It can be heartbreaking, but the investment is worth it.

The time has come for me to write about something that happened last week.  I have to admit that it is still quite painful.  I probably should have written last Friday morning in the form of a prayer request, but I just couldn’t do it. 

It’s about Sido.  The Bible school student that many have been praying for.  If anyone doesn’t know or remember who he is, you can check out past posts that I have written about him.  Briefly, he is a new convert, a Muslim who came to us, begging to be saved.  He was so motivated and asked if he could please be in the discipleship school this year.  He has been with us for 3 months and has been an excellent student.  He withstood strong family persecution.  I really feel that he has great leadership potential, and that God wants to use him to be a part of reaching the unreached in Niger. 

Last Thursday, Neal came home from classes and mentioned that Sido wasn’t feeling well – and that he had a bad attitude.  Pastor Nelson, our Nigerian missionary that directs the Bible school in Maradi has been with us all week to teach in the school here in Niamey.  One of his ministries is in the area of deliverance.  He ministered in this area to some of the students.  Sido was not one of them, but Neal said it felt like there was an overall heaviness in the class and he prayed for them.

Thursday night we had our first monthly combined service, joining our Plateau and Harobunda churches.  There was special music, and the students did a skit.  Sido narrarated the skit.  It was about the lives of the students who had dropped out of school, and how unsuccessful they were, versus the successful lives of those who finished the course.  (The successful ones started a church in Niamey that now has 20,000 members! – maybe this is prophetic!)  Pastor Nelson preached a great message.  I asked Sido how he was doing before the service and he said he was feeling much better and really seemed back to himself.  After the service I encouraged him to be a part of the choir, as that would help establish him further in the church.  He agreed and said he would come to practices this week.

Friday morning Neal called me from the school.  He told me had some sad news.  Sido had been given a key to the office, as Pastor Abdu has been helping to disciple and mentor him and wanted to give him some responsibility.  Thursday night he took that key after the service, went into the office, took the church ‘bank’ as well as that night’s offering.  He also took Pastor Abdu’s cell phone and one of the student’s cell phones.  There were still lots of people milling around when he left, saying he was going out to buy some yogurt.  We haven’t seen him since. 

It was heartbreaking to hear how he gave into temptation after resisting much greater temptation in the past.  Also very sad was that Neal asked me to print out the picture that I used in this blog to ask people to pray for him so they could give it to the police.  It has become a ‘wanted poster’. 

We made out a police report.  He took $150 in cash, and though that doesn’t sound like a ton, it was a discouragement as it was money the church has been raising to buy a keyboard.

It has really grieved me and we have been praying alot for Sido.  The enemy is really working against this man – because I know God has powerful plans for his life.  We got a phone call from Pastor Abdu after getting home from church on Sunday.  During the service, Sido went into Pastor Abdu’s house and took the TV and many of his clothes.  He uses the TV at his house but it belongs to the Bible School.  That was quite a shock.  Another heartbreaker.  The police are now very angry, and couldn’t believe that he would do it again.  We all assumed Sido had hit the road.  Neal and Pastor Abdu went to where Sido’s family lived.  Neal was shocked to meet his mother who appeared to be a very well put together older lady with good English.  She didn’t know Sido was in Bible School, hadn’t seen him in a couple weeks, and said that though she is a Muslim, has several Christian friends.   Sido wasn’t around.  They told her they were looking for him, but the family doesn’t know what he’s done.  Monday, Neal had to go around with the police and hand out the wanted posters at the checkpoints, and to show them the house so they can look for him there. 

I will admit that I’m really bummed.  Neal is bummed.  So is Pastor Abdu and his wife.  It can really make you wonder about your effectiveness.  But then we encouarge ourselves by looking around and seeing the fruit that does remain.  And we know that the investment is worth it.

Please pray for Sido.  Pray 2 Tim 2:25,26 …in humility correcting those who are in opposition.  If God perhaps will grant them repentance so that they may know the truth,  and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taking captive by him to do his will.

Thank you.


