Jesus Thinks About Me

This is an article I wrote over a year ago, but never ‘published’.  The family information is outdated, but the message remains the same.  I’ve added a family update at the end.

The other night I caught myself thinking about my children….again. And I began to realize that my thoughts turn towards them multiple times a day – without me even realizing it.

Family

Trae, my oldest, is married to Christi – which blesses me with another child to think about. They are teaching English in South Korea and are expecting our first grandson in a matter of weeks. I’ve already spent lots of time ‘thinking’ about him!

Trae and Christi

Tanika is just finishing her junior year of college, studying special education.

Tobi lives with us in Niger and is almost done with 7th grade. He attends an international mission school in the town we live in.

I appreciate that I’ve seen where each of them are living life right now. It helps me when I’m missing them to picture them where they are.

As I lay in bed thinking about my offspring, I realized that I wasn’t really thinking about them, I was praying for them. And I do that often. And then I heard the Lord whisper to me,

“You think your thoughts turn towards your kids a lot? You have NO idea. You – you’re my kid. And you’re always on my mind.”

Then Psalm 139: 17,18 popped into my sleepy head.

How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand. When I awake, I am still with You.

And here I am thinking that I think about my kids a lot!

God’s thoughts towards me cannot be numbered. I live in a desert, so I can tell you from first hand experience, grains of sand cannot be counted! NOT possible.

Neal & Tobi in sand

As I see Tanika in her dorm room or standing in line at the salad bar, and I picture Trae and Christi leaving their cute (tiny) apartment to get on the bus that takes them to their job and the classroom they’ll be teaching in, or I see Tobi playing soccer with his friends, Jesus sees me. Me! He knows exactly where I’m living my life. The creator of the universe spends time thinking about me!

And more than that, He’s praying for me. Romans 8:34 tells us that not only did Jesus die for us and return to life, but he is sitting at God’s right hand….interceding for us! As a Scottish friend of mine says, ‘Have a think on that’! Jesus himself, praying for me!

Why do I think about and pray for my kids? Because I love them. Why does Jesus think about and pray for me? Because He loves me. And I love him – because He first loved me! I hope you’re following my logic here.

The Bible says, if you love me, you will keep my commandments. So that got me thinking (guess I’ve been doing lots of that recently) about how I could show Jesus my love. The answer is pretty straightforward.

By keeping His commandments. There are multiple scriptures that talk about this. Here are a few:

  1. Jn 14:15 If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
  2. Jn 14:21 He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me
  3. 1 Jn 2:3 And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments
  4. 1 Jn 5:2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.
  5. 2 Jn 6 And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it.

But I particularly love I Jn 5:2 –…. His commandments are not burdensome. He wants us to succeed in obeying Him.

Hausa Bible

He’s not expecting something impossible from us. One of the main reasons He wants us to keep those commandments is so He can bless us.

Now let me go one last step with my thinking. What are His commandments? Well, as a missionary the first thing I think of is the Great Commission.

Probably the most well known version of the Great Commission is Matthew 28:18-20

The Great Commission

…18And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19″Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The Bible is full of examples of both God’s heart for the lost and His instruction to us to reach them.

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And His heart cry is clearly shown in the Gospels. In Matthew 23 Jesus is preaching to his disciples and to the crowds. He preached this message just a few days before he was crucified.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”

Isn’t that how we feel when our children face danger, discouragement or difficulty? Or when we see them walking a destructive path? We want to protect them. To gather them to us and shelter them. It grieves us when we have the answer to their problem and they reject it. It can cause us to shed tears.

Do we shed tears over the lost?

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Jesus was weeping over the tragedy of the missed opportunity of salvation. Their answer was walking right there among them and instead of receiving him, they crucified him. This hurt his heart.

In Luke 19 He starts to weep as he approaches Jerusalem and says almost the same thing He said in Matthew 23.

Why was Jesus weeping? He was weeping because He is not willing that any should perish. The Bible clearly says this.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Pet 3:9

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He was thinking of me. He was thinking of you. And He expects us to think of, no, to reach the lost. He’s given that responsibility to us. He wants us to finish what He began. Honoring and loving Jesus by obeying His call to reach the nations is something He has equipped us to do.

Are you thinking about the unreached? Are you weeping for the lost? Are you reaching them? Are you rejoicing when they find salvation?

Danette & lady

If you love Jesus, you will obey his commandments.

FAMILY UPDATE:

Trae and Christi have our precious 1 year old Judah Neal Childs, and have just announced officially that #2 is on the way (major happy dance here).  They are living in Baton Rouge, LA and are working for Pastor Larry Stockstill and Bethany Church.

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We were hoping to take the little guy with us…

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Tanika has graduated from Oral Roberts University with her degree in Special Ed/Elementary Ed and will be going to Nigeria to teach school in Benin City Nigeria in August.

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Tobi is getting ready to start High School at Sahel Academy in Niamey, Niger – he’s an awesome kid.  Here he is with his nephew.

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Clearly, we are blessed.

Just Another Saturday

It started like any old normal Saturday.

Wait.

Rewind.

What is a normal Saturday?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Guess the red car is crossing the bridge too…

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

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

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Headfirst into the sand.

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

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Right in the middle of it.  That poor guy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wedding! Sukala and Rakiya get married. Part 1

My last post was titled ‘The Dowry Has Been Delivered’.  I intended to write lots between then and now, but between our schedule and our internet (slooowww), that hasn’t happened.  So I will now write about the wedding (for which the dowry was delivered), and hope to catch up on other stuff ‘soon’.

Sukala.  He’s been a part of our family since we moved to Niger in 1997.  That means he’s been friends with Trae and Tanika since they were little kids.   Tobi too.  Here they are now.

Trae, Tobi and Sukala

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He’s the guy that saw Tobi take his first steps. MVC-862F

Over the years, through ups and downs, ins and outs and thick and thin, Sukala (his real name is Ibrahim), has maintained a place in our family, referring to us as Mom and Dad.  Neal’s parents are Grama and Grampa, and rightly so.

Though I could digress down several different roads (some paved, some full of potholes)  with lots of stories, I’m going to do my best to stick to the big wedding.  But no guarantees.

As I said in my last post, we met Rakiya last year right about this time when she interviewed for an assistant teaching position in our school.   (Well look at that, I’ve already veered from strictly wedding writing).  Though a tiny slip of a girl, she had a great personality and presence about her.  She was someone who obviously loved children, but had a level of confidence and sophistication that I really liked.  Though respectful, she wasn’t intimidated by us (Neal) =).  When she left our house I said to Neal something along the lines of, “This is exactly the kind of girl Sukala needs.”  You see Sukala isn’t just an ordinary guy.  He loves Jesus with all his heart,  is a musician, is great with kids, has lots of other gifts, is hard working, very generous, can do about whatever  you ask him to or will figure out how, and is part man and part boy.  He’s spastic and I’m convinced he’s an ADHD personality that is heading in the right direction.  Most of the time.   Not the kind of guy for just any girl.

