Thursday, December 17, 2015

Two Worlds

You know that feeling you get as a kid right before you jump into an ice cold pool?  When you kind of have to pee, but the goose bumps of anticipation creeping up your legs and arms keep you from walking away from the edge.  You're smiling on the outside, maybe even laughing, but behind your eyes you know it's going to be SO COLD.  And then you jump.

Or remember the feeling you have as you're standing in line for your favorite roller coaster?  As the line shortens and you creep closer and closer to this monster ride, your stomach is sinking.  Yet you maintain conversation with the people next to you, maybe because you need a distraction or perhaps you want to hide your nerves.  In the back of your mind you keep telling yourself that it's going to be worth it.  So you buckle up.

I remember feeling these exact emotions the day I left for Niger, West Africa.  Feelings of incredible anticipation and adventure mixed with curious fear and caution.  In some ways, I had an idea of what I was getting into.  But mostly, it was a leap I had never taken before.  It was simultaneously thrilling and terrifying.

It has been almost 18 months since I took that leap.  And God has been with me every step.  I have been reflecting this Christmas season on who God is through Jesus' birth.  He is Emmanuel.  God With Us.  Looking back on my time so far, Jesus has proven this part of his name to me over and again.

And now I am returning to the place where I spent 22 and a half years of my life.  To the place of early familiarity and family.  Where I made friends, went to school, and attended church.  I am going "home."  You'd think that I would be at complete ease, returning to such a familiar place.  But I find myself experiencing the same emotions as when I first came to Niger.  

The other day, I was having a conversation with my dad about being in Niger.  I've heard this analogy before, but it seems to fit.  I told him I feel like a child feels when they are being tossed into the air by their father - stomach in your throat and a quick moment of fear, until you realize you're falling and it's actually fun.  Because you know dad is going to catch you.

That's how I feel.

My heart is full of eager anticipation as I think of the family I will see and the friends I get to hang out with again.  And yet there is something scary about reentering my home culture.

My most recent memories are here in Niger.  I have poured into students, neighbors, housemates, friends and coworkers.  I have spent the last year and a half building beautiful friendships with some great people.  I have grown to love and care about them and it's almost painful to leave them during such a wonderful and celebratory time of the year.  I've become part of a family here in Niamey.  It's hard to leave family during this season.

While I'm eager to perhaps see snow again, Christmas in Niger is beautiful.  The weather is cool and crisp in the mornings and sunny with blue skies in the afternoon.  People enjoy a slower pace of life as they take off work and relax.  Niger doesn't have the commercialism surrounding Christmas that I experienced growing up in Pennsylvania.  As a Christian, the materialism surrounding such a sacred holiday is almost upsetting.  Getting away from that allows one to really focus and reflect on Christmas' true meaning.  Even everyday life here, the dust and animals, seems to help paint a more realistic picture of the manger scene; the humble way in which our Lord entered this world.

What has been hard for me to realize and even admit is that although I know I'm coming back, leaving Niamey is hard.  I now know two homes.  I am a part of two worlds.  And I truly believe that two is better than one.  But that doesn't make it any easier.  The people in the States don't know the part of me that is from Niger, aside from what I can share via pictures or email.  And when I return to Niger in January, the people I know and love in Niamey won't know the part of me that comes from Pennsylvania.

Despite this tricky balance of worlds and relationships, I serve a God who never changes.  He was rock solid for me when I came to Niger, and I know I can depend on Him as I transition back to my home culture.   The worlds around me can shift and change, but the truth of my soul's security in Christ is firm.  Because of my relationship with God, my soul can be at rest while my outward circumstances look more like chaos.

A word of advice from an MK (missionary kid):  focus on the positive of both worlds.  It's easy to think about all the things that I would be missing in one place or another.  It would be easier to harden my heart to one place, just to make goodbyes less painful.  But one place is not "wrong," while the other is "right."  They are different and have there own unique joys.  God desires us to live fully, and I think that's going to require some vulnerability.  (I'm not crazy about the idea, but I'm getting used to it.)

I am so grateful for the opportunity to return to family and friends in the States.  I can't wait to hug my brothers again, to see my pregnant sister-in-law, to curl up in front of the fire with hot chocolate, to cuddle with my cat, to sing carols in church at the candlelight service, and to make new memories with my family.

And I am ever so grateful for the family that I have in Niger, too.  The same family that threw me an amazing surprise birthday party a month early because I'll be away on my actual birthday.  The family that has shared hippo rides, cheesecake, movie nights, and prayer.

I choose to praise God for my two worlds and all the people in them.  Thank you for being a part of this journey, whether you are Stateside or in Niger.  I am truly blessed to have you in my life.

"And Mary said:  'My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 
for the Mighty One has done great things for me - holy is his name.'" 
- Luke 1:46-47, 49


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Closing Another Semester

Classes are done, tests are graded, and report cards are finished...my first semester of teaching fourth grade is officially over!  I have enjoyed making memories with these wonderful children and look forward to another semester with them in January!

Here is a quick glance at our semester!

Fourth grade at the end of the first semester!
I love these kids :)
We studied economics, so of course, we incorporated apple pie!
Math isn't their favorite subject...
They loved re-enacting Old Testament Bible stories.
Reading....always reading!
Cool season:  when pillows are no longer for sitting, but for covering up!
Field trip to the rice factory down the road from Sahel Academy.
Field trip to NigerLait, a milk and yogurt factory!
Spirit week, class theme day:  cowgirls and cowboys!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

God's Gifts

Happy Thanksgiving!  Though we do not have off school at Sahel Academy, I am happy to celebrate this joyous holiday with friends and family in Africa.

As I take time to reflect, I find myself incredibly grateful.  My heart is full with the blessings of God.  He gifts me daily with His love shown through the people, places, and things around me.  May I always take more time to praise God with a heart of thankfulness.

Below is a glimpse into the past few months (August - November) of the blessings God has graciously poured out to me.  They say "a picture's worth 1,000 words,"  so these are just some of the highlights.  Thank YOU for taking the time to journey with me as I continue to live this adventure with the Lord.  God is good.

"But as for me, it is good to be near God.  I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; 
I will tell of all your deeds." - Psalm 73:28

I am thankful for...
wonderful housemates and neighbors.


the opportunity to serve alongside my parents in Niger.

a bike with a basket.

boat rides with new friends.

girls' night with my mom.

junior girls Bible study.

the chance to celebrate mom's 60th birthday together.

red and yellow peppers from the market!

an incredible 4th grade class.
listening to Christmas music during seat work.
winning the "Spirit Award!"
growing a garden together.
laughs and giggles daily.
hugs from my very caring class.

God's gift to me.
a breathtaking sunset by the rice fields.

mail from thoughtful friends in the States.

a dad who can fix anything.

chocolate dessert and cinnamon apple tea with honey (my favorite!)
from friends who knew just what I needed.

a joy-filled and caring church.
worship in Hausa and French Sunday mornings.

pizza with good friends.

random dinner and game nights with these awesome neighbors!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Lock In

Throughout the school year, Sahel Academy students and staff put on various events.  Last weekend was the first secondary event put on by the Student Council (i.e. StuCo) for grades 8-12:  The Lock-In.

I don't know why young people think it's amazing fun to lose sleep for an entire night, but that seems to be the main draw for this event.  Students arrive around 6:30pm for worship and a short message.  Sahel's new youth pastor spoke about grace, giving student the opportunity to start the evening right by praying with and for one another.

