Snapshot: Risk or Safety?

(The above image is borrowed from SIM’s online security training)

Often when we are in the USA, people ask us about the dangers we face by living in West Africa. It is a fair question, especially since our own United States Security Department officially warns against travel to this region. The truth is, we don’t make the decision to come here lightly. We are constantly working to combine faith in God with wisdom.

Here is a glimpse into our process – what we consider, pray over, and work through regarding our decision to live in this context year after year.

1. We look honestly at the facts. The security statistics in the Sahel region grow progressively grimmer year after year. We are now confined to our urban city setting due to the rise in terrorist attacks in the outlying areas. Travel to other parts of the country must happen by airplane since the roads are unsafe. Here is a graph that was shared last year among missionaries:

We do not attempt to look the other way or ignore the raw data, and we know that we are not protected here in the same way we would be in our passport country. We are not naïve about what is really going on around us – that would be foolish! So, we really do take a long hard look at these realities.

2. We receive regular security training from our mission agency. Every year SIM holds us accountable to complete a thorough security training that is Biblical and also very practical. We look at “theology of risk” so that we can be people who follow God while at the same time use the intelligence God has given us. Here is a page from that training:

(The above image is taken from SIM’s online security training.)

As you can see, seeking to live and work in dangerous places is not automatically the courageous faith-filled-thing-to-do! We don’t just pack our bags and come here without thinking! Obedience to God might sometimes mean to avoid danger. We are constantly in prayer that God will give us His wisdom to avoid danger, if at all possible, but to give us courage if He wants us to go.

3. We wrestle with the reality of following Christ. We know that there is inherent risk in following Jesus Christ – suffering is part of the job description. If we live to avoid suffering, that is not obedience. In the same way, if we strive to prove how courageous we are, that is not obedience. So we are continually faced with a desperate need to be sure of our Shepherd’s voice, to make sure we aren’t doing one or the other – avoiding suffering or trying to prove ourselves.

Our life in Niger is not easy – it is hot and dusty, and like most developing countries there are myriad inconveniences. We certainly aren’t here because it makes our life better or more comfortable! But we agree that we do not want to run away from the hard things that God has for us. We will continue to seek wisdom, pray for courage, and with God’s help we will follow Him where He leads us.

Snapshot: Let’s go for a drive

We are now approaching the home stretch of our time in the USA. It has been wonderful to visit with many friends and spend time with family, answering questions and telling stories about our very different life in West Africa. However, I wish I could bring each person back to Niger for at least one week, to introduce them to our local friends, show them our landscape, and just drive around town to truly take in the sights, sounds and smells.

Unfortunately, I am unable to do that.

But then I remember that I have saved some videos on my computer! These snippets won’t transport the smells, but the sights and sounds are all there.

So, if you’re up for it, let’s take a little “drive” around town together! If you are a parent or grandparent, this might be a fun way for your kids to learn about Niger.

Click here to watch a one-minute video of driving down a main street in Niamey.

Until last year*, our family could drive just under an hour to see some rare wildlife – giraffes! I saved this short video of our last visit to see them, in 2017. (*The giraffes are too far out of the city now, making it dangerous for anyone to venture there. It is now a restricted area because of terrorism.)

Click here to watch this 46-second video of our last giraffe visit.

This picture was taken back in 2013, the first time we visited the giraffes. They are so beautiful.

Most of the roads in Niger are not paved, except the main streets through the big city. The side streets are typically sand. We are thankful for our 4×4 because the sand can get quite deep sometimes!

Click here to watch a 51-second video of our drive on one of these side streets.

The “rules of the road” are fairly negotiable in Niger. This can cause some interesting situations! There is one intersection that is notorious for becoming COMPLETELY locked up. One time I pulled out my phone and video-taped some of this madness.

Click here to watch a 19-second video of this INSANE intersection.

Another type of “traffic jam” that is not uncommon here in Niamey – cows!

Well I hope you enjoyed that little “tour” of our city!

Did that enhance your understanding of Niger? Or do you NOW have more questions? Please let us know – let’s keep the conversation going.

Here are some more photos that I have taken from my carseat, along the roads of the city… enjoy!

Snapshot: Precious Moments

Meeting with couples is one way we are able to share the marriage discipleship material here in Niger. Sometimes a couple might come to our house and sit on our back porch, and sometimes it works better for us to go to their house. The latter is the case with one couple we are currently meeting with, a pastor and his wife.

They live about 10 minutes from us, in a home located next to their church. It is a simple house in the usual Nigèrien style, with mud-brick walls and metal-shuttered windows and doors. We sit outside under an awning made of branches and fabric, enjoying some tea and watching the chickens come and go nonsensically.

