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!

Dessert Day, and a few other things.

Nope.  That doesn’t say desert day, but with the temps we’ve been having (108) we need no reminders that we are indeed living in the desert.  But, let me get back to desserts – those wonderful yet often guilt producing items.  We have a team of 7 from New Orleans arriving on Sunday afternoon.  Lots of planning has been going on on both ends and we can’t wait for them to get here.  They are a medical team and we will be doing clinics in both Maradi and Niamey regions during the 9 days they are with us.  Due to the nature of life in Niger, (cooking is very time consuming) and due to the fact that I no longer have a home in Maradi, most food preparation is done in advance.  This is also partly due to the fact that I am involved in whatever the team is doing and am not free to do lots of cooking each day.

Normally I have Hannatu helping in the kitchen.  She only comes 4 days/week and Thursday is her day off.  I almost asked her to come today, but thought I was pretty much done with things.  What was I thinking?  I started right in this morning on brownies.  Two batches.  I mixed them separately as I don’t feel that they turn out the same when the recipe gets doubled.  I’m also not very good at spreading the batter evenly into 2 pans.  Next up were Apple Brownies – no chocolate involved.  I got everything mixed up and then opened the produce drawer in the fridge to find that there were only 2 scrawny apples there.  This is due to the un-named apple thieves that live in my house.  What was there were the guavas I found yesterday in the market.  Though when chopped they look similar to an apple, the only taste resemblance would be the tartness, if in fact your apple was a tart one.  Though not needing to be peeled, guavas are not particularly easy to chop due to the pesky little seeds that fill about 1/3 of the fruit.  And it’s not like you just cut open the guava and easily slice out the seeds like you would an apple core.  Those seeds are embedded in the meat and somewhat spaced out.  I’ve never taken guava cutting lessons, but I just cut them in half and scrape out the center with the seeds.  While doing this, I wondered if it was really necessary since the kids eat the guavas ‘a la natural’ seeds and all.  But, I reckon it would be a bit unpleasant to bit into a ‘apple’ brownie and bite into one or 2 of those little puppies.  And I can tell you from experience that they are hard.  So, I continued to cut, scoop and chop.  Lukeman needed to go to the market for me to get all the meat I’m going to need for the team so I had to go to my room and get the money.  When I came back he had taken it upon himself to chop the guavas for me.  What a guy.  And he’s fast!  Well, he didn’t realize my thing about the seeds.  Why would anyone want to extricate the seeds anyway?  The reason I realized that I was so determined to get the seeds out was because one time I made a guava smoothie – threw them into the blender – seeds and all.  The seeds did not ‘blend’ and seriously reduced the enjoyment factor of the smoothie.  I didn’t want this to be the case with the apple brownies.  So thus began the even more tedious task of removing the pulp part with embedded seeds of the already chopped guava.   I could go into great detail, but I won’t.  Except to say that the task took about 4 times longer than it should have.  But I do appreciate Lukeman’s initiative.  In the end, the apple brownies turned out quite nice.  Amazing guava flavor they had.  I also added chopped pecans and even a few white chocolate chips (both items lovingly brought to me from other visiting teams) and dumped them in.

The brownies and brownies finished almost all at the same time.  The chocolate ones were wonderfully chocolatty.  I used cocoa I brought from Paris and is it good stuff!  Deciding I had been dealing with enough sugar for the time being, I proceeded to make a huge salad.  A couple of days ago in the market I was thrilled to find fresh basil, parsley and mint.  And some fresh spinach.  So I bought some.  Not exactly sure what I was going to do with them, but fresh herbs…I couldn’t resist!  I question the authenticity of the spinach.  When cooked, it gets slimy, very much like okra.  Even raw in a salad it somewhat slides around when you chew it.  I don’t think real spinach does that.  No matter.  In my salad I put in all of the above only for Tobi to say at dinner tonight, “What is in this salad?  It doesn’t taste good!”  Not sure which item he meant, but it didn’t really matter, as he knew he would be eating every bite (covered in Ranch dressing of course!)

