A Sunday Here, A Sunday There

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seriously?

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

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The Crunch Finale: Lessons Learned

Well, here it is.  The end of the longest accident story ever.

I got my frazzled self home, made a cup of tea.  No, it was a mug.  A mug of tea.  I went to my room, turned on the AC, (it was too hot for tea but I really needed some, so on the AC went – and after all, I deserved it!). I got on my bed and opened my Bible to the day’s reading.

Now I’m not sure how effectively I communicated how frustrated I was during this entire process.  And feeling justified in my frustration because after all, everyone knows how crazy taxi drivers are.  And the police!  Well, there was just one that made me angry.  But he made me more annoyed than one man should have the ability to do.

Back to my Bible reading.  September 11.  Psalm 55.

God understood how I was feeling.  Check this out. The whole chapter was about me.  My paraphrase:  Listen to my prayer, answer me.  I am distraught at the voice of the police enemy.  They bring suffering on me.  Oh, that I had the wings of a dove I would fly away and be at rest.  I would flee far away and stay in the desert (Ok, the desert part was just kind of funny).  Confuse the wicked.  I see strife in the city.  Destructive forces are at work there.  Threats and lies never leave its streets.  But I call to God and the Lord saves me.  I cry in distress and he hears my voice.  (God, it’s NOT my fault!  Can’t you do something about these taxi drivers?)  Cast your cares on the Lord – he will sustain you.  You God will bring down the wicked!

I kid you not.  That was my scheduled Psalm for September 11.  I was feeling pretty good about this.  God used His Word to speak to me, to encourage me.  He knew exactly how I was feeling.  He’s good like that.

I moved on to the Old Testament reading for the day, wondering what other good news about being justified was awaiting me.  Isaiah 8 & 9.

I’m reading along, sipping my Earl Grey and this is what jumps off the page.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.  You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as a people rejoice at the harvest.”  Isaiah 9:2,3

There are places on this earth where people are walking in darkness.  Niger is one of those places.  That’s why we’re here.  To expose them to the light.  So many are living in the shadow of death and don’t even know it.  I’ve read these verses before.  Even have them underlined in my Bible.  But golly did they speak to me in a new way this time.  In light of my day.  In light of my attitude.  In light of me feeling all high and mighty and justified.  I am supposed to be that light. ME.  Why in the world would I expect any of the people I dealt with today to behave any differently than they did?  Are they believers?  No.  Do they have THE light?  No.  As the Bible clearly tells us, they CAN’T understand the things of God unless the Holy Spirit reveals stuff to them.  And it says in 2 Corinthians 4:4 “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the LIGHT of the Gospel of the glory of Christ.  Oh my.

I was supposed to be that light today.  The great light that Isaiah 9 talks about. Now I didn’t cuss anybody out.  But not losing my head and being a light are two very different things.   My pride could rise up and try and tell me how well I handled myself considering the frustrations and injustices.  After all….  But was I a light?  Did I shine?  I think not.  I just felt sorry for myself.

I know good and well that God did not cause this fender bender so I would hear him or so He could teach me something.   He speaks to us today through His Word and through the Holy Spirit.  And today, he spoke clearly to me through His Word.  And what’s more, long ago my God knew what my day would be like on September 11, 2014.  He knew that I’d be sitting on my bed with the AC on, drinking a hot cup mug of Earl Grey and casting my cares on Him.  He knew that I’d need comforting.  He also knew that I needed some correcting.  I could almost see Him up in heaven looking down at me, mug of tea in hand, smiling, as He gently said, “Yes, cast your cares on me.  I’ll be there for you.  But don’t forget – YOU are the light to the people walking around in the dark.  Now act like it.  And remember, I love you.”

The Crunch: Part 2

In my defense, I have tried a few times to write but the dog ate it.  Ok.  Obviously that excuse won’t fly.  Unless the dog ate my computer.  But I don’t have a dog.  What I do have though, is poor, poor internet.  And honest to goodness the 2 times I tried to write, I couldn’t even get the cursor off the Title line.  And it was NOT a user error.

But it’s obviously working right now.  So, where was I?  Oh yes.  Mr. Taximan and myself were pointing fingers – at each other.

One more look at the scene of the crime…

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Keep in mind that this is a ‘circle’  and traffic comes and goes from 5 different directions and I’m quite sure vehicles were dropping in from above as well.  There was much more activity going on than this picture lets on.  Excuses, excuses.  ANYway, after the ‘crunch’, I stay in my 4Runner while Mr. Taximan (henceforth known as ‘Mr. TM) stops, gets out, and walks to me.  We just kind of stare at each other.  Also keep in mind – I’m in a foreign country.  And even though I’ve been here for 16+ years, in this situation, I’m definitely a foreigner-as will later become clear.  Oh, and Mr. TM and I are trying to communicate in 3 different languages.  That’s a dead giveaway to the foreignness of things.

