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. 🙂

 

Snapshot: Shelter (Part two)

(If you haven’t already read my previous post about our own home here, then click here to see the pictures.)

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Just like in the USA, there are many types of shelter here in Niamey. This is the country’s capital city with more than one million people, the rich and the poor often living side by side. It is not unusual to see a very large multi-level house with beautiful gates and double rows of barbed wire atop the surrounding walls, located next door to a dirt lot with several round mud-brick houses with grass roofs.

Last week I asked a good friend of mine to take some photos of her neighborhood, which is not far from where I live. I think this is a very good example of how the majority of people live here, so I believe it gives you the best possible glimpse of normal life for a Nigérienne family. Some have more, many have less, but this is what you will find nearly everywhere you go throughout this city.

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The walls are made of “mud-brick”, and the roof is usually a tin roof, or sometimes it will be large grass bundles or mats. Some walls might be made of cement bricks, which are more resilient to rain and water damage.

 

Do you notice any windows in these buildings? No… that is because it is a pretty big deal to have actual windows (not with glass, mind you), because it requires metal casings and some sort of metal enclosure.

 

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People are very creative with adding on outdoor living and work spaces!

 

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In this house you can see the window! Instead of glass, there are metal shutters. 

 

The large yellow plastic containers are used for carrying water. Since these homes do not have running water, the neighborhood shares a nearby water spout or sometimes water from a well.

 

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This woman is washing something – maybe her dishes or clothes. I liken it to camping – there is always a little dirt mixed in!

 

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My friend is a seamstress so here is her machine. These butterfly sewing machines are great because they can run by electricity or simply by pumping the petal.

 

Speaking of electricity, the community does not automatically have electricity wired to their home. Someone who lives there will manage it and everyone will pitch in. My friend, in particular, was having trouble with this process so they saved and purchased a small solar panel to charge their phones and have a fan and lights.

 

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This woman is washing something – maybe it is moringa? Moringa, the new “superfood” grows all over the place here in Niger and is a very popular food.

 

You might be thinking that this photo is taken in a village or in the countryside, but this is truly part of the capital city. This is just minutes away from the bustling city center!

Some people might wonder why our family doesn’t live like this too? It would certainly be more cost effective! After living here for a number of years now, I can assure you that our family would not do well at all living this way. Honestly, we aren’t rugged enough to endure the heat and sickness we would face day in and day out. Some missionaries who live in the desert bush have more primitive dwellings like this, because there are no other options. For our family and the other missionaries with our mission who live in the city, we have learned that local people would find it to be somewhat bizarre if we lived exactly like them. They would wonder why? Of course, we keep things simple and practical and never want to flaunt our way of life as if it is “better”. It is simply the only way for us to survive and serve here.

Well, that is truly just a snapshot – because there is so much more to see! Is there anything that surprises you about this way of living or this type of shelter? Do you have any questions? Please email me nikki.gray@sim.org  or reply to this post!

 

Snapshot: Shelter (Part One)

One of the most frequently asked questions we receive is “what is your house like?”, or something to this effect. Do we have electricity? Do we have plumbing? What is the roof or what are the walls made out of? You get the idea. For this reason, I thought it would be interesting to share with you about our home, as well as the homes of our local friends around here. I’ll share some photos – and NO, I did not clean my house, so welcome to our real world!

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I finally added some family photos to our living room area! (It only took me about two years to do it.) Hanging things on these cement walls is challenging! It takes a serious drill and special supplies, so some walls remain rather empty.

 

Here are the basics:  Cement walls and tile floors. Tin roof and wood ceilings. Metal doors and windows, with metal mesh netting throughout. Gas oven and stovetop. Fridge and freezer.

Plumbing? yes

Electricity? yes

Actual toilets – with somewhere to sit? yes

Dishwasher? no

Clothes washer? yes

Clothes dryer? no

So you can see, it is rather civilised. (You can throw away your sympathy now!)

When you drive up to our house, this is what you see: the hangar (carport thing) on the left and the house behind. We are blessed to have shade trees all around the house!

 

Our porch is very big, though it is not enclosed with netting so it always has tons of flies and mosquitos. We hope to have it enclosed this year so we can use it more often.

 

Next door is the men’s dormitory for the Bible school – many of the residents are actually students at the Niamey University.

 

Behind our house is the laundry line – a.k.a. “the clothes dryer” – and you can see our one hot water heater and an air conditioner unit on this side of the house.

 

AIR CONDITIONING: Since I just mentioned this all-important feature, I feel I should explain. We have individual AC units in each bedroom and one in the living room. Of course you know that it is very hot here in Niger! We use these AC’s at night, and often in the evening we will use the living room one. We would probably use them all the time except that electricity costs are out of this world here. So, we pick and choose the most needy times and enjoy the cool air thoroughly. 🙂

 

This is where we burn our garbage (on the left) or dispose of compost (on the right). It is located about 10 yards to the side of our house and is shared by one other missionary family.

 

Now let’s move inside…. 

That is our front door and when you enter the house, you are in the dining room. (“Open concept” – ha ha!)

 

There is our cute little kitchen. (The oven is on the other side of the fridge.)

 

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Living room – we bought nearly all of our furniture from departing missionaries. Even the rug! It is an indoor/outdoor rug that works well for a cat-claw sharpener. Hi Shadow. 🙂

 

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Here is the kitchen sick – even with our dish water! (I told you I didn’t clean up). Right outside this kitchen window is our water filter and barrel… I’ll add a photo so you know what I am talking about.

 

Here is where we keep a store of filtered water, just in case there is a water cut in the city. (Gotta love that random cord just hanging there…I have no idea what that is for? Welcome to Niger.)

 

Hallway… (yes I chose the wall color). Lots of sunshine in my house! The back of the house has three bedrooms and one bath.

 

I wonder whose bedroom this is? Take a guess!

 

Here is the bathroom that all five of us share. (Okay, so maybe you can have a little bit of sympathy for us!)

 

So that pretty much gives you a good snapshot of our home. Thank you for enduring the amateur photography, though I hope it satisfied any curiosity you might have had. I will be adding a “part two” with some other types of dwelling here in Niger, so stay tuned!

Now I’m curious – what was the biggest surprise you noticed about our home here? Reply or mail me at nikki.gray@sim.org.

 

 

 

 

Order your Gray Africa t-shirt by May 25!

Hey friends – this whole Teespring thing is new to us, so here is a little update to help us all.

There is a minimum order we need to sell before Teespring will print and mail the shirts – that number is TEN! So, they obviously want to print the shirts in batches. (which makes sense)

They recommend that we pick a date to order by – so that everyone will order about the same time and make it efficient for printing and sending!

For this campaign, please order your shirt by May 25th!

Here is the link to our original blog post about the shirts.

And here is the TeeSpring link to buy your shirt and one for a friend.

Let’s see how this works. 🙂 Thanks for your support!

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