Saturday is Trae’s birthday.  This weekend is also the annual NUTS softball tournament.  This will be Trae’s 3rd year to participate, and Neal’s 2nd.  They are both on different competitive teams so it’s very possible that they could end up playing each other in the finals.  It’s alot of fun.  Lot’s of softball games.  So, since Trae will be occupied most/all of Saturday, and since our team arrives on Sunday, he asked if I would make Alfredo for him before then.    Decided to do that today as well.  I even added in some of the  pretend spinach and no one was the wiser.  Who could be with all the cream, butter and cheeses?  For birthday dessert I made him Mango stuff.  Kind of like a crisp.  Well, the recipe calls for peaches but those don’t exist round these parts, so mangoes it was.  Actually, if it wasn’t for our ‘mango day’ last July, mangoes wouldn’t exist right now either.  They are out of season.  But they do exist in my freezer.  After the rich Alfredo/secret spinach dinner, no one could eat much dessert.  But I know in another hour or so the savages will be back, looking for more.

That was the end of desserts for today.  But I must mention here that Tuesday was also a very productive day.  And am I ever thankful Hannatu was with me.  Actually, she thanked me for helping her with her work!  We made lasagna, enchilada sauce, refried beans, meat pie sandwich meat and highly sinful cinnamon rolls.  We started the day with lasagna.  One of those huge disposable aluminum pans for the team, plus a regular 9X13 for the family’s dinner.  This requires of course everything being done from scratch.  Well, except for the noodles.  Those are now available for purchase.  I have a pretty simple recipe for it which does not include terms like ‘cheese cloth’, ‘hang’, ‘strain overnight’.  It’s not suitable for eating plain with a peach (or Mango), but is fine for baking.  It can be made as quickly as you can boil a pot of water, dump in milk powder and vinegar, and drain.  Of course I added a fair helping of my ‘spinach’ to the end resulting cottage cheese.  To be honest, the cottage cheese is Hannatu’s department.  I was working on the sauce (I was thrilled to have a use for my fresh basil and parsley).  As one may or may not imagine, I use my ‘cookery’ often.  My pots and pans take a beating and the ones that I’m using now I brought back with me when we returned to Niger last summer.  I don’t think they ‘make them like they used to.’  After all, who needs industrial stength cookware when it gets used once or twice a week.  Maybe.  Several of my ‘new’ ones are already wearing out their non-stick coating.  My square griddle is seeming to be warped, probably due to overuse with the 1000’s of tortillas it has cooked.  I’m not exaggerating.  I think what I may be trying to do is excuse what happened to the lid of my stew pot on Tuesday.  I was minding my own business, happily cooking my lasagna sauce while carefully keeping the sweat from my face from dripping into the pot (have I mentioned that my kitchen is hot?) when suddenly I heard a ‘pop’ sound.  Just like that.  “POP”.  It was the lid on my sauce pot.  It’s glass and it had shattered, but was still in tact, held in place by the metal rim.  My biggest concern was my sauce.  One false move and I could be throwing away 3 kilos of ground beef, 2 quarts of fresh frozen tomatoes, tomato paste, my fresh basil and parsley, various spices and lots of onions and peppers.  It wouldn’t even be suitable for the dog with chunks of glass in it!  It was of course hot, so I had to search for my potholders.  I very gently moved the pot off the stove and on to the counter.  The lid had a knob on the top but I figured touching that would cause a cave in so I very, very gently grabbed the rim of both sides of the lid and lifted up and away from the pan and tossed it to the floor.  My intent was to get the glass as far away from the sauce as possible.  I succeeded with that, though I won’t mention how long the glass cleanup on the floor took.

Could this have been from overuse?  Can one over use a stock pot?  Anyway, it looks like I’ll again be on the lookout for more pots and pans next time we’re in the Western world.  For now, my sauces will have to be cooked topless.

