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


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?”


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.


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


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!


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


Getting closer…


Almost there….


Finally!  Time to Praise God and rejoice!!



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.


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!


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’.


What a beautiful bride!  You think Sukala is pleased?


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.


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.


Sukala’s ring.


‘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).


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!


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.


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.


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!


Neal’s signature.


The groom.


The bride.


The Certificate.  It was signed by several pastors.


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


Here’s the official wedding party.


The bride and groom and their friends presented.


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!


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


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


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).






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.


The brother.


The Grandparents.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


Here’s a ‘staged’ photo of them.


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


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!


Are we really married??!!


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!


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

Fruit The Remains – Reminiscent Thoughts

In my last post I intended to write specifically about my reminiscent thoughts during Campmeeting.  However, I went off on a very long tangent about our car breakdown on our way back from Diffa in October – so it wasn’t really about camp meeting at all.  I will now attempt to remember and record  what was going on in my head during Campmeeting weekend…

We left on a Friday morning and completed our journey uneventfully in under 9 hours.  (The uneventful part is what got me off track in the last post).  We had dinner with the Jorgensen’s and were then off to the first meeting.  It was so much fun to just ‘show up’.  Our Vie Abondante Pastors had done a great job and all the groundwork was done.  People were in from the villages, they were all registered, sleeping arrangements were made, seating was all set up, lights were lit, food was prepared for the hundreds gathered there,and sound and instruments were ready.  The only thing we had to do was help put up the banner.  And that’s only because we brought it with us.  I found myself just looking around grinning at the gathering crowd.  Of course I loved seeing all the children in from the villages that were part of kids camp,  held in this same place.  Most of them had on their camp shirts.

I’ve already written about the events and speakers of Campmeeting.  You may remember the theme was ‘Fruit That Remains’.  But looking around at all those people – all those children – it really got me thinking.   Is my life producing fruit that remains?  Because if it’s not, what’s the point?  Really.

I may have been feeling somewhat melancholy partly because I was a bit under the weather.  That always puts me in a pensive mood.  As great as the evening was I felt worse as time went on.  I was somewhat suspecting I might have malaria but since I didn’t have the typical symptoms (severe headache, high fever), I kept ignoring that.  To be honest, I’d been feeling rather ‘yucky’ for a few weeks.  That’s probably why I just kept going – yucky became my new normal.  Maybe it’s because Maradi was colder, or maybe it was the long journey, but I definitely felt extra yucky.  I knew Dani (missionary colleague) had malaria testers so I went to her place after the meeting.  She pricked my finger and sure enough the little tester showed up positive for malaria.   In Niger, Malaria is one of those things that is par for the course.  It’s not that we expect to get it – as we believe we walk in divine health – but it does show up from time to time.  As terrible as it is (one of the leading causes of death here), it’s not all that ominous if treated properly.  The reason so many people die of malaria is either because they can’t afford an effective treatment ($6-$10), or their immune systems are non-existent because of malnutrition (which is also a financial issue).  Since we are in Niger long term, we have chosen not to take any prophylaxis (preventative) just because of possible long term side effects.  So we are always on the ready to treat for Malaria if symptoms arise – even if we can’t be tested.

Well as I said, I didn’t have the typical malaria presentation.  I’m kind of weird that way though.  I’ve actually tested for malaria 3 times and every time the test is positive.  There have been a couple of other times I treated for it without being tested because I actually had the ‘normal’ symptoms and was in bed.  The times I’ve tested positive I was just not feeling right and I went on like that for awhile…weeks.  What I need to do is test when I’m healthy to make sure I test negative!

