.  I don’t know what ‘warp speed’ is, but I think it’s pretty fast.  Picking us up at the airport was not only Pastor Carter & Laura, but Tanika was with them.  So great to see her.  She is officially a college sophomore!  We had wonderful services at Faith For All Nations Church in League City, TX, and Conroe Christian Center in Conroe, TX.  Both of these churches are awesome partners of ours.  We were blessed by how well we were received and thoroughly enjoyed our time with both Pastors, families and congregations.  Nothing like communicating to people what their support is doing as they commit to the Great Commission.

Tanika sang on the worship team at Faith For All Nations.

Tobi added some rhythm!

Neal preaching.  Nice threads!

This past Thursday, we flew to Portland.  Trae and Christi were there to pick us up.  It was so great to see them.  It’s been over 9 months.  Here are the lovebirds now.  Wedding day:  T minus 4 days.  June 16th.

Though we’ve known Christi for awhile, we’ve not met her family.  At least not face to face.  And when I say family, I mean FAMILY!  There are 9 of them.   So this was the big meet and greet.  Our flight was a late one, so we didn’t get to Mosier (according to Christi it’s not a functioning town) until 11:30 or so.  I think.  I was still trying to figure out jet lag from our international flight so this one put me back a couple more hours.  But what a greeting!  The fact that it was almost midnight didn’t matter a bit.  The family was all up and waiting for us.  When we pulled in I saw Philip – the youngest who is 11 – race through the house and out the door shouting for Tobi.   So sweet.  They were all just as welcoming and there were bowls of hot soup along with hot tea which I was so thankful for for 2 reasons.   It had been 12 hours since we’d eaten, and it was 5o something degrees.  I bit chilly for me.  But I love both soup and tea when it’s chilly.  Their welcome made us all feel so welcome.

Ann (Christi’s Mom) and I have been waiting to meet for a long time.  After all, our kids are going to be marrying each other — it’s time we got to know each other.  We’ve done a lot of chatting over the past year so I feel that I knew that she was a pretty amazing lady and someone that would be a friend.  However,  I must officially say that she has far exceeded my expectations.  Though our personalities are different, we have so much in common.  She is already a great friend and I’m thankful for that.  God has not only provided a wonderful new family for Trae, but a great friend for me.  And He knew I needed that.  We’ve been running together, talking nonstop (according to Trae), and having special times of prayer.  We both know that this wedding is going to be an amazing event.  No – not just an event, but the making of a covenant that will result in the Kingdom of God advancing.  Big time.  I thank God for my new friend.

By the way, here’s where some of our running is being done.

Mount Hood, Oregon

Mount Adams, Washington

These views are all on the same 1/2 mile gravel road.  Pretty incredible and quite different from my normal running scenery on a sandy, hot softball field!  Such a wonderful break.

As for the rest of the family, they’re all just as awesome.  Tobi and Philip have pretty much been inseparable since we arrived.  I’m serious.  I’ve barely had a conversation with him.  But Philip is the kind of kid you want your kid to spend time with.  Caela is Christi’s younger sister.  She’s sweet and capable and so pretty.  Then there’s Daniel – who is getting married 2 weeks after Trae and Christi.  It’s quite fun to have all these lovebirds around.  Mark is 16 and what a talented guy.  And he is so sweet and thoughtful.  Josh is one of Christi’s older brothers and he’s married to Anna.  I’ve really enjoyed getting to know them.  Patrick the oldest has just arrived home from a 4 1/2 month world tour.  So glad he is here too – he’s got some great stories.  Then there’s Jon (Christi’s Dad).  He ties it all together.  I’m so thankful that our son is marrying someone who has such a godly father and mother.  What an example they are.  They are truly a family that takes the Great Commission seriously.  To learn more about what they do, check out their website.   harvestministry.org  Also for some great books to motivate your family to missions, check out Ann’s books – The Mission Minded Family and The Mission Minded Child.  You can find those on their website or on Amazon.

Christi and Trae have been showing us the sights.  And beautiful sights they are.  I’ve been to 46 of our 50 States.  Until now.  Two of the 4 I haven’t been to were Oregon and Washington.  Check those off my list.  Now been to both.  Only Alaska and Hawaii remain.

