Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas in the Classroom

Second grade has been learning about Christmas around the world.  So for the past couple weeks, we've been celebrating Christmas!  Since Niger does not get snow and there aren't too many Christmas decorations in a primarily Muslim country, second grade has helped me get in the Christmas spirit!



Miss Farrer, the elementary principal, came in as a guest reader to tell us about the legend of the candy cane!


We made all kinds of Christmas decorations for our bulletin board!


Dr. Waldron came in to play a few Christmas carols on her harmonica!  The kids hummed along and sang the words to "Silent Night." 

Mrs. Eberle made an amazing pinata for our class!  We learned about Christmas in Mexico...what better time to have a pinata?!

It was actually quite difficult to break open!


And of course, we ended the day with cookies and candies galore!



Miss Knox and her second graders, halfway through the year!


Healing

Teaching at a school for mostly missionary kids has given me a new perspective.  This constantly changing community has given me an appreciation for what missionaries and TCKs (third culture kids) experience.

Last week I said goodbye to a very good friend of mine.  We met upon my arrival in August, as she had just arrived a few days earlier.  And then 4 months, like a flash, was packed full of memories together and we cling to them on our separate continents.  Yet again, I must say goodbye to a dear friend this week.  And I dread it because my heart is raw.  Life is so rich because of the relationships that we form with one another.  And so I praise God that it is difficult to say goodbye.  And I ask Him to make it a "see you later."  When hearts share experiences, strong bonds are formed.  And while it feels like those bonds are painfully breaking, that I'll have to start all over and open up to someone new, I know God is trustworthy in ALL things.

And so, here I feel like a missionary kid.  Vulnerable, hurting, doubting.  And then I am reminded of who God is:

I have a student who is new to Sahel Academy this year.  He has had quite a difficult time adjusting to Niger and often talks about his old friends and his first grade teacher from back home.  My heart breaks for him because he has made the choice to put up walls and is sometimes quite a bully to his peers.  I had a long conversation with him one day about his poor attitude and choice to block others out.  This struggling 7 year old told me that the kids in the class are "annoying and bothersome."  Ha.  I told him I know people like that too and we still need to obey Jesus' Word to love our neighbors.  I asked him if he thought he'd have a very good time in Niger if he didn't make any friends.  "No," was his hesitant response.  As we continued to talk, we decided that it was his choice whether or not he would make friends and enjoy his time in Niger.  Because I had 14 other students waiting for me, our conversation ended and his attitude continued to scream "Keep away!"

The story continues:  Just last week, we added a new student to our 2nd grade class.  I spoke to the class before she came to let them know they would have a new peer.  I asked the struggling-to-adjust student to share his experiences of being the "new kid" in school.  This rarely quiet class didn't make a sound, eyes glued, as their peer spoke about how he'd felt scared and nervous.  He told us he missed his friends back home.

I asked the class to raise their hand if anyone else missed someone to whom they had to say goodbye.  Every hand went up.  Second graders began to share the places they've been and the friends and family they miss so much.  We looked at the world map and fingerprints covered continents as students began pointing to all the places they had friends and family.  I told them about the friend to whom I said goodbye last week.  We came up with ideas about how to make the new student (who came just this past week) feel loved and welcomed.  It was a precious moment in second grade that day.  The vulnerability and honesty of one hurting student led to such meaningful and powerful conversation.  A glimpse of healing.

And at the end of the day, this same struggling student came to me.  "Miss Knox, I have some good news," he told me.  "I made a friend today."  I couldn't help but to burst with excitement!  "Wow!!  That is so exciting!  I am so proud of you!"  What a celebration!  When the students wanted to know what happened, I let him share with his peers the good news.  More healing.

My heart breaks for these little ones who know no stability.  And so I am thankful for the rock solid constancy of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  And I praise God for the small victories that come through the ministry of relationships.

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."  Hebrews 13:8



Friday, November 21, 2014

Like Crazy

How do I begin?  Niger is quite unpredictable sometimes (who am I kidding, I mean all the time), hence I'm finding it difficult to write a cohesive blog post.

First and foremost, God has been working in my heart like crazy.  I have done a great job of trying to ignore Him (I am guilty of that way too often), but He is constant and consistent in my life.  Thank God that my sinful nature does not affect the rock-solid character of Jesus Christ.

When I think about my time here in Niger as a first-year teacher, I can't help but wonder how can something so hard be so good?  It doesn't seem to make sense!  I often reason that if it is not easy, then it cannot be good.  And if it's hard, well, I must be doing something wrong.  And yet life here has proven to be so rich.  Each trial and hardship (though small in eternity's eye) is creating in me a refined spirit.  There are so many beautiful and incredible things proving God's sovereignty.  He is at work and I am changed.

I had hoped that after 3 1/2 months of living in Niger I would have completely transitioned.  But I'm slowly learning that I'm not done yet.  And I'm learning that no matter where I am or how long I've been there, my need for God remains the same.

As a 22 year old, I have found myself in awkward places at times.  I am the obvious "rookie," and yet I am transitioning into life as an "adult."  And yet, I feel as if I have a foot in both camps, one in college adult and one in grown-up adult.  How does one gracefully navigate life in such confusion?  For example, I am on a first-name basis with people whom I would have typically addressed by Mr. or Mrs..  Students here call me "Miss Knox," and yet I do not feel so different from some of these high school-ers.

I think what I am learning from it all is humility.  "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement..." (Romans 12:3).  No matter how I feel my role or title affects my position among the relationships formed, my attitude and posture must be that of humility.  The first part of the word humility comes from the Greek word humus, which means "soil, earth."  I must be like rich and fertile dirt, perfect for planting seeds.

Yes, things are continually difficult and I transition still.  And how humbling it is to ask for help, to recognize that I am not, and cannot be, independent.  But I rest in God's good grace, knowing that I must take life one blessed moment at a time.  I hide in the knowledge of all that Christ has done for me and confidently forge ahead as a child of God and heir with Christ.  Praise God!

