Josiah’s Perspective of our Red Sea experience.

So to add even more color to this story, I’ve decided to post Josiah’s perspective on it.  Josiah has been here 2 other times with TTC, so he’s not a newbee.  He’s 20-something and is a long time family friend.  We’ve known him since he was 8 months old.  He’s staying with us until December.  I’m rather hoping that the rest of his time in Niger is a little less exciting than this.

As soon as we arrived home late Monday night, well, as soon as he took a shower, Josiah was chatting with a friend telling him about the experience while it was fresh in his mind.  His words are cryptic yet detailed and I enjoyed hearing his take on things.  The response of his friend is even more cryptic, and quite humorous.  Those are in italics.

Josiah’s Journey

Well, it was quite a day. Among other things: It poured rain for hours, a bridge went out, we sank an SUV into a river, and someone almost died.

And I have sand EVERYWHERE.

You know how your feet can move around a bit in your shoes? Not mine. No wiggle room. Sand. My entire body, caked in sand. My underwear had at least a full cup of sand in them.

(Friend D): ahaha wow! is that from being in the river? What happened?

Well, the bridge went out. We had to get home. The water was rising. We watched someone else successfully cross. We tried to cross. Got 1/3 of the way through, started floating. Shortly after we started floating, we started sinking.

Water starts coming in the doors. The car slowly fills. The engine doesn’t die, we try to get some people to push us. No luck. Water in the car continues to rise. Reach back and grab soaked bags from the trunk, at least the ones I could reach. Clutch tablet closely. Water rises. Climb out window onto roof.

After transferring what we could save to dry land, try to push/pull/lift car out of sandy river. There are maybe 30 local villagemen watching/trying to help. 3 or 4 languages being spoken, none of which I understand. As the river washes away the sand behind the car, it tilts up at a steeper and steeper angle. We try to push it, and get it out of the hole. Water is neck-deep behind the car. We keep pushing. We make progress, but the sand keeps collapsing, and the hole pretty much moves with us. Car ends up pointing up at around 30 degrees.

Local dude passes out from the fumes behind the car, gets a lungful of water before anyone notices, stops breathing. Carried to shore. Is unconscious and not breathing for something like 2 minutes. Comes to somehow, walks away.

Car is clearly stuck at this point, at a rakish angle, and completely full of water. Engine is still somehow running.

Danette doesn’t want to get out because if she shuts off the engine, the water will flood up the tailpipe and wreck the engine with sand and such. But she was in the car, and my dad went to try and get cell coverage. Tara, our other American, was watching all the stuff we had saved, mostly electronics, on the shore.

So, picture this:

Danette is sitting in the car. It’s at a 30 degree angle, front up. The water is above her waist. She’s got the window down, one hand on the wheel, and one hand resting on the edge of the window. She was a bit fazed at first, of course, but at this point, she’s smiling, and talking to the group of ten or so locals who have gathered around her window in the rushing water.

Standing just outside her window, it’s about chest high.

Most of the locals prefer to speak French, but she doesn’t know it, so she asks if they know Hausa, the trade language. Some of them do. So she starts sharing what we’ve been doing, that we just came from a youth camp we’re hosting, and how she’d like some hot tea. (It was cold water!)

The conversation continues, and she decides to ask them, “have you ever heard the story of Jesus?”

“Oh, a little bit.”

“Where?”

Some town nearby.

“Well, Jesus is God’s son. I know you don’t like to hear that.” [Muslims don’t believe that God had a son.]

“So, have you ever sinned? Ever made a mistake? We’re all sinners.”

“Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.”

“Well, God sent Jesus to take all our sins, and he died for our sins, and when he rose he took them away, because he loves us.”

The guys around are all saying – “Yes, yes, it’s true!”

“You’re saying ‘yes’, but do you really believe it?”

Islam is all about works.

“You know, when I say we’re saved through Jesus, it has nothing to do with works. You accept his grace and forgiveness through faith.  THEN He gives you work to do.  He shows you His plan for your life.  So, you can accept Jesus, but after that it doesn’t mean that it’ll just be an easy life. There’s gonna be problems. I’ve been in Niger 17 years and I came here with my family to tell others the truth about Jesus and look where I’m sitting right now [in this car]. But when you have Jesus, you have someone to go through the problems with you. And God has a plan for your life.  And what about heaven?  I know that you don’t think you can have assurance of going to heaven.  But you see as believers in Jesus, we have the assurance of eternal life.  In fact, if this car washes away right now and I drown in it, I’ll immediately be with Jesus in heaven.  You can have that assurance too.”