Other than expressing my thoughts to Neal and Erin, the missionary/teacher she would be training under, I mentioned this ‘match made in heaven’ to no one else.  Erin agreed with me and even tried to get them in the same place at the same time whenever Sukala would be helping at the school.  Rakiya would have none of it.

We left for our ‘world tour’ in March, (which I’m still not done blogging about !), and soon Erin left for the US for the summer.  Sometime during the summer, we talked to Sukala by phone and he informed us that he was interested in a girl.

“Who”?  I of course asked.

“The teacher at the school”, he said.

Hopes raising I asked, “Which teacher?”

“Rakiya”.

I maintained my composure on the phone, while grinning very loudly to Neal.  I still said nothing but that we were happy for him, and gave him a few other words of ‘advice’.  “Thanks Mom”, said he and we hung up.  I was quite excited and I told Neal so.  And I offered a prayer of thanks.

The next phone call included the explanation that they wanted to get married.  Wow.  That really was fast.  In spite of the appearance of spontaneity, we were in agreement.  The only stipulation was that it could not be during children’s camp.  Sukala is a huge part of our camps, and to do them without him would be really challenging.  A hardship really.  It was currently July and the camps would be the first 2 weeks of September.

We arrived back to Niger on July 22nd and officially congratulated the happy couple.  The date was set for September 21, and wedding plans were under way.  As well as TTC drama team plans and CLC children’s camp plans.    When I asked Sukala what specifically he wanted me to do, he told me that he wanted me to walk him down the aisle, just like I did with Trae.  I said I would be happy and honored to do that, but also explained that in fact Trae was walking me down the aisle.  But who’s really ‘counting’?

The day quickly arrived.  Friday night, the plan was for Tobi and Sukala to spend the night with Alfred, the ‘other’ best man.  Sukala had been busy all day.  Well, all week really.  One of his biggest responsibilities was to secure a house for he and his new bride.  Sukala has been living in a room on our compound for almost 3 years.  We offered for them to continue living there post-wedding, but Rakiya preferred to get their own place.  Understandably.  So before camp started, Sukala found a place and even paid 4 months rent.  Monday before  the wedding, (we had just returned from camp in Maradi), he went to get the key to his house to begin preparing it, only to find that the landlord – or more likely the guy that is looking for a renter for the owner – decided that he would give the house to someone else while we were gone.  Someone else had already moved in.  Downright mean.  He did get his money back.  Sukala was stressed and the house hunt was on once again.  Wedding: T-5 days.  Having a house was a requirement, because what happens culturally the night of the wedding is that the bride is brought to her husband in the house that he has provided for her.  More on that later…

Long story short and lots of blood, sweat and tears later, a house was secured.  Sukala threw up a paint of coat and we (Neal and I) convinced him that he needed to install a fan in at least one of the 3 rooms.  He argued that he didn’t have money and we argued that we would help. It was HOT and it’s amazing the difference a fan makes when it’s that hot.  I was actually thinking of Rakiya and didn’t want the memory of the first night in her new house to be all about sweating!  The ceiling fan was purchased (this is on Friday) and Sukala asked someone to install it.  Check that off the list.

So Tobi and Sukala were headed to Alfred’s on Friday night.  Here they are just before they left.

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And here’s the next time I saw them – Saturday morning.  Sukala is nervous and Tobi is tired!

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We arrived at the church at 9am for the 9am wedding.  Lots of other people were there too, but it wasn’t yet full.   Weddings  are chronically late but there’s nothing fashionable about that when it’s 150 degrees.  Ok, it’s not that hot, but when you’re wearing lined lace that weighs a ton, it sure feels like it!

Since I was going to be walking Sukala down the aisle (remember, it’s what he wanted), I went out to see him when he arrived and that’s when I took the above picture.  I asked him how he was doing and he just sort of nodded as a tear ran down his cheek.  I don’t think he will mind me sharing…

The sun was hot (have I mentioned that?) so I opened the door, he moved over, and I got in.  A church member loaned Sukala this really nice vehicle complete with driver for the day.  It had AC.  And God bless the driver for letting the vehicle run while we were sitting there.  Waiting.

Waiting for what?  And why the tears?  Well first, lack of sleep.  It’s no mystery there that missing major chunks of sleep over a week will make you feel a bit more emotional than normal.  And normal for Sukala is already emotional.  Because Sukala is almost always ‘up’, he can’t hide it very well when he’s not up. He can’t hide it at all.  Up and bouncy are also his normal.  Unlike myself.  There’s not much variation between my high, medium and low.  So one may not quickly perceive my mood.  But with this guy, it’s easy.   He was fighting tears and feeling very emotional.  And waiting for the bride to show up was not helping.  There were several phone calls back and forth.  They were on their way to the church in two vehicles, one of which apparently had ‘broken’ on the way.  I heard Sukala insist that they leave the broken vehicle there and just come – ‘that you are the one everyone is waiting for.’  I correctly assumed he was speaking to Rakiya. More time passed, people continued to come, the church started to fill up.  I told Sukala some stories from my own wedding to pass the time.  I think Tobi was sleep sitting.  I checked to see if the AC fan in the car was on high.  He was getting agitated because he knew that everyone was waiting for this thing to start.  I assured him that everyone was fine.  Look, people are still coming.  And today, this day, was about Rakiya and him.  People don’t mind.   Finally she showed up – I honestly don’t know if the 2nd vehicle came or not – and he started to loosen up and cheer up.  Relief.

We waited still longer for our cue to begin our walk up the aisle.   My best guess is that so far the wait had been about 30 minutes.   The guests had been singing the whole time.

The time had finally come for this guy to get married!

The car had started to feel pretty warm, but when we stepped outside I realized that comparatively we had been enjoying a refrigerator.

We began our walk into the church compound, took a left and proceeded to walk to the back of the church, from the outside.   Even though the guests were inside, we did the traditionally slow walk – even outside.  Well, Sukala did.  I took off at what seemed a hare’s pace (in spite of my heels sinking into deep sand) when compared to the expected snail’s pace.  Sukala reminded me to slow down.  I then remembered  all the weddings I had been to in Niger where the betrothed walk down the aisle with their supporters at a painstakingly slow pace.  Not exactly sure the reason but I say let them have their day!

