To Win…or to win.

Where to begin.  I ‘blog’ in my head all the time.  I just don’t get it into print very often.  Then I forget what I wanted to write about.   Today I’m going to write about the weekend of October 10th.  The Annual NUTS tournament.  It’s a French acronym for the Niamey Universal Softball Tournament.  This is Trae’s 3rd year to be a part of it, and Neal’s 2nd.  Trae of course was on his school team the Sahel Suns.  There were several teams from Niamey and teams that came from Burkina Faso.  Neal was on Team USA, which was made up mostly of Embassy people and missionaries.  The games began Friday afternoon.  Both my guy’s teams were doing well.  Then they had to play each other on Saturday.  Someone had to win.  Which meant someone had to lose.  Team USA pulled ahead with victory.  There were some very exciting games, and 2 in particular where both of their teams (not playing each other) were down 7 and 8 runs in their last inning and they had last ups.  Even though they were different games, the end of each game was almost identical.   ‘My’ team came from behind and the game was cut short when they made their winning run, much to the surprise of their opposing teams who had been ahead the entire game.  Those victories put them in the finals together – playing each other for 1st and 2nd place.  Neal’s team hadn’t lost any games, and Trae’s team had only lost to Neal’s.  The final game was Sunday afternoon at 4:20.  I really enjoyed watching the games, especially when they weren’t playing each other.  I really did find it hard to know who I wanted to win – who I should be shouting for.  In the end, I just ended up shouting the whole time.  Trae would have a great hit.  “Yeah Trae – way to go  – Run!” I would shout.  While Neal was on 1st base getting the runner (Trae) out. “Yeah Neal – way to get im outta there!”  What’s a body to do?  At least I wasn’t the only one with split interests.

So, the final game.  I did not attend.   I could end here, and allow one to think that I just couldn’t take the pressure, but that’s not entirely true.  Actually, it’s not at all true.  It’s fun and it’s competitive (if you know my family) but it’s not THAT competitve.  My absence was due to the medical team we had arriving at precisely the same time THE game started.   So I was at the airport, anxiously waiting to see the whites of the eyes of our team of 7 from New Orleans.  The plane landed and with the help Number 11, our baggage guy, we begged my way into the airport (people are no longer allowed in b/c of security) and wore down the security guy with our determination, use of Hausa, and explanation that our guests needed lots of help (sorry team).  I was in and wondered after 4 bus trips from the plane to the airport (It’s about a 50-100 meter drive, I think the busses are for ‘show’) if they had actually been on the plane after all.  They finally showed up on the last bus.  We waved through the glass after I got their attention.  Then Number 11 went to wait for their bags and that’s when Neal called.  The game was well under way and I could hear all the shouting.  I could hear what I was missing.  He was calling between innings to see if they had arrived.  Yes, they had.

The baggage finally started coming.  If you’ve never been in an African airport, you’re missing out.  Oh the things people check onto the plane.  But that’s material for another post.  It took patience, but we finally collected all 14 of their bags and had all carry-ons accounted for.  While in the parking lot introducing the team to Niger sweat,  loading the vehilces and fighting off all those attempting to ‘help’ with the bags, Tanika called my cell phone shouting- “Mom!  We won!  We won!”  “Great” I said!  But wait a minute.  Who exactly is “We”?  I guess I should have known that she, being a member at Sahel Academy, would be rooting for the Sahel Suns.  Instead of her father??!  Yep.  Sure enough.  When I inquired who ‘we’ was she incredulously said “The Suns”, and I’m sure was thinking to herself ‘who do ya think?’

We finally made it out of the airport and the team arrived at our house welcomed by 2 very sweaty guys – one victorious, and one, well, – not so much.  I gotta say though, Trae didn’t gloat much at all.

After a weekend full of softball, sweat, hot dogs and cotton candy (yep, the school has a cotton candy machine) it was time to change gears.  Well, the sweat thing wasn’t going to change.  The next morning we would be on our way in 3 vehicles driving 9 hours into Niger’s interior where masses of spiritually and physically sick people were waiting and hoping for victory.  That’s a game we were ready to play…and win!

A little bit of everything

Well, lets see.  Alot has happened in the last 2 weeks since I’ve written. 

 Trae and Neal returned from the softball tournament in Ouaga.  Neither team won.  Neal’s team made it to the semi-finals and Trae’s team didn’t make it that far.  So they didn’t end up playing each other.  But Trae hit 2 homeruns, so that was exciting.  They both had a lot of fun.  And Neal brought back strawberries for me!  Fresh strawberries!  What a treat!