We pray, talk through the scriptures and questions in French, allowing Pastor to translate into Tamajaq for his wife to understand more fully. She says she understands us, but he wants to make sure she gets the full meaning of our conversations. It is a sweet picture of his love and respect for her, and I feel privileged to see this rare expression of love up close.

I love the peaceful atmosphere of our times together. We don’t feel rushed. It is private and we share transparently. I can tell that they enjoy being able to talk about marriage and family life from their perspective, as Tamajaq-Nigeriens who want to follow Jesus. We are always learning something new… who are the students here anyway?

Andy and I don’t ever want to take for granted this precious opportunity. It’s not often that a couple is willing to let us into their lives like this, because it requires humility and patience and a time commitment. (We will be meeting weekly for up to 10 or 12 weeks!)

Please pray for us to fully love the people that God brings into our lives here. Pray for this couple, that God will bless them in their relationship and in their ministry in their church and family.

Snapshot: We are going NUTS!

NUTS – Niamey Universal Tournament of Softball – is an annual even here in our city. We weren’t sure if it would even happen this year since the flood pretty much drowned the only softball field! Usually, NUTS happens in October or November, but we were in flood survival mode at that time, so softball was the farthest thing from our mind.

Jonathan’s team – The Sahel Competitive Team – included students and some men from the community.

But the desire to have something normal happen this year won the day!

The field was prepared and the concession stand set up. Teams were put together and a few practices were held. Volunteers put together a round robin of games and just like that, a tournament was underway!

Everyone was rusty, but the fun of it all was the most important thing.

Jonathan is a senior this year and his team – the Sahel Competitive team – was looking pretty sharp. They played well and went to the final championship game! But, in the end they lost to a group of veteran missionary men. The game was close though! The guys can all feel great about their effort for sure.

For me, it was just so much fun to be with people. The event was outdoors and masks were optional. We ate good food from the concession stand, had long unhurried conversations with friends, and cheered on our favorite teams.

Jonathan (left) with his high school friends from his team.

We are really thankful for times like this, that give us a chance to laugh and enjoy one another during a very serious time in history.

Snapshot: Re-Opening the Bible School!

When the flood took over our compound in August, the Bible school was one of the entities completely swept through with river water.

I’ve written about our involvement with L’ESPriT – “L’École Supérieur Privée de Théologie” – Bible School of Theology – here on this blog not long ago. This school exists to train pastors to lead churches in unreached parts of Niger and West Africa.

The entire school was inundated by flood waters in late August. The student’s housing, most of their belongings, as well as the library and office were completely ruined.

This was a real crisis! With at least ten new students, along with their families, set to arrive in September, there was nothing left to do except pray for a miracle. Meanwhile, through the flood emergency fund, God provided money to replace some supplies that were lost in the flood – mattresses, gas bottles for cooking, large cooking pots, food, and bed linens. There was a lot of searching around the city, talking with local church leaders, and PRAYER.

In mid-September there was an offer made and accepted to use a center owned by another church denomination. What an answer to prayer! The school director’s wife and I went shopping one day to buy food and pots for the new location. Everyone was excited!

Then, just days before opening, this church denomination changed their minds and revoked their commitment. It was a shock and such a discouragement. All we could do was cry out to God. Some of us simply held on to the knowledge that God is in control – even of this.

Of course you already know there is a happy ending to this story! About one week later there was another phone call, another conversation about an option just outside the city. There is a ministry called “The Rock” that has a center in this village suburb. They explained how they were going through changes, had been praying about what to do next with their center. They had been praying specifically that God would give them something that could infiltrate this village with the light of the gospel, that their neighborhood would be impacted by Christian witness.

The director of ESPriT talked and prayed with the Rock ministry leaders, and it was clear this was the plan for both of them! Thankfully, housing was found for all of the families – within this village! – and even a place for the library and office were secured.

On Monday morning, October 26th L’ÉSPriT held the opening service at their new God-given location! Andy was out of town but I was able to attend. The director spoke about being a light in this new place and the sovereignty of God in everything – the flood, the hardships, and now this new blessing.

Please continue to pray for this school, these pastors-in-training, and for the new neighborhood of people who will be impacted by the presence of this Bible School this year.

Snapshot: A visit to Hadiza’s center

I recently stole away with a friend of mine for an afternoon to visit Hadiza and her center for children with special needs.

It is called “Centre de Vie Nouvelle” (“center of new life”), and it is precisely that.

We arrived at the center, at the edge of the city, on a blistering-hot day around noon. The center is actually her own house. She transformed her lovely covered porch into a place of healing.