After dark, all staff and students participate in a "Mission Impossible" game!  As a teacher, I was considered an assassin.  My mission?  To capture as many student agents as possible, sending them back to home base before they can deliver tickets and score points for their team.  Though I've never played this game before, I wore appropriate attire for a night game, black.  It was great fun hiding behind bushes and chasing students across the field in the dark.  Though my skin color does not give me the same advantage as others, I was the top scorer for the women teachers!  The famed Monsieur Hama was beat by just a few this year, ready for revenge next year, I'm sure.

Monsieur Hama, Beth, and me at the end of the game!

Mom and Kathie working at home base!

After the night game, showers are a must.  Even at night, Niger is hot and running around works up a wonderfully stinky sweat (especially amongst the teenage boys).  Brochette sandwiches and snacks for dinner, at which point, the students are officially "locked in."  The rooms of the secondary building become sources of entertainment, including two movie rooms, a lounge room with cards and games, a dance room, a photo booth, ping-pong, and fooseball.  Excitement and energy is fueled by Cokes, sweets, and energy drinks.  Not until about 3:00am do students begin to slowly fade into a strangeness that is typically unseen during daylight hours.  Breakfast and clean up were done by 6:30am and students waited for pick up at 7:00am.

Though it has taken me a week to recover, I am grateful for the bonding that occurs at events like this.  The Lock-In was great fun, and allows an elementary teacher like me to get to know the high school students.  Great job, StuCo!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Lord's Goodness to Me

Welcome to a day in my life...

Wake-up call is at 5:45am.  Because Niamey is so close to the equator, the time of sunrise and sunset does not change drastically throughout the year, meaning it is quite dark at that time of the morning all year round.  Rolling out of bed at that hour is never easy, but it is worth it.  Soaking in the grace and love of Jesus each morning is the best (and only) way to start each day.  Waking up early also allows me to eat the most important meal of the day...homemade yogurt and granola.  Many meals here are made from scratch, which can be quite laborious.  But my yogurt-making-disaster days are over and I have perfected the process.  And I have learned to truly enjoy making my own combinations of granola...it's different every time!

I have been blessed this year to live on a compound very close to school.  And I am grateful to be borrowing another missionary's bike for the time being.  It is a simple one gear bike with a basket on the front.  I have been nicknamed "Mary Poppins" by the dorm dad as I pedal along in my long skirts and dresses.  If I had a small dog to put in the basket, I think I'd feel more like Dorothy.

I get to school around 7:00am.  I am working on making it a habit to pray for my students individually before the day starts.  I can't think of anything more important that I can be doing for them.  The God of the Universe cares deeply about these little ones and I trust Him to take better care of them than I ever could.  God equips me for each day as I prepare the classroom...turn on lights and fans, open windows, fill the cooler with ice and water.  Students flood classrooms at 7:25am.  I greet them at the door, ready for a hug, smile or an occasional handshake.

One of my favorite parts of the day is in the morning during prayer time.  It's important to me that these students learn to start the day right at the feet of Jesus.  And I am so blessed by their prayers.   Each morning we pray for a different student.  They have the chance to give any prayer requests that they might have and we usually add a couple as a class.  Volunteers pray for each request.  Students have off for Tabaski, a M*sl*m holiday in which hundreds of rams are slaughtered and roasted all over Niger in celebration.  We talked about it in 4th grade and added it to our list of prayers.  The depth of understanding these students show in their prayers is amazing:  "Lord, I pray for the people of Niger who are celebrating Tabaski.  And Lord, I ask in your Name that you show them that they do not need to sacrifice animals anymore because, Lord, you came and died for our sins on the cross...."  They prayer for each other with the same fervor.  Praise God.  I have a couple students who will not come to school the day after Tabaski because of the beliefs of their families.  Please pray for these students and their families to know the Lord Jesus Christ personally.

We stay busy in 4th grade; our schedule changes daily, depending on the special classes that they have that day, including art (taught by Mrs. Knox!), music, French, library, and P.E.  The day ends around 2:30pm and students are picked up by parents and drivers.  My afternoon consists of grading, planning, copying, and meetings.  I also enjoy French lessons every Tuesday.  I was encouraged at the start of the year when I was not sure which French class to take, beginners or intermediate.  The French teachers (for the students and teachers) insisted that I was intermediate!  I must know something!

Before heading home, I take a quick run on the track (a dirt path) around campus.  The skirt goes back on and I pedal home on my bike.  It has been nice being so close to my parents since they live on Sahel's campus.  Occasionally, I stop by their house to say goodnight :)  Dinner at home with my two housemates usually consists of rice or pasta and veggies.  We are blessed with a wonderful kitchen, making it easy to enjoy cooking...aside from the heat, of course, created by the combination of weather and oven.  Some things that I have made this year that I never made before include chicken soup, lasagna, taco soup, pizza, and fajitas!  Remember, everything is from scratch here!

Every evening is different.  Occasionally, my roommates and I entertain guests for dinner.  Monday nights, I lead a Bible Study with some junior girls.  It has been a blessing to continue with the same group from last year.  This year we are starting our study by reading through John Piper's The Dangerous Duty of Delight.  Please pray for these young ladies who are pursuing the Lord the best they can.  Pray that God gives me wisdom and the right words for their many questions.

Each day is full and I find myself ready for bed in the evening.  Though I am exhausted at the end of the day (and sometimes at the start of the day), I find strength in the joy of the Lord.  I am learning the importance of the split second decision I make every morning, consciously or subconsciously:  I must choose joy.  An attitude of thankfulness gives me quiet perspective.  Taking time to talk with people and really hear them brings me life.  I forget that occasionally, and then I find myself complaining, always thinking ahead to the next task as if each day is a race.  The Lord quiets my soul.  I am learning that life is made up of ordinary days.  God is teaching me again to live fully present.  Each moment is packed and I so often wish it away by thinking of the next thing to do.  My thoughts are rarely on the present moments.  But it's when I take life moment by moment that I am most satisfied in the Lord.

God has been good to me.  I let Him remind me of that daily:

1.  Late night thunderstorms.
2.  Dozens of hugs from students, daily.
3.  Christ-centered conversations.
4.  Good food with good friends.
5.  All-nighters with high schoolers.
6.  Sunrises over the river.
7.  Lush green gardens in the middle of the desert.
8.  Packages from good friends whom I miss dearly.
9.  Skyping with a friend who is a new mom!
10.  Dinner and games with mom and dad.  


"Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.  For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.  ...How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me?  I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.  I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people."  
-Psalm 116:7-9, 12-14

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Humbled

Once again, I start the school year feeling humbled.  I just finished my first full week with my 4th graders and couldn't feel more blessed.  We have been keeping very busy...planting a garden, reading a new chapter book, visiting all the specials (including art, music, library, and P.E.), and simply enjoying each other.

My favorite part of the day is morning prayer.  We pray for a new student in the class every day.  S/he has the opportunity to give prayer requests and then volunteers offer to pray.  It blesses my heart to hear these 4th graders pray for each other, such powerful prayers.  It is so obvious that they really bonded last year and I feel privileged to be welcomed into their cohort.  Not a day goes by when I don't get about a dozen hugs from my students!

Last night (Friday) was Sahel Academy's Open House Picnic!  Families bring a dish to share and students have a chance show mom and dad their classroom.  Tired from the week, I was not sure how the night would go.  However, as I interacted with the students and their parents, I felt so encouraged.  This place, this community, is held together by Jesus Christ.  And anyone who comes to Sahel not knowing the Lord, will somehow be touched by Jesus' love.  God is sovereign and sustains our weak hearts.

