Just Another Saturday

It started like any old normal Saturday.

Wait.

Rewind.

What is a normal Saturday?

We don’t have those so let me start over.

It was a Saturday.  This particular one looked to be quite low-key. Neal was in Diffa (a 2-day drive away) and we were looking forward to him arriving home on Tuesday. Tobi had spent the night with Grama and Grampa so I was on my own.  Nice!  My plans were to finish up the class notes for the Roots of Character class I would start teaching Monday, have lunch with Erin, go to Tobi’s soccer game, and pick up a guest at the airport who was going to be staying with us for 2 weeks.

So, I finished my notes.  Erin came over and we had a nice lunch in a moderately air conditioned restaurant.  This is significant since it was very hot outside – 111 by my outdoor thermometer placed in the shade.  So when I say ‘moderately’ I mean probably cooled to 85 or 90.  Which isn’t 111!  We enjoyed our time together (well, I know I did), which is winding down, since Erin will be leaving in June.  Back at my house we continued to chat (while sweating because my house is not air-conditioned –not even moderately).  I told her she should come to Tobi’s soccer game with me, secretly joking, since the only reason I was going was because I had to – being such a good Mom and all.  (I should give kudos to Grampa here too, since he brought Tobi to his game early, and planned to stay and watch).  I told Erin that I was kidding.  No one except blood relatives should have to go sit out in that heat.

Erin left and I went on my way to be at the game for the opening kick.  Just as I left our house, I took note of a few clouds overhead. Wait. Clouds?  Well if that isn’t just a blessing straight from God.  I wouldn’t have to sit with the sun beating down.  Oh, and the boys wouldn’t have to play soccer in direct sun. That’s good too.

As I continued to drive, I noticed it seemed a bit dark.  Then I made a turn and lo and behold this is what I saw.

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I knew right then we had the makings of a great sand storm. And I was in just the right place at just the right time to get some pretty cool pictures of it.

You can see the red cloud gathering – separate from the ‘real’ clouds.

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To my delight, traffic on the road was seriously reduced- another blessing! And, I was able to snap these pics.

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Maybe that’s what the ‘red’ sea looked like when it was parted.

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I love how the sun is shining behind me as I drive into the storm.

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Wonder if the red car thinks it’s being followed…

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Just about to turn onto the bridge.  So is the sand.

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Guess the red car is crossing the bridge too…

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If you look closely, you can see the people on the right – running.  I’m pretty sure they didn’t get anywhere inside before the sand hit.

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Sun still shining on the sand and the dry river – though not completely dry.

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Headfirst into the sand.

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Heading to the school.  There is a vehicle in front of me.

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Right in the middle of it.  That poor guy.

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When I got to the entrance of the school, I thought at first that no one else was there.  Then I saw a camera flash in the distance.  There were 50+ people there.  Here I’m parked and am facing the soccer field.  Those crazy kids!

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I know the feeling though.  In spite of the sand being, well, sandy, it was a welcome change from the unrelenting heat that we’ve been dealing with.  And that’s not just a pretty color of orange.  It’s sand blowing around and getting into everything and everyone.  I knew my house would be a huge mess when I got home (at least I remembered to take the clothes off the line before I left), but it was OK.  I was happy for the change too.  And I don’t think I was alone.

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I’ve experienced quite a few dust storms over the past 16 years, but none as big or long as this.  And the pics I usually get are from inside the storm – the dark orange look.  This time I was able to be on the outside looking in.  And then be on the inside too.  Usually everything gets dark and within 5-10 minutes the sun is shining again.  This baby lasted a good long time!  I ventured out of the car when the ‘bulk’ of the storm had passed.  I almost went into shock over how cool it was!  And I’m not kidding when I say that I got a chill.  It was only for a millisecond, but it was a chill nonetheless.  Even a couple hairs stood up.  And do you know I didn’t sweat one molecule (that I’m aware of) for the entire game?!  Probably the best soccer game I’ve ever been to.  And to top it off, our guys won!

