Friday, July 7, 2017

FAQs

It's been almost a month since I left Niger.  The conversations that I've had with people since returning have been, for the most part, encouraging.  However, when given the opportunity, I find myself struggling to find a balance between rambling and clamming shut.  I love talking about my time in Niger, but I also don't want to be the annoying girl from Africa who never shuts up.  Please, this is an invitation to ask questions!  As I meet and re-meet people in PA, these seem to be the most popular ones so far.

Top 10 Most Frequently Asked Questions:

How long are you home?
When I first went to Niger, people would ask me a similar question, “How long are you here?”  At first, I had committed to 2 years, so that was my answer.  Eventually, I came to the conclusion that the Lord might call me to Niger longer than I had originally planned.  In which case, my answer changed to something like this:  “I heard once that you should be doing the last thing God told you to do; God called me to Niger, so I will be in Niger until God calls me somewhere else.”  I suppose I could say the same is true of my time in Pennsylvania.  Until He calls me somewhere else, this is where I’ll be.

Will you go back?  
My answer to this question is simple:  I don’t know.  My plans are completely dependent on the Lord.  Am I open to going back to Africa?  Definitely.  Do I know when that is?  No idea.  I'd like to keep my options open and right now am planning just one year at a time.   

Are you excited to be home?
Here's the thing - now I have two homes.  Am I excited to be in my PA home?  Of course.  The cool weather, the green grass, being with family – it’s all really refreshing.  Do I miss my Niger home?  Of course.  The African rains, the beautiful people, the simplicity of life – I miss it all.  Please know that when you ask this question, there is always another side to the coin.  I am certainly glad to be home, but experiencing reversed culture shock, rebuilding community, and searching for a job is all a bit exhausting.  I had a clear sense of purpose in Niger.  I'm hoping to find that here, too.  It's just taking awhile.

How was it?
That’s really a loaded question.  “It” was difficult, rewarding, overwhelming, peaceful, hard, beautiful, interesting, thought-provoking, dirty, hot, hilarious, unexpected, trying, rich, challenging, growing….  Three years is difficult to summarize in response to such a vague question.  Specific questions about teaching, housemates, culture, weather, and people are much more helpful.

Do you miss it?
Yup.  It's easy for me right now to just think of all the good things that happened in Niger.  But in reality, my time in Niger wasn't perfect.  I have to remind myself that even in Niger, I had to take the good and the bad together.   

What are your plans?
Find a job.  Create community.  Be a missionary in PA.  Keep doing what God tells me to do.  I'm hoping to find an upper elementary classroom teaching job at a local public school.  This will be a miracle.  Your prayers are appreciated.  I am also planning to gain credits toward maintaining my teaching license by potentially taking classes in the area or online.

What foods do you miss?
Nothing much.  I did enjoy rice and beans after church every Sunday.  But mostly, I cooked for myself.

What foods did you eat first when you came back?
I drank a tall glass of milk.  

What do you miss most?
People.

What is the biggest culture shock?
What people choose to value.



BONUS:
Here is a short list of things that are still a bit weird to me about living in Pennsylvania:

1.  I feel like I'm in air conditioning all the time.
2.  My laundry on the line doesn't dry in 2 hours...it takes about 2 days.
3.  I have to drive to get anywhere.  
4.  We don't save and reuse plastic ziplock bags...or foil...or wrapping paper.
5.  I live with my parents.
6.  I can wear shorts outside my house or in public and it's normal.
7.  Squirrels and chipmunks.  I keep thinking they should be lizards.
8.  Fast internet.
9.  Sunburn. (You avoid the sun in Niger.)
10.  There are so many things to do.  I feel busy.  All the time.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Divine Appointments

Being home has been hard in a lot of ways.  I'm still searching for community - starting over in a place that's always been home...until 3 years ago.  As a person with two homes now, I feel a bit lost - no job, few friends, and getting used to a new norm.  But I remember that God provides for my every need.  Since returning on June 11th, the Lord has been faithful to put people in my path who have encouraged me and others with whom I've been able to relate.

This is a testimony about God's faithfulness.

June 14th:  My cousin and his family from Kentucky happened to be in town the first week I was back from Niger.  We met up for lunch at my aunt's house and I was so blessed to be able to relate to another family member.  My cousin spent a year in Bolivia when he was in school.  He recalled what it was like to transition and offered some great wisdom:  maintain some of your same routines with the Lord, give grace, know that spending time with family is a test of spiritual maturity.  I was encouraged by his determination to trust in the Lord and how God has been faithful to his family this past year.  Thank God for family.

June 16th-19th:  I had the beautiful opportunity to be with former Niger roommates for the occasion of our friend Naomi's wedding in Omaha, Nebraska.  To be reunited with friends who became family was sweet for my soul.