Thank you, Lord, for taking care of me, even when I have no idea what you are doing.  Thank you for blessing me, even when I don't deserve it.  Thank you for this community and the life-giving interactions with friends who feel like family.  May we honor You in every thought, word, and deed.  

Friday, August 14, 2015

First Days in Fourth Grade

School is in session!  On Wednesday, August 12th, Sahel Academy had its opening assembly for the 2015-2016 school year.  Parents, teachers, students K-12, and staff gathered for worship and special announcements for the new year.  I love teaching at a K-12 school for this very reason.  Kindergartners are wide-eyed with wonder, middle schoolers eagerly chat with friends new and old, and seniors lackadaisically lean back in their chairs, perhaps too comfortably.

What a privilege it was to stand with my parents as staff at the same school!  Wednesday mornings, my 4th graders will visit Mrs. Knox for art class!  And dad keeps busy with odd jobs on campus, fixing desks, putting up bulletin boards, and even supervising study halls!  They fit right into life here at Sahel and I'm happy to be able to introduce them as "mom" and "dad."

Day 3 in 4th grade just finished, and as I sit at my "teacher's desk" writing this, I think of how blessed I am to be at this school.  It was just today at lunch that I was conversing with another staff member about the awesome community here.  God has blessed me with a wonderful class this year and great co-workers.  It's hard to believe that this is my second year of teaching and when I think about doing another whole year again, I am quite overwhelmed.  But as I take things day by day, I find myself full of joy and a renewed passion for investing in the students here at Sahel Academy.

To God be the glory!

Mom and me on our first day of school!





Saturday, August 8, 2015

Getting Ready

Round two, another school year.  The summer has ended and school is almost in session!  I have been busily working in my classroom, setting up desks, cleaning shelves, making name tags, and labeling books!  Students have their first day of classes on Wednesday, August 12th.  As we begin school, I am reminded of this time last year.  And in many ways, there are many similarities...rain storms, teacher meetings, new faces.  But this year doesn't feel anything like last year, for which I am very much grateful!

For one, my parents are here!  It has been such an incredible blessing to have them around, and they've only been here for less than two weeks!  God has blessed us with good fellowship and I love being their neighbor.  I've been able to help them as they adjust to Niger by taking them grocery shopping and showing them around the school.   Since they live just down the street, I've been busy delivering spices they didn't have, dropping off medicine for unwanted sickness, and passing along messages from others when they didn't have phones yet.  I went running the other morning around Sahel's campus and ended up doing a lap with my mom.  How cool is that?!  Both mom and dad and I went for an early morning stroll past the rice fields, green with life and sun shining through the humid sky.  This year I get to experience life in Africa with family.  God is good.

We have already begun Teacher Orientation at Sahel and during the meetings, I couldn't help but think, "How awesome is it that my parents are here?"  We were able to worship together and share our story with the staff.  Even getting a simple mom or dad hug at lunch time is a gift from God.  I never thought that I would be on the same teaching staff as my mom, but I'm so excited to have the opportunity this year!

Another difference from last year is my living comfort level.  As I help welcome new teachers and staff, I am reminded of similar feelings I had this time last year.  Knowing how to grocery shop, understanding a bit more of the culture, and having a few familiar faces has made a tremendous difference and reduced a lot of transitional stress and anxiety.  The adjustment to Niger has, for the most part, already taken place for me, allowing me to feel much more relaxed and settled into life here.

Also, it's my second year of teaching!  I am eager to have older kiddos, as I teach 4th grade this year.  Although the curriculum is new to me, the staff and students (most of them) are not.  Being familiar with the school and how it runs has allowed me to easily anticipate what's next and understand how things are done here.  I'm so grateful to be returning to Sahel for a second year.

It was hard for me a year ago to imagine being in the place that I am today, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually, as well.  Many people welcomed and mentored me with open arms when I arrived to Niamey.  Now it is my turn to do the same for those around me.  Though it's only been a year, I am able to answer questions that new-comers have and hopefully offer encouragement when needed.

I am so grateful for all that the Lord has taught me this past year.  And I am also grateful that I feel a bit different this year.  Everyday with the Lord is an adventure when we are walking in obedience.  That is my prayer and heart's cry.  That I would know, without a doubt, that I am exactly where the Lord wants me.  So He can use me and continue to mold me.  May God be glorified because of my obedience and trust in Him.  To Christ be the glory!  As they say at SB2W, "The glory goes to God!"

Mom, Dad and me at Sahel Staff Orientation!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

One Year

On July 29th, I had the pleasure of welcoming my parents at the Niamey Airport!  Talk about role reversal!  Although this was the second time I have met Mom and Dad at the airport, it was a bit different this time knowing that they are here to stay for awhile longer.

I anticipated that having my parents here would be nice.  And to answer the frequently asked question, "Are you excited for your parents to come?" the answer is YES!  But having them here has been a blessing in small and unexpected ways, too.

Mom and Dad are living on Sahel Academy's campus.  Though I have moved to another house on a  neighboring compound, we are just a short walk away from each other.  Who would have ever guessed that I would be neighbors with my parents in Africa?  On Thursday I was able to have my parents over for their first dinner...homemade lasagna and mango ice cream for dessert!  I enjoyed being able to "give back," since Mom has been cooking for me all these years!

Friday morning, my housemate and I took Mom and Dad grocery shopping.  This was no short excursion.  Getting acclimated to the new menu options, figuring out prices, deciding what and how much you need, as well as how long something might last in the heat without spoiling all takes time.  Not to mention the traffic.  All in all, it was a successful trip!  I taught mom how to properly wash produce and she's already been cooking like a pro!  I've been over to their house twice now for lunch :)  What a unique privilege it has been to share these new memories with my folks.

After having lived here for a year (August 1st marks one year exactly!), and as people return from summer vacation, I can't help but think, "This feels like home."  Such an amazing family has formed for me here in Niger and welcoming Mom and Dad into this Niger family has brought me such joy.  Praise God for how he provides!

I continue to plan and get ready for school to start.  Only one and a half more weeks until the first day of classes!  Please pray for all staff at Sahel Academy as we prepare our classrooms and sort through curriculum.  There is often an overwhelming feeling that accompanies these preparations, knowing there is so much to do and so little time.  Pray for peace and diligence and JOY!  Thank you for your faithfulness to God and the Body of Christ!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Swiss Getaway

Wednesday, July 8th I left Africa for the first time in a year to enjoy short holiday with some friends in Switzerland!  Needless to say, I had an amazing time.  The contrast between the two countries is quite real, giving me an even deeper appreciation for the beauty I saw and felt while away.

This past year, I had the privilege of meeting one of the kindest friends I know.  She worked with SIM Education in Niamey, helping to train kindergarten teachers in local schools.  When she found out that I was staying in Niger for the summer, she invited me to retreat to Switzerland for a couple weeks with her and her sister.  And what a retreat it was!

Our time was filled with walks at sunset, bike rides to church and along the river, swimming in Lake Lucerne, eating meals and dessert with friends and family, my first cheese fondue!, visiting cheese and chocolate factories, hiking in the mountains, and lazily reading in the hammock.

After my friends picked me up at the airport, I realized that stepping in and out of the car was oddly interesting.  I anticipated a wall of heat and to instantly start sweating once I exited the vehicle, as it is in Niger.  To my pleasant surprise, the air was cool, much like being in air conditioning!  It was lovely and refreshing, a break I didn't realize I needed.

