Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Twas the Night Before, the Night Before

Or maybe the morning of the night before (ie 3 am -if I go back to bed when I am done this is it still morning)?

I thought I should bring you up to date on our Christmas celebrations/plans so far. Yesterday I baked muffins, brownies and banana cake all before nine in the morning. It was cooler then and the electricity was working (which isn’t always the case lately). We spent most of the day rushing around preparing for a Christmas Eve party that we are holding tonight for our friends in the neighbourhood (or maybe “the whole neighbourhood”?). That and delivering some Christmas presents to some people who work for us. Oh and did I mention that we also got a zarma class in? The boys were troopers, but got kind of sick of being on the road between the shopping, delivering and our class. Their reward was to go to their favourite Chinese restaurant for supper, or was that my reward?

When the boys got to bed we worked on our own family Christmas—wrapping the presents we brought back with us or one of the Grandmas and Grandpas sent. We expect that today will be filled with finishing the baking for the party and the rest of the preparations. We are having an open house. We will be stringing up our one string of Christmas lights and opening the front gate to any and all of the neighbours that want to come for some cake, juice and Christmas music. Dave has a book with some pictures in it that he plans on telling the Christmas story to the kids and any adults that want to hear. If you are in the neighbourhood from 8ish-10pm stop by!

Please pray that the right people will come; that we will know how to handle all of the kids (without causing a mini riot!); that Dave will have the right words to say and that our neighbours might have ears to hear. Pray also that I might be able to communicate and be a good host in a culture that I am still only learning about. (And that I can stay awake and alert for all of this Nigerien hours tend to be past my bed time! ) We are praying that this may start some dialogue with our neighbours about spiritual things.

Did I mention that when this is all over there is a church service that starts at 11pm and runs until 6am Christmas morning at a church that we have been helping with? (I think we might stop in for an hour or so… depending on how things go at the house).
Merry Christmas All!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Electricity Craziness & Tabaski

This week our electricity has been crazy. On and off and when it is "on" it is frequently so low that the lights won't even come on at night. As a result, I am writing this at 2:30am (I suppose insommnia has something to do with it too!)--so if it doesn't make much sense that is why. We have been truly grateful for the abundance of candles that our friends in Brantford brought with them in August! It really wouldn't be too bad if our stove wasn't a North American one that has an electric starter, so it won't release the gas to start heating the oven without the starter bringing the stove to a certain temperature. Even that might not be too bad if I didn't have a whole lot of baking that I needed to get done this week for meetings and things. UGH! Needless to say this isn't the first time this week that I have been up in the middle of the night trying to take advantage of the electricity while it seemed to be functioning. Maybe it is time to consider replacing the oven, but I really appreciate the size of it compared to the typical Nigerien ones. I guess I will just have to wait to see how permanent the electric problem is.

This week was Tabaski, the 'sheep' festival as some people call it. It is the Islamic holiday where they slaughter (ideally) a ram as an atonement and remembering the ram that Abraham slaughtered in replace of his son. That means that there were two national holidays on Monday and Tuesday this week. (We are hoping that this is why the electric company has been playing with our power and that things will improve next week). The first day of the "fete" the sheep gets slaughter and roasts by a big fire for most of the day. On the second day you either go around visiting friends and neighbours to share some of your mutton or the poor will go from house to house to collect some of the meat and other goodies. Since we didn't sacrifice a lamb when we had people come to our door we gave them candies. The two older ladies looked at us as if we were a little crazy, but the kids thought it was great. I'm sure the neighbourhood was talking as about the crazy white people again. Please pray with us that our friends and neighbours would come to know the true Lamb of God that has provided for the sins of the world.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Field Day Update


Sorry I didn't mention it last week, I was a little distracted with all of Dave's accidents. First he had the car accident and then he had a baseball accident (He was run over at first base and broke his glasses). But the boys' field day went really well. I was really impressed to see Cole finish the 800m race with a crowd from his team and others there cheering him on! Ben was also able to accomplish a few second places in his competitions. Thanks to all of you who were praying I know that it kept the discouragement at a minimum.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A day in the life...

It was a morning like any other, pulled myself out of bed sometime after six. I watched while the rest of the family ate breakfast. (Breakfast rarely sits well with me first thing in the morning.) We read together from 2 Samuel and said our morning prayers together before loading into the car with the night guard to make our morning trip across town. Jenn stayed home this particular morning. I dropped off the night guard near the end of the Petit Marche. It was shortly after seven and morning traffic was starting to pick up but not quite rush hour yet.
I pulled onto the Kennedy bridge—the only bridge over the Niger River in town. Traffic was relatively clear in front of me except for two cyclists hugging closely to the side of the road when suddenly they jostled one another and I saw the full round of a bicycle tire and a rider heading for the pavement. Reflexes kicked in as I swerved and jammed on the breaks simultaneously. WHAM. The taxi on my tail had slower reflexes. The two cyclists stopped and stared at us for few moments before continuing on their way. I checked with the back seat and the boys were fine though a little shocked.
Despite the lineup of traffic building behind me I got out to inspect the damage. I knew that I couldn’t move my car anyway. Local traffic laws stipulate that vehicles involved in a collision cannot be moved until the police come to investigate and determine causes and any faults. My back bumper showed a few scratches and one hole poked in the plastic. (Fortunately my hatch still opens and closes.) The taxi on the hand had crumpled his whole front end—bumper hanging, lights smashed and hood buckled.
Rubberneckers passed slowly by, including other parents who were now returning from dropping off their kids. Eventually an officer showed up to chalk out the vehicle positions so someone could come later to assess who was at fault for any insurance claims. Once off the bridge, the officer took all of our paperwork (driver’s licenses, vehicle registrations, insurance cards) saying he had to get back to his post but that someone else would come to finish the process. And so the wait began.
I took the kids around the corner to school and returned to wait. By 9:30, after hearing the sirens of the president’s cavalcade, the taxi driver and I decided to walk back across the bridge to see if we could find the officer who’d told us to wait. “They haven’t come yet? Well just take the good car up to the station—your paperwork is all there.” At the station we headed for a little office off to one side, surrounded by confiscated scooters, motorbikes, cars and trucks. Inside were six desks crowd into a single room with a little crowd of a half a dozen or more people standing in the little space between them. A man by the door directed us to the main desk in the centre of the room where most of the people were gathered.
“Yes, what do you want?” said the man behind the desk
“We had an accident. We’re here for the paper work.”
“I haven’t seen any paperwork. It’s not here”
“I had it in a clear plastic envelope like this one,” I said, pointing to an empty envelope on his desk.
“I’ve been here all morning and I haven’t seen it.”
“Yes, you did, I remember seeing it come in,” said a man sitting at another desk.
“I’m telling you I don’t have it. Just go outside and wait.”
Obligingly, we headed outside and found a bench by the impounded vehicles. We waited. We watched officers go through their paces in the courtyard. (“Attention. Eyes front. About face… ) After a while the officer from the accident came in and noticed us sitting outside waiting. “What are you doing out here? Just go on in the office, I’ve already dropped off the paperwork. It’s there.”
As we headed back in I noticed the numbers waiting around the desk had doubled to about a dozen or so. “What are you all doing in here?” exploded the man behind the desk. “I can’t work with you all standing around here! Well what do you want me to do?” he said, as those waiting looked sheepishly around at one another. “Well, do you want me to just leave you?... That’s it, I’m going!” and he pushed through the crowd and disappeared across the courtyard. As everyone slowly drifted back out the door, I realized I’d lost my spot on the bench.
At eleven the investigating officer returned once more and saw us still outside waiting. This time he lead us back to the office himself. I hesitated at the door, as I saw him exchange some rather sharp words with the man at the desk.
“What is your license plate number?” asked the man at the desk. “Is it this one?” pointing to a page in big book on his desk.
“Yes, that’s it I replied.” Recorded there was the all the information from my paper work.
“Oh, I did this first thing this morning. I gave your paperwork to the guy who sits in that desk but he’s gone out and I don’t know where he is.”
Fortunately, the officer pulled out his cell phone and made the call, assuring us he would be here shortly before heading out once more. Eventually, the taxi and I visited our respective insurance offices together to make statements before reporting one last time to the police station. I made it home just in time for lunch.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fall Colour


Dave and I have been discussing lately whether the weather change of late in Niamey feels more like fall or spring in Canada. Those wonderful days were there is a chill in the air first thing in the morning that makes you want to wear a sweater (think 25C), but by noon it is quite warm in the sun (think 35-40C), but still cool in the shade. Oh well we can dream of what Canada is like, but I suppose you are starting to see the occasional snow now and the fall colour is gone.

