The next time you grumble as you have to be the one in your house to tie up the plastic garbage bag and wrestle it out of the garbage can to carry it to the garbage bin, which is conveniently located next to your garage…please stop and think of this. In Niger, there are no garbage bins next to garages. There is not a company that drives by to pick up garbage and take it to a landfill for a small monthly fee. There are matches. And there are mounds. EVERYWHERE. Yes, in Niger garbage is burned. Anywhere and everywhere! The smell of fire is in the air always, and I am getting used to it. I am getting used to the sight of little burned mounds all over the place, with wild goats rummaging through to find the least-charred items for their dinner. I thought of this as I was resting today, the smoky smell wafting in through our heavily-screened window. I thought about what a normal part of life it is, this smell, now that I’ve been experiencing it for almost two months. How quickly we get used to something!
You gotta love the Nigeriens for importing these select chips! I know you are jealous and want to try some…
I bought three apples yesterday for about two dollars. I can’t stop thinking about it!
Here is how it works… First, we get ourselves “ready” for the market on mondays…making our list, part of it is for us, and part of it I write separate so I can tear it off and give it to our “local guy” who helps us get some of the produce…but wait, I am getting ahead of myself. We have to get there and find a parking place near the market. Usually a guard waves his hand and whistles (literally, a gym-teacher’s style whistle!) us toward a spot that takes a miracle to squeeze into. Once our feet hit the ground, we are surrounded by lots of things: smells, noise, venders, the guards, and our aforementioned “local guy”, who promptly takes my torn-off list and heads into the market to find the things I’ve listed. Now we are on our own quest for the remainder of the prepared list.
The “list” is oh-so-important. You see, upon arrival to the Petite Marche there is no room for thinking afresh. It is a survival situation for us. the onslaught of stimulus is so intense that it takes all of me to just complete the list! Past the countless shacks and stalls and piles on the ground, searching for the right opening into the market so we won’t get lost in there. Watch out for “the trench” — don’t step in it or on it! God-only-knows what is in there, and by the looks and smell of it I DON’T WANT TO KNOW. Carefully step over it and move on.
All this time there are these precious children everywhere. Offering to help carry our bags. Offering to sell us something completely useless. Asking for food. Asking for a “cadeau”, a gift. Children of all ages. I want to cry right now just thinking of them…while my own children lie snugly in their cozy beds, my loving kisses still fresh on their cheeks. It is SO HARD for me to walk away from them! I want to hold them and tell them how much Jesus loves them and I want to give them what my own kids have — love and trust and hope!
I am getting the part about buying the apples…
So we march to the meat guy, push on toward the stall with the flour and sugar, decline a million offers for tomatoes, garlic, fruit, and …. continue to feel the little hands touching my arm, hearing the little voices “Mama!” …Pleading…”Cadeau?”
Lord, help me! I really want to DO something! These are YOUR kids! You love them! You made them!
The advice of the other missionaries here is to be careful with your gifts to the poor. I get that. The physically poor are everywhere here. You have to be wise and discerning, decide what your “policy” is and stick to it. This is very sound advice! These are Godly men and women, sharing their hearts and experience with us!
So we walk on. Oh okay, Andy breaks down each week and “hires” this sweet little 10 or 11-year old boy to carry our bags to our car. (for about 50 cents) This little guy finds us each week among the throngs of people! It is amazing!
Sometimes I just want to go crazy and just see what would happen if I let all caution go to the wind and just buy some food for the kids! Or take their hands and tell them that Jesus loves them! I want to throw out all the wisdom I’ve received and abandon myself to the compassion I feel.
So… yesterday I did. Three apples.
I sat in my car waiting for Andy to return from the busy market so we could go. My heart was so heavy. I watched as the children gathered themselves together across the street to strategize their begging. I waited. It was getting hotter, I rolled down my window. Two little girls crossed the street — they noticed me sitting there. Their precious brown eyes and snaggle-toothed smiles met mine…”Mama…Cadeau?”
Oh for once I am just going to lose myself!
I jumped out of the car without saying a word. Grabbed both little brown hands in mine and pointed to the nearest fruit stand. I ran with them to it and asked them if they would like an apple, one for each of them. Without waiting for an answer I ordered “deux pommes, sil vous plait”. I looked down and now there were three little brown faces looking at me! Oh no! “excus-e-moi! toi pommes”, holding three fingers up for him to see, just in case my French was as bad as I thought it was! Before I could pay, there were so many children surrounding me that I couldn’t barely breathe! Oh no — where were my little girls..the little hands I held as I ran across the street? I reached in the bag, grabbed an apple and thrust it into the first one’s hands…one older girl tried to rip it away…I said No! Then I thrust the next one into the second girls’ hand…she had to fight for it…but I think she got it and ran away. The third little girl I couldn’t find, but so many hand and arms were grabbing me that I just found the littlest one and thrust it there for her find…
I wanted to cry. Oh how I wanted to tell those first two …”Jesu, t’aime“… Jesus loves you. My idea failed. I just wanted to show some love, a practical gesture of God’s generous love…*sigh*…I have so much to learn here in this foreign land.
But I also felt liberated! It doesn’t work! Ha! I just had to try! My heart bursts with love and compassion for these kids, yet God has His own ways…and I must wait for Him to show me what to do or say.
It is like that no matter where we live — needs are right in front of us in every nation! I am comforted by the Truth of God’s Word that tells me that, “The poor will eat and be satisfied; they who seek the Lord will praise him – may your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him.” Psalm 22:26-27
I don’t feel badly that my plan failed. I am just excited now to see what kind of brilliant plan the Lord has for me here! How does He want me to show His love to the children? How can I pray for them? I feel the Lord’s pleasure in my abandon…my naivete. He is crazy like that too! Always throwing His grace my way, when I least deserve it! He laughs at my three expensive apples! “That’s my girl! She’s got my heart beating in there now…watch out!”
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes” Psalm 21:7-8
Oh Lord Jesus, may I follow You wholeheartedly and abandon myself to Your marvelous love! I want to love this dirty, messed-up world in a way that honors and glorifies Your Name. Teach me Your ways that I may walk in Your truth, give me an undivided heart that I may fear Your Name.
It has been a loooong two months for Nathaniel — trying to capture these lizards has proved to be more difficult than even this lizard-loving guy could handle! Alas — one lucky little guy (gal?) was caught! Great job Nathaniel! (Don’t worry, Nathaniel set it free after showing it off a bit!)