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!

Danette iphone

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.

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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.

Journey to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 4, 2013

We got back from our amazing trip to Nigeria and I was thankful that we had 1 full week to prepare for the next journey.  We will be gone from Niger until July 21.

Our next destination was Lusaka, Zambia.   But to get anywhere from West Africa (Niger specifically) is no easy assignment.  Unless you happen to own your own flying machine – which we don’t.  But rather than despair over the itinerary, we decided to take advantage of it.  We entered the plane – Asky Airlines in Niamey, Niger.  I must say I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the aircraft we were boarding.  It was much nicer than I expected.  And contrary to its reputation, it was on time.

Grama and Grampa (Neal’s parents) took us to the airport at 6am for our 8:30am flight.  They were armed with bacon and egg muffins and bagels which were very appreciated and hit the spot while we were waiting for boarding.

Here we’re on the bus at the Niamey airport being shuttled to the plane – which is about 20 yards from where we had been waiting.  No joke.

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I didn’t know if they would be annoyed with me and my camera, so I attempted to snap this picture secretly as I got to the top of the stairs before entering the plane.  No small feat as I was carrying a carry-on, computer bag and purse.

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The first flight was 45 minutes and was from Niamey, Niger to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.  Here in Ouaga we’re waiting to board our Ethiopian Air flight to Addis Ababa.

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Here’s some snaps of us on the plane….  This one is a bit scary (of me), but shows how we were sitting.

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My guys…

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Tobi has learned to slumber anywhere.  Notice the African man next to him with the blanket on his head.  Chilly!

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Fly the friendly skies…

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But you may not want to eat their food…Actually, I usually find airline food to be quite edible.  This time, not so much.

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It was dark in Addis Ababa when we landed – but this is the outside of the airport.

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All our our flights were on time and the guest house pick up was waiting for us.  We booked a guest house online – based only on reviews.  In addition to its price being less expensive than hotels I checked, a big selling point was that it not only offered breakfast, but free airport pickup as well.  The man who picked us up was the owner of the guest house.  Z Guest House to be specific.   I’d call it more of a B&B though.   Our host was obviously awed by the amount of luggage we had.  We only had 1 suitcase each, but they were at their max weight.  And what he didn’t know was that this was our ‘stuff’ for the next 5 months.  So I say that 50 pounds each is pretty good!  Fortunately he came prepared and had some ropes to tie a couple suitcases to the top of his little car.

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Enjoying our first meal in Addis Ababa.

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The observant observer would recognize that we are wearing the same clothes we wore when boarding the plane in Niamey…and all through the journey.   It was close to 9pm when we arrived at the guest house.  We were hungry and asked our host about restaurants in walking distance.  He gave us directions and quickly sent us on our way in hopes that they would still be open.  Thus no wardrobe change.  Oh – and we asked if we needed to change money or if they would accept U.S. dollars. He responded by handing us about $40 worth of Birr, the local currency.  We’re already recommending this as a great place to stay!

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We began a quick jaunt at a quick pace (walking with Neal is always done at a quick pace) down streets that were unfamiliar.  After several minutes of walking in the dark it was hard to miss the car coming up and slowing down right behind us.  None of us are alarmists, but it was a bit unnerving.  When the vehicle stopped just as we were getting out of the way, we recognized our host.  Wonder what he wanted?  He quickly explained that after we left he began worrying that maybe the recommended restaurant was closed so decided to come after us and drive us there himself, or to another place if in fact it was closed.  What a host!  Again, we highly recommend the Z Guest House and we haven’t stayed there a night yet.  Turns out the restaurant was in fact closed.  Todd (our host had a difficult name and told us to call him Todd for short)  drove us to a street that had quite a few eating establishments and though further, was still in walking distance.  Especially for we who had been on a plane traveling since 6am.