Our first stop was the grocery store.  Oh!  The options!  I picked out some blueberries and we snacked on those while we waited for our post-shopping ice cream.  We then visited mom, who has a beautiful garden and a breath-taking view!  Rolling hills covered with bright green trees and grass, small farms and fields kissed by the sun.  I had my fair share of freshly picked home-grown raspberries and then snacked on a juicy apricot while taking in the view.  Water for my soul.  

All in all, it was an amazing trip.  I visited my friends' grandparents and their 300 year old house, talked with their uncle and learned how he milks 75 cows twice a day and knows them all by name!, and we even saw The Lion King musical in Basel!  It was incredible to be so welcomed by the culture, family, and this place they call home.  Though quite busy, between our trip to the mountains and 4 day stay at Lake Lucerne and the Friday grill nights at the church, it was absolutely refreshing and restful.

Praise God for mountains, lakes, grass, cows, hammocks, flowers, sunsets and sunrises, raspberries fresh off the vine, homemade pasta, and new family.  I am so thankful for my time to travel and find new energy.  God is so faithful to give me rest when I need it.  Praise God!



"Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens."  -Psalm 68:19

"Praise the Lord.  Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise him in the heights above.  Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars.  Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies."  Psalm 148:1, 3-4

Friday, July 17, 2015

Misunderstood

I've been stuck on this thought for awhile now.  I have lived in Niger just over 11 months, August 1st marking one year.  And the further in time I am from the day that I left the States, the more distant I feel from people back "home."

What you know of my life is based on what I happen to post on my blog, what you read in my newsletter, or the pictures you see on Facebook.  Granted, I do my best to share as much as I can. Pictures and blog posts can often provide a helpful glimpse into my life.  Yet, there is so much more that takes place and shapes me than what floats about in cyberspace.

This distance has created a sense of loneliness, or perhaps a feeling of being unknown.  There have been many times when I wished a friend from back home could be here to share an inside joke or to listen to my woes of the day.   And after 11 months of living in Niger, I know that there is a significant part of my life that many people I love and care about will never fully understand.  No matter how much I share and communicate (which is often limited by time and internet connections), a part of me will be misunderstood.  I am tempted to think, "If only you knew..." or "Why don't you understand...?"  When questions go unasked because a friend doesn't even know where to start, I find myself disappointed.

Perhaps you share this deep desire to be known, to be understood.

But think about this with me for a moment. (Cheesy illustration time).  How many tools and machines do we use everyday that we really have no idea how they work?  For instance, a cell phone sends messages and calls your friends, but if you were asked to replicate this device, to make your own cell phone, would you be able to do it?  Of course not!  You don't understand how it was made!  (Unless of course, you are some sort of cell phone manufacturer).  The one who made the device will naturally know it best, because he made it!  I would venture to say that our hearts work the same way.  Who better to know me, understand me like I want to be understood, than the One who made me?

I want to lean into the knowledge that Christ's love for me reaches the deepest parts of my heart where I feel the least known.  Life in Niger is drastically different from life in the States (or anywhere else, it seems!).  But God knows that.  He knows my toughest struggles and my deepest joys.  What better friend to rely on than our Heavenly Father?  My heart rejoices as I think of the rich friendship he calls us into with His Holy Spirit.  I serve a God who desires His people.  The same God who created the Universe knows me and intimately pursues me.

I must admit that I can often be quite ignorant of the Lord's pursuing.  I have become fairly skilled at the practice of hardening my heart to the Holy Spirit's drawing.  Yet my mind rests and my heart finds peace knowing that God doesn't leave me.  He is constant.  He is consistent.  He is faithful.  He is unchanging.  This is the God who satisfies my cravings to be understood.

I've come to the conclusion that I spend too much time trying to be understood.  Perhaps, I should invest more of my energy into trying to understand those around me and especially, the One who made me.

"O Lord, you have searched me and you know me."  
Psalm 139:1

"God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful."
1 Corinthians 1:9  

"I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people."
Leviticus 26:12

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Let's Dance!

"First position, round those arms, pinch the penny!"  My voice echoed off the walls of Hope Hall this summer every Tuesday and Thursday morning this past month.  Though I've never taught a dance class before, I had the pleasure of sharing my love for dancing with about a dozen  4-10 year old girls.

We had a blast exploring different elements of dance, i.e. quick, slow, sharp, smooth, high, low, big, small.  We explored how to dance with streamers and hula hoops!  We learned about the importance of stretching and even did a bit of line dancing!  And of course, we learned ballet!  The girls were ecstatic to learn and practice their positions and ballet technique.  Using the backs of chairs for our "bar" and clearing a few rows for circle exercises, we managed quite well.

Though the age range was challenging, I was happy to see progress in each student.  At the end of each class, we held hands in a circle to pray and thank God for giving us the gift of dance.  We always discussed that one of the main reasons we dance is to bring glory to our Heavenly Father.  I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to bring dance to some of the girls at Sahel Academy and within the community.  Bringing joy to these little dancers has definitely been a summer highlight!




"Let them praise His name with the dance; let them sing praises to Him with the timbrel and harp."  Psalm 149:3

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Calling all Prayer Warriors

As a missionary in a country that is over 97% M*sl*m, I am surrounded by the constant reminder of the lost world we live in.  Call to prayer five times a day, mosques on every street corner, and the cultural influences such as food and dress.  For example, it wasn't until I took a short trip to Burkina Faso that I realized of all the animals I see in Niger, I never see any pigs!  And I rarely see any women without a head covering.  These are just a few of the religious influences I notice daily.

This month marks a special holiday in the lunar calendar for M*sl*ms.  June begins the month of R*mad*n.  Beginning June 18 and ending July 17, M*sl*ms use this time to especially seek the favor of god.  They fast during the day from all foods and liquids (including one's own saliva, hence large amounts of spitting throughout the city), and they feast after sundown.

During this time, we have a huge opportunity to engage in a battle between light and darkness.  Please join me and many others on the mission field in prayer for this nation.  Take a look at this helpful SIM Niger Prayer Guide.  In it you will find four parts:
1.  A Scripture focus
2.  Requests from the 30 Days of Prayer for the M*sl*m World
3.  Focus on a city or village in Niger
4.  A Request from the Vision Psalm 72:9 prayer guide for the desert tribes of Niger

I ask that you also pray for Christians in Niger.  Just this past Sunday morning in church, a woman shared her hardship as the only Christian in her family.  When she refused to get up in the mornings and pray with them, they refused to let her eat.  May God's goodness and grace shine even brighter during this time.  Pray that our M*sl*m neighbors find freedom in Jesus Christ.

"He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty."  Psalm 91:1


Sunday, June 21, 2015

School is Out!

The school year is officially over and I have completed my first year of teaching!  The year has gone by quickly in so many ways and I am eager to reflect on this past year.  But first, I would like to fill you in on things that have been happening since the last time I posted...which is a lot!

The last couple weeks of school were exciting and full of activity as I brought units to a close and worked on finishing the school year well.  We had many moments of celebrating the end of Second Grade (and my first year of teaching!) with Water Fun Day, Elementary Pool Day, and a Pizza Party!

WATER FUN DAY
One of the things I love most about Sahel Academy, is the ability that we have as a K-12 school to combine the Secondary and Elementary activities.  The High School and Middle School students make great role models for the little ones, who absolutely adore the older kids.  For example, every Thursday is "Buddy Day," in which secondary students are partnered with elementary kids for lunch time and activities.  It is so neat to see the mentoring process and precious interactions among the different age groups.