I was doing my best to keep time with Sukala and reminded him to smile.  I told him in the car that if he walked in all somber like is traditional, I would walk away.  That’s not the first time he’d heard me say that.  There’s a cultural thing here, even among Christian weddings that I dislike very much.  It stems from Islam.  First, the groom  comes in with a group of his friends escorting him.  And even though they may be excited, throwing confetti and spraying perfume, the groom looks like he’s walking in to a funeral.  The same thing happens with the bride.  That’s one area that we have tried to change in this culture.  Wedding’s are a joyous occasion and should be celebrated as so.  We’ve been told that they walk in with such somberness as a sign of humility.  Anyway, both our bride and groom agreed that they wanted to walk down the aisle in a non-traditional way – smiling.

Here are Sukala and I, finally walking into the church.  Followed by lots of supporters.  The best men are behind us.  If you look closely you’ll see some white specks in the photo.  Those aren’t spots on the lens, it’s the traditionally thrown confetti, thrown by the supporters.  Perfume is liberally being sprayed everywhere!

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And now for the big moment.  Here comes The Bride!  Waiting expectantly.

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Getting closer…

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Almost there….

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Finally!  Time to Praise God and rejoice!!

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It was during this time that my wardrobe issues started.  After leaving Sukala, I walked up to sit down in my seat next to Neal on the platform.  As I sat down, I felt a sudden breeze rush down my back.  My pretty lace top, that zips all the way down the back, came unzipped.  Completely.  Now as refreshing as that breeze felt, I’m pretty sure wearing a backless dress for the wedding would be severely frowned upon.   My mother-in-law to the rescue.  She’s one of those people that will always have whatever you need.  Thankfully she was sitting right by me.  She had a scarf and quickly helped me get it around my shoulders.  I then backed over to her and she began working on the zipper.  It took a couple of tries but we were finally successful.  Fortunately there was no one behind us, and no one else was really paying attention to us anyway.  I don’t think.  I was back together and trying to be careful with my every move so as not to irritate the zipper again.  When I wore this lace in the US, the same thing happened, but with the skirt.   But in defense of the tailors in Niger, (and in my defense as well- it wasn’t too tight!)  their sewing isn’t  the problem, but the materials they have available.  Inferior zippers.

But where were we?

Oh yes.  First a message was preached by Rakiya’s pastor.  Her ‘home’ church is not the same as ours.  In fact one of the great things about this wedding is that it brought 3 large ministries together and everyone had a part.  After today, Rakiya is officially a part of Vie Abondante though, and we’re happy to have her!

I couldn’t find a picture of her pastor preaching – though I thought I took pictures of everything.  Unfortunately I wasn’t as organized as I like to think I am and my camera batter was flashing empty.  I thought about it the night before and was sure the battery was charged.  Think again.  No worries though, isn’t that why I carry a spare?  Insert spare and it too is flashing…empty.  So I was conserving the time I had the camera on.   I spied an extension cord in front of the pulpit and at first dismissed the idea of trying to plug in my charger during the service – right there in front of everyone.  But this was a big event and I wanted pictures.  So as carefully and discreetly as I could (not very, remember I’m wearing  lined lace complete with fragile zipper), I plugged my spare battery in.

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After the message, it was time for the vows, the ‘daure aure’ (Hausa).  Our very own Pastor Nelson was the director of the whole event and he did an incredible job.  He called Neal up to do the knot tying.

“Who gives this woman…” This is another interesting cultural difference (different from American culture).  The father isn’t the one  who does the giving.  It’s a representative for the family.  In the case I think it was an uncle.  Here he is giving Rakiya to Sukala.  Check the packed out church!

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Neal is asking Sukala to move the veil back so we can see her face.  Often we have found that they like the veil to stay in place til the end, but when Neal does a wedding he always asks for it to be ‘opened’.

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What a beautiful bride!  You think Sukala is pleased?

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Repeating the vows.  Neal did the vows in Hausa and I thought he did an excellent job.  He was later told that our Hausa pastors were congratulating him on how good his Hausa was too.   I was right!  The Big B guy is hold a mic so they can be heard.

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Rings.  A tradition not always followed.  But it seems to be getting more and more common.  I’m glad.  Sukala purchased silver bands for both of them.  Notice the henna tattoos on Rakiya.  This is very traditional here.

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Sukala’s ring.

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‘You may kiss the bride’.  Another thing that would be a rare find during a Niger wedding ceremony.  Remember, typically there’s not even a lot of smiling done, let alone looking at each other.  This wedding was unique in several ways.  What isn’t rare though is the whooping and hollering that is done by the guests after the vows are said.  So you can imagine the whooping after the kiss!  (I should note that it was a kiss on the cheek).

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Next, the newlyweds kneeled down and all the pastors that were there came up and laid hands on them and prayed.  Check out the paparazzi!

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Neal then asked Sukala if he wanted to sing.  That’s one of his many gifts.  He certainly did and quickly grabbed the mic and began to sing – leading the guests in some praise.

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While singing, another cultural thing occurred that I realized would be foreign to a foreigner.    When people are enjoying the music/musician, they will come to the front and ‘press’ money on them.  By that I mean one would take coins or paper money and press it on to the person – usually onto the forehead.  Usually that person is sweating  (Niger being the Sahara desert and all), so the money will stay put for a second or 2, then fall to the ground.   Someone designates themselves to collect the money and give it to the ‘performer’.  That’s what the woman in this picture is doing.

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It was now time for the happy couple to make it all official like and sign their marriage certificate.  Here they come up on the platform.  So happy that they are so happy!

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Neal’s signature.

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The groom.

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The bride.

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The Certificate.  It was signed by several pastors.

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One of the choirs singing.  They were great.  There were choirs from 3 churches that sang.

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Here’s the official wedding party.

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The bride and groom and their friends presented.

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The guests were invited to come up and greet the new couple and bring an offering.   Sorry about that pesky fan in so many pics, but believe you me, if you were here you’d totally understand that the fan was a necessity.  No, a requirement!

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The final prayer prayed by our very own Pastor Mercy.  Habibou is interpreting and Pastor Nelson is on the right.

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Mr. and Mrs. Ibrahim Sukala!  Spray confetti and perfume filled the place!

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This would be a good place to talk about names.  It’s all rather confusing really.  A person is given a first name when they’re born.  Typically there are no middle names.  Their last name becomes the first name of their father.  And when a woman marries, she takes the first name of her husband as her last name.  For example, our son Tobi would be ‘Tobi Neal’.  And my name would have changed from ‘Danette Don’ to ‘Danette Neal’.  Simple enough.   However this is Sukala we’re talking about and nothing is ever really simple.  Sukala’s name is really Ibrahim Ismaila.  Sukala’s father was our guard so was around us a lot.  His name  is Ismaila but his nickname is Sukala and he was referred to by both names.   When our Sukala was young, we typically called him Ibrahim, but Ibrahim (Abraham), is a really common name here – something akin to ‘John’.  So when referring to our Ibrahim it was usually followed by someone asking,  ‘Ibrahim Sukala’?  Because of that, we just started calling him Sukala, to make things ‘easy’.  Yea, right.  Now there is also the name ‘Mailiou alou’ in the mix.  I honestly can’t figure out where that came from, except as a form of Ismaila.  So officially, at least according to the marriage certificate pictured above, Sukala’s name is “Ibrahim Mailou Alou”.  Sukala isn’t even there.  But he asked Neal to present he and Rakiya as “Ibrahim and Rakiya Sukala.  So, figure that out!  I have no idea what name their kids will take.

