A Journey Through the Desert

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

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

Niger Map

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

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

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

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

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

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The sun is behind us this time.

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The open road.  Sort of.

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

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This is the 2 lane road that crosses the country.

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Overloaded trucks.

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Often turn into this…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And to be on our way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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More water being transported by the beast of burden.

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Following trucks also causes this problem.

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

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

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The ladies bathroom.

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The ladies exiting the bathroom.

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

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

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Yep, my handsome husband/chauffeur loves them too.

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

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

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

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

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

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Another town, another mosque.

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

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

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

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

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More positive signs of road work.

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

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More onions for sale.

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Fuel stop.

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And it’s full service!

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

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

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This camel really is owned by someone.

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So are these cows.

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

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

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The road smooths out some, and with full bellies…

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This is what happens.

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

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

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More onions!

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

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These little boys are just having fun in their cart.

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

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

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

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Yet another overturned truck.

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

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

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

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Another one!

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

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

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Dosso city gate!!

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Yep – there are even traffic lights here!

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

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Horsin’ around.

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Standin’ around.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This one is a bit fancier.

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Mango trees!  And they’re starting to bud.

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The area around the mosque is kept quite clean.

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

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

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

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

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I like taking pictures of tractors.

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The top of the van is loaded with goats.

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

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Water tower.

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

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Outskirts of Niamey.

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

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

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Niamey city gate!!

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The airport is off to the right.

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

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Construction is always going on in this growing capital city.

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Getting busier.

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

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

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Getting close to the new overpass.

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

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

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

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

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

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A carton of ramen noodles was one of the gifts.

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Thanks for the memories.

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Sukala heading into his home.

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Continue on to our home.

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

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Our gate.

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Home Sweet Home.

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Unloading…

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Guess she missed her pillow.

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More stuff to unload!

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

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

Vie Abondante Campmeeting 2012

Last weekend was our annual Vie Abondante Campmeeting.  For those of you who don’t know, Vie Abondante is the name of this ministry and it means ‘Abundant Life’.  We’ve been having these camp meetings in various shapes and forms since 1999.  It’s a time when believers from all 30 of our churches across the country gather for fellowship and teaching.  For many of them, it’s the only time of the year they see believers from other villages.  It’s a great encouragement because they can see that though the church in their village  may be small, THE church is not small.  They are not alone in their decision to follow Jesus no matter the cost.  And oftentimes, that cost is more than you or I could even imagine.  They are also encouraged and their vision expanded as they hear testimonies about all the things that are going on in the nation through Vie Abondante.

Everyone ‘lives’ at the Maradi church compound for 3 days.  They take turns cooking, sleep very little (wherever they can find room), talk a lot, encourage each other and just have an old fashioned good time.

Each year a theme is chosen for the camp, and this year’s theme was:

Fruit that Remains

You did not choose me but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit…fruit that will last.  John 15:16

This is an encouraging time for us as well, because it allows us to see the growth of the ministry.  When we first started the camps in 1999, the missionaries would make trips back and forth to the villages to bring people to and from.  It was a huge undertaking, planning all the meals and making arrangements.   Things have come a long way (and grown)  since those days as now we have some great leaders and pastors that do all the preparation/planning and the campers come on public transport.  This year camp was held in Maradi, in the middle part of Niger.  That meant that many traveled as far away as a 10+ hour bus journey both from the east and the west.   In vehicles like this…

On roads like this…

I don’t have a picture to see how hot that journey is….you’ll just want to take my word for it.

We usually have guest speakers come both from the U.S. and Nigeria and they share the speaking times – and we’ve had some powerful guests over the years!  It’s always amazing how even though the speakers have never met, the Word they bring is harmonious.

This year, however, we decided to make it a family affair.  Neal organized a schedule that included all of the leaders and Executive Council as speakers.  Twelve in all.  I loved it!  Our camp theme was ‘Fruit That Remains’.  A topic that is near and dear to our heart at the moment.  If we don’t have something that will remain, what are we even doing here?

We arrived on Friday (after our own 9 hour road trip – in our air conditioned vehicle) to camp registration already completed.  Pastor Hasimu and his leadership team did a great job.  We brought the banner and here’s Neal helping hang it.  That’s about all we had to do as far as on ground preparation.  As you can see, Neal is ‘supervising’.