Anyway….back to Friday night.  Positive test – start treatment.  ‘Treatment’ sounds complicated but it’s easier than a course of antibiotics.  It’s just 2 pills for 3 days.  Went to bed.  Felt worse on Saturday morning but was determined not to miss the meetings.  After all that is why we made that 9 hour journey!  And I really dislike missing out on stuff that everyone else is experiencing.    Apparently I looked worse as well – judging by the comments and compassionate (pitiful) looks people were giving me…Made it through the 4 hour meeting and was glad I was there – even if I was thinking about a bed.  Went back to our room at the Jorgensen’s where we were staying and slept.  I really wanted to go to the evening meeting.  Neal highly recommended I stay home.  I thought maybe if I just got there, I could sit and enjoy what was going on, even if I couldn’t participate much (in our church – participation is required!).  Departure time 15 minutes and I still hadn’t made up my mind.  Neal left the room, ready to go.  I suddenly made a decision to go.  I began getting ready – putting on my camp meeting clothes – and it was during that process that I realized the fever must really be affecting something in my brain if I thought I could  go to the service.  I was sweaty and out of breath by the time I got dressed and had to sit down.  What was I thinking?  Neal walks back into the room and sees me sitting there, dressed,  and says, “You’re going?”  I just said,  ‘No, I just felt like getting dressed so I could be there in spirit.’  Then I told him he was right and that as much as I hated it, I’d stay home.  The main reason for my decision (other then feeling like I was going to pass out just by the act of getting dressed) was because I was the first speaker for the next morning, and I wasn’t going to miss that!  The hardest part was when everyone was leaving and I was left at home – alone.  I decided to do what I never do by myself – I watched a movie!  It felt funny at first knowing everyone else was in church, but it passed the time and kept my mind off of, well, whatever.  Why didn’t I just sleep you ask?   The ‘treatment’ affects people differently but for me – there’s some insomnia involved.  Nice, I know.  Feel cruddy, can’t sleep.  Thus, the movie.

The troops returned with reports of a great meeting – even without me there- and  off to sleep we went.  And I was actually able to sleep.  Sunday morning I woke thanking God that I was feeling much better- not 100%, but much better.

My message for that morning was ‘Preparing the soil’.  I started out with Psalm 127 – Our children are a heritage from the Lord.  A heritage is something precious that is passed down.  I even brought a beautiful silver teapot that had been passed down to us from Neal’s Grandparents via his parents.  Now Tobi is wondering if he’s going to get it!  When we consider our children as precious gifts, we need to care for them accordingly.  And part of that care is preparing their soil to be able to receive and grow good seed.  A seed is a seed no matter how you look at it.  If you plant a seed in good soil, it will grow.  But that same seed planted in bad soil won’t produce anything.  So we have to make sure the soil (heart) of our children is good!  That was the overall ‘gist’ of my message.

Neal and I have been talking about being generation minded for quite a few months now.  It’s really been on our hearts.  Maybe because we’ve been in Niger for quite awhile.  Or maybe it’s because we’re getting older and realize the time to make our life count is getting shorter with every day.  Or maybe it’s simply because of the command Jesus gave us when he told us to go and bear fruit – fruit that remains.  John 15:16   Well all that talk got me missing my kids.   We  have 3 of them – but 2 are now in the U.S.  Being in Maradi always makes me miss them more because that’s where they grew up.  Now that the youngest is nearly 13, I’m wishing we would have had more.  Because they are our seed.  Our fruit.

Neal and I began reminiscing about our kids because we really were missing them.   The fact that I had malaria didn’t help.  That always makes me a bit melancholy. I almost felt myself wanting to get panicky because Tobi is growing so fast. Being in Maradi, we talked about our days living here, when the kids were little.  Though they are great kids, they were not without challenges.  But those challenges could always be met with prayer and God’s Word.  And that’s not just a ‘pat answer’… it’s the truth.  The older the kids got, the more we realized the power of prayer in their lives.  We were thinking about the amount of time they consumed, that they sometimes made us crazy, and sometimes they made us downright furious.  Then Neal said – ‘But our kids were fun.  Even during those times.  I can’t imagine life without them.’  And it’s true.  We would be different people today if we didn’t have these treasures that had been gifted to us.

So now we are working on transitioning to a new phase in our life.  I don’t want to mourn the loss of childhood but I want to embrace with joy what my kids are becoming.  I rejoice in seeing them walk out the plan and purpose for which God created them.

And if anyone is wondering about our kids…

Tobi is 12 and is an amazing young man who loves people and loves God more.  He even has his own page on this blog.

