iPhone was lost but now…

I have an iPhone.  It’s a 4S so yeah, I know it’s old.  But it’s mine and it works just fine.  I got it brand new and unlocked nearly 4 years ago.  It’s served me well in many countries.  And I’m sure it will continue to serve me well – even though it has a very slow response time….  The other day my son Trae was trying to convince us that it’s time to upgrade.  I told him that Dad might (he also has a 4S), but only because his has a cracked screen.

Yesterday Neal and I were out doing some errands.  The errands aren’t a big deal – but getting to them is.  Traffic in Niamey has become, how shall I say, HIDEOUS!  You get behind the wheel and you have to work at maintaining your salvation.   Going out to do the simplest things has become an event. The craziness that ensues is worthy of it’s own blog post.  That said, I decided to make a call while sitting in traffic.  Had an enjoyable chat with Lola, my friend and co-missionary working in Maradi.  She’s always encouraging – which is great considering the traffic.  We finally arrived at our destination  We were going to look at tile for the guest house we are building in Tamou.

We went in to the lovely air conditioned store, greeting the guard as we went.  We found lots of gorgeous tile with less than gorgeous prices.  But we did find one that would be a possibility.  We said thank you and headed back to the car as it was time to pick up Tobi from school.  This meant crossing the river.  That’s a big deal.  We wave to the guard and are on our way.  Within seconds I decide to check for my phone.  I can’t find it.  Think.  THINK!  When did I last use it?  Oh yes – my chat with Lola, just before we arrived at the shop.  That means it should be with me.  Neal pulled over and quickly called my phone.  It rang several times, then just quit.  Unfortunately, we didn’t hear any ringing.  This required further research.  What had I done with my phone?

I thought about it- and realized the most likely thing was that after saying good-bye to Lola, I set the phone in my lap instead of back into my purse.  And if that was true, the next likely thing that happened was that when we arrived at tile mart, I got out of the vehicle and my iPhone fell off my lap – OUTSIDE.  It’s important to note here (in my defense) that the parking ‘lot’ is sand.  You pull your vehicle just off the street (the one full of traffic) in front of the storefront.  So I’m sure my phone just dropped soundlessly into the sand and I went on my merry way, clueless.  I may have even buried it!

We hadn’t driven very far so I rushed back to the tile store to look around.  Nothing.  Except sand.  I explained my situation to the guard who was sitting on a bench with some of his friends.  We communicated using 3 languages, and he finally understood.  I of course knew it was entirely possible that he himself saw the phone and pocketed it, and he also knew that I was entertaining that thought.  He dramatically told me that if he found something like that he would take it in the store.  There wasn’t much more I could do but thank him.  And pray.  Though I did go back into the store – just to cover my bases – and ask if anyone had turned in a phone.  I knew how unlikely that was.  Due to language issues, their first response to my question was ‘we don’t repair phones here’.

The guard was still working on convincing me of his innocence while I walked back to our vehicle.  I actually didn’t think it was him, because any amateur detective could see that his view was of the drivers side, not the side where the phone dropped out.  But talk about a sick feeling in your gut.  Like anyone, I have everything on that phone.  LOTS of information.  While feeling sick, thinking of all that was lost, I also found myself praying.  But it seemed so impossible.  The phone was long gone.  And let’s face it.  The phone wasn’t stolen.  It was found.  By someone other than me.  On the way to get Tobi, we called my phone a few times but it was obvious it had been turned off.  We were now late for Tobi and I figured he had called.    I sent my phone a text message in Hausa that if the person that found my phone called this number there would be a reward.  Of course calling the number would be tricky if you couldn’t open the phone!

We are on our way to get Tobi and Neal was trying to make me feel better.  Which was extremely sweet of him — he could have been really upset with me, since it was my fault.  Instead he was reminding me of the age of the phone, and that when we get new phones we usually just give our old ones away, so just consider this giving it away.  A bit early. See what I mean?  Sweet.  We tell Tobi our reason for being late and he was bummed for me too.  He helped my try and activate ‘Find my iPhone on Neal’s phone, but the cell data signal was to weak to make it work.

We were on our return journey home (believe me, it’s a journey) and were processing what might need to be done, and what I would do for a phone.  While feeling quite hopeless, I said outloud, “God, you know that I have always turned lost things in – whether it be money or stuff.  Now it’s time for my harvest on that”.  That’s it.  And honestly, I went back to thinking whether I needed to change personal info etc.  

We were close to home, stuck in the thick of everything when suddenly Tobi is shoving his phone to the front seat, telling me its my phone calling.  What?  I didn’t realize it, but he had called my number again – even though it had obviously been shut off.  This time ‘it’ answered.

” Uhh, hello?  You have my phone?  Where are you?”

“Yes.  I’m at BIA” (BIA is a bank, across the street from the tile place).

I hand the phone to my husband who has stopped our vehicle in the midst of the chaos around us.  I wanted to be sure I heard correctly.  “Yes”, I heard him say, “We’re coming.  We’ll give you 10,000 for ‘calling’.” (10,000 is around $20)

“No problem” said the voice on the other end.  Of course this was all done in Hausa.

We wondered as we made our way back through the maze of traffic if he would actually be there when we got there.  We would know soon enough.

The hope of recovering my phone made rush hour traffic a bit more bearable.  I began thanking God for such a quick and amazing answer to prayer – in spite of my doubt.

We pulled up to the bank and called my phone again.  Neal and Tobi got out to see if they could spot the voice in the midst of so many people.  Who was he?   It was kind of amusing.  Felt a bit like a scene from a movie.  Any one of the people around us could be the one who ‘found’ my phone.  I saw them walk around a bit more, call again.  Then we see 2 young thugs guys dressed in black jeans and t-shirts.  One of them needed his drawers pulled up – but at least his unmentionables were black as well (and by that I mean his undergarments).

The transaction happened quite quickly.  He held up the phone, Neal took it and handed him 10,000 CFA with a thank you.  Mr. findmyphone and his sidekick walked away very quickly, twenty bucks richer.

We’re pretty sure that our benefactors were watching from across the street to be sure we didn’t bring the law with us before they revealed themselves.  The fact is however, they didn’t steal the phone.  Based on my synopsis of what happened, I lost my phone.  They found it.  Now, given where we were (a well-known area for petty theft, pick-pockets etc), I have little doubt that given the opportunity to steal they would have.  But this particular phone just fell into their laps (and out of mine!).  If you were to ask me to describe what petty thieves looked like, I would tell you to look at these two.

Let me add here that I’ve never felt scared/nervous walking around Niamey.  People are generally quite friendly.  Yet they themselves know that thieves are lurking around.  While I’ve never had anything stolen while on the street, I have had strangers walk up to me and highly recommend that I zip my purse up.  Don’t I know there are thieves around?  We laugh and I thank them.  And try to remember to keep my purse zipped and close to me.

I’m not sure what made those boys turn the phone back on and answer that call.  Was it because they realized that without the passcode they couldn’t even make a call, let alone get into the phone?  I realize that it’s not that difficult to wipe a phone like that, but I’m sure these guys didn’t have the know how. They could easily find someone who did, but not without lots of questions.

Or was it just the Holy Spirit moving in answer to prayer.  He does that.

As we backed out, phone in hand, I prayed for those 2 guys – that they would be confronted with the reality of the Gospel.  I felt like celebrating.  Maybe a bit like the lady and the lost coin.  And wow – this is how Jesus feels when 1 lost sinner turns to Him.  I get it.