Tobi ordered beef stir fry, and though it looked or tasted nothing like what we expected stir fry to taste like, it was wonderful.  He shared.  Neal and I got pizza and it was equally wonderful and cheesy (we’re a bit cheese deprived, given the price of cheese in Niger).  We shared too…  It was quite a fun cafe type place and they were happy that we were so pleased with our food.  I might add though, that when it comes to food, we are quite easy to please!  We enjoyed a very cool walk ‘home’ – I’m guessing about at least 2 kilometers.  Fortunate, given the pizza…Sleep tonight would be sweet!

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This is a picture of the guest house taken from Todd’s house. Our room is the bottom right – where Neal is walking out.

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And this is Todd’s house taken from our room.  He and his wife are retired (except for running the guest house) and live here with their children who help them operate the business.  The place is small, but the landscaping beautiful.

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This is the living room / Tobi’s bedroom.  I LOVED the big windows and all the sunlight.  This might be a good time to mention the weather was incredible!!  The nights were sweatshirt chilly which was quite a novelty for us.  And those windows.  They are open, allowing in some wonderfully fresh cool air – no screens required!

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This was our room.  There is a feeling I love, that brings back memories of my Minnesota childhood.  In the Spring, when it began to thaw, I used to love to sit by any window that had the sun streaming through and let it warm my skin.  That’s what this felt like.  It was wonderful.  In Niger, one does all one can to prevent the sun from streaming into the house.  By all means.  So this was a nice change.

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The bathroom though cozy, was sufficient.  There was also a fridge which we used, and a small stove which we did not.  (Too many eating places to experience!)

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Thus began our 5 month journey.

Next up:  Exploring Addis Ababa!

Nigeria Missionary Journey Part 1

It was a journey that would take 3 full days of driving.  It was a journey that would take us to Neal’s childhood home.  It was a journey that would take Tobi to Nigeria for the very first time.  It was a journey that would take me back to the first time I ever left the US – with a 9 week old Trae in tow.   It is a journey that God placed on our heart nearly 2 years ago.   It’s a journey that we are believing we will place the passion to preach the Gospel to all people in the hearts of many.

We departed Niamey on Monday, January 28th.  We left our home packed up for a 4 week trip.  First stop was Maradi where we had our Annual Pastor’s Meeting.  It was an encouraging time of hearing testimonies from our pastors about what God did in 2012, and of pouring forth vision for the upcoming year.  Every year it’s bigger and better because there are more pastors and more mature churches.

Here’s the annual photo of some amazing men that God has raised up.   They are all pastoring churches in Niger.

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January 30th we hit the road at 6:30am.  The sun was just coming up.  You can see our trusty Google instructions on the dashboard.

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The border from Maradi to Nigeria is only about 30 minutes away.  We arrived on the Niger side just after 7.  There is no electricity there so inside the immigration ‘building’ it was still a bit dark.  The customs official there held a flashlight in his mouth while he wrote down all our passport information in his book.  I was sorely tempted to take pictures but resisted the urge.  It’s possible I’d be writing this from jail if I hadn’t exercised self control.

The difference between the Niger and Nigeria borders was drastic.  For those who don’t travel much, when you leave one country and enter another, you must have your passport stamped with an exit stamp when you leave.  You have to have all your car papers and other various documents in order to be allowed to leave.  Then you drive through ‘no-man’s land’ which can sometimes be miles long.  In our case, however, you can see the Nigeria side from the Niger side.  When you arrive into the next country you again go through all the official steps to be ‘checked in’.  The 2 sides are drastically different.   As I mentioned, there is no electricity on the Niger side.  The immigration offices are few, small and sparse.  The officials are friendly and quiet and basically do their job.  You don’t get the impression that they are trying to cook up some way to get something from you.  They are dressed in simple uniforms and most were wearing flip-flops.  There was one official there who was practicing his English and stood there saying ‘New York, San Francisco, Rockefeller’.  I think he was just trying to come up with any English he had learned.  He enjoyed practicing with Tobi.

In spite of having our information all hand-written, the process took only about 15 minutes on the Niger side – including our car documents.

