A Sunday Here, A Sunday There

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seriously?

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

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Grateful. Humbled. Amazed.

Our churches in Niamey were violently attacked just over 3 weeks ago. In the wake of that, while working to restore, replace and rebuild, Boko Haram rears its ugly head in Diffa – trying to penetrate the Eastern border of Niger where we have another church. I am amazed. I’m not amazed because of the political/Islamic attack of churches in the west, or because of the evil extremists terrorizing the east. I am amazed by the response of the Niger Christians. Humbled, really.

These pictures were taken after the attacks.  After churches were burned.  After homes were looted and destroyed.

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The joy can be seen, but I wish it could be felt through this picture.  It was real.  I know it was real because I was there.

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A few weeks ago we were in Diffa with our family.  We were there to encourage the church.  So many members have been directly affected by Boko Haram and fled to Diffa from Nigeria.  Of course they and their faith ended up encouraging us.

Here’s a link to an article on what’s happening there.

This is Pastor Abdu & Aisha, and their children Caleb, Samuel and Nassara.

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Our son Trae preached a timely message while we were in Diffa (with no knowledge of coming attacks of course).  He preached about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and how Jesus will always be with us in the fire.

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Early this past Sunday morning (Feb 8), we got a phone call from Pastor Abdu in Diffa.  He told us that gunfire could be heard from the church (and their home).  Boko Haram was trying to cross the border over the bridge.  This is the place we used to hang out when we lived in Diffa.

Neal and Tobi looking across the border into Nigeria.

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We used to swim in this river!

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We lived in this town for almost 2 years.

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Pastor Abdu wasn’t fearful, just informing us.  We assured him we’d be praying.  It’s times like these that I’m especially grateful for Facebook.  I know that in a matter of an hour, hundreds were praying.  And that soon multiplied to thousands.

I called Aisha, P. Abdu’s wife to see how she was doing.

She said it was a bit scary hearing the gunfire, (ya think?)  but that she and the kids were doing fine.  She was very encouraged to know that so many were praying.

Later that day a bomb was detonated in a nearby market.  We knew the place.  Though things calmed down during the day, we got another phone call early Monday morning that the fighting went on through the night and was continuing.  Then the prison was attacked.  The prison is right by our church.

We all agreed that it was time for the wives to leave with the children, but we weren’t the only ones with that idea and all transport vehicles were full for the next several days.  I so wanted to go and pick them up myself- but that would have been idiotic.  Once again God intervened and a vehicle was found to get them out.  I still don’t have all the details, but I know they left last night.  I talked with P. Abdu in Diffa this morning and he said that many have left but that things have quieted down.  There is only scattered gunfire.  I then talked to Aisha who was on the road and she assured me they were all fine.  They had made their first destination around 11pm last night and were heading to Maradi today.

Since the attack in Niamey, Pastor Zabeyrou and Salamatou (who is 6 months pregnant) and their 3 kids have been staying with us in our home.  They lost everything – home and church.

Here they are – smiling.  What an honor it is to labor together with them.  Several years ago, they were the pastors of the church in Diffa, so the situation there is very close to home for them as well.

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This morning, when I was talking to Aisha who was still on her journey, I thought it would be a good idea to have Salamatou talk to her too.

That’s when it hit me.  The amazing part.  Salamatou, who is homeless and without her belongings, is on the phone encouraging Aisha who with her children is running for her life.  And they’re laughing.  And talking about the goodness of God.  And thanking me for praying.  Thanking me.  I have no more words.

Except to say how humbled I am to call these two beautiful ladies my friends.

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