Bible School

It’s been a good week at the Bible School.  I am enjoying my class on ‘training your children’.  So much of it is new to the students.  They have so many questions so I haven’t followed my notes very closely.  A couple days ago, I wanted to hear from them what they’ve learned and what they have found surprising.  Ben said that he has learned that our priorities should be God, family, work/ministry, & self – it that order.  He said he didn’t know that before.  Umaru said that he realized he hadn’t been showing any love to his children.  That he didn’t spend any time with them.  He said he has started to change that, and his kids have begun to notice.  I taught them that it’s important to teach our children to Word of God, and that they can begin memorizing at a very early age.  I use my own children as examples in my teaching, and mentioned how Tobi started memorizing years ago.  I told them his latest ‘feat’ was Psalm chapter 1.  I was amazed by their reaction – they acted like Tobi was some type of prodigy.  It was quite funny.  Psalm 1 is only 6 verses!  They asked if other children could do that too.  I asked how many of them had been to Koranic school.  More than half the class raised their hands.  Then I asked what they did in Koranic school.  I started to see smiles pop up all around.  They knew where I was going.  In Koranic school, they basically memorize Koranic phrases in Arabic – a language they don’t even understand.  I asked how old they were when they started.  Sido said he was 7.  “So”, I said, “can children memorize the Bible?”  They all began to laugh with realization.  The good thing, I explained was that the Word of God would not return void, so their efforts would produce much fruit!

Here is a picture of Sido for those of you praying for him.  Please continue!


Cheese ramblings

Where has this week gone?  My last post was an update on Sido as I was running out the door for the weekend.  That was a week ago!  Not sure why I haven’t written all week.  I usually only feel like writing when I feel inspired.  But the purpose of my blog is more like a diary – to record my ‘life in the desert’.  So I’ve decided I need to write for posterity sake even if I’m not ‘feeling it’.  It’s certainly not as if nothing of interest has happened.  Interesting things happen daily.   So where is my inspiration?  Has the ‘interesting’ in my life simply become ‘mundane’?  I think most would beg to differ!  Take driving down the busy road of the hottest capital city in the world as you have to stop not for a stoplight, but for the camel caravan crossing the congested city streets.  Fulani or Tuareg people relocating their family to a better location to deal with the lack of water and the impending heat.  Not really sure where they are going to do that…

 Here’s something interesting.  Has anyone been hearing all the news of the weak dollar?  It’s a glaring reality to us.  It seems to be dropping more each day.  When we left for the US last April, our $100 was worth 50,000 cfa.  Sound like a lot.  It is, when compared to the 41,000 CFA it is worth now.  But just a few short years ago, that same $100 was worth 74,000 cfa.  It has almost been cut in half – because of the wimpiness of the dollar right now.  Interestingly (yep, there’s that word again) costs here have continued to climb.  Fuel is now over $6/ gallon.  That means it costs us about $240 (100,000cfa) when we say ‘filler-up’! 

Oh, here’s a good one.  Tobi’s birthday was last Saturday.  We celebrated on Friday since I was leaving for the weekend, and it was easier to bring kids home from school on Friday for a party.  Tobi – being properly trained by his older siblings – declared that he wanted pizza for his bday.  His real favorite food is Spagetti – American or African.  He loves the stuff.  But who can resist the influence of “cool guys have pizza for their birthday”.  So, pizza it was.  That meant I had to buy some cheese.  Cheese in Niger is one of those things that makes me cringe when I buy it, but it’s something I’m not willing to give up.  Not yet anyway.  I bought a 2.5 pound hunk of mozzarella cheese for $34.  Nope.  That wasn’t a mistake.  Not a typo.  34 bucks.  But that sufficiently –  maybe not generously- but sufficiently – covered 4 large pizzas.  (Hope I haven’t lost any supporters over that confession, on account of improper use of funds!)  Here might be a good place to add that even considering the boys having a pizza eating contest, there was still enough pizza left over for another meal.  I won’t go into the financial breakdown of the other pizza toppings but will say that Pizza Hut prices don’t really seem extreme to me.   Let me also add that we are ever-increasingly aware of the fact that God is our source.  And He has never let us down! 

 What else.  Oh yes, I mentioned I was gone for the weekend.  One of the SIM missionaries  (Cathy) organized a women’s retreat for whoever could come.  I decided it would be a good opportunity to get to know more of the foreign community here in Niamey so I signed up.  Cathy’s sister does women’s ministry in her church and the church bought her a ticket to come.  Another church provided all kinds of gifts and goodies for us.  It really was a blessing.  The theme was unwrapping the gifts of grace.  They brought lots of fun gifts and blessed all who attended.  I achieved my goal of getting to know a few people better, so will now know who more people are if I run into them when I’m buying cheese. 