Next stop – Nigeria.  Not only was there electricity, there were several big fancy buildings outfitted with air-conditioning.  One man directed us one way.  We got out of the car and locked it up.  Another man told Neal that no, he would have to move the vehicle.  Which he did – about 3 feet…  There were many officials and they were all very welcoming and very loud.  They were dressed in snazzy uniforms with trim – I’m sure the ‘trim’ had purpose and meaning, I just didn’t know what it was.  Their feet were outfitted with shiny black dress shoes.

First stop was to fill out more paperwork.  One form for each of us to to complete with our life histories.  Not really, but it was getting redundant.  After that, several people directed us in several different directions – all at the same time.  At first, Tobi and I were told that we could wait in the vehicle while Neal finished up the paperwork for that.  Then they discovered that Tobi spoke Hausa and I think they invented ways to keep us there longer so they could talk with him.  I was sent to one building with passports to have some more stuff written down.  Neal was sent to another building for vehicle stuff.  And Tobi – well, we’re not sure where he was.  But a great thing about Nigerians is that they love kids so we weren’t the least bit concerned.  We knew he was in good hands.  And he loved it.  Again, I would have been able to get some classic pictures, but had I taken them it’s possible that neither they, nor my camera would have survived to tell the story.  So you’ll have to use your imagination.  It was all quite colorful.  Forty-five minutes later we were on our way.

It’s kind of funny that in spite of the fact that we’ve had some crazy things happen while living in Niger – and that right now there’s stuff going on there since we’re part of the war in Mali, I’m actually more intimidated by traveling in Northern Nigeria.  I don’t exactly know why.  I didn’t realize how stressed I must have been until we arrived at our destination in Abuja.  I was aching, and my body temperature was all over the place.  I’ve learned that my body processes stress in weird ways.  I usually don’t even recognize I’m stressed until the stressor is over and my body relaxes – and reacts!

I got a bit more ‘daring’ with my camera after we were through the borders, but was always ready to hide it as we came upon the many, many police checkpoints.  Actually, with all going on in the world these days, we can be thankful for those checkpoints.  And for the most part, they went smooth.

There was one thing that was always consistent among the police and soldiers.  They were ALWAYS friendly and welcoming.   And most were legitimately checking our passports/visas.  We are aware and prepared for those who see us and see dollar signs written all over us.  We know that you are required to travel with a fire extinguisher and triangle and to wear seat belts.  At one particular stop after the friendly greeting they asked if we had an extinguisher.  Of course we said with a big smile as we produced it.  Good.  What about a triangle?  Certainly!  Good.  Now then, what about your ‘road rule book’.  What?  Seriously?  Yep.  You are required to travel with it.  I’m sitting in the car going ‘you’ve GOT to be kidding me!’  Which is why I was in the car and Neal was outside talking with them.  He knows how to talk to Nigerians.  He kind of is one.  So I hear things like ‘turn around’, ‘impound your vehicle’.  Then the ‘supervisor’ comes over.  Neal then plays the “Pastor Card”.  “I’m a pastor”, he says.  “Oh”, says the supervisor.  “Well, just do ‘something’ for them”.  They have to save face you know.  We brought with us some of our 2013 Planners that are given to the ministry every year by Kingdom Life Fellowship in Richlands, NC.  We had just passed them out to everyone at the annual meeting and we brought some with us for ‘such a time as this’.  Neal leans in the car and tells me to get some planners out.  “How many”, I ask.  He said 2 or 3.  Then I hear a booming voice say, “We are 4 in number”.  Alrighty then.  Four it is.

They were all smiles as we drove away.

All the other checkpoints were pretty basic and legit.  Just had one funny soldier ask us if we had a puppy for him.  Seriously.  A puppy.