Regardless of the reason, what seemed a hopeless situation was turned around by the simple fact that God is faithful!  He always has been and always will be.  And that’s one thing I can take to the bank!

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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

Family

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!  

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.

India: Getting There.

Well, I did it. I went on my first official missions trip. Laugh if you must, but it’s true. I live on the mission field. I’ve hosted countless mission teams. But I’ve never been part of team myself. Until now.

I enjoy hosting people very much – particularly because I love that they are coming to Niger and leaving with a part of Niger in their hearts, and leaving a part of their hearts in Niger. I like helping to facilitate that process. But I must say, I also very much enjoyed being ‘hosted’. Showing up to a place to stay, wonderful meals prepared and ministry all set up for us to step into. In other words, the only thing I had to plan was what to put in my suitcase. Well of course there’s ministry preparation, but that’s a different category of preparation.

Ministry prep done, house organized and details regarding Tobi and his stay with Grandma and Grandpa were more or less done by Tuesday.  Mostly.  Wednesday was packing day.  Packing takes a good portion of my brain cells, and I’m pretty sure it kills a few in the process.  Packing is one of my least favorite things to do.  Probably because I’m no good at it.  Which is odd, considering how often I do it.  But every time I put that open suitcase on my bed I stare at it like it’s the first time I’ve seen a suitcase before and have no idea where to begin.  What makes it all the more annoying infuriating is that Neal throws his bag up on the bed and within 30 minutes – 45 tops – he’s ready to go.  So sparing all the gory details, I finally got packed.   Just in time to leave for the airport at 5am Thursday morning.  No – just kidding.  We actually had a pretty relaxing evening and a decent night sleep.  Tobi moved to Grandma and Grandpa’s that night before so he didn’t have to get up at 4:30.  Grandpa took us to the airport – yep, at 5am.  What a guy!

Niger is developing, but there aren’t very many airlines that fly into our humble international airport.  So though our flight to India was on Ethiopian Air, one must use one of their ‘partner’ airlines, Asky, to get out of Niger.  We flew on Asky when headed to Ethiopia earlier this year and I was pleasantly surprised overall.  The Asky office told us to be at the airport at 5:30am for our 8:15 flight.  The Childs family is very well known for its’ timeliness and today would be no exception.  We arrived at 5:20.  I guess no one else got the 5:30 memo because we were pretty much alone.  The door to the check-in counter/room was closed and it was dark.  Though not surprised I couldn’t help but think about the additional 30 minutes (or more) of sleep I could have had…

Some time later….

There was movement behind the closed door and lights started turning on.  Other travelers were arriving and had the nerve to walk to the front of the line — in front of where our bags had been sitting for the better part of an hour!  I seriously wanted to express to them that we had been sitting there for some time now and who did they think they were to march right to the front of the line without even passing Go?  Someone should acknowledge that we followed Asky’s rules, even if we were alone.  And I should add that we have known this airline to take off an hour or more before scheduled flight time, without telling the passengers…so better wait than sorry.

We got through check-in with no problems, making sure that even though we had several stops, our bags were checked through to Delhi.  We made our way through immigration, said goodbye to the police and went to the ‘gate’ to wait some more.

I pulled out the homemade breakfast burritos and we enjoyed those while waiting to board the plane.  We took off more or less on time, and here we are somewhere over Niger.  We were obviously not on a large plane – check out the propeller.

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We were fed an overload of carbohydrates for breakfast, on our way to Abuja, Nigeria.  The orange juice, tea and fruit were lovely.

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We landed first in Abuja, but didn’t have to leave the plane – it was kind of like a bus stop.  Here we are descending in Nigeria – though it’s our neighbor, what a contrast!

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A little bit mountainous.

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Landing in Abuja, Nigeria

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I honestly don’t remember the time on the ground so it must not have been very long.  Next stop was Lome, Togo.  There we would change planes to a ‘real’ airplane for the journey from the west of Africa all the way to the east.

Here we are on the plane to Lome.

IMG_2196The airplane food was endless with so many flights, and I was dreaming about my breakfast burritos…I do however always enjoy drinking tomato juice when I fly.  And they even served it with fresh lemon.

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Landing in Lome, Togo.  That’s our shadow!

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By the time we got our boarding passes and seats we didn’t have long to wait before boarding.  And before we knew it – we were landing in Addis.

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We had several hours in the Addis Airport so we cruised around some shops for a bit, but that’s cumbersome with carry-ons and computer bags.  So we found a restaurant to kill time in because once we went through security, there was no food or drink allowed, and no ‘facilities’.  While sitting there, we noticed there was pizza on the menu.  We remembered how we enjoyed the pizza when we spent 3 days in Addis back in March, so we figured we should get some, you know, for old times sake.  It was worth it.  And here’s Neal, looking all bright eyed and bushy tailed, in spite of an already long day.  And I have no idea what time of day this really is.

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What I do remember is that it was cold.  Check out Neal’s winter ware!

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I was seriously cold.  Cold enough that it didn’t matter how dorky I looked.  These are my travel socks.  I always keep them in my purse when I travel be it by road, air or sea.  And they came in handy.  

Everything blurs together, but I do remember the walk to the plane was a long one.  Several ramps. And  the plane – it was huge!  Called a Dreamliner I think.  And we got exit row bulkhead!!  That is also huge.  And no one else was sitting in the 3rd seat in our group of 3.  We were counting our blessings.  This was the longest of the 5 flights.  And yes I actually walked to the plane looking like this.  

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And again, more food.  We usually accepted it, but then didn’t really eat it.  I think this is chicken.  Enjoyed my tomato juice though!

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I think we got some sleep on this flight.  Getting ready to land in Delhi.

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We’re in India!

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We had to collect our bags, which both showed up – even though Neal is wondering…

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Immigration / Customs was a breeze and the officials were very friendly, welcoming us to their country and seemed sincerely happy that we were there.  It was a nice welcome and helped to revive me a bit.  I found myself smiling.  The journey had been pretty long to this point, and we still had an 8 hour wait until our next flight to Chandigarh.  Knowing what we know now, we probably would have just found a taxi and made the 5 hour road trip.

Things at this point were a bit confusing…We were feeling so excited to actually be in this country, but we didn’t know where to go.  We had to figure out how to leave the international section and get to the domestic section.  The airport was pretty secure, with guards/police at all the entrances.  We were hoping to be able to check our bags right away, so we didn’t have to sit with all our stuff for 8 hours.  We inquired and were told we had to go to such and such counter.  That counter was through a door that was being guarded.  The only hard copy evidence of our upcoming flight was a printout of all of our flights, and it didn’t have our names on it.  Without proper documentation, we weren’t getting in.  Babu shigowa – no entry.  We were told to go to such and such counter and get a print out of our ticket.  We explained that we had already tried such and such, but they wouldn’t let us in.  Because we didn’t have the right printout.  We finally found a way in, waited in line and were then told we had to pay 10 rupees for the printout.  We didn’t have 10 rupees.  We had plenty of dollars, but no rupees.  And to go change our dollars required us to go beyond the doors that we weren’t allowed because we didn’t have the printout.  Get the picture?  It was all quite confusing.  And probably even more so since little sleep had been had in the previous 30 or so hours.  The counter lady had mercy on us and gave us the printout for no dollars or rupees.