Team Word of Life – The Final Chapter

As I said, the next few days were exciting and powerful. Sunday morning we divided the team into smaller teams and they ministered in several different village churches. Sunday afternoon we went out to do our first open-air village crusade. We went to the village of Karoussa – almost an hour’s drive into the bush. Karoussa is a village of maybe 2 thousand people. Our plan was to arrive by 5pm and go door to door witnessing and inviting people to that evening’s rally. Describing a village in Niger is difficult, even to one who has visited an undeveloped nation. The houses are made of mud or thatch. There is no electricity. Water is obtained by pulling it up in a hand made rubber ‘bucket’. Even though many of our team members had been on multiple mission trips, I don’t think any of them were totally prepared for what they experienced.

One thing that was amazing to everyone though, is that even though this nation is Islamic by the number in it that claim to be Muslims (95 – 99%), it is democratic and proclaims religious freedom. This means that we had a legal right to go door to door to preach the Gospel. And that’s exactly what we did.

We divided the team in 2’s and 3s and each group went a different direction with a church member from that village, and an interpreter. Trae and Tanika both helped with that. The responses of the people were varied, but they were almost always open and willing to hear what we had to say. One way that you are sure to grab the attention of a Muslim is to ask them the commonly used question when witnessing, “If you were to die tonight, are you sure you would go to heaven?” The answer is always ‘no’. That is one thing a Muslim never has is assurance of salvation (unless he dies in Jihad). The follow up question is simply “would you like to know?” Some were prayed with to receive salvation right then. All were invited to the upcoming meetings.

We sent our worship team ahead to set up the generator, lights and instruments. They began playing when we arrived. That was a huge crowd draw. Village entertainment is severely lacking and though we knew our purpose wasn’t just to entertain, it sure was an effective tool. We were set up in the ‘town square’ aka large open area in the center of the village. It was near the main mosque, and so as not to offend, we started our meeting at 7:10, right after Muslim prayers. Some of the men left the mosque,walked a few steps, and sat down for our meeting. After some great praise music, the team did a wonderful job of presenting the Gospel, from creation to the miracles of Jesus, to salvation. One is quick to learn that attention spans among the uneducated are very short so you have to keep it fresh to keep attention. (I don’t say that to be offensive, just to state the sad fact that Niger is the most uneducated nation in the world). Team Word of Life did just that. They used stories and drama, and each team member was ready with their part of the story. At the end, Cole, the team leader, gave an opportunity to receive the greatest miracle of all – salvation. The crowd was gathered in a semi-circle and the open area in the middle continued to get smaller and smaller as people worked to get closer. Many hands were raised when the opportunity for salvation was given. A general prayer for the sick was prayed and Cole then asked people to do what they couldn’t before and if there was a change to come and give a testimony. The response was slow at first, but then a man came forward and was very excited. He explained that his leg was healed. He began doing squats and said that before he was not able to do that. It was pretty cool. Then several people followed, giving testimonies of their healings – many with leg/foot/knee problems. God was confirming His Word with signs following – just like He said He would!

Although the next two days were similar, they each their own ‘feel’. Our format was the same, and many were saved, healed and challenged. The 2nd night, in the village of Gangara we estimate about 800-1000 people came to the rally. When the prayer of faith was prayed for healing and people were asked to come forward and give testimony, there seemed to be some confusion and people started flooding forward for prayer. Tobi brought to me an old woman (hunched over and very wrinkled) and said she needed prayer for her knees, that they were ‘paining her’. I told Tobi to go ahead and pray for her. He hesitated at first but then I told him I would help him. So he bent over and put his hands on both of her knees and repeated out loud what I prayed. He then began to ask her (speaking in Hausa of course) if they were better. She said they were getting better. He prayed again. Then he told her to start moving her legs – demonstrating by kicking out his own in kind of a marching pattern. She did and then appeared on her face a bright smile as she said the pain was gone. I told her to go forward to testify. I explained to Cole that Tobi had prayed for her. She told Cole what happened and when he asked her who healed her, (expecting of course for her to say God), she pointed to Tobi and said, “He did”. After that, everyone wanted Tobi to pray for them. We had to explain that it wasn’t he that did the healing, but that it was God through him. Cole continued to pray for the people that were coming forward, many receiving healing, and then referred them to the pastor we have in that village. It was a powerful night.