Ok.  Now that we have that all figured out, lets get to some more pictures.  I had intentions of trying to take some nice ‘wedding party’ pics, but quickly realized that wasn’t going to happen.

The crowd followed Mr. & Mrs. Sukala out and EVERYONE wanted pictures with them.  So every time I’d try and ‘set up’ a picture, a bunch more people would photo bomb it.  So I just took as many as I could with as many as I could.  It was quite joyous really.  Except for the heat.  That was nasty.  Especially in my lined lace.  I wore that lace outfit in the US this last summer almost every time we were in a church (a lot), and never had a problem with it.  The skirt just zips up and there isn’t really a waist band or anything.  So it sort of slips down, but it wasn’t a big deal to pull it up every so often.   Today was the first time I wore the lace in Niger (heat).  Churches in the US are freezing and I often wish I had a blanket.  But pulling up that skirt when when you’re soaked with sweat is a different story.  Not trying to be gross – just telling it like it is.  I couldn’t pull it up with just one hand because the lining was stuck to me.  So it was like trying to pull up something that was glued on.  That was a problem because there was never a time that I wasn’t carrying something and I only ever had 1 hand, and sometimes no hands.  I started to feel like I might be looking like a gangsta with my skirt riding way low on my hips.  Fortunately my top came down far enough to cover any indiscrepencies – as long as I didn’t move in a way to make the zipper break and cause everything to come flying out.  And I can assure you, people would be paying attention this time.

Here we are with the happy couple, me showing no sign of how uncomfortable that skirt really was – well, maybe just a little.  (Note to self: only wear lace during cold season).

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Dad

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Mom

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I should mention here that though Sukala’s Dad wasn’t able to make the loooong trip from Maradi to the wedding, his mom was here.  She used to be a cook in our Bible School year’s ago.   Sukala started calling us Mom and Dad quite some time ago, since he really was part of our family.  But this is his mom and we were so thankful she was able to be there.  As you could see with Rakiya’s family, the parents traditionally don’t have much to do with the ceremony.  But they’re busy behind the scenes.

The Moms.

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The brother.

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The Grandparents.

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Pastor Hasimu.  He’s not only been Sukala’s pastor for many years, he is a regional director in Vie Abondante.  So happy he was able to be at the wedding, in spite of the long, hard journey.  And look who’s photo-bombing this one!

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Pastor’s Moctar and Mercy and their family.  Pastor Moctar is Sukala’s pastor here in Niamey, and is the other regional director for Vie Abondante.  However, he isn’t in this photo because he had a previously scheduled trip out of the country that prevented him from being there.  But he was quite involved up to the wedding.

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Pastor’s Nelson and Rose.  They are missionaries from Nigeria and are on the Vie Abondante leadership team.  They have been a huge part of Sukala’s life since he was a boy.

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Here are Jessica and Erin, also missionaries that work with us.  Jess – on the left- works at Sahel Academy (the missions school here) and Erin works in our primary school.  Rakiya was Erin’s teaching assistant last year and she’s the one that was working behind the scenes trying to get these two together.

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Oh, and all he matching outfits?  Another tradition here is for the bride’s family to pick some cloth and the groom’s family to pick some cloth and give the guests an opportunity to purchase the cloth and have an outfit made with it to wear to the wedding to show their support.  I got to be the designated ‘cloth-picker’ and looking at these pictures I think I did a pretty good job!  I was trying to pick something that would favor all skin shades.

More friends!  Nate, Justin, John and Phil.

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Another friend who jumped in to have his picture taken and is obviously enjoying himself!

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This is a candid shot I snapped but didn’t see the flower girls off to the side until I later looked at the pictures.  Those looks are priceless.  They are missionaries here with another ministry and are quite close to Rakiya’s family.

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Here’s a ‘staged’ photo of them.

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And a few more of our handsome groom and beautiful bride.

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Rakiya.  Though it’s been much more popular in recent years, the ‘western’ type wedding gown isn’t what’s traditionally worn here.  Typically they will pick out cloth and have something sewn specifically for their wedding, but it wouldn’t resemble a gown.  It would be more like a skirt or wrapper with a matching top.  The white wedding gowns have become much more popular now, but there is no such thing as a bridal store.  There are a few people that have started businesses that rent wedding gowns.  That’s what Rakiya did.  And it was surprisingly more expensive than what I would have thought.  If memory serves, she paid about $80  to rent her dress.  It is beautiful!

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Are we really married??!!

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Yep!  It’s real.

IMG_6946The getaway car!  No, not really.  It is however the vehicle that took them to the reception that was held at our primary school.  That story, and what happened the rest of the day/night  is going to have to wait for another post.  It was all quite fascinating to me.  I’ve been to lots of Niger weddings, but I’ve never been as closely involved as I was with this one and I can tell you I learned a thing or three!

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God Bless Sukala and Rakiya – truly a match made in heaven!!

Missionary Journey to Nigeria Part 4 — the ‘What’

For quite some time now Neal has had a desire to spend some time in Nigeria – his home – and be a part of what is happening in Church of God Mission International, (CGMI) the ministry founded by the late Archbishop Benson Idahosa.

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English: Papa’s headshot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Neal and his family moved to Nigeria in 1977 and were part of this  ministry for many years.  He’s always dreamed of preaching in Miracle Center and Faith Arena – the two churches he attended.   He also has had a passion to teach in the Bible School that his Dad was the principal  and director of for many years.  That dream has now become reality.

Tobi has been wanting to visit Nigeria for years.  Hard to believe but he’s never been.  He’s having a blast…

As for me, It’s been good to spend some extended time in my husband’s homeland.  The first time I met him we were at Oral Roberts University more than 24 years ago.  He struck me as a bush boy.  One could easily make that assumption when a tall, skinny white guy is heard speaking a language that has some English words in it, but doesn’t sound like English at all.  And when that same skinny guy is oohing and ahhhing over the sheer size of what was downtown Tulsa in 1989 as if it were New York City. That bush boy intrigued me.  I have been to Nigeria before and I have since learned many things about the people and things that have influenced Neal and made him the amazing person he is today.   But it’s been fun to spend some extended time here and to see him fit right back into this niche – even as an adult.