Tanika is a wonderful 20 year old sophomore at Oral Roberts University.   Her unique personality includes both compassion and a tell-it- like-it- is truthfulness. She draws both children and adults and is  studying Special Ed/Early Childhood Development – she was made for this!

Trae is a 21 year old new graduate (this month) of Oral Roberts University with a degree in International Community Development and a minor in Business.  He was married this past summer to the amazing and beautiful Christi Dunagan (now Childs) and together they are pursuing God’s plan for their lives.  (Another reason to rejoice – I wanted more kids, now I have one!)

Enjoy your children as the treasure they are!

More Campmeeting, but I digress…

I’ve already written about Campmeeting.  It was a great weekend of ministry and fellowship.  But now I feel like writing about my reflections during that time.

We left on Friday morning at 7 for the hopefully 8 or 9 hour journey.  Any longer than that, it means there was an ‘issue’.  Usually either personal vehicle, another vehicle or road related.  And since our last several trips have turned into time/money consuming issues, we were really believing God for the best.  We were holding our breath… Our last roadside experience was a frozen gear differential.  Our 4Runner sat motionless on the road while we played Uno in the bush, waiting for help.   Our Mechanic in shining armor came to our rescue (from 140 miles away, chauffeured by Jonathan, our missionary colleague.  He recognized the problem from Neal’s description and though we thought we were gong to have to be towed (and that experience would be worth it’s own post), he brought the part and tools (well, most of them) needed to fix our vehicle right on the road.  While we all waited.  And even though it was dark when it was finished, it was a much better alternative than Jonathan’s Toyata Prado pulling our Toyota 4Runner over in the dark on a road that one ought not be traveling on at night.  We know.  We’ve done it.

Here are the guys, making the best of it.  It doesn’t even look hot.  Take my word for it, it was! We’re just good at covering it up.

You can see the stranded 4Runner  here.  At least we were by some shade.

No movement at all was the best way to combat the heat.

We were waiting for a few hours, so we had to follow the shade and re-set up camp across the road.  Nothing like a game of ‘BUSH UNO’  to pass the time.

We were pretty thankful with our decision to buy all these hand woven mats from our Fulani friend in Diffa.  Who knew?  If you look closely, you will see a couple of ladies walking by on the road, carrying grass (animal feed) on their heads.

Jonathan arrived with Muritala, our mechanic.  He and Neal had to drive to the next village for a few supplies – gas, plastic bags…Don’t ask me,  I’m not a mechanic.

The work begins.



as the sun begins to set.

Guys return with the ‘stuff’.

It was beautiful, but darkness was upon us!


Here’s the offending part.  The gear differential.  This little thing prevented our vehicle from moving 1 inch.  Reminds me a little bit of some advice given to us in the Book of James – something about a bit and a horse and a ship and rudder…

Darkness indeed came.  But Jonathan had his trusty torchlight and the repair was made.

We left Diffa at 7am and arrived in Maradi at 10pm.  A 9 hour trip morphed into a 15 our trip.  We always say – ‘It could have been worse’.  In spite of the frustrations, there are quite a few benefits we can find if we really look!  If nothing else, it gives me something to write about!

This post started out to be my reflections during camp meeting.  Somehow, it took a turn.  I’ll reflect next time.

Vie Abondante Campmeeting 2012

Last weekend was our annual Vie Abondante Campmeeting.  For those of you who don’t know, Vie Abondante is the name of this ministry and it means ‘Abundant Life’.  We’ve been having these camp meetings in various shapes and forms since 1999.  It’s a time when believers from all 30 of our churches across the country gather for fellowship and teaching.  For many of them, it’s the only time of the year they see believers from other villages.  It’s a great encouragement because they can see that though the church in their village  may be small, THE church is not small.  They are not alone in their decision to follow Jesus no matter the cost.  And oftentimes, that cost is more than you or I could even imagine.  They are also encouraged and their vision expanded as they hear testimonies about all the things that are going on in the nation through Vie Abondante.

Everyone ‘lives’ at the Maradi church compound for 3 days.  They take turns cooking, sleep very little (wherever they can find room), talk a lot, encourage each other and just have an old fashioned good time.

