Tamou Guest House. It’s Not the Ritz, But It’s Pretty Close!

I began but never finished the following blog post nearly a year ago…. Why? I have no idea. Right now we’re in another cold season and are looking forward to being at the guest house again next week for children’s camp.

March 16, 2016
Today we went to Tamou. Tamou is our Discipleship Center in the Gourmantche region. The headquarters of the region is the Tamou Church compound. In addition to the church there is a discipleship school, men’s and women’s student dorms, the pastor’s home and we’ve recently built a guest house on the compound so we can spend more time there.

Here’s the church.  The dorms being built (now complete) are to the left.  The Guest House is at the back of the church – the green door at the back right is the entrance.img_0668

You see Tamou is a 90 minute drive (Neal’s driving, so longer if you’re not with him). It’s a pretty remote location without many amenities. So when someone from Niamey goes to teach in the school, it’s best to teach for the whole morning, 4 hours, to maximize your effort, and then drive back. It makes for a long day.

We’ve also done events in Tamou – all day events. And not many people go all day without having to ‘use the bush’ as we affectionately call it. When in Tamou, there is no place to use said bush – not really even any bushes – and certainly no place to rest or have any down time. But it’s a place we love to be, and a place God is moving.

Thus the guest house. Really, it’s a thing of wonder. It’s tucked behind the church and has it’s own wall so is quite private. But if you step outside the door you’re right there with everyone. Best of both so to speak.

The guest house is back to back with the church.

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Welcome inside!  This was taken as construction was being finished.  The 2 square holes are for trees.  We dug about 10 feet down, removed rocks and fertilized well in advance.  A picture at the end shows the progress of the trees.

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Neal and I have stayed in the newly built guest house a few times, trying it out, getting the kinks out, before we had our first team visit. That happened in February — last month. We had a children’s camp with a team of 6 from the US. It was WONDERFUL! Better even than we had hoped. That could be partly because it was such a great team. Thanks Bob and Team Christian Life! (Note: that was Feb 2016).

When you walk in (door on left like in above photo) you see the kitchen/common area to the right.  That is where this picture is taken from – the dining area.  From here, you are looking at the 2 guest rooms.  They mirror each other and there is a small veranda in between.  Each has it’s own bathroom.  If you look to the top at the center, you see the roof of the church.  Also, take note of the spots on either wall reserved for planting.

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And just for perspective, here’s what you see when you walk out that green door. The church is to the right.

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The dining/common area is open, but is attached to a kitchen that can be closed.  The kitchen is where this photo is taken from.

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And here’s the kitchen- from the outside in….

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And from the inside out…

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Like I said, that was February. February is still considered ‘cold’ season. And relatively speaking, it is cold. Like cold enough for me to wear a sweatshirt early in the morning. Of course I’m in a sweatshirt if the temperature drops below 72….you be the judge.

Until right now, March 16, 2016. February was our last visit to Tamou, on account of our trip to India and Philippines. But for pete’s sake it’s only been a month. Where did this heat come from?

This is our first time to stay out here during hot season. We’ve done all we can to make the place comfortable. Because we really enjoy being out here, and we feel that we can make much more of an impact when we can spend more time with the people. More time than just teaching in a classroom setting. But I’m not gonna lie. I really enjoy a real toilet. With toilet paper. And lights. And running water. We even have hot water (though one might wonder why, but when it’s only 72 degrees…) AND, drumroll please—we have air conditioning.

Yep. We’ve outfitted the guest house with AC. It was wonderful during the days of cold season – because the days still get quite toasty – 90’s. And at night it wasn’t even needed.

Here’s one of the the guest rooms – the one on the right.  Picture is taken from the bathroom.

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And here’s ‘our’ room.  Or the room we use when we’re here.  But it’s also a guest room.

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You can see from this angle where the bathroom is (white door). It’s a mirror of the bathroom in the other room.

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And here’s one of the bathrooms.  They’re both the same.  Strangely I don’t have any pictures of it finished.  It looks quite nice.

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And here’s the veranda between the 2 rooms.