It’s rainy season in Niger so there is a bit of a risk planning outdoor meetings during this time. The first day as we were traveling to the village, a bank of storm clouds was in front of us, then seemed to travel around to the side and behind. No rain. The 2nd day, it poured rain right as we were preparing to leave. When we arrived at the turn off into the bush from the main road, there was a barrier up and we were told the road was closed because of the rain (It’s not a great road). We were in 4 vehicles, and pondered what to do. We turned around and were going to attempt a different way through the bush when the police called us back and said they would let us through! It was slow going and I’m sure our team would have referred to the trip as ‘adventurous’… But we made it and would you believe it that when we arrived though there had been a torrential downpour earlier, there was hardly a sign of rain. There was a bit of concern about the thundercloud that appeared directly above us, but God had brought us this far and the rally would go on! The 3rd night we were not bothered at all with weather.

We have been in Niger long enough to know that the motives of people are easily swayed by their great need. But among those whose hearts may not be just right are those who are genuinely touched by the Holy Spirit and are ready to be discipled as new believers. We believe that these crusade meetings have produced lasting fruit as God confirmed His Word. This is a perfect example of the purpose and power of the various giftings in the body of Christ. This team worked hard for almost a year, invested time and money, prepared dramas, and came in prayed up and ready for God to move through them in a great way in a short time. He did. Then they returned home. Now comes our part. We’re here to continue what they started – to disciple the new fruit. That is accomplished by training leaders and pastors who will train the new believers to go out bring in more harvest. The cycle will continue as we all do our part.

Thank you to Pastor Lenoir and Joe and Team Word of Life. Mission accomplished. Thank your for your investment into the precious souls of Niger. We know it was a challenging, stretching time, but one that we believe produced growth in your own lives as you gave of yourselves. Thank you for your investment in our family personally. We are grateful for what you have done, and we give God the glory.

Team Word of Life Ch. 2

So, we were on our way at sunrise – tooling down the road together in 2 land cruisers and a bus, which we thought was close behind. We thought. We got a call from Trae some time later – and discovered that all our rushing around at the airport was for naught. The bus was still sitting in Niamey. I won’t go into the reasons for the delay except to say that the bus did not even leave Niamey until 10:30am. This is Africa.

Meanwhile, our vehicles were getting along fine. We may have had a flat tire but I really can’t remember. We have them so frequently they are just sort of par for the course. Especially when our tires are old. However, 11 bladders, one of them pregnant, can pose some challenges. They may not agree, but we felt like we were being pretty merciful when we’d stop within an hour of a request for a bush. Thankfully, since it was rainy season, finding sufficient coverage was relatively easy. Relatively speaking. When it’s just our family traveling, we require synchronization of bladders and try to make only 1 stop during the entire trip. Once we did it with no stops – a record!

After much bumping and swerving and stopping, we finally arrived at our destination at about 4pm. Still no sign of the bus people. The Jorgensen’s had a meal prepared for us so after about 30 minutes of recovery time (you can only understand if you have actually made this trip), we enjoyed a wonderful meal of cous cous and vegetable stew. Still no bus people. We prepared for the alumni meeting, which was to begin at 7pm. I enjoyed being back in Maradi again, in spite of the recent challenges we had faced there. The service started and again, you have to experience praise and worship here to fully understand how great it is. The team members began their ministry time and now I am beginning to get a little bit concerned. Where are our bus people (including 2 of my kids), and why haven’t we heard from them? I stepped out of the church several times to call before finally reaching them. It was about 8:30, and they were just getting into town. Pastor Rich offered to go and pick them up so they arrived at the church just about the time the meeting was getting finished. No recovery time for them! One of the reasons the trip took so long is because the bus stops so frequently for prayers – the people get out to do their Muslim prayers. Several times during the trip. That, and there’s picking people up and dropping them off. And this is not your ordinary greyhound. This is a non-air conditioned vehicle with more seats per square foot than the average ‘non-african’ bus. I rode in it once – all of me and my 5’2″ frame. The seats were so close together that I was not able to bend forward to pick something up without my head hitting the seat in front of me. In other words, I had to lean forward with head stretched back while stretching one arm down and towards the side – which would then cause me to lay in the lap of the person next to me. All I could do for our ‘bussers’ was offer my condolences, and tell them I understood. And remind them that they now had a pretty cool story to tell. They were great about it all.