 What else…My class is going well at the Bible School.  I gave a test (in 3 languages!) and most of them did quite well.  Last week I took a day to show them how to use puppets.  It was quite funny, and one of the girls was terribly afraid of the puppet.  She jumped into the lap of the girl next to her when I brought it out.  It took some time, but she got over it and reluctantly ‘tried one on’.  I have divided them into 6 groups and each group is preparing a 20 minute children’s service using all they have learned so far.  We’ll see all those this week.  Next week I’ll start my teaching “Training your children”.  Sido continues to do well.  The persecution has escalated at home though, so he had to move into the dorm with the other students.  Since he lives in Niamey, he was living at home and going back and forth to school each day.  He has asked Pastor Abdu when he gets to start preaching!  Last week he told me he wanted to change groups because they had set a time to practice their children’s service and one of the members didn’t come on time.  He said that he can’t work with someone who is not motivated.  I told him that I wouldn’t change groups and that they would have to work it out -that this was a good opportunity to grow in the fruit of the Spirit.  This is when it really counts!  In church this morning I asked how it was going and he said they are ready.  Because of a bonus question, he got 101 on his test! 

We’ve recently finished up with a 3-person medical team that came from Kentucky.  They were great and saw something like 6-700 people in a week.  This is really a great opportunity for outreach because the people come to us.  Just like poverty, medical needs are rampant and drives people to get help.  Then we can witness to them and pray for them.   Each one.  I think the count was 52 that prayed to receive Christ.  Several of our pastors were there at each clinic and will be involved in the follow up.  I believe the recent medical teams we are having are only a precurser to the hospital we will one day build.

Friday after school, Trae and Tanika went with a group of about 25 other people from their school to the town of Tera – about a 2.5 hour drive out of Niamey.  Then they have to cross the river on a ferry.  It is an outreach trip where they are helping to put up some structures for school classrooms, and do some children’s ministry.  They will be home today.

Neal, along with his Mom and Dad, went to Maradi yesterday for the Executive Council meeting.  Thanks to Mom and Dad for driving, which left me with my preferred vehicle.  In other words, I haven’t had to drive the beloved beamer.  Good thing too, because the AC stopped working again and it’s getting hot!  It’s a short trip and they’ll be back tomorrow. 

 So that leaves Tobi and I here together.  We’ve had a nice weekend.  Yesterday we invited one of his classmates over to play.  Tobi and Morgan are very different personalities but got along quite nicely.  Morgan is a very outgoing confident little guy.  Also very athletic.  Here’s a part of a conversation I overheard / saw.  

While playing with matchbox cars:

Morgan:  I’ll have the 2 fastest cars, since I’m faster than you.

Tobi:  Blank stare that turned into an ‘I get it’ stare and then said “OK”. 

Off they were to continue playing with the cars.  Tobi is very matter of fact about these things.  Every once in awhile I get a ranking of speed levels of he and his classmates.  It doesn’t even sound competitive (but I’m no fool, it has to be!),  just very factual.  Last night we watched the original Charlotte’s Web animated movie from 1972.  It was really good!  I’d forgotten that it’s really a musical.  Tobi had already seen a part of it so he kept telling me what was going to happen.  Wilbur was going to ‘get dead’.  Like death is something you go and get.  We even had popcorn!

Today on the way home from church I asked Tobi if he had any ideas for lunch.  He did not.  I said – how about tuna – because I had some already made in the fridge.  His reply?  Are you ready for this?  Picture fist clenched in excitement and a shout of ‘YES’ as he pumps said fist.  The guy loves tuna!  And hummous, zucchini and hot sauce.  Not so interested however, in things like roast beef and mashed potatoes and gravy. 

I’m afraid (I know I shouldn’t fear) but I really am afraid of the heat that is here – and even more – the heat that is on it’s way.  When we left for the US in early April last year, it was 120.   That’s hot enough for a seatbelt to double as a branding iron.  We have been resisting the use of our air conditioners but last night I finally caved.  It was March 1st for goodness sake.  That’s officially hot season.  Even with our window open and fan on it was still 87 in the room at 11pm.  Tobi has been asking for quite awhile now to use his AC.  We’ve refused the poor kid.  When I went to bed last night, I couldn’t in good conscience use the AC while he remained hot.  It also didn’t make a lot of sense to have 2 AC’s running.  So I moved him into my room when I went to bed.  He was all sweaty…poor guy.  Sometime in the night the electricity went out.  When it came back on, I would have had to get up and turn the AC on again.  I decided to leave it off, (too lazy to get out of bed) hoping the room was cool enough to sleep the rest of the night.  It worked.  We were both comfortable.  This morning it was only 81 in the room. 

There’s always an adjustment when hot season arrives.  It’s hot most of the time, but March and April stand alone when it comes to heat.  I heard of a publication that said Niamey was the hottest capital city in the world.  Niger was also described as having 2 seasons.  Hot, and hotter then hell.  We thank God for the AC’s we have in our bedrooms – and the money to run them.  And we thank him for His son, Jesus, who has saved us from eternal fire!

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!