We have felt the Lord leading us to do more teaching on missions and church planting – and recently he’s been opening some doors for us.  This has been a great place to begin!

We arrived on Thursday, January 31st and got settled in.  Friday morning we did things like get SIM cards for our phones, get internet working, and get Neal’s teaching / preaching schedule nailed down.

Miracle Center is the church that Neal attended the most when he lived here.  He also lived on this compound.  The church is the building on the right.

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Here he’s showing Tobi where he lived.  The 2nd floor apartment.

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Neal was invited to preach at Miracle Center on our first Sunday.  So fun!

Here’s the choir.  They were great!

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And the congregation.  They were great too.

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Neal doing one of the things he loves doing most – preaching!

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Great message.  Great response.

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Lot’s of greeting after the service.  This is Bishop Imafidan.  He was the Principal of the secondary school that Neal’s Dad taught in when they first arrived in Nigeria in 1977.

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Bishop Imafidan is explaining to Tobi that he is the one that took his dad to the bush when they first arrived in Nigeria.  So sweet.

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Here’s Tobi and I after the service.

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Next on the schedule was the Bible School.  Neal is privileged to teach in several classes while here.  He’s teaching in the English class of course using English, the Hausa class using Hausa, the French class using an interpreter, and he’s also teaching  in the evening school and the degree class.  Those are in English.  He’s teaching missions/church planting to them all.  Tobi and I went with Neal on one of the days to meet and greet the students.  Here Tobi is greeting the Hausa class – in Hausa of course!

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My prayer has been that our time here would not be just about bringing inspiration, but that true revelation about God’s heart for the unreached would take root and produce fruit.

Neal in the Hausa class.

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We LOVED the chapel service.  Here the choir is singing.

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This is the song the choir sang.  No, those aren’t typos.  This is Pidgin English.  Love it!

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Wish everyone could experience this worship.

We showed our 5 minute video and the students really seemed to enjoy it – but their favorite parts were definitely those of Tobi dancing.  Here I am introducing the video.

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More of Neal preaching – Passion for His Purpose.    An amazing building to preach in.

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The section in front is the French section.  On the other side is the Hausa section.  They are getting interpretation.
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Neal asked for those who were ready to GO – to be passionate for His purposes- to come forward.

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God was speaking to hearts and we were rejoicing!

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This is Rev. Andrew Daniels who is the current director of All Nations For Christ Bible Institute International (ANFCBII).  Here he is praying for the students.

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With Rev. Andrew and Jenny Daniels.  They’re from the U.K. and came to Nigeria around the same time as Neal and his family.

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After chapel we joined the Daniel’s at their house for lunch.

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They’ve been in this same apartment for 30+ years.  Neal’s family lived above them and the layout is exactly the same.  This was Neal’s room – a floor below.

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That same evening, Tobi and I went to the evening class with Neal and greeted the students there too.  They love it when Neal speaks Pidgin English!

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The evening class takes place in the original building at the Miracle Center Compound.  The building above where chapel is held is in another location on the Benson Idahosa University compound.   That’s also where the English class (the largest class with several hundred students) is taught.

More evening class…

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Students concentrating.

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What a day it’s been.

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I’m going to end for now but before I do, I want to say a few words about the impact this ministry and bible school has had across Africa and literally around the world.  Neal’s parents, Ron & Jerry Childs, were an integral part of the Bible School here.  Anywhere you go in West Africa you will find ANFCBII graduates.  And dare I say you will likely find  All Nations graduates and ministry leaders from all of Africa and many other parts of the world.  And if you find grads of this school and you mention Rev. Ron Childs (said very fast), you will likely hear – ‘he was my principal in Bible school’.  The other day we met a pastor that was here visiting from Lagos, Nigeria.  When he found out who we were, he began telling us some specific things he learned from ‘Rev. Ron Childs’ that he uses in his ministry and marriage today.  Generation to Generation.

These pictures are up in the lobby of Faith Arena, showing the history of the ministry.  You can see Neal’s Dad in the middle of the bottom photo, standing to the left of Archbishop Idahosa.  Tobi was pretty proud.

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Here Neal is pointing to himself in this ancient picture – he wasn’t much older than Tobi is now.  His Mom and sister are in the picture too.

Neal with old photo

Next post will be more about our experiences while here.

Missionary Journey to Nigeria Part 3 — The ‘Where’

Ok.  So I haven’t blogged as much as I expected to.  BUT I have gotten lots of other things done.  Namely completing the children and youth ministry curriculum I had been writing.  Done.  Checked off the list.  That’s big.

Our time here in Benin City has been quite amazing.  We’re really having a lot of fun.  And lest anyone think we are ‘suffering for the Gospel’ on this here mission trip, let me set you straight.  First of all, we are receiving royal treatment by our hosts Archbishop Margaret Idahosa and Bishop Feb & Rev. Laurie Idahosa.  And they’re not even here!  They have an incredible staff here running things.  We are blessed!

This is the building we’re staying in.

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Here Neal and Tobi are discussing on our front porch…not sure what about.

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This is our first room – which is lovely.  But our hosts decided it wasn’t big enough for us so they relocated us to an even nicer room.  I don’t have pictures of the new place yet, but I will take some.

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Tobi has his own quarters next to us… He’s busy ‘doing’ school at the moment.

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This is the lobby of our ‘house’.  Our first room is the one on the left.  Tobi next to us.  We are now occupying the 3rd door .  There are 3 more rooms next to us.
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We are eating 3 meals every day.  And the only thing that I do with regard to those meals is nothing.  That’s right.  Nothing.  Not only do I not have to plan them, I have nothing to do with their preparation.  All I do is walk about 100 yards when the proverbial bell is rung.  We have been eating some wonderful African food.  Love it all.  There is nothing that we’ve eaten that we haven’t loved.  Seriously.  And clean up?  We get up from the table and say thank you.  We don’t even clear our own plates!  Tobi is generally a pretty grateful kid, but I’ve taken it upon myself to remind him of what a blessing this all is – and how easy it would be to begin taking it for granted.  He agreed on all counts.  It won’t be until we arrive home that we’ll see if he’s been spoiled.  When we finish a meal will he just walk away from the table?   For that matter – will I remember to prepare the meal?  Jury’s out on that….

Neal and Tobi enjoying ebba.

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Fingers are the preferred utensils for this meal…

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Now lets go for a walk around this beautiful compound, shall we?

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The main house.

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It really is beautiful.

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From a distance.

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Neal hangin’ with Jesus.

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Just thought this was a cute picture of Tobi.

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Nativity

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Tobi with Moses maybe?

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Now that’s a palm tree!

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Really big tree.  Gotta LOVE the tropics.