Printout in hand, we headed to domestic flights to hopefully check in.  When we got to such and such counter, they looked at the printout and smiled at us like we were overly excited about our flight and explained that this flight wasn’t until much later in the day.  I think it was just after 8am.  We smiled back and said we knew that, but we just arrived and were hoping to check our bags.  Counter lady  explained that there was an 11am flight to Chandigarh (ours was at 5pm) and she was concerned that they would be put on that flight so wisely advised us to wait until after that flight left.  She also explained that we were only allowed 15 kilos each.  We had more than that— forgot that international and domestic baggage allowances are not the same.

Waiting until after 11 gave us time to shuffle some things around in our bags, and add some heavier stuff to our carry-ons.  So in the end we only ended up paying about $20 for our excess bags.  They were quite gracious about it.  Could have (should have) been much higher.

Finally freed of our bags we could now wander around the terminal.  We found the food court!  KFC, McDonalds etc.  But none of that for us.  And keep in mind that beef is not eaten – so don’t be expecting two all beef patties. (But I think it’s debatable that McDonalds in beef-eating countries can claim ‘all beef’ patties either) We went straight for the Indian food.  And it was quite tasty.  Chicken biriyani, samosas, daal and some really tasty sauces.  Hit the spot!

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Now to go and find a place to clean up and wait for our last flight.  It was a pretty big terminal, and surprisingly sparse.

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Pretty nice place to wait.  I dozed, Neal read.

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But first, we took turns in the bathroom.  In Niger, the bathrooms in nicer homes or hotels all have boudets (it’s a French word that I have no idea how to spell)…kind of a cross between and sink and a toilet.  I’ve never used them – because to be honest, I don’t really know how.  Well the toilets I’ve seen here so far all have a spray hose/drain.  Again, something I probably wouldn’t use under normal circumstances.  But we haven’t had a shower in awhile, and that sprayer complete with water (it worked, I checked), looked like it had great potential.  Armed with my baby wipes and a hand towel, I took a mini-shower in the bathroom.  Washed my feet in the toilet.  No – not IN the toilet.  I held  my feet over the toilet, soaped them up with my travel shampoo and sprayed them off.  Nothing like clean feet!  I brushed my teeth and washed my face (no, not in the toilet!) and emerged feeling semi-clean and ready to complete our journey.

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Our 8 hour wait was finally up and we boarded the plane for our less than 1 hour flight.  Here we are landing in Chandigarh, India.  I know I’m not supposed to take pictures at airports with security around etc, but I got this one on my phone while I was walking away from he plane.   Managed to actually get a picture of our plane.  Interesting that our journey started and ended with a plane this size.
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It felt so good to be on the ground.  Our bags came last, but they came!

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We were being picked up by our host, Pastor James Chacko, whom we had only met via email/Facebook.  He was standing right outside the airport and graciously welcomed us and made us feel right at home.  Which is how we felt when we made the drive from the airport to his home. Driving in India may have the reputation of being crazy, but it really did make us feel at home. If you’ve been to Niger, you know what I’m talking about.

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It was Friday evening and we arrived at Pastor James and Usha’s beautiful apartment and were shown our room and got settled.  We enjoyed some Chai tea and got to know each other, and then Usha cooked for us.  Yep.  More food.  But this was by the far the best we had eaten, and it was only the beginning!

I’ve been wanting to write about this journey since arriving back in Niger almost 2 weeks ago, but today is literally the first day the internet has been good enough to do so.  Blogging with bad internet is quite tedious, but I’m determined to record the details of this amazing journey we had the privilege of making.

For now, I need to go make some Chai.

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!!

Missionary Journey to Nigeria Finale – Our trip home

Well, this is it.  What a journey it’s been.  Even though we do it all the time it always amazes me when we make a plan, then execute the plan, then go on to the next plan.   We are now home and ready to execute the next plan.  Well almost.  But that’s another story.  On a side note, we know that God orders our steps but we have to take those steps once we hear His direction.  Thus, we make and execute plans.

And now on to our 3 day journey back to Niger…

Just as we were getting ready to leave Benin City on Thursday morning we received a phone call from the Bible School asking if we could stop by on our way.  So with our vehicle loaded we headed back to the school.  We were met by some representatives of the student body expressing their love and appreciation for our coming and for Neal’s teaching.  They handed us an envelope explaining that they had taken an offering for us and wanted us to know how much they had received.  Wow!  We stood there grateful, blessed and shocked.  We know what it’s like to be a student.  After more hugs and goodbyes and promises to return, we had to hit the road.  What a sweet send off.

Leaving Benin City

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Not only are there creative business names – check out this bumper sticker.  It had to have been created by a Nigerian!

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Takes a long time to get through the city.

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A LONG time.

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I think this guy was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the thought of 3 days of this…

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Finally some open road.

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Love these plantations.

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Lots of ‘markets’ on the side of the road.  Would have loved to bring some of that stuff home!

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Lots of curves in these jungle roads.

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That’s one way to look at life… but not fun to be behind him!

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On and on we go.

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Entering another town.

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Thought this was funny.  “Progressive Remedial Class”.

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From Palm trees to traffic.

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Lots of traffic!

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Another interesting business – Islamic Store and Honey Depot.  Really?

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Lunch! The food here was good – well, the rice.  We weren’t as impressed with the chicken and the tables were literally covered in dirt.  Fortunately I travel with wet wipes.

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More markets.

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More trucks.

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More cracked up cars.

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MorIMG_1511e Jungle.

More city.

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We weren’t this packed.

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Some of the ba-zillion trucks we had to pass.

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Now this looked familiar to us.  These Fulani people were probably from Northern Nigeria, and maybe even Niger.

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The guys on motorcycles were traveling with their counterparts on donkeys.

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Cattle!

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This truck was at one of the places we stopped for fuel.  And I can testify that those are some of the best pineapple you’ll ever eat.

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Entering Abuja.  Our stopping place for the Night.  Abuja is Nigeria’s capital city.  The part we were in was quite modern.

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When we were here over 3 weeks ago, we had a taxi man direct us to our hotel.  We took his phone number.  We were able to find him again and he helped us get there again. Yes, it was the same place, and no – we couldn’t remember how to get there.  In fact we told our taxi man that we’d meet him where we did before, only to find out we had no idea where that was.  He found us.

We checked into our room.  It was 4:30.  The journey had taken us 7 1/2 hours.  We felt like visiting the city (at least the part we were in) more than we did when we arrived from Niger.  That’s a longer part of the trip.  Of course we only explored the parts we could walk to, and that before dark.  So that gave us about an hour.  As I said, this part of the city is very developed and modern.  If I didn’t know from where I had just come and where I was going, but had been airlifted and dropped right on this street, I might assume I was in some city in America.  Keep in mind that my perspective is Niger….  Anyway, we spotted a little place called “Chloe’s Cupcake Heaven”.  That looked intriguing.  But I also wanted to visit the grocery store I saw.  There we purchased a few packages of Oreo’s to give as gifts (and to eat- we needed food for the trip of course).  We made our way back to Cupcake Heaven and decided to have dessert before dinner.  Scandalous.   Neal and I both had ice cream – go figure, since we were in Cupcake Heaven.  But Tobi had his eye on a peanut butter cupcake.  Then he had his mouth on it.  He gave great reviews, and the ice cream was pretty delectable too.  I didn’t have my camera, but as always when I don’t, I wish I did.  So, no pictures of peanut butter cupcakes.  Oh – on a side note, while we were in the grocery store, I saw a young white lady.  I specify that she was white because it was the first white person we had seen that we didn’t know in almost 4 weeks.  It was remarkable and we quietly commented to each other – “Hey, look!  A white person!”  Then we saw a 2nd one getting cupcakes.  What a novelty that was.

