Category Archives: personal

i call it breathing

i started this when i was living in niger, and i’ve come to finish it on a day where i very much feel all of this.

 

a long time ago, a friend told me that they knew i “feel love like a weight,”  and it took me a little while for that to settle in. not because i didn’t believe it, but because i could physically feel it hurting in my chest. the moment i heard the words, i thought of things going on in the lives of people i knew, in the world around me, and i could feel it in my chest.

it isn’t the feeling of anxiety, i knew that feeling very well and hadn’t experienced it since my early days of trusting Jesus. it is just a physical feeling of sadness, empathy, i suppose. but it is overwhelming sometimes, paralyzing on the worst days.

and i feel it often.

i feel it now, it has been heavy in my chest  and i can’t shake it and i don’t want to. because it’s the only way i feel human.

i’ve been telling my new friends here about my amazing ability to cry. at movies, a photo, a glance at a stranger. some might call it being “overly sensitive,” but i believe it’s a gift. it’s a gift because it’s an outward showing of what i can best describe as the spirit moving within me. even that sounds fairly trite. because how can i possibly understand or even quantify what that truly means or feels for anyone? i only know that for me it feels like a weight.

i’m sitting at a table thinking about the people i know around the world who feel pain from physical malady. those who own scars from the wounds of life that no one asks for nor deserves. i’m thinking about all the children i know who don’t have fathers or mothers. who can’t go to school. who only feel daily human contact by way of violence or abuse.

i’m thinking about women who yearn for children but can’t have them. men who want to provide for their families but feel shame because they’re unemployed.  people who are battling cancer, chronic illness, unexpected traumas. i’m thinking of people who are trapped in brains or bodies that we don’t fully, medically understand and may never.

i’m thinking of the people who carry heavy emotional burdens on their backs for their family, friends, children, and lovers. i’m thinking of the brokenness.

and i feel it like a weight as i sit here in my own broken body. this body and brain and soul that i don’t understand on my best days and curse on my worst days. this body and brain and soul that feels broken on their best days and phony on their worst.

fake. phony. an illusionist.

and i have to believe that being a broken, fake, phony illusionist is normal and even ok. because on my worst days i feel like the weight is crushing me.

but on my best days,

on my best days, i believe.  i believe that loving people works. i believe that hugging someone works. i believe that crying next to someone works. i believe that telling someone that they did a good job or that they are kind, i believe that works. i believe that breathing through the crushing weight of other people’s pain, breathing through the selfish ambition to walk away and stay safer in ignorance, pushing through as a broken person sitting next to broken people, i believe that works.

on my worst days i hide and i listen to sad music and i let the weight crush me until i have no tears left to cry.  and that’s ok.

but on my best days i admit my own brokenness, i don’t pretend, i don’t feel phony. i look all of that in the face and i love the broken person next to me.  and that’s better.

to me, that’s what this life is about.

that’s breathing.

 

 

(sleeping at last, accidental light)

i repent of parading my liberty

i had been working on another piece before the events of this weekend unfolded. that’s on hold for now, but it’s supremely relevant even though it has to take back burner for today’s story. we’ll get there, though, soon enough.

(one other note, the titles of my posts are all song lyrics. at the bottom of the post you’ll see the artist and song used in the title. the option is yours to listen to the song or read the lyrics for another take on the topic at hand.)

 

logic. reasoning.

for some, those are paramount for human existence. there is a desire to understand.

how things work.
action and reaction.
where those lost socks go.
how we exist.
why humans do the things we do.

we’ve been talking a lot about logic over the weekend. because for all intent and purpose, what is happening in our corner of the world is illogical.

my american, college educated mind finds it very easy to disconnect truth from opinion, facts from hearsay. i find it easy to use discernment and logic in discussing the events of the past few weeks:

– secular, satirical magazine in a country that supports freedom of speech and religion lawfully publishes cartoons that negatively depict the prophet of millions of followers around the world, many of whom live in countries where there is no separation of church and state, nor is there encouragement to speak out against, poke fun at, or malign a supreme personage.

– secular, satirical magazine is targeted and people are senselessly killed, global headlines appear. global support for freedom of speech appears.

– muslims in former french colonies catch wind. people are angry that the person they most revere is continually being defamed.

– they gather at their place of worship to demonstrate their anger. the police tell them to stop. now their anger is kindled.

– they begin to act irrationally, mob mentality takes over, they take advantage of the situation to make clear their feelings against christians by burning churches, homes, christian schools, things get maliciously out of hand.

 

it is irrational for churches in africa to be burnt because of a secular magazine in france. it is irrational for muslims to think nigerien christians had anything to do with that magazine. it is irrational for people to burn homes simply because other people are doing it. it is irrational to forcibly and physically remove the livelihood of fellow neighbors simply out of anger or hurt. it is irrational to use this situation to show disdain for the government.  it is not logical.