The Secondary students on Student Council put together a wonderful afternoon of wet fun for K-5 with Water Fun Day!  This included water guns, slip and slides, sprinklers, water balloons, sponge wars, wet t-shirt races, and lots of wet games.  Of course, I could not get away without being kindly attacked with wet hugs from my students!  To finish the fun, there were frozen treats for everyone.

ELEMENTARY POOL DAY
Every year, Coach Winsor takes the Elementary students swimming to celebrate the end of the year.  K-5 spends the morning cooling off at the pool.  With a kiddie pool, diving board, and high dive, the students had a wonderful time!  I enjoyed being in a different setting with my students, able to watching those who did not know how to swim brave the water.  And I was surprised to see the number of students who lined up for the high dive!  Of course, my class wanted to see me jump, so I stood in line, knees shaking.  Getting to the top was easy, but standing roughly 25 feet above the water and actually jumping was another feat.  But don't worry, the entire Elementary cheered me on, "Miss Knox!  Miss Knox!" as I prepared to jump!  And of course, Coach mesmerized the crowd with his back flips and fancy dives off of the high dive!

PIZZA PARTY!
On the last Monday of school, students and their parents brought pizzas for a party!  Staff provided cookies and school paid for drinks.  It was a lovely way to end the year.  The next day was a Teacher Work Day so that we could finish getting grades in (you'd think I would learn by now to have grades in a bit sooner...) and Wednesday was the Closing Assembly.  Many awards were given out during the assembly and we worshiped together as an entire school (I loved that part :)).  We also said goodbye and prayed for the many teachers that were leaving.  This community generally dreads the month of June, as it marks many farewells for staff and students alike.

GRADUATION!
What an honor and privilege to be apart of the senior class's celebrations at the end of this year.  On Tuesday, June 2nd, staff, families, juniors, and seniors attended the Senior banquet.  Parents had a chance to share something about their child and the juniors put together a comical presentation about each senior graduating.  On Thursday, a ceremony was held outside in the courtyard.  Each senior put together a small speech and afterwards we had cupcakes and punch!

MORE WORK
After school officially ended, the work was not yet done for teachers.  We kept busy closing up our classrooms, cleaning and organizing.  Everyone pitched in to help empty lockers and move furniture.  One of the adventures of teaching at Sahel is working with the space that we have.  Due to lack of staff for next year, a couple rooms had to be switched.  The first grade teacher graciously agreed to teach first and second grade next year so that I can cover for the fourth grade teacher who is leaving for home assignment.  The classroom that I was in this past year as a 2nd grade teacher is now the Kindergarten room and all of the 2nd grade things had to be moved to the 1st grade room.  So there was a lot of shuffling, but many hands makes the work light.  I am looking forward to the teaching the students that I will have for 4th grade next year.  And of course, I am eager to learn and become a better teacher.

MOVING
Another adventurous part of my life lately has been my living situation.  The house I lived in this past year belonged to the previous director of Sahel and his family.  They left quickly last year and returned at the end of this school year to sell their things.  So I moved out June 6th into another small house on campus.  I lived out of boxes for about a week until I was able to move into my new house on a neighboring campus!  I have now lived there for about a week and it is beginning to feel like home already.  My new housemate and friend recently moved in and before school starts we will welcome our third housemate.  The campus that I now live on is just a 5 minute walk from the school, which is both convenient and nice to be able to separate work and play.  I have already made friends with the guards at the gate as I walk between the two properties, greeting each other in both French and Zarma.  Of course, that's about all I know, but I hope to learn more soon!

GETTING MY HAIR DID
Before my friend Abby left, she wanted to get her hair braided with extensions.  So of course, I did it with her!  We arranged it with a couple girls I met at church and through SIM Education.  We had been warned beforehand of what an incredibly time-consuming undertaking this was, so we set aside an entire afternoon and evening.  And it's a good thing we did!  All together, the braiding took 7 hours!  But what fun we had as we sat, fingers pinching hair, pulling scalp.  Extra hair danced on the ground around us as the fans cooled the room.  In my broken French and their broken English we managed to have conversation (Abby honestly did a lot of translating!).  Our friend Miriam came over to hang out and take pictures.  Sitting for that long was kind of tiring, but it also felt nice to have an excuse to not do anything.  The end of the school year was very busy and getting our hair done was the perfect excuse to relax.  We celebrated with hugs and cheers when the last braids were done!  You are probably wondering...what is it like to have such long extensions?  Great question.  It's heavy, itchy, and kind of like having a dead animal on your head.  The first night was the hardest because falling asleep on a bunch of rope-like braids was pretty uncomfortable.  But since then, I have discovered more convenient ways of doing my hair, making it much easier to manage.  Unfortunately, all of this fake hair holds moisture quite well, making swimming and showering a bit cumbersome.  But I don't regret it one bit and I'm so grateful for the experience!

Well, there is always more updating to do.  But that's enough for now.  Thank you for your continued prayers as I stay here this summer.  I am looking forward to welcoming my parents in August.  Please pray for them as they continue to prepare for departure!  Praising God for His faithfulness!!


"But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you."  Matthew 6:33



Wednesday, June 10, 2015

In Three Years

It's hard to imagine that 10 months ago, I was preparing to leave for Niger, West Africa.  The dream seemed so big and yet God proved faithful once again to bring me to a place of humble awe and  trust.  To say that I am grateful for the experiences of this past year would be an understatement.  Thank you for sharing this incredible journey with me.  It has had its fair share of tears, laughter, good friends, and hard moments.  The tough times make the good times sweeter and I can confidently say that I am not quite who I was when I left the States.

"God always ignores your present level of completeness 
in favor of your ultimate future completeness."  
-My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers

God has taught me so much this past year at Sahel, through my students, other missionaries, Bible Studies, the people of Niger, friends, and strangers.  I think one of the lessons that applies most to my work as a teacher is "try, try again."  How tempting it can be when it's hot and the classroom's AC doesn't work and you bombed a lesson the day before to simply give up.  I struggle to keep fading students' attention, sweat soaks my shirt and my brow, talkers interrupt me (again), I repeat myself for what feels like the thousandth time, routine is interrupted by charts and band aids and tattles, and learning feels slow.

Sure, teaching changes lives and I was told that I can make a difference and that change is possible.  But all of that doesn't mean that getting there isn't difficult.  Man, it's just tough.  No matter which way you slice it, teaching is hard.  Even something I am passionate about tries my patience.  Even something God has clearly called me to leaves me feeling unmotivated and empty.

After graduating from college - 4 years of training, studying and experience in the classroom - I thought surely I am ready for my own class...bring it on.  But what they don't tell you is that teaching can be boring.  What they don't teach you is how to trudge through the hard days.  I was too busy pouring hours into a 45 minute lesson, using as many manipulatives and modes of intake as I could.  But when you teach 7 subjects day in and day out, the sparkle and fancy lessons just aren't always there.  Sometimes teaching is just hard.

"The proof that our relationship is right with God is that 
we do our best whether we feel inspired or not."  - Oswald Chambers

Partway through the year, I thought to myself, "I can't do this!  I can't do this today, let alone for the rest of my life!"  I was overwhelmed at the mere thought of retiring as a teacher, 35 long years under my belt.  The same thing for 35 years?!  How do people do this?!

And God whispered, "My child."  I was stressed about the years ahead, when the Lord said "Look to me today."