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Still on the compound.  It has it’s own mini-jungle.

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Did you know that’s how pineapple grows?

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Small…

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Medium…

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Large… Watch out Dole!

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Banana!

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Mango – not ready yet.

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Lemon – I think…

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Small papaya tree.

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Big papaya tree.  I think Neal is shaking it down. Or maybe holding it up.

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Not sure.

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Another not sure.  But it’s pretty amazing.

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As you can see, this is a very beautiful and very large compound.  An added bonus is that I have been able to run here.  Let me ramble a bit about that.  I’m not exactly sure what qualifies one as a runner.  But I pretty sure I’m not one.  However I have developed a kind of love / hate relationship with running.   I should also be clear though that I don’t really ‘run’.  I jog.  Slowly.  In Niger running is a very hot, dry and dirty undertaking.  And finding a place to comfortably run in clothes that are acceptable and comfortable at the same time…lets just say it’s a challenge.  So imagine my surprise when our first morning here I saw one of the staff walking around the driveway.  In runner’s attire.  I brought my workout DVD, assuming there wouldn’t really be a suitable place for running.  I asked around and found that yes, running here would be totally appropriate.  So that evening – off I went.  If I haven’t been clear – I don’t love running.  However – this run was heavenly!  I was still panting and sweaty. The humidity is unbelievable.   But I wasn’t full of red dirt.  The ‘track’ is the paved driveway around the main house.  I’ve been told it’s 1/4 mile in length.  Based on what I know my pace to be, I’m hoping that it is a bit longer than that.  But nevermind.  It’s a lovely pace to run.  As of today I’ve worked up to 10 laps. Then I walk 5.   Tobi runs with me every morning before he starts his school and is up to 6 laps.  Neal has of course asked Tobi why he is letting his mother outrun him…  But really,  what more can I ask for?  A paved and shaded running track, ‘O Happy Day’ pumping into my ears, mini-squirrels running around,  beautiful landscaping and the smell of beautiful flowers at every turn.  No wonder I couldn’t stop at 9 laps today!

Here’s our ‘track’.  This is a staged picture, but you get the idea.

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The sun was setting as we finished our walk around the compound.  You can see it in the distance.

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Here it is up close and personal.

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Next up will be WHAT we are doing.

But if you haven’t figured it out yet, we’re having FUN!

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Missionary Journey to Nigeria Part 2

So.  Thursday.  We were thankful to have arrived at our hotel in Abuja and after an attempt to get fuel we decided to wait until morning – the lines were unbelievable.  I was more than ready to get out of a sitting position.  What I wanted was to be in a horizontal position.  We had to unload everything as it’s just not a good idea to leave things inside a vehicle overnight lest anyone think we left it there for the taking.  We tucked in for the night and enjoyed dinner at the hotel.  On the menu for Neal and Tobi was pounded yam and vegetable soup with goat.  Now I’m sure when I say ‘vegetable soup’ one might think fresh (well probably canned) veggies chopped up in a beef broth with leftover pot roast.  Or  something along those lines.  Au contraire mon ami.  Nigerian vegetable soup consists of what might be described as greens – lots of them –  chopped up and cooked in oil and spices.  Very spicy spices.  And a few other things.  Just the way we like it.  The thing you gotta love about Nigerians is they don’t even question whether you want it spicy or not. Not even if you’re a kid.  It just comes that way.  They are proud of the way they eat and you should be too.  Neal and Tobi were in heaven!  I opted for rice and a similar spicy red stew.  Also got a side of eggs for some protein – which were of course  cooked with freshly chopped habanero peppers.  Steam was coming out of my ears and we were all sniffling.

Tobi had his own room and enjoyed it – wasn’t sure what he’d think at first.  But he warmed up to the idea and then decided it was pretty cool.  Usually when we travel and stay in a hotel, we all cram into one room.  This time a friend of ours made the reservations for us – AND paid for the rooms.  We are blessed!  Not only did he pay for the rooms, he put down credit for us to eat.  He wanted us to eat well so he gave way more than we could eat at dinner and breakfast combined.    He’s a Nigerian that learned of our ministry when we were living in Diffa and would send support up from time to time to Diffa — to the church there.  We’ve been in touch with him since and he’s been such a blessing to us.

We asked  for breakfast to be ready at 7am and were pleasantly surprised when they called our room at 6:55 to say it was ready.  We, surprise surprise,  had spicy, spicy eggs and tea for breakfast.  I created a bit of a scene when I inhaled one of the peppers and it went down ‘the wrong pipe’ as they say.  Wrong is right!  Unbelievably painful.  Neal and Tobi could do nothing but sit there and watch me writhe and choke for about 10 minutes.  Fortunately no one else was eating breakfast…

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We learned the night before that it would be wise to ask our taxi man to come back and lead us out of the city.  The ‘hiccup’ could be whether he would come on time or not.  We were thinking (based on experience) that ‘on time’ would mean 30 or more minutes late.  We asked him to be there by 7:30.  We (by we I mean Neal and Tobi) packed the car before breakfast so  after I finished choking we went outside and to our surprise Mr. Taxi Man was there waiting for us.  Gosh, we are just being blessed all over the place!  We explained to him that we needed to get fuel, knowing he would lead us to the best place to do that.

Not being used to lines for gas, this is where we got in the cue.  There were 6 lines I think.

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We waited for about 15 minutes.  You can see the gate like structures near the road.  They go down the road in one of the lanes for several hundred feet.  That’s where you line up for your fuel.

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Neal was talking with the gas man about the cue and was told that this was in fact no cue at all – but a bit later and in the afternoon it would be backed up for a mile or more.  Once again, we were counting our blessings!

Thought this was a cool tree as we were driving through the city.

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This is about where Taxi man left us.  It was a very well spent $12 and on top of that, we made his day!  Fortunately we were leaving the city while the traffic backed up in the other direction for some serious rush hour.  Pretty impressive road systems though!

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Cool building – probably a mosque.

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Now there’s something familiar…

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Not too long before we were once again down to 2 lanes.  But pretty decent roads!  The challenge was getting by truck after truck.

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Tropics!

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Hard boiled eggs – snack time!  One can find a variety of items for sale on the side of the road.

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Riding can wear one out!

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Another familiar site… Those cows probably came from Niger.

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A mosque on almost every corner….

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But the churches are built on The Rock!

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There were so many crashed vehicles on the side of the road.

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At leIMG_0514ast every 5 – 10 miles.

I just got photos of a few.

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I’m convinced they were left there as a warning…

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Lunch in the city of Auchi at Mr. Biggs.  Mr. Biggs serves Nigerian Fast Food.  It is quite yummy.  Except for the chicken sandwich.  That’s not Nigerian and it’s not yummy.  Tobi and I both got one and had to go back and get the spicy chicken.  Now that’s more like it!  We are loving not having to travel with all our food and water for an entire journey, knowing there will be food to eat along the way.  Good food!IMG_0517

Even more tropical!  Lovin’  all the green!!