While trying to blame him, I grab my phone and call Neal.  Mr.TM   grabs his phone and calls….well, I’m not sure who he calls.  I am sure he doesn’t have a  Neal.  All while this exchange is going on, traffic is moving on around us – coming from every which way.  There was even another tiny fender bender next to my vehicle while we were sitting there.  Those people were smart and just kept going.  Also, all the while, there was some traffic police standing at one of the ‘V’s in the circle.  Mr. TM went to talk to them.  They were not the police that deal with accidents, and according to them, they didn’t see anything anyway.  They were kind enough to call the police that deal with accidents.

Neal showed up within 10 minutes of my call.   He was on his way to teach at the Bible School and willingly detoured to come to my aid.  He’s exactly the kind of guy you want to have around in this type of situation.  Well, he’s quite nice to have around in lots of situations.  He began talking with MR. TM using Hausa, and Mr. TM was responding in French.  He finally got that we don’t speak French, so attempted to use Hausa as well (neither of our first languages).

After waiting about 15 minutes, the accident police come and start asking questions.  They first ask me if I’ve been hurt (again in French but my Hausa response gets us on the same page – at least as far as language is concerned).  I said no, that I was fine and thanks for asking.  Then they stood with what I would call both suspicious and questioning looks on their faces.  They extracted  a tape measure from somewhere and measured the distance from my vehicle to Mr. TM’s.  Which I thought was funny, since he did a U-turn around me and drover several yards before stopping.  They didn’t bother with the skid marks on the right of my vehicle where the impact happened.  Then they drew a picture (crudely) of where we were in the intersection and wrote their measurements down.  After this, they directed us to move the vehicles out of the middle of the circle, which I was happy about, but which I’m quite sure didn’t make much of a difference to the traffic patterns.  While we waited for 1 of the policemen to fill out the report – having taken all our car papers and drivers license – I chatted with the other policeman.  We had quite an interesting conversation about how crazy the taxi drivers were  and how they had no regard for anyone on the road but themselves.  He was in full agreement.

The next step was to go to the police ‘station’, for lack of a better term.  These two policemen would take our papers there, and it was there we would have to go to collect them and finish the process.  Neal needed to get to class but didn’t want me to go alone, so he called Pastor Zabeyrou to come and go with me.  I bid Neal goodbye and waited for Pastor Z.  He arrived on his motorcycle pretty quickly, and I got in the vehicle to follow him.  The actual distance from Point A to point B was probably about 4 miles.  But it took us at least 20 minutes (you know, the traffic and all).  As minor as the accident was, I felt a little shaky as I drove.  That was kind of weird.

I hadn’t been to this police station before so didn’t know what to expect.  Trying to park was interesting because there is what appears to be a perfectly roped off area right outside the wall of the station that looks like its for parking.  Which I did.  AFTER I locked the vehicle and got out, a police lady at the gate informed me that this was not for parking and I’d have to park on the OTHER side of the rope.  She of course couldn’t have said  that while she watched me park.  But I could tell she was enjoying her job too much when I observed someone stepping over the rope to enter the police compound and she literally made them come back, step back over the rope, and go around.  Pastor Z. and I entered (properly) and I was shocked to find inside literally hundreds of motorcycles piled up on top of each other.  Hundreds!  I was told these bikes were seized for one reason or another, and not reclaimed.  Then I saw the same type of pile made out of bicycles.   Mr. TM was there and kindly showed us where to go.  We entered a building towards the back of the compound.   There were several offices off to the right and left of a narrow hallway.   ‘Our’ office was in the back on the left.  I use the term ‘office’ loosely. We entered a crowded room, me being the only female (and foreigner for that matter).  Desks surrounded the perimeter of the room, except for the metal bench that was to our immediate right on entering.  That bench was full of people, as well as were the chairs that were scattered in the remaining space in the center of the room.  We stood for a bit, until one of the policeman asked us to sit down.  All the desks were occupied by policemen who appeared to be working quite diligently.  The only seat available would be made if everyone sitting on the already full metal bench, well, squished.  And squish they did.  And sit down I did.  Sort of.  Pastor Z. and I chatted about everything and nothing while waiting to get my car papers back.  I discovered the room was full of people who had all had accidents…that morning!

After about 30 minutes or so, we decided to inquire on the status of my papers.  The policeman was nice enough and looked through the stack he had.  Nope.  Not there.  So he went the extra mile and called the police from the scene.  He was speaking Hausa so I could understand when he told the man to bring my papers – that we were waiting.  I was actually a bit surprised.  Some more time passed and I finally saw the officer from the scene enter the small, crammed room.  He passed off the papers then immediately left with no conversation and the man at corner desk began working on them.  More time passed and he finally indicated for me to come forward.  Pastor Z and I did and he explained that I would now have to go to the insurance and show them the accident report and get their stamp.    I would then return to the police station where they would return to me my car papers, but would keep my drivers license.  Hold the phone.  Keep my license?

“Why”? I inquire.

And this pleasant man who I had been chatting with looked at me with a big smile on his face and said, “Well, because it’s your fault”.