I decided to bring some of my own "fall colour" inside today and to share it with you. I hope it warms your day!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Street Lights

Have you ever got so used to something not working that when it actually does work you are taken by surprise? You know, that printer that jams every time you use it or your husband that carries a cell phone in case you need to get a hold of him, but forgets to turn it on or to charge it… You get the picture. Today I had a pleasant surprise as we were driving up to one of the busiest intersections near us the lights were actually working! This is the same intersection that hasn’t had working lights for at least four months (the team from Brantford can testify to this because they had the pleasure of experiencing grid lock you have never seen in North America at that intersection a number of times –in fact one of them told Dave that normally he would have been scared to death of driving through that intersection if it hadn’t been for Dave being so calm and just taking it as a commonplace experience as he drove through all of the traffic.) I know that the only way that I have made it through that intersection a number of times is by prayer and the grace of God. So it was indeed a pleasure to find it operating, maybe even sweeter because it seemed like so many other things were going wrong this morning.

It was interesting to watch the other drivers respond to the light though, there were a number of them that didn’t expect to find it operating and nearly charged right into on coming traffic (that is the typical way to deal with no lights, you assume that you have the right of way for at least the first half of the intersection and then keep nosing forward into the second half until you are through!). But luckily, they like us, realized just in time that there was not only a light there but it was working.

Sometimes I think that this is the approach we have to the Bible. Those of us who have grown up in the church assume we know what it says and how a certain passage is going to apply to our lives—afterall didn’t we memorize part of that chapter in Sunday school when we were kids? We think we know how it is going to work, so we ask God to speak to us as we try to fit some bible study into our busy schedules, but don’t really expect that He will. There are times that God will just allow that to continue, but we are the ones that are missing out of the deeper meanings that come from reading and re-reading and listening to what He has to say. Then there are other times that God will use something to get our attention, maybe a sermon, a song or even illness that makes us slow down and realize that maybe life isn’t quite the way we originally expected. I would like to propose a remedy for a dry bible study—get to know a new Christian, or a “future” Christian and talk to them about what you have been reading. It is amazing how the most familiar passages will take on new meaning and the context around some of those passages may surprise you.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Ben's Knee


Accidents happen, but when they happen here they can bring additional complications. This past Tuesday Ben fell and hurt his knee. The only problem is that at 7 when you fall and hurt yourself you sometimes forget that you are hurt and keep playing. So he went half a day, before he really began to complain and someone noticed that it was really swollen and bulging. Dave got a call from the school that Ben knee was looking really bad and that he needed to go see a doctor. As he was driving to the school, he started thinking about the worse case scenario and what that would look like. What would happen if we had to have Ben evacuated for treatment? When he arrived school the teacher was describing how it was bulging on the one side and that he might need an x-ray, but as she took the ice off she exclaimed “oh, it’s gone!”. The ice had taken care of the swelling and the knee was looking normal again. When he got to see the doctor the doctor told him it was a sprain and that he needed RICE-rest, ice, compression and elevation. Thanks for keeping us in your prayers. We are praising God that Ben’s injury was something minor. However, you can pray for complete healing not only of the knee but of all his concerns because Field Day is next week and he is afraid that he won’t be able to participate the way that he wants to and because of that “his team will lose”. Pray also for Cole because Field Day is always a stressful/ depressing day for him as he faces the limitations of wearing orthotics.

Also pray for an English teacher for the high school for next semester because the expected teacher is no longer able to come. This causes additional struggles for me because I love being in the class room and teaching English, but can’t do that and everything else that I am here to do.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Bumpy Rides

“Let’s go for a bumpy ride!” That is what the boys’ remote control Goofy car used to say before it spurted and sputtered and would start to move in the direction the remote control indicated. I had the opportunity to experience that in real life the other day. I am grateful to say that I wasn’t in the driver’s seat and I didn’t even have a remote control, but I was following Dave down the street. He was driving our old car that had sat for a couple of months without being driven because of a battery problem (or so we thought). He would step on the gas and the car would shimmy, shake, spurt and sputter and then think about moving. It was funny to watch people’s reactions. The police officers that work just down to road from our house, pointed at the car and I thought they were going to pull Dave over, but instead they just laughed at the crazy white man trying to drive the broken down car down the road at 10-20 km/hour. The people on the side of the road would jump when it would backfire then do a double take and laugh at Dave. (But at least the backfire would make the car jump ahead a few more meters!) It was really funny until he stalled in the middle of a crazy intersection that the light has been out for months and people try to make it work going both directions at the same time (think wall to wall rush hour traffic that is trying to intersect and turn). At first I thought that I would try using the car I was driving to push him through to the other side, but Dave just calmly got out of the car and started to push the car through the craziness. Our land lord had been driving by and stopped to make sure everything was alright. We tried to tell him we would trade him the car for six months rent while we were boosting it so that we could try to make it further down the road. He just laughed and said no thanks.

“Bumpy rides” are the norm in Niger. You either have roads that are torn apart with huge potholes (that frequently are filled with garbage—but that is another story) or you have really nice smooth paved roads that have huge speed bumps that arrive on a regular basis or a combination there of. In fact that is the reason we were trying to get the car going in the first place, we had to take the good car in to get the shocks and struts replaced (for a second time since we bought it last spring!).

Sometimes I think that the Christian life is like one big bumpy ride. It is great to watch and cheer when it is someone else going through the pot holes. But when it is you, you aren’t really sure whether to laugh or to cry –or a little bit of both. Early in our time in Niger, someone taught us the best way to negotiate pot holes (especially in rainy season when they are filled with water and who knows what else). They said there are two approaches that you can use. The one is to try to keep your one set of wheels out of the hole for traction and the other is to follow in the tracks of the person who went before you and do it the same way. That is very similar to the Christian life where a big comfort is knowing that you aren’t in it alone. There are others that have faced the same difficulties before you that can help to direct you through them and there is a truth that is firm and solid that will pull you through. But the best part is knowing that no matter how dark the circumstances may seem, it’s just a pot hole in the grand scheme of things. (I have to remind myself of that a lot lately!)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Staycation

I’ve come to the conclusion that we just don’t know how to take a vacation. Anyone that knows Dave and myself would laugh at the thought of calling us “A-type” personalities (ok, well maybe Dave anyway), but when it comes to taking a vacation the work just seems to follow us. This past spring we went home to Canada to get Cole’s orthotics replaced and to have a vacation, but we felt we needed to combine work with the holiday because we couldn’t afford to use all of our vacation time for the year (Dave had had a doctor tell him when we were home for a year that missionaries are under much higher stress than then realize and that they need to take vacations on a regular basis), but we needed the time to get the orthotics made. Needless to say, it turned into more work than vacation, much to the chagrin of everyone involved.

This past week we succeeded at doing it again. The boys were off school and we were going to take “some time off” while they were home for a “staycation” (a stay at home vacation, I just learned this term from the internet recently). But that was not to be… We were able to take a slightly slower pace (because we didn’t have to drive the boys back and forth to school across town), but it seems like we did as much work as we normally would in a week if not more, due to many circumstances beyond our control (i.e. a Nigerien friend had emergency surgery, etc.)