We got our troopers some food and everyone was pretty quick to find their beds that evening. I got things ready for the next morning’s breakfast and was off to bed, realizing I was so tired because I had been up since 2am.

We slept great because Maradi is cooler than Niamey. And I think everyone else rested well too, in spite of the fact that temps were well above what is normal for them. The alumni meeting continued that morning and though I didn’t get to attend, (kitchen duty) I heard it was wonderful. The former students were greatly encouraged by the God-inspired messages brought by our team. And the alumni meeting is always a time of encouragement for us, as it gives us opportunity to see how the ministry has grown, and how many believers have been discipled.

We had lunch, and then our mercy kicked in so we decided we would give the group some down time. They had, after all, been on the move for 6 straight days. We took them to the ‘Club’ (again, got to see it to believe it), where we swam, relaxed, rode camels (we know some people in a nearby village and ask them to bring their camels for some photo ops) and ate dinner. That night a rousing game of cards was played. I didn’t play, but I know it was rousing because of the noise coming from a table of very ‘expressive’ people, Neal leading the charge.

The rest of the week would prove to be busy and very exciting. More to come…

Team Word of Life

I would almost say this is de ja vue, as I sit here alone on a Sunday afternoon like I did the last time I wrote – Tanika was hanging out with her friend and the guys were at the rec center playing tennis. Today, 3 weeks later,  Tanika again is with her friend and the guys in the family are playing tennis.  However, when I think of all that has transpired since my last entry, I’m amazed that it’s only been 3 weeks!

I’ll start with Team Word of Life from Kansas.  They left western Kansas on Monday at 3am for a 5 1/2 hour drive to Denver, where they caught their flight to New York.  From New York they were on their way to Casablanca, Morocco.  We were expecting them to arrive at 3:30am on Wednesday, July 30th.  On Tuesday afternoon we called our faithful baggage guy #11 to help us get a ‘badge’ so we would have permission to go inside the airport and help the team through immigration/baggage.  He informed us that the airport was closed so there would be no flights coming in or going out.  What?!  That can’t be!  We have a team coming in – we have a plan!  How could ‘they’ put a wrench in it like that?  That’s just not right.  But right it was.  This is Africa.  The team, however, was waiting to depart from Casablanca where they had just completed something like a 15 hour layover and didn’t know they would NOT be boarding the plane that night to arrive in Niamey in the wee hours of the morning.  They were actually bussed from their hotel to the airport that evening to board a flight that we knew hours earlier had been canceled.  This is Africa.  Back to their hotel they went to play the waiting game.  We called around and heard that the problem was an air traffic controllers strike that covered West Africa.  It was scheduled to end Thursday afternoon.  Which we knew meant that our ‘happy’ travelers would not be arriving to us until 3:30am Friday morning.  They didn’t know this, but we did.  So, with flexibility being the name of the game (not to mention a word describing our lifestyle) we had to make some scheduling adjustments.  They were coming to speak at our annual alumni meeting in Maradi, and to do some first ever night-time evangelistic crusades in surrounding villages.  The alumni meetings were to start on Friday evening.  They have been planned for a few months, so we felt that we should do all we could to keep the meetings as planned.   So here’s what happened.  Our flexible team wa supposed to board their plane in Casablanca at around 11pm Thursday evening.  Keep in mind that they left their home at 3am the previous Monday.  Since we were prepared for the team on Wednesday, we had their beds ready at our house and Grama and Grampa’s house.  All 3 kids were staying there.  So as not to mess up beds, the kids had been staying there since Wednesday.  We attempted (unsuccessfully) to get some sleep Thursday night and got up at 2:30 to head to the airport.  Our plan was to wisk our guests off the plane and into the vehicles and head straight for Maradi – an 8 – 10 hour drive, depending on the roads.  They knew in advance that 3 of them would be joining Trae and Tanika on the bus.  THE bus.  I’ll have to save that for another post.  The bus people were supposed to be at the station at 5:30am.  So if the plane arrived at 3:30 as scheduled, (yeah, right) we felt that we would be able to at least get them through immigration etc and get them to their waiting bus on time.  When we arrived at the airport we were told that the plane would arrive at 4:20am.  Huh.  Grama and Grampa also drove with us to the airport to bring water for the travelers, and to take home the luggage that wasn’t going to Maradi, and to rush to the ‘busees’ to the bus station.  4:30 came and went and we were getting a bit concerned.  Maybe a bit more than a bit…Neal was pacing.  If they didn’t make this morning’s bus, they would have to wait until the next morning, thus some of them missing the 1st alumni meeting.  I reminded him that it was possible that the bus would leave late. This is Africa.  The plane landed at 4:45.  We saw our team through the glass partition filling out their white cards in what appeared to us to be slow motion.  We were pounding on the glass (this is when we learned that the glass was likely sound proof) trying to get their attention to get them to put some fire under their pencils.  They finally saw us and began to get the picture.  They came out and we didn’t even let the 3 bus riders wait for their bags.  We quickly welcomed then and then threw them into  Grampa’s car for their race to the bus station.  Their journey was far from over…  The rest of us waited for the 17 bags and they all arrived. We sorted through what had to go and what was to stay. Amazingly we got all the needed bags and 11 bodies in 2 vehicles, including Tobi, who was stuffed into the way back with the bags (3 cheers for my kids who are so great about stuff like this).  We were on our way at 6:30, just as the sun was coming up.