Nigeria is 50% Christian and 50% Muslim.  Mainly, the Muslims are in the North and the Christian’s in the South.  Though there were quite a few churches/ministries along our way, there were still more mosques.  There is definitely a difference though in the Niger Muslim and the Nigerian Muslim.  They carry the influence of their own cultures.  We found the Nigerian’s to be so friendly – rambunctious even.  We had to stop for directions multiple times and every time there were so many people looking to help us and vigorously showing us the way.  Many even said, “Shall I take you there?”

Speaking of directions, Neal had diligently looked up and printed out Google maps and directions for our trips.  But an FYI – don’t depend on Google to get you  through Nigeria.  The maps were helpful though to show us what towns/villages were upcoming.  Then we would ask if we were on the right track for the next town.  And so it went.

We always enjoy traveling to places where the language is English.  But all 3 of us discovered that we also enjoyed that the English was mixed with Hausa, our ‘other’ language.  According to Neal it was ‘delightful’.  Yep, he really said that.

We also really enjoyed stopping along the way and talking with the old Hausa men.  They’re just fun guys.

I’m going to end this blog with pictures from the first day of our journey.

There were TONS of trucks on the road.  They’re painted with all kinds of stuff.  On of my favorites is ‘Horn before overtaking’

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4 lane ‘highway’!

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Mosques are prevalent in Northern Nigeria.

IMG_0429 But there are beautiful churches as well!

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It was so nice to see some road signs – there weren’t many!  Made us appreciate driving in the US.  Of course with lots of road signs we wouldn’t have had as many opportunities to talk to the cool old Hausa guys.

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Traffic started to pick up.

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That’s a real rock  – not just a funny image in the photo.  It was a really dusty (cool) day.

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It’s a really, really big rock.  Those are some decent sized houses in front of it.

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Such  variety on the road…

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The sign by these houses was ‘This is a Housing Scheme’.  Thought that was funny.

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The city of Kaduna.  A part of the city we ought not to have seen…but we won’t go there.

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Here’s where we had lunch.  It was a fuel station in Zaria called “Al Mochtar Restaurant”  Rice, spicy red stew, beans, salad and coke for $3 each.  Loving us some Nigerian food!

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Eleven long hours later we arrived in the Capital City of Abuja – our home for the night.  But arriving and finding our hotel were very different things…We got smart when we saw the massiveness of the city and realized our Google map was googly glop.  We hired this taxi #3877 to take us to our hotel.  It was $6 VERY well spent!

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Another Mosque… the sun is almost set.

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Our home for the night.  A Nigerian friend of ours and supporter of our ministry not only made arrangements for our night here – he also paid for our stay and left a food credit for us to eat.  Such a HUGE blessing!  Thank you Sola.

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It was so wonderful to arrive.  SO wonderful.  We thank God for answered prayer and I was  thankful to know that so many were praying for our journey.  That fact came to mind quite a few times along the way.

Part 2 soon…

From Famine to Flood:The Niger River

We live in the desert.  In Niger.  Where drought is a way of life.  I’ve heard it referred to as ‘the forgotten famine’.  We’ve heard it said that every year is a famine year in Niger, it’s just that some years are worse than others.  Like this year.  Here’s just a snippet of an article I came across:

In markets all over Niger, hungry people are selling hungry animals for half their normal value, giving up on the milk and money of tomorrow so that their children can eat today. Their plight is a sign of how far the economy of the desert has broken down, leaving its people unable to feed themselves in drought after drought. abcnews.go.com

Niger has received quite a bit of press this year because of the drought. But we are in the news once again  – but not because of drought.  Because of flood.  Yep.  Flooding in the desert.

It seems that the Niger river is the highest it’s been in recorded history.  We are in rainy season, so the river is expected to grow.  But when it grows from this:

to this:

…in a very short period of time, well, that’s just too much water.  That, and the fact that the dikes around here have broken…

Rivers are sources of life.  Cities, towns and villages are built around rivers because of all they offer. They provide some industry.  They’re beautiful.  It’s cooler on the river.   In fact I can’t count the number of times Neal has told me how much he’d love to build a house on the river.  Almost every time he looks at it I’d bet.   And he says it like he’s saying it for the first time.  But then there’s that pesky  flooding issue.  I know some places are expected to flood regularly and life has prepared for that.  But here in the desert, one does not expect serious flooding to be the norm.  However, this year, the Niger River here in Niamey has burst the dikes and burst its banks.  According to reports, 65 people have been killed and over 125,000 are homeless.  And I’m sure those numbers  have increased.  There’s nothing pesky about that.

