Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Picture's Worth A Thousand Words

The second grade classroom has been full of excitement and activity lately!  Here is a peek into what we've been up to!

Cold season is officially over, but here are a couple pictures of my kiddos bundled up in the mornings - sweaters, fur hats, boots, and hoods!  I'm sure you can relate! ;)

For a week in February, a local ministry team came to Sahel Academy for "Spiritual Emphasis Week."  They ministered to both the secondary and elementary.  Grades k-5 enjoyed learning about the life of Daniel.

In math class, 2nd grade learned about fractions!  We went to the kitchen that morning to make pizza with "Chef Knox!"  I spoke with an "Italian" accent while instructing the kids on how to make their pizzas.  Later in the day, we cut our pizzas and talked about each fraction piece!  What a yummy way to learn about fractions!

In science, we learned about insects.  Each student took time to research an insect of their choice, made a poster and presented it to the class!

As an end to our insect unit and an introduction to mammals, 2nd and 3rd grade went to the zoo!  The students enjoyed finding the animals on their bingo charts.  (And a shout out to all the moms and dads who came to help!  Thank you!)

The 3rd grade teacher and I at the zoo!

In French class, the kiddos learned about Mardi Gras and made masks to celebrate! 

We've begun our measuring unit in math!  "Inchy the Inchworm" was hidden all over the classroom.  Students found and measured his length in inches and centimeters!

That's it for now!  Thank you for making it possible for these children of God to learn and enjoy Sahel Academy!  Please pray for these kiddos and all teachers and students at Sahel.  Please pray for students who are transitioning out of the school early.  And pray that God will meet the huge need for new staff for next year!  Thank you for your support and prayers!!!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Parc W

I already had my bags packed, ready to quickly load up the Land Rover and hit the road!

This past weekend, I joined five friends and coworkers at Sahel Academy for a weekend at Parc W!  After school ended on Friday, we drove a couple hours outside the city to spend two nights on an island in the middle of the Niger River.  Parc W is a National Park covering parts of Niger, Benin, and Burkina Faso, named after the W-shape the Niger River forms.  Our journey meant two hours on the road and about an hour more of driving through the Park to the boat that would take us to the island.  We spotted buffalo and guinea fowl on our way and watched the sunset behind us, baobob trees silhouetting the coral, blue sky.

We parked the car to get into the boat, avoiding giant elephant footprints in the mud as we stepped!  The sun had completely set by then and I lounged in the boat, stretching my arms above the river to feel it's coolness; tipping my head back to watch the stars twinkle.

When we arrived to the island, dinner was ready for us at the small restaurant:  Capitaine fish from the Niger River, rice and fresh peas and carrots.  For dessert, lemon meringue!  We ended the night by finding our cozy cabins for two and figuring out the toilets.  After laying under a blanket of stars and journaling a bit, I nestled into bed under the mosquito net.  I listened to the purr-like roar coming through our windows, cuddled under blankets with socks, sweatpants and long-sleeved jacket to keep warm from the night-time cool coming from the river.

I woke up just in time to watch the sunrise and we all met for breakfast at the restaurant:  fruit, yogurt, bread and jam, and tea!  We set off for a guided tour of the river, soaking in the scenery all around.  I drank in the clear blue sky, the still river reflections, baobob trees growing in the multi-colored rocks, bright green grass shooting up from the river bank.  Birds of all shapes, sizes, and colors flew around, red dragonflies zipped beside the boat.  Cows, sheep, and goats grazed.  We passed villages that appeared to be in the middle of nowhere.  We stopped to snap pictures of a hippo.  We prayed for an elephant siting...and saw a herd of six!  Spots of gray leathery skin showing through the dry mud, trunks outstretched for a green treat.  Amazing!

After our river excursion, we came back to the island for lunch.  An afternoon nap and a bit of time to draw in my sketchbook was a nice change of pace.  Rachel, Lisa, and I explored the island on a hike, conquering the rocks, climbing the heights for a good view.  We traversed the trails, finding trees and unknown fruits.  We found a dead millipede, elephant poop, as well as birds, goats, and lizards. we walked the trail, a loud rustling sound came from the bushes next to the path.  I looked over to find an elephant!  Right next to me!  On the river's edge!

We played Quiddler while we watched the glowing orange sun sink below the river.  We waited for dinner:  poulet, chou avec beurre, and puree de pomme de terre.  Fruit cobbler for dessert!  Lisa and I talked late under the stars, grabbing a blanket to lay out on the rocks.  An African night sky seems to have so many more stars than any other!