Our first 2 days were freezing.  Or at least close to it.  They took us into The Dalles and we went to Hood River.  The fact is, you can’t go anywhere without it being a gorgeous drive on windy roads.  They had planned for us to climb up Dog Mountain.  They kind of eased us into it.  “It’s not too far”, “You guys will really like it”, “It’s not that hard”, “It’s a good hike”, “It’s cool at the top”, etc.  You get the picture.   So off we went.  Nine of us in the Highlander.  Here’s some of us at the beginning of the climb.

We look ready for anything.  It was a crispy 50 something – maybe 60.  Maybe.  But that’s good, because we would be climbing and that would warm us up.

The trail was uphill.  All uphill.  But that stands to reason since we were climbing a mountain.  It was a bit overwhelming at first.  Maybe more than a bit.  Walking at an incline is much more challenging than walking on a flat surface.  In case you didn’t know that.  The overwhelming part was that it was like that for a long ways.  The distance to the top of the mountain was 4 miles.  Uphill.  Did I mention that? Now I’ve been running so was hoping I’d handle it better.  It was tough.  I was breathing very heavily.  The thing I did notice though, was that I recovered very quickly during the rest times.  And my legs were fine.  The higher we got the narrower the trail got, the windier it was, the wetter it was, the colder it was.  But it was beautiful.

Here’s the first rest stop.

Quite lovely.

Check out all that green!

Another rest stop.

This was in our future.

Almost to the top.  Check out those wildflowers!

The top!  Well, almost.  We’re told we could have gone a bit further, but was only worth it on a clear day.  At this point we were in the clouds.  Every once in awhile the wind would blow the clouds away and you could see the beautiful view.

Victory!!  We really were in the clouds.  And it was so windy and so cold.  My hands were so cold I could barely hold the camera.

I just thought this was a cool picture.

This would be a good place to mention that we (Neal & I) were the only ones that seemed to find this mountain challenging.  Christi and Trae graciously traveled at our pace – while the ‘younger set’ bounded up like they were only conquering  small hill.  Here they are on the way down – trying to keep warm while waiting for us.

Climbing down of course was much easier – except for me.  I have knees that act up when I go downhill.  A short distance is no bother, but 4 miles, well, that is a bother.  At least to my knees.  Fortunately though painful, it goes away quickly.  Much more quickly than my sore muscles did.  Here’s a scenic view on the way down.

It was even prettier than it looked.

Another good thing about going downhill – other than the obvious – is that it got warmer and warmer.  I’m pretty sure at the top, with the wind blowing hard enough to carry away a small child, the windchill was probably freezing.

Here’s a view across the road.  There’s a waterfall on the left.

We made it up, we made it down and yes, we were proud of ourselves.  It might be an interesting note that it took and hour in a hot tub for this African girl to thaw out.  And that was quite nice too.

Another big adventure was our trip to Multnomah Falls.  I’m thinking these pictures don’t do it justice, but maybe you get the idea.

Gotta say this hike was a breeze after dog mountain.  It was all uphill, but only for about 1 1/2 miles.  Simple.

Great view.  I mean the river!!

LOVE this picture!

Philip and Tobi – new best buds.

Top of the falls – almost.  The trail to the very top was closed because it was washed out.  Bummer.  But it was still beautiful.  See?

Caela and Tanika – new buds.

It’s a blurry picture, but here we all are.

After the Falls, they took us to a fish hatchery.  Quite fascinating.  Millions of trout and salmon.

That’s where we met Herman, a 70 year old Sturgeon.

Back at the home front, archery was one of the activities.  A poor stuffed teddy bear was the target.

Neal shoots lefty.

The weather was so beautiful, we ate most of our lunches outside.  Ann and Caela in deep discussion with Neal =).

The hot tub was wonderful.  This is what I used to thaw out after our hike up Dog Mountain.  Well, thaw out and ease my aching muscles.

Tobi, Mark and Philip were hired to wash a truck.  I didn’t know it was a paid gig until Tobi excitedly told me his cut was $3.30.

Lots of card playing was done.

Here Neal is ‘helping’ Jon clean the day’s catch, aka tonight’s dinner.  That fish is worth a small fortune if purchased from the store.

So if catching and cleaning the fish wasn’t enough, Jon and Ann created this incredible spread for 18 people.  17 of them were staying in the house.  But why is Tobi the first and only one at the table?  I think he was pretty excited about the fish!

It was an amazing meal.  Artichoke parmesan basil fish.  Wow.

However, it wasn’t all fun and food.  Here Trae and Christi are working in their vows.

Here’s the beautiful Dunagan home, which exudes the life of God.