Now take note.  This man was basing this on a piece of paper he received with no other communication.  On this paper was a pencil ‘drawing’ of the intersection and the two vehicles.  Not sure what else, since it was in French.  But Mr. Pleasant was the one to make the judgment about who was at fault based on this piece of paper.  I know.  Didn’t make sense to me either.

I said, “You’re saying it’s my fault because I’m an American”.  All he did is smile at me.

By this time, Neal was on his way back from his class, and Pastor Z. had other things he needed to do.  I made my way back through town and met Neal at our insurance office.  Noon traffic was horrendous.  I finally made it.  It was 12:35.  We walked in to the large room and everyone was sitting behind their counters but didn’t look like they were interested in helping us.  We were finally told that they closed at 12:30 and would re-open at 2:30.  WHAAAAT????  We were not happy campers.  Going home would be downright foolish.  Even though the distance was probably about 6 miles, it could easily take an hour to get there.  It had just taken us 15 minutes to drive 200 yards.  We hadn’t had lunch and we had a 2  hour wait.  But we didn’t want to drive.  So in spite of the fact that it was close to 100 degrees, we decided to walk rather then drive to a place to have lunch.   We passed our time staring at each other and discussing how ridiculous it was that Mr. Pleasant said he would take my license.   We made it back to the insurance office by 2:30.  Two-thirty is really just a suggested time for re-opening.  But re-open they did.  Finally.

Now insurance around here is a waste, but very important to have. What I mean is if you don’t have it, you go to jail.  Having it provides nothing, even in case of an accident.

The insurance people proceeded to fill out their report, based on the report we gave them from the police.  This took some time.  They asked me what happened and I explained it to them.  And told them it was not my fault.  Then I told them the police were threatening to take away my license.  I didn’t know why.  What I did know, is that if they really did get my license, the process of getting it back would be long and hard.  And maybe expensive.  But even the not-so-concerned-about-customer-service insurance people thought that sounded odd.

Having obtained the coveted stamp on the police report, it was time to take it back to them and collect our car papers.  Driving without them can be risky if/when you are stopped.   We were in 2 vehicles and it would be downright idiotic to intentionally drive 2 vehicles across town.  So we stashed one (at a restaurant) and I jumped in with Neal, happy to NOT be driving.

Armed with knowledge this time I could accurately direct Neal where to park and instruct him not to step over the rope but to go around it.  Then I got to see his awe over all the stacked up moto’s.  Wisely, Neal knew it would be better to have a national with us – so as not to look like dumb Americans.  We call Habibu, our primary school director and he comes to our aid right away.  The 3 of us walk back in to the office I’m feeling pretty familiar with now, determined to walk out with my license in hand.  Mr. Pleasant was there, and his face brightened when he saw me walk in.  (‘Time for my pay-off’  I suspect he was thinking).  I handed him the stamped report and he said, “And your license”.

“No.  I’m not giving you my license.”

“You have to turn in your license until the case is judged.”

As I’m getting more and more agitated my husband steps up and says, “Well where is the taximan’s license then?”   Habibu is also standing there.

“We only need your license because you were the one at fault”.

My husband: “OH, then that means you HAVE already judged the case.”

Me:  “Grrrr. Ugghhh. Sheesh.  Etc.”

What followed is Neal and Habibu arguing (almost good-naturedly) with the man, while I grabbed my phone and said (In English), “I’m calling the embassy.”

I had recently been to the embassy and talked with the security officer.  He gave quite a positive report  and explained how they are in close contact with police – specific to security issues.  He also explained that the head hancho was not a friend of bribes and wanted to know of any issues that may come up.  I put the embassy guy’s number in my phone.

I was serious about calling the Embassy, as I was totally frazzled from the day’s events and wanted to be done.  Neal told me to put my phone down and Mr. Pleasant pleasantly laughed and said: “In America you have your laws and do things a certain way.  In Niger, we do things a certain way.  But what you don’t understand is that we’re just playing.  You can keep your license.”  Then he proceeded to find a staple remover and carefully remove all my car papers from his report.  He handed them over and he and Neal continued chatting – saying how next time they met each other it wouldn’t be because of an accident.  I mumbled and murmured things I probably don’t want to remember as we extricated ourselves from the police station.

We made our way home – yes through much traffic, arriving sometime after 4.  I left the house at 7.  It’s not at all how I planned my day.  I was frustrated and felt totally worn out.  Dealing with what feels so unjust, in a foreign language, in extreme heat and awful traffic left me frazzled.

After all that, can you believe that I’ve yet to get to the part about the lessons learned?  But again, I’ve gone on much too long.  Not really.  This is my blog and the place where I can be as wordy and detailed as I like.

That Thursday morning I didn’t do my Bible reading or have my tea.  I’m following a read the Bible in a year plan.  After arriving home I decided that would be a good time to not be around anyone (for their sake) and do the reading.

I was looking to find some comfort in the day’s scheduled reading, and find it I did.  For a second.  But then I read on…