June 25th-26th:  An old friend from college was in the area and made time to visit.  Though we hadn't seen each other since graduation, we picked up right where we left off.  She was an MK (missionary kid) and has done a lot of traveling and ministry since then.  What a blessing - her questions, her advice, our conversations, her experiences.  She met me at a crucial time.  God reminded me of His care through her.  We related as missionaries in America now.  Praise God.

July 2nd:  I haven't been to my parents' church since last summer.  And after 3 years out of the country, there were a lot of new people to meet.  My first Sunday back was pretty overwhelming.  But this past Sunday, I connected with a family who lived in Japan for about 20 years.  We conversed about culture and transition and religion and diversity.  It was another surprise divine appointment and I am excited to continue to get to know them.

July 3rd:  Mom and I took Grandma out for a late birthday gift - pedicures!  As we're sitting letting our feet soak, Mom starts chatting with the lady sitting next to us.  We soon find out that she has my prayer card at home.  I have never met this lady in my life, but she has been praying for me for the past 3 years at 9:00 every morning.  (what?!)  Her daughter just graduated from Grove City College (my alma mater) and is looking to teach abroad.  We chatted about my experience and both Mom and I were able to encourage and offer advice to another mother and her daughter.  Of course, the whole nail salon is listening to this all - about being in God's will and prayer and trusting Him.  Jesus, plant seeds.

I've had the privilege of experiencing the body of Christ in incredible ways through family, friends, and strangers.  What a beautiful story Jesus is continuing to write.  I want my story to always be a reflection of His goodness and glory.

"In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge...I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.  My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long, though I know not its measure. ...you have done great things.  Who, O God, is like you?"  Psalm 71:1, 14-15, 19




Saturday, June 24, 2017

Here am I

I've been home for almost 2 weeks now.

I left a home, a place I grew to love, and people, with whom I shared life.  I left African heat and rain and crazy traffic, 3 hour church services in French and Hausa.  I left students, kids I loved and grew alongside.  I left family dinners every Wednesday night, girls high school Bible Study every Monday night, and prayer group every Saturday afternoon.  I left incredible coworkers and parents and neighbors who felt like parents.  I left worship-leading with Abby, the smell of dust after it rains, and French conversations with the workers at Sahel.  I left laughter and community.  My heart feels the ache of leaving.  No, no one has died.  But I still grieve the loss of these beautiful things in my life.  I still grieve.

And life moves on here in Pennsylvania.  I'm glad it does.  I'm thankful that I'm busy and I have things to do and people to see, appointments to make.  The things, the to-do list acts as a distraction in a lot of ways, hopefully in a healthy way.  I'm applying for jobs, visiting schools, seeing friends, traveling for weddings, and finally getting to those annual check-ups.

This transition has been different than the other couple times that I've come home.  Before, I knew I would be returning to my Niger-home, to all the things familiar, the smells, the people, the school, and a clear sense of purpose.  And this time, when August 9th comes around and everyone is starting school at Sahel Academy, I will be in Pennsylvania.  And I think of my fourth graders this past year who cried when I left on the last day of school.  I think of the class I taught last year and how I spoke at their fifth grade recognition and how they will be middle schoolers and I'm missing it.  I think of how short-staffed Sahel is and how they are combing elementary classes and how they still don't have a kindergarten teacher.  I think of all the memories I made with close friends who will still be teaching at Sahel next school year and how I won't be with them this time.

Transition books tell you to lean into the grief.  They say to maintain routine and to know yourself.  And here I am, discovering that transition isn't really about me at all.  Life in general, for that matter, isn't about me at all!  What brought meaning and purpose in my life has always been the Lord.  And that truth hasn't changed.  Ministry is daily life, Christianity lived out, continual opportunities to love much.   

"Life becomes harder for us when we live for others, but it also becomes richer and happier." - Albert Schweitzer

I am so grateful for the experiences from the past 3 years.  And I am overwhelmed by the incredible people I met along the way who mean so much to me now (part of the reason why it's so hard to say goodbye).  And that's exactly where I want to stay - in a place of thankfulness.  It's tempting to compare one place to another or one culture to another.  But that brings criticism and judgement.  I want to remain in a posture of gratitude.

"Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives. ...thanksgiving is necessary to live the well, whole, fullest life."  -Ann Voskamp  

My hands are open and my arms spread wide, ready to embrace whatever God would like to set before me.  Ready to worship and thank Him, because He is trustworthy.  I speak from experience.

"All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

I am determined to make life all about Jesus.  My life is not mine at all.  "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your body." -1 Corinthians 6:19-20

God called me to Niger.  Now He's called me to Pennsylvania.  "Here am I." -Isaiah 6:8


Monday, November 28, 2016

The Compliment

"You look beautiful, Miss Knox!"