Each Sunday evening there is an English speaking service that is held at the school the kids attend.  My very uneducated guess is that maybe 100 people attend regularly.  We don’t go very often, as in our own churches we have opportunity to attend service 4 nights out of the week.  (We don’t go to all of them though).  Anyway, we do attend the English service if any of our kids are involved.  That was the case this past Sunday night.  The school was running the service that night, giving testimony of the ministry trips they have taken this semester.  The school choir sang and Trae and Tanika are both in that.  I was quite impressed.  They have a great music teacher – who incidentally gives Tanika piano lessons.  A side note…Tanika is pretty natural when it comes to music.  But true to her unconventional form, she finds it very difficult to sing the melody.  Any time she sings, she automatically will sing a harmony part.  So she is working on learning to hear the melody.  She is having beginner lessons and we’re both very thankful that I’m not her teacher.  I want her to go by the book.  Play the notes written.  Her teacher does as well, but she’s a lot nicer about how she goes about telling her.  According to her teacher, Tanika is a ‘beautiful girl that just oozes music’.  Ooze away girl!  (Tanika, I know you’re reading this, and you’re smiling right now!)  Back to the service.  Tanika is also on the worship team and it was their turn and her first time to be involved in the leading of the worship.  It’s a group of 5 girls I think, and she did well.   And she had a good time.  Trae was asked to give one of the 3 testimonies from the ministry trip he was on.  He and Tanika were both on the same trip.  They went to a village about 3 hours away.  They built some school classrooms (thatched lean-to’s) and did children’s ministry.  That was his thing.  He came up to give testimony about what they did.  He is very confident but also very casual when he speaks in front of a group.  He started by saying “Can we sing a song?” as he led the group in a chorus of Jesus Loves the Little Children.  Then he said, “I guess you know now what I did in Tera,” as he proceeded to give his testimony. 

 Bible school this week was good.  I started the section ‘training your children’.  Pretty foreign to people here.  I started out with the words God, family, job/ministry, and self written on cards.  I asked different ones to come to the front and order them correctly.  5 people did it and no one got it right.  Needless to say I didn’t get as far in my notes this week as I thought I would!  Sido is doing well.  Last weekend some of his relatives came to the church to tell him they were waiting for his answer (to the temptation of money).  He told them he thought they understood that when he didn’t come they figured out his answer.  Then they tried to shame him into leaving.  Oh, and when I say they came to the church I just mean that they stood outside the door of the compound.  They wouldn’t go inside.  He’s living there now – even on weekends.  But it helps him stay conncected with the pastor.  The relatives in Australia that want him to leave the church haven’t had any contact with him in 8 years.  Keep praying for him. 

I think my rambling has gone on quite enough for one post.  I’m going to go eat some cheese!

Update on Sido – Pray!

I’ve written about Sido a few times.  He was saved about 2 months ago, just before our discipleship school started classes in January.  According to his testimony, after being witnessed to many months ago, he has been tortured in his mind and heart.  He had no peace from that point on.  He had dreams of someone telling him that even though he threw the Bible into the trash, it was God’s word and it was still alive.  He found our church and told the pastor he needs some relief.  He wanted to get saved.  Since then he has been a top student in our discipleship school.   He was living at home, but things got too difficult for him there so he moved into the dorm. 

 Last week, he received an email.  Apparently Sido has family in Australia.  Family that also recognizes he is a talented young man.  They have told him that he has to get out of the church right away.  They are planning on sending him about $3700 to start a business – as soon as he leaves the church.  And as if that wasn’t enough, if he doesn’t want to do a business here, they will send him to Europe. 

 I talked with Sido today after my class and told him I’d heard about the letter and was praying for him.  He thanked me and then said since he didn’t understand Hausa very well, he wanted to get an interpreter so he could tell me what was going on.   He finally said that when he got the letter – he really was confused at first.  But that he has made a decision that he will continue to follow Jesus and turn down the money.  Not an easy decsion, I can assure you.  Please pray for Sido whenever  you think of him.  He is a new believer and persecutions faced here are not easy.  I assured him today that many, many people are praying that he will have the strength and courage to make the right choices.  The hard choices.  And because of that, God will bless him abundantly.  God has a great plan for his life.  Thank you!  And Sido said to thank you!

A lesson in gratefulness

Today Neal and Trae went to Ouagadougou (Wa-ga-dew-goo) For those of you who don’t know, ‘Ouaga’ is the capital of Burkina Faso.  It is also where Sofanwet is being held this weekend.  Every October there is a softball tournament here in Niamey.  The teams are made up of foreigners here in Niger, as well as people from Ouaga.  This past October both Trae and Neal were on teams.  Trae’s ‘Social’ team won the championship, and Neal’s ‘competitive’ team won their championship.  A similar tournament is held in Ouaga each February.  That’s where they are now.  Or they are enroute.  The trip is only about 7 hours, but there are also borders to cross.  They are both on different competitive teams, and it’s possible they could end up playing each other in the finals. 