"The moment you allow yourself to think, 'What about this?' you show that 
you have not surrendered and that you do not really trust God."  - Oswald Chambers

I do not know where I will be in 3 years, let alone the rest of my life.  And you know what?  That's ok!  Today, I know that God has called me to be a teacher.  And I will push through the tough days and embrace the "successful" days the same.  May I always be prepared to serve God wholeheartedly in whatever he asks me to do.  Even if that means teaching 8 year olds at Sahel Academy in the desert of Niger.

When I left Pennsylvania last August, I never imagined Sahel becoming a new home for me.  But what I've learned during the tough days of teaching, as well as the people I have come to know and love, has given me reason to call Niamey home.  After much prayer, I have decided to stay in Niamey this summer.  God has been good to plant a desire in me to serve the people here.  I am looking forward to having time in which I will not need to plan lessons, but can focus on language learning, processing my year here and the year to come, and possibly teaching beginning dance classes to elementary girls.  This summer will be rainy season and I am happy to see the weather change finally!

While there is much to anticipate about staying in Niamey this summer, I know it will be difficult to be away from friends and family in the States.  Please pray for connections to remain sweet.  The longer I live here, the more distant friends seem to feel.  Please pray against loneliness for this summer, since many families and missionaries leave during the summer months.  Pray that God will give me wisdom in how to use my time and that I will truly find myself refreshed this summer.


"The spiritual life is the life of a child.  We are not uncertain of God, 
just uncertain of what he is going to do next."  - Oswald Chambers


Monday, May 18, 2015

My (first) dust storm

It hasn't rained since October. I mean, really rained.  We had a small drizzle one morning in February.  They call it "mango rain."  But the dust and the dry heat is very real here in Niger.

The constant "my-face-feels-like-it's-too-close-to-an-open-oven" heat of hot season apparently comes with 2 perks:  mangoes and dust storms.  Sunday night after NEWS, a couple friends and I ran through the sprinklers.  How could we resist?  Sweat was dripping down my neck and my hair was damp.  We kicked off our shoes and let our toes meet the grass.  I skipped to let the cool mist from the sprinklers shower cool head and heart.  (Never mind that the three 20 year olds were joining the elementary students.)

As we danced in the sprinklers, dragging each other by the hand, we noticed a brown cloud close to the horizon.  It was getting bigger, but it wasn't until one of the dorm students ran out into the field did I realize what was happening.  Dust storm!

While many church goers attempted to get home quickly, a group of youth joined together on the softball field, filled with anticipation.  The winds picked up and the dust began to invade eyes, nose, ears and mouth.  Grit filled my mouth as I talked and we leaned into the wind.  The sun, which had been brightly shining, quickly disappeared.

Since being in Niger, I have truly missed the change in weather that Pittsburgh brings.  And while yes, we were getting extremely dirty and covered in sand, the change in weather was too exciting to miss!  We sat and chatted, smelling grass and dust.  What others might have considered irritating, inconvenient, and maybe even dangerous, brought us together.  We forgot our troubles and laughed in the late afternoon haze.

Isn't it funny how storms bring us together?

Thank God for dust storms.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Contrary to popular belief...

I do not live in a grass hut.  I do not draw my water from the well.  And no, I do not use a hole in the ground to relieve myself.

After having lived in Niger for almost an entire school year, I would like to clear up a few misconceptions.

Perhaps when you think of living in Africa, a grass hut and squatty potty in the backyard come to mind.  And let me tell you, that after having been around Niger a bit, this is quite an accurate picture...for MOST of Niger.

No, I do not cook dinner over a fire.  You might be surprised that my missionary experience, though drastically different from living in the States in many ways, has been quite comfortable.

First of all I live on campus, the same compound on which the school is located.  I am so grateful to be in one of the nicest houses on campus.  I have my own room and bathroom.  I sleep in an extremely comfortable queen-sized bed.  I have an AC unit in my bedroom (which is SO nice in hot season).

When the rest of the city has lost power, Sahel's campus runs a generator, meaning that I go without electricity for less than 2 minutes at a time.  And sure, the water goes off, too.  But I can count on one hand how many times that has happened on campus, while my friends experience this weekly, if not daily.

I have a stove that lights on its own, while many use a match.  I have a washing machine and tiled floors.  All of the buildings on campus have both 110V and 220V outlets, so I don't have to worry about adapters.  While the rest of Niger takes cold showers, mine are hot.

And the blessings of living in such amazing conditions are even more evident in such a poor country.  The contrast between my life and "theirs" haunts me.  I'm living in American luxury, while the squatters outside the gate sleep on dirt floors with no electricity.  Visiting Maradi was eye-opening as well.  Even there, huge mansions (what Americans might consider a large middle-class home) towered over the small huts beside them.

I've wrestled with the emotions of guilt, confusion, and even anger.  Why should I have so much more?  Why can't I live like the people?  This isn't fair and I didn't choose this!

As I talked with a friend about this, I realized that in order to be effective as missionaries, we must take care of ourselves.  While this might look like living as the people in the bush for some, it might mean making things a bit more comfortable for others.  Perhaps one of the main reasons that missionaries leave the field so quickly is because their conditions are not "livable."

Conclusion:  I don't know the answers.  I'm not sure what to do besides what the Bible commands...that the rich should give generously.  I know I do not need to feel guilty for being blessed.  But I also know that I can choose to live simply and generously.

1 Timothy 6:6  "But godliness with contentment is great gain."

And so, whatever I have, wherever I am, whomever I am with, I will live in complete abandonment to the One from whom all blessings flow.  Praise God!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Reflecting

I casually sat down and reached for something to read from the coffee table.  I was looking through a National Geographic magazine, photos vibrant, grand moments in time captured for me to see.  As I slowly leafed through the pages, I saw a section dedicated to Nigeria.  Photos of African women dressed in typical African fashion.  And as I observed the picture, I realized I wasn't looking at it the way I might have before.  I saw things beautiful, with a new understanding.

The women in the picture were casually standing around a car, perhaps a taxi.  They were matching, bright blue, tight-fitting outfits.  I understood that matching is a familial custom, especially for occasions like weddings.  They wore vibrant head scarves to match their dresses, a very normal and expected custom in M*sl*m culture.  And their shoes!  High stilettos, completely impractical for walking around in the desert.  And yet, I know the importance of shoes here.  They must be just as fancy as the outfit (in which case, my comfortable Birkenstocks are shameful).

I was happy to identify with the picture.  I have grown to accept and love many parts of Western Africa.  The colors are vibrant, just like the people.  My deeper yet still quite immature, understanding of African culture has fueled an appreciation and affection for the culture I've experienced here in Niger.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Tests, Soap, and Mangoes.

Welcome back!  My good friend Abby is back from the States!  She is one of the amazing people I met last semester at Sahel and had to say goodbye to in December.  She finished her student teaching and went home to Michigan.  A turn of events brought her back to Sahel to teach English for the last couple months of school!  What a blessing it is to have her as a part of the community here again.  Please pray for her as she is recently engaged (congrats!) and stepping into these classes quite quickly.

For grades 2, 4, 6, and 8 Terra Nova testing was this past week.  Every morning, my second graders worked hard on this standardized test for anywhere between 1 and 2 hours!  I am so proud of them for working so well on this test!  While testing in the mornings threw our afternoon schedule off a bit, it gave us an excuse to relax and take a break on Friday...lollipops, games, Veggie Tales, and recess!

But don't worry!  We are still getting lots of work done in the classroom!  With only one more month of school, I am working hard to fit everything in!  Every morning in second grade, we begin with prayer.  Many of my students' prayer requests had to do with traveling or leaving Niger.  A few of them will not return next year.  While young children are often quite adaptable, these transitions are monumental for them and their families.  Please pray for me, my students, and Sahel as we do our best to close this year well and finish strong.  Pray for the goodbyes and hellos, transitioning from one culture to another.