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Hot season though, that’s the real test. And we’re in that test right this minute. Today, it was 107. So while hot, 107 is still not THAT hot, compared to what will be coming. Needless to say, the AC came in handy. It would be interesting to note that Tamou doesn’t have 24/7 electricity. It’s a ‘town’, but an up and coming one. The town has a large generator that provides electricity from 10am – midnight each day. Except for Wednesdays. Lovely Wednesdays. Power comes on at 12 noon on Wednesday and because Thursday is market day, it stays on straight through to midnight on Thursday. In other words, 36 hours of beautiful, uninterrupted power.(Well, barring any generator issues…) Being the strategists we are, we try to plan our overnight trips to include Wednesdays/Thursdays…

However, so as not to be powerless in Tamou, we also purchased a small generator for guest house usage. Here’s what we now know.

We’re thankful for the generator.

There are 2 rooms for sleeping (each with an AC), and our generator is only strong enough to run 1 AC at a time.

The one AC takes the edge off the heat but isn’t strong enough to properly cool the room during hot season. In other words, walking into a room cooled to 90 feels like an arctic blast when it’s 115+ outside–until you’ve been in ‘cooled’ room for a few minutes and realize you’re sweating.

One working AC is better than none.

If a group of people is staying at the guest house, someone has to make the decision as to which subset of that group gets to stay in the AC room, providing a great opportunity for character growth.

Eventually, we will get a larger generator and install stronger AC’s.

My husband is not only a missionary, a great preacher, and great Bible teacher and a whole host of other things, he’s a great architect.

The Tamou Discipleship Center is amazing. We’re so grateful to those who gave to make it a reality. The guest house really has helped to advance what is happening there. Churches in the region continue to be planted, disciples are being made, and pastors are being trained.

Tamou Guest House update February 2017:
The guest has continued to be a blessing. Not only for ministry teams, for Bible School teachers, but also for the well drilling team. The first Vie Abondante wells were completed recently and the team was able to stay in the guest house multiple times for long periods, enabling them to spend more hours drilling rather than driving back and forth to Niamey (you may remember that’s a 90+ minute one-way trip journey).

The Christian Life team has come and gone- just a couple of weeks ago. We had a successful camp with 225 kids and about 50 volunteers. Neal and I stayed with the 6 member team in the guest house for 4 days/3nights. Why I didn’t get pictures of the 6 of us ladies crammed into 1 room with mattresses covering all available floor space, I don’t know. But what an awesome time we had.

And last, here’s the picture I promised.  Pastor Samuel is helping me show perspective on the size. These 6″ trees were planted about 9 months ago.  Nine months!  And check out the greenery on the walls.  This happened because of the diligence of Pastor Sule, the director of the Tamou region.  He not only waters the leaders and members of the now 14 churches in the region, has faithfully watered our trees 2X/day, month after month.  This is all fruit that will remain!

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Part 2: I don’t need any more stories. I’m good.

The first half of this story can be found here.

The groundwork has been laid.  Or in the case of this story, it is very shaky.  As we were to find out as we entered my Red Sea.  See, it really is red.   Just as a reminder, here’s what it looked like.

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That trooper is Pastor Scott, getting ready to enter the muddy water.

So, the Hilux has come through grinning and we have decided that we too can take the plunge.  And plunge we did.  Literally.

I gunned it, and off we went.  Now my sense of time has been all messed up.  But I’m pretty sure it was a matter of seconds that it felt like we began to float.  Yep.  The wheels had left the ground – or what there was of it.  I kept gunning, I think we were all rocking or leaning forward, willing it to move forward.  NOT happening.

Living in a place like Niger, situations like this while not common, are not unexpected.  And you just sit and wonder, ‘Huh.  What do we do now’?  But I think this is the first time I’ve personally been in the midst of ‘a situation’ (that’s what the Jamaican’s call them.  Situations.  Not problems), that is ongoing – and has great potential for great danger in so many ways.

Amazingly, the engine kept running.  Based on instructions I was given, that was a good thing.  Something to be happy about.  While pondering for a minute or 2 (or was it seconds?), I realized that I felt cold water at my feet.  I looked down and said ‘The water is coming in”.  It was then that I was informed that the water was up to mid-calf of those in the back seat.  No one was screaming.  Everyone was praying, and I’m sure thinking a myriad of thoughts.  As was I.

Like:  It’s going to be dark in about 18 minutes.  Very dark.  Will  we get out before then?  Are we going to flip over in the fast flowing water (rapids) to our right?  I started to remember stories I’d heard of others and quickly dismissed those.  Or –  will I be spending the night sitting in the middle of this lake?  Because I’m not leaving this vehicle.  I will keep that engine running.  And, what about this team?  I’m responsible for them too.  And what about all those helping to push?  What if we do hit ground and we lunge forward and hit someone?    And, we WILL get out of this water and I refuse to go backwards.  We’re NOT going back.  We will only move forward.  All the while praying for God’s mercy, grace and gosh darn we needed His help!