There was a large woven plastic mat, piles of toys and several smiling children to greet us. And some chickens. And several kittens. And two dogs.

Many of you know Hadiza because I’ve written about her here on this blog, and since she worked as our househelper for a few years. This beautiful woman stepped out in faith last year to start a center for children who are disabled – and severely neglected.

She quit her regular paying job. (In this country, this is unthinkable!)

She invited a few ladies from her church to help with the ministry.

She collected toys and supplies.

Then, she bravely invited a couple of neglected, disabled children she knew from her neighborhood to spend some time with her.

Hadiza told me that she wanted the children to know that God loves them. That they are not forgotten. The reality is that families with disabled children here in Niger simply have no resources to help their kids, so they are left to fend for themselves. Hadiza knew this was happening in her neighborhood and it was bothering her enough to completely change her life

Hadiza essentially “gave up her life” – sacrifice of money, time, social prestige and physical energy – to serve these children.

And I’ve never seen her so happy!

“Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” Matthew 16:25

It was incredibly moving for me.

I watched her hand-feed three little girls over the course of an hour, patiently scooping food into their mouths while repeating their names with phrases of affection. Her countenance and her actions literally radiated LOVE.

Many of these kids can’t use their arms and hands enough to feed themselves, and even chewing is difficult and messy. Hadiza proudly explained their stories of transformation.

One boy – who has the physical appearance of a 10-year-old – is actually 17. He is mentally retarded and cannot talk except for a few words. But – oh that smile! When we were introduced, he tilted his head awkwardly and let out a big laugh and smiled so broadly that it took up his whole face. She described that he was so dirty when they first met that other kids would run away and throw rocks at him. He couldn’t use a bathroom so he smelled and had saliva all over his face. Now, he is clean, well-dressed, healthy and so so happy.

Every one of the kids has a story somewhat like this. Transformation. Healing!

The children receive two healthy meals and a good bath every day. She and her ladies share God’s word with them in their native languages, pray for them, and give them dignity. They receive lessons in French and sing songs. The atmosphere is relaxed and joyful. Some days, there is a nurse and physical therapist who help with the children’s physical needs – giving them exercises that will help them grow physically stronger and self-sufficient.

My friend Ruth and I enjoyed lunch with the children and ladies, listening to Hadiza’s stories and marveling at the beauty of it all. We snuggled the little ones, played with puzzles and balls, and I found myself dreaming of the ripple effect of this precious little center.

Steps of faith. Costly love. Transformed families. Renewed life and hope for children without a voice in a culture that doesn’t recognize them. It is all so beautiful! I am thrilled to share it with you.

And I hope you are inspired – maybe you have a dream that might be “costly”? Remember that a “loss” is actually a win!

Snapshot: A visit to the Clinic

Niger is not known to have a strong health system.

Therefore, when my friend Fanta became pregnant I asked her about her plans for medical care during her pregnancy and delivery. Here would be a great opportunity to understand the health system!

Last week I took Fanta to her regular appointment with the gynecologist at a local clinic.

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I learned right away that Fanta wanted to avoid the local hospital and maternity unit due to apparent negligences at those places. Although it is much cheaper to go to those places, she and her husband have been saving extra money so she could go to this clinic.

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I was pleasantly surprised! What a nice, clean clinic!

We left early in the morning so she could be first in line, if at all possible. I learned that one doesn’t simply make an appointment at a clinic like this. The patient must arrive and pay and get in line, it is a “take a number” system. (There is a separate part of the clinic that is for emergencies.)

So, arriving at 6:30 a.m., Fanta received her “number one” status and we waited until 8:45 for the doctor to arrive.

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Thankfully, this was the day after a big rain, so the temperatures were lovely. We had a chance to catch-up on on our lives with a wonderful breeze keeping us refreshed. This was a beautiful gift to me.

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After the encouraging report from the doctor, she needed to go to the laboratory for urine and blood samples. It was going to take some extra time to get the results, so we decided to walk to the pharmacy and buy the necessary prenatal vitamins.

Here is a 15-second video I took while waiting outside of the pharmacy. I am including it here so you can see how life is going on rather normally here in Niger during the pandemic. (However, at the end of the video, you see someone washing their hands at a little washing station – this is something new to life here!)

Upon returning to the clinic, she received her lab results and we waited some more, in order to talk with the doctor about them. She needs to gain more weight, but besides that, all is well!

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Their baby girl is going to arrive sometime in early June, according to their calculations. During our conversations, she shared with me the name they have chosen for their baby girl – but it is a secret so don’t even try to persuade me to tell you!

Thanks for “going to the clinic” with us! Although one must plan to be waiting around a lot, the clinic was a positive experience. I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into life here. Please pray for Fanta and their baby.