SO FAR THIS MONTH:

Mallory had a birthday!  We celebrated with friends by eating cake and other delicious sweets.  What a blessing it has been to live with this beautiful woman of God!    

Rachel, April and I led worship for NEWS (Niamey English Worship Service)!  It was so good to worship God by playing the keys again :)

Game night at our place!  I played Settlers of Catan for the first time!

Rachel and I visited SIM Education's ministry with kindergarten teachers.  We helped craft together Nativity scenes out of toilet paper rolls and fabric for each teacher to have in their classroom.  The ladies crafted and then learned how to teach the Christmas story.


High School Bible Study!  Elena made carrot cake for us!  I have been so honored to get to know these ladies better.  I am excited for God to do some awesome things!

Last weekend, a few fellow TeachBeyond members came to Sahel Academy to led a Staff Retreat.  It was a wonderful time of spiritual refreshment, good food, and learning.  These people were such a blessing!  We had them over for dinner before they had to leave. 

Field Day for Sahel Academy!  All the students and staff spent the day at the Stade, a professional soccer stadium, participating in track and field events.  What a fun and tiring day in the sun!



Saturday, November 8, 2014

October Highlights

In an attempt to "catch you up to speed" on things happening in Niger, I thought I'd try to recap a few highlights from the last month or so.  So basically, this is a compilation of several posts in one.  Get ready.  To read.

Tabaski Celebrations, October 5th, 2014


At the beginning of October, my roommate Mallory took me and two other friends for a drive through the city.  Muslims all over Niamey celebrated Tabaski.  We passed lamb after lamb, freshly slaughtered and stretched over hot coals.  The streets were unusually desolate, making driving especially easy.  It's shocking how quickly you can get around when unhindered by Niamey's crazy traffic.  As we drove the roads and back-roads around town, we saw each stage of sacrificial process, including the actual slicing of the lamb's throat, the gutting of its innards, the skinning, and the roasting!  (Reading Old Testament scripture has a whole new meaning!)  Families gathered in the streets.  Women and children dressed in new, brightly colored traditional garb.  Men worked hard to cook and prepare the evening's feast.  Four white girls, cameras in hand snapping photos from the car windows was, to my surprise, extremely well-received.  Many shouted hello and waved, greeting us with smiles.  We laughed and waved back shouting "Bonne fete!" which literally means, "Happy party!"

As we made our way back to campus, we stopped to wave to our neighbor.  He was so friendly and enthusiastically invited us to dinner that evening.  After talking with some more seasoned missionaries, Abby and I decided to accept the invitation.  We ventured out that evening, and while the lamb was not completely ready, we chatted with our new friends for about an hour!  It was an encouraging and lighthearted experience.  Abby spoke French, and while I had trouble formulating my thoughts into French words, I was able to understand much of the conversation!  He showed us how he cooked the lamb by catching the dripping grease in a dish and then taking a brush and lathering it over the lambs' slowly roasting meat.  We left only after he insisted that we taste the tender and smokey flavored meal.  The next morning we returned to observe how the family celebrated Tabaski.  We had a conversation about Jesus and religion.  Please pray for our neighbors, that we might be a light.

"By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." -John 13:35

"Family photo" beside the roasting lambs.
Photo credit:  happy Nigerien man.
Sunday's scenery as we drove through town.
Women making preparations.

Animal Adventures Pt. I, All day, Every day 


Niger's wildlife is so different from anything in Pennsylvania.  As I sit on the porch swing each evening, I hear Niger.  Walking through, whether during the day or in the evening, one is bound to encounter God's creativity:

Hearing hippos lulling roar from the porch at night

Rhinoceros beetle, shiny black, bigger than my big toe, outside of the library

Pterodactyl-sized crane flying overhead

Frogs jumping as high as my knee

Countless dragonflies swarming the field

Grasshoppers the size of your palm

Lizards chowing down on moths in the night's light

Toads catching bugs with elastic tongues

Bright aqua-tailed birds squawking from the trees for all to hear 

Gigantic black shadows of bats filling the sky


"Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.  Praise the Lord."  -Psalm 150:6

Animal Adventures Pt. II, October 25th, 2014


Following the SIM Orientation, a friend offered to take a few of us, including the visitors from Galmi and Maradi, to the Musee!  This attraction features a Museum and a Zoo.  We walked around to the few small buildings containing artifacts and history regarding Niamey and Niger.  We saw hippos, lions (including cubs!), hyenas, ostriches, massive bulls, and chimps.  We visited the vendors selling their goods - jewelry, bags, shoes, belts, walls, carved animals, and so much more!  On the way out, God proclaimed his goodness over creation with a breathtaking sunset, colors stunning!  To end our evening, we ate out.  It was so lovely to fellowship with some awesome people!

I got to feed an ostrich!
God was loving me good that night :)

Animal Adventures Pt. III, October 30th, 2014


After school one sunny afternoon, a group of friends and I went out to the river for an adventure.  Susan's parents were visiting and we wanted to see hippos!  We met our guide and walked to the river's bank together.  Green islands reflected in the murky water.  Our wooden boat, covered by a straw thatch roof for shade, stretched long and was just wide enough for one to sit with their legs out in front of them.  We sat on cushions placed on top of crates, keeping us safe from the slow leak beneath.  One man sat at the front guiding, another by the motor, and a third used a can to scoop the unwanted water at the bottom of the boat.

We set out, sun bright, river wide, and eyes eager.  Oh, how good it was for my soul to soak in God's goodness that afternoon.  The boat was low, my face close to the river as we whizzed by lily pads.  Dragonflies zipped in and out of our path.  Cows grazed on bright green islands.  Sandy hills and rocky mountains contrasted the sky blue.  White birds flew about to find the perfect perch.