Elementary students have a way of brightening your day.  I walked down the sidewalk to find my students lined up, queued by the whistle.  School has begun, another Monday morning.  I'm smiling for the students and because I know I'll have a better day if I do.  I'm choosing joy.

I look forward to Monday mornings if I let myself.  Sometimes I forget how sweet it is to teach these 8 and 9 year olds.  And then I get a comment like that, "You look beautiful, Miss Knox!" Words received with a hug and smile.

"Thank you," I reply.  I'm still smiling, but this time my eyes sparkle with the knowledge that I am loved.

That student might never know the meaning of her compliment, how deep kind words can go and how soothing they are for our hearts.  My students teach me on a daily basis, if I will receive it.  This morning I was reminded of the power of an enthusiastic compliment.  I was reminded that the power of life and death are in the tongue.

These are the little ways that I am blessed.  These are the kisses I receive from my Heavenly Father over and over again.  So today I remember to speak words of life and encouragement (one of our spelling words this week!).  Choose joy.  


"The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eats its fruit."  
Proverbs 18:21

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Walking Close to My Example

The little boy's face haunts my thoughts.

It was a clear, crisp morning from a rainy weekend.  The dry sand drinks deep.  Sweet breezes, blue skies, sunshine.  I didn't want to get out of bed that morning, but I'm glad I did.  I had already decided in my mind the night before that I would go for a run in the morning.  I must stick to my commitment.  Exercise has become an important part of my daily activities.  And I didn't want to "slack off" just because we had the day off of school.

I hiked my skirt over my shorts and pulled at the laces of my tennis shoes - my classy missionary look.  My mind wandered to the day's events.  All over the country, thousands of rams and sheep covered the streets - first alive, then quite dead.  Blood washes into the streets as throats are sliced, rams and sheep sacrificed.  And for what?

For the past two years I have taken time to view the celebrations.  Traffic is quiet on these days because there is too much celebrating to do for locals to be on the road.  A quick drive through any neighborhood in town is enough to give you an idea of what it might have been like in Moses' day.  I do not envy the priests who made sacrifices on behalf of the people.

But this day was different.  Unlike the past two years, I had no desire to once again view carcasses stretched out on wooden poles, leaning against a small fire.

As I passed my neighbors on my walk to school, I secretly hoped that the 9 or 10 sheep inhabiting the roadside and yard for the past week or two would still be alive.

They were.

I finished my running, thankful for the space and time I had to clear my head and be before the Lord. Two men wearing all white came through the gate.  "Bonne fete!" I halfheartedly called to them as they smiled and waved.

I quickly made my way home by way of the street I walk a thousand times.  And though the family continues to gather and the celebrations bring them much joy, I can't help but feel a lump in my throat as I watch a little boy trot closely behind an older man, trying desperately to keep up.  No more than 5 years old and dressed in his best, he used one hand to steady a prayer mat on his head, mimicking the man he was trying to follow.

My heart aches for this little boy - who has no control over his circumstances.  No control over where or into what family he is born.  He is lost.

Aren't we all born lost?

Just as that little boy reflected the actions and example of his elder, I pray that I look like the one whom I follow, Jesus Christ.

Later that day, I walked outside after dinner at a friend's house.  Smoke filled my nostrils and all I could think about was the thousands of rams being slowly roasted over open fires that night.  The air was thick and the smell potent.

I want to be the "aroma of Christ" to those around me.  Though my language skills are not nearly enough to have deep theological conversations with my local friends and neighbors, I am able to live a life that shines the love of Jesus.  And that's my prayer.

For eyes to be opened and hearts to be softened to the love of God.  My prayer is for the darkness to be lifted and for the miracle of redemption to be embraced.  I long to see these people free from bondage, to be free from oppression and shame and a works-based mentality, as if salvation can be earned.  Please pray, too.

God, give me grace as I find you in every situation.  Give me peace as I wrestle before your throne in prayer for the people of this African country you love.  And help me to be a light in a dark world.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Another School Year

School is in session!  Students flooded the halls and sidewalks of Sahel Academy on Wednesday, August 10th.  Old friends were reunited and new friends were welcomed.

I am so excited to be teaching 4th grade again this year.  After just one week, I noticed what an incredible advantage there is to teaching the same grade twice!  This year is also special because I have the same students that I taught my first year at Sahel.  Of course, they were second graders then and I was in my first year of teaching.  A lot has changed between then and now, for which I am very grateful.