This morning, Jon took Neal salmon fishing.  What a treat!  And it wasn’t just all about scenery.  Here are Jon & Neal and their 4 King Salmon.  The fish that Jon has been catching is the food for the rehearsal dinner and the wedding.

Packing up all the wedding stuff for the trip to Moses Lake.

 This is making it real!  Well, lots of things are making it real.

As you can see, we are having an amazing time.  The longer I’m here, the more amazed I am by the family that God has provided for Trae.  We were already overjoyed with Christi – but to know her family has been incredible as well.  God has answered our prayers above and beyond all we could ask or think.

It remains to be seen what God will do with these two, but we are confident that it will also be more than we can ask or think.

So— I think it’s pretty obvious why my muscles are sore, but even more obvious why my heart is more than full.  My God is good.

To Win…or to win.

Where to begin.  I ‘blog’ in my head all the time.  I just don’t get it into print very often.  Then I forget what I wanted to write about.   Today I’m going to write about the weekend of October 10th.  The Annual NUTS tournament.  It’s a French acronym for the Niamey Universal Softball Tournament.  This is Trae’s 3rd year to be a part of it, and Neal’s 2nd.  Trae of course was on his school team the Sahel Suns.  There were several teams from Niamey and teams that came from Burkina Faso.  Neal was on Team USA, which was made up mostly of Embassy people and missionaries.  The games began Friday afternoon.  Both my guy’s teams were doing well.  Then they had to play each other on Saturday.  Someone had to win.  Which meant someone had to lose.  Team USA pulled ahead with victory.  There were some very exciting games, and 2 in particular where both of their teams (not playing each other) were down 7 and 8 runs in their last inning and they had last ups.  Even though they were different games, the end of each game was almost identical.   ‘My’ team came from behind and the game was cut short when they made their winning run, much to the surprise of their opposing teams who had been ahead the entire game.  Those victories put them in the finals together – playing each other for 1st and 2nd place.  Neal’s team hadn’t lost any games, and Trae’s team had only lost to Neal’s.  The final game was Sunday afternoon at 4:20.  I really enjoyed watching the games, especially when they weren’t playing each other.  I really did find it hard to know who I wanted to win – who I should be shouting for.  In the end, I just ended up shouting the whole time.  Trae would have a great hit.  “Yeah Trae – way to go  – Run!” I would shout.  While Neal was on 1st base getting the runner (Trae) out. “Yeah Neal – way to get im outta there!”  What’s a body to do?  At least I wasn’t the only one with split interests.

So, the final game.  I did not attend.   I could end here, and allow one to think that I just couldn’t take the pressure, but that’s not entirely true.  Actually, it’s not at all true.  It’s fun and it’s competitive (if you know my family) but it’s not THAT competitve.  My absence was due to the medical team we had arriving at precisely the same time THE game started.   So I was at the airport, anxiously waiting to see the whites of the eyes of our team of 7 from New Orleans.  The plane landed and with the help Number 11, our baggage guy, we begged my way into the airport (people are no longer allowed in b/c of security) and wore down the security guy with our determination, use of Hausa, and explanation that our guests needed lots of help (sorry team).  I was in and wondered after 4 bus trips from the plane to the airport (It’s about a 50-100 meter drive, I think the busses are for ‘show’) if they had actually been on the plane after all.  They finally showed up on the last bus.  We waved through the glass after I got their attention.  Then Number 11 went to wait for their bags and that’s when Neal called.  The game was well under way and I could hear all the shouting.  I could hear what I was missing.  He was calling between innings to see if they had arrived.  Yes, they had.

The baggage finally started coming.  If you’ve never been in an African airport, you’re missing out.  Oh the things people check onto the plane.  But that’s material for another post.  It took patience, but we finally collected all 14 of their bags and had all carry-ons accounted for.  While in the parking lot introducing the team to Niger sweat,  loading the vehilces and fighting off all those attempting to ‘help’ with the bags, Tanika called my cell phone shouting- “Mom!  We won!  We won!”  “Great” I said!  But wait a minute.  Who exactly is “We”?  I guess I should have known that she, being a member at Sahel Academy, would be rooting for the Sahel Suns.  Instead of her father??!  Yep.  Sure enough.  When I inquired who ‘we’ was she incredulously said “The Suns”, and I’m sure was thinking to herself ‘who do ya think?’