Finally, the motor stopped and the guides pointed.  We saw what looked like a shiny rock poking out of the water.  But this hippo was alone.  So we quickly continued our mission.  Hippos typically travel together, so when we couldn't see where the others were, we wisely left the premise.  Eventually we came upon a family of hippos!  Shiny pink backs sunning, nostrils, eyes and ears just above the water.  They yawned for us, showing off their large mouths.  How awesome?!  After watching these amazing creatures for awhile, we headed back, sun setting behind us.  Orange sun, disappearing in the haze just above the river's horizon.  Cool air from the Niger River relieved us from the sun's heat.  In total, we saw 6 hippos!  What a great day!


This cow posed perfectly as we sailed past.
The scenery was beautiful.
Do you see the hippos?!
Our boat and trusty guides!

Parent Teacher Conferences, October 28th-29th, 2014


Parent-teacher conferences are perhaps one of the most dreaded requirements of teachers.  And while they were certainly exhausting, I found them to be quite rewarding!  I enjoyed meeting each of my students' parents.  I learned more about my students and how I can be a better teacher.  Since my classroom is made up of such diverse learners with various needs, this is a bit overwhelming.  But I am confident that the Lord used the time I was able to spend with these parents as ministry.  After each meeting, I asked the parents if they would like to pray.  What a privilege to come before the Lord together.  It was truly humbling and a good reminder of whom I serve.  One meeting was particularly God-ordained, in which I was able to, by God's grace, boldly share the good news of the Gospel.  It's in moments like those that I wonder, did I make any sense?  Were my words eloquent?  And yet, my prayer is that God planted seeds of TRUTH that day.  Please pray for this family, that God would be evident in their lives and continue to draw them to Himself.

I am so grateful for the parents at Sahel Academy.  They have all been so supportive and incredibly gracious towards me, especially in my first year of teaching!

Halloween Sleepover, October 31st, 2014


On October 31st, all the girls in grades 9 and 10 came over for a sleepover!  Mallory (i.e. Miss M.) organized an amazing party for these sweet girls, about a dozen total.  The sleepover included creative costumes, music, tie-dying, candy, snacks, "TP-ing" the neighbor's house, cleaning up the damage the next morning (!), decorating cupcakes, playing games, dancing, singing, and watching a movie!  What an incredible blessing it was to hang out with these amazing young ladies!  I truly feel blessed to know them.
The Fairy Godmothers!


Cupcake decorating!


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Learning (to be) Still

It's been a while since I've posted.  And quite frankly, I'm not sure where the time has gone!  It's hard to believe that October has come and gone and November is already upon us.  I can only imagine the beauty of Pennsylvania's Autumn as I continue to brave Niger's heat (but really, it hasn't been too bad).  November 1st marks three months of living in Niger!

And I'm still learning.

I thought I would have it down by now.  I was hoping I'd know more of the language, be a better teacher, settle into a routine.  I thought I'd miss home less and confidently invest more, and maybe even enjoy grocery shopping...

I had high expectations.  As if I had to "graduate" from transitioning to life in Niger.  As if I could ever reach a point in which I wouldn't need God anymore.  Of course I needed the Lord when I first got here - moving to Africa is a big change requiring a lot of grace!  But now?!  Why do I still feel so inadequate?  I tell myself that I shouldn't need God as much now...I'm more experienced and time says that I should be more independent, right?

Unmet self-proposed standards leave me feeling that I am not only disappointing myself, but God.  I get frustrated and disappointed and harden my heart; making it callous and numb to God's Words.
 
Yet, how can I respond to the Word of God, but by honoring it?  It is not enough to just read it or hear it.  I must put it into action.  And so I struggle daily.  I remember that God is my "daily Bread"  (Matthew 6:11, Proverbs 30:8).  Just as the Israelites were to gather enough manna off the ground for only that day, I am given just what I need one day at a time (Exodus 16:4).

And it is hard to remember that.  To be so completely and fully present that my mind is not preoccupied with the worries of what has happened and the concerns of what might happen, of what I didn't do yet and what I still have yet to do.  To put all of my weight in the now-moments.  To put God first in my heart through gratitude and relationship.  Letting go of time and energy by surrendering it to God in the form of a quick conversation with a co-worker, or a late night chat with a friend.

If God is really the most important relationship, shouldn't I act in obedience to His Word first and foremost?  Perhaps to others it looks like I am shirking my responsibilities, but only God knows what passes through one's heart (Jeremiah 17:9-10).

And here is the catch:  you must actually believe what you say.  This requires "preaching to your heart," a constant remembering, constant checking of motives, being conscientious of attitude, building an awareness of the Lord's presence and inviting Him into each moment.

And it is tiring - continually preaching the same truths to your heart, again and again.  But I'm learning that the Gospel never gets old.  And no matter how many times I have to learn and relearn a lesson, my dependence on God is the same.

Although I have lived in Niamey for 3 months now, it does not mean that I have suddenly learned and mastered all that God has been teaching me!  Quite the opposite.  I have been tested and failed.  And so here I am again.  Learning that God is ALL that I need (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).  Not fearing lack, because God is sufficient (Psalm 23:1).  Being filled by God, not for me, but for others (Mark 12:31, Philippians 2:3).  Prioritizing relationship over task (Mark 10:45).  Praying because I believe it is powerful (James 5:16). Continually checking my heart and my attitude again and again.

I'm learning that it's not about "doing devotions."  I can spend 3 hours every morning in God's Word, but in order to HONOR the Word of God, I must obey.  It is one's daily actions and thoughts that test faith.  I often measure my spiritual healthiness on the amount of time "I do my devotions."  And yet, shouldn't my entire day be a "devotion" to the Lord?  Shouldn't our lives be devoted to God ALL day, and not just for 20 minutes every morning?  Absolute surrender means every second, every thought, every decision.  God wants all of it.

God is first.  He must be enough.  My heart is content.

"You made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace till they rest in you."  -Saint Augustine

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Chopped.