I think that the solution is that we need to get away from Niamey in order to have a vacation, the problem is that there are no restful places that are nearby and inexpensive. If you have any suggestions, let me know!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Thanksgiving


I’m sure most of you have consumed your share of turkey, stuffing and cranberries this weekend. Our Thanksgiving weekend had a slightly different flavour. For the last year or so I’ve been going to the American Recreation Centre on Saturday afternoons to play softball. It’s about as close as I get to exercise and so I do my best to get there before teams are chosen each week. However twice a year, softball takes on a more serious tone. This weekend happens to be one of them—the annual NUTS tournament. NUTS has a double meaning: Niamey Universal Tournament of Softball, and, well, just plain old nuts, because you’ve got to be nuts to play! October is typically the mini hot season—the rains have come to an end but the humidity is still hanging in the air and the temperatures start aiming for 40 C and above. I’ve never actually played in the tournament before, but the American Embassy was short of players this year and so they quickly recruited all the best missionaries. I guess that’s why I got asked to play with the remnant of missionaries. Fortunately the weekend was mostly overcast this year—we even had freak thunderstorms Friday night. Our team sponsor was the French telecom giant Orange, and they provided us each with two free T-shirts as team colours. We predictably finished last but had lots of fun nevertheless.


Between games Saturday morning Jennifer and I received a text-message on our cell phone from a woman that Jennifer has been meeting with on a weekly basis. She’d had emergency surgery the night before as a result of internal hemorrhaging and was recovering at the Maternité Centrale. After lunch we stopped into visit and pray with her. She seemed to be doing well, but local medical facilities still frighten me. Fortunately she has nurses’ training and knows how she should be treated.


After church Sunday we stopped in once more to read a Psalm and pray. While we were there her aunt came in to visit as well and listened as we read to our friend. In the course of conversation we were surprised to discover that we shared a mutual friend with her aunt.



Today we celebrated Thanksgiving in a slightly different manner. There are always certain adjustments that you have to make just because you are living in Niger, for example our turkey consisted of a number of drumsticks roasted instead of the whole bird because that is what we could buy in the market. (I’m not exactly sure what happened to the rest of the bird, but sometimes it is better not to ask those questions). In addition to that, the way we actually celebrated was a little more Nigerien as well (or at least a blend of Canadian and Nigerien customs), instead of inviting a number of people to come for dinner we just fed whoever did come. (And yes one of our neighbours actually showed up at supper time). Then in a more typical Zarma style we sent some of our turkey to friends that lived near by and visited with them. There are still many things that we miss about home especially on days like today, but it was nice to be able to join in the celebration that we knew was happening back at home. Happy Thanksgiving everyone (a little early for my American friends, but the sentiment is still the same)! I hope that you can all find lots of things to be thankful for today.

Friday, October 10, 2008

"Little Things"

I have been reading A Passion for the Impossible: the Life of Lilias Trotter and one place it quotes her journals where she is writing to “fellow labourers” among Muslims:

nerves get overstrung in these climates in a way they never did before, and little things bring a ruffle and jar, and cannot be shaken off again; and a sense of exhaustion come through the body to the spirit, even apart from the consciousness, so vivid at times, that the very air is full of the powers of darkness; and the enemy launches his fiery darts in showers on those who come to attack his strongholds. How many of us have gone through the testing of every fibre of our inner life since we left


My “little thing” this week was cockroaches that have “attacked” me in my sleep—in other words landed on my head while I was trying to sleep. Normally when that happens I flail, jump out of bed and yell for recruits (ie. Dave –who has either been rudely awakened or brought in from another room. Secretly I think that he has appreciated this because I don’t think he enjoys sleeping with them either). I say normally because sadly it has happened about four or five times in the last couple of weeks. However, I think we may have come to a solution. We decided to string up our mosquito nets (which is also helpful for its designed purpose!) in order to provide a barrier from the cockroaches. The down side of this is that now my closet door is permanently open, because Dave ran a string from it to the curtain rod on one side of the bed and a string from the curtain rod to the hinge of the bedroom door on the other side of the bed to hold the net. I guess it is one of life’s trade off’s in order to get a half decent night’s sleep I have to live with a little inconvenience in my bedroom. Dave on the other hand, has to deal with the fact that the mosquito net shortens the bed by a few valuable inches. Maybe we will get a fumigator in during the boys school break!

Please pray for us between Ramadan and the roach situation we have been coming up a little short on sleep and that makes coping a challenge and the impulse to run away very appealing.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Humility

That is what I think that I have been learning this week.

I guess I haven’t really thought about all the ways that you can be humbled before, but this week I have lived a number of them.

I was humbled to learn that the woman who came to teach Ben’s class for the first semester. Miss Campbell is 84 years old! She came out of retirement to fill a need at Sahel, braving a rough climate as an act of faith and service to her Lord. I’m not sure that I will be able to do something so courageous when I am that age. Please pray for her health and strength, especially as the mini hot season is starting.

Language learning is an incredibly humbling experience and this week was no exception. I was told this week by a friend that Dave has a much better French accent than I do (probably because I try to use English words that don’t exist in French on occasion). I sometimes have difficulty speaking French or Zarma when Dave is around too because he is continually correcting me or trying to “help” by giving me words that have nothing to do with what I am trying to really say, another humbling experience.

One of our sons took forgetfulness to a whole new level today. He has worked for three days straight on a project for school (including the Ramadan holiday, Eid al-fitr, when he didn’t have classes) which he finished last night and printed off in colour, only to come home with the project tonight. He forgot that he had finished it and so he printed off another at school! Please pray that this isn't contagious!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Cokes and Air-conditioning

I poured myself a coke at 8:30 this morning (and got caught in the act). I said that I realized that it was a bit early in the morning for a coke, but since I had been up in the night and had been working since 4:30 in the morning I figured that my morning was already about half over. My friend that had caught me in the act (I was working at the boys’ school) said “What’s the difference between coke and coffee, especially here! It is hard though when you start to measure your days by cokes or coffees. ” So, how many coffees or cokes have you consumed today?
We are in the last few days of Ramadan which means the loud speakers on the mosques have increased in their volume and intensity (the reason for my lack of sleep and the use of coffee and coke). My language teacher told me something interesting the other day. He said the twentieth day of Ramadan is the night of power where people stay up all night praying and reading their Qu’ran, but any time between the 20th and the 30th if a person sees an angel they are allowed to ask for anything that they want from Allah. As a result there is an increase in activity the last few days of Ramadan. In an act of desperation to try to get a good night’s sleep, I tried to counter this the other evening by closing all the windows and using the air conditioner. (We try to save the air conditioner for when it is absolutely necessary during the hot season, to save on costs). However, some insects had decided our air conditioner drain would make a great home and blocked it with a hive. This discovery was made about a half an hour after I fell asleep when I started to receive a shower from the air conditioner when it couldn’t eliminate the condensation the way it was designed. Dave hadn’t gone to bed yet so instead of getting in on the shower he was blessed by a wet pillow.
This morning Dave tried to fix it by sticking his finger in it while it was running. (Mistake!) He still has a finger but the fan inside is missing a couple of teeth. I am truly grateful to say that the air conditioner is being repaired as I type this (but the repairman says that the part he needs to fix Dave’s mistake is hard to come by, but it shouldn’t be too noisy if you keep the fan on low).

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Pictures




Distributing soccer balls for the team from Brantford. Please pray for the church that we helped to plant the last time we were here. They seem to be struggling.





Greek Day in Grade 5/6 at Sahel Academy. Please pray that Sahel will get all the teachers they need this year. There are still a lot of gaps and more next semester! Also, praise God for the great teachers He has already provided this year.




Rainy season is ending, please pray that the crops are good this year and that we will once again be able to deal with the heat. Thanks that the rains have lasted this long bringing some relief from the heat.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Fast

“Okay, a thousand?” I shook my head. “How about 800? 700? Alright 500”
“Non merci, pas aujourd’hui,” I said and closed my car door, and slowly pulled away. His bead necklace was nicely made if a little chunky but not quite my thing. I, initially encountered this street vendor when I got out of my car pick something at the “White Shack”—a little grocery store about the size of a 7-11 corner store. His starting price as I headed for the store was 5000 cfa, a little over ten bucks, and the 500 cfa he ended with about $1.
As I pulled away my mind went back to a conversation I’d had with a young neighbor the weekend before about Ramadan. After a month of daily fasting, there is a great feast and everybody gets a new set of clothes. The day everyone dons their new duds, the streets are filled with people as everyone heads into town to show off their new clothes. Most people seem to head for the Musée near the centre of town, a cross between a zoo, artisan village, and a museum. How many people actually get into the Musée, I’m not sure but I’ve seen the line-up on the fete-day to get in.
My friend suggested a comparison between the fete-day and Christmas. “And your kids, don’t they look forward to getting clothes at Christmas?” He had explained that if someone doesn’t get new clothes, they are too ashamed to leave the house. “Last year, my friend’s father had not managed his money well during the fast and so he had no money to buy clothes for the fete. My friend hid in his house and cried for two days—he was too embarrassed to be seen in the same old clothes. If you don’t have new clothes when you go out on the street, everyone will taunt and mock you.” When I tried to explain that my children would cry if they only got clothes for Christmas, I could see the incomprehension on his face.
I know that the desperate attempt at a sale that I’d encountered on the street was a reflection of Ramadan. The price of everything but food and clothing drops as people become desperate for money so that their families can celebrate and they won’t lose face in the neighbourhood.