We finally made it out of the airport and the team arrived at our house welcomed by 2 very sweaty guys – one victorious, and one, well, – not so much.  I gotta say though, Trae didn’t gloat much at all.

After a weekend full of softball, sweat, hot dogs and cotton candy (yep, the school has a cotton candy machine) it was time to change gears.  Well, the sweat thing wasn’t going to change.  The next morning we would be on our way in 3 vehicles driving 9 hours into Niger’s interior where masses of spiritually and physically sick people were waiting and hoping for victory.  That’s a game we were ready to play…and win!

I Just Gotta Testify!!!

It’s only 70 degrees right now!  That’s not my whole reason for testifying, but it sure is icing on the cake!  Rainy season is here in full force now, so though it’s quite humid, we have been enjoying some ‘cooler’ days.  But this really takes the cake.  Almost need to get out the sweatshirts!

I have blogged so many things in my head since my last post.  But for various reasons, I am just now getting around to putting it down on ‘paper’.

The month of May was a pretty crazy one for our family.  Even before then, in the ministry, crazy things seemed to be happening much too frequently.  And on top of that, financial responsibilities were piling up into a pretty good sized mountain.  I have long since learned however, that mountains can be moved.

We have good medical insurance, so medical issues, including airfare for Tanika and I to Ghana, and for Trae and Neal to Paris were taken care of.  We just had to buy my ticket to Paris.  Our accommodation in Ghana was very inexpensive, so that even fell under our benefit limit.  Paris, however, was another story.  Neal was allowed $80 for accommodation per night.  One might think that could fetch a decent room.  However, when converted to Euro’s the the cheapest room he found was $158 – per night!  He stayed there for one night.  A meal for Neal in the hospital was E30 – $48!  For hospital food!  So Neal trekked around the streets of Paris looking for more ‘suitable’ food.

In the meantime a good friend of ours was sending our prayer updates to her friends.  One of those friends belonged to a church where the pastor was getting ready to do a missions trip to Paris and knew of a kind of guest house there.  That pastor contacted the people at Parole de Vie (Word of Life) on our behalf.  Parole de Vie then contacted Neal in Paris and told him that he and Trae (and me, when I arrived) would be welcome to stay there.  Wow!  The guest house turned out to be an 18th Century 16-room house that was under renovation.  All I can say is that it was a very cool place.  Though there were people coming and going, Rob and Caira basically gave us the run of the place.  I arrived several days later.  We had our own rooms, a kitchen to use and a TV and DVD player.  The charge per night?  Nothing!  And we gained some friends out of the deal as well.

While in Paris, Neal’s parents were holding things down in Niger.  A ‘funny’ sound was heard by Dad in the engine of our car and he promptly took it to the mechanic.   He emailed us with the news that the engine on our ‘new’ vehicle (now 4.5 years old – guess the honeymoon is over) needed to have the engine rebuilt.  To the tune of $2500.  Well then.   Also due, tuition for our kids school.  Huh.  In addition two of our pastors needed motorcycles, among quite a few other ministry needs.

We know that God provides and frankly, in these situations, I know there isn’t a whole lot we can do but trust in Him.  That’s really nothing new.  That’s one of the benefits of missionary life.  Trusting God every month for our ‘salary’.  When Tanika first got sick, Neal preached a message on joy – that it’s not based on circumstances.  Ours was being tested.  And we were determined to pass the test.  Some days I had to actively choose not to worry.

We were amazed at how people supported us with prayer, and also with extra giving.  It’s quite humbling.   We knew God would provide, but when we got our monthly giving ledger, we were astounded – jaw dropping astounded.  There was enough over our regular personal and ministry budget to pay all of our bills–  car repair, school, expenses in Paris, as well as enough extra to buy at least one of the motorcycles!  It’s funny how we expect God to do it, but are then amazed when He does.

That’s enough to build our faith for all the other things that we believe God has put on our plate to do!

So, as you can see, I just had to testify!

Adventure in Benin – Days 8, 9 & 10

Since we were supposed to be at his church for the Sunday morning service, Pastor Joseph was a bit nervous that we had made plans to go back to Grand Popo – back to the beach – on Saturday. He understands the whole traffic situation, but he doesn’t understand our need to get as much of the beach as we can. He saw us off at about 7am on Saturday morning and we re-assured him we would meet him at his church at 9am the next day. Two hours later we were checked back into the same rooms we vacated Wednesday, and we were on the beach. This time Rufus came with us. We had so much fun swimming (if that’s what you call being slammed down by crashing waves), walking, talking, playing frisbee, football, & beach long jump and hanging out at the pool. I went on a walk with Tobi and had an interesting conversation. I asked him if he liked my message the night before. He smiled and said he did. He said I preached on obedience, and that God wants to bless us when we obey Him. Then he asked me a question.