After kicking off October break with a weekend of NUTS (Niamey Universal Tournament of Softball), I took a few days to simply recover and relax:  hanging out with my housemates, watching movies, reading, sleeping, running, and the like.

On Thursday and Friday, I joined the other new missionaries of SIM for an orientation.  It was a great time to learn and relearn a few things about culture and living as a missionary.  I met some wonderful missionaries from Galmi and Maradi and got to know a few others from Niamey a bit better.
Mr. Hama led an insightful talk on Nigerien culture.
 At the end of our time on Friday, we all participated in a cooking competition in Sahel Academy's kitchen!  We broke into three groups of five or six and were challenged to cook an entree with given ingredients.  All of the ingredients were purchased at the market and the object of the game was to work as a team to cook the best dish without any recipe!

Our team's eclectic collection of Nigerien market food.
Our group's identifiable ingredients were eggplant and Nigerien squash.  The other three items required for our dish were something that looked like a very fine millet, a hunk of meat - bones, animal hair included!, and a small bag of brown seeds.  Our team decided to add water to the sand-like grain and cook it into a paste.  We added the seeds and some garlic to the mixture and fried it in oil!  As the judges walked around, they looked awfully worried to find out that we were cooking our grain, which we found out is called sorghum.  It is traditionally prepared with only a little bit of water and NOT COOKED.  Oops!  It was too late, so we forged ahead on our own Nigerien-style cooking adventure.  Team members hacked away at the meat to sort it from the bones and hair.  Veggies were chopped, diced, and minced.  The squash was placed in the oven.  We had no idea how anything would turn out, and as all three teams shared the two stoves, we could see how beautifully their meals were coming together.  I was a bit worried, and to be honest, I had already admitted defeat.  And yet, thanks to a childhood with three brothers, my competitive nature inspired a strong finish.  In the end, we cubed the meat and cooked a stir fry to go along with our sorghum fried pancakes.
3 teams, 2 stoves, 1 hot kitchen

Presentation is everything, so we prepared a plate for the judges and waited to hear their praises (haha...).  The other dishes included a traditional peanut sauce stew over rice and mashed potatoes with tomato based stew.  One had goat, the other beef, and we found out that our hunk of meat was lamb.  The judges tasted and talked, and my team won!  They decided that the originality and flavors were creative and delicious.  Who knew?!  And I thought that I couldn't successfully cook in Niger.  What a blessing to know that I cannot only cook, but I can cook well!

Rachel and I were on different teams, but we had to get a roomie picture!



Of course, not without the help of my teammates!  We all got a package of Oreos for our prize!  I am so glad to have gotten to spend time with these lovely people :)  God is good.





Monday, October 13, 2014

Tan Lines in October!

It's about time for an update!  So much has been happening in the past couple weeks and I will do my best to recap the highlights!

October is the end of rainy season and the beginning of a mini hot season.  Therefore, I have reached a new level of sweat.  For instance, perspiring so much that my fingers begin to prune.  And soaking my clothes straight through with sweat.  The heat in combination with the dry sand makes sweat brown.  But nothing a cold shower can't remedy for a few minutes!

Fortunately, there is more to talk about than the heat. This past week, although a short one, was Spirit Week at Sahel Academy!  Student Council assigns a creative theme for each day, and the students parade the courtyard each morning in their attire, competing for best costume.  The themed schedule is as follows:

Monday:                    No school (Tabaski)
Tuesday:                 Mismatch Day (Wear clothes that don’t match.)
Wednesday:         Cultural Day (Dress like a country.)
Thursday:                   Fantasy Day (Be a super hero or a princess or prince.)
Friday:      Sahel Day (Wear yellow and black.)

While it is difficult to choose, I think my favorite day was Cultural Day.  The parade that morning consisted of colorful garbs from MANY different countries, including Korea, Niger, Cameroon, America, Canada, and more!  Overall, the students did an excellent job of showing their spirit for Sahel Academy by coming up with some great get-ups!  Check out Second Grade:
Mismatch Day!
Fantasy Day!
Cultural Day!

Sahel Day!

At the end of the week, we had an all-school Pep Rally!  The students put together dances, cheers, chants, and songs to get people excited for the Softball Tournament called N.U.T.S., just in time for the week long October break!  Second grade reluctantly led the entire school in a "repeat-after-me" chant taken from the movie "Remember the Titans."  And in the middle of the Pep Rally, the teachers caught everyone off guard with a FLASH MOB!  It was great fun and quite entertaining, choreographed and led by yours truly :)  And after a crazy week of school, and two straight months of teaching with only one day off, I was ready for October break!

I wasn't sure if I would be able to conjure enough gusto for an entire weekend of softball, but boy, I am glad that I did!  NUTS stands for Niamey Universal Tournament of Softball, an entire weekend of Niamey's favorite sport!  The Tournament started Friday afternoon and lasts all weekend.  Imagine crowds of families, students, parents, young and old camped out with snacks and blankets and bleachers, all there to watch and participate!  Teams consist of students, parents, adults, teachers, and whomever else wants to join the fun (even a couple teams from Burkina Faso!)!  I played in the social league with mostly Sahel teachers on a team called the "One Hit Wonders!"

The "One Hit Wonders!"
While softball is not my sport of choice, I can honestly say that after an entire weekend of games, I played 6 total, I thoroughly enjoy softball!  I learned much more about the sport and even had a few good catches, RBIs, and hits!  In one of the first games, I was ready to make a catch for an out, but missed it.  After the play, I looked down and realized that the reason I missed the ball was because it actually went straight through my glove, breaking the strings completely!  Our team had a rocky start, but improved immensely by Sunday and ended up winning in a final game against the "Social Suns," a team consisting of students at Sahel Academy.  I am so impressed with the students here at Sahel Academy.  It was an honor to be able to play ball with them!

The Sahel Suns and the One Hit Wonders after a great game!
We ended the weekend with a banquet at the Rec. Center with chicken enchiladas and cake.  It was a nice way to celebrate everyone's achievements.  I am so proud of our team and the kids at Sahel Academy!  Way to go, guys!