We made our way back to our hotel, had dinner (more rice and spicy red stew), then made our way to our ultimate goal of sleeping.  While we were relaxing, Neal (who has better hearing than I), heard a sound in our air conditioner.  Not a big deal thinks I, who supposes it’s a lizard.  We like lizards.  They eat mosquitoes.  But he’s not convinced it’s a lizard.  Because he can see little ‘hands’ reaching up and grabbing pieces of wood from the frame around the AC.  Lizards don’t have hands.  Rats do.  Sort of.  Lizards we can do.  Rats, not so much.  We made a call to the front desk to explain our situation.  They said they’d be right up.  I think it was close to 11pm.  Right up they were with with I think was mosquito spray.  If it had been a lizard, he would have taken care of the mosquitoes.  They explained that the place had recently been fumigated.  Good to know.  They sprayed and we thanked them.  The scratching stopped.  We knew the critter wasn’t’ dead, but hoped that he had moved on to greener pastures.

My mind was going way too fast and the wave of exhaustion that wafted over me while eating ice cream in Cupcake Heaven was gone.  The internet at this hotel was so fast and I wanted to take advantage of it.  But I knew I needed to sleep.  After almost 2 hours of working really hard at getting to sleep, I finally got up.  I got some stuff done on our website of all things.  Until 3:30 am.  Then it took probably another hour to get to sleep after that.  At least I wasn’t driving…

Six o’clock came right on time, just as I had gotten into an amazingly restful sleep.    That ended quickly as we got up, repacked the car and tried to eat breakfast but discovered it was just too early to eat.  Taxi man was there waiting to lead us out of the maze we were in.

On our way were we with a beautiful sunrise and lovely view of Zuma Rock.

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This is as far as Taxi Man needed to go.  We stopped on the road to pay him.

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The rock is big.

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So we were able to see it for a long time.

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Quite a long time.

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It looks like there’s a face etched into the face of the rock.

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Here’s a closer look.  It’s upside down.  Tobi noticed it first.

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We weren’t done with trucks.

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Or open roads.
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Or tiredness.

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Or trafficIMG_1554.

Or cities.

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OrIMG_1561 markets.

This is the only picture I got but if you look closely on the right you’ll see a small sign that says ‘Yes Fuel’.   This is because there are loads of fuel stations on the road, but only a small percentage of them actually had fuel.  Thus the sign.

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Getting closeIMG_1565 to the Nigeria/Niger border.

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Thought this was a funny truck.  Grabbed a snap even though it was in line at the border.

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When we were traveling down from Maradi to Abuja on our first day it took us 11 1/2 hours.  We made much better time today and arrived in only 9 1/2 hours.  That thanks in part to the iPad that told us where we were going with a little blue dot.  It was extremely helpful.  We knew where we needed to be and that knowledge combined with the little blue dot and we could see which way to go.  We didn’t get lost once.  And though driving through Northern Nigeria can historically be a big hairy deal, we had no problems.  My Nigerian husband (don’t worry, I didn’t get married again in Nigeria, I’m talking about Neal) is a pro at talking with the police.  One of the police even said ‘You’re the white man that speaks Hausa’.  He remembered us.  So we had no issues at police check points, no one demanding puppies or road rule books.  (see previous posts).

We are not fearful by nature, but we do like to be wise.  And that means at the very least not driving into crowds.  We got to one small city and we could see from a distance that there was a crowd.  But there was no where else for us to go.  People were obviously dressed up and heading somewhere.  The further we drove, the bigger the crowd got.  Neal kept saying, “This isn’t good.  We shouldn’t be here.”  I pointed out that this appeared to be an organized demonstration/event as there were guys in uniforms directing traffic.  Sort of.  So in spite of the excitement and Arabic banners we counted on this being something peaceful.  Maybe a party of some sort….

We were traveling behind a transport vehicle that was packed full of people.  We were in a Toyota 4Runner, but this truck was much bigger than us so the people could look down into our vehicle.   I’m guessing we looked pretty conspicuous, being white and all.  They just stared at us as I resisted the urge to whip out my camera and begin snapping pictures of whatever this was.  Because I was smart enough to know that that is the very thing that could turn an intended peaceful event into something not so peaceful (aka: Riot)  The crowd grew larger and more colorful, and finally swelled at the entrance to a big mosque, which was obviously the final destination.  For them, not us.  We were able to quietly move along.  The whole procession I’m guessing was about 2 kilometers.

Other than that little bit of excitement, our trip to the border was uneventful.  And the border was pretty uneventful too.  They remembered us and asked if we liked their country which we of course responded in the positive.  And it was true!

Tobi and I stayed in the car and I snuck this picture while waiting.  They’re writing down all our passport info by hand.

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Entering Maradi.

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We spent the night with Jonathan and Dani, our friends and fellow missionaries in Maradi.  We had a great meal (chicken enchiladas) and a quick night of fellowship.  They got an earful about our trip, as they were really the first we talked to about the amazing adventure we had been on.  Sadly, I didn’t take any pictures there either.

Fortunately I was able to increase the hours of sleep, as did Neal, and we were on our way to Niamey (home) early the next morning.

Leaving Maradi.

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This is looking more like home.

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Such a stark contrast to where we’ve just come from.

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At least they’re working on the roads…

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Now that’s the Niger I know!

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8 1/2 hours later we arrived in Niamey.

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For now, there are more mosques than churches.  But we can see what can be in a West African country.  If God can do it in Nigeria, He can do it here!  And I believe he is calling the Nigerians to help.

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Downtown Niamey.

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The Niger River in the distance.

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Our gate is straight up ahead. Under the big tree.

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Home sweet home

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We’re thankful that God ordered our steps to Nigeria and back, and I know we’ll be processing all that He did for some time to come.  We so appreciate everyone who spent time praying for us.  Prayer works and we know that is why this trip was such a great success and something we’ll always remember with great joy.  And we believe that there were seeds that were planted that will produce fruit – fruit that remains.

Missionary Journey to Nigeria – Part 8 ‘Final Days’

My last post was about our last Sunday in Nigeria.  After that, we had 5 more days before beginning our journey back to Niger.  Here’s what those days looked like.

Neal continued his last week teaching missions at ANFCBII.

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This is the road he took every morning to get there.

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The entrance.  The Bible School is on the same campus as Benson Idahosa University (BIU)  We didn’t have a chance to be involved there as they were in exams, but we hope to next time.

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Bible School classrooms on the right, University at the back.

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into all the world…

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This is also part of the Bible School.  Mostly offices.  There is a large auditorium at the back.

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Neal in the office where he spent time between classes.

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This is one of the foundations of the school.

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The Hausa class.

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French class giving Neal a gift.  During the last class, one of the students was so moved he took off his watch and rushed up while he was teaching and put it on the pulpit as a gift.  Neal was so touched.

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The students were great and so grateful for all they received from Neal’s teaching.

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The French interpreter.  Yes, that’s sweat.

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The Hausa prefect.

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Neal was blessed to preach to all the students at once in one more chapel service the day before we left.

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You may or may not understand Neal, but you can understand the reaction of the students!

He’s talking about being in position.

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He even loosened his belt!

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See and hear for yourself.

This was kind of a cool effect.  I noticed a mirror in the back and could see the front of Neal whenever he walked by it – which he did a lot.  So I decided to see if I could get a picture of it.