As the car is filling up, I think we made a unified decision that everyone get out.  Except me.  I’d already determined I wouldn’t leave.  There were already loads of people at the sea, and at this point, most of them were surrounding us, and everyone started pushing.  I had it in gear and by golly we were going to make it. And we did – about 50 feet or so.  I think.  That was after much effort. Shouting was going on in probably 4 languages.  We were quickly filling with water and getting heavier.  I was sitting in the driver’s seat with water up to my waist. Because the back was filled with water it was heavier, pushing the front end up a bit. Maybe 30 degrees?  I looked back at one point and the water was up to the ceiling in the back of the vehicle.  All our stuff was floating.  We did manage to get our valuable things out – purses, camera’s, phones.  Except Delfin.  His phone was in his pocket.

So Tara is on the bank guarding our belongings.  Scott and Delfin were looking for some kind of help. Never mind that he doesn’t speak a word of the local language.  We got wind that a tractor was coming to pull vehicles out.  That was a real glimmer of hope as we sat waiting.  Josiah was near the vehicle with me, as well as countless other young men.  I had the window down, and we were just waiting.  Josiah was measuring the distance that the water was climbing up.

As I looked around, it occurred to me that I had a very captive audience.  So I decided it to be the perfect opportunity to share the Gospel.  By this time, darkness had fallen so I couldn’t see the dark faces I was talking to.  But I could hear them.  And they could hear me.  One of them told me he was cold.  Which made me realize I was cold too.  Whatever.  Seemed insignificant.   As I said, Josiah was standing there too, and even though he couldn’t understand the conversation, he did understand that I was talking to these young men about Jesus.  And he found it quite interesting.  Well, I’m not quite sure what he thought, but just that he said he would give $100 right then (and this is a guy who detests spending money) just to be able to have a picture of this scene.  So rather than write about it all here,  in the next few days, I will include Josiah’s thoughts on the whole experience in a guest post.

At some point while talking with these guys, my window went up.  It was down, then it was up.  The water was giving the electrical system a mind of it’s own.  The far back was full to the roof, the back seat was full to the headrests, and water was above my waist in the drivers seat.  I couldn’t get the window back down.  Things were beeping.  Extraordinarily, the engine was still running.  I had that.

Here I am in the drivers seat…

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I don’t see myself as stubborn, but I can be pretty determined when necessary.  But I began to think at this point staying in my running vehicle was stupid.  It was filling up with water, and my window was stuck up.  Scott (I) finally decided that I too needed to come out.  Dressed in a skirt and shirt, I half swam-half climbed out the passenger side window.  There were several hands helping me.  I was surprised at how weak and shaky I felt, but I blamed that on the uneven muddy ground and deep water. The engine was still running!  Scott and one of my new friends helped me to the ‘shore’.  While I was having church inside the vehicle, Scott was finally able to walk to where there was a signal (did I mention that even though I was able to talk to Neal at the mouth of the sea, once I entered there was no signal?) and he was able to make some calls.  Until that time, the last Neal heard from us was that we were going to try and plow through and he hadn’t been able to get us after that either.

Now that we know our people knew what was going on, there was some relief, knowing that help would somehow be on the way.

Meanwhile, shivering, I’m being pushed, pulled and steadied, while walking to the spot where Scott was able to make the call.  I was going to try and reach Neal. Remember it’s a dark night.  And what to our wondering eyes should appear, but some sort of tractor, wonderfully near.  He wasn’t a mirage – and you can only have those in sunlight anyway.  He was the real deal.  In Hausa it’s called a Dandankaro.  Some sort of road grader I’m told.  But his biggest asset was that he was big.  Very big.  As shaky as I was, we felt happy enough to abandon the phone call attempt and go back to the swimming truck.  This was going to be exciting.

Check it out!

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At this point someone decides (probably Scott), that I should go wait with Tara and Josiah while he goes and helps with excavation.  So we climb to the top of sand pile where tons of other people are watching as well.  There’s a village nearby, and I’m pretty sure the Red Sea was providing loads of entertainment for all the men from that village.

Here’s the scene when Mighty Yellow showed up.

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Mighty Yellow first pulls out the yellow van.  Just yanks it right up out of the water.  Happy screams and cheering.