 

but i, too, am illogical. i trust and follow people who have acted irrationally.

paul and barnabus’ missionary journeys do not make rational sense.  upon preaching the message of grace and redemption in certain cities, they were threatened and stoned, left for dead. it does not make rational sense for them to return and continue encouraging people. but they did. they risked their lives because they knew their message was truth.

it doesn’t make rational sense to be in a foreign country, contracting weird bacterias and being eaten by malarial mosquitoes. it doesn’t make rational sense to stay here after our churches have burnt and believers in Jesus are being threatened. but we stay because we know the message we share is about love, redemption, forgiveness and God’s grace. and the people here desperately need to know that. so we stay.  it doesn’t make sense because it is illogical.

 

Jesus is illogical. following Jesus goes against limited human logic. He who tells me to love and pray for my enemy and for those who persecute me, to turn my right cheek when my left cheek is hit, to give my shirt when my jacket has been taken… He who tells me to forgive someone 70 times 7… He who died bearing my sins and the sins of the world to reconcile us to God… He is not logical. His word goes against what our rational AND irrational minds think and do. His very birth and life is illogical. i can’t understand it. it doesn’t make sense.

but i am not naive. i have not been brainwashed into believing fairy tales and i do not subscribe to faith because it wraps up the world in a tidy package that makes life easier to swallow.

it is in the very essence of this irrationality that i find truth, hope, freedom, promise. i trust because Jesus is illogical. i believe because God can’t be fully explained. i have hope because even a shred of His Word brings more peace and acceptance than any logical or rational thought can prove to me.

have you lived enough years on this earth to realize the irrationality of it? have you seen enough humans make choices every day that confound and madden you? how many times have you made one of those choices, the choices that make you stop and think, “why… why did i do that. i cannot find a reason…” our minds cannot explain everything away. they can’t explain everything at all. many brilliant, brilliant people have tried to come up with an explanation for everything. and that, is illogical to me.

i don’t know the reasons for what has happened here this weekend. no one knows the whole truth and we can’t try to rationalize it. it goes against logic. but i have plenty of illogical reasons for staying here when so many think it’s unsafe. here are just a few:

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there are still threats against christians around the country right now. still demonstrations going on. so, right now, we pray. we pray that love and peace prevail. we pray that the irrationality of forgiveness is seen, felt, and heard. we meet as the Church, which no one can burn to the ground, and we help our brothers and sisters rebuild their church buildings. we continue to send a message of peace, hope, redemption, truth, and eternal life with Jesus. the most illogical of us all.

(derek webb-  i repent)

Spirit, lead me

i’m not normally one to write an obligatory “it’s a new year!” reflection piece. but since i’m back in the writing game, and because i have had ample time and space for reflection on the absurdities of the last few years of my life, i’ve gathered some words to share.

about a year ago i had just lost my new job. in fact, on new years day last year my sister and i opened up our “jar of blessings” from the year and the irony of seeing a card that read “grace got the job!” gave us a pretty hearty laugh. i had spent time last december feeling lost, confused, misguided, hurt and angry. but that only lasted a few days. i remember very clearly the peace that came over me a few days after i got the news. i had no idea what i was going to do in the coming weeks, but i wasn’t worried. not even one bit. which is a far cry to how i would have felt even 3 years ago. i just praise God for what He had done in my life those 3 years to show me how to trust Him, because if i hadn’t lived those years of heartbreak, loss, surrender, change and uneasiness, i know this speed bump could have caused a wreck in me.

but instead, this speed bump started me off on a different road. and as i look back at the road i’ve traveled this year, i can’t help but feel joyful, thankful, refreshed, renewed and blessed. it was one of the toughest years as far as personal growth, and i’m so thankful for that! but what i am most grateful for are the people God brought into and out of my life this year. He never ceased to amaze me with the love and guidance He gave me every step i took this year.

those steps took me into schools all over frederick county where i taught elementary, middle and high school students of various backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities, economic status and aptitude. i opened up more juice boxes, applesauce and gogurt pouches (which i have an extreme aversion to) than i can count or even care to remember. i had chalk, crayons, toys, pencils and various small items thrown at me and successfully fooled middle schoolers into thinking i knew exactly what i was teaching them by memorizing lesson plans and speaking with authority. i traveled around the county teaching primarily special needs students and learning so much about people, humanity, and family along the way.

for a month, those steps took me into a classroom of 7 boys with autism who i loved immediately, who challenged everything i knew about education, and whose names are now written on my heart.

those steps took me to an inner-city high school with the challenge to get a suspended liberian-american senior with failing grades caught up in 3 weeks so he could get his diploma.

those steps took me into public classrooms where students, natively from all over africa, asked me about Jesus.

if God had just brought those people into my life this year, dayenu (it would have been sufficient.) but He didn’t stop there.

