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!


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