Tobi: “Do you love God or Jesus more?”

Mom: “I love them both the same. I love God because he sent Jesus, and I love Jesus because of his willingness to come.”

T: “I love God more.”

M: “Really? Why?”

T: “Because He’s fast.”

M: “Does He run?”

T: (very matter of factly) “No, He flies.”

M: “Oh, I didn’t know that.”

T: “Well, I love them both, but I love God more.”

What followed was an attempt at explaining the trinity by drawing pictures in the sand. Not sure he got it, but it’s a start.

We wanted to try another local place for lunch so headed out for a hopefully quick lunch. We found what looked like a promising option but were disapointed when we sat down and again everything we asked for on the menu was not available. This of course was after wiping down the tables and chairs and moving them through the sand so we could all sit together. We thanked the ‘waiter’ and went on our way. We ended up finding a ‘food is ready’ place and ordered rice and stew and frites (fries). Everyone got the same thing so we could cut down on the confusion. The available meat was mutton, and you purchased it by the piece. The food started arriving randomly so some of us began eating. When we had been waiting a few minutes for what we thought was the last plate, we finally asked about it. No, we were told, they had already brought us everything. Huh. OK. Rather than wait for them to go harvest some rice, grow some potatoes, and slaughter a sheep, we opted to ask for an extra plate and divided what remained among those who hadn’t eaten. Everyone left satisfied, and we were pleased with how cheap it all was. We spent the rest of our time between the ocean and the pool, until everyone was starving and ready for dinner at 8:30. We ordered our favorites (hours in advance) and it was ready when we sat down. We packed up the car (again) Saturday night since we were leaving at 7am. We didn’t want to disappoint Pastor Joseph. Before going to bed that night, Neal and I enjoyed a lovely stroll on the beach, thankful for the time we’d had to spend there. The stars were incredible.

Sunday morning we were again off and arrived on time. I had hoped to find someplace along the road as we got closer to Cotonou to buy some bread or something for breakfast. The granola was gone. That didn’t happen. We did have a package of cookies in the car so some of us ate those. This morning’s service was the culmination of the week of meetings. Celebrating the anniversary proper, as they said. What a day it was. The service started on time at 9am. It’s a happening church so there was much to be done. Much to be done. Neal preached for about 35 minutes. By the time the final amen was said, it was after 2pm. 2pm!! We had been there for over 5 hours. It was hot. We were hot. Dripping, really. But it was good. Trae, Tanika & Tobi were sitting together and though I know Tobi knows how to sit in church, I was amazed that he sat there the entire service, sweating, without even attempting to come to me and complain. I was getting restless! And we were in really comfortable chairs. Pastor Joseph kept apologizing for the length of the service and from about 11:50 on he kept telling us it was almost over. It was fine, though, as that was why we were there. That was our plan for that day. Well, that, and we were going to start on our journey home. But the drive to Parakou was only about 5 hours so we weren’t concerned too much with time. Our plan was to leave after the service and stop at the place we ate the night we arrived in Cotonou. They had incredible schrwama’s and Tobi had a great hamburger. He said it was his favorite restaurant. We were also planning to change out of our sweaty church clothes and into our travel clothes. When the final ‘amen’ was said we tried to convince Pastor Joseph of our plan to get on the road right away. He would have none of it. He insisted that we go into his office for just a few minutes. His office was a narrow room, suitable for maybe 6 chairs/people. No fan. He had also invited all the other pastors that had attended the service into this room – making at least 20 chairs and people. But we managed to keep scooting over to make room for more of our happy family. The jolof rice and chicken, juice and cake were worth it. We were trying to leave but the kids were requested for way to many photo ops. Pastor Joseph finally had to grab us by the hand and lead us to our loaded down vehicle. He was now getting concerned about us getting on our way. They honored us with the top cake from the anniversary cake. Loaded down as we were, we found a way to fit it in. Not to be denied my schwarma, (or the opportunity to get out of sweaty clothes) we tootled our way to Tobi’s favorite eating establishment and carried out the rest of our plan. We changed and ordered the sandwiches to go. We were on our way by 3:30. Going was slow behind overloaded trucks on a narrow 2-lane road. Darkness arrived by 7, so it was 2 hours of even slower going (keeping in mind that a truckdriver may decide he’s had enough and stop his truck in the middle of the road.) There are no street lights so one has to anticipate obstacles. We arrived in Parakou before 10pm, tired, hungry, and safe. The missionaries there were able to direct us to a pizza place that would still be open. Pizza! It was wonderful, and while some of us had the foresight to save some of their pizza for the next day’s journey, some of us (who will not remain nameless, Neal) figured that they could play on the compassion of others to get some of the saved pizza the following day.