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I can see him from the front and back at the same time!

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The students were so responsive and cheered when Neal started and finished.

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At the end of the chapel, the faculty, staff and students prayed a powerful prayer for us!

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Then we went out for lunch to what we’ve been told is the nicest restaurant in Benin City.

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Neal & I with Rev. & Mrs. Andrew Daniels.

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It was good and we were hungry!  Can’t imagine why since we’d been eating 3 squares a day…

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This is where we ate them.  Breakfast.

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We also took some time while here to tour the Church of God Mission (CGM) international offices.  Beautiful!

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Archbishop Benson Idahosa, who now resides in heaven.  God used him to change Nigeria, Africa and the world.

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His wife and partner is the presiding Archbishop and continues the legacy of this incredible ministry.  We are so thankful to be part of this family and so appreciative of how they have hosted us so graciously in their home – even in their absence.  Next time we hope to come when they’re around.

Archbishop Margaret Idahosa (Mama)

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Their son, Bishop Feb Idahosa, is the President of Benson Idahosa University.

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Tobi and I chatting in Mama’s office.  OK, this is posed.  But it could have looked real if one didn’t notice the snicker on Tobi’s face.

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The International Office is 4 stories high and has pretty cool architecture.

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This is Pastor Blessing.  He remembers Neal’s family.  He gave us our tour.

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This is IMG_1324some of the staff from the publication department.   Fun people!

From the top floor of the offices I was able to get some good pictures of the whole complex.   This is Faith Arena – the church.

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Yes He is!

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The Buildings at the back of the photo are just part of Faith Christian Schools.  Another arm of this ministry.

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View from another side.

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One of the busses and the generator house.  The electricity is off more than it’s on so a generator is pretty standard equipment.  We were thankful for that!

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Back on the home front….I mentioned that we changed rooms and would include photos of our new diggs.  Here they are.  Here it is.  It was very comfortable.

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From the other end…
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We had lots of space.  Which was so nice.  One thing that is challenging to me with all the travel we do is not having much space.  I’m not very neat and do better when everything can have a place.  This was wonderful for my organizational addiction.   It doesn’t look particularly neat right now, but that’s only because we were getting ready to pack…

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And of course there was a lovely bathroom!

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We also took a few trips to different markets.  As you know I live in Africa.  Niger to be specific.  So an outdoor market is not an unfamiliar thing to me.  But I discovered that being a foreigner in Nigeria is much different than being a foreigner in Niger.  In Niger there are so many NGO’s (non-profit organizations) that I am only one of probably hundreds of westerners here.  So seeing faces other than African in the market isn’t that remarkable – especially here in the capital city.  That combined with the personality of people here (friendly but passive) you will find the experiences in the two places are as different as hot season and cold season.  Now consider the bold, aggressive, take charge Nigerian.  He or she is confident that you want to buy what they have to sell.  You are a target because you stick out like a white crayon in a box of colored ones.   If you’re me, you probably look like you don’t know where you’re going.  Not a good look in a market.   Our group was 6 in number, 1 of us being officially Nigerian.  I was looking for cloth.  Lace to be exact.  Lots of people sell lace.  And every one of them has a better quality then the person next to them.  To the untrained eye they all look the same…beautiful.   So thankful Augusta was with us.  After looking, finding and purchasing some lace, the other members of our group were interested in looking at soccer jerseys.  After all, Nigeria had just won the African Cup – and we were there to see it!  The jerseys weren’t in that market, but across the street.  So our small band of white crayons started very conspiculously making our way.  However there was some lace that I saw that I didn’t buy and I kept thinking about it.  We continued to walk the other direction.  I knew I would be kicking myself if I didn’t go back and get that cloth so I informed the others of my plan.  Augusta graciously said ‘OK, lets all go back in’.  It was hot and very sweaty and our time was running short. I didn’t want to waste any of it.  I assured her that I’d be fine on my own and that she should continue on with the others to the next destination.  She showed me where it was (across several ‘lanes’ of traffic on the 2nd floor of a large 2-story building) and the plan was if I didn’t see them there that we’d meet at our car.  Off I head back into the market. I’m pretty directionally challenged so thankfully the place we had been was pretty close.  Down one alleyway past seller after seller, turn left, more sellers (all wanting me to buy and telling me so), take a right – yep, more sellers and more offers to ‘just look’, another left, and now to find the lace I remember seeing hanging somewhere on the left.  Or was it on the right?  Keep in mind my directional issues.  You must understand, there are 100’s, no, 1000’s  of pieces of cloth hanging in the stalls.  I spotted my lace!  In spite of being proud of myself I attempted to maintain a calm ‘not caring if I really get it or not’ demeanor so as not to cause the price to go up.  You’d be proud.  I was.  I almost walked away.  But I did get my cloth and I did manage to make my way out of the market without getting lost – even though I came out a different way than going in.  I ‘threw my face’ across the street (that’s Nigerian English for turned my head, or looked) to see if I could see a gaggle of tall white guys + Tobi.  Couldn’t be that hard to spot in the midst of so much bright color.  Not to be seen.  So rather than make my way across the sea of people and their goods, I decided I’d just head to the car – through a different sea of people and goods.  That’s when I started to feel, well, it’s hard to describe.  I wasn’t at all fearful.  But I felt so obvious.  Like everyone was staring at me – wondering what this white lady was doing by herself in their market.  And I’m pretty sure I wasn’t imagining it.  I was the focus of attention for many.  I’m sure there were many thoughts going through many heads as I’m seen making my way through the people and ropes and gutters to get back to our car.  It was so different than in Niger.  I don’t really think twice in the market there.  Sure I get approached by sellers there in hopes that I’ll buy something but it’s different.  In Niger, I’m a dime a dozen so to speak.  But in Nigeria, I think I (we) really were a novelty.   I then began to think about it.  It occurred to me that other than the few foreigners that were there working with Church of God Mission, I realized that I had not seen one single white face since we’d been there.   Not one.  Then I began thinking why that was.  And I came to the conclusion that Nigeria doesn’t need foreigners helping them.  They are more than capable of leading and developing their own nation.  That doesn’t mean that it’s always being done the right way, but it’s not for lack of ability or resources.  That goes hand in hand with my theory that all of Africa and probably the remaining unreached world could be reached if Nigerians made a decision to do it…

But, I was talking about the market.  Anyway, I literally stood out like a sore thumb as I waited by the car for the other foreigners to arrive.  People were pleasant enough, of course greeting – but with an edge of ‘whatever are you doing in our market?’  I tried to call Neal but of course his phone was in the car – where I was standing.  They finally arrived after I’d sweated a couple of buckets, soccer jerseys in hand.  And because of Neal’s expert driving we were able to drive out of the crowded market without incident.  Quite remarkable really.

I took these pictures as inconspicuously as I could with my phone while I was waiting.

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Unloading the bread truck.

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From that market we headed to the silver man – he had some pretty stuff.  One of the benefits of living in Africa – jewelry design.

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The day before we left, I made sure to get some pictures of new friends.  Tobi had a blast with these two – Osassu and Osagie.  They are 2 of Archbishop Margaret’s adopted children.  Fun guys!

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Osagie really was quite the ham.  I think they enjoyed hanging with Tobi too.

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This is an incomplete group of guests and staff at the house while we were there.

