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!!

Full Heart, Sore Muscles

We’re here.  By ‘here’ I mean in the US.  We arrived on June 2 and yes, time is zipping by at warp speed.  I don’t know what ‘warp speed’ is, but I think it’s pretty fast.  Picking us up at the airport was not only Pastor Carter & Laura, but Tanika was with them.  So great to see her.  She is officially a college sophomore!  We had wonderful services at Faith For All Nations Church in League City, TX, and Conroe Christian Center in Conroe, TX.  Both of these churches are awesome partners of ours.  We were blessed by how well we were received and thoroughly enjoyed our time with both Pastors, families and congregations.  Nothing like communicating to people what their support is doing as they commit to the Great Commission.

Tanika sang on the worship team at Faith For All Nations.

Tobi added some rhythm!

Neal preaching.  Nice threads!

This past Thursday, we flew to Portland.  Trae and Christi were there to pick us up.  It was so great to see them.  It’s been over 9 months.  Here are the lovebirds now.  Wedding day:  T minus 4 days.  June 16th.

Though we’ve known Christi for awhile, we’ve not met her family.  At least not face to face.  And when I say family, I mean FAMILY!  There are 9 of them.   So this was the big meet and greet.  Our flight was a late one, so we didn’t get to Mosier (according to Christi it’s not a functioning town) until 11:30 or so.  I think.  I was still trying to figure out jet lag from our international flight so this one put me back a couple more hours.  But what a greeting!  The fact that it was almost midnight didn’t matter a bit.  The family was all up and waiting for us.  When we pulled in I saw Philip – the youngest who is 11 – race through the house and out the door shouting for Tobi.   So sweet.  They were all just as welcoming and there were bowls of hot soup along with hot tea which I was so thankful for for 2 reasons.   It had been 12 hours since we’d eaten, and it was 5o something degrees.  I bit chilly for me.  But I love both soup and tea when it’s chilly.  Their welcome made us all feel so welcome.

Ann (Christi’s Mom) and I have been waiting to meet for a long time.  After all, our kids are going to be marrying each other — it’s time we got to know each other.  We’ve done a lot of chatting over the past year so I feel that I knew that she was a pretty amazing lady and someone that would be a friend.  However,  I must officially say that she has far exceeded my expectations.  Though our personalities are different, we have so much in common.  She is already a great friend and I’m thankful for that.  God has not only provided a wonderful new family for Trae, but a great friend for me.  And He knew I needed that.  We’ve been running together, talking nonstop (according to Trae), and having special times of prayer.  We both know that this wedding is going to be an amazing event.  No – not just an event, but the making of a covenant that will result in the Kingdom of God advancing.  Big time.  I thank God for my new friend.

By the way, here’s where some of our running is being done.

Mount Hood, Oregon

Mount Adams, Washington

These views are all on the same 1/2 mile gravel road.  Pretty incredible and quite different from my normal running scenery on a sandy, hot softball field!  Such a wonderful break.

As for the rest of the family, they’re all just as awesome.  Tobi and Philip have pretty much been inseparable since we arrived.  I’m serious.  I’ve barely had a conversation with him.  But Philip is the kind of kid you want your kid to spend time with.  Caela is Christi’s younger sister.  She’s sweet and capable and so pretty.  Then there’s Daniel – who is getting married 2 weeks after Trae and Christi.  It’s quite fun to have all these lovebirds around.  Mark is 16 and what a talented guy.  And he is so sweet and thoughtful.  Josh is one of Christi’s older brothers and he’s married to Anna.  I’ve really enjoyed getting to know them.  Patrick the oldest has just arrived home from a 4 1/2 month world tour.  So glad he is here too – he’s got some great stories.  Then there’s Jon (Christi’s Dad).  He ties it all together.  I’m so thankful that our son is marrying someone who has such a godly father and mother.  What an example they are.  They are truly a family that takes the Great Commission seriously.  To learn more about what they do, check out their website.   harvestministry.org  Also for some great books to motivate your family to missions, check out Ann’s books – The Mission Minded Family and The Mission Minded Child.  You can find those on their website or on Amazon.

Christi and Trae have been showing us the sights.  And beautiful sights they are.  I’ve been to 46 of our 50 States.  Until now.  Two of the 4 I haven’t been to were Oregon and Washington.  Check those off my list.  Now been to both.  Only Alaska and Hawaii remain.