His steps led me around the corner from my house to spend 8 weeks teaching, disciplining, loving, feeding, hugging, bandaging, encouraging and caring for 35 precious children, each with a strong personality, separate life struggle and a distinct need to feel loved. and it was the most draining, most rewarding 8 weeks my little heart has ever lived through.

if God had stopped there, dayenu.

but those steps also led me to months of spending time with my tiny best friend, watching her grow and learn how to use utensils, how to play with other kids, how to fall, cry and get back up, how to pronounce letters correctly and how to tumble around a gym, how to make believe and how to pick up her toys. i am sure she taught me more in 2 months than i taught her.

if God had stopped there, dayenu.

but His steps also led me to months of quality time with my youth students, filled with challenges, celebrations, tough truths, sadness,  joy, laughter, learning and more hugs and love than i deserve.

dayenu.

and still….

a year ago God gave me a journey to africa. He called, He paved the way, He supplied my every need, He blessed my journey.

and He allowed me to come back.

and i spent the last half of 2014 being taught and re-taught how to love like God loves. how to rest and be still in Him. i’ve spent my time learning how to do bush medicine, how to speak 3 new languages, how to ride a bicycle in a skirt, how to make nigerien kids warm up to a strange white lady, how to discipline kids with limited vocabulary, how to make nigerien food, how to make art and create using trash and used cans. i’ve spent my time with kids, snuggling, dancing, listening to and getting peed on. i’ve spent my time surrendering and sacrificing and wondering if i’m doing enough.

in this season where God could have just brought me to another country for a “missions trip,” He instead gave me a fresh start, new eyes and new understanding and appreciation. He instead warmed up my icy heart and reminded me of who i am and what He made me to do. He has reminded me of how He asks me to love others- the way Christ loves me. He has reminded me that i don’t get to use heartbreak or fear or bitterness as an excuse to be a shut-in. He has reminded me that my joy comes from Him, and His joy is complete. He has reminded me that His faithfulness is never changing, never wavering, and that i can trust it always.

and looking back at this year, i don’t know how i could convince myself otherwise. He has given abundantly to me.

a year ago i wouldn’t have said i was thankful for losing my job, but i would have said (and did), “i trust the plan God has for me.”

today, i am so grateful for God’s providence, His sovereignty, His knowledge of me and love for me that far surpasses any of my understanding.

today i am thankful for what God did in my life and what He continues to do, even if i don’t know my next steps. looking back, i see where following his leading has taken me, and i am ready to keep walking.

(hillsong- oceans)

shepherd’s watch

before i came to niger, april and i had a conversation about how much more real the Bible became to her by her living here. she talked about sheep and goats and how she now understood why Jesus used them in His parable about those who would be His followers and those who would not. we talked about cattle because when you see 2 cattle pulling a cart here, you get to really visualize what paul meant by telling us to be equally yoked. the cattle who are not always look very pained and struggle against one another. we talked about donkeys and walking through sand.

and i was excited to get here and to experience those same things for myself because i’m a huge fan of visual learning and i knew God would speak to me in that way here.

and then Christmas came.

and my supervisor asked if i wanted to spend Christmas in her village.

secretly, i had been hoping she would suggest that. because i couldn’t think of a better way to spend my Christmas in africa.

so we made plans to spend 2 nights in the village, sharing the story of Jesus’ birth wherever we went.

Christmas Eve came and in the morning we visited patients in a few neighboring villages. we told the story in two compounds and prayed with the families. we went to a third village and shared the story with a large group of people, and it was such a joy to watch their faces react in awe when they heard of the angels appearing to mary and joseph, and baby Jesus being born in the stables (which is not very different from where babies are born in the bush).

our last stop was the one to start the waterworks for this sensitive girl. i sat in a circle with believers from various villages in the area as members of the village gathered in the compound of a man who had been baptized a few weeks prior. in fact, a group of 6 men from this village has been baptized, so there was a level of expectancy with which they listened to the words the believers shared. though i don’t understand fulfulde, i recognize words, especially biblical ones, and as the story unfolded it brought tears to my eyes to hear the passion from the men who shared, as well as to see the intensity with which the group listened.

i was immediately brought back to my own introduction to the truth in the pages of the Word. i remember the days when i would devour the Scriptures in search of Jesus and His character. i remembered sitting in my dorm rooms in college with the $5 NIV bible i bought, size 10 print, and a highlighter and pen, marking and writing and bolding and commenting. and i remembered the feeling of newness and awe and peace and excitement.

i felt it in my heart and i sensed it in the presence of these men. they were sitting on the edge of their chairs and mats, grasping at every word they heard. and i sat silently with tears rolling down my cheeks, thankful for the darkness that hid my emotions from the fulani friends who never show theirs. and as they finished retelling the story, the men continued to talk about what it means to be a brotherhood, the children of God through adoption. and my tears kept flowing. i’ll tell you why.