 All that to say that I had to drive to school today in our beloved Beamer.  Actually, I have to drive it all weekend if I plan to go anywhere.  I’m considering re-arranging my schedule so that won’t be necessary!  Driving it is a real lesson in gratefulness.  First, I feel like I’m in a roller skate.  It’s so close to the ground that motorcycles (dirt bikes) that pass tower over me.  It’s rather intimidating, when I’m the one used to doing the ‘towering’.  I don’t tower intentionally, it’s just the nature of the Toyota I usually drive.  Second, I’m afraid to touch or adjust anything in the car.  But it’s not possible for me to drive after Neal has been in the car without at least moving the seat forward and adjusting the rear view mirror.  Which I did this morning… and while adjusting, said mirror came off in my hand. 

But, I am thankful  it has airconditioning.  No matter that it only works on one speed.  That was a major criteria for us to purchase this vehicle. AC.  So what that we’ve already had to have 4 holes in it fixed, and have it recharged.  It works.  I’m thankful that it’s not overheating right now.  And I’m thankful that when we were getting the overheating problem fixed, another issue (I don’t really know what it was), was exposed and repaired.  I am thankful that I am in a vehicle and not on one of the many donkey carts I pass, or riding a camel in one of the camel trains I have to wait for to cross the road.  (Although both of those tower over me!)  And I’m thankful that it brought to my class this morning.

 It was a good class.  I’m teaching Children’s ministry to both our leadership and discipleship students.  Many of our discipleship students are like newborn babies themselves (in their walk with God).  But what better time to instill in them the importance, no, requirement we have to minister to children.  I’m basing most of my aspects of teaching on the Prodigal Son.  Stories, object lessons, drama’s, memory etc.  About 1/2 of them hadn’t heard the story yet. 

Last Friday the assignment I gave them over the weekend was to witness to 3 children.  This week we have been spending a bit of time each day sharing those testimonies.  They are often humorous, and they show the ignorance (in the purest sense of the word) of the new Christians.  One of them said they asked a child if they had heard of Jesus.  The child’s response was that he was someone who did magic.  So the student discreetly threw a small coin into the sand and then told the child that if he looked over ‘there’ he would find money.  Yesterday we talked about lots of fun ways to learn memory verses.  When reviewing today, one of the students said we could promise the child money if he learned his verse.  I gently corrected them both, letting them know that they will be having a whole course on evangelism this year.  I appreciate their zealousness.

After I closed class today, Sido (whom I wrote about earlier) raised his hand.  He wanted to know if it was possible to pray for someone who was far away.  The ignorance (innocence?) is so touching.  Of course I was able to give examples of how Jesus himself did that, but it also reminded me of an email I received yesterday.  One of our supporters wrote and wanted me to let the students know they were praying for them.  What a great opportunity for Sido to be encouraged, really, for the whole class to be encouraged.  For that, I am truly grateful!

It’s all worth it.

Our computer is restored.  We’re still trying to get anti-virus software on it.  Apparently our connection is too slow for all the needed files to download properly.  But a friend is sending us a CD so that should take care of that.  Thanks Dave.  Amazingly, there is an HP service center here, so our laser printer is at the ‘doctor’.  We should have a diagnosis by tomorrow.  Another friend that visited in October left for us his portable Canon printer.  We just hooked it up and it works great.  Thanks John.  Thanks God, for friends!

 This past week the Jorgensen’s had a team of 5 men visit.  Pastors and evangelists.  They spent most of their time in Maradi, but were here over the weekend before flying home.  All of them are preachers and were ready to minister on Sunday morning.  Between us all, we had 5 vehicles, so were able to take them to 5 of our churches in this region. 