I have 9 extremely diverse and lovable students from all over the world.  Over half of my students do not speak English at home, meaning that English is not their first language.  This creates wonderful learning opportunities in the classroom, for both me and my students.  I love being able to make connections between languages.  During reading, we discussed the word "genre" the other day, which in French means type or kind.  Perfect!  In our science unit about nutrition and digestion, I suggested that a biscuit be added to the example meal to make it more balanced.  A student raised her hand with a shocked look on her face, "Miss Knox!  How can you eat something so sweet for dinner?!"  I quickly realized that a biscuit here is a cookie, not a dinner roll.

Ready or not, school starts.  And unfortunately, not all of our teachers have been able to raise their support in time to be here by the first day of school.  Consequently, for the time being, elementary teachers are in charge of their own P.E. classes!  Miss Oostra and I have paired up the 4th and 5th grade classes.  This is especially sweet for me since I taught the 5th graders last year.  Having grown up going to sports camp every summer, along with three athletic brothers, I have truly enjoyed the opportunity to be with the students outside of the four walls of our own classroom.  Though P.E. was rained out on Tuesday, on Thursday we began a frisbee unit!  Between recess duty and teaching P.E., my Tuesday and Thursday mornings are quite long!

Living in the same house as I did last year has made the transition back to life in Niger much easier.  I am also blessed to be using the car of a friend on home assignment.  I currently live with one other single teacher at Sahel, Danielle.  In October, we are expecting two more housemates.  Just a few houses over and on the same compound are three other single ladies who teach at Sahel.  What a party!  It's exciting to meet other enthusiastic teachers.  I made tacos for dinner on Wednesday so that we all had a chance to fellowship.

Starting another school year at Sahel Academy has been incredibly joyful.  I can't explain it, except that God answers prayers.  What a beautiful place.  I am honored to be serving the Lord in such a way.  And my prayer is that God's Holy Spirit empowers me to daily live a righteous and holy life as a testimony to those around me of His love and glory.

"I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me." - Psalm 13:6

Miss Knox and Miss Oostra
on the first day of school!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Saying Goodbye and Saying Hello

"It's good to cry."  I'm not sure how much I really understood that statement.  Crying means that something hurts, and tears are a product of pain.  So why would it be good to cry?

Leaving Pennsylvania on July 26th was probably one of the emotionally hardest things I've ever done.  Don't get me wrong - the first time was hard, too.  But this time was different.

I cried all the way to Boston.

The poor lady on the plane next to me didn't know what to do.  She offered some napkins as tissues and even wrote me a note tucked into my journal for me to find later.  Yes, God provides.

As I sat by the window on my flight to Boston, I realized all that I was mourning.  I was (and maybe still am) mourning the loss of an incredible summer at home with family and friends who love me.  I had to say goodbye to church friends who make me laugh, to my adorable baby niece, and college friends who visited for a whole weekend.  I mourned the loss of blossoming friendships and potentially fruitful relationships.  I drank in the lush greenness on the way to the airport as we sang "It is Well."  And I thanked God for the sunset, balm for my soul.  Yes, God provides.

Goodbyes are easily the hardest thing about living on two different continents.

And I'm not sure how to put this into words, but crying really is good.  It means that this summer was meaningful and that time and people were enjoyed.  If there were no tears, then richness of relationship is lacking.  I'm thankful for those tears.  I'm grateful to God that I have family and friends to love, who are worth crying for.

So, it's been an eventful summer to say the least!  My time was filled with a celebratory wedding of distant friends whose friendship originated in Niger, days off in Michigan visiting an old college friend, and a trip to Texas to see my brother and former housemate in Niger.  I was able to speak at a couple churches and even babysit for my cousin and her 5 kids.  I watched my brothers play in the church softball league and held Ellie Jane for hours at a time.  My summer consisted of pool lounging, evening walks, coffee dates, porch swings, stunning sunsets, and rich conversations.  Yes, God provides.

And upon my return to Niger, I've felt a similar love and affection from the people here:  homemade muffins, ice and cold water already in the freezer, lunch from a friend, house cleaned, and bed made!  Yes, God provides!  I have kept myself busy unpacking and organizing my room and running errands to get the house back in order.  I've enjoyed the sweet conversations with friends reunited and new ones.

The last Friday of every month is SIM's Day of Prayer.  The missionaries on the "Harabonda" side of the river gather in the evening to worship and pray together.  This past Friday I was reminded that we serve a God who satisfies our needs.  I am excited to continue meditating on that truth:  the Lord satisfies our needs, the ones we can't quite articulate and the ones we don't even know yet.

Praise God for our Heavenly Father who knows us intimately, for Jesus Christ who loves us deeply, and for the Holy Spirit who guides, comforts, and speaks to us on a daily basis.  I am in awe of how God has answered your prayers for peace as I transition from one culture to another.  Thank you!

"The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.  You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail." -Isaiah 58:11