To be continued….my writing time is up.

Team, Tennis, Trae

I have found myself alone, on a Sunday afternoon. I have decided to do some catch up writing – a hodge podge of things that I have wanted to get ‘down on paper’, so decided to take this quiet time to do it. Mostly because I’m thinking I won’t have a chance to write again until our Kansas team returns home. Even though I have finished with much of the preparation, I still have quite a few things to do before they arrive. That takes place this Wednesday at 3:35am. Most of my preparation revolves around food. Since we will be traveling to Maradi and staying in a place with a relatively small kitchen, I have done much of the food prep ahead of time. My freezer is full and I’m ready to go! Almost. It’s at times like this that I wish we at least had the option to run to Pizza Hut, Subway, or Taco Bell. Team Word of Life is made up of 11 team members. They, together with our family of 5, will make the now 10 hour road trip to Maradi on Thursday morning. We will be going in our 4WD vehicle, and Neal’s parent’s 4WD (they are so wonderful to loan it to us for this (and many other) trips). It doesn’t take a professional packer to realize that 16 people and all of their luggage will not be fitting into 2 vehicles. We have informed the team that 3 of their members, along with Trae and Tanika, will be taking public transportation to Maradi. They have informed me that they have 5 members ready to do so. Thanks guys!

Friday starts the annual bible school alumni meeting – they will be ministering in that both Friday and Saturday. Then, on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings we will go into villages to do evangelism. We are bringing a generator (which Word of Life bought for us) and will have lights and music, complete with keyboard, bass and drums. We have great expectation for these meetings, and know God will move in a powerful way. The team has been preparing for a year! We will return to Niamey on Wednesday (and I’m assuming that 3 different team members will check out the public transport experience). Trae and Tanika are such troopers, having had to go on public transport for several trips recently. The team will minister in some of our churches here, before beginning their journey back home very early Friday morning. We’re excited for them to get here. They begin their journey to Africa at 3am tomorrow (Monday) morning.