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Isaiah 58:6-7

Friday, September 5, 2008

Ramadan Routine

It’s 4:30 am and the kids are running through the streets banging pots and pans (I’m not sure I even knew what that was until someone asked me yesterday “Do the kids bang with pots and pans at your gate?”). It’s Ramadan so this is the start of my day. Just in case, I am able to sleep through the pots routine the loud speakers at the little mosque next door are set extra loud for this month of fasting and they will begin to blare in about half an hour. I am a morning person so I wouldn’t find this too bad except for the fact that the mosque has had extra preaching at night to coincide with this (think blaring loud speakers for at least an hour at 11pm usually in Arabic). Unlike my neighbours, I haven’t been able to have the afternoon nap that allows most of them to keep these hours. It has just been too busy a week, but maybe this weekend.

I have been trying to see the call to prayer that is extra loud right now as a reminder to pray that God would reveal Himself to those that are genuinely seeking Him during this month of fasting from sun up to sun down. Will you pray for that with me? Pray that the Holy Spirit will be at work in dreams and visions and divine appointments, especially through this month that is set aside to focus on God for the Muslim people. Pray that despite the lack of sleep the love of Jesus would shine through us in all that we do. Please also pray for a friend that I am meeting with on a regular basis to talk about Jesus. She is hungry to know about Jesus and has lots of questions. My struggle is that she speaks French and Hausa and I know limited French and limited Zarma. I just trust that God is at work filling in the gaps and leading the discussion.

Please also pray for the boys school. The math teacher has been delayed because of finances and is waiting for his visa from the embassy in the US. Dave has been trying to cover 3 classes for him, but will have to give it up at the end of this week because it is interfering too much with what we are here to do. There is also a problem with the music teacher getting enough finances to return this year and needs for a book keeper and a P.E. teacher.

Oh here goes the loud speakers…

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Visits and reminders

It was great having visitors from Canada this last week and a half. There were three people who came from our supporting church in Brantford, ON. Part of the fun of having new people come is seeing your world from new eyes. The things that you have come to take for granted all of a sudden you begin to see again and there is a renewal of some of the initial excitment that you had when you arrived.
We were especially blessed by the way the team faced all of the difficulties of Niger with grace and style. One even recieved the true missionary experience of being sick while she was here and faced all of the frustrations, disappointments and discouragement that tend to go along with that. It was a reminder that in so many ways we live on prayer here. Prayer for health, strength, safety, traffic conditions and most of all that the love of God would shine through us in all of the situations that we face, good and bad. Thanks to all of you who have been praying for us.
Thanks to the people at Freedom Christian Community for helping to make the trip happen and thanks to the team for ministering to us! --I'll try to post some pictures another time when I have the right computer to work on.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Quarterly Newsletter

Hi All,

I just succeeded (or at least kind of...) in sending out our quarterly newsletter via e-mail. If you are used to getting this and didn't I need you to e-mail me because I had some problems with some of the e-mail addresses and things. If you don't normally get it and want to you will have to contact me too!

For those of you who have been praying for Ben, I wish that I could give you all a big hug. He is doing much better and able to eat solids without a problems now he just needs to put back on a little weight.

This is Jenn after she has finally published her newsletter (and dealt with all the problems!). I think maybe Dave needs to take her out for supper!

Thanks for thinking of us!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Another Crazy Week!

This week has been crazy. Dave got a driving infraction for something he didn’t do, which meant a trip to the police station to pick up his license (when you get a ticket here they take your license away and you can pick it up at the police station when you pay the fine). We thought we had made arrangements to meet with one person and found out that we had made arrangements with someone else (same title, completely different organization). But it didn’t really matter in the long run because we were stood up anyway. We found out that a friend had been sick with typhoid fever for ten days and we weren’t even aware of it. We received a package from home 4 months late that the post office kindly charged us to store (even though we had come looking for it 3 times earlier and they told us it didn’t exist!) We also found out that the airport employees are on strike so Air France isn’t landing here. (Please pray that they work things out in the next ten days before a group comes from Brantford to see us.) Oh and I forgot to mention our Manioc “tree” that provides most of the shade in our front yard crashed in a rainstorm last night. At least it provided a great deal of entertainment for the kids on the street and we shared the stock with our neighbours so at the end of the rainy season they will be enjoying the roots. All this and the week is only half over.

On the positive side, I learned how to do the paperwork so that I can trade in my Canadian driver’s license for a Nigerién one, hopefully that will go through without any problems because my international driver’s license has just expired. We were told by a friend that it would take a week to ten days, but when I took it in to the office on Tuesday they told me to come back on Friday. Maybe I just had the right time of year for this. Until then I’ll let Dave do the driving.

Dave has been having some interesting conversations with a neighbour friend recently. You can pray for Moussa. He has also posted on Facebook (although our connection at home is too slow to do much). It has been nice to hear who he has been able to reconnect with through that.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Weekend escape...

This weekend we decided to escape to Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. It's few hours down the road, and even though we'd never been we had a friend who had and was willing to show us around. As we headed to the border, the countryside became increasingly greener--Ouagadougou is south of Niamey and gets more rain as we discovered Friday night. The rains poured down that evening, and then on and off throughout Saturday. Last night we went to a "German" style restaurant, and unfortunately it's cuisine had a lasting effect--all through the night and on through today. About the only one who's been unaffected is Ben, who took a few bites and decided he wasn't hungry--I made the mistake of finishing it for him! This morning we hardly moved but finally sat down together to listen to a sermon podcast--we'd intended to visit a local church but couldn't get out the door. This afternoon Cole and I lost our cookies again. We're hoping our stomachs will soon settle so we can begin our journey home tomorrow.

We have received sad news. One of our friends and supporters, Phyllis Knoll, passed away this weekend. Her husband Rev John Knoll was an encouragement to me when we pastored the Caistor Centre Church. She will be dearly missed. I'm sure the family would appreciate your prayers.

Back at home the electricity situation is improving, though some have suggested there may be a few problems yet. We really only had one evening without power this past week but unfortunately our street must be the end of a line. When the power initially came back on, it ran at less than half strength
--80 volts rather than 220 volts. I quickly ran around the house and unplugged everything and turned out the lights lest they burn out the motors, etc. It remained like that for a few hours but around midnight I checked again and things we're back to full strength.

God is good we give thanks for his faithfulness in all cirumstances.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008





Last week we had a major rain storm that rained most of the night and on into the day. In the morning when I went out to pay the water bill we discovered that the heavy rains had caused the ground around our false septic to cave. We've since had it filled in but it was a good excuse to stand in the street and chat while it was there. A more common occurence during rainy season is frequent power outages. When we lived here before it seemed I could predict a rain storm because it was always prefaced by a short blackout. This summer things are different. We've consistent power outages since our return and they seem to be progressively getting worse. In the last two days we have had roughly two hours of power, that is one hour a day--it's just come back on which is why I'm quickly typing this out. The information that slowly seems to be trickling out is that Nigeria our countries only source of electricity has virtually cut the country off, though no official explanation as to why has been offered. We are in the finishing stages of our seminary course work (which is due Friday) but the battery on the laptop doesn't last forever... What's of a greater concern is the fact that when the power goes out so does the pump at the local water tower and after a couple of hours there is no water in the tap. We do have back up reserve of water for just such occasions, but with the little information we've been getting, there is no knowing how long this will last. Please pray for us as we've attempt to finish our assignments as I prepare to preach this Sunday at a local church.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Idiot

Today, I feel like an idiot.