I wish I could include a video sound bite of each of the speakers, but I can’t.  So pictures will have to do.

Rev. ‘Daddy’ Ron Childs (my dad in law) started out the first night.  The night meetings were held outside, and the morning meetings were in the church.

Praise and worship time is always a highlight.  These are Gourmantche believers worshiping God with all their heart.

First up on Saturday morning was Rev. “Mommy” Childs. (my mom in law), giving examples of fruit that remains: Mark and Timothy.

Ginger Jorgensen, director of the Vie Abondante Primary School in Maradi,  brought a great testimony about the school and it’s fruit.

Everyone brought a different piece of the puzzle as to how to have fruit that remains.  Here’s Jonathan Bowden.

Carol Belec one of our primary school teachers, asked the question – ‘what kind of fruit are you?’

Following Carol, there was a dancing ‘break’.  Anytime is the right time to dance before the Lord!

Pastor Moctar was up next – he’s one of our national leaders. He’s on the right.  Pastor Abdu is interpreting.  The language groups represented were Hausa, French, Gourma, Zarma and English.  So lots of interpreting was required.

During the morning meeting, there was also a mini children’s camp going on for the kiddos.

Delfin and Johnson lead these services.

Sweet boy…

First up Saturday evening was Rich Jorgensen.  He focused on the fruit of love.

Then the choir sang.

 Pastor Hashimu, the camp director ended the night with a message about laying a good foundation.

All the time is the right time to dance before the Lord. This happens to be  Sunday morning.

I was the first speaker up on Sunday and my message was about the importance of preparing the soil (heart) to receive the seed.  Here, I’m using a silver teapot we inherited to show that our children are a heritage from God.

Children’s services continue…

The Bitty Bowden’s, Isaiah & Anna joining right in the fun.  And let’s be clear, they are not tomorrow’s missionaries, they are missionaries today!  They really are as adorable as they look.

Erin Grove, a teacher in our Primary School in Niamey, shared a great testimony – children’s lives are being changed.  And yes, she is as sweet as this picture makes her look.

Pastor Zabeiru encouraged everyone with a power-packed message.  The campers were inspired by his boldness.

More choir

Don Powell’s message was about the process of bearing fruit.

A cool, colorful photo.

Adorable young lady.

Pastor Nelson – sometimes we have to fight (overcome the giants) to get to the fruit.

 Times of prayer.

Grace – the bittiest Bowden (and youngest missionary) with Dani, her mom.  She’s cozy!

Sweet times of consecration before the Lord.

The children sang at the final meeting.

Neal preached the final message – ‘Passing it on to the next generation.’

Outside crowd.

All our pastors and their wives were prayed over.

Then the pastors in turn prayed for all the people in attendance.

Another camp, marking the end of another year is over.  We had an uneventful (thankfully so) 9 hour journey home on Monday morning and all the campers returned to their respective homes on Monday as well.  But whether we traveled from near or far, everyone was returning home encouraged by the fellowship and challenged by the message.  Am I bearing fruit?  And is it fruit that will remain?

What about you?

You did not choose me but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit…fruit that will last.  John 15:16

TTC & Vie Abondante Part 6

Before we head to Maradi, I need to comment on the weather.  We are well into the month of March.  March in Niger is hot season.  That means it gets hot.  Very hot.  Not as hot as April, but hot nonetheless.  Into the 100’s.  We prepared TTC thusly.  Imagine our surprise when what I would classify as a cold front came through, returning us to our more ‘winter like’ conditions.  Low 70’s and maybe even dipping into the 60’s at night.  I’m not sure, but it was pretty nippy.  And it’s not just me and my thin blood.  I even overheard a team member or 2 say ‘I’m cold’.  I even saw one of them sporting a sweater one morning.  True story.  It still heats up during the day, but it’s not even reaching 100.  God is truly smiling down on us because I can tell you from experience that doing the type of training and ministry that is going on here now is multiplied times more challenging when all you can think about is how hot you feel.  It makes people cranky too.  Maybe I should speak for myself.  I’d say thank God for the small things, but this unusual weather isn’t a small thing.  So I’m thanking God for the HUGE things!