Each year a theme is chosen for the camp, and this year’s theme was:

Fruit that Remains

You did not choose me but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit…fruit that will last.  John 15:16

This is an encouraging time for us as well, because it allows us to see the growth of the ministry.  When we first started the camps in 1999, the missionaries would make trips back and forth to the villages to bring people to and from.  It was a huge undertaking, planning all the meals and making arrangements.   Things have come a long way (and grown)  since those days as now we have some great leaders and pastors that do all the preparation/planning and the campers come on public transport.  This year camp was held in Maradi, in the middle part of Niger.  That meant that many traveled as far away as a 10+ hour bus journey both from the east and the west.   In vehicles like this…

On roads like this…

I don’t have a picture to see how hot that journey is….you’ll just want to take my word for it.

We usually have guest speakers come both from the U.S. and Nigeria and they share the speaking times – and we’ve had some powerful guests over the years!  It’s always amazing how even though the speakers have never met, the Word they bring is harmonious.

This year, however, we decided to make it a family affair.  Neal organized a schedule that included all of the leaders and Executive Council as speakers.  Twelve in all.  I loved it!  Our camp theme was ‘Fruit That Remains’.  A topic that is near and dear to our heart at the moment.  If we don’t have something that will remain, what are we even doing here?

We arrived on Friday (after our own 9 hour road trip – in our air conditioned vehicle) to camp registration already completed.  Pastor Hasimu and his leadership team did a great job.  We brought the banner and here’s Neal helping hang it.  That’s about all we had to do as far as on ground preparation.  As you can see, Neal is ‘supervising’.

I wish I could include a video sound bite of each of the speakers, but I can’t.  So pictures will have to do.

Rev. ‘Daddy’ Ron Childs (my dad in law) started out the first night.  The night meetings were held outside, and the morning meetings were in the church.

Praise and worship time is always a highlight.  These are Gourmantche believers worshiping God with all their heart.

First up on Saturday morning was Rev. “Mommy” Childs. (my mom in law), giving examples of fruit that remains: Mark and Timothy.

Ginger Jorgensen, director of the Vie Abondante Primary School in Maradi,  brought a great testimony about the school and it’s fruit.

Everyone brought a different piece of the puzzle as to how to have fruit that remains.  Here’s Jonathan Bowden.

Carol Belec one of our primary school teachers, asked the question – ‘what kind of fruit are you?’

Following Carol, there was a dancing ‘break’.  Anytime is the right time to dance before the Lord!

Pastor Moctar was up next – he’s one of our national leaders. He’s on the right.  Pastor Abdu is interpreting.  The language groups represented were Hausa, French, Gourma, Zarma and English.  So lots of interpreting was required.

During the morning meeting, there was also a mini children’s camp going on for the kiddos.

Delfin and Johnson lead these services.

Sweet boy…

First up Saturday evening was Rich Jorgensen.  He focused on the fruit of love.

Then the choir sang.

 Pastor Hashimu, the camp director ended the night with a message about laying a good foundation.

All the time is the right time to dance before the Lord. This happens to be  Sunday morning.

I was the first speaker up on Sunday and my message was about the importance of preparing the soil (heart) to receive the seed.  Here, I’m using a silver teapot we inherited to show that our children are a heritage from God.

Children’s services continue…

The Bitty Bowden’s, Isaiah & Anna joining right in the fun.  And let’s be clear, they are not tomorrow’s missionaries, they are missionaries today!  They really are as adorable as they look.

Erin Grove, a teacher in our Primary School in Niamey, shared a great testimony – children’s lives are being changed.  And yes, she is as sweet as this picture makes her look.

Pastor Zabeiru encouraged everyone with a power-packed message.  The campers were inspired by his boldness.

More choir

Don Powell’s message was about the process of bearing fruit.

A cool, colorful photo.

Adorable young lady.

Pastor Nelson – sometimes we have to fight (overcome the giants) to get to the fruit.

 Times of prayer.

Grace – the bittiest Bowden (and youngest missionary) with Dani, her mom.  She’s cozy!