fulani culture operates historically through a caste system. it is still very ingrained in their prejudice and way of life, though there are no current inherent rights or privileges enacted on the slave class by the noble class. however, intermarriage is highly unlikely and the impact of years of class distinction hinders relationships between the two.

this Christmas Eve, a mixture of slave class and noble class, new believers and discipled leaders, fulani, gorma, southern and northern americans gathered together and shared fellowship in a slave class village. the men talked about building each other up and supporting each other as they press on to endure in their new faith. they thanked and prayed for our teammate who had lived among them for 3 months and had shared the truth of Christ with them. so tears rolled down my face as i witnessed this body of believers breaking down ancient historic boundaries and prejudice to celebrate the birth of our Savior. and it was beautiful and the purist sense of joy i have felt in a long time. we sang “the first noel” in english, under the starry sky for them and said our goodbyes.

 

we returned to our compound and had tea and cookies as we sang carols from the baptist hymnal by candlelight. and again the Bible became more and more vivid as we sang amidst shepherds settling in for the night in their fields with their flocks. and as the cattle lowed and the stars shone bright, the peace and joy of what that night meant and continues to mean rested sweetly in my spirit.

for the past few years i have been praying for a simple life. to de-clutter both figuratively and literally. and as we sat in the dark, in the middle of our mud-hut kitchen deep in the bush of southern niger, i thanked God for how He has provided me this season of simplicity and stillness. of pure faith that comes from both fresh beginnings and new places, and through the weathered pages of my well-traveled, life-stained Bible.

Christmas day was filled with singing and dancing and sharing of the Word with two village gatherings before we headed back to the city. and though i did miss my church and family back home, our traditional evening of carols and coffee and sweet fellowship, my heart was peaceful, because i knew that if cultural walls could be broken down to celebrate Jesus and commit to the brotherhood of believers, my heart continued to be tethered back home with the brotherhood there.  the birth of Christ. signifying God leaving all the Holiness and Glory of Heaven to be among His people. to grow and walk with them, to teach them and challenge them. to one day rescue them so that we can have adoption as sons and daughters. what a perfect reason to have peace. and simple joy.

 

 

 

 

(what child is this?)

You love, love, love….

…when You know i can’t love.

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wow. today i just felt like i was the worst human ever for some reason. i actually don’t have a reason at all, i just felt like a monster part of the day and couldn’t even begin to tell you why.

so, now i have a short story that will show you how good and faithful God is and why i am so very thankful that He is sovereign and He is the only hope of goodness i have in me.

today at kids club #2 a little girl asked me what the spots on my arm were, pointing at my very numerous mosquito bites. i had to ask for the zarma word for mosquito because i had no clue. so, upon getting my answer, i told the girl (in zarma) that the mosquitoes really like to bite me. she said that was bad, and the conversation was over.

tonight, i walk outside to take pictures of the full moon and i see one of our guards, whom i see every night, and we exchange our normal pleasantries:

suuji: fofo (hello)!

hama: fofo, mate gaham (hello, how’s your self)?

suuji: samay dayno, mate goyo (i’m fine, how’s your work)?

now. normally he responds with “tali kulu si” which means, “there are no problems.” in fact, it is pretty much unheard of for you to have anything but a positive response, no matter how awful you may be. so, i expected him to proceed like routine and i would continue on my way. instead, he said this:

“tali go no. sooporo, i boobo. ni bey sooporo (there is a problem. the mosquitoes, there are many. you know mosquito (meaning, the word ‘sooporo’))?”

on any other day, i would have said, “no. i do not know. what does it mean?” and then he would begin the process of acting out the word so i would understand.

but today. today i said, “yes! i do know! do you have medicine?” (i meant bug spray, but he knew that)

and, in yet another moment of divine appointment, i remembered that the previous inhabitants of my home left a bottle of off:deep woods in the kitchen before they left.

so, today The Lord granted a time to understand and offered a gift to two people in their times of need.

hama got his bug spray and i got a reminder that my God is faithful in the little things. and remembering that has given me the gift of His promise that He is faithful in the big things.

and that’s something this monster needed to remember today.

(of monsters and men- love, love, love)

an everlasting stream

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water.

i’ve been drinking water as my main daily beverage for a very long time. i am very conscious of how much water i drink every day. i’ve been known to carry a 32 oz water  bottle with me everywhere, every day. it’s not a habit i started to prepare for this season in Africa.  in college i did a lot of personal study on health and nutrition, and water was always main focus point for me. we’ve heard many times before that the human body is made up of 70% water and that we should be drinking at least eight 8-oz glasses of water per day to keep our bodies properly hydrated and functioning. i take that very seriously. in fact, it is a rare occasion that i drink anything other than coffee or water, and my preference is to have 12 oz of coffee and 128 oz of water daily.