Overall, it's been an awesome weekend of socializing, sweating, swimming in between games, eating oranges, dancing in between innings, and getting tan lines in October!

Here are some pictures with the students at the banquet:








  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Fellowship Deep

One of the things that has made it onto my list each night when I count my blessings is "friends."  The community here has been so helpful in adjusting to a new culture and home.  It's really quite a special bond that forms in such a transient community.  In honor of the One who provides for my every need, I would like to take time to list some ways that I have felt loved by the new friends I have here in Niamey. :)

1.  On my first night in Niger, my neighbor, mentor and friend cooked and hosted dinner for me and the other ladies on campus!  After a long day and a half of traveling, the food and fellowship was such a blessing!


2.  Occasionally, we go out to eat - whether it's just a few people or many.  We often find a new  restaurant to try (there are surprisingly quite a number of restaurants in the city); and depending on the night, I either try something new or try to find something that "tastes like America."  Some of these dishes include fajitas, brochettes and fries (pictured below), camel, crepes, schwarmas, pizza, a "Philly Steak" sandwhich, and rice.


3.  Girls' nights:  Games, popcorn, fudge, movies, TV shows, painting nails, late night thunderstorms, and anything else that includes crying, laughter, or chocolate! (Have you noticed a food theme yet?)

4.  Planning lessons and preparing for another school week around the dining room table.  This often includes quality music, good conversation, yummy snacks, and distracting videos.

5.  Exercising!  I often run alone, so when my two friends decided to walk the path as I "jogged/did calisthenics" beside them just so that I could have company, well it was great.  Late night work outs are much sweeter with friends to talk to. :)

6.  Ultimate Frisbee Thursdays!  Around 5:00pm we play a healthy game of Ultimate with a crowd from around the area!  I have enjoyed getting to not only toss disc, but also meet people outside of Sahel!

7.  Cooking and baking!  When you get hungry for pizza, there is only one way to make it - from scratch!  I have also successfully made yogurt (round 2), granola, a breakfast scrambler, and cookie dough balls (thank you DebDeb for that recipe!).



8.  Game nights!  Psychiatrist, Fishbowl, and "other" fun games :)  I've also gotten my roommates to play Bananagrams and Spot It with me! And of course, a game night is not complete without snacks - brownies, peanut butter cookies, chips, popcorn, candy, or cooked corn!

9.  Being able to cry wet tears all over my friend's lap because sometimes change is just overwhelming.  Being able to count on someone to drive me to the nurse for medicine as another friend sits with me to reassuringly rub my shoulder.  These people really care for each other.

10.  And sometimes things just don't turn out the way you want and the electricity goes out completely - you can't even see your own hand in front of your face.  And sometimes you go to the pool to swim and it starts down pouring instead.  Other times you desperately need the internet to work and all you get is a blank screen.  And sometimes you've had a rough day and need to talk, so you and a friend sit on the wall to watch the sunset.  And sometimes you spoil yogurt and bleach the lettuce too long.  But it's okay, because you've learned how to laugh.  And if you don't chuckle at the "mishaps," you'll go crazy.

God has blessed me with some incredible friends with whom I can talk, laugh, cry, and pray.  I am so grateful for the fellowship of the Body of Believers, both in Niger and the States.  The Lord continues to consistently encourage me through notes, packages, emails, skype calls, and letters.  Thank you!

"Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it."  1 Corinthians 12:27

Friday, September 26, 2014

Grapes.

It's not about me.

A much-needed Skype conversation with my brother the other night reminded me of this truth that I seem to forget over and over again.  I am so selfish with my time especially, and even fool myself into thinking that my devotional time with the Lord is about ME.

I must remember that I am blessed, not for my sake, but for the sake of those around me.  I am filled so that I might be poured out by the Lord and used in others' lives as a light.  Oswald Chambers puts it this way, "If we believe in Jesus, it is not what we gain but what He pours through us that really counts.  God's purpose is not simply to make us beautiful, plump grapes, but to make us grapes so that He may squeeze the sweetness out of us" (My Utmost for His Highest).

This sounds simple, but it's been quite difficult for me.  Being "squeezed" is uncomfortable, and I would much rather choose when, how much, and where I am to be poured out than to surrender to God's purposes.  I want to be selfish.  I want to hide from people when things are hard.  My natural reaction is to keep the blessings for myself.

But I've tried that.  I have allowed my circumstances to affect the condition of my heart.  The attitude of my mind has been unhealthy because of the pride and selfishness that I practice on a day to day basis.  And I am finding that hoarding goodness corrodes character.  Selfishness and pride inevitably result from trying to keep the good things that God gives to oneself.  I am guilty of this time and time again.  What we think will make us happy actually causes hatred and irritability because we refuse to hold it with an open hand.

Giving things up.  A servant's heart.  Holding life with an open hand.  This requires humility, generosity, and trust.  I don't want to lack these things anymore.

Lord, may I be poured out over and over again.


Monday, September 22, 2014

In the Classroom

This morning we talked about "turning the other cheek" (Matthew 5:39).  When you have to explain these kind of phrases to seven year olds, it really makes you think.  How do you concisely explain such meaningful concepts to such young minds?

And just as I'm thinking these questions, God shows up.

Our "Morning Mat Time" conversation continues:

"But how can you forgive someone if they haven't already asked for forgiveness?" piped up one of my students.  Huh.  How do you make it make sense?  What am I supposed to say to convey that its about the attitude of the heart.  It's about...what is it about?

Without hesitation I responded, "That's exactly what Jesus did on the cross."  I don't even know where my words came from.  "Jesus forgave everyone before they ever even asked!  Before you were even born!"  To which one of my students questioned, "Even before you were born, Miss Knox?"  Haha. "Yes.  Even before I was born.  It was about 2,000 years ago that Jesus died on the cross."  "Whoa...!!!"  I smiled at their childlike awe.