We had another night without AC, but I was surprised at how long it took me to get to sleep considering how tired I was. I did sleep though, because at some point in the night I woke up and wondered if I was sleeping next to the incredible shrinking man. Neal woke up and decided that Tobi’s single bed was cooler than ours, so he switched places with him. It was a good idea for us all. We got on our way about 8am and had an uneventful trip. The borders were quick and easy this time and the few times we allowed ourselves to stop and use the bush (bladders were all sychronized so as not to waste time), we were amazed at how much drier the climate was. Barren, but dry. We arrived home at about 4pm with enough time to unpack everything and prepare for the next day, one that would start early and be busy for us all.

We had a wonderful family and ministry time away. I’m all about memories and some great ones were made. It’s always good to get away and renew our perspective. We were encouraged by what we know is possible, and what God wants to, and is doing in Niger.

That’s all she wrote!

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.

Adventure in Benin – Day 5

We had another wonderfullly chilly night and Wednesday morning we were ready for more beach. Not really sure how long it would take for us all to get our fill…or if that was possible. We let the kids eat the standard restaurant breakfast for a change, while Neal and I enjoyed my trusty granola. Today is the day we were heading back into Cotonou for the start of the meetings that actually brought us to Benin in the first place.

We packed up our load – everything except what we’d be changing into – and loaded it into the car. Then it was off to the beach for more sun and surf. We decided up front that we had to be driving out by 12pm so everyone had to plan accordingly.

When making our plans to come to Benin, we looked into a few different options as to where we could stay, based on what other missionaries had told us. There was another option – a very nice resort about 25 miles from where we were staying. Casa del Papa, in the town of Ouidah. We opted not to stay there, as it was about 3X the price. But we did want to see the place, so we planned to eat lunch there today, on our way back to Cotonou. It was a grand place! Three swimming pools, close to the beach, tons of activities (for a fee!) and a nice restaurant. The place was huge. We had pizza for lunch and it was enjoyed by all. We discussed it while waiting for our food and decided that we would much rather stay where we were for 3 days, then to stay in this place for 1. It was a no-brainer. It was nice, but since we all love to hang out on the beach, all we really need is a clean room with cold AC. Did I say cold AC? And the fact is, if we wanted any of those activities, we could come and do them. You have to pay for them whether you are staying there or not. We were pleased with our choice!

On to Cotonou. Casa del Papa was pretty hidden so we had to have a taxi driver lead us to it. We would have never found it on our own – driving through the narrow streets of Ouidah. Leaving however, we felt confident we knew what we were doing. How wrong we were. We may have been ok if there hadn’t have been ‘road construction’ at every turn. We knew the general direction we needed to go to get to the main road that leads to Cotonou, and we are very good at stopping to ask directions. It would have been helpful if we were actually able to speak to the people in their language. Again, Trae came to our rescue. He had been pretty valuable up to this point with important things like ordering food. Sure glad we brought him along. With Trae’s French and some sign language, we turned our vehicle around (this wasn’t easy on the narrow dirt path – not to mention the crowd of onlookers that had gathered). As suggested, we went left then right and were at yet another impasse. Either we got wrong directions, or we missed something in the the translation. Nonetheless, we were getting good at asking for help. Which we did, but we were told to turn around and go right, then left. Ummm, thanks, but that’s exactly where we just came from, and I’m sure the crowd we gathered at that location is just starting to disperse. Obviously, we made it out of the maze – I would have loved to seen an aerial view of the place – because it really did feel like a maze. Now the road that connects Benin Republic to Togo is a 2-lane ‘throughway’. Not really. Suffice it to say that it took us – on account of overloaded trucks that were nearly impossible to pass, potholes, and construction – 2 hours to travel about 35 miles.