Our first 2 days were freezing.  Or at least close to it.  They took us into The Dalles and we went to Hood River.  The fact is, you can’t go anywhere without it being a gorgeous drive on windy roads.  They had planned for us to climb up Dog Mountain.  They kind of eased us into it.  “It’s not too far”, “You guys will really like it”, “It’s not that hard”, “It’s a good hike”, “It’s cool at the top”, etc.  You get the picture.   So off we went.  Nine of us in the Highlander.  Here’s some of us at the beginning of the climb.

We look ready for anything.  It was a crispy 50 something – maybe 60.  Maybe.  But that’s good, because we would be climbing and that would warm us up.

The trail was uphill.  All uphill.  But that stands to reason since we were climbing a mountain.  It was a bit overwhelming at first.  Maybe more than a bit.  Walking at an incline is much more challenging than walking on a flat surface.  In case you didn’t know that.  The overwhelming part was that it was like that for a long ways.  The distance to the top of the mountain was 4 miles.  Uphill.  Did I mention that? Now I’ve been running so was hoping I’d handle it better.  It was tough.  I was breathing very heavily.  The thing I did notice though, was that I recovered very quickly during the rest times.  And my legs were fine.  The higher we got the narrower the trail got, the windier it was, the wetter it was, the colder it was.  But it was beautiful.

Here’s the first rest stop.

Quite lovely.

Check out all that green!

Another rest stop.

This was in our future.

Almost to the top.  Check out those wildflowers!

The top!  Well, almost.  We’re told we could have gone a bit further, but was only worth it on a clear day.  At this point we were in the clouds.  Every once in awhile the wind would blow the clouds away and you could see the beautiful view.

Victory!!  We really were in the clouds.  And it was so windy and so cold.  My hands were so cold I could barely hold the camera.

I just thought this was a cool picture.

This would be a good place to mention that we (Neal & I) were the only ones that seemed to find this mountain challenging.  Christi and Trae graciously traveled at our pace – while the ‘younger set’ bounded up like they were only conquering  small hill.  Here they are on the way down – trying to keep warm while waiting for us.

Climbing down of course was much easier – except for me.  I have knees that act up when I go downhill.  A short distance is no bother, but 4 miles, well, that is a bother.  At least to my knees.  Fortunately though painful, it goes away quickly.  Much more quickly than my sore muscles did.  Here’s a scenic view on the way down.

It was even prettier than it looked.

Another good thing about going downhill – other than the obvious – is that it got warmer and warmer.  I’m pretty sure at the top, with the wind blowing hard enough to carry away a small child, the windchill was probably freezing.

Here’s a view across the road.  There’s a waterfall on the left.

We made it up, we made it down and yes, we were proud of ourselves.  It might be an interesting note that it took and hour in a hot tub for this African girl to thaw out.  And that was quite nice too.

Another big adventure was our trip to Multnomah Falls.  I’m thinking these pictures don’t do it justice, but maybe you get the idea.

Gotta say this hike was a breeze after dog mountain.  It was all uphill, but only for about 1 1/2 miles.  Simple.

Great view.  I mean the river!!

LOVE this picture!

Philip and Tobi – new best buds.

Top of the falls – almost.  The trail to the very top was closed because it was washed out.  Bummer.  But it was still beautiful.  See?

Caela and Tanika – new buds.

It’s a blurry picture, but here we all are.

After the Falls, they took us to a fish hatchery.  Quite fascinating.  Millions of trout and salmon.

That’s where we met Herman, a 70 year old Sturgeon.

Back at the home front, archery was one of the activities.  A poor stuffed teddy bear was the target.

Neal shoots lefty.

The weather was so beautiful, we ate most of our lunches outside.  Ann and Caela in deep discussion with Neal =).

The hot tub was wonderful.  This is what I used to thaw out after our hike up Dog Mountain.  Well, thaw out and ease my aching muscles.

Tobi, Mark and Philip were hired to wash a truck.  I didn’t know it was a paid gig until Tobi excitedly told me his cut was $3.30.

Lots of card playing was done.

Here Neal is ‘helping’ Jon clean the day’s catch, aka tonight’s dinner.  That fish is worth a small fortune if purchased from the store.

So if catching and cleaning the fish wasn’t enough, Jon and Ann created this incredible spread for 18 people.  17 of them were staying in the house.  But why is Tobi the first and only one at the table?  I think he was pretty excited about the fish!

It was an amazing meal.  Artichoke parmesan basil fish.  Wow.