Sweet times of consecration before the Lord.

The children sang at the final meeting.

Neal preached the final message – ‘Passing it on to the next generation.’

Outside crowd.

All our pastors and their wives were prayed over.

Then the pastors in turn prayed for all the people in attendance.

Another camp, marking the end of another year is over.  We had an uneventful (thankfully so) 9 hour journey home on Monday morning and all the campers returned to their respective homes on Monday as well.  But whether we traveled from near or far, everyone was returning home encouraged by the fellowship and challenged by the message.  Am I bearing fruit?  And is it fruit that will remain?

What about you?

You did not choose me but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit…fruit that will last.  John 15:16

TTC & Vie Abondante The Finale. Finally.

I know, I know.  Will there ever be an end to this drama?  Pun intended.

The team is now home – and I’m still writing!  Just so much to say.  Thing is, we’re also getting ready to travel.  We’re leaving tomorrow morning for Benin Republic.  We’ll spend the weekend in Cotonou where we’ll minister in our friend Rev. Joseph Nwobodo’s church.  Then  Monday we’re off to Grand Popo – to the beach!  And by beach I mean the real thing –  complete with ocean and all.  I enjoy sand a lot more when it’s accompanied with a large body of water.  Quite looking forward to getting out of this dust for a bit.  In spite of the 2 day drive on rough roads.  But one thing we’ll be giving up is the dry weather.  It’s hot now, but it’s also dry.  Benin will be humid.  Very humid.  But it will be tropical.  But I digress.  Let me get back to the story at hand…

The youth meeting on Friday was great – and Saturday was just as powerful.

Neal and Scott opening the meeting.  They’re both wearing dresses.

TTC performing King of Hearts

Vie Abondante performing Thank You.

The youth responded to the call to GO into their world with the Gospel.  It was a powerful time of impartation.

Our pastors were very encouraged by the youth.  One of my favorite parts of the day was when Scott had everyone learn the sign language to the chorus of ‘Thank You’ and then he asked everyone to go and thank people that made a difference in their lives while the song was being played.   As soon as the music started, it’s almost as the youth all rushed together as one over to where all the pastors were standing – to say thank you.  A teary moment and one that I believe had great significance.  Here they are.

Then there was a time of prayer where the TTC team prayed for the Vie Abondante team.

The next generation was there to.  This is Bulus and Abigail – children of 2 of our pastors.  They responded to GO as well.

TTC & Vie Abondante.  What a team!!

It wasn’t over though.  Sunday morning we took the team to 2 of our churches in town.  First, it was Vie Abondante – Ali Dan Tsoho

Then it was on to Vie Abondante Maradi to minister with more dramas.  The people loved it – even though we went beyond the normal time to dismiss.

Taylor, Nichelle, and Emily have collected several kiddos they’d like to take home.

At the end of the service, the church prayed for TTC.  It was a special time.

After the service, TTC leaders met with Vie Abondante pastors and youth leaders to talk about how to continue what’s been started.  The training provided tools and now our youth will use those tools and will do greater things than any of us could have done alone.

For lunch, we headed to the French Club.  The term ‘French Club’ could conjure up all kinds of images  – likely none of which are correct as it applies here.  I didn’t get pictures of Neal & Scott playing tennis on the clay court but I wish I would have.  Actually, video (at least sound) would have been even better.  They used to play each other many, many years ago.  Who thought they’d ever play tennis together in Niger!  Here’s where we ate – and you can see the lovely pool in the background.  And it really was lovely.  Too cold for me to go in until I commandeered Emily to work out with me so we’d stay warm.  We did dorky laps.  Sort of.

Now, not just any French Club comes equipped with camel rides.  This one doesn’t either.  But Mainassara, the man who has worked at the club for over 30 years, was able to contact some friends in a nearby village and they brought a couple of their camels over for our team to ride.  If you’ve ever been on a camel before, you know it’s just for a photo op.

Pretty sure Taylor is loving it.

Josiah – and that ‘saddle’ really is that uncomfortable.  And crooked.