On my last post I mentioned the “funeral/wake” we visited. We’ve since debriefed further with our language teacher about the funeral process. Traditional funerals are a 40 day process. Within the first three days, neighbours, close friends and family all visit the home to give their condolences—fortunately we made it within the three day time slot. On the third day and then later on the seventh day there are prayers that are offered and then finally on the fortieth day there is a final prayer. During this time the widow is to pull out her braids and remain secluded from all men for the first seven days—she is not allowed to even leave the house, which in this case was one room. After the seventh day she may go out into the walled courtyard occasionally but may not go out into the street until the forty days are finished. After three months she may remarry.

Two days ago I heard a knock at the gate but by the time I got there I didn’t see anyone. I waited a few minutes, looking around, and a shy little boy came around with a bucket and said, “Mama veut de l’eau.” (Mother wants some water.) It was an awkward moment that caught me off guard—our language teacher hard warned us against it giving out water generally because of the headaches it can create. Not only that there is a free, public access well two minutes around the corner—some people even make a business of drawing the free water and then selling it door to door. At the same time, I didn’t want just turn him down outright and so I suggested that if his mother wanted it she could come to ask. (Probably not the right response at the best of times but…)

This evening we were sitting out in front of our gate and our neighbour the marabout (Islamic teacher) came over to greet and chat. A crowd of kids had gathered and were playing in front as well, and in the course of conversation he pointed out two little boys and said, “It was their father that died last week.” Yep, you guessed it, it was the one who wanted water for his mother (who of course was still secluded in her house) and to whom I’d suggested that he send his mother over…

It’s one of those days when you feel like you should have gotten it right by now.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
James 1:27

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Funeral

There have been blue plastic lawn chairs in our street for the last three days, with groups of people milling around. Each day the people have become fewer but nevertheless some are still there.

Our guard informed us a couple of days ago that a neighbour had died and that the family had all gone off to the hospital. We noticed the chairs and the people the next day. I knew enough to realize that if I wanted to be a half decent neighbour I had to put in an appearance and greet the family. At the same time I also know that I need to learn the appropriate behaviours for such a setting. Funerals and funeral homes have never been my favourite things. (I know one preacher who told me funerals were his favourite because he was pretty much in control—at weddings everybody has an opinion about who should stand where and what they should say, etc.) I find funerals awkward because I know that generally there at least a few people who are grieving beyond words, and the people who attempt to use words end up putting their foot in their mouth. On the other hand there’s always a few people joking around in the background and the two together just don’t fit. I remember one funeral I led where a distant uncle of the deceased wanted to tell me (the preacher!) dirty jokes to see if I had a ‘sense of humour’.

We consulted with our language teacher as to what should be said at such moments. Here is the brief list of things that are to be said to the grieving:

Fonda tilas!—Greetings to the obligation!

Irikoy m’a yaafa a m’a suuji—May God (literally ‘Our Chief’) forgive him (the deceased) and be gracious to him

Irikoy m’a te alzanna ize- May God make him a child of paradise

The family responds by saying:
Irikoy m’aran no a sufuray—May God give you a reward. (That is for paying your respects to the dead)

To each blessing/wish is responded with an “Amin” (amen).

This morning we got up our courage and went to “greet our obligation”. We greeted the few who gathered in the street and then followed a young man who led us to the mother of the deceased sitting with two other women while the grieving widow was secluded from view nearby. They graciously welcomed us and the mother waved her little hand fan at Jennifer and I to make us comfortable in the heat. We shared our condolences and made some small talk and then took our leave. Back in the street another neighbour and her toddler chatted with us in the street for a few moments. “Tonton, Tanti,” the little one called us—“Uncle and Auntie”. We did our best with our Zarma, since her mother doesn’t speak French and then carried on with our day. Please pray for our neighbours, widows and orphans are all too common in Niger and life that is difficult at the best of times here can be come all the more difficult when you lose a loved one.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Back to the Grind

BHello again, sorry we’ve been “offline” for a while. Our whirlwind trip home is over and we’re starting into the grind. Our visit home involved a series of doctors of appointments for everyone in the family but most important were new glasses for Ben from Dr. Merritt and new orthotics for Cole’s feet from Dr. Mike. (OHIP covered 75% of the orthotics which is an answer to prayer since we were no longer covered by another Ontario program—the cost about $2500 a pair!) Jennifer and I also participated in the Free Methodist General Conference and took a one week seminary course from McMaster Divinity in Hamilton. We also spent some time with the people at Brantford Free Methodist church (Freedom Christian Community), who are going to help us run a leadership retreat for a local church here in Niamey in August. A round of family get together’s on both sides of the family rounded things out. Oh yes, and there was an impromptu visit to Grace Methodist church in Mississauga. On a lighter note we also made a trip to Marineland in Niagara Falls and a local water park with the boys for some fun.

The flight home was largely without incident. We flew with Royal Air Maroc out of Montreal and into Casablanca where the airline put us up for free in a local hotel for our 14 hr stop over. This otherwise pleasant rest was disturbed by the fact that the airplane and its pilot were an hour off of local time, so when we adjusted our watches we set them back an hour more than we should have. That evening the boys were still sleeping when the front desk called up to the room saying we had to leave immediately. I couldn’t figure out why since my watch said we had another 45 minutes before we needed to catch the shuttle back to the airport…. Nevertheless we made it to the airport in good time to catch our flight, ran into a friend on the plane and made new ones in the process.

Now we are here, it’s still hot and humidity has been added to the mix. (Last night I sat on the roof for a few hours watching a thunder storm pass in the distance—a wonderful light show but not a rumble could here—what a tease.) Please pray for us as we get back into the routine and try to pick up where we left off. Today we had our first Zarma lesson since our return—a few cobwebs need to be shaken out. On top of that we have to complete the assignments that came out of our course at home—they’re due the first week of July. The boys seem a little out of sorts as they readjust to the time zone—and a little homesick too. Pray that we will be able to accommodate them into our schedule during the summer break—right now they are sitting through our daily Zarma lesson and similar exciting summer pastimes.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Generosity

You know there is no way to out give God.
I did something strange not too long ago. I had been going through a low time you know one of those that makes you kind of forget the amazing things that God has done for you or at least makes you think that they were ancient history. I had heard a speaker at a ladies conference challenge us to ask God to delight in us—she gave us suggestions of how God had done that through nature and little answers to prayer that would seem important to only her. Well, I decided to ask God to delight in me and I really wasn't prepared for what He would do.

We came home to go to our church conference this week (interestingly the theme was one of generous living) and while we were travelling God provided a place to rest in Casablanca and plenty of food to eat. We had friends that blessed us by taking 2 days out of their lives to drive to Montreal to get us and drive us to my parents (the trip home was in the middle of the night because we arrived at 2am). My mom had gone shopping and had warm new clothes for all of us to wear to conference—she even had new shoes for me that fit! My sister offered us her car for the time we are home. Someone brought us a bottle of real maple syrup from St. Joe's Island (liquid gold), another church gave us a bag of things and some money for extra baggage, and a third asked if we had room in a suitcase for some things. But I think the most humbling thing happened before I left, when a little old Nigerien lady came up to me after church on Sunday and said “go with God in His peace” and slipped me some money that she could little afford to give. I was shocked and didn't know what to do with her generosity.