Monday morning dawned bright and cool and we were ready for the big road trip to Maradi.  Two vehicles and 10 people.  So it was pretty comfortable.  The roads have improved over the years so there is really only 1 section that is bad.  And it’s pretty bad.  But it’s been worse.  Some of the potholes have recently been filled with sand, and that really does help.  If it’s just Neal and I traveling in 1 vehicle, we make the trip in no more than 8 hours.  Sometimes less.  But we are no-nonsense travelers.  Synchronized bladders for 1 but no more than 2 bush stops.  We have to stop for gas but we’re almost pulling away while they are removing the nozzle from the tank.  You get the picture.

The trip went great but with 10 bladders and 10 sets of intestines, some travel modifications had to be made.  We left at 7am, and the plan was to start the seminar at 3pm.  That gave us 8 hours.

Here we are loading up from our house.

One of our stops.  Lots of ‘fast food’ options if one is so inclined.

On the road again…

Some ‘common’ sights.

There are zillions of these speed bumps (and other varieties) all along the way.  Their names were changed to ‘bump speeds’ if we didn’t happen to see them before flying over them.   They really are this hard to see.

Potholes are kind of like inverted speed bumps.

More good road.

Outskirts of Maradi

We’re here!  Maradi ‘gate’.

We arrived into town around 3:30 and went straight to the guest house where we would stay for the week and dropped off our things.  All were happy to have the luxury of a real toilet.

After enjoying an official ‘throne’ we were off to the church where there were about 35 seminar participants waiting.

The team opened with some dramas and then began teaching technique.

‘The Wall’

After a quick but very tasty dinner with the Jorgensen’s and Bowden’s –  Vie Abondante missionaries in Maradi, we continued the seminar from 7:30 – 9:30.  The seminars each started with one of the TTC team members bringing a Bible study.  They all did great and brought encouraging revelation from the Word of God.  Monday was Keagon’s turn.

Then the mime training continued…We split into 2 teams.  Here, Josiah and Nichelle are teaching them how to walk without going anywhere.  Pretty funny stuff.

Tuesday was much the same, well, minus the road trip through the desert.  Oh – and the visit to our primary school.

Keagon Juggling

Sukala and Delfin are some of our leaders in Niamey and they came to Maradi to be a part of the TTC team here.

Walking over to the pre-school.

The kids were giggling at the silly juggling.

The resurrection.  Almost all of these kids are from Muslim families.

The team

Ginger Jorgensen is the director of the school.  Here she is answering our questions before we get ready to leave.

School’s out!

Tuesday evening started out with some awesome praise and worship.  Vie Abondante and TTC together.  No interpretation necessary.

Then it was Nichelle’s turn to bring the message.  Neal interpreted (he’s the guy on the right!)

The students were really attentive.

So were the TTC team members.

Next was the instructional video.  How many people can gather around 1 computer screen?  This many.

If you think this was a long post, you have an idea of what our days are like.

Next:  Wednesday and beyond!

Miracles Meetings in Maradi: Part 2

And so the meetings began.  We were in for some amazing stuff.  As I said, we had no idea how many people would come, but we were hoping for ‘a lot’.  As usual, God did above and beyond.  People came by the hundreds.  They came by the thousands.

But it wasn’t without opposition.     Anytime the Kingdom of Light penetrates the Kingdom of Darkness, there will be opposition.

The first night was amazing.  People came early – of course there were TONS of children, since they were the ones that were targeted with the tickets.  The tickets had a two-fold purpose.  The most important reason was for contact information so after the event the local pastors could follow up.  The plan was for each person to fill out the information and at the entrance that portion of the ticket would be turned in, while the attendee kept the other half for the prize drawing later in the evening.  That was the plan anyway.  But that’s not how it went down….

Here’s Neal talking with the police – explaining that we wanted the people to arrive in an organized way – through the gate.  They are explaining to him that that would not be possible.  All of these people had arrived early – before the gates were officially opened.

So we went to Plan B.   In order for us to get the tickets of those that had already come through the gate, we had to have our security guys and our pastors go through the crowds and collect them one by one.  It wasn’t too difficult, as everyone wanted to be sure they were included.