This past Wednesday, I started studying 1 John with my sophomore girls' Bible Study.  We are using the SOAP method (thanks, Pastor Chris Gibbs!):  Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer.  We are diving into just one chapter at a time.  In chapter 1, we focused on "walking in the light."  But how can we walk in the light if God is light?  We are sinners, so far from any sort of god-likeness.  And yet God's love reaches so much deeper than our worst sins.  What an incredible gift that we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to walk in the light, covered by the blood of Jesus so that God sees us as his children, pure and clean!

Hot season is upon us, which means the temperature reaches triple digits by 10:00am easily.  The upside to hot season, is that this also means it is mango season!  While the mangoes in our backyard are not quite ripe, there are mangoes on just about every fruit/vegetables stand in the market!  My roommates and I have been enjoying mango smoothies on the daily (almost!).

Please pray for Niger.  While Sahel Academy is still open, many schools have shut down for the week due to the meningitis epidemic.  For details, visit:  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-32413755 

In an effort to remain grateful, here is a list of things that make me smile or cry :)

1.  My second grade girls, singing at the top of their lungs, every word of the songs from Frozen on the playground.
2.  Second grade jokes:  Why are a teacher and a train different?  Because a teacher says, "Spit that gum out!" and a train says, "Choo, chooo!"  hehe :)
3.  Mango smoothies...mmmmm.
4.  Hotwheels cars in the classroom store, making an 8 year old's day.
5.  Skype dates with friends when my day is just ending and hers is just beginning.
6.  Neighbors who bake fresh chocolate chip or peanut butter cookies and ask you to test taste...duh!
7.  The look in a second grader's face when you read a really good book and their eye's are glued to you.
8.  A classroom, newly arranged and freshly cleaned!
9.  Sleepovers with housemates...every night.
10.  Mentors who listen and ask good questions.
11.  Surprise emails from friends I've lost touch with!
12.  Laughter.
13.  Pictures.
14.  God's plan for my future...I have no idea what it is, but I get psyched and nervous all at the same time just thinking about it!
15.  Supporters who pray for me, give financially, encourage me, send me packages, email me, and skype!  Could I be any more blessed?!

Thanks so much for your support, for praying and for keeping in touch!  You are a blessing to me.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Washing Feet

Living in Niger gives one a new perspective on what it might have been like to live during Bible times.  Sand, dust, dirty feet, camels, market, donkey carts.  I read scripture in a new light.  This past week, my second graders and I did a reader's theater using the story of Jesus washing the disciples feet (John 13:1-17).  And let me tell you, after having lived in Niger for 8 months, I have a new appreciation for what Jesus did.  By the end of the day, my feet are filthy!

Before reading the passage, we discussed the setting.  Jesus and his disciples are celebrating Passover, a holiday to remember when the Israelites were saved from the angel of death who would "pass over" a house if they used lamb's blood on the doorpost.  Jesus and the Twelve are eating and lounging when Jesus takes off his robe to wash his disciples' feet.  What?  Jesus, King of Kings, doing the job of a servant!  When he gets to Peter, Peter refuses to let Jesus wash his feet.

Jesus said, "Unless I wash you, you will not belong to me."

I asked my students, "Why do you think we need Jesus to wash our feet in order to belong to him?"  I was blown away by their answers:

"Jesus is in Heaven and Heaven is clean.  We cannot come to Him unless we are clean too."

"During the Passover, they used a lamb's blood to save them from the angel of death...kind of like how Jesus washes us to save us."

"Jesus died to wash us clean."

What deep spiritual insight from such little ones.  I learn from them everyday.

I passed out mustard seeds the other day (you'd think I was passing out pounds of candy - they were ecstatic!).  We observed just how small it is in our hand.  Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move."  (Matthew 17:20).  My faith seems small compared to the faith of some of these second graders.  What beautiful, child-like trust they have.  I want to be more like that.

God, increase my faith.

"Immediately the boy's father exclaimed,
 'I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!'"  Mark 9:24





Friday, April 17, 2015

SIM Education

I have truly enjoyed the many opportunities to serve in Niamey, not only at school, but also outside of Sahel Academy.  One of the activities I enjoy most happens through a branch of SIM called SIM Education.  Every month, my housemate and I attend the kindergarten trainings that SIM Ed. holds for local Nigerien teachers in Niamey.  I help out in any way possible - coloring, sweeping, painting, gluing, doing paper mache, or playing games.  There are usually about 30 ladies who come to these trainings to learn how to teach better, while making resources for their classroom.  

One week we used paper mache to make vegetables.  We talked about different activities you can do with them using colors, texture, taste, guessing games, etc.  At Christmas time, we helped build nativity scenes out of toilet paper rolls and fabric!  Another training involved shapes, textures, and colors.  What do you do when you don't have a doll house for kindergartners?  You make one out of wood and cloth!  SIM Education staff is incredibly creative and innovative! 

This past week's theme was transportation.  Rachel and I led a station in which the women had to use recyclable materials to make a mode of transportation.  We used Pringle cans, bottle caps, toilet paper rolls, brochette sticks, cereal boxes, and coke bottles to inspire creativity.  How interesting it was to discuss the different modes of transportation in Niger!...donkey carts, camels, cows, bush taxis, motorcycles - much different than Pennsylvania!  

It is such a blessing to get to know these women and laugh with them!  SIM Education is a great motivation for me to learn French better.  I would love to be able to speak more fluently with these women!  SIM Education also goes into these schools to help teachers individually.  What an amazing ministry SIM Education has with the public school teachers in Niamey - teaching the Gospel through education.  Pray for transformed lives as these teachers touch the lives of little ones in a very dark country.  Pray for staffing for next year as 3 of their 5 teacher trainers are leaving at the end of this school year!

Lucia oversees and directs SIM Education
and does an AMAZING job! 

Paper mache vegetables we made!

I helped the ladies use puffy paint one week.

Miriam has spent the last year working with SIM Ed.
The colored shapes are hand made with wood they cut and painted!

The last training we did - modes of transportation
out of recyclable materials!


  

Friday, April 10, 2015

Easter in Niger

Being away from family during the holidays is never easy.  There were no Easter traditions this year.  And yet, despite the lack of Easter baskets, chocolate, egg-dying, and a sunrise service, this Easter was made special by the people and new celebrations.

Easter morning, my friend Miriam and I went to church to help everyone prepare.  Miriam used the car to transport chairs and mats to the Easter service location.  We were having church in a mango grove!  It was absolutely lovely.  Though it was hot, the shade offered respite.

Service started at 10:45am and ended around 2:00pm.  The youth sang special songs and the children performed a dance and a play.  After the sermon, it was time for lunch.  We ate chicken in a delicious sauce with baguette.  One pastor asked me if I could eat it all...I didn't think I could, but it was so good!

We chatted and ate in the shade of the mango trees, sipping cold ginger bissap.  Miriam and I walked around the garden and along the dike taking pictures.  Many of the church's youth went for a swim in the river to cool off!  What fun!

I left around 4:00pm and they were preparing brochettes for dinner!  The party was not over!  But my African Easter morning was over and I prepared to celebrate a more "traditional" Easter with some teachers from Sahel.  We ate delicious ham and potatoes, deviled eggs, salad, bread, and broccoli...and ice cream for dessert!  What a lovely way to spend Easter with friends.  I came home that evening and was able to Skype with family as they prepared to have Easter dinner!  I am so thankful for technology that allows my brother in Texas, me in Africa, and the rest of my family in Pennsylvania to all talk to each other at the same time!