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These 2 guys are from Tulsa and were there when we arrived.  They were on a short term trip and were involved in various aspects of the ministry – churches, university, hospital.  Michael and David.  Again, Tobi had a great time with them as well.  Kind of like having 2 big brothers!

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This is Stephen.  He was invaluable to us and our ‘go-to’ guy for whatever we needed.  Such a sweet servant.

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We were blessed with a gift from the University – we love souvenir type stuff.

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Even though soccer was usually played on Saturday mornings, I think this impromptu game was for Tobi’s sake – since we would be leaving the next morning.

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The drive (aka running track) is around the permitter of this field / home.  I reached my goal of running 3 miles before we left.   This was my view and my final run.  Well, this and the soccer match.

Sunset while running

Didn’t take pictures of packing up.  It would be nice to be home but we were feeling a bit sad about leaving.  We’d had such an amazing time.  I guess that’s how it should be though.  Leaving on a high note – wishing there was more.  And we certainly didn’t want to wear out our welcome.  God had truly blessed us and we believe there will be fruit that remains from this journey.

The next and last post about our trip will be the journey home…which is where we are now.

Missionary Journey to Nigeria Part 7 – Sunday

So, Sunday.  Our 3rd and last Sunday in Nigeria.  At least for now.  The first 2 Sundays we were in churches here in Benin City – Miracle Center and Faith Arena.  We were able to get in touch with a long time friend Rev. Matthew Okpebholo who insisted that we come to his church in Uromi.  He’s the overseer of all of the churches in the Ishan area.  That would be Sunday #3.  We were more than happy to oblige!  We arrived there on Saturday to visit and if you read my past post, that day is very well documented.

Rev. Matthew is not only a pastor.  He is a Bishop – elect.  He is a business man.  And not just any business man.  A very hard working one.  It was  such a blessing to be around him.  He is an amazing testimony of God’s faithfulness.  This is a man that has proven God’s principles.  He has been faithful, is an extremely generous giver and practices what he preaches.  And God continues to bless him.  He has built a beautiful church, as you will see.  And this is the first church I’ve attended in Africa that has air conditioning.  I wasn’t sweating in church.  That is notable.

In addition to a beautiful church full of beautiful people, Rev. Matthew has built a beautiful home.  This is where we spent Saturday night.

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One of the sitting rooms.  Pictures of their 6 children on the right wall.

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Dining room.

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Another sitting room.

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I forgot to get pictures of our room, but it was equally lovely.  So in case anyone was still thinking we have been ‘suffering for the Gospel’ on our mission trip, think again.  We have been well taken care of wherever we’ve been.

After a great night, we were excited to get to church on Sunday morning.

On our way…(it was just down the road apiece)

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Archbishop Benson Idahosa Cathedral

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The church was dedicated in 2000 and has been growing ever since.  Tobi has developed an eye closing habit for pictures – maybe because he has to pose for so many!  He’s such a good sport about it.

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This is the lobby area.

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ItIMG_1141 enters into the church.

This is the children’s hall – it’s on the 2nd lIMG_1143evel.

Neal & I with Rev. Matthew – Tobi’s there too, and some other pastors.

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The choiIMG_1171r.

Neal is being introduced.  Rev. Matthew is talking about how we live in Niger – in the desert, where no one wants to go.  He is saying that Neal’s parents are still there working – and everyone cheered.

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So Neal got up and of course greeted them all in Pidgin which as always hits the people first with shock, then awe as they see this big white man sounding like a real Nigerian.

Neal is giving testimony of the honor he received in Emu the day before – about the traditional chief’s robe he was given.  He is saying how Daddy will want it, but he will tell him that he has to come back here for  himself and get his own.

The preaching begins…

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Such a fun crowd to speak to.

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Again, IMG_1186constant motion.

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The church is both big and beautiful.

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Beautiful architecture.

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Love the slope.

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Rev. Matthew was so excited about the message he stood up and helped Neal preach some of it!

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Praying for the people.

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I hope no one gets offended by this, but I thought it was a beautiful picture.  When Neal was done, Rev. Matthew came up and also wanted to pray for the people.  Neal’s message was about being mindful of the next generation.  So Rev. Matthew told of how he has noticed that sometimes when he prays for women, they hold their breasts.  They do this because whenever they receive prayer, they are also thinking of and wanting prayer for their children.  So he said, “As I’m praying for you, hold your breasts and pray for your children.”  Now I know how this would sound in an American Church, but it was so normal here.  No pretenses, no one twisting things into something they’re not.  Just a back to the basics way of having a point of contact for your children.   That’s what you see here.

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It was youth Sunday – which happens 1 Sunday a month.  So all the youth were called up to be prayed over.

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Here we are with Rev. & Mrs. Matthew Okpebholo.  They have 6 children and 8 grandchildren.

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After the service — the parking lot.

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There are 3 story buildings to the right and left of the church – being utilized for all different ministries in the church.

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This picture reminds of what Rev. Matthew said to me as we were chatting after the service  — Referring to Neal he said – “You have a great man.”  My reply?  “I know.”

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It was another fruitful day that brought us great joy.

Nigeria Missionary Journey – An Interruption.

I’m going to interrupt my chronological play by play of our journey (I have a big Sunday to write about) and write a bit about Nigeria and it’s people from my perspective.  Before I met Neal (a Nigerian in his own rite), I don’t ever remember meeting a Nigerian.  From that point on I was intrigued and then grew to love the Nigerian personality.  They are friendly, bold, generous, aggressive, fancy dressers, commanding, creative, natural born leaders, hospitable, ingenious and did I say generous?  I know that sounds like a stereotype, and it may be, but I don’t believe I’ve ever met a Nigerian that doesn’t have several if not all of these qualities.  And remember, I’m writing this from my perspective.

For the past 3 weeks I’ve been in Nigeria and have thoroughly enjoyed experiencing Nigerians in many different avenues.  First, the greetings.  I think most people are familiar with Africa and how important greetings are.  And I live in that culture so I understand that.  But when a Nigerian greets me they make eye contact and it feels like they really mean it.  And they don’t just say ‘hey’, or grunt.  They say ‘good morning’, ‘good afternoon’, or ‘good evening’, accordingly.   I’m even hearing Tobi greet like that now.  And they will greet you no matter what you or they are doing.  You may be passing them while they are talking on their cell phone.  But they will make a point to greet you anyway.  And another example — I’m out running in the compound we’re staying in.  Now I understand that when I’m running I don’t look good.  In fact I just look bad.  I get really red in the face and I sweat.  A lot.  I’m sure I look frightening and it might actually be more comfortable  to just ignore me.  But not here.  Everyone from the gardener to the drivers to the cooks to the pastors coming in and out will not only greet me, they’ll shout out things like “Well done!”  and “Congratulations!”   And I just smile and pant and attempt to wave as I slowly jog by.  And they seem seriously impressed.  Now I’ve run in the US and have passed other runners on the same sidewalk who act as if you aren’t even there.   We could learn something here…

Then there are what you might call retail settings.  Shopping.  When we arrived here we went to the local cell phone office to get SIM cards for our phones.  That was quite a process in and of itself.  It felt like we were applying for a job with the FBI.  But I took the opportunity to observe.  There are lots of protocols in place, but depending on how loud and demanding you are determines how much protocol you will be required to follow.  We walked into a large but packed semi-circle room lined all along the perimeter with desks and were greeted by a young lady occupying the first desk whose job it appeared was to direct people where to go.  We explained our purpose and were told to take a seat.  It was so funny to watch people come in, cut in line, but always greeting.  The squeaky wheel…  Lots of people had taken seats.  We made our way to the appropriate desk to register our SIM cards (fingerprinting required) and were told we’d have to be back there 2 hours later after our cards were activated.  OK.  We could do that.  (This was new to us.  In Niger you can buy your SIM card on the street, pop it into your phone and you’re good to go).  We returned later that afternoon to an equally packed room and were told to wait for help from the desk we had previously visited (fingerprint desk).  Neal decided to go to the welcome desk and explained – of course with a Nigerian accent – what we needed.  Welcome lady had more skills than saying good afternoon and between directing other customers to appropriate cues and desks, got him set up.  I then paid her a visit and watched while chuckling as she helped me all the while ‘handling’ the other customers.  Did I mention that Nigerians are demanding?  Umm, no.  I think I said commanding.  But let’s go ahead and add demanding.  What I realized is if you are not confident, you get nothing done.