Yes, my friends.  About 2,000 years ago, Jesus not only forgave you of your sins, but rescued you from your sinful nature.  What an incredible thought.

And I continue to find myself humbled by the comments and simplicity of my second graders.

While I understand that some theological principles are quite advanced for such young minds, I also wonder if we sometimes over-complicate Christianity.  Doesn't Jesus call His disciples with just two words:  "Follow me."?  (Matthew 4:19).  It has me thinking, if I can't explain it to a second grader, maybe I'm missing the real truth.  Following Christ, while not an easy task by any stretch, is beautifully and miraculously simple.  I want to be simple like my second graders.  To trust and love like a child, without reservation.

The Bible compares God the Father to a Shepherd.  May Jesus be my Shepherd, and yet only if I choose to be like a sheep (Psalm 23).

Food for thought :)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Visit to the Village

The thought of driving in this country is quite possibly the thing I dread most about life here.  While many of the main roads are paved, aggressive driving is the only kind of driving here.  So I will wait to get behind the wheel for a bit and rely on others to help me get around.

For the first time this past week, I relied on the wheels of a taxi to help me get to where I was going.  I was with two other young ladies, one who knows some Zarma (a local dialect) and another who knows French.  We were venturing out to find a new friend of my roommate, a young lady who lives in a nearby "suburb" (i.e. village) on the outskirts of the city.  She is trying to learn English, hoping to someday go to the States for an education.  We chatted a bit with the taxi driver, who was very gracious (even after we made a wrong turn).  When we reached our destination, he refused to take any money!  One of God's many blessings:  my first taxi ride was free.

We finally found our friend and the four of us walked through sand dunes and corn rows to get to her house.  The taxi would never have made it through the sand, so we met at the street.  The day was hot, but it was absolutely beautiful.  I think I miss the "country," even if it is all beige and blue.  It was good to be away from cars and lights.  I soaked in the view from where her house sits at the top of the hill.  A small hut stood next to a cooking pot over smoking coals at the entrance to her house and small goats meandered.  We sat in the shade of her backyard where they are growing beans, and we chatted in French, English and Zarma.  Of course, I could only really understand the English and parts of the French, but the fellowship was sweet.  As this young lady shared her faith journey of knowing Jesus, I couldn't help but think of our meeting as, what my mom would call, "a divine appointment."  It was so random, yet so reflective of God's sovereignty.  Her story, told in broken English, is inspiring and challenges me to have the same kind of boldness.

At the end of our time together, we met her father and mother.  Her father was so grateful for our visit.  He said that they do not know many Christians and it was a blessing to have us at their home.  Please pray for this family, and others like them, as they face rejection by many for their faith.  What an eye-opening experience for me.  The Lord used it to give me perspective and to remember the reality of where I am living.  It is easy to forget this reality when I live day to day on Sahel's campus, in a kind of "American bubble."  Please pray that I am guided by the Lord in all areas of ministry, whether on or off campus.

Walking together through the sand to our new friend's house.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

September's Start.

Can you believe it's already September?!  It doesn't quite feel like it here since the weather is still so hot, but tea-drinking must commence regardless!

The beginning of the week came with little warning...weekends seem to fly by so quickly.  On Monday, September 1st a new student joined our second grade class, so I now have 15 students (which is about twice the size of some of the other classes here!).  He is from London and speaks excellent English (with a British accent!).  Adjusting to having a new student made me feel like I was rewinding the progress I had made with the others concerning established routines.  But by about Wednesday, he was catching on and things went along quite nicely.

Every Monday after school, we have staff meetings at Sahel Academy.  On the first Monday of each month, we celebrate staff birthdays.  So we feasted on delicious chocolate cupcakes, pineapple, bananas, and Coke!  Happy Birthday to anyone who had a birthday in August or September!

Tuesday began the first weekly after-school beginners French lessons for any Sahel staff who desire to learn!  We went over numbers, letters, greetings, and introductions.

On Wednesday after school, I went to an orphanage with some of the high school students.  Each week a group of high schoolers puts together a few games and a little message for the thirty some orphans ranging in age from about 4 to 16 years.  It was really neat to be able to witness the ministry and relationships that have been built between the local orphans and students of Sahel.

Wednesday night, my roommate made dinner and we had company!  Steve and Mikki Schmidt have been in Niger with SIM for over 20 years.  What an incredible legacy they are leaving.  It was fun to get to know them more while eating delicious food.  (Rachel pulled out a chocolate pudding packet she brought from home!  Since you can't get that here, it was a nice treat!)

I have been meeting with a godly woman and good friend after school on Thursdays.  What a blessing it has been to be able to talk with her about school, teaching, life, questions, etc.

Friday after school, Amanda (another teacher at Sahel) coached me through the making of a skillet (eggs, potatoes, veggies, meat) for the TeachBeyond brunch the next morning.  And what's nice about living on campus is I was able to easily go back to my classroom and finish planning for the next week.  Friday night, I watched some TV shows with friends, baked/ate cookies, drank coke from a straw, and snuggled!  A good start to the weekend!

On Saturday morning, TeachBeyond staff at Sahel met together to have brunch. There are only 5 of us, so it made it nice for conversation.  As I sat there eating and chatting with these new friends, I thought to myself, "This would never happen in the states...a young couple in their late 20s, a fresh out of college single lady (that's me), a retired Doctor who is teaching high school science and math, and an elementary principal...all eating brunch together!"  It was delightful :)

Afterwards, we went fabric shopping!  I must admit that being in the market is a bit overwhelming and my intuitive roommate treated me to ice cream/milkshake afterwards.  I am so grateful for the people that have been here to help me transition and process all that living in Niger entails.  It was so good to be able to talk with her about all of the cultural changes and frustrations I have been having.  We came home afterwards and watched the second softball game (they play every Saturday).