(source)

nothing quenches my thirst like water. when i am hot, parched, have been working hard or just been running, i seriously enjoy a cold glass of water. i love the taste, which surprises many people who think water tastes like nothing.

but water does have taste. a lot of that taste depends on where you get your water. when i lived on the mountain, my water was pumped into my house from an underground, spring-fed well. mountain spring water tastes good. i used to work with a woman who would come to the mountain with empty gallon jugs and fill them with spring water. it was that good.

in the city, we filter our tap water. city water is treated in a plant somewhere that kills naturally occurring bacteria found in a lot of water sources. sometimes you can taste the chemicals used to treat city water. i like to swim in chlorinated pools, but don’t like to actively taste chlorine when i’m drinking a cold glass of water.

.  .  .

here in Niger, i’ve experienced a few different kinds of water. various villages and burroughs in the city. i’ve drank filtered well-water here at the mission compound, i’ve washed my hands in a sink of my friend’s across town. i’ve showered with the cool, sporadic trickle of the shower in dosso. i’ve drank tap water in restaurants and from a plastic bag of “pure water.” i’ve driven across the river and watched as people bathed or washed their crops at the river’s edge.

here, access to water is quite relative to status, wealth, and geography. we at the compound have the privilege of having had a well dug that operates much like that of the one i had on the mountain. the well is treated and pumps water into our buildings here, and it rarely fails. on the occasions that it does, we still have access to the city’s supply of water. we have enough water for cooking, bathing, watering the grass and plants, mixing cement, and washing dishes and clothes on a daily basis. i still fill up my 32-oz bottle 4-5 times a day from my filtered faucet. i have water whenever i need it.

across town, my friends rely on the city supply. which can sometimes be shut off without warning or reason. they keep large backup jugs of water just for those occasions. when the water works, it comes out of the faucet the color of weak English tea, but it surely doesn’t smell like it. most households with this kind of water also have filtration devices that are vital for those of us who are not acclimated to the bacterias found in the water here.

still, in other parts of the city that don’t have water lines run to them, you can find hand or foot pump wells that have been dug or built by NGO’s from around the world. households share these wells and because of the ease of use, even children can access them safely.

further out in the bush, things become quite different. entire villages might have 2-3 wells that serve 300-500 people. it’s at these wells where i have met some very strong women. they have the upper body and core strength of competitive athletes simply from spending their mornings hauling buckets of water 80 ft. from the bottom of the well. after they have collected all the water they need for their daily activities, the women help each other place their jugs, tubs, pots or buckets on top of their heads. they then proceed to walk upwards of 300 ft to their homes, babies strapped on their back and water atop their head.

.  .  .

water.

at home, i take it for granted. here, my eyes see too much that my heart can’t un-see.

i’ve decided i want to tell you about water here. i want to show you what it looks like daily for these women. i want you to be able to share in a tiny bit of their experience. this is your introduction. over the next few days, i’ll be sharing pictures and stories of my time so far with the women at the well. i’ll share about what melanie has been discovering as she tests the water sources here for Ecoli and fecal coliform bacteria. i’ll be drawing comparisons of life here to Biblical stories taking place at the well. we’re just going to spend some time discovering what the LORD gave us when He gave us water and what it means in our lives.

Rivers of Living Water

	On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.
 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

(John 7:37-38 ESV)




 
(chris tomlin- all my fountains)

come to the table made

i had a special request to see the kinds of food i am eating while i’m here. so i’ve been trying over the past 2 weeks to photograph my cooking and eating experience. so, if you’re interested in food, photos, and few words, this is for you! :o)

as is customary now, whenever we visit with bisarra, she likes to prepare food for us. this is what she makes every day for the children at school. it’s a dish called “windi bundu” and it consists of coarse rice flour (basically the consistency of cous cous), moringa leaves and spices. check out the link to learn more about moringa leaves and their health benefits. it is something i’m learning much about and it’s pretty intriguing.

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once the moringa leaves are cooked and the rice flour steamed, she mixes those together with spices- tonka, which is a pepper here, and various other things that i don’t know of :o)

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oil, onions and peppers are added as well and then mixed together to finish the dish.

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IMG_1644it’s one of the first local foods i had back in february, and i really like it! now i know how to make it and plan on doing so at my house. which will be a little different cooking techniques, but hopefully the same results.

 

here’s a dish i make often for myself: curried lentils and potatoes. also have become pretty adept at making flour tortillas and “fake naan” which you can see here :o)

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i’ve been making these muffins quite often, and they serve as a great breakfast or gift to share with friends. there’s always some combination of veggies and fruits: zucchini, carrots, apples, bananas; as well as hempseed powder, moringa powder, dates, and local nuts (have no idea what kind) for some added health benefits. muffins aren’t really what i would call “healthy,” but i try to cut the sugar because of the natural sweetness of the dates and add some other plant proteins and then i feel better about making, eating and sharing them :o)

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last week, my friends came back from their time in their village and brought back tomatoes from their friend’s garden. the tomatoes were SO GOOD. and i haven’t had tomatoes here because they’re all imported and super expensive. so these were a treat. we decided to make fresh salsa and since we didn’t have any chips, we made some! we used flour, so they’re not your traditional corn chips, but honesty, food tastes better when you make everything from scratch. i’m learning that for sure.