Then there are the expressions.  We’ve gotten to know some of the people around here, and they us.  Some of them are just realizing that we’ve driven here from Niger.  To most of them, that’s unbelievable.  Why in heaven’s name would we do something like that?  Why don’t we fly?  Well the answer to that question is two – fold.  No, three-fold.  First, flights don’t fly direct from there to here.  You have to fly all over West Africa and it could take as many hours to get here.  Second, you wouldn’t get to see and do all that we’ve seen and done and wouldn’t have transportation when you get there.  Neal does not do well when he can’t get himself around.   And third, it’s not cheap.  And the fact is, our life has been a series of road trips.  Always.  I guess I could put together a book about all of our journeys.  So this is just another one of those.  Not a big deal to us.  But to the Nigerians here – it’s huge!  I’m not kidding when I say that we have been told we are heroes, we are unbelievable, we are amazing, we are extraordinary, and the latest comment – ‘you’re hot!’.  Isn’t that funny?  That’s encouraging to me though, in light of the 3 day journey home we have coming up this weekend.  When I’m tired of sitting, bumping and swerving/passing massive trucks, I’ll just remind myself that I’m a hot hero.

Oh, and one more.  Today we were talking with an educated woman.  She loved that we were loving Nigeria and was telling us about how she heard an advertisement that said that South Africa was the ‘light of Africa’.  But the thing that upset her the most was that the ad was written by Nigerians!  I loved the way she expressed herself.  She said “That just scandalized me!”  Isn’t that great?  And you’ve gotta love that loyalty.

Since my first visit to Nigeria I’ve been entertained by the creativeness of the names that are given to businesses.  But I never remember the names.  So this time I made it a point to write them down as I saw them.  The following is the list I’ve come up with.  I believe ‘creative’ was in my list of characteristics…

Peace Oil & Gas

Fingerlicking Restaurant

Unity Car Wash

God’s End Time Taxi (this one is extra funny to me)

God’s Time Fishing Co. (this one is for you Dad!)

Ever Jolly Restaurant

God is Good Motors

Aroma Fast Food

Victory Hospital

Relief Clinic and Maternity

Madam Good Hope Beer Parlor

Fate Medical Center (I can only assume here that they really mean ‘faith’, which in Nigerian English comes out ‘fate’)

Worldwide Undertakers Inc.

Blessed Frank Barbers

Goat Head Car Wash

Ambition Engineering School

Flash Restaurant and Bar

Blessed Ventures Tire Depot

God is Able Restaurant and Fast Food

Honesty Gas

Mommy is Good Restaurant and Bar

Luscious Hair Shop

Royal Cot Day Care

Tickle and Giggle Children’s Home

Addiction Salon

God’s Right Hand Ventures

Be Fine Barbing

We Speak Barbing

God’s Time Pharmacy

Daily Need Supermarket

Why Worry Food Center

Thy Will Hotel and Suites

God’s Divine Grace Furniture Works

So, though not complete, this is a sampling of things I’ve observed and personally experienced these past 3 weeks.  I’m aware that Nigeria has a reputation for scams and lots of other things that are less than attractive.  And I can’t really deny those things.  But I can say that I’m confident that there is more positive than negative.  Nigerians are a force and are a people that can make things happen.

Our mission here this month has been to teach missions.  I am fully convinced that if Nigeria wanted to do so, they could take the Gospel not only to the unreached in Africa, but to the rest of the world as well.  They just have to decide to do it.

Missionary Journey to Nigeria Part 6 – Today was incredible!!

We have had an incredible weekend.  It was so amazing that I will have to dedicate one post to Saturday and one post to Sunday.  I have included tons of pictures and even video – as pictures alone can’t tell the story.  We made plans to visit the town of Uromi and the village of Emu this weekend.  That’s the area Neal lived in when he first came to Nigeria – the bush.  We left at 9am for the 2 hour journey.  Can’t hate the drive with scenery like this!

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Uromi has 13 Church of God Mission (CGM) branch churches.  Amazing progress!  Here’ the first one we came across.

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Arriving in Uromi.

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Rev. Matthew Okbebholo is a long time family friend and the leader of all the churches in this region.  He visited us when we lived in Michigan and ministered in our church there.  He arranged for a couple of his pastors to take us around to visit Neal’s old stomping grounds.  We were first met by Rev. Godspower, who I remembered from our visit here in 1991.  Love to see that fruit!  He’s a regional pastor, is now married and has 2 children.

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While catching up with him, Rev. Asuelimen and his wife Christiane arrived to ‘escort’ us.  What a great surprise.  He was a teacher in the school Neal’s Dad taught in when they came to Nigeria in 1977.  That’s actually how they got into the country back then – with the government as a teacher.   Neal immediately remembered him.  He immediately reminded us that Neal’s Dad had married them.  He now has 5 children – from 14 – 25 years old.  Right after asking about Neal’s parents, he asked about his sisters, Sarah and Julie by name.

Our first stop was at the CGM church he is pastoring.

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Here’s the inside of the church.

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Next stop was to visit the old ‘temporary’ school.  It still carries that name for identification – since a new school was built.  This is where Neal’s Dad started as a Chemistry teacher.

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This was his classroom.  The door to the right is where Neal would work on his lessons while Dad was teaching.

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The very room Neal sat in as a 12 year old boy doing his school.

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The journey continues – deeper into the bush.

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This the ‘new’ school site.

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Can you imagine going to school with the jungle for a playground?

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Rev. Asuelimen giving us some history of how the school was burned down and is now being rebuilt.

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The journey continues… Neal was shocked at the development.  ‘Paved’ roads and electricity – neither of which were available in 1977.

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We press on to find Neal’s house…. Check out the solar street lights.

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There it is!

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The house Neal lived in 36 years ago.  In the middle of the jungle.

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Here Neal is explaining how the house seemed so much bigger when he was a kid.

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The family living there graciously let us look inside.

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One of Tobi’s ‘wonders’ was “How did Grama live here?”  Then he said, “Well, she was younger then.”

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Neal pointing out where his room was.  Though there was no electricity, they had a generator that ran from 6 – 10 every night.  Tobi’s question for Dad was, “Didn’t you get hot sleeping without even a fan?”  My our kids are spoiled!  =)

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Here Tobi and Neal are talking about the house.

Just before we left there was a rousing chorus of one of the songs Neal learned when he lived here.  I knew it too because he’s been singing it for years.

Now the drive to the river where Neal used to walk or ride  his bike.

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Here the road is being widened.  A lot.

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You can see the bridge/river in the distance.