However, it wasn’t all fun and food.  Here Trae and Christi are working in their vows.

Here’s the beautiful Dunagan home, which exudes the life of God.

This morning, Jon took Neal salmon fishing.  What a treat!  And it wasn’t just all about scenery.  Here are Jon & Neal and their 4 King Salmon.  The fish that Jon has been catching is the food for the rehearsal dinner and the wedding.

Packing up all the wedding stuff for the trip to Moses Lake.

 This is making it real!  Well, lots of things are making it real.

As you can see, we are having an amazing time.  The longer I’m here, the more amazed I am by the family that God has provided for Trae.  We were already overjoyed with Christi – but to know her family has been incredible as well.  God has answered our prayers above and beyond all we could ask or think.

It remains to be seen what God will do with these two, but we are confident that it will also be more than we can ask or think.

So— I think it’s pretty obvious why my muscles are sore, but even more obvious why my heart is more than full.  My God is good.

Community in Niger

I’ve finally done it. I’ve taken the plunge. I’ve joined the world of bloggers. You’ll have to forgive my ‘site’, but I’m still working on it. I really don’t know what I’m doing, so not even sure how it looks. I have been very lazy in my journal writing for a very long time. I’ve written it in my head dozens of times. And now that so much time has passed, I’m very annoyed that I haven’t done it. I’ve missed writing about so many great (and I suppose not so great) things. I continue to be amazed at how many people were interested in my journaling, and have asked why I haven’t been writing. So, I’m trying something new. I thought maybe if I used this format, I’d be more committed to my writing. I was actually inspired by my friend’s blog site – thanks Patty.

There’s no way I can catch up with all I’ve missed, but maybe as I write, past things will come up. But for today, I want to write about community.

I live in Africa. There are many misconceptions about life here. But one thing I think most people understand is that community is a way of life in Africa. By that I mean people’s lives revolve around each other. Not just their families, but their entire village. In Niger, a good majority of the people are born in their village, live there, and die there, never having gone further than the nearest market – on foot. Most ‘Westerners’ first response to that would be to think how tragic it is. But I’ve driven or walked through many of those villages. Though most of the people have been through at least one tragic event, tragedy is not what you see on their faces. They are smiling faces. Women laughing and chattering around the well as they pull up their water. This is where information is exchanged. I guess I can call it like it is – gossip! They pound their grain together – 2 pestles pounding rhythmically in the same mortar. They make the work look easy – even fun! Everyone knows everything about everyone. The good, the bad and the ugly. The men sit under trees weaving, playing cards and yes, gossiping. Children are everywhere – they are running, teasing, rolling old tires with sticks and making ‘cars’ out of tin cans. Baby naming ceremonies are huge events, with most of the village attending, as well as people from surrounding villages near and far. Same with weddings. But those who live in the developed world and visit a Niger village can see only what they consider to be sub-standard living conditions. They have to pull water from a well by hand, they cook outside over an open fire, they have their babies in their mud homes, they live in temperatures greater than 110 degrees much of the year – with no electricity to even run a fan, they eat from a community tray – with their hands! But if you look beyond all of this, you will see happiness on the faces you look at. This is their life. There is no doubt, they face much tragedy: most have had a baby or child die, disease is common, hunger is common, education is lacking-if not non-existent. I could go on. But in all of that, they have each other. The whole village is there to help them, and to just be with them in the situations they face. And then they go on. These things aren’t the reasons their lives are tragic. We are working to help them improve their living situations, but the biggest tragedy is the fact that most of them don’t know Jesus. (We are working to change that too!) Where will they spend eternity? Their life on this earth is short compared to that!

Today we had a wedding in a village, uniting the children of 2 of our pastors. It was wonderful. But the bride cried during the ceremony. She cried the entire 30 minute drive we took to her new husband’s village, and cried (sobbed, really) as the village ladies came by to greet her. You see, she grew up in her village. Spent all of her life there. Hannatu and Yahaya were very much looking forward to getting married, as they had been ‘promised’ for more than 2 years. But today, reality hit home. Hannatu was leaving her community. And it was hard. I was sitting next to her on the mat covered dirt floor, pretty much at a loss for words, as the women came to see her. I told them that she was sad and they should encourage her, as they understood how she was feeling. Many of them were transplants themselves. One lady said to me, “Don’t worry about her. She’s not sad, she’s really very happy.” What was I thinking? A new community has already begun!