Praise God, He is risen!  While I missed family this Easter, I did not miss the commercialism surrounding this sacred holiday.  It was refreshing to focus on the truth of the Gospel and to be away from the bunnies, baskets, and eggs.  I am so thankful for the power of the cross and the implications of the resurrection!

Miriam and I eating lunch under the mango trees!

A Visit to Maradi

What an incredible blessing to be under the care of a God who knows exactly what we need right when we need it.  This past week, I had the privilege of visiting some amazing people and good friends from home.  Our time together was worth every minute of the 10 hours it took to get there!  I am so grateful for this family and their complete openness in having me in their home for 4 days.  And it was so fun to tell everyone that Rachel actually used to babysit me :)  Haha...how neat it is that God knew we would both be coming to Niger at the same time and that we would both need this encouraging time together.  God is sovereign!

I left Sahel's campus Tuesday morning at 5:00am with a student from the dorm and her dad. They graciously gave my roommate and I a ride out East to a city called Maradi for a bit of Spring break.  Speed bumps, naps, desert sand, sparse green, yellow flowers, coke on the way, lunch in the truck, stories, testimonies, a stop in Galmi to see friends...and after 10 hours of road, we arrived in Maradi at 3:30pm.

During my visit, we stayed quite busy. Up with the sun, I spent the morning reading, children playing in the yard, Rachel feeding the chickens and making breakfast.  Much of my stay, the sky was overcast, but it brought a bit of rain for a couple mornings!   I was welcomed right into their routine, helping with school in the morning; math, reading, Hausa.  I loved spending time with the kiddos, reading hours of Peter Pan and playing games.  Rachel was a wonderful cook and prepared a few Nigerien dishes I had never eaten before; a porridge-like dish called kunu and small fried pancakes called kossi!

We enjoyed  a couple visits to the neighbor's house.  What a pleasure it was to meet the beautiful children.  Since I don't know Hausa, the local dialect, I couldn't communicate except through laughter, giggles, hugs, and smiles.  We brought a bit of candy for the family and I played games with the girls.  Such joy!

 We went to the bush for an afternoon.  Michael and Rachel gave the young school girls dresses that a supporting church sent them.  The sun was hot and the sky was clear this day.  The shade and breeze provided a bit of relief from the heat.  The women went about their daily business, grinding millet and corn.  I had my first experience trying to mash the millet, and let me tell you, it's not an easy task!  They skillfully throw the tall pestle in the air, clapping their hands before catching it and pounding it directly into the large wooden mortar!  Amazing.  We toured the school a bit and the kids played on the playground before leaving.  Luckily, the car didn't get stuck in the sand!

After visiting other missionary friends - cuddling the newborn kittens and sitting on the porch swing with their 9 month old - we had a movie night...Kung Fu Panda!  We attempted to make popcorn, but I think the kernels were duds, because they burned before popping properly.

On Friday night, we were invited to a Seder dinner by an SIM missionary couple.  What a neat experience!  It was wonderful to be with such wonderful people to celebrate and remember the power of the Gospel.  Everything we ate was symbolic and scripture was read throughout the night to remind us of the significance of the celebration.  (If you'd like to read more about it visit this website:  http://www.reformjudaism.org/what-expect-passover-seder).

Saturday morning, Michael drove me to the bus station for a 10 hour bus ride back to Niamey.  We left the station a little before 5:00am.  I nestled into my seat to sleep and only 20 minutes later, the bus stopped.  I opened my eyes to find passengers gathering their mats for call to prayer.  Only in Niger.  We continued our journey with frequent stops, picking up other passengers.  Soon our bus was full and I found myself seated next to a large Nigerien woman.  No AC, a bus buddy taking up about half of my seat and a child puking in the seat behind me made for an interesting ride.  But I made friends with the girl across the aisle; we are about the same age.  She offered me some of her lunch and showed me the toilets (which are really a hole in the ground).  We attempted to communicate in my broken French.  As I sat looking around me, I realized that I was the only white person on board, and quite possibly the only Christian.  Pray for Niger.

I arrived home, picked up at the station by some good friends, around 4:00pm.  It was a long 12 hour journey, but I made it!  Maradi's slow and quiet pace of life contrasted Niamey's quick hustle and bustle.  It was a true break to be with friends who felt like family.  I am so thankful for their willingness to host me!  I can't wait for our next visit!


Monday, March 30, 2015

My New Normal

The longer I live in Niger, the more difficult it seems for me to write a blog post.  When I first moved here, everything was new and exciting, very different from suburban life in Pennsylvania.  Informing friends and family back home was easy because of my many new encounters with Niamey.  Now, the once-crazy, jaw-dropping sights on the streets or in the market place are less shocking.  I don't find myself staring and I no longer have to tell myself to "get a grip, Hannah, it's just Niger."  Niger has become my new normal.

Don't get me wrong, of course there are some hilarious sights when you are out and about - a man talking on his cell phone while riding a camel, four men riding one motorcycle, bush taxis packed inside and out with chickens, goats and mattresses.  You really never know what you are going to get.  Niger is unexpected like that.  But I'm learning to expect the unexpected.

I've recently begun driving in Niger (wahoo!), which is a big accomplishment for me, since when I first came here driving was a rather stressful idea.  But I have some friends who have graciously loaned me their car and I've successfully made it to the airport, various restaurants, the grocery store, the tailor, church, and friends' houses.

With only one more quarter left of the school year, I can confidently say that teaching has become more normal, as well.  Much like Niamey, every day is an adventure, but I think I'm getting the hang of it.  By no means am I perfect, but I find joy in being with my students and am sad to think that I only have one more quarter left with them, some of them leaving Niger for good.

"Adulting," a term I stole from a good friend (thanks, Debbi!), is something I hope I am getting better at, too.  Being on the other side of things (the adult, rather than the child), has given me plenty of opportunities to learn, mess up, and relearn.  I am finding it challenging to maintain consistent discipline.  Yes, discipline is Biblical, but how do you discipline in a godly way?  I've never really been in a position in which it is necessary to rebuke.  Of course, I've held leadership roles before, but being an adult feels much different, and in a lot of cases with my students, I am the higher authority, making the calls.  I have found that it's not fun for me to send students to the principal's office or have them lose a few minutes of recess.  And yet, I'm learning the importance for me to follow through.  Actions have consequences and that's an important lesson that I hope my second graders are learning!

I had a humbling encounter last week during parent teacher conferences.  As the third quarter ended, I had the opportunity to touch base with about half of my students' parents.  As I ended one conference in particular, my offer to pray for them was reciprocated.  I immediately felt encouraged and convicted as they prayed that I would be a godly example for their child.  Those are the kind of prayers that I so desperately need.

I continue to navigate life and the journey is not always smooth.  I trip and fall and get back up again over and over.  So yes, may the students I serve and teach see my mistakes, but may they also see the redemption of God Almighty through me.  I think being a godly example does not mean that I have to be perfect, but rather that Christ's perfection covers me.  I want to live in that - in the truth that I am made new in Christ.

As we celebrate Easter, remember exactly what this celebration means for you in your everyday life.  It is more than a holiday and an excuse to eat candy.  It is a glorious remembrance of  Christ's death and resurrection, giving us holy access to God Emmanuel, Redeemer, Counselor, and Friend.

Happy Easter, everyone!

"He is not here, he has risen, just as he said.  Come and see the place where he lay."  Matthew 28:6