Upon arrival in Cotonou our instructions were to call Pastor Joseph and he would meet us somewhere. That meant finding a phone center. We did that without too much trouble and he gave us directions as to the best place to meet. We arrived first so we called him again. He was still 30 minutes away. We were thirsty and hot. Trae stayed with the car while the remaining 4 of us walked down the traffice laden streets (yes, again, we were a sight) to find ourselves a coke. We had victory and walked back to the car and Trae took his turn at finding a coke. Soon Pastor Joseph showed up so Trae jumped in the car with him and we followed them to our hotel. We were very pleasantly surprised at our accomodations and were so blessed to find that again, we were going to have AC! Up to that point, we had no idea.

Let me explain how we came to be here. In October 2006, Neal was invited to speak at a Four Square nation wide conference in Benin. He met several pastors at the conference and was invited to come back. Pastor Joseph, a conference attendee, and his family are Nigerian’s and God called them to start a church in Benin. He invited Neal last year again, but he wasn’t able to make it. He was persistant, and this year it worked out for all of us to go. So except for Neal, our gathering on the busy streets of Cotonou was the first time we met him. What a joy it was to get to know Pastor Joseph, his wife Joy, and their 4 sweet and talented kids. And they were both of those things – sweet, and talented.

At our hotel, Pastor Joseph had booked 3 rooms for our family. That was huge for us, as we are usually crammed into one! It was close to 5pm and he informed us that the service started at 6. He was going home to get our food. More food? It had only been about 3 hours since our pizza, but somehow I knew that we were going to be presented with some Nigerian food that would demand an appetite. I was right. Rice and stew and pieces of fried chicken. We enjoyed, and decided we better hurry up and get ready for the service. I took a shower, but wondered why I bothered. I was already wet again before Pastor came back to the hotel to pick us up for service. Guess it’s the thought that counts?

We didn’t know what a treat we were in for. The music at this church (Kingdom Life Glory Mission) was incredible. All of us thoroughly enjoyed it. And we knew that this is exactly what we are needing/wanting in our churches in Niger. We know the power of music to draw people to the church and to Jesus, and we want to develop it in Niamey. It’s always good to get away to renew prespective, and get new ideas. Then the preacher got up (my gifted husband) and the house nearly came down. The majority of the church is made up of Nigerians so when Neal started speaking the Pidgen English he learned as a boy, the roof nearly came in. It was a great way to get their attention before he began to preach – about being an influence. By the time he was finished, there was not a dry spot on him. His clothes were literally wringing wet. The humidity here is just not something we’re used to. The service ended with invitations to bring more people the next night. We really had fun.

Back to the hotel we went, where we were told that our food would be coming. More food?! It was 9:30 for goodness sake! But we somehow, with no difficulty at all, managed to eat the food when it arrived. It was wonderful. Pastor Joseph said goodnight and went home. Then the electricity went out. The generator came on. Then it went out. Once again, we were sweating in the dark. A few minutes later Pastor Joseph knocked on our door. He was so apologetic and feeling so bad. He didn’t know what was going on, but would find out. We kept reminding him that we lived in Africa, and that we understood! A bit later he returned to tell us that they had run out of gas for the generator. Were they planning on getting more? No… at least not until he showed up! Talk about influence! Not too much later we were back in generator business. No matter that they called our rooms and asked us to turn off the AC, that the generator could not run them. No problem. (Well, to be honest, it was a little problem but I’m trying to count my blessings with a fan). Praise God from whom all blessings flow the ‘real’ electricity came back on before we even got to sleep. So it was a good night sleep for us all. Another wonderful day!

Adventure in Benin – Day 4

Tuesday morning we woke up snuggled in a blanket.  It was crispy cold!  Now that’s what I call AC!  Our room was part of a 2-story building – on each floor there were 5 rooms facing the ocean, both floors having their own common balcony.  We were on the 2nd floor.  I got up and went outside to warm up.  There were chairs and small tables outside of each room on the balcony.  I brought homeade granola from home for breakfast.  My plan worked pretty well.  I had disposable cups and spoons and powdered milk (all we use is powdered milk).  Each person poured the of water he/she wanted that would eventually become milk for the granola.  This sounds easy but one has to consider that milk powder has mass, as does the granola.  Pouring too much water to start could have undesired consequences.  We got the process down pretty well and enjoyed granola out of a cup each morning.  I’ve never really been able to enjoy cereal with warm milk, but at the beach somehow it was doable.  I might add though, that the bottled water in our air conditioned rooms was close to chilled.  The previous morning, in our steamy rooms, it was downright warm. 