This past Friday, while I was working on the computer issues, Neal came home and asked why I hadn’t told him about the brake problem on the car.  I had been out that morning and hadn’t noticed a thing.  That’s odd, as I’m usually the first to notice the weird noises.  Since it was Friday afternoon, our regular mechanic was closed and wouldn’t open again until Monday morning.  He felt we could manage with it until then.  We also have a 2nd car.  A BMW.  Yep.  You read it right.  Now before anyone starts questioning how we are spending our missionary dollars, let me add that this relic is 20 years old.  Mileage?  Who really knows.  Living in Niamey, we had to have a 2nd vehicle.  I was shooting for a RAV4, but the price tag, even used, was more than we could accept.  So our (his) 2nd choice was a 20 year old antique BMW.  No matter that the door handle remains in your hand when you close the door, or the glove box falls to the floor when you open it, or the interior looks like it’s been peiced together from several other junkyard vehicles, it’s got character, it’s got air-conditioning (sometimes) and the price was right.  I’m beginning to weary of the character issues.  I drive it only when absolutely necessary, and sometimes even ask Grampa to do an errand for me to avoid driving it.  Sunday, there was no avoiding.  We needed all 5 vehicles.  Neal was driving out of town, which meant he would be driving our Toyota.  Which in turn meant I would be driving the ‘Beamer’ as we affectionately call it.  He left earlier than I did.  I was to pick my guest (Mike) up at 9:40am and take him to our Harobunda church.  Neal called me at 9:05.  The brakes were bad – scraping loudly, and could I bring the Beamer for him to take.  Of course I wasn’t ready, but amazingly was able to leave within 10 minutes.  We made other arrangements to have Mike dropped off at the church.  Neal was soon his way to Torodi with his guest and the Beamer.  Mike arrived and I had time to give him a tour of the Bible School before service started.  Just as we’re getting ready to begin, Neal and his visitor appear in the church.  I turned around and there he was.  The Beamer was overheating (can’t say I was surprised) so he had to come back.  We had a wonderful service with a powerful message.  I also got more material during the message for “Tobi’s Literal-isms”.  Now we had to get home.  Neal decided it would be best for him to drive the brakeless vehicle, and I would drive the ‘hot’ one.  It’s about a 20 minute drive to our house.  He also had to drop some people off at our other church – and get our house keys from Trae, which ended up in his pocket in all the confusion.  I began my journey home.  I dropped some people off on the way and was on my own.  I had the windows down – having enough sense not to run the AC when overheating is an issue.  Here’s me, chugging along in and antique Beamer with the windows down – exhaust heat blowing up through the ‘character’ holes in the gear shift.  It was hot.  There was a very loud ringing sound that was rather embarassing, though I don’t really know why it was embarassing.  Most cars around here have very loud sounds of one sort or another going on.  I made it within about 1 kilometer of my house.  Turned off a busy road and during the turn, the engine died.  Character my foot!  When the engine dies, the steering and brakes both lock.  I couldn’t take the car out of the turn and was headed for a pretty intimidating ditch.  The kind that if the front tires would have gone in, the back end would be sticking up at a pretty sharp angle.  I didn’t go in.  Thank God for friends and angels!  I sat there for a minute and did the only thing I could think of.  Start the car.  It started.  I tootled along slowly, made one turn – still going – and then the next.  Breakdown.  But this time I was prepared.  It stopped about 10 yards from our gate.  I didn’t have keys, and Neal wasn’t there yet, so I just sat in the little black Beamer, waiting.  And laughing.  Laughing because while I was sitting there in the road at a very strange angle with several people around wondering what this white lady was doing (laughing), a cart being pulled by 2 donkeys cruised by.  And from my perspective, those donkeys were cruising.  I was going nowhere. 

We  learned long ago and through many experiences that there is an enemy that will do all he can to cause discouragement.  He will try and use many different avenues.  We have also learned that these ‘irritations’ are always times of growth.  It only confirms that the enemy is not at all pleased about the progress that is being made in this nation.  I am declaring here in black and white that we are not afraid of him, and we are not ashamed of the Gospel!  We are proclaiming that Jesus is Lord in Niger and His Word is being established daily. 

Take Sido for instance.  Sido came to the church 2 weeks ago with this testimony.  Last year, some people witnessed to him on the street.  Our Bible school students do street evangelism in the area of the church so it could have been one of them – or even someone else.  He didn’t know.  He did know that he took the Bible they were holding threw it into the street, and then pushed the ‘witnesser’.  He told them the Bible was trash etc.  From that point on, according to him, he has had no peace.  He couldn’t go into the Mosque to pray because he was afraid.  He would only stand outside.  He was having dreams that someone was telling him that he couldn’t throw away this Bible.  That it was still true.  His agony finally drove him to the church.  He told Pastor Abdu he wanted to receive Jesus.  Then he asked about the discipleship school.  We usually don’t receive in such new believers, but Sido seemed very genuine.  He had already spent months wrestling with God, so to speak.  In class, he sits at his table everyday, a look of anticipation on his face,  like he can’t wait for what he will learn next.  On top of that, after Mike’s message on Sunday, he (Mike) had a word from God for  a few of the church members.  He asked Sido to stand, having no idea of his testimony.  He said that God showed him that he was a ‘sent one’.  He mentioned a few other things that I’m sure were amazing to Sido.  To us as well.  It’s going to be great to see how God is going to use this young man as he continues to grow and soak up the word of God.  And we have a front row seat and get to watch it happen.  It makes me wonder how many more Sido’s are out there…That’s why it’s all worth it.