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The blue truck is next.  Same result. More cheering.

My new found friends who are now quite sure I’m bonkers, were waiting with me and informed that as soon as mine was out they were going home. I found out some about them, and were surprised that some were married with children. They also assured me the engine would be fine =). Our turn has come. Scott is in the water with several others tying(?) whatever it was they were using to the bumper.   Second attempt.  Nope.  Somewhere here – I think after attempt #1, Scott got in the drivers seat.

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I’m trying to hold hope up, but it’s receded a bit, unlike the water.  Finally they are able to secure the rope (?) to something after they opened the hood.  After significantly more effort than what was used for the other vehicles, our shiny white 4Runner emerged from the sea.

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So many people were ‘helping’… And amazingly the trusty engine ran all the way until she was pulled out! (I don’t think I’ve ever called my vehicle a ‘she’ before, but somehow it seems appropriate here) Then….she gave it up.  Except for the electrical system. That was going bonkers!  It, and by ‘it’ I mean the electrical system, kept on trying to start the engine.  It was almost comical.  Funny or not, it couldn’t have been good, so Scott was able to disconnect the battery.

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After she was pulled out, the water began to drain from inside.  First I cheered.  And thanked God.  Then it was sad.  I don’t know why.  But to think that a couple hours earlier we were sitting in our comfortable and strong 4Runner, as she was returning us from a day of camp and ministry, and here she was all  soaked with water and sand.  In places where water and sand ought not be.  I guess it’s like anything after any kind of destruction.

I actually don’t remember getting back in the driver’s seat, but at some point I did.  Oh yeah, it was so that we could now be pushed up toward the road, to make towing home easier.

In comes my knight in shining armor.  Drove right by us actually.  I tried to honk but remember the electrical system was bonkers.  He was with Grampa in their vehicle.  The cars wanting to get to the other side were lining up and it was dark, so they went right past us.  But they weren’t going to get far – unless they entered the water.  Neal walks up to see me in the drivers seat and just smiles and says it’s ok.  Then I heard the familiar voice of my friend and co-missionary Lola.  I couldn’t see her  but I heard, “Danette?  Hello.  It is well.  Why don’t you let Pastor Nelson drive now.”  Such a welcome and soothing voice.  I think what I said is, “That would be wonderful.”

Knowing we would be leaving soon, so many people were crowding around – SO many people – telling me how much they had helped and what was I going to give them.  At that point I was so frustrated and spent.  My Knight showed up again and I told him I couldn’t deal with them anymore – please make them go away.  He did, as the team and I quickly got in with Dad.  We were all soaked and covered from head to toe in sand/mud.

From there things moved quickly.  Dad drove us home and Pastor Nelson and Pastor Koyejo and Lola had come in a Hilux and they were there to tow our 4Runner.   It was a great feeling to leave the whole ‘situation’ in someone else’s hands.  

We arrived home at 10:30 pm.  The tow-ers got our vehicle to our mechanic and parked it.  Neal got home after 12.

The hot shower was wonderful, and reminded me of a thought I had while sitting in the middle of the sea: this will be over at some point, and I will get to take a hot shower.  From the time we left Tamou to the time we got home was only 4 ½ hours.  For a drive that takes 90 minutes, we sure crammed quite an adventure in that time!

Our mechanic has taken stuff apart and is assessing and trying to dry stuff out.  Tomorrow we should have more of an idea of the damage.

Now, what are my ‘take-aways’ from this experience?  I think I’m still figuring them out.  But two things come to mind.

First, God is doing great things both among the youth in Niger, and in the Tamou region specifically.  The title of this post is “I don’t need any more stories.” But honestly, if ‘stories’ are what it takes to bring more people to Jesus, bring them on.  So many of our stories come from these trips and times in Tamou, which to me is a clear indication that God is doing great things there.  Even greater than we know.  So do we think it odd that the enemy would be against us?  Not really.  However, we are sure that if God is for us, who can be against us?  Ain’t no Red Sea stopping the Kingdom of God, and it’s not stopping us!

Second, Prayer.  It’s the backbone of what we do.  I’m never really sure that I can effectively communicate its’ importance.  Before these camps, I sent out a request for prayer email to almost 500 people.  The TTC team sent requests to around 200.  That’s a lot of prayer cover.

I don’t even want to consider what could have happened in this situation if we didn’t have that prayer, and I also wonder what could be done if there were even more.