What I failed to mention thus far is that I was able to skype my entire family over the course of the week!  I didn't intentionally plan for that, but it was SO NICE to connect with my brothers (each on a different night) and my parents.  Saturday I skyped with my mom and dad...it was a much needed meeting, as I was feeling quite homesick.

So, life in Niger continues.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Typical Day

A few people have asked me, "What does a typical day look like for you in Niger?"  And now that I have been here for four weeks (Monday marks ONE MONTH!), I feel that I have a bit more routine and am able to answer that question.

During the school week, I wake up before the sun, around 6:00 a.m.  Getting ready for the day doesn't seem to take too long here, and I'm not sure why.  (I need about 40 minutes to get ready in the States, but can be dressed and ready in about 20 minutes here.  Ha!).  Breakfast consists of cereal, oatmeal, or fruit.  (It's actually hard to find cereal without chocolate here, so my mornings are a bit sweet!).  I'm hoping to re-tackle yogurt-making too.  (The last time didn't turn out so well...good times.).  Anyways, I spend the rest of my morning reading, journaling and praying on the porch swing before school starts at 7:30 a.m.

At Sahel Academy, the elementary students have recess for 20 minutes twice each day!  They also have P.E. twice a week and French class thrice (with my roommate, Miss Gillner!).  They end Fridays with Art class!  I think the second graders' favorite subject right now is Science, as we are learning about the weather!  We are also reading "Flat Stanley," which they LOVE.  When we finish the book, I am hoping to make a Flat Stanley and see if I can send him back to the States!  The school day is over by 2:30 p.m.

After school, I typically stay for a meeting of some sort or plan for the next day/week/(year!).  There is a trail on the compound that goes around campus, so I enjoy running in the evenings when I have time.  (But watch out for the ginormous tortoise!  I just about ate it trying to dodge Rover).  The other day, I ran with a friend and then threw around the softball with some of the dorm kids.  (Softball is THE SPORT here in Niger.  So thank you to my brothers, who taught me how to throw and catch :)  Unfortunately, I'm not that great at hitting, and I think I popped my shoulder out while swinging for a ball.  It's sore, but on the mend.).

At home, we now have a house-help.  She comes twice a week to help clean and cook!  What a blessing!  So far she has made us delicious pasta with meatballs and sauce, and a cheesy potato/meat casserole (I'm sure there are names for these dishes, but I have no idea what they are.  All I know is they taste good!).  For those of you who might not know, I have attempted cooking here and have found it to be rather challenging.  Nothing is easy and just about everything is from scratch.  (But I think I'm starting to get the hang of it - the other day, I made my own sauce to go on noodles!)  After dinner, I usually lesson plan, Skype, email, read, or whatever else life calls for.  I like to end my day, once again, on the porch swing with the Lord.  It's good to reflect on His mercies throughout the day.  I count my blessings and then I go to bed around 10:30 p.m.

And so goes life in Niger.  It's been a good month already.  Many ups and downs, but God's hand has been in it all.  And I'm finding it easier to keep my hand open to both the blessings and the struggles.  God has been SO GOOD to me.

Thank you so much for praying as I transition!  Please continue to pray, especially since there are a few things in which I am considering getting involved.  I need the Lord's wisdom to discern what and how much I can handle.  I would love to lead a Bible Study for High School girls, visit an orphanage once a week, and take French classes after school...!  My transition to life in Niger continues as I seek out His Will and find fellowship with the Body of Believers.

Grace and Peace.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

God's Gifts.

Thankfulness produces joy.

Living in Niger has opened my eyes to a lot of things.  I'm learning to give myself grace.  Especially as I adjust to a new place and teach my first year.  I'm learning how to really believe and live out the idea, or rather the fact, that there is no relationship more important than the one I have with my Heavenly Father.  I'm learning to take time for others, and give before I receive.  I'm learning that doing things is not as important as loving people.  I'm learning that obedience, doing what God has commanded, is how to love God.  And that loving people requires sacrifice.

I'm learning that every moment of thankfulness captures deep joy for my heart.

It is transition that has made these lessons possible.  Adjusting to a new place, with new people, weird smells, constant sand, the "welcome to Africa" fever/sickness, unfamiliar food, and stand-and-sweat heat.  I have lived in Niamey 3 weeks Friday, and just this weekend I finally felt that I was able to relax, laugh and enjoy.  But what a rich life I am learning to live.

Yet these lessons aren't truly and fully learned without practice.  If I only write about it and talk about it and think about it, what have I really learned?  If it doesn't change the way I live, then the lessons are taught in vain.  My lesson of thankfulness begins like this:  I start to list things that I love, much like author Ann Voskamp ("One Thousand Gifts").  And after I name these things that really make me smile, I am giddy with joy.  My heart begins to see how God gifts such beautiful moments to me each and every day.  He loves me.  Here and now.  With a deep and persistent love.  I feel His Presence.

1.  the pounding rain so loud on the classroom roof that I have to shout for my students to hear the lesson
2.  taking time with 14 second graders to simply watch the storm instead of shouting over it
3.  barefoot children catching tiny toads after a night's rain
4.  the smell of orange peel as I sit and watch students and adults play softball on a sunny afternoon
5.  meeting my students' parents, so kind and encouraging
6.  the smooth rhythm of the swing as I sit on the porch
7.  sounds of children's laughter in the classroom
8.  singing an original song about the elements of weather in front of the second grade, and then having them tell you how good your out of tune and off pitch singing sounds
9.  emails from friends back home
10.  new friends, learning to laugh
11.  songs of which I can say "that's my jam!" while eating delicious Nigerien Perch-stuffed ravioli
12.  weather cool enough for snuggling under a blanket
13.  the smooth stroking of a good friend's hand as I lay sick
14.  melted tupperware and spoiled yogurt
15.  lunch and a lazy afternoon with Pennsylvanian friends moving to Moradi
16.  late night chats in the living room
17.  chirping crickets joining the bullfrogs in song along the riverside at night
18.  pot luck dinner in Niger, the assortment of new, tasty food
19.  scraping the pan, desperate for a taste of the already gone chocolate desserts
20.  the campus tortoise moseying past the players in the outfield during a game of softball

"I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving."  Psalm 69:30

Thanksgiving magnifies God in our lives.  Not that God needs to, or even can, be made bigger, but that our awareness of His Hand in our lives increases.  He becomes more, not when we "think less of ourselves..." but when we "...think of ourselves less."