Keagon.  Ride ’em —-cowboy?  Check out the guy on the left.  Wonder what he’s thinking…

Look Ma!  No hands!

Emily – really, she’s enjoying this.  I have no idea what’s up with the santa hat though.

And the fearless leader.  I think.

Take The Challenge!  I’m talking about serving God, not riding a camel.

This is the SIM guest house – their home away from home away from home.  One is never too old to enjoy the merry-go-round.  I take that back.  I’m too old for that.  I can NOT spin like that.  But looks like they’re having fun!

Monday morning we packed up for our return trip to Niamey.  It was a long one.  It was without incident, if you don’t count being asked for papers at the police checkpoint and having to return to Maradi to renew our insurance and start out again 2 hours later.  But we made it.  If you want pics of that – refer to the previous post about our journey here.  Not sure which one that was.

Tuesday morning Scott taught 4 hours at our Bible school, while I took the team to the National Mussee.  They saw some cool stuff, saw some crafts being made and did some shopping.  Didn’t take any pictures because frankly, I was tired of carrying my camera around.  We met Scott and Neal to finish up souvenir shopping then had lunch at Chez Chin – yep, a Chinese restaurant.

After that, we took the team to see our primary school.  It’s a great vision and a work in progress.

All too quickly it was time for everyone to pack up and get ready to say goodbye.  Several of our pastors came by to do just that.

Jenga – passing the time before going to the airport for the 12:45am flight.

It was pretty hot… and this was with the AC running – the one you see at the top of the picture above.

Here we all are together.

Some sad faces ready to go to the airport…or not.

Me and the girls.  And what great women of God they are!

This is the temperature on the porch after we got back from the airport.

TTC has arrived home and our team members have returned to their villages and homes.  But no one has returned the same.  God used each of them to effect the lives of each other.  And they have all made an impact on the nation of Niger.  And this is only the beginning.

To God be the glory great things He has done!

TTC & Vie Abondante Part 10

I don’t yet know how many ‘parts’ this saga will have.  But I’m glad I’m taking the time to document much of what is going on.  I wish I would or could do the same for everything that goes on.

After 5 days of workshops and discipleship, the seminar finally arrived.  Youth coming in to Maradi from 17 different villages.  There weren’t as many as were at the Niamey rally because many of them had school on Saturday.  But there was a good group – about 120.

The meeting started with the ‘GO’ drama being performed by the TTC and Vie Abondante team together.  It was awesome!  Here they are outside the church, waiting to make their appearance.


Neal and Scott explaining the drama .

More drama – the Gospel preached without words.

Josiah brought the message at the first meeting – identity – knowing who you are in Christ.

What one puts on, one must take off.  Not an easy (or painless) job.

Several of our pastors came to support the event.

As can be seen, it wasn’t just youth that came.  There were several children that enjoyed the meetings as well.

As promised, here’s a picture of Scott in his dress.

It was Emily’s turn to preach for the evening session.

Then some more dramas.  The Sin Chair

The Vie Abondante team ministering.  So proud of them!  And the crowd loved to see their peers doing this stuff!

See our proud TTC members giving cues and taking pictures from the back.

Neal and Pastor Hasimu closing the program.

This would be as good of place as any to interrupt myself and the chronological writing style of these posts…

I mentioned a few posts back that the heat was returning in it’s true form. That was on Thursday.  But then the dust rolled in and cooled things way down again.  I didn’t live during the Oklahoma and Texas dustbowl days, but this may have rivaled what it was like.  And it was as dusty inside as it was out, since the glass on the windows are louvres, and they don’t really close.  Even if they did, this fine (and by fine I don’t mean lovely) dust would find it’s way in.  We would wipe tables and counters down so we could eat/write/work etc.  Only to find that an hour later part of the lovely Sahara Desert had sifted it’s way into our living quarters.

This is the countertop 1 hour after being cleaned.  So much for dusting once a week!

Here’s what it looked like outside.  That’s not fog, it’s dust.