There are people that have told us that they are amazed that we could give up the good life in Canada to go and work in Niger, but we feel like we have done so little in light of the churches that have been sacrificially giving to put us there. Thanks so much. And thanks for the prayers for our safe travel. Next week there are a lot of doctor's appointments lined up for us please pray that things go well especially with Cole's orthotics and Ben's glasses and that they won't be too expensive.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The church in action

A few weeks ago I was invited to share a Bible study at a local church. As a way to get to know some of the people I invited them to share some of their faith journey with me. One young man who stood up happened to be an acquaintance already—he works as house help for friends of ours. He told how a friend had shared Jesus with him about two years ago and invited him to church. Though faithful in attendance he said was still growing and felt young in his faith. His wife is not a Christian. This morning we visited the church and were shocked to hear the testimony he shared. This past Thursday evening, he was at home while his wife prepared supper and their infant daughter played on the floor. Their home was a sort of row housing with six mud brick homes attached, and each one having a kind of thatched “front porch” you could say. Suddenly a fire blazed through all the “porches” and swept right into his living room. He’d been saving up for months, and only two weeks ago had bought a new motor scooter. The scooter’s engine exploded and shot flames across the room virtually everything he owned was destroyed. (Our friend that he works for saw the scooter and said that the all that was left was the metal frame—even the dipstick for the oil reservoir had melted away into nothing.) This morning as he recounted the story, he said that he’d heard that the Bible says we should thank God for both the good things and the bad that come into our lives, and so he was thanking God because he and his family were still alive and amazingly their injuries were only minor. A part of me wanted to go over and “fix” everything, being the rich white person, but at the same time I knew that his church family needed to respond. Sometimes throwing money from a distance isn’t nearly so meaningful as watching the spiritual family that a person has been fellowshipping with kick into gear and be the church God created it to be.

Tonight we met with hi s “boss” at the English service. Bryan said he was impressed with the church because when he went over to visit this weekend one of the pastor’s showed up with his wife to mourn the loss and pray with him. Before the pastor left, he pulled an envelope out of his pocket and said, “This is from the church.” Bryan has found him a temporary place to live which is next to our old compound at the Bible school. Jennifer is thinking of visiting his wife with some material and taking her to meet one of the one of the Bible school student’s wives who is a seamstress.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance” James 1:2-3

Please pray for Pele and his young family.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Weight Loss

Have you ever noticed how some things in life just don't seem fair?
Since returning to Niger I have lost 18 pounds. According to my mom's calculations, that should work out to just about two clothing sizes. So, most of my clothes should be hard to keep on right? Well, that didn't work for me—in fact I still have rolls! What happened was last year when I was home I got to work out on a regular basis at the YMCA. So even though I could eat all kinds of “good” things that I can't get here in Niger I was also putting on the healthy kind of weight—muscle tone. Since I have been back I haven't been able to eat junk food, and between needing to drink all the time to keep hydrated and the heat zapping my appetite (a friend’s thermometer broke when it reached 55C the other day), I've lost weight—but I have also lost a lot of muscle tone at the same time. The real problem is that I haven't been able to go to my fitness class for many reasons (it is too far from where we live and the boys have struggled some with all of the transition and have felt the need to spend time at home after school—which has taken priority over my class). In some ways this is really ironic because I have a number of friends who are trying to “get into shape” to go home. They are getting ready to go on home assignment and have realized that this term the Nigerien diet plan hasn't worked for them and they didn't lose weight over their term. So, they are exercising and trying to lose weight and it isn't working —while I am losing weight but not bulk (and they are in the much healthier position).

You know there are so many times in life that we seem to get what we want, only to find out that it wasn't quite what we wanted. Or in the case of my friends, don't seem to get what we want only to find out that God has given us something so much better. It makes me think twice before I give God my requests and makes it a little easier to say “not my will, but yours...”

Thanks to all those that have been praying about our time at home. It looks like the doctor's appointments are lining up well and we received word the other day that the insurance company will pay for part of Cole's orthotics (and every little bit helps!). We still have to work out some details for the seminary course that Dave and I are trying to take while we are home and still aren't sure about transportation while we are home. But God is good!

For those of you that are praying for teachers for the boys’ school, you should check out their website: www.sahelacademy.com there is a list of staffing needs for the next few years that are posted there.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Birthdays

I received an early birthday card today and it got me thinking, because it asked how birthdays are celebrated here. I am not completely sure about how common this is but a number of my Nigerien friends aren’t sure of their day of birth (they know what season they were born in and what year), but they may not know the date on the calendar. However, a number of my Christian friends have taken to celebrating their birthdays on the day that they became a Christian or where baptized. When I heard that the first time I thought that was a great idea, because what is a birthday for other than to celebrate the life of the individual and what better day to celebrate than the day that the person became alive in Christ and started their eternal life! But, I guess this is still more about a “when” they celebrate instead of “how” they celebrate.

Those Nigeriens that I know that actually celebrate their birthday, probably do so because they have been influenced by those outside of their culture. So, they tend to have a birthday cake and a good meal to celebrate, but I don’t have an incredible amount of experience in this area. The one interesting thing that I learned about the zarma, is that typically they don’t eat together. But, if you are having a celebration of some sort or just eating something out of the ordinary you send a piece to your neighbours to enjoy too. I guess in the villages, market day is this kind of celebration (especially when it only happens once a week).

I guess for me I am planning on delay (or extending?) my birthday celebration, until I go home for conference and can eat at one of the many restaurants that I have been missing and eating chocolate that hasn’t melted in your hands long before it has escaped the wrapper let alone come near your mouth. –Mind you I don’t mind the taste of chocolate even if is has been pre-melted a few times since it escaped the factory. It’s just when the mice at the post office get to it before you that I get turned off.

Thanks to all that were praying for my sister’s family. I have heard that her father-in-laws funeral went well. Please continue to pray for Dave as he leads a bible study for the next couple of weeks in French and for the boys’ school as they are looking for staff for next year. (At the moment there is no one to teach Ben’s class, Gr. 1/2 or many of the high school’s core courses). You can also pray about our transportation needs while we are home in late May/early June.
Note: the pictures are of Cole's birthday last month. Because he didn't want a party and there were only two presents we went on a present hunt--that is why his present was in the washing machine.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Sundays


You know that it is Sunday when...
This blog was going to be about breaking my water bottle on Sunday. (The bottom just popped right out of it. I had taken it from the freezer, added a bit of water and got in the car to go to church and the heat of the car found the flaw in the bottom). I have been thinking on and off all day about this and how it could make a really cool analogy for so much of life, but instead I think I just need to write about my day.


  • This morning my alarm clock didn't go off (someone confessed later that they had knocked it about the day before).

  • My devotions were interrupted by an urgent phone call, “You were supposed to send bake goods to school today!”

  • The dog dug a whole in the driveway that I tripped in and skinned the palms of my hands and hurt my wrist.

  • I sat in my favourite chair, one of the only comfortable ones in the house (one that someone had brought in a suitcase from Canada) and the bottom dropped right out of it.

  • Two of my elastic hair bands snapped and I think that I have lost my favourite hair brush.

  • Oh and did I mention, that I have been fighting a headache on and off for the last two weeks.

Dave's response was, “obviously, someone has been praying for me!”

The details really don't matter because I have been through them all before in a variety of ways. You see part of what has been happening to me today is that Dave has been asked to lead a bible study at a local church tonight and Thursday and will be preaching on Sunday. It seems that when you are actively involved in ministry, the enemy tries his best to hinder, discourage or interfere where ever possible. Often we think to pray for those who are in leadership or are ministering (which is very important!) , but when was the last time that you prayed for those close to them. Take a minute and pray for your pastor's family this week. You may even want to write them a note of encouragement or do something nice for them. They really need it, especially on Sunday!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Car Vignettes

The other day, I felt challenged about how I look at people. It's the time of year when everyone needs to buy a new vignette sticker for the car. It's one of those things that the police look for as they regularly pull over vehicles checking for driver's licenses, up to date insurance, etc. I pulled up to the building where I picked one up two years ago and discovered that the office had moved. A security guard gave me vague directions to the new location and off we went.

For the most part I don't suffer from that typical male defect, and so yes, when we got to the general vicinity I pulled over so my wife could ask someone for directions. Deciding we really were in the right place we pulled over and parked the car—asking a second person for directions—and my wife complains that she can't speak French! The woman she asked said, “Oh I think that's up the street,” and proceeded to lead us to the place. We arrived at the place only to find a line up going right out the front door. We stood at the back of the line for a few minutes when our 'guide' came back said, “oh you don't want to stand and wait here—my cousin does this in another office. Come I'll take you there.”