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They waited for about 20 minutes or so and finally started the game, even though there was very low visibility to the other end of the field.  If 111 degrees isn’t going to stop these guys, certainly a little sand won’t either!  Tobi is somewhere in this picture, covered with sand so we can’t see him.

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We left after the game – happy campers.  Tobi quietly rejoicing in their 3-2 victory (I heard him say to himself, “I really like to win”.)  And me, rejoicing that for a short period of time I was sweat-less.  And I saw the proof of that when I arrived home.  When I left, it was 111 outside and 102 in the house.  When I got home, it was a frigid 89 outside and 101 in the house.  The house had some catching up to do.

Thus my ‘normal’ Saturday comes to an end.  Funny thing is, when you live in Niger it really is rather normal.

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!!!

Shoe Shedders

We are heading to the U.S of A. on Friday.  Tobi doesn’t officially finish school at Sahel Academy until June 13th.  So yes, he’s missing about 1 1/2 weeks of school.  That, combined with the fact that next year we will homeschool him, we decided a ‘Goodbye Party’ was in order.  At least it was a good idea a couple months ago.  But with everything going on in life and ministry, the available days to have the aforementioned party were getting fewer and fewer.  We finally realized that it was going to have to happen this week.  Three days before we travel to the US.  Don’t ask if I’ve started packing yet..

We of course gave Tobi the option, and even encouraged him – to invite his whole class, girls included.  Nope.  Not even a maybe.  A definite no.   At least not this year.  So it was just the boys.  And to be completely honest, they are a great group of boys.  And there were only 6 of them.  So it was a pretty low key, non-demanding party.

Neal picked the pile of them up at school and brought them home.  I was observing when they arrived.  Their very first activity was to run up on the porch and promptly remove their shoes and socks.  Even before they dropped their backpacks.  I should note that one of the boys actually asked me if he could take his off.  I answered in the affirmative, as long as he did it downwind from me.  The thing that is notable about this, is that it’s 150 degrees outside (okay, that may be a slight exaggeration, but it is HOT!).  And they want to play soccer.  In the sun.  In the sand.  Barefoot.  Did I mention it’s hot?  There were 3 American kids and 3 African kids.  All of them claimed they could play soccer much better barefoot. One of them said, “I can’t dribble very good, but I can’t dribble at all with my shoes on.”  They are required to wear shoes at school, so getting to play soccer together sans shoes was quite the luxury.  If only all kids could enjoy the little things in life…

Maybe the fact that they are playing in scorching sand makes them move their feet and run faster.  Out of sheer necessity.  It’s a theory.

So it was soccer for about 20 minutes, then a gallon or 2 of water was consumed.  Back to soccer for a bit longer.  Then Neal played a game with them that I couldn’t figure out even after watching for a little while.  Something to do with kicking a soccer ball back and forth.  Even though there were lots of ‘outs’, it all seemed very randomlike  — make up the rules as you go.   Later Neal commented that he hadn’t played that game since he lived in Benin City (Nigeria).  Believe me, that was MANY moons ago.  So, it was a real game.  He then told me it was called 4 Square.  Not at all the 4 Square game I know played with a rubber ball on cement that is divided into – imagine – 4 squares.  I’ve been married to this man for nearly 23 years and this was new to me.  Fascinating!

After 4 Square (not sure if a winner was determined) the shirts came off and the hose came out.  Water wars for a bit.  Not a bad idea when it’s 150 degrees.  Also not a bad idea when you consider what they looked like – Six 11 & 12 year old boys, covered in multiple layers of sweat, barefoot and running (rolling) in sand.  You get the picture….but I should have taken one.   So as far as I was concerned, water was welcome!

Meanwhile, the homemade pizzas were in the oven.  I haven’t actually had the oven on in at least 2 weeks.  The kitchen is plenty toasty without out. Believe me.  But pizza was Tobi’s request.  Well, he actually said spaghetti first (which would have meant no oven required so I was all for that), but then he decided that the boys would likely prefer pizza over spaghetti.  So pizza it was.