The JSMI team was ready and the program began.  The Gospel was clearly presented by several members of the team.  They all preached with passion and while they were speaking, video was being shown on a big screen.  In spite of the constant noise and commotion, it appeared that many people were listening intently.

John Smithwick is preaching here about the crucifixion and Pastor Benji is interpreting.

While he was preaching, some of those in attendance were not happy with the Gospel being so strongly preached and they began throwing stones.  One of the stones hit Pastor Benji right between the eyes.  Blood was everywhere, but that didn’t stop the message.  Another pastor jumped right up to interepret while we attended to Pastor Benji.

Through our years in Niger we’ve faced various obstacle and challenges – both personally and in ministry.  Every single time we come out the winner.  So it makes me realize just how stupid the devil really is to keep it coming.  Doesn’t he get it?  This kind of opposition just makes us that much more determined.  What we saw take place was nothing less than an outpouring of God’s love for His people.  The atmosphere was anything but reverent.  But in spite of that, he saved and healed that night, and during the 3 nights after that first one.  We witnessed it first hand.

Before this night, this little boy could only crawl on his hands, dragging his legs behind him.  Jesus healed him!  Here John is holding him up after he ran back and forth on the platform a few times.

Here is video of this 8 year old boy who before tonight could not walk.  Praise God!!!  Pastor Nelson is interpreting.

When we arrived the 2nd night, a few of our security guys had a young boy in tow and brought him to Neal, explaining that this was the boy that used the slingshot and hit the interpreter.  They wanted to know if they should turn him in to the police.  We knew that if the police got ahold of him he would be severely beaten. So we talked to him and at first he denied his involvement.  His name was Mohammed and he was 12 years old.  I sent Tobi to go and talk with him and Tobi just said ‘he’s a nice boy’.    We told him that Jesus loved him and wanted to forgive him if he wanted forgiveness.  He said he did.  Then Neal told him that what was left was for him to ask forgiveness from Pastor Benji, and if Benji forgave him, he was free to go.

Here is Neal talking with him.

Here is Pastor Benji explaining why he is forgiving him.

After this, Mohammed returned to every meeting and during the day whenever we went to the field to prepare things, he was always there, ready to greet us.  We don’t know for sure, but we can pretty safely assume that someone influenced Mohammed to do what he did – maybe even paid him.  We believe his life was truly impacted.  What the devil meant for evil, God threw back in his face!

The rocks continued to fly that night and even I was pelted with one of them.  It was a small thing, but every time I felt that bruise over the next week or two, it made me think of the countless believers in the world today that are seriously persecuted for their faith.  So that was kind of an honor.

I was helping interview those that were coming forward with testimonies of healing.  There was a Fulani boy with his father that came.  The ‘boy’ was 20, but didn’t speak Hausa so his father interpreted for him.  He began to explain to me that the boy hadn’t slept for 7 years.  That every time he tried to sleep, he was tormented and died.  What?  That’s what I said!  So I thought maybe I was missing something in the translation – it’s been known to happen!  So I asked one of the pastors to come and listen.  The pastor repeated back to me in Hausa the same thing.  That the boy died every time he tried to sleep, so he couldn’t sleep.  Couldn’t even nap.  In Hausa I said ‘He died?’  In English the pastor replied ‘dead’ – like that made perfect sense.  So I said do you mean like he’s passed out in a coma like state. ‘Yes, yes’.  So I realized then that he had been dealing with evil spirits.  The reason he came forward to testify on the 2nd night of the meeting was because after he went home the first night, after prayer, he slept.  The whole night.  He had even taken a nap that afternoon.  They were both beaming.  As you can see for yourself!  I asked them if they had received Jesus.  They joyfully said ‘Yes’!  I noticed that they were wearing charms around their necks, very typical of Fulani (and many people groups).  I explained that now that they had Jesus, they no longer needed the charms.  I was quite surprised when Dad reached up and immediately pulled them off.  In our experience, it often takes some time and teaching for them to be willing to give up the charms – their protection.  It was incredible!!

This man was healed of knee problems.  According to him, it had been 2 years since he had been able to bend like this.

This woman said she had had a tumor on her right arm and hadn’t been able to lift it up like this.