So yeah.

She’s just sitting in this flooded car, in the middle of the river, happily sharing the gospel. Smiling like the sun, as if she’s a queen on a throne instead of a woman covered in mud sitting in a flooded car. It was really something.

(Friend S): that’s insane

She and her husband head up the ministry over here – 35(ish?) churches, 2 or 3 bible schools, 2 primary schools… She’s totally awesome. Oh, and while all this is happening, the sun goes down. Dad’s off looking for help, Tara is covering the stuff, and I’m making sure Danette doesn’t get washed down the river and killed or something. And it gets really dark. And the car is still in the river. And the water is still rising.

So there’s the question – will there be help soon? When do we just abandon the car?

(Friend S): I feel like the most pathetic human being / Christian right now…

Because somehow, it’s still running. Normally it’s unable to push the exhaust out the tailpipe because of the water pressure and your car dies. But for some reason it was still going, even with the tailpipe like 5 1/2 feet under. So what do you do? And then the electrical system on the car starts going nuts. Lights turn on and off, and Danette’s window rolls itself up. She can’t get it to go back down. That’s bad, of course. That’s how people die in situations like this.

So Danette climbs out the passenger window.

And lo and behold, the cavalry arrives. My dad has conjured up a MASSIVE road grader. Which pulls out the two other cars that are stuck with no problem. But then comes our car. It’s further out, and, like I said, the back end is way, way down in the water. They can’t find anywhere to hook the cable to. They try 3 or 4 times, and it breaks each time.

Finally, success.

Once the car is out, everyone wants money. The people who helped us try to push it out early on, the guy with the grader, and probably a bunch of people who did nothing at all. It was bedlam.

Meanwhile, the car finally died as we pulled it out. But the electrical system isn’t willing to give up yet. It’s going absolutely nuts. The car begins to try and start itself. Nobody is doing anything. The key isn’t being turned. But it keeps repeatedly trying to start. This goes on for about 5 minutes, until my Dad manages to disconnect the battery.

A bit later, some  pastors and Danette’s husband arrive. But they don’t have any chains or other elegant way to tow the car. So they take giant springs, run them through random points of metal at the corner of the car and the truck that is towing it, and then through holes at the ends of a metal bar. Apparently they’re still slowly towing it somewhere.

But we made it home, and I finally got to get all the sand off. I have sand in my hair, behind my ears, because when we were pushing from behind the water was so deep you almost went under.

(Friend S): dude… I don’t even lift.

And on the way back, we’re trying to figure out how we’re going to get out to the camp tomorrow, since the bridge is out and our car is useless. And I’m just sitting in the back thinking to myself, “my life is a party.” I mean, it might be a mess, but that’s what you should expect when you’re out here – I didn’t even mention what we did today, that was just the trip home.

(Friend S): soooo uhhh… I filled out a spreadsheet today. yep. that’s about it.. . . that’s insane dude. 

So.  There you have it.  The story from another angle.  And for those who think being a Christian is boring…all I can say is – “Seriously”?

Oh – and a friend who has been here and traveled that road with us during dry season sent me this picture.  It’s the reason we had to drive around on the riverbed ‘road’.

Washed out road dry

Vie Abondante Campmeeting 2012

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

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

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

Fruit that Remains

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

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

On roads like this…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delfin and Johnson lead these services.

Sweet boy…

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

Then the choir sang.

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

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

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

Children’s services continue…

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

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

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

More choir

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

A cool, colorful photo.

Adorable young lady.

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

 Times of prayer.

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

Sweet times of consecration before the Lord.

The children sang at the final meeting.

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

Outside crowd.

All our pastors and their wives were prayed over.

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

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

What about you?

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

Miracles Meetings in Maradi: Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is Neal talking with him.

Here is Pastor Benji explaining why he is forgiving him.

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

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

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

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

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

This man had been deaf.  Past tense!

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

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

He even got to be part of the band!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take that devil!!