It doesn’t matter if you possess a little or a lot.  Losing everything is everything.  And I would daresay that if what you lost was ‘little’, replacing that may be more difficult than if you had ‘a lot’.  That’s just my analysis.

I didn’t take any of these flood pictures.  But they were all taken in Niamey by my Facebook friends.  (Hope you guys don’t mind me using them here -Lisa Rohrick, Nancy DeValve, if I missed you, let me know and I’ll add your name).  But most of these are just the areas near the bridge.  Down or Up river there are neighborhoods that were wiped out.

Could you carry your bed in a flood?

Here, the bank of the river is ‘normally’ on the right side of the boat.

The flooding has not only affected the people in Niger that we are here to serve.  It has also affected those that are here to serve.   Though there were many affected and I’m sure I don’t know the half of it, those I’m referring to here are the missionaries and Nigerienes who are Sahel Academy.   S.A. is where our kids have attended school since we have lived in Niamey.  Trae and Tanika have both graduated from there.  Tobi has been a student there since 1st grade.  It’s a beautiful school with wonderful and godly people that teach and serve our children.  The school has provided many memories for our kids and for us as well.  Here are some of the things that have taken place over our years associated with Sahel Academy.

Tobi with his friends at a banquet.

Tanika with John at a banquet.

More banquet…

The famous Casa del Burrito  – senior fundraiser and best (and only) Mexican Restaurant in town!

Open for business.  More chips anyone?

Then there was the Medieval Festival.  Tobi and Micah have grown a bit since then.

Mr. Ben  teaching Tobi the ins and outs of bow-hunting.

Then there are graduations.

Trae’s class. 2009

Ms. James giving Trae his diploma on The Green.

Tanika sang at Trae’s graduation.

And Tanika’s class – 2011.  Same place.  Different year.

Trae sang at Tanika’s graduation with Chantelle and Joy.

Tanika sang at her  grad too – with Julie and Eli.  I know, it’s all rather confusing.  But it’s fun!

Even those in our ministry were a part of Sahel events.

And of course I can’t leave out all the NUTS Softball tournaments that Neal and Trae played in together – and Neal continues to play.

I’m showing all these pictures not just for the sake of all the memories that have been made on this campus, but also to show what Sahel looked like before the Niger River decided to join it.  The following pictures were taken in the last few weeks, after the river swelled and the dike broke.

This is Sahel Academy today.  Again, these are not my pictures. I really had no desire to go and see the flooding.  Pictures were enough.  I know it’s real, but I’d rather not see it ‘in person’ at the moment.

Entrance

Brian & Kathy Bliss, the school directors, canoeing to get around campus.  Their home, along with lots of other missionaries, are here as well.  To be exact, 53 people from the mission community were displaced.  Proud to know them and their smiles.

An elementary classroom.

Classroom buildings.

Dining Hall and High School Building.

This is the new administration building on campus.  Many of us have canoed on the Niger River, but never this close to the school!

Inside the administration building.

There’s more than one way to go canoeing.

Toilet paper commercial?

This is Centre Biblique, an SIM compound right next to Sahel Academy.  It was also flooded and many displaced.

Music room.

Enter the community.  Quite an amazing community.  Every Sunday evening here in Niamey there is a NEWS service.  No – not the communication of newly received information variety – but NEWS: Niamey English Worship Service.  Sunday, August 26th, a ‘town hall’ meeting preceded the regularly scheduled NEWS.  It’s location had to be changed though, because the services are usually held at Sahel Academy, which we know is now part of the Niger River.   The discussion was about what has happened, and what to do from here.