The youth camps were effective and powerful, training up and army for the Lord in Niger.  And prayer for them needs to continue.

And yes, prayer for us.  For our team here.  For all of our families.  For our churches.  For our partners.  For the finances needed for things like vehicle repairs and church buildings and Bible schools.  I could go on.  So if you’ve ever wondered if prayer matters, take it from me, sitting in the middle of the Red Sea, we seriously depend on it.

I don’t need any more stories. I’m good.

We are in the midst of youth camps.  Three of them.  Yesterday was Day 1 of the final camp.  It was out in Tamou where we have a ministry among the Gourmantche.  Over 100 were gathered for 3 days of teaching – growing in the Lord, and taking hold of your destiny.  The first 2 camps of more than 200 youth were awesome.  They were in Niamey and Maradi respectively. (cities 8 hours apart) Great response, great youth, great disciples in Niger.

Here’s a couple pics of yesterday’s meetings.

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Needless to say by this last camp, we were “swagaliga-ing”.  If you haven’t heard Neal’s message on that, it means ‘pressing in or moving forward’.  This camp is a 90 minute drive from our home, and since there is no place to stay out there, the plan was to make the drive back and forth every morning and evening.  We went in 2 vehicles on Monday morning because Neal had to leave camp early to come back and teach in our evening discipleship school.

Honestly, the whole day was challenging.  First of all, it rained all morning.

This is just before the storm.

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Because of the hot dry desert sand,  there is nowhere for the water to go, so it just piles up.  Quickly.

This is the church compound after a couple minutes of rain.

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So this meant that all of our activities had to be inside the church.  And not only did we have about 100 active youth, they are people that are not used to being inside for long lengths of time.  But swagaliga is what we continued to do.

And you know how people talk about the lovely sound of rain on a tin roof?  Believe me, it’s not quite so lovely when it drowns out the  message or the rules of the game you are trying to get across- using 3 languages.

We were encouraged though by those who were diligently working on their pressing toward the mark worksheets, and others who can’t read or write were following along.

As I said, Neal had to leave early.  Which he did – at about 3pm.  By then, the rain had stopped.  Before he reached home, he called me to let me know about an issue on the road.  There is a place where the road is completely gone for a distance of about  30  feet, and the ravine it creates is about  15  feet deep.  Thankfully, there is a temporary road (not sure how long a road can be called temporary, this one has been there for over a year) that goes down into the empty riverbed, and around the bad section of road.  We’ve driven on it countless times.  I’m sure I have a picture of it somewhere…. As I said it is an empty riverbed.  We passed it that morning on dry land.  But then it rained for a few hours.  Neal told me that he had no problem getting through on his way back – even though there was a transport vehicle stuck.  No surprise there, they’re always stuck in something.  He just wanted me to be aware of it – and reminded me that when going through water, you don’t let up on the accelerator.  I remembered that, because I learned that lesson firsthand-and the hard way.  But that’s another story.

The team and I  left 3 hours later – at around 6pm.  Since it hadn’t been raining for nearly 4 hours, I fully expected the area to have less water.  After all the flooded area of the church compound in the picture above was already dried up.

We arrived on the scene.  To this. The expanse of water wasn’t like the Red Sea, but it was probably about  120  feet across.

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Huh.  What to do, what to do.  If I wasn’t driving, I would have twiddled my thumbs for a moment or two.

In our lovely white 2004 Toyota 4Runner was Pastor Scott, Josiah & Tara from the US, and Delphin, one of our ministry team members on ground here.  Pastor Scott and Delphin got out, rolled up their pant legs, and entered the water to see what they could (or couldn’t) see.

That’s Delphin looking at us – probably thinking I was a crazy person…And possibly he was right.

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Yes, those are 2 other vehicles stuck in the rushing water.

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But Neal told me he went to their left.  What neither of us knew, was that rather than seceding  the water level had risen significantly.

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I called Neal and told him what things looked like.  I tried to think like him.  And the Neal I know would go through that water.  And then…a Hilux (a double cab Toyota pick up), came through that water from the opposite side.  He even smiled at me and gave me a thumbs up as he drove by.

That’s all we needed.  If he could do it, we could do it.  I held my breath, I heard other car members praying and I hit the gas.

You may notice my change in pronouns here – to try and spread out the responsibility for my actions….

I’ve been told that I need to keep my blog posts shorter.  So I’m ending the story here.  I will write the remainder in the next post – which I will start right now.