With breakfast out of the way, we hit the beach for some family devos, and then made our way to the waves.  What a day it was!  This beach wasn’t at all rocky, but very steep.  We were able to go out some when the tide was out.  Other than that, we stayed near the shore and played frisbee, football, and games like ‘let’s see who can stand best under the force of a crashing wave’.  There were too many wipeouts to count, so I’m not sure who won.  Tanika, Tobi and I took a walk down the beach.  There were fishing boats on either end of the hotel property.  African fishing boats.  Large dugout canoe type things that actually went out into the ocean.  We’d see them out there early in the morning.  They fish with nets.  Just like the disciples.  At this point they had already come in for the day.  We stopped along the way to pick up shells or to play ‘see how close you can get to the wave without it touching you’.  At one point, I’m not sure why we weren’t paying attention, we got hammered.  It all happened so fast I can’t really put it all back together.  I was standing in one spot, Tobi in front of me a few steps, and Tanika in front and to the left I think.  When this wave hit, it was like someone pulled both of my feet out from under me at the same time.  I dropped straight down while Tobi and Tanika were both slammed back into me.  We’re not sure who hit what, or what hit who, but Tanika had a big scrape/bruise behind her knee and I got pummled with something on the back of my neck.  It may have been Tobi’s head.  As we were trying to figure out what happened we started to get pulled back out because of the steepness and force of the water.  We grabbed onto each other and the sand and waited for the wave to wash back over us.  Tobi jumped up and started saying “I’m sorry Mom, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.  Are you ok?  I’m sorry.”  As if it was his fault.  We’re moaning and groaning as I’m telling him we’re fine.  I wasn’t sure at that point, considering the instant headache, but I wanted to reassure him.   We stood still for a couple of minutes to regroup, then I guess all was well, because Tobi wanted to race.  This attempt at running was a reality check as to how out of shape I am.  (In my defense I was running in thick sand on a very steep plane). 

We had been told about another hotel restaurant in the town we were nearby.  We decided to try that for lunch.  It was very enjoyable.  Right on the beach.  We thought we were pretty clever to bring a deck of cards (considering our lunch the day before), but when we sat down we realized it was way to windy to play.  No matter though, the food was ready in short order.  It was quite good.  Fish.  Then we split a fruit kabob for dessert.  Grilled fruit – quite tasty! 

We returned to our part of the beach and we were back at it.  Fighting those wonderful waves.  Neal and Trae developed an interesting game.  “See who can throw the football promptly so it will be caught at the exact time the ‘catchee’ gets pounded with a wave”.  A water version of tackle football, only the other team is the ocean.  The ‘winner’ was the one that got less banged up.  Males!  I spent my time taking pictures & video, reading, collecting shells, walking, and I even did my share of fighting the waves.  I was determined to get out past the breakers to enjoy some rolling waves.  I managed to get out there but the side tow was so strong that even though I was swimming west with all I had, I was still being pulled east.  So as not to end up at the place we had lunch, I decided to exit the water.  Easier said then done.  Getting back through the breakers was not easy.  I had been swimming out there with Trae and told him I needed to get in – I was so tired.  Another reality check as to my cardiovascular fitness – or lack thereof.  From there, we again relocated to the pool for several games of ‘Statue Marco Polo’.  The statue part was for Tobi’s sake.  He was a riot.  We enjoyed the pool right up until the time we had to get ready for dinner.

Dinner again was at 8:30 and we pre-ordered so not a whole lot of waiting would be required.  The previous night I ate baracuda in cream sauce.  It was wonderful.  So much so, that everyone wanted to order it for tonight.  I had an interesting version of beef stroganoff – it  was a yummy version!  Majority rule decided that we all still had enough umphhh left to be able to watch a DVD.  Since we had a king size bed in our room we were all able to pile on it to see the portable DVD player screen.  First, an episode of the Brady Bunch.  Tobi’s vote.  Then it was off to bed for Tobi.  No complaints from him.  He was ready to sleep.  And he had no qualms about being alone in the room next door to us.  What a guy.  We then watched an episode of Lost – 3rd season.   We all managed to stay awake to the end, but were then ready to saw logs.  There’s nothing like the kind of tired you feel when you’ve spent the day on a beautiful beach with people you love!