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.


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!


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!



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




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



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!


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


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


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!



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



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.



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.



Housing is provided for families who attend the school.




“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.]



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.)


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.


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.



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



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.



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.



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  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!


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.)



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. 🙂



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





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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Need a new t-shirt?

We recently teamed up with our coffee artist friend, Jon Norquist, to come up with this cool design for a new Gray family t-shirt!

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Jon is an artist who designs using spilled coffee – visit his website to see more! When you buy a shirt, you not only help support our ministry, but you get an original work of art.

This time around, we decided to try an online t-shirt company, Teespring, so you can order your size, choose the color, and have it shipped right to your house. Easy!


I just ordered mine in navy blue. 🙂

Women’s style is $18, Men’s is $20 and kids is $15.

To buy a shirt, use this link: Teespring Gray’s shirt

We definitely don’t do these t-shirt campaigns to raise a ton of money, but it is fun for us to spread the news about the work in Niger, and we do have ongoing ministry expenses so this extra money will help pay for materials for our marriage classes.

Please email Nikki if you have questions, or if you just want to comment about our new shirt design!


“Let’s talk about getting married!”

We are so thankful to have the opportunity to have this conversation – about marriage – with young people here in Niger. Recently we completed a 6-week class at a small, local church.



We shared the fundamentals of what God’s Word teaches us about marriage, and we enjoyed the questions and conversations with these intelligent young people who hope to be married someday.

We invited some of our local Christian friends to share their testimonies with our class, to encourage their hearts as they wait upon the Lord for their spouse.



It is a real honor to be in this place, sharing this important message of love from our marvelous God. Our prayer is that these deposits of truth will help these precious young people make wise decisions for their future, and enjoy marriages full of grace and love that will last a lifetime.



December is for Women!


At least it is for our church here in Niger. Every December is a month dedicated to women. The women facilitate special events, special music, and we “run” the church services throughout the month. We even wear the same lovely “uniform”, or fabric, woven with the Scripture from Proverbs 31:30 “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”


In a predominantly muslim culture like Niger, where women are not cherished as equal human beings, this annual focus is a bright light. Christians in Niger must function counter-culture every day, and this month for women in my church reflects how Jesus Christ truly honors women.




One Sunday, the women made cakes and special drinks to celebrate everyone’s birthdays

This year we planned a day-long retreat for the young women and the older women. My dear friend back home said to me, “What can women like me over here do to support and encourage your ladies over there?”

I think sometimes you just want to join in on something special, cheering “Go, go, go! You go girl!”

And just like that, a little international friendship was born. Sisters across the world.


The USA ladies shared their prayers and financial support for the retreat, which was a special encouragement for my ladies group here.


This is a group photo from our retreat last month.

My friend Marie shared a devotion from God’s Word to get the morning started.

And then my friend Hannatou, who is a gynecologist, taught us about women’s health, as well as what the Bible teaches us about our value as human beings and taking care of our bodies. It was practical and also courageous. These topics are taboo here. Mothers do not talk to their daughters about these things – even here in the city and in Christian families. (I heard about a young girl, only 15, who became pregnant even though she didn’t know how!)




We were able to have a lovely lunch together, including delicious “capitaine” (fish) and many other delights! It was a special feast.




It is true, women around the world continue to battle against oppression, diminishment and abuse. It is overwhelming to think about solving that problem! But we can all invest in women right where we live. Remind them there is an undeniable truth about the beauty of being a woman.


One of our activities this month was to visit a local orphanage, have lunch and share some love with the kids.

When God created the first woman, Eve, from Adam’s rib, He didn’t give her a second-rate life. He didn’t relegate her to be a wallflower on the sidelines. Many people struggle to understand the meaning for words like “submission”, but further study of God’s Word and understanding of God’s heart reveals her importance, her great role here on earth.

This topic – the equality of women – is a core teaching in our marriage ministry here in Niger. We are learning that many of the most fundamental problems arise from this cultural and un-Biblical diminishment of women. I pray that we can continue to share God’s truth and love in a way that breaks through these barriers for women here in our community, and then to the next generations.


Snapshot: the Niger River, our next door neighbor

Our family lives next to the Niger River. Literally, just on the other side of our compound walls, is about 25 yards of marshy riverbank leading up to the dike which keeps the waters of this principal river of West Africa from flooding our part of the city. And though I have mentioned this river many times, I imagine that most of you don’t know much about this important body of water.


Photo credit: Deborah Knight. We call these the “pumpkin boats”, for obvious reasons.

The Niger River is the third longest river in all of Africa, coming in behind the Nile and Congo Rivers. (4,180 km or 2,597 mi long) It begins in the Guinea Highlands and flows into the Atlantic Ocean’s Gulf of New Guinea.

niger river map

Image credit: wikipedia

The Niger river takes a highly unusual path through West Africa. Although it begins just 150 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, this important source of water flows inland. From there it flows north into Mali and then south through Niger, Nigeria and then eventually spilling into the Atlantic.


Photo credit: Deborah Knight. These boys are walking through a riverside garden.

There are 36 families of freshwater fish and 250 species living in these waters, 20 of which are found nowhere else on earth but right here in the Niger River. For example, The West African Manatee, which now faces extinction, lives here.


Photo credit: Nikki Gray. These un-friendly hippos live dangerously close to the city.


Photo credit: Deborah Knight. Washing clothes in the river is common, though one must be on the lookout for those hippos!

For a country that is 80% desert, this river is a life-saving source of water! Some of you remember the flood of 2012, when the Niger River overtook it’s banks and displaced our family (as well as thousands of others!). That was the first damaging flood in 100 years, though every year, in August and September, those who live near the River’s edge are on “flood watch”.

So that is a little glimpse of our next-door neighbor, the Niger River. I hope you learned something new and interesting!


photo credit: Deborah Knight