They retired to Tobi’s room to watch a DVD – in the dark.  Less hot maybe?  It was about 98 give or take degrees in there.   Neal ‘stopped by’ and told me he turned the AC on as it was quite ripe.   Wonder what it would have been like if they had been wearing their shoes?   Pizza was delivered to the room and consumed, along with pineapple coconut Foster Clarks (our version of koolaid -which I might add is much tastier than koolaid.)  Time was going by much too fast for the boy’s liking and they were running out of it.  It’s a school night you understand.   As parents started arriving I had to send the boys out with their goodbye cake in a napkin.  And yes, I made sure they had their shoes on.

All in a week’s work

It’s been a busy week.  I teach in the Bible school at 8am.  Fortunately Sahel (the kids’ school) is close to the bible school/church.  I drop them at 7:20.  Anyone who knows me very well, knows that for me to have kids ready and myself ready to leave the house by 6:55am is pretty close to miraculous.  Fortunately for me, (and probably others as well), I only have to do this 3 days/week.  No classes on Monday, and Thursday’s I teach at 10.  I’m teaching a combo class on children’s ministry (in the church), and training your children (in the home).  So many of the students are brand new believers – just out of the bondages of Islam.  That is an exciting thing, but it proves challenging when teaching.  You can’t just say ‘You remember how Moses was called as a child, saved from Pharoh’s slaughter of all boy babies?’  Because they don’t remember.  They don’t know those stories.  So teaching has to be adjusted.  Many of them are like children themselves.  But it’s a wonderful thing when you began to see them change.  That’s why Neal loves the Bible schools some much.  The results of discipleship are tangible! 

This past Monday night was the first meeting of a women’s Bible study I hesitantly decided to be a part of.  It’s a gathering of missionaries from all different churches and denominations.  I have heard Beth Moore before, but have never done one of her studies.  It’s a time committment as it’s at least 2 hours.   Before leaving everyone asked when I’d be back.  “I don’t know”, I said.  When I got back, everyone commented on how long I’d been gone.  I think I was surprised they noticed!  I wondered if during that time they missed some basic necessity – like food!  At any rate, I enjoyed Beth Moore, and I enjoyed the fellowship. 

The first Wednesday of every month, pastor’s wives meet for prayer.  This is open to any ministry/church.  Yesterday there were 13 of us.  It’s an interesting meeting as we communicate/pray in at least 3 and sometimes 4 different languages.  It’s a good opportunity for us to get to know leaders in other churches, and also for the women to be encouraged and to have a platform to give and receive counsel. 

We have been lacking children’s ministry in our 2 Niamey churches.  This afternoon, before picking the kids up from school, I met with the children’s workers to discuss a better strategy.  They all seemed to be on board and ready to move forward.  There are so many kids at both locations – in the area – not in the church.  But I believe we can draw them in.  So I’m praying that these workers will be diligent with what they have, so I can add more resources.  In the past I’ve given the resources and many times they go to waste as they don’t really get used.  I have told them to begin to pray for finances for children’s ministry resources, and to be faithful with what they have now.  I really have an expectation that we are going to have a great harvest of children!

Last night when putting Tobi to bed I told him tell me a story.  He’s really a very simple guy… 

“There were 3 pigs.  They went to church.  They each played a drum.  The first pigs’ drum broke.  The second pigs’ drum broke.  The 3rd pigs’ drum didn’t break.  The first pig fixed his drum with tape.  The 2nd pig didn’t fix his.  Their names were Henry, Ariel, and Ezekiel.” 

I think that sums up his life.  He goes to church, he plays the drum and he goes to school.  Except for Henry, (not sure where that name came from) the other names are kids in his class.  I’m also not sure why pigs were playing the drums. 

Right now Tobi is in bed (school night), Neal is preaching at church, Tanika went with him and will stay for choir practice after the service, Trae is at school with his friend – ‘his’ band is practicing.  So, I sit here alone, an untechnical person in an untechnical world trying to decide if I should face all the technical diffiulcties (more like exasperations – the kind that make you want to say things you shouldn’t) that are happening, (I’ll save those for another post – after they’re solved!)  or if I should do my Bible Study homework….  Which is called “Living Beyond Yourself”.  I think it’s a no-brainer.  I’m pretty beyond myself right now!