A house is built one nail at a time.  And habit is only driven out by habit.

I'm creating a new habit in my heart.  The habit of thankfulness.  One nail at a time.

---

"Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn't rescue the suffering.  The converse does.  The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world.  When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows.  How can this not be the best thing for the world?  For us?  The clouds open when we mouth thanks."  -Ann Voskamp ("One Thousand Gifts")



Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Teaching Second Grade

Last Wednesday, August 13th was the first day of school at Sahel Academy!  I went to bed Tuesday night nervous, excited, and totally at peace.  I was reminded of God’s goodness and faithfulness, especially as I received encouragement from friends and family back home.  

Day one in Second Grade was full of fun and learning as the students and “Miss Knox” (that’s me!) became acquainted with each other.  The day flew by and I honestly felt energized as I finished the first day!  I couldn't believe that I survived!  Without anyone telling me where to be or how to teach – it was just me and my 14 little second graders.  I was actually a bit worried that I was doing something wrong, because it was almost easy!  I was ready for day two!

And at the same time, it was so clear to me that I could not possibly do it on my own.  My nerves drove me to the Lord in prayer.  Just like Eric Liddel said "I feel His Presence when I run," I felt that I could say "I feel God's Presence when I teach."  May I never forget my deep need and dependence on God this entire school year.  


On the first day, I read a story to my students called "Just the Way You Are" by Max Lucado.  The story is about 5 orphans who are going to be adopted by the King!  Four of them have talents that they are going to use to impress the King.  But the littlest orphan only has her good heart.  Halfway through I asked my second graders what they would do if they were the girl who didn't have anything to give the King.  After thinking about it for a bit, one girl raised her hand and said "I'd give him my heart."  I took a deep breath to hold back tears.   Another student said, "I would be kind and love him."  I was getting chills.  At the end of Lucado’s story, the little girl with the good heart is the only one who has time for the King because the others are too busy preparing their talents to impress Him.  Jesus is the King and we can give Him our hearts.  He loves us just the way we are.

I was reminded in that moment that I am not here to DO THINGS, but rather to LOVE PEOPLE.  God wants our heart.  My sister-in-law shared with me that at the end of the year, students won't remember your fancy bulletin boards or super organized lesson plans.  What they will remember is that you CARED.  At Grove City College, we learned to "teach students, not lesson plans."  I want to be a teacher who loves her students and who is remembered for caring.

Thank you for praying!  I really could not have done it without the Body of Christ lifting me up in prayer.  Since we started school on a Wednesday, the first week was only three days long, a good way to get my feet wet.  Now that I know my students a bit better, I am hoping that planning will come more easily to me.  I love to be in front of the classroom, but there is a TON of work that goes into each day when you’re not actually teaching!  I am also fighting a fever right now and had to miss the sixth day of school.  Please pray for a quick recovery.

Grace and Peace from Africa.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Week One.

After having been here for one week (what?!), I am eager to let you know all that has happened!  Each day presents a series of exciting, new activities.  I am extremely thankful for the people here who have made it all possible.  My roommates, as well as other teachers and staff at Sahel Academy have welcomed me warmly and openly.

There have been many cultural experiences.  One of the first was attending a 3 hour church service, all in French!  I actually slept through my alarm that morning (jet lag?), and didn't wake up until church had already started at 9:00am.  But if you know a little bit about African culture, time is relative.  People were still coming in at 10:30am.  There was a baby dedication during the service, in which all of the married women start at the back of the church and walk up the aisle singing in honor of the family!  I wished that I could understand the sermon and music, but I plan to learn!  After the service they had celebratory bisap (pronounced "bee sap" -it's like a fruit juice)!
Women of the church singing for the baby dedication.

Sunday night there was a service held on Sahel's campus called NEWS (Niamey English Worship Service).  I enjoyed being able to worship in English and understand the sermon!  The man preaching that evening spoke about the power of the Holy Spirit, how we can do nothing apart from Him.  Afterwards, we went out to eat at a restaurant called La Cabane.  It's new here and serves fairly "American" food.  They even have a "Philadelphia Sandwich" (Philly Cheesesteak!).  It was great food and fellowship!

The rest of the week has been a series of meetings and getting my classroom ready for school.  I am so grateful that I have had help looking over curriculum and putting things up on the walls.  The more I prepare, the more eager I am for the first day of school!  And at the same time, I wonder if I'll be ready!  As of now, I will have 14 students to start.  A few of the students' parents work at the school, so I have been able to introduce myself.  Other students are either with other missions and a couple are non-mission.
This is my 2nd grade classroom!  I am still getting it ready.

Picking out bananas!
Another cultural experience (that was a bit overwhelming!) was going to the market.  Grocery shopping is not quite as simple here as it is in the States.  And then we went fabric shopping...there are so many options!  I am getting a skirt made! (Pictures to come.)
Some of the beautiful fabric!

Other events from the week include dinner with the roommates (Rachel cooked chicken for us!), an intensely hot game of Ultimate Frisbee, game night with popcorn and brownies (in which the games ranged from Uno to Scattegories to Empire), a relaxing and laughter-filled game of  volleyball, and me cooking my first perfect batch of rice!

I was pretty excited about the rice!

Last night (Thursday) may have been my first full night of good sleep!  Please pray that I continue to sleep well and have enough energy for the start of school.  Today's activities included meetings with all of the school staff.  Please pray that as we continue to get to know each other, that we would be unified.  I hope to update you soon on what the Lord is teaching me...there is SO MUCH.  Praise God!  Thank you for praying!