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here’s a meal i make once a week and eat for non-consecutive meals. my official name for it is ratatouille with meat. ha. because it’s basically the same ingredients.

browned ground beef with garlic and onions:

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freshly bleached and chopped veggies:

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add tomato paste, water and spices:

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pour over rice and top with homemade crackers:

IMG_7797i make one big pot and it lasts a long time. and tastes pretty good!

these are dates. i learned how to eat them in the dried state like this: bite in half, check for bugs, take out the pit, eat.

IMG_7816i also learned how to soften them and use them in my breads and muffins. can you believe i NEVER knew what a date looked like?? i’m now working on my very own larabar recipe because i should be able to figure it out, and they are the only “energy/bar” thing i eat at home anyhow. i’ll keep you posted, because my first attempt was a failure. :o)

and finally, my homemade crackers. the first batch were slightly in between “saltine” and “hardtack”, and these were a little thin… so i’m still working on that recipe as well.

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so, there you have it. a little glimpse into my culinary foray here in niger. :o)

 

 

(shane & shane- i miss you)

my heart, o take and seal it

the past few weeks have been very full and very satisfying. God has shown me much this fortnight. clearly He’s causing me to reminisce about learning british slang :o)

to the point.

i’m going to share some photos from my week in Dosso and briefly share some updates. it was very good for my soul to be back in Dosso with the girls. we visited with the families i met last time I was here and it was a beautiful thing to hear “Zeinabou!!” as we approached on the road.

*i suppose i should mention here that when i came back in February, April gave me the choice of my Zarma name. Gomni literally means grace, and Suuji means mercy. we are aware that those words do not hold the same meaning, but Suuji sounded more like a name, so i chose that. except that when we visited the first house, the daughters wanted to give us our Zarma names, and so they chose their own names to give us, hence my name in Dosso is Zeinabou. and here in Niamey, i am Suuji.

i spent the week reconnecting with the women and children i met last time: snuggling babies, getting peed on a few times, practicing language with Bisarra, sharing stories from the Bible and talking about the differences between it and the quran.

we also drove out to a few villages to visit and allow Melanie to test some wells for Ecoli and other bacteria. i’ll be sharing photos and a whole story about that soon enough. i recognized faces and was surprised by my brain’s capacity to remember names simply because i had taken hundreds of portraits. i never expected to remember so many, and now am thankful to God for writing their names and faces on my heart.

some exciting updates:

– a friend and i have decided to travel to Dosso once a week to work with April and the girls, and we are beyond thrilled. my supervisor just gave me the go ahead, so i’m very excited about the opportunity.

– i’ve been able to help at a kids club across town saturday mornings with a other missionary organization, and that has been wonderful. the fellowship with the team is much needed, and i’m getting a lot of Zarma practice in. also i just love being able to help kids hear about Jesus. it has become a big highlight of my week.

– i also decided to invest in another kids club here in my part of town saturday afternoons, and this week i was blessed to prepare the learning aids and craft projects thanks to Nicole (April’s sister) and the supplies she left at April’s. it has been affirmed more than a few times that these are the areas i need to be serving while i’m here, and it’s been so good to be used and to serve in this way. in two weeks, Kimberly (who leads the kids club in Goudel) will be at a conference. and i am praying right now that i will be able to prepare and learn enough Zarma to lead on my own in her absence. will you pray with me, that God may give me fast learning and comprehension so i can present the story and understand the kids that week.

– i’ve volunteered to host and lead a bible study for missionary kids, so i am able to teach and disciple while i’m here. it looks like it will be for an age group a little younger than i’m used to, so please pray that i am able to be a good and effective teacher to the girls who attend. i am excited for his opportunity to use my gifts, and in english no less! i am hoping to also get the girls involved in reaching our community here, as many missionary kids are not super involved in their parents’ work.

– i’m also in the process of volunteering to held lead worship at NEWS, our Niamey English Worship Service. it’s been a blessing to attend Zarma church in the morning and then have fellowship and worship in the evenings with other missionaries. i learned they have a rotation for leading worship and speaking, so i volunteered to join a group to sing. i am thrilled at the chance to sing again, because i do miss being with my STC worship team.