At that point I began to feel nervous, because often people help you here because they expect you'll give them money afterwards, like the guy who almost pushed me out of the way so he could change my flat tire, or the kids who insist that they were guarding my car while I was shopping. Worse yet are stories of people running scams, like the lady who walks up to white people in the markets saying, “Oh, I'm your neighbour, you remember me? Look I forgot my wallet at home can you lend me 10 000 cfa ($25) and I'll come over and pay you back tomorrow.” (A number of people have actually been taken by her!) All of that happens often enough that you begin to be on your guard with strangers. Nevertheless, my wife took our guide up on her offer and we drove a few blocks over to another building with our friend in tow. I decided to let Jennifer handle this one she was doing so well. I waited in the car for a while but finally got nervous and headed in. I stepped into a room once more filled with people who were waiting to buy vignettes. I looked around and saw Jennifer step out of a back hall across the room with a big grin on her face. She'd met with success. We probably saved over an hour of waiting in line by accepting someone's generosity. We returned our friend to her place on the street and were pleasantly surprised when she turned down our small monetary gift.

As I reflected that night on the experience in my journal I had to ask myself about how I viewed the people around me. I'd been ready a number of times to say, “it's ok, we don't need your help anymore.” My suspicions and fears proved unfounded. How many other people, how many other opportunities have I passed by because I wasn't open to the people that the Lord was putting in our path? A song I used to like when I was a teenager goes, “People are strange, when you're a stranger, faces are ugly when you're alone.” Connecting with new people means getting over our anxieties with strangeness and taking a risk to see who the Lord is putting in your path today.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Attitude Check

“You can’t always change your circumstances, but you can change your attitude and your behaviour.” My own words were coming back to haunt me. …

The night before I had been talking to the boys about how to deal with their disappointment because one of them hadn’t been able to eat at the place they really wanted to (and it had resulted in a “pout fest” –which is one step above a full fledged “melt down”). We had talked about the choices that we could make when we were disappointed and how they could make things better or worse.

The next morning I had the delightful task of picking up dead cockroaches, (which is much better than killing live ones or picking up ones that you only think are dead, ugh!) in order to get in the shower to clean my feet (which in Niger is a virtually futile task!). By the time I had deposited my eighth one in the toilet, I was annoyed and was starting to construct a top ten things I hate about hot season list. It was as I was scrubbing my feet and realizing that I wouldn’t make it out of the bathroom before they would be dirty again, that I heard my own voice saying a “you can’t always change your circumstances…” so I started thinking about how nice it was to have hot water to wash in and that I had some really nice smelly soap that my sister had sent me and just the fact that I had had the luxury of the time to clean out the cockroaches before I cleaned my feet. It is amazing how an attitude check can turn your day around. Paul’s advice to the Philippians still holds true today.

Thanks to everyone who has been praying about our car situation. It looks like we may have a new car. Well, new to us and the country car—a 1998 Corolla wagon that is coming to us from Milan. We are just waiting on some paperwork and finances. Hopefully it will serve us well and that the air conditioning will continue to function well. I am really looking forward to the occasional escape from the heat!

Monday, March 17, 2008

St. Patrick's Day

Today the boys have special pillow cases on their beds in honour of St Patrick’s Day. Jennifer had told her aunt that she felt the boys missed the seasons and holidays at home—not that they need to see the commercialism of Christmas shopping at home but an awareness of the seasons and holidays that we celebrate. She asked if someone could create some pillow cases that might reflect something of what’s happening at home, and so today we have shamrocks on our pillows that were made by a lady in her church. I must confess that Patrick is my favourite missionary/saint. That’s not because of my Irish heritage. The truth is my family lost all contact with Ireland when they came to Canada over a hundred years ago. Eric, an Irish friend who works here with the Irish Red Cross said, “Oh yes, they were called the coffin boats because once people got on them they were never heard from again.” What I like about Patrick was his sense of being underqualified and inadequate for the job:

I am, then, first of all, countryfied, an exile, evidently unlearned, one who is not able to see into the future, but I know for certain, that before I was humbled I was like a stone lying in deep mire, and he that is mighty came and in his mercy raised me up and,indeed, lifted me high up and placed me on top of the wall. And from there I ought to shout out in gratitude to the Lord for his great favours in this world and for ever, that the mind of man cannot measure.

Kidnapped and taken as a slave to Ireland when still a child, Patrick later escaped only to be compelled by a vision to return to the people who had enslaved him.

…there, in a vision of the night, I saw a man whose name was Victoricus coming as if from Ireland with innumerable letters, and he gave me one of them, and I read the beginning of the letter: 'The Voice of the Irish', and as I was reading the beginning of the letter I seemed at that moment to hear the voice of those who were beside the forest of Foclut which is near the western sea, and they were crying as if with one voice: 'We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us.' And I was stung intensely in my heart so that I could read no more, and thus I awoke.

Despite misunderstanding and conflict with Christian colleagues and much opposition from local leaders Patrick persevered to establish the church in Ireland. You can read a fairly good translation of his “Confession” here: http://www.cin.org/patrick.html .

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Marriage Proposals



We regularly walk our neighbourhood in the early evening to visit with our neighbours and scary as it may sound I am almost getting used to the fact that on a regular basis there is someone who wants to marry my husband off to someone else. Not that I would ever let it happen, but when you live in a polygamist society you don't generally change it all that fast.
But the other day I had a new experience... We went around the corner and started talking to a lady we hadn't met before. This lady looked like she was in her eighties (so she had to be at least in her late fifties--Niger has a way of aging people!). Anyway, she saw that we had Cole with us and said something that we couldn't quite follow, but it looked like she was suggesting a marriage. She called over her daughter (whose zarma was a little clearer) and said that she wanted our son to marry her granddaughter. We just needed to come by with a dowry. We just laughed.
Luckily Cole doesn't understand any zarma yet because like most eight year old boys he thinks girls are YUCKY! It made an interesting conversation on the way home, as we explained to him why we were laughing. He told us that he wasn't ready to get married and didn't think he would be for a long time! We told him that he was lucky to be Canadian and to have parents that thought that he should choose his own wife and that we would be happy if it didn't happen for a long time. --Don't tell him I put this in the blog he would be upset but it was too good to pass up.

By the way, we sent out our quarterly newsletter this week. If you didn't get it but would like to e-mail us and we'll be happy to send it to you. You'll find our e-mail address on our prayer card of on the FMC website: www.fmc-canada.org

Friday, March 7, 2008

Guards, Treasures and Thieves





19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal…”

When we first moved into our neighbourhood last fall, an older gentlemen, a plumber for the hospital, pulled up on his scooter, greeted me and welcomed me but then quickly advised me to be sure that I hire a guard. We already knew that was probably a wise plan, though another friend counseled us saying, “A guard is good; a guard and a dog is better; but just a dog is best.” We’ve taken option number two till this point, but have never felt the need to be concerned. This week however things changed. We have a woman who comes to cook and clean a couple mornings a week, and yesterday while we were out she had a visitor at the front gate. He said, “The white people who live here sent me to get the television—you’re supposed to give it to me.” Fortunately, she knew better and sent him on his way. Our language teacher told us this is a typical ploy, and often works with young houseworkers fresh from the village. We shared the story with neighbours as we went out to walk the neighbourhood yesterday and today, and everyone seems to say the same thing: there’s a lot of thieves in the neighbourhood. One neighbour, David who works at the garage where I take my car said, “A dog is good but you need two.” The imam who lives next door said, “You need to talk to the guy around the corner who’s a municipal police officer, he’ll catch him for you.” The Chief of the Quartier’s son who sells vegetables on the corner told us that a thief was in their compound last night and the only reason they were able to chase him away was because the children hadn’t fallen asleep yet and heard him in the yard. I find that the story tends to arouse a strong reaction with neighbours. I must say that I don’t feel overly concerned but whether that is simple faith or simply naïve, only the Lord knows.
(Jenn says: little did they know that our tv is kind of like our car hardly worth the effort!)

Please remember Jenn's sister and her family as her father-in-law is battling cancer.