Because a large percentage of NEWS attendees are in some way involved with or touched by Sahel Academy and Centre Biblique, one might have expected a sober atmosphere.  But what we found when we got there was a spirit of ‘rallying’.  In spite of the fact that life as we know it for many has dramatically changed, there was a ‘with God,  we will pull up our boot straps, work hard, and see what He’s going to do for us’ attitude.  And the evening’s discussion didn’t only include talking about what we need to do to find homes for our missionaries and a location or locations to start school, there was a big emphasis on what needed to be done for the nationals involved in the school as well as the help that needed to be provided for the many Nigerienes who had lost their homes.

To be honest, what has happened has not affected me directly.  Indirectly, yes, but not directly.  In fact this year we are even homeschooling Tobi.  That decision was made almost 2 years ago so has nothing to do with these events.  So the flooding of the school isn’t affecting the education of our child.  And I haven’t lost anything in the flood.  Not one thing.  I haven’t heard of any of our church members that have lost homes either.

But I can relate on some level to what has happened.  No, I’ve never lost my home in a flood.  But I have been a part of pouring my whole heart into something and seeing it destroyed.  I’m thinking specifically of when our church and bible school compound in Maradi was burned.   Almost completely destroyed.  We had only been in the country for 2 1/2 years before dedicating the new church God helped us build.  And in one day, one hour really,  it was gone.  That’s a whole long, victorious story by itself.  But it was painful in the beginning.

We were reminded once again that when you are doing what God calls you to do, there will be opposition.  Many are the afflictions of the righteous.  So often we think when challenges and problems occur, it’s God ‘closing a door’.  I beg to differ.  There is an enemy out there that is working overtime to stop us from fulfilling God’s call on our lives.  In our case it is to plant churches among the unreached and disciple the new believers.  But that verse in Psalms doesn’t stop there.  It goes on to say ‘but the Lord delivers him out of them all’.  ALL.  The attack on our church that day felt personal.  We’d come to a foreign land and poured our heart and soul into the people.  And for that we get attacked and burned out?  But through the pain of that, one of my very first thoughts was ‘the enemy is going to so regret what he’s done here today…’.  And so he has.  That attack provided us lots of free advertising and raised our ministry to a new level.  The opportunities to witness were everywhere.   People were coming to us.  When stopped at checkpoints while traveling through the country, we would be asked if we had any tracts on what we believed.  Someone once stopped Neal in the market saying that he saw him on TV, saw what happened and wanted to know why he was smiling while smoke was going up all around him.  And – God not only provided enough for the church and compound to be built back, but to be built bigger and better!  I’d say God delivered us.  Press on.

So while we’re looking at a tragedy, God is working and will deliver.  Just as our church not only recovered but grew, God will do some amazing things through this event.  If we trust him.  The missionary community has already shown great trust in the Lord by the way they have responded.  Our churches and pastors have visited some of the schools where the displaced people are staying.  We are giving out food and clothes along with the preaching of the Gospel.  Before giving out boxes of food, our Pastor Zabeyrou preached about the love of God.  It wasn’t without chaos, but still, the Word of God was preached.

I remember that outdoor Sunday night NEWS service 2 weeks ago.  We stood and sang Great is Thy Faithfulness and I’m sure some were shedding tears as we looked at the beautiful, flooded river peacefully flowing by.

Great is thy faithfulness                  

Oh God my Father

There is no shadow of turning with Thee

Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not

As thou has been thou forever wilt be.

Press on.  Your deliverance draweth nigh!!!

Miracle Meetings in Maradi! Part 1

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

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

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

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

Niger cities location (Maradi)
Regions in Niger

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

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

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

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

They are intently watching the program and loving it.

Here’s one of the teams doing their thing.

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

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

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

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

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

There’s a clown in that crowd!

The presentation on the streets.

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

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

This little guy has his ticket for the evening program.

These boys on the street just wanted their picture taken.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The story continues…