– last update. i plan on getting a bike very soon. this will be important for many reasons, but the one i’m most excited/nervous about is the chance to visit the Goudel area during the week so i can make good connections and invest more in the Zarma church and kids there. this is a big step outside my comfort zone because of my lack of language proficiency, but know it is what i am supposed to do. so you can definitely be praying for that!
and now, photos to let you see a little bit inside my life right now. :o)

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little nana. i was very excited for the chance to see her again this week. good snuggle time :o)

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April, Bisarra and myself. she gave me the best, most welcoming “homecoming,” and it was so great to share more of Jesus with her and for her to help us speak Zarma. keep praying for Bisarra, that she continue to be as open to the Word as she is. i know one day soon she will trust in the saving love of Christ.

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Zeinabou, Aness and Bibiya snuggle up with April. they love her SO much. it melts my heart.

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here, April reads a summary of the New Testament to Bisarra and fields many great questions. we help her understand why not all christian’s marry, the difference between the quran’s story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac and the Bible. a very blessed time of sharing.

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Bibiya likes to share my glasses. he’s a sweetheart and a goofball.

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Aness. eyes and a smile to melt your heart.

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Bibiya, fast asleep. he definitely fell asleep in 30 seconds. sitting in my lap one minute, the next slumped over headed to naptown.

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Melanie and April sharing part of the “creation to Christ” story in Zarma. Aness was engrossed 95% of the time.

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at kid’s club in Goudel this week we taught the story of Creation. we made telescopes so the kids could spend this week looking around to see all the things God created. they’re going to report back to us all the things they discovered. :o)

 

God has been revealing much truth to me recently. stay tuned for those thoughts… :o)

 

	Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall 
not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to 
you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives 
me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have 
come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 
And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all 
that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will 
of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should 
have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

(John 6:35-40 ESV)

(come thou fount)

You are forever

i’m going to do a quick update to share about how life has been over the past week or so, but that’s not the main purpose to the story tonight. we’ll get there soon enough.

but first, a quick recap.

  • i finished my first full week at the office and it went well. bills, inventories, expense reports, check-ins and check-outs. feeling grateful that God is using my long season of experience at skycroft to help me feel very at ease here. it is a blessing to be confident in day to day tasks because it allows a great contrast to the moments i am drawn to say “ok, Lord, i am praying my way through this one.” as evidenced by the next story…

 

  • yesterday as i was working in one of the apartments, one of the gardeners came to get me. he used hand signals to tell me what he needed. only i didn’t quite understand until we arrived at the location he and his fellow worker had been laboring. when we got there i saw the man on the ground with a towel over his foot, and i immediately knew this was not going to be routine. he uncovered his foot to reveal his big toe hanging on by just a small sliver of skin. the tree limb they had been cutting down landed hard and fast on his toe and did quite some damage. the squeamish in me nearly took over, but instead i called for our “do-it-all” guy who really runs the place, and he took the gardener to the hospital for a toe removal. yes, a toe removal. i’ll be sure to discuss the medical care situation here in niger soon, but that will have to be another day. in an instance when i don’t know the correct line of action, prayer is the best line of defense AND offense, and i exercised that gift a lot yesterday.

 

  • taking a taxi by myself is proving to be a fun challenge, now that i know how not to get ripped off. not only is it a challenge, but saturday morning the taxi driver and i had a little bit of school on my way to kwara tegui kid’s club. he helped me with zarma, i helped him with english, and we had a very nice child-like conversation about school, animals and what america is like.  i’m thankful for the basic language skills i have to get me where i need to go around here, but even more thankful for patient nigeriens who are kind to me as i learn.

 

  • it’s no secret that i love children; teaching children, playing with children, photographing children… so saturday was a wonderfully full day of kid’s clubs here in the city. i was so thankful to join asia and charles in the morning, to sit with kids and learn with them as they were taught a clear message of who Jesus is and what He did for us. and then to be able to join kimberly here in goudel as she started her club back up from a summer break… well, it just felt like the beginnings of finding my ministry footings here; outside the guest house, that is. i am thankful for the opportunities to work alongside these missionaries, and i am using this week to prepare for future work with them. i am only as useful as my language skills will allow me to share and teach, and i want to be very useful here.

 

  • i am thankful for new friends who invite me to dinner and conversation about teaching and curriculum. i am thankful for new friends who go to the store for me, help me cook and make it fun by hosting our very own cooking show. thankful for conversation about books, youth ministry, seminary knowledge and theology. thankful for trivia and flashcards on a saturday night.