Here is the real treasure in our house:


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Car Buying


Our little car has served us well over the last few years. Or at least it got us to where we were going most of the time. But the time is coming for a change. Lately the battery is starting to die and I've stuck a solar panel in the back window to keep it charged (which is fine as long as we're not out after dark). However, buying cars in Niger is another story. Most people hire an agent to go out looking for them. Middlemen in theory are supposed to be helping the buyer but nevertheless I still get the distinct feeling of dealing with a salesman. Cars aren't built in Niger only rebuilt, and having said that the best buy is probably imported. Toyota will ship new products but shipping alone is over a thousand dollars. So the short version is we've been looking at used cars in Niger. Imports seem invariably to have had their odometer rolled back though there's usually some indication of what the real mileage should be. One car had the Swiss maintenance record in the glove compartment. Another had a little sticker by the door hinge from an Italian garage recording mileage at the last oil change... Fun doesn't stop there. Imported cars need to passed through customs to have the appropriate taxes paid. Paying once doesn't mean you won't have to pay again. Friends from various other missions have had their vehicles impounded on occasion because someone in customs pocketed the money instead of processing the paperwork. Oh, and did I mention that on newer cars that have micro chips in the key, you can't have a second key made because there is no way to prove that the car wasn't stolen at some point in time. Needless to say this is somewhat stressful moment, but God is faithful.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Simple Pleasures


This week was Ben's birthday so we gave him some choices for his celebration: 1) have a party at school with his whole class or 2) have some friends from his class over for a party or 3) go out to the restaurant of his choice with the family or 4) have one friend sleepover. He chose to have the sleepover, which means that we delayed the celebration by a day so that the sleepover wouldn't be on a school day. This left the problem of the dinner meal for his actual birthday, to which he responded “chicken noodle soup!” Thanks to friends in Canada that had sent some we used the last package or chicken noodle soup to celebrate his birthday and to make the day extra special, God provided that Grandma & Grandpa's present arrived in the mail on the day of his birthday. Because we only had one friend for the “party” we decided to make the presents a little more interesting by sending him on a treasure hunt to find them. He was thrilled.

I am amazed at how it can take so little to make a seven year old happy. Why is it that as we get older we forget to stop and take the time to revel in simple pleasures? I decided to do something about that and to slowly revel in the peppermint patty that Grandma sent me in the package! :)

Thanks for those who have been praying for us. We used Ben's birthday as a opportunity to reach out to some young men that we have been connecting with and invited them over for homemade ice cream. They came and we had a good visit with them. Continue to pray for our language learning and open doors, I struggled to understand a couple of ladies who came to our house last night looking for work and missed an opportunity.

Monday, February 11, 2008

One Is Enough

People still marvel at our use of Zarma in the street even though we're still have only a survival level of Zarma at best. It's just enough to get into trouble. We like to go out to the main road by our house where there are a number of street vendors selling everything from soup to nuts as my brother would say. The other day we went out to pick up some breakfast, little deep fried pancakes that are a penny a piece but heavy on the grease. Balkissa, one of the vendors greeted in us in Zarma and chatted. Meanwhile a crowd began to gather to watch her carry on with the white people, including a couple of ladies that were standing behind us whom I could overhear talking about the Anasara's ie. white people. Balkissa turned to me and nodded to the ladies behind Jennifer, and I thought she asked, “Do you understand what they're saying?” “Yes,” I said. She repeated this time point at them saying, “You understand them?” “A little bit,” I replied. At that point Jennifer suspected that something might be awry as some began to laugh. Upon further clarification I discovered what she really had asked was “Would you like to take one of these women as a wife?” (“Yes”) And then, “That one, you would like her for a wife?” (“A little bit...”) It was one of those days when I was glad I had Jennifer standing beside me. I quickly explained that I was quite content with the wife I had, and desired no more. “Oh but this is Niger,” she said, “you can have four wives here.” No, one is enough, and fortunately she helps keep me out of trouble.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Feet



I learned a new Hausa proverb this week that goes something like, “Your feet are your commission…”. I gathered that the essence is something like “your feet show where your heart is…”

I had been talking to my accountability partner about my frustrations with language and how I feel utterly useless because I can’t communicate. It makes me want to hide out or to go back to teaching English (where I know what I am doing and can feel a measure of success). She told me that in using my feet and getting out there to visit my neighbours I was not only exposing myself to the language to learn it, but I was saying that I cared about the people I was visiting even if I couldn’t understand or speak to them in a way that I would like to.
It makes you think doesn’t it? Where have your feet been spending most of their time? What are your priorities really? It is easy to let the busy-ness of life take over and direct your steps, so that you find your feet are always on the gas pedal and rarely stopping to visit that friend or neighbour that you have been meaning to catch up with. Or so busy rushing to the next location, that you don’t take the time to ask the store clerk you see weekly (or daily?) how they are doing –or even worse never take the time to really listen when you do ask. Maybe when you put your socks on tomorrow (or in my case, sandals) you’ll take a minute to ask God to direct your steps. You might be amazed at where you end up.
[About the pictures: The first is traditional henna tattoos that the women here do to get ready for a wedding. They usually decorate their hands too. These feet belong to me and a cousin that came for a visit we actually did this with a friend who was getting ready to go home to get married. The second is a shoemaker making sandals.]

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Murphy's Law (anything that can go wrong, will!)

--of electricity
Last week Murphy’s Law of electricity struck us when I was up at 4am writing the blog and getting other jobs accomplished that required electricity before the power went out, because that was the only day in the last two and a half weeks when the power didn’t got out! Dave thought I should do that more often. I figured that it is his turn, but that would just turn into another exercise in futility because Dave is not a morning person.
--of propane
The other night our neighbours come over to confirm that they couldn’t find any propane in town for their stove. Of course, we run out of propane that night too! (Praise God! We were able to find some the next day—our neighbours haven’t been so lucky, but they have someone working for them that is quite good at cooking over a fire)
--of vehicles
This morning I was racing off to school and a meeting only to find as I pulled out the driveway that my tire was flat (of course our compressor had died from too much use, or the dust in the air!). I eased the car around the corner to the guy who fixes tires, only to find out he wasn’t open yet (and we weren’t exactly sure when he would arrive). So we tried a neighbour that we knew who had a compressor. Only to find out that he was sick, so instead of using the compressor he lent us their second car. The problem was that it was out of gas. When we finally got to the third gas station (the first one that was actually open), we couldn’t get the key to work in the lock on the gas cap and had to try to get to the school on fumes. Oh, and did I mention that the cell phone didn’t work the first two times we tried to phone the school to let them know that we would be late. (All before 8am! However, even with all of this I was only 5 minutes late for my meeting and it hadn’t started yet!)

I am so glad that we serve a good and gracious God that supplies all of our needs, gives us the strength to endure and doesn’t test us beyond what we can handle. And I am also grateful for all of your prayers! Thanks.

Friday, January 18, 2008

There is darkness and then there is darkness...

Darkness is taking on a whole new meaning for me these days. With the power outages starting a 6am (or sometimes earlier—so I am writing this a 4:30 if it lacks all sense you can understand why) and with having to get up at 6 to get everyone off to school, I have learned how dark night can really be. Usually during the night there are security lights or street lights that you take for granted, or at least I do. I frequently wander around my house “in the dark” so as not to wake anyone. But it is totally different when there is no power in the neighbourhood! Please pray that we will graciously cope with this inconvenience and will still get to school on time.

Thanks to all of you that have been praying for our New Year’s requests. I found out this week that there is someone who will be coming to teach Cole’s class in the summer which is an answer to prayer. Continue to remember Ben who doesn’t have a teacher for the 2008/2009 year yet. Both Ben and Cole are on the recovery from being sick (another item of praise).

I also asked for prayer for peace in Niger with the trouble in the North. Please continue to remember that situation. We had a incident about a week ago where a land mine exploded in another section of town. We are not sure whether it is related or not because no one has claimed responsibility for it. We are not at risk because we live very near a paved road and travel mostly on pavement, but you can pray that God will use this situation for His glory.

Sorry there aren’t pictures the connections are a bit slow, but maybe I’ll be able to add something later from the boys school (if there generator is working!).