This man had been deaf.  Past tense!

Miracle after miracle.  Each night.  The Muslims were so upset by the meetings that they began preaching on the radio that this was all false.  First, it wasn’t God doing the healing, because He’s the one who made them sick.  Then they began reporting that the miracles were staged – except that God began healing some of them!  They couldn’t deny that.  In fact they began searching out some of the pastors – asking for prayer!

What an incredible thing this has been for Tobi to be a part of.  He has no doubt that God is our healer!!

He even got to be part of the band!

On the last day there was an additional meeting – a children’s crusade.  It was great and kids from all over the city came.  They came early.  Very early.  A boys bike and a girls bike were among the prizes that would be given away.   That’s a great gift – even for an adult!  There were clowns and dramas, the Gospel was again presented and many hands went up to receive the free gift of Jesus.  Then the sick were prayed for.

To the person who wasn’t aware of what was going on, the whole thing at first glance would look like mass chaos.  In the spiritual realm, a battle was raging. The devil was mad and the evil spirits were getting very riled up.  God was moving.

Neal took some time after the team finished praying for salvation and healing to encourage people to find a church to get plugged into.  He was also declaring over the people that we have life because of Jesus and that Jesus is our healer.  There was a group of ‘rabble rousers’ in the crowd and they began cursing him.  Can you say ‘Book of Acts?’  It was an awesome thing to be a part of!

After it was over, we went to the field the following morning to pack up/take down.  There was still a large crowd of children.  I began talking with them and they first told me that they didn’t get a gift – they didn’t win the bike.  I told them that they may not have won the bike, but that they received the greatest gift of all – Jesus.  One child quickly agreed and said ‘Yes! He’s here in my heart!’

After the team packed up and went home, we continued to hear testimonies of healings come in – from Muslims.  We heard 2 specifically who said they had spent all the money they had on doctors and witch doctors over several years – with no success.  But after coming to the rally – they were completely healed!  Isn’t this exactly what Jesus told us to do?  Lay hands on the sick and they will recover.  He also told us that these signs will follow those that believe.  If you believe, these signs can follow you also!  Praise God!

Last month at our annual ministry meeting held in Maradi, we heard testimonies from many pastors saying that there were new people coming to all of the churches because of the JSMI meetings.  Great reports!

We thank God for JSMI for obeying God and truly coming where others have not wanted to come – knowing the resistance that could be possible.  And there really was resistance.  But the power of God broke through and His message was spread throughout the entire city in a matter of 4 days.

Take that devil!!

Miracle Meetings in Maradi! Part 1

I’ve been wanting to write this post since November.  There are lots of reasons why it hasn’t been done with the most recent reason being our internet, or lack thereof.  Living in a developing nation, that’s just how it is sometimes…well,   much of the time.  But, I’m here now.  And I’m going to write.

In 2007, we were a part of the first ever mass evangelistic campaign to be held in Niger.  It was held in Niamey, the capital city.  Richard Roberts brought a team of ministers and doctors to minister in this historical and nation changing event.  In the beginning, we had no idea how many would come, but God far exceeded our expectations.  Estimates on the last night were 30,000 people!  Since then, the Gospel has continued to spread.  Even though Niger is still less than 1% Christian, God’s Kingdom is gaining ground.  This past November, there was another crusade in Niamey.  Dag-Heward Mills brought his team from Ghana and ministered to thousands.    The week after that incredible event in Niamey, John Smithwick Ministries International (JSMI) came to Niger to do an evangelistic rally in Maradi.  The first ever in that key city in Niger.   We again got to be a part of something historical.  A city-wide evangelistic rally in Maradi.

This is just a small portion of the crowd.  The meeting was held in the wrestling arena.

As I’ve said before , Maradi is where we lived for our first 9 years in Niger.   Except for the almost 2 years during that time that we lived in Diffa to start a church.  In 2007, we moved to Niamey.  Here’s a map of Niger showing the different regions.  The majority of the population here is in the southern belt, known as the Sahel.