 

Snapshot: Dust! (and Rain!)

We are still in Niger.

We had a real rainstorm yesterday – the first in six months! Rain may not seem like anything worth writing about, but – trust me – I try to share only interesting things about our lives here with you on this blog.

The notable characteristic of rain here in Niger is that it is preceded by DUST.

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Photo credit to my friend who lives on the Sahel Academy campus – Bianca Adomnicai. The wind picks up and within about ten minutes the sky becomes dark as night, at 2:00 in the afternoon!

Check out this 25 second video of the dust storm coming into the city!

At my house, we rush to close windows before this wall of dust enters the house. But it can’t be stopped. The rusty-brown-colored particles enter anyway, covering every surface with an unwelcome film.

The rain pounds our tin roof loudly for over an hour, while the dust slowly dissipates, allowing the sun to re-emerge and finish out the day.

The temperature plummets from 112 degrees to less than 85 degrees – a blessed respite from the oppressive heat. Even this morning there was a cool breeze and quiet relief in the air!

Nathaniel – our oldest son, the senior who is graduating this month and will soon be leaving this desert land – exclaimed “I’m so glad that happened! I was hoping to experience one more of those before I left!” (To prove the point that this is a noteworthy experience to share with all of you!)

Now it’s time to clean up… (smile)

 

 

Snapshot: Something to celebrate!

With the news these days being mostly negative, I thought we could all use a little story about something to celebrate. The Bible School I wrote about in my last post, L’ESPriT, recently received a financial grant to install a well for the compound!

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The interesting part of this story is that the most efficient place for the well is in our own backyard. So we’ve had a front row seat to the process of installation this week. It has been tricky, to say the least!

After 2-3 days of very loud pounding, water was found!

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Next, they had to get the HUGE water tower over the wall behind our house.

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Watch out for power lines! And people! And that wall that separates our house from the busy street and bridge on the other side!

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Here you can see how close it is to our house – our clothesline and roof is on the right, and our meeting place for marriage ministry is on the left.

Thankfully for everyone, the water will be funneled to various buildings through underground pipes, so people won’t have to carry gigantic plastic jugs to and from our property.

The well will provide water for the students and other residents on our compound at little to no cost. The well will provide water when the rest of the city has water cuts – which happen regularly. And a bonus is that we should have excellent water pressure now! What a blessing!

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It is strange how the entire world is suffering under this covid-19 pandemic, and yet some aspects of life and progress continue. This well is such an encouragement to this community – people have been coming by and taking pictures during the last two days. I hope this encourages you too!

 

Snapshot: ESPriT, Training Pastors for French West Africa

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We live on a multi-faceted compound here in our city.

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This compound contains:

  • missionary families,
  • university students from all over Africa,
  • a church,
  • and a Bible school – including housing for the students and their families.

Now that is a lot of moving parts in a small space!

 

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Above: One of the full time professors of theology and leadership(left), and the Director of ESPriT

 

I haven’t shared much about the Bible school, because until this fall we haven’t been personally involved there. However, now we have three married couples from the school meeting with us regularly for marriage discipleship training, so we thought it was time to give a glimpse into this important ministry.

The school is called ESPriT – which stands for “École Supérieure Privée de Théologie”, or in English, “Superior Private School of Theology”. All instruction is in French and then translated into either Hausa or Zarma if needed.

There are currently 12 students in the three-year pastoral training program. They come from all parts of West Africa.

 

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Above: Students pictured with two of the part-time professors

 

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Above: Two of the third-year students working hard. Do you think there are enough books on that desk?

 

Niger is a primarily muslim country (98%) with just .92% evangelical Christians.

 

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Above: In this couple, both are first-generation Christians and they hope to bring the good news to those who haven’t heard.

 

“We cannot underestimate the importance of forming leaders for the church. We need servants of God who can correctly teach the Word of God and who know how to apply the truth accurately in this world.” – Dr. John DeValve, missionary and professor at ESPriT.

 

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Housing is provided for families who attend the school.

 

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“In our region, ESPriT has an important role to play since it is the only university-level evangelical training institution of theology,” says Roger Stoll, director of SIM. The school is perfectly located to train leaders of the church in French-speaking West Africa. ESPriT prepares these men – and their wives if they are married – to lead and teach with wisdom in the African context.

Please pray for this school, for the Director, for the professors and for the students. Pray that God would bless the work here and bring hope to many people in this country.

[As you probably noticed, I did not give specifics names, country origins, or locations. This is intentional, for security reasons.]

 

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Above: Third year student (and dear friend of ours. 🙂