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They have quite an impressive compound.

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Palm grove.  Gorgeous!  And so foreign for us desert dwellers.

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Those are some serious logs!  Wasn’t real comfortable hanging behind him for too long!

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Getting closer.
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Benin City!  We have arrived!

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We arrived in the outskirts of the city at about 3:00.  Even though things had grown and changed drastically, Neal could find his way to the Miracle Center Compound where he lived and where the Bible School used to be.  We couldn’t quite make our way to Faith Arena or to where we were staying but Bishop Feb & Laurie Idahosa had made arrangements for us and we were soon settled in to our home for the next 3 weeks.  Which is where I’m writing from now.

Next post will be about our time here thus far.  It’s been great and has brought back so many wonderful memories for Neal.

Shoe Shedders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miracles Meetings in Maradi: Part 2

And so the meetings began.  We were in for some amazing stuff.  As I said, we had no idea how many people would come, but we were hoping for ‘a lot’.  As usual, God did above and beyond.  People came by the hundreds.  They came by the thousands.

But it wasn’t without opposition.     Anytime the Kingdom of Light penetrates the Kingdom of Darkness, there will be opposition.

The first night was amazing.  People came early – of course there were TONS of children, since they were the ones that were targeted with the tickets.  The tickets had a two-fold purpose.  The most important reason was for contact information so after the event the local pastors could follow up.  The plan was for each person to fill out the information and at the entrance that portion of the ticket would be turned in, while the attendee kept the other half for the prize drawing later in the evening.  That was the plan anyway.  But that’s not how it went down….

Here’s Neal talking with the police – explaining that we wanted the people to arrive in an organized way – through the gate.  They are explaining to him that that would not be possible.  All of these people had arrived early – before the gates were officially opened.

So we went to Plan B.   In order for us to get the tickets of those that had already come through the gate, we had to have our security guys and our pastors go through the crowds and collect them one by one.  It wasn’t too difficult, as everyone wanted to be sure they were included.

The JSMI team was ready and the program began.  The Gospel was clearly presented by several members of the team.  They all preached with passion and while they were speaking, video was being shown on a big screen.  In spite of the constant noise and commotion, it appeared that many people were listening intently.

John Smithwick is preaching here about the crucifixion and Pastor Benji is interpreting.

While he was preaching, some of those in attendance were not happy with the Gospel being so strongly preached and they began throwing stones.  One of the stones hit Pastor Benji right between the eyes.  Blood was everywhere, but that didn’t stop the message.  Another pastor jumped right up to interepret while we attended to Pastor Benji.

Through our years in Niger we’ve faced various obstacle and challenges – both personally and in ministry.  Every single time we come out the winner.  So it makes me realize just how stupid the devil really is to keep it coming.  Doesn’t he get it?  This kind of opposition just makes us that much more determined.  What we saw take place was nothing less than an outpouring of God’s love for His people.  The atmosphere was anything but reverent.  But in spite of that, he saved and healed that night, and during the 3 nights after that first one.  We witnessed it first hand.

Before this night, this little boy could only crawl on his hands, dragging his legs behind him.  Jesus healed him!  Here John is holding him up after he ran back and forth on the platform a few times.

Here is video of this 8 year old boy who before tonight could not walk.  Praise God!!!  Pastor Nelson is interpreting.

When we arrived the 2nd night, a few of our security guys had a young boy in tow and brought him to Neal, explaining that this was the boy that used the slingshot and hit the interpreter.  They wanted to know if they should turn him in to the police.  We knew that if the police got ahold of him he would be severely beaten. So we talked to him and at first he denied his involvement.  His name was Mohammed and he was 12 years old.  I sent Tobi to go and talk with him and Tobi just said ‘he’s a nice boy’.    We told him that Jesus loved him and wanted to forgive him if he wanted forgiveness.  He said he did.  Then Neal told him that what was left was for him to ask forgiveness from Pastor Benji, and if Benji forgave him, he was free to go.

Here is Neal talking with him.

Here is Pastor Benji explaining why he is forgiving him.

After this, Mohammed returned to every meeting and during the day whenever we went to the field to prepare things, he was always there, ready to greet us.  We don’t know for sure, but we can pretty safely assume that someone influenced Mohammed to do what he did – maybe even paid him.  We believe his life was truly impacted.  What the devil meant for evil, God threw back in his face!

The rocks continued to fly that night and even I was pelted with one of them.  It was a small thing, but every time I felt that bruise over the next week or two, it made me think of the countless believers in the world today that are seriously persecuted for their faith.  So that was kind of an honor.

I was helping interview those that were coming forward with testimonies of healing.  There was a Fulani boy with his father that came.  The ‘boy’ was 20, but didn’t speak Hausa so his father interpreted for him.  He began to explain to me that the boy hadn’t slept for 7 years.  That every time he tried to sleep, he was tormented and died.  What?  That’s what I said!  So I thought maybe I was missing something in the translation – it’s been known to happen!  So I asked one of the pastors to come and listen.  The pastor repeated back to me in Hausa the same thing.  That the boy died every time he tried to sleep, so he couldn’t sleep.  Couldn’t even nap.  In Hausa I said ‘He died?’  In English the pastor replied ‘dead’ – like that made perfect sense.  So I said do you mean like he’s passed out in a coma like state. ‘Yes, yes’.  So I realized then that he had been dealing with evil spirits.  The reason he came forward to testify on the 2nd night of the meeting was because after he went home the first night, after prayer, he slept.  The whole night.  He had even taken a nap that afternoon.  They were both beaming.  As you can see for yourself!  I asked them if they had received Jesus.  They joyfully said ‘Yes’!  I noticed that they were wearing charms around their necks, very typical of Fulani (and many people groups).  I explained that now that they had Jesus, they no longer needed the charms.  I was quite surprised when Dad reached up and immediately pulled them off.  In our experience, it often takes some time and teaching for them to be willing to give up the charms – their protection.  It was incredible!!

This man was healed of knee problems.  According to him, it had been 2 years since he had been able to bend like this.

This woman said she had had a tumor on her right arm and hadn’t been able to lift it up like this.

This man had been deaf.  Past tense!

Miracle after miracle.  Each night.  The Muslims were so upset by the meetings that they began preaching on the radio that this was all false.  First, it wasn’t God doing the healing, because He’s the one who made them sick.  Then they began reporting that the miracles were staged – except that God began healing some of them!  They couldn’t deny that.  In fact they began searching out some of the pastors – asking for prayer!