Niger cities location (Maradi)
Regions in Niger

On to Maradi we go.  Over Thanksgiving week, a team of 22 people came to Maradi for this unprecedented event.  They actually flew into Kano, Nigeria and Neal and Pastor Nelson drove their to pick them up and bring them to Maradi.  That airport is closer (and less expensive to fly into then our airport in Niamey).  The trip was uneventful, and that is a very good thing and a big answer to prayer.

JSMI doesn’t advertise in a traditional way to invite people to come.  The meetings are called a ‘cultural exchange’.  Their team is divided into groups of about 7 and during the mornings, they go into the schools where we have obtained  advance permission.  This group was divided into 3 teams.  With drama, clowns and singing, they present the Gospel and then they hand out ‘tickets’ to each child, inviting them to come back to the evening meeting and to bring their parents.  The free ticket is not only their entry, but is used in a drawing for prizes that are given away each night.

That’s the ‘outline’ that was used.  But remember – this was something that Maradi had never seen before.  Ever.  We literally had no idea how the Muslim city would respond.  So even though we had received permission to go into the schools (public and private), after the first presentation, at the mention of the name of Jesus, they shut us down.

The children gather at one of the schools on the first day.  

They are intently watching the program and loving it.

Here’s one of the teams doing their thing.

The above picture if one of the largest schools in Maradi.  It was from here that we got  a call from the school inspector that we could not come to the schools anymore.  But the teams got such a great response and the directors wanted us to do the program in their schools.  So the Inspector called back and said we could come to the schools if we agreed not to talk about Jesus.   Hasimu, our pastor  in charge of all the pre-planning, politely explained that the reason we were there was to talk about Jesus.

Niger is  because although the majority of it’s people are Muslims, the nation is politically a religious free state.  That means we have the right to preach the Gospel on the streets.  So to the streets we went.  Each of the 3 teams went to different locations around the city, did the program, invited people to the evening meetings and then moved to another location to repeat the process.  After 3 days of this, the whole city was blanketed.

This is one of the vans the team used to get around the city.

We strategically went to locations near schools and did the program during their break times.

We would park at the designated location and all the team members walked around the streets inviting whoever was there to the night meeting, and to the drama they were going to do right then.

There’s a clown in that crowd!

The presentation on the streets.

The kids intently watching the drama which clearly demonstrated the Gospel.

With the drama finished the kids are serious about wanting their tickets.

This little guy has his ticket for the evening program.

These boys on the street just wanted their picture taken.

In Niger, life is mostly lived outside.  So we came into contact with lots of people. After watching the drama, this lady told me that she had just come out of mourning – her husband and son had died on the same day – 40 days earlier.  She’s holding her Muslim prayer beads.  Sadly, death is a common part of life here.  The people desperately need Jesus.

Each team was assigned a policeman for security.   This was the policeman assign to the team I was on.  I was shocked that he was helping us pass out the tickets on the streets.  Actually, it made me laugh.  A Muslim inviting children to a Christian program.  Not something we see every day!

My next post (in the next couple of days) will be about the night meetings.  What happened was nothing short of miraculous.  But I wanted to end this post by including a few more pictures of what some of the schools in the city of Maradi look like.

Tobi is helping hand out tickets in one of the classrooms.  See how their belongings are hanging on the ‘wall’.

This is an empty classroom.  All the kids are gathered for the program.  The children sit in the sand and try to write in their small notebooks.

This is the school (classrooms).  Makes one think twice before complaining about what our schools don’t have…

NEXT….the crowds exceeded our expectations!  This is  Hasimu, on of our head pastors, and the local coordinator of the event.

The story continues…

Team Word of Life Ch. 2

So, we were on our way at sunrise – tooling down the road together in 2 land cruisers and a bus, which we thought was close behind. We thought. We got a call from Trae some time later – and discovered that all our rushing around at the airport was for naught. The bus was still sitting in Niamey. I won’t go into the reasons for the delay except to say that the bus did not even leave Niamey until 10:30am. This is Africa.

Meanwhile, our vehicles were getting along fine. We may have had a flat tire but I really can’t remember. We have them so frequently they are just sort of par for the course. Especially when our tires are old. However, 11 bladders, one of them pregnant, can pose some challenges. They may not agree, but we felt like we were being pretty merciful when we’d stop within an hour of a request for a bush. Thankfully, since it was rainy season, finding sufficient coverage was relatively easy. Relatively speaking. When it’s just our family traveling, we require synchronization of bladders and try to make only 1 stop during the entire trip. Once we did it with no stops – a record!

