Friday, January 9, 2015

A New Year

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from me and my housemates!
(And our diva Charlie Brown Christmas tree.)
"But do not forget this one thing, dear friends:  With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day."  -2 Peter 3:8

It's a new year and I have lived in Niger for FIVE months!  The time has gone by so quickly and it has me thinking about what I have learned these past few months.

I officially survived the first half of my first year of teaching on December 17th!  I started the year with 14 students and finished first semester with 16!  Second semester will begin with 17 and the Lord knows if I will get any more students before the year is done!  Thank you for praying me through my first half of the year.  It is by God's grace that I was able to accomplish anything in my classroom!  I have grown to love these students and appreciate how the Lord has wired them.  They are an incredibly unique bunch of kids and that's what makes teaching so interesting.  The languages, laughter, and teachable moments has made second grade an incredible joy to teach.  It is easy to reflect on this past semester and remember all the times I messed up or failed to have patience or totally bombed a lesson.  It takes a bit more effort to remember those times and be assured that Christ redeems those moments and uses them for good.  Despite my shortcomings, God shines through.  And that is something to rejoice about!  Praise God He is in control!

After closing assembly, I hopped in the school van and joined 4 other teachers at Sahel Academy on a trip to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso!  We drove 9 hours and spent about 4 days exploring the city.  I know I was still in Africa, but wow!  It was so different from Niamey - the roads, the driving, the women's clothes, the bikes, the stores.  One of my favorite places that we visited was the Artisan Village.  There were some amazing souvenirs ranging from wooden animals to colorful batiks to jewelry and shoes, belts and dresses to drums and metal art.  Seeing it all was most of the fun!  And what a joy and pleasure it was to spend time with these more experienced missionaries and teachers.  Card games, laughter, early morning croissants, and late night dinners, shopping, driving, and more shopping - these are some memories I'll never forget.

The five teachers at the Burkina Faso border!
The man kindly took our picture and then proceeded to tell me he would visit me.  Ha.
Two days after returning from Burkina, my parents came to visit for a week during Christmas!  This is the best time of year to visit and we enjoyed gorgeous weather the whole time - blue skies, sunshine, and 80 degree weather!  We kept busy all week with various activities.  On day one we walked to the Fuloni Market to shop for fabric, and then go to the tailor and have shirts made for my brothers and dad.  That night we joined about 8 other families at the sand dunes on Christmas Eve.  I will never forget digging my toes into the sand as we sat around the campfire singing Christmas carols under a dark night's glittering sky, me snuggled between mom and dad.  It was perfect.  On Christmas day, Dad made waffles for mom, me, and my adopted sister Lisa!  It was so good to have her with us for the week and she graciously drove us everywhere we needed to go!  After skyping in with the siblings (how cool is it that technology allowed the whole family to be together even an ocean apart!), we went to my neighbor's for Christmas dinner!  My parents were able to meet many of the people who make up my new Niger family :).  We enjoyed the food and company immensely!  On Friday, we spent the morning looking for the giraffes and saw 6!  That same afternoon, we took a boat ride to see the hippos!  Our friends from Maradi were in town, so we had lunch with them and their parents (who were also visiting) the next day!  What a delight to make home connections with people in Niger.  The rest of my parents' stay was filled with late night chats, movies and popcorn, dinner out, African church, and a school tour.  The last evening of their stay, we went to get brochettes and fries as the sun set over the Niger River!  It couldn't have been better :).  Thank you for your prayers - my parents arrived and left safely.  The whole week was a wonderful reminder of God's provision and love.
Lisa, me and my parents at the sand dunes on Christmas Eve!

After my parents left, a new housemate moved in and Rachel returned from France.  We also celebrated the New Year by getting together for food and games and then watching the fireworks from the dike beside the river, right in our backyard!  (And don't forget the lovely scare that the high school boys gave me...there's no way to welcome the New Year like being pranked!)

Mom, Dad, and the boys in their new African shirts and skirt!
I was able to Skype the family after the New Year to be all together again :)
Beginning January 3rd, SIM held a 4 day Spiritual Life Conference at Sahel Academy for all of their missionaries based in Niger.  We worshiped, ate delicious food, heard awesome messages, and enjoyed the fellowship of new and familiar faces.  On the last day of Conference, it hit me.  Over 250 missionaries sitting in Hope Hall, learning and praying together; missionaries who have given up the comforts of "home" to follow the call of God.  And I am one of them.  I realized what a privilege it is to partner with such amazing people in spreading the Gospel throughout Niger.  And how humbling to share with them the title "missionary."  It still feels a bit uncomfortable.  It seems to imply that I know what I'm doing and having a great impact on those around me.  And Lord willing, there is fruit.  But I haven't quite wrapped my mind around owning this new title.  Praise God that He never changes, He is my Rock.  And He uses the weak and humble, that's me.

After 5 months of living in Niger, juggling culture, people, and a new job, I found the Spiritual Life Conference to be a great reminder of a few things:  The main message that speaker and SIM president of Niger Joshua Bogunjoko conveyed was that of JOY.  In order to serve with joy, we need to know who we are in Christ and we cannot have successful trust partnerships until we can define our identity in Jesus.  My identity affects every single one of my relationships.  Paul introduces himself in the book of Philippians as a bondservant of Jesus...not as a missionary or church leader.  And he refers to the Philippians as saints because God was at work in their hearts, not because of anything they had done.  Productivity, rather than relationship, becomes the driving force when our self-worth is based on our competence.  But Joshua reminded us that we are "human beings," not "human doings."  I learned so much as we explored the book of Philippians and I am continuing to process all that was said!

Also during break, I had a birthday!  My parents celebrated with me while they were here.  My neighbor made a delicious meal and mom made brownies to sing Happy Birthday to me.  It just so happened that my birthday fell on one of the Conference days, so about 250 missionaries sang to me as I turned bright red.  And just the other night some friends took me out for dinner!  Thank you to everyone who sent gifts and cards for Christmas and my birthday this year!  Even though I am thousands of miles away, I felt the love of friends and family back home.  23 is going to be a good year!
23 candles and I blew them all out :)

As I type, I am currently in my classroom which has been newly arranged and is now somewhat ready for my students to return on Tuesday, January 13th.  Christmas break, although long, was full of activity and adventure, making it feel rather short.  It's difficult to believe that second semester is already here!

I am thankful for all that God has done here and praise Him for all that He is going to do.  God is Sovereign, Trustworthy, and He satisfies my soul because He is enough.  Be blessed by your Creator today and enter into His Presence.  Let Him change your heart, mind, attitude and soul.

Please pray for me this semester.  Pray that God would give me insight and sensitivity toward my students and the other missionary kids at Sahel Academy.  Pray that I might be able to say, just as the Apostle Paul said, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." (1 Corinthians 11:1).  Pray that time does not become an idol for me, and that I may rest in God's Sovereignty.  Pray that the people of Niger, and even the mission community in which I live, will see a marked difference in the way that I live and love those around me in the joy of Christ.

Thank you for faithfully supporting me with your prayers and encouragement!  Thank you for wrestling before God on my behalf.  I cannot even begin to tell you what an incredible blessing it has been to experience the Body of Christ in such a way.  Thank you for living out the Gospel in your own lives.  May we be encouraged by each other's obedience to the call of God in our lives.  And may Christ be exalted.

"'You are my witnesses,' declares the Lord, 'and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he.'" - Isaiah 43:10

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