The reason I’m alone right now is because Tanika is at her friend’s house, Neal and Trae are playing tennis with Grampa and a friend, and Tobi is watching them play tennis (and hoping he can get in on a few balls too). Although he really does enjoy watching tennis, both live and on TV, I think part of the reason he went with them is because he is afraid if he stays home with me, I’ll make him read! (which he is finally catching on to).

Speaking of tennis, last Sunday was the same setup. Neal and Trae met Grampa at the court. Not sure if I mentioned it or not, but the day after camp was over, Trae was able to remove his sling. A couple weeks after that, he started some physical activities. He’s not (supposed to be) doing anything weight bearing or contact yet, but he’ll get there. Anyway, they play tennis at the American Rec Center. It, understandably so, is situated right next to the American Embassy. The other side of the Amer. Rec. Center is the French Embassy. Since the tennis court is in the corner of the property, it shares a wall with the French Embassy. One of the above players (who will remain nameless as I’m not sure who it was) hit the ball into French Embassy property. Trae, either because he’s young and in shape, or because he was the one that hit the ball out, went to retrieve the ball. On a side note, one might wonder why it was so important to actually go and retrieve an already over-used tennis ball. That is simply because those balls are precious commodities around here, imported from America with whoever is willing to bring a can or two of tennis balls when they come. Back to my story. No one was at the French Embassy gate, presumably because it was Sunday. The friend they were playing with had also joined Trae. They assessed the situation (really?), and decided the best course of action was to go over the wall. What?!!? Jump over a cement wall, one belonging to France, protected on the top by iron spikes?!? This is the same boy who finished the year with a 4.0 GPA and will attend college in a year. He got over the wall – only using the weight of his ‘good’ arm. He retrieved the ball. While doing so he discovered that his hand was covered in blood. He took off his shirt and wrapped it around the bleeding hand – there was a deep gash on his left hand, straight down from his pinky on his palm. He got that from those pesky metal spikes, put there to keep trespassers OUT. I wasn’t in his head, but I’m thinking he knew he was not in a good place, and needed to get back over the wall. How would it look now for a young, shirtless guy with a bloody hand to walk (from inside) to the other side of the property where there were actual people, and ask if they could please open the gate and let him OUT! That’s what I think went on in his head as he attempted, and succeeded, in scaling the wall using the cut hand only, as he could not put weight on his ‘other’ bad arm.

We decided that though stitches could definitely be warranted, they weren’t really necessary in this situation. We simply poured betadine in the very deep wound, squeezed it together and taped it up. We still had plenty of supplies from his other, rather recent, injuries. What’s another 1 inch scar when added to the rather large one along his collar bone, and the few down his back? He’s a guy. Scars are cool. So I’m told.

As I sit reflecting on this, I almost wonder if this is the same kid that was afraid to get on a merry-go-round or ride his bike down a hill. The same guy that went to Disney world, was picked for a nickelodeon show and when realized that it was possible he’d get slimed said ‘no way’ and left. The guy that was at the top of a zip-line platform and was about to turn around and said to his Dad “You think I’m going to jump off this?”, and his Dad replied “Sure, let’s go”, while pushing him off the platform. Yep, this is the same guy. Only now he’s grown up, is maturing, and it has become clear to me that his confidence has been developing all along. I know he’s developing wisdom, and is becoming all God has created him to be. I am watching it happen before my very eyes.

Kids Camp Niger

Children’s camp. As planned, we picked up the US team at the airport at 2am on June 27th. By the time we got everyone through immigration, bags collected and loaded, and waters filled, it was 4:30am. There were 11 of us and all the bags in 2 vehicles. It was still dark, so it was still relatively cool. Relatively speaking that is. We hit the road.

It was a little bit on the mean side for us to give our guests such a huge dose of culture right off the bat, but we felt like we had no other options, considering their arrival time. They are on a mission trip! We had to get to Maradi to prepare for camp. But nothing like jumping in with both feet. We began our drive into the interior of the nation and had our first flat tire about 2 hours later.  Maybe less.  That’s pretty much par for the course. The sun was just starting to come up. The rule is if you are only traveling with 1 spare tire, you promptly get the flat one fixed so you have another spare. In this case, however, the tire didn’t go flat. It shredded. With still 8 hours to go, we prayed that there would be no more flats on that vehicle. Only so many people can help change a tire, so the rest of us made a spectacle of ourselves by simply standing on the side of the road. (It doesn’t require much effort here to be a spectacle.)