After much bumping and swerving and stopping, we finally arrived at our destination at about 4pm. Still no sign of the bus people. The Jorgensen’s had a meal prepared for us so after about 30 minutes of recovery time (you can only understand if you have actually made this trip), we enjoyed a wonderful meal of cous cous and vegetable stew. Still no bus people. We prepared for the alumni meeting, which was to begin at 7pm. I enjoyed being back in Maradi again, in spite of the recent challenges we had faced there. The service started and again, you have to experience praise and worship here to fully understand how great it is. The team members began their ministry time and now I am beginning to get a little bit concerned. Where are our bus people (including 2 of my kids), and why haven’t we heard from them? I stepped out of the church several times to call before finally reaching them. It was about 8:30, and they were just getting into town. Pastor Rich offered to go and pick them up so they arrived at the church just about the time the meeting was getting finished. No recovery time for them! One of the reasons the trip took so long is because the bus stops so frequently for prayers – the people get out to do their Muslim prayers. Several times during the trip. That, and there’s picking people up and dropping them off. And this is not your ordinary greyhound. This is a non-air conditioned vehicle with more seats per square foot than the average ‘non-african’ bus. I rode in it once – all of me and my 5’2″ frame. The seats were so close together that I was not able to bend forward to pick something up without my head hitting the seat in front of me. In other words, I had to lean forward with head stretched back while stretching one arm down and towards the side – which would then cause me to lay in the lap of the person next to me. All I could do for our ‘bussers’ was offer my condolences, and tell them I understood. And remind them that they now had a pretty cool story to tell. They were great about it all.

We got our troopers some food and everyone was pretty quick to find their beds that evening. I got things ready for the next morning’s breakfast and was off to bed, realizing I was so tired because I had been up since 2am.

We slept great because Maradi is cooler than Niamey. And I think everyone else rested well too, in spite of the fact that temps were well above what is normal for them. The alumni meeting continued that morning and though I didn’t get to attend, (kitchen duty) I heard it was wonderful. The former students were greatly encouraged by the God-inspired messages brought by our team. And the alumni meeting is always a time of encouragement for us, as it gives us opportunity to see how the ministry has grown, and how many believers have been discipled.

We had lunch, and then our mercy kicked in so we decided we would give the group some down time. They had, after all, been on the move for 6 straight days. We took them to the ‘Club’ (again, got to see it to believe it), where we swam, relaxed, rode camels (we know some people in a nearby village and ask them to bring their camels for some photo ops) and ate dinner. That night a rousing game of cards was played. I didn’t play, but I know it was rousing because of the noise coming from a table of very ‘expressive’ people, Neal leading the charge.

The rest of the week would prove to be busy and very exciting. More to come…

A little bit of everything

Well, lets see.  Alot has happened in the last 2 weeks since I’ve written. 

 Trae and Neal returned from the softball tournament in Ouaga.  Neither team won.  Neal’s team made it to the semi-finals and Trae’s team didn’t make it that far.  So they didn’t end up playing each other.  But Trae hit 2 homeruns, so that was exciting.  They both had a lot of fun.  And Neal brought back strawberries for me!  Fresh strawberries!  What a treat!

 What else…My class is going well at the Bible School.  I gave a test (in 3 languages!) and most of them did quite well.  Last week I took a day to show them how to use puppets.  It was quite funny, and one of the girls was terribly afraid of the puppet.  She jumped into the lap of the girl next to her when I brought it out.  It took some time, but she got over it and reluctantly ‘tried one on’.  I have divided them into 6 groups and each group is preparing a 20 minute children’s service using all they have learned so far.  We’ll see all those this week.  Next week I’ll start my teaching “Training your children”.  Sido continues to do well.  The persecution has escalated at home though, so he had to move into the dorm with the other students.  Since he lives in Niamey, he was living at home and going back and forth to school each day.  He has asked Pastor Abdu when he gets to start preaching!  Last week he told me he wanted to change groups because they had set a time to practice their children’s service and one of the members didn’t come on time.  He said that he can’t work with someone who is not motivated.  I told him that I wouldn’t change groups and that they would have to work it out -that this was a good opportunity to grow in the fruit of the Spirit.  This is when it really counts!  In church this morning I asked how it was going and he said they are ready.  Because of a bonus question, he got 101 on his test! 