But the dust cover did keep things cooler.  So for a change I wasn’t desperate for a shower because I was hot  and sweaty, but because I was filthy dirty.  At any rate, this cool weather was a distinct difference for March.  And that’s been nice, because even though hot season started, it kind of stopped for a bit  – which gives it sort of a delayed start.  That makes it shorter.  And that’s a very good thing.

It took most of today to upload these videos so I want to post them here.  Pictures are great, but the sights and sounds of video – well, those are even greater.  Now someone needs to invent a media to communicate smells too…

This first one was the beginning of one of the workshop sessions.  Praise and worship.  We’re singing about being a soldier of Jesus – I’ll testify of Jesus wherever I go – No one will hinder me – Because I am a soldier of Jesus.  As you can see, understanding the language was not a requirement to be involved.

This next video is more praise.  In the beginning they are reminding the devil that he has no power – sin has no power – sickness has no power.  BUT – Jesus is all power.  You’ll have no trouble seeing when that part of the song starts.

And finally, the well.  The team is doing a drama at the well to ‘advertise’ our meeting that would soon take place.  Here we see how sin separates us from God.  After this, I got into quite a discussion with the women at the well – but I’ll save that for another blog post.

That’s it for now, but next up is Saturday, Sunday, our journey back to Niamey, and the team’s departure.  At the moment of this writing, they are somewhere in the air between Paris and the US.  Miss you guys!

TTC & Vie Abondante Part 9

Thursday was much the same as Wednesday.  The team went to the village of Kwadarawa and had a great time of ministry.  The difference is the heat.  Niger is returning to it’s normal state during hot season.  Still not as hot as it could be, but it’s getting there.  Everyone is coping well.  There are a few sniffles – it’s extremely dusty.  Hard really to describe what the dust is like.

Back on the homefront.  Which at the moment is the SIM mission guesthouse.  Our food is being provided by some Niger ladies who started a catering business called Circle of Hope.  It’s been a huge blessing to have our food not only prepared but delievered right to our table.

Then there’s cleanup.  Girls day.

Guy’s turn.


Then there was the lizard.  Gecko to be exact.  He was in the girls room.  Poor guy.  He was just doing his job, eating the other critters.  But Taylor was not appreciating him at all.  And she was doing that loudly.  Josiah and Keagon to the rescue.  Ok, Nichelle was trying to help too.

I told Jo to just grab him right as I realized that if he did that, the tail would remain in his hand while the rest of him runs away.  That’s what happened here – the tail is wriggling on the floor.

But check out where we find Taylor…  Josiah and Keagon have had victory and they are taking Mr. Geico outside.

March 14 was a big day for a reason other than the workshops.  It was Scott’s birthday.  We didn’t realize it til the end of the day.  But the next day, the team presented him with a birthday drama, sort of.  And a birthday bagel cake.  Again, sort of.  Here’s Scott with his ‘cake’.   Matches are posing as candles.

As stated before, this is a great group of young people.  They truly are spending themselves on behalf of the people of Niger.  The schedule is pretty intense.  Their diligence is producing fruit.  During the afternoon session it was again Keagon’s turn to do the Bible study (your’s truly was also being stretched as I was the only one available to interpret at the time).

We then had the V.A. team members give testimonies of what this training has meant to them.  What an encouraging time!  The theme throughout all the testimonies went something like this:

“When I first saw them do the drama, I didn’t think it was something we’d be able to do.  Then they started teaching us and we can do it!”

“I have really learned that this is a great way to share the Gospel.  I’m going to go back to my village and show the people the crucifixion and resurrection.”

“I used to think it took money to evangelize.  But I realize I can just walk somewhere and do this drama whether I have any money or not.”

There were so many amazing testimonies that were shared and the session finished with a bang!

That brings us to today.  This morning found everyone quite weary, but they began strengthening themselves and each other in the Lord.

Today is the beginning of the youth conference.  The youth will be coming in from villages all around this region.  TTC and Vie Abondante teams will be presenting lots of dramas and the Word will be preached.  The youth are on fire for the Lord right now and we believe that now is their time!

This morning the teams were putting final touches on the drama titled ‘GO’!

And GO-ing is exactly what they will be doing.  Taking the Gospel to their generation and the next.