Off again. It’s been too long so I can’t really remember anymore details except quite a few more bush stops than we usually require (mostly because some of us, who shall remain nameless couldn’t seem to get ‘things’ to work properly in the bush), and at one point, for some reason, standing of the side of the road again, only this time we were eating meat pies (homemade of course!), and making spectacles of ourselves.

Ten hours after departure and no more flat tires later, we arrived at our destination. I guess I should clarify. It was more like 40+ hours after our guests departure from their starting point. But who’s counting. They’re on a mission trip! I know, I have no mercy…

Since we no longer have a home in Maradi, we had to stay in the SIM guest house. (Let me toss in here that we are seriously believing God for the funds to build our own guest house!) SIM was great though, and we got settled in and ate. We allowed the team only a couple hours of rest, since we wanted them to sleep that night. We are brutal! Did I mention, they are on a mission trip! They began unpacking camp supplies and organizing things. We talked about the schedule for the week, and we ate again. Thus ended day one. Trae stayed with the guys, and Tanika with the ladies in their rooms.

Saturday we let the team sleep in (we’re not always brutal) and used the rest of the day to prepare for camp.

Sunday we all went to the Maradi church and the team ministered in the service, complete with drama. Then we met with all of our team captains and passed out schedules. We all worked together to transform the church compound into ‘kids camp’. It looked great. Only14 hours before kids start arriving. Our team is doing exceptionally well, especially considering what we’ve just put them through, and the fact that they are working in temps that would be classified as heat wave status where they come from.

Monday morning dawns and we head to the church. Fortunately the guest house is within walking distance. Transport vehicles start arriving from the North, South, East and West. Loaded with kids. I don’t think I’m a good enough writer to put into words what these vehicles looked like, so I will eventually post some pictures on Flickr. Suffice it to say that they would in no possible way pass any type of inspection, ‘load limit’ is a foreign concept, and literally every driver got out of his vehicle after dropping the kids off (who by the way were literally hanging off of every side of said vehicle) and opened his hood to do some minor (?) repairs. But those kids were excited and were heard before the were seen, as they were singing in unison at the top of their lungs when they turned into the church compound.

Registration went, well, smooth. Relatively speaking… Smooth enough to teach us what we will do differently next year. When it was all said and done, and after the stragglers showed up the next day, there were 253 children from 19 churches (this camp was geared to bless our church kids, so was not an evangelistic outreach), ages 5 – 15, assigned to 16 different teams. Each team had a captain and an co-captain. Captains were made up of pastors and members from the various churches. The theme for the week was”Camp Empower – Raising up a generation of tomorrow’s leaders”. Team names were leaders in the Bible. Trae was captain of ‘Team David’, made up of 16 boys, 11- 15 years old. Tanika’s team was ‘Abigail, and she had 18    5 – 10 year olds. Tobi was on ‘Team Peter’ and we were able to pull some strings to make sure his Maradi friends made it on his team as well. Side note: Tobi’s Hausa came back so quickly in this environment (living day and night with only Hausa speakers) that at one point when I asked him a question (in English), he started to answer me in Hausa. He grinned sheepishly and finished in English.

Our guest ministers helped with registration and also kept the registered kids busy until we were done. I loved our first meeting that night. I have been somewhat frustrated about our children’s ministry here, feeling that we’re not doing enough in that area. Children’s ministry. It’s absolutely necessary that we have a strong children’s work going on – the kids are the future of the nation. Reach them while they’re young and you’ve changed a generation. And eventually, a nation. So that first night, when I saw the packed church and I heard 253 kids all praising God together at the top of their lungs, I was encouraged. These kids were being reached. It’s not enough, but it was something. And it encouraged me. It truly was a sight to behold.

To be continued…