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Closer

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Neal showing Tobi the road they used to use.  It’s pretty rough – and looks so small in the midst of such dense jungle.

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The small road is off to the left.

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The last picture we have on this bridge is of Neal  holding a 10 week old Trae and  a village of children walking with us.  The picture is poster sized and hanging in our dining room – it’s a classic.  A few years have passed since then…

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River in the background.  I’m just seeing how tall Tobi is – and I’m wearing heels.

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The river is always a source of life – and as I thought about it represents eternal life.  After all these years the same river is still flowing.  No wonder Jesus used rivers as examples.

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Bamboo is everywhere.  And so useful.  We’re sitting on a bamboo bench.

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On the road again — on a search to find the homes of Neal’s childhood friends.

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Here Neal is expressing how amazed he is by the deepness of this ravine.

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It really was deep.  Guessing 100 feet?  Photo can’t do it justice.

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Here’s the ‘bridge’ to cross it.

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Heading further into the village.

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While walking a woman saw us and ran up shouting Neeya!  Neeya!  She was so excited to see Neal and asked about his mom and dad and sisters by name.

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In fact check it out on video!

Here we’re visiting the home of Neal’s friends.  They weren’t there, but their dad was still there and of course remembered Neal.

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Here’s IMG_0992Neal and his friend’s Dad.

When we were leaving, Neal was noticing a type of tree that we have in Niger – but SO much bigger.

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The generosity of Nigerians is seen again when before we left this home they cut down 2 big banana stalks for us to take home.  They are yummy!

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Tobi looks like he’s about to take on these bananas…or maybe use them for a weapon!

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Moving on, bananas in tow.

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The jungle makes me feel so small!  I so enjoyed walking through this village and visiting with such vibrant people.  I really love being around Nigerians, but the people in the villages  – well, they’re just real.  Hard to explain except you experience it for yourself.

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Along the way I ‘found’ this beautiful baby – check out those eyes!

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Another Mom of one of Neal’s friends.

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She was so sweet!

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She was lovin’ her some Tobi!

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See for yourself.

At end you can hear this man say ‘na dis be you piking?’ when he points to Tobi.  He’s asking ‘is this your son?’  Neal replies – ‘Yes, this is my 3rd child’, and you hear everyone say ‘ahhhhhh’.

Rev. Asuelimen told us at the beginning of our adventure that we would end up at the Emu church that Neal attended – the church where Neal’s Dad married he and his wife Christiane – the couple that now has 5 nearly grown children.  Here’s the signboard for the church.

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I vaguely remember him saying something about fellowshipping with some people there but had forgotten that when we finally drove up to the church.  It was about 2:30pm.  I thought we were going to see the church and take some pictures of them in front of the church they were married in.

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So imagine my surprise when we heard singing.

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And then saw all these people emerging from the church, all smiles.  It took me a second or two to realize they were singing to welcome us.  Wow!

Beautiful music.

We walked into the filled church – many  had been waiting since morning for our arrival.  It was quite a humbling experience as they ushered us to the front shaking our hands and hugging us.  Pastor Asueliman then explained that they wanted to have a fellowship as the people wanted to honor us.  Some had been there when Neal was a boy and remembered Neal and his family. Which got me thinking.  At first I began to wonder how they could remember Neal, since he’s obviously changed just a tad since he was 12.  But then I thought – how could they not remember?  I suspect there has been no other white family living in that village before or since they were there.  They made an impact.  The family of Ron & Jerry Childs has made an imprint in that village that will never be forgotten.  Their testimony continues.  And it was so incredible to see especially in light of the word Neal has been preaching in the churches here – being ‘Next Generation Minded’.  What a picture of that they are.  As I’ve said before, everywhere we go Neal’s parents are mentioned.  And people don’t just ask how they are.  They tell us specific things that they did or taught them that they still remember or live by today.  Now that’s fruit that remains!

I just happen to have a few pictures of ‘the old days’ – of the seeds being sown.

Check out this family picture – right here in Emu!

Ibviadan, Emu

And a picture of the church.  Some of these people were probably with us today.

Ibviadan group

Ron & Jerry Childs (Dad & Mom)

Ron & Jerry

Dad in his office.

Ron in his office

Mom in her office.

Jerry in her office

Mom preaching.

Jerry preaches

ANFCBII graduation

Graduation ANFCBI

Rev. Andrew Daniels (current director of the Bible School), Archbishop Benson Idahosa, Rev. Ron Childs (former director of the Bible School).

Andrew, Idadosa, Ron

Baby dedication in Faith Arena.

Baby dedication

Dad in front of Faith Arena with Archbishop Idahosa.

Ron & Idahosa#1

In the bottom picture the man on the right of Dad  is Rev. Omobude, whom we visited last week.  Here he is on Neal’s left.                                                                             IMG_0869

Omobude, Idahosa, Coker

Praise in Lagos conference

Ron & Jerry in BC

What a legacy!

 

 

 

 

To Dad’s left are Archishop Idahosa and Rev. Coker, both who were at our wedding in 1989.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now. Back to today…

First they asked Neal to preach.  Which he happily did.

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When he finished, the three of us sang a song for them in Hausa.

Then they explained that they had a gift, a very small gift that they wanted to give, to help us remember them.  Here they are opening it in front of Neal.

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This was no small gift!  It was the traditional wear of a chief – a beautiful woven blanket.  And I mean beautiful!  They draped it on Neal (it’s traditionally worn without a shirt under it), but we opted to be a bit untraditional and leave his clothes on.  They said he was their honorary chief and that he had to come back.

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What an honor!!!

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Here is Neal’s response.

As if that wasn’t enough, the children had also prepared a traditional dance for us.

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Here’s a quick clip so you can see for yourself.

They asked us to pray for them, which we did with great joy.

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It was such an incredible and unexpected time.  I noticed my cheeks were sore. For a quick second I wondered why, then I realized it was because I hadn’t stopped smiling.

After the prayer time there was a major photo shoot outside.  The pastor even brought a photographer!  He used my camera to take some pictures too.

First was with the Pastors.

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Then the children.

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Then the youth.

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Then the women.

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Then the men.

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These men wanted to be sure we got a picture of them because they knew Mom and Dad would remember them.

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This is Rev. Asueliman and his wife Christiane, the Pastor and school principal who was married in this church by dad.

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This is Pastor Paul and Margaret, the current pastors of this church and organizers of this amazing program.  SO sweet.

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This lady is the same age as Neal’s sister, Sarah, and remembers playing with her.

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This is her adorable baby, Francis.

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Then there was Tobi.  He was somewhat of a celebrity.  And it’s hard to say what he thought about it, but all the girls wanted pictures with him.

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All of them.

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Especially this one…

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It was time to leave and many goodbyes and God Bless You’s were said, with promises to return.  On our way Asueliman took us by the house he grew up in.  It really has a cool colonial feel.

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It was time to return to Uromi to prepare for Sunday morning.

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One thing I haven’t mentioned is how humid it is for us.  Coming from dry season in the desert we were constantly dripping.  But it was a good drip.  However we were thankful that Asueliman stopped for some refreshments on our way back – he insisted we get some drinks. I was just going to share something with Tobi or Neal but he shoved a carton of juice into my hand.  I must say, warm and all, it was incredible!   Nothing like rehydrating after a hike through the jungle.

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It was such a pleasure to spend the afternoon with a new friend.

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We arrived back to Uromi before dinner time.

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Check out our diggs!

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More on that next time…