What an incredible thing this has been for Tobi to be a part of.  He has no doubt that God is our healer!!

He even got to be part of the band!

On the last day there was an additional meeting – a children’s crusade.  It was great and kids from all over the city came.  They came early.  Very early.  A boys bike and a girls bike were among the prizes that would be given away.   That’s a great gift – even for an adult!  There were clowns and dramas, the Gospel was again presented and many hands went up to receive the free gift of Jesus.  Then the sick were prayed for.

To the person who wasn’t aware of what was going on, the whole thing at first glance would look like mass chaos.  In the spiritual realm, a battle was raging. The devil was mad and the evil spirits were getting very riled up.  God was moving.

Neal took some time after the team finished praying for salvation and healing to encourage people to find a church to get plugged into.  He was also declaring over the people that we have life because of Jesus and that Jesus is our healer.  There was a group of ‘rabble rousers’ in the crowd and they began cursing him.  Can you say ‘Book of Acts?’  It was an awesome thing to be a part of!

After it was over, we went to the field the following morning to pack up/take down.  There was still a large crowd of children.  I began talking with them and they first told me that they didn’t get a gift – they didn’t win the bike.  I told them that they may not have won the bike, but that they received the greatest gift of all – Jesus.  One child quickly agreed and said ‘Yes! He’s here in my heart!’

After the team packed up and went home, we continued to hear testimonies of healings come in – from Muslims.  We heard 2 specifically who said they had spent all the money they had on doctors and witch doctors over several years – with no success.  But after coming to the rally – they were completely healed!  Isn’t this exactly what Jesus told us to do?  Lay hands on the sick and they will recover.  He also told us that these signs will follow those that believe.  If you believe, these signs can follow you also!  Praise God!

Last month at our annual ministry meeting held in Maradi, we heard testimonies from many pastors saying that there were new people coming to all of the churches because of the JSMI meetings.  Great reports!

We thank God for JSMI for obeying God and truly coming where others have not wanted to come – knowing the resistance that could be possible.  And there really was resistance.  But the power of God broke through and His message was spread throughout the entire city in a matter of 4 days.

Take that devil!!

Out of the mouth of…Tobi

I’m hot!!  In a high temperature sort of way.  You’d have to ask Neal if that adjective describes me in any other way…

That has nothing to do with today’s post, but it’s how I’m feeling, so I’m just going to say it.  I’m hot most of the time (and I’m not alone) but for goodness sake it’s 93.2 in our office right now.  And I am counting!  Sweat is rolling down my back and this leather chair doesn’t help that situation.  I just put a pan of enchilada’s into the oven in my 150 degree kitchen.  It really heats up with the oven on.  If I don’t stop now I’m going to have to get some cheese with my whine…

The other night I was putting Tobi to bed and I can’t remember what actually led to the discussion, but we began talking about hearing God’s voice.  He asked me what God sounded like.  I told him I wasn’t sure…how’s that for a spiritual answer.  Anyway, I said that though God could speak out loud, he normally spoke to us in our hearts.  So maybe He sounds like us.  I thought that was pretty good logic.

“Nope”, he replied.  “I think God sounds like Dad.”

“Maybe you’re right”, was all I could think of to say.  Genius!

“How do we know God is speaking to us?”

I preceded to explain to him that for me, it just kind of comes like a thought that’s not my own.  Then I remembered a great example.  I told him that even though we hadn’t talked about it at all that  I had a ‘thought’ when we were in church about Tanika’s wrist being healed during praise and worship.  I reminded him that my thought came right there when I was standing next to him while he was drumming.

“And you didn’t tell me?” he asked, in a very disappointed tone.

“Ummm, no I didn’t.  Sorry.  I just thought it would be cool if that happened, and then I continued singing.”

“You should have told me.”

Point taken.  Next time I’ll remember that.

The next question was, “What will God say to us?”  I asked if he had ever been in a situation at school where a friend wanted him to do something that he knew was wrong, and then had a funny feeling in his tummy, because he knew it was wrong.  Or, a time that he was tempted to lie, and didn’t feel good about doing it.

“Yes.”

“Well”, I said, “That was the Holy Spirit telling you those things weren’t right”.

“No”, he said, very matter-of-factly, “that was just me because I knew those things weren’t right.”

Imagine where the world would be if we were all that smart!!

It’s finally clicking

Tobi.  As you know if you’ve read “Tobi’s Literalisms”, he’s a pretty funny guy.  He has a lot of wonderful qualities.   In fact I was talking with his teacher last weekend and I asked how he was doing – basically if he was behaving himself.  She said this:  “Tobi is such a lovely boy.  He’s really wonderful.”  I asked because when I asked him if he’s obeying his teacher he said yes, but he said it with a bit of hesitation.  I knew the hesitation wasn’t because of something terrible he’d done, but I knew he felt he needed to confess something.  The guy looks guilty if he steps on an ant.   “What is it?” I asked.  “Well”, he said, “Sometimes I laugh when I’m not supposed to.  I can’t help it – Ezzi makes me laugh all the time.”  I explained that laughing was good but he need to control it and laugh only at the right times and not distract the class.  He said it was hard, but he would try.  So obviously, he’s not really a problem in class.  Last year I realized that he loved school – everything about it, except for the pesky academics that is.  Those he could do without.  I began teaching him to read years ago.  I then began to wonder if he’d ever catch on.  He started doing better last year, but still not where I felt he should be.  Trae and Tanika were both very easy to teach to read and they caught on right away.  With Tobi, there were many tears.  Mostly his.  We kept at it and found that he is motivated by rewards and competition.  The rewards just needed to be a sticker chart with a small prize after receiving a designated number of stickers.  The competition came by reading more books and filling up more book lists than his friends.  We continued plugging along this summer while school was not in session, much to his dismay I might add.  He has just finished his 4th week of 2nd grade and I think he’s finally getting it.  He doesn’t dread books anymore.  He’s only allowed to bring 1 book home from school each day, which bugs him, because he can’t get ahead of his friends.  But we have a sticker chart at home and he wants to fill it up.  He gets a prize after every 50 stickers.  I told him today that he could get 1 sticker for every book read, and that he could choose the book (knowing he has quite a few very simple books).  He immediately went to his room and began reading.  After a few books I joined him.  He had already read 3 books and began reading one to me – quite a long book, much more difficult than he usually reads.  But he did great, cruising through some pretty challenging words.  He even seemed to enjoy the story.  I encouraged him – told him I was proud of him for picking such a hard book.  He smiled his half smile and said, “I picked it because I wanted you to be proud of me.”  Was I ever thankful that I told him exactly that!  And proud I was.  What a guy.  I’m also thankful that the reading thing is finally clicking.  Now I have to work on the monotone voice he likes to use.