We’ve recently finished up with a 3-person medical team that came from Kentucky.  They were great and saw something like 6-700 people in a week.  This is really a great opportunity for outreach because the people come to us.  Just like poverty, medical needs are rampant and drives people to get help.  Then we can witness to them and pray for them.   Each one.  I think the count was 52 that prayed to receive Christ.  Several of our pastors were there at each clinic and will be involved in the follow up.  I believe the recent medical teams we are having are only a precurser to the hospital we will one day build.

Friday after school, Trae and Tanika went with a group of about 25 other people from their school to the town of Tera – about a 2.5 hour drive out of Niamey.  Then they have to cross the river on a ferry.  It is an outreach trip where they are helping to put up some structures for school classrooms, and do some children’s ministry.  They will be home today.

Neal, along with his Mom and Dad, went to Maradi yesterday for the Executive Council meeting.  Thanks to Mom and Dad for driving, which left me with my preferred vehicle.  In other words, I haven’t had to drive the beloved beamer.  Good thing too, because the AC stopped working again and it’s getting hot!  It’s a short trip and they’ll be back tomorrow. 

 So that leaves Tobi and I here together.  We’ve had a nice weekend.  Yesterday we invited one of his classmates over to play.  Tobi and Morgan are very different personalities but got along quite nicely.  Morgan is a very outgoing confident little guy.  Also very athletic.  Here’s a part of a conversation I overheard / saw.  

While playing with matchbox cars:

Morgan:  I’ll have the 2 fastest cars, since I’m faster than you.

Tobi:  Blank stare that turned into an ‘I get it’ stare and then said “OK”. 

Off they were to continue playing with the cars.  Tobi is very matter of fact about these things.  Every once in awhile I get a ranking of speed levels of he and his classmates.  It doesn’t even sound competitive (but I’m no fool, it has to be!),  just very factual.  Last night we watched the original Charlotte’s Web animated movie from 1972.  It was really good!  I’d forgotten that it’s really a musical.  Tobi had already seen a part of it so he kept telling me what was going to happen.  Wilbur was going to ‘get dead’.  Like death is something you go and get.  We even had popcorn!

Today on the way home from church I asked Tobi if he had any ideas for lunch.  He did not.  I said – how about tuna – because I had some already made in the fridge.  His reply?  Are you ready for this?  Picture fist clenched in excitement and a shout of ‘YES’ as he pumps said fist.  The guy loves tuna!  And hummous, zucchini and hot sauce.  Not so interested however, in things like roast beef and mashed potatoes and gravy. 

I’m afraid (I know I shouldn’t fear) but I really am afraid of the heat that is here – and even more – the heat that is on it’s way.  When we left for the US in early April last year, it was 120.   That’s hot enough for a seatbelt to double as a branding iron.  We have been resisting the use of our air conditioners but last night I finally caved.  It was March 1st for goodness sake.  That’s officially hot season.  Even with our window open and fan on it was still 87 in the room at 11pm.  Tobi has been asking for quite awhile now to use his AC.  We’ve refused the poor kid.  When I went to bed last night, I couldn’t in good conscience use the AC while he remained hot.  It also didn’t make a lot of sense to have 2 AC’s running.  So I moved him into my room when I went to bed.  He was all sweaty…poor guy.  Sometime in the night the electricity went out.  When it came back on, I would have had to get up and turn the AC on again.  I decided to leave it off, (too lazy to get out of bed) hoping the room was cool enough to sleep the rest of the night.  It worked.  We were both comfortable.  This morning it was only 81 in the room. 

There’s always an adjustment when hot season arrives.  It’s hot most of the time, but March and April stand alone when it comes to heat.  I heard of a publication that said Niamey was the hottest capital city in the world.  Niger was also described as having 2 seasons.  Hot, and hotter then hell.  We thank God for the AC’s we have in our bedrooms – and the money to run them.  And we thank him for His son, Jesus, who has saved us from eternal fire!