 

  • i’m feeling thankful in general. grateful for the time in the Word that has been so refreshing for my soul. grateful for the album that plays on repeat as i cook and bake and experiment with local foods, because it echoes all that i am reading and learning right now. grateful to God for taking me here and forcing rest upon me. i woke up this morning feeling foreign, and not because i am in a strange place, but because i feel rested. i don’t feel overwhelmed. i don’t feel too stretched. but there is a HUGE part of me that feels very wrong because of that. i don’t feel busy enough. i don’t feel like i’m doing enough. and it concerns me that maybe i have built this life of “doing-doing-doing” for myself, so much so that i no longer feel like myself if i’m not being pulled in 30 directions. so, perhaps more than anything, i am grateful right now to have the time and capacity to sit with God and work these feelings out with Him. for Him to show me the correct balance of service and sanctuary. that’s my heart right now. and i’m focusing and resting on God’s Word through john, “for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart and He knows everything.” (1 john 3:20)

 

i think this recap is just part one. and i can only leave you with the scripture that has been running through my heart and mind since i read it last week, and i’d be a fool to say any more…

 

	Every word of God proves true;
		he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
	Do not add to his words,
		lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.

(Proverbs 30:5-6 ESV)

 

 

 

(all sons and daughters- hear the sound)

Yesu ya ay Faabako no.

it’s been a week, and oh what a week it has been. :o)

 kwarategui

 

april, melanie and terra arrived to the guest house last saturday afternoon, and they had my luggage in tow. we spent the rest of the day running errands and mapping out the city. april has been great at showing me the best markets to go to, quizzing me on which roads to turn for where i’m going, and showing me good landmarks to use for navigation. i’m getting the hang of the city, road closures and roundpoints included. she has made sure that she gave me as many tips about Niamey as she could before she headed back east. i am enormously grateful for that.

on sunday we attended a Zarma church, met a few other missionary families, and had great conversation over lunch about what the next 4 months hold for each of us. since melanie and terra will be joining april, they had less to figure out about navigating the Niamey roads and markets. their ministry opportunities are tied to what april has been working on for the past year and a half, and they will be able to begin this week.

but we were all blessed to go to language school together, which turned out to be such a fun challenge. i love language. i love words. i love learning new languages and cultures. really, i just love learning in general. so going to Zarma school was so much fun. our cawandiko (teacher) is smart, very well educated, jovial, kind, patient, and strict.

 ibro

after day 1, we were barely allowed to speak english. challenge accepted. :o) we had fun speaking in very basic, elementary sentences and by day 2 (8 hours) we could each tell our basic testimony and what we know and believe about Jesus. i would say that’s a win.

i’m still getting used to the way they talk about money here, which is very confusing. but i believe with some practice i should catch on. (but i will also be learning the french system, just to be safe.)

i feel confident in my ability to fearlessly practice with children who will laugh at my speaking mistakes but will hopefully help me learn. there is also great opportunity to speak to our employees here at the guest house who have already been so gracious with me as we occasionally speak 4 languages in order to communicate our intended messages. i am reminded many times a day of the importance of clear communication. with God and with others. from God and from others. praying for a brain that absorbs language speedily and a mouth that can form words to communicate clearly. thankful for a God who hears even our deepest groaning of the spirit, when words fail us.

 

 

 

yesterday, after a very sweet time of worship through Scripture and song together, the girls headed east and i was thrust into an uncomfortable sense of alone. not loneliness, per say, but i easily recognized the reality of what their leaving meant. i really am going to have to get around this city on my own. i can’t always rely on someone here who has a vehicle. i really will be cooking meals for myself and working my schedule around my office job. these things are not at all foreign to me. in fact, these are things i do with ease at home, on a very regular basis. but walking to the grocery store from my city house is much different than finding the right market after turning down the correct dirt road here.

and while the girls are gone, and i will definitely miss their company, laughter and fellowship, i am surrounded by wonderful people who are looking out for me, offering to take me to English church every Sunday evening, and who are very happy to invite themselves over to a meal i will cook :o)

not only that, but i truly and honestly sense the prayers that my church family, friends and blood-family  are lifting up on my behalf. i may be fairly alone here, but it’s hard to feel lonely when i feel the presence of peace.

 

so. week one. i’ll leave you with some general tidbits and ways you can continue to pray. until next week :o)

 

  • i’m dog sitting for a little over a month starting tonight. she’s a good guard dog. looking forward to spending time casually walking the compound with the pup.

 

  • today my kids back home started school, some of them their SENIOR year! i’ve been praying for them all day.

 

  • technology can be such a blessing. i think i’ve already noticed that i feel blessed when it works, and yet if it doesn’t, i am equally content. it’s a very freeing feeling not checking my phone until i get home to see if the internet is functional.

 

  • i do ask that you be praying for other opportunities for ministry here. there are a TON of things i can invest in, but i want to have guidance first, because i can easily fall into the busyness trap of my (former) life and overbook myself to exhaustion here. (it sounds tempting, but i’m fighting the urge and remembering that part of my purpose here is for breath.)

 

  • still need a bike. :o) waiting for a friend to get back here and help me navigate the market :o)

 

 

	Commit your way to the LORD;
		trust in him, and he will act.
	He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
		and your justice as the noonday.
	
	Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;
		fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
		over the man who carries out evil devices!

(Psalm 37:5-7 ESV)

 

 

(Jesus is my Savior)