I woke up before the sun to see it rise over the rocks, the baobob trees silhouetted against the hues of orange and blue.  As we ate breakfast that morning, a herd of elephants was spotted across the river!  Two babies and six adults, eating and drinking as they meandered down the river.  I climbed to the top of the rocks for a better view.  I think I could have watched the elephants all day!

Soon enough, we boarded the boat to make our way back to the car.  Along the way, we saw a trunk peaking up through the water like a straw...sure enough!  It was an elephant taking a morning swim!  We watched him cross the river and climb up the bank.  What an incredible way to end our trip!

We toured a bit more through the Parc as we made our way back to the entrance.  I climbed to the top of the Land Rover to sit with the guide...I was living the African safari dream!  The sun's heat, the wind in my hair - it was too good.  We stopped at the look-out for lunch and finished our journey home after taking a look at the hotel and dipping our feet in the pool.

What an amazing weekend with some amazing ladies, witnessing the wonders of an AMAZING God!  Check out more pictures on my Facebook!

"Praise the Lord.
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.
...Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord."
-Psalm 150:1-2, 6

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

In the World, Not of It

That's when I realized, I'm still in the world.

Of course, I'm not going to have the perfect mentor or students, parents or friends.  This world is so full of evil and the day has not yet come in which Jesus makes all things right.  The frustrations that I have had are not specific to Niger.  No matter where I am, the world is still fallen and people will still fail me and I will still mess up immensely.  Why do I forget that so often?

I may be in the world, but I do not need to be of it.

Complaint seems to be justified by the heat and the traffic.  Apathy is excused because sometimes it's just "one of those days" and "everyone has those days."  Avoidance and relationships lacking intention are so common because "I just need time for me."  We are so good at pointing our fingers at the nearest thing to an excuse.

I refuse to partake in it.

Of late, I rarely find myself joyful or encouraging.  If I were my neighbor, I wouldn't even want to be around me!  I'm not lacking joy because there is a shortage, but because I'm looking in the wrong places.  The world does not, it CANNOT offer me joy.  The world is fallen and though God uses it for His good, it will never satisfy.  True and lasting joy can only come from Jesus Christ Himself.  I've been looking in the wrong places.  Though I didn't realize it at first, I was expecting friends here to fulfill and guide me in a way that only Christ can do.  I held myself to such a high and impossible standard, leaving no room for grace.  And sometimes I am so focused on getting a day's tasks done that I forget that my primary purpose is to be with a God who delights in his people.

Think about it.  God actually takes DELIGHT in being with you!  And yet I feel myself grumble every time I reach for my Bible because I didn't get everything I needed to get done today and no one asked me how I was doing and I'm too tired to read anyways.  Wow!  It's a wonder God still desires me!  My heart is so far from Him and yet He pursues me over and again.

I falter and yes, I have "those days."  But may my sole focus and primary goal always be the glory of God.  Do my complaints glorify God?  Ha.  Does my selfishness, denial, or judgement?  Not at all.  God receives glory when we take delight in Him.  And delight is much easier to be had when I am not so concerned with my own agenda.

I am ready to not only pause my desires for my sinful, natural self, but to completely crucify them.  I am so tired of feeling guilty for losing the little battles that take place between my flesh and spirit daily.  It is a matter of the will to surrender completely to God.  The battle is won when we finally realize that we have a choice to make.  And may I always choose joy over cynicism, peace over angst, intentionality over apathy, sacrifice over selfishness.  These are daily decisions of the will.

Praise God, He has given us the power to choose, not because we are strong enough to overcome ourselves, but because Jesus already lived perfectly for us.  And when God looks at me, He doesn't see the filthy mess that I really am.  He sees Jesus Christ in me, white as snow.  I don't understand it, but when we live in Jesus Christ, we live in freedom.

So yes, I live in this world.  But I certainly don't want to be of it.  My God is greater and the same Spirit that raised Jesus Christ from the dead lives and breathes inside of me.  It's time I start living in that reality.  Praise God, I am new!

Thursday, February 5, 2015


Back in July, when I was first preparing to come to Africa, I knew it would be hot.  I tried to mentally prepare myself for the intense heat I imagined I'd feel by going for runs during the hottest time of the day.  And let me assure you, it gets very, very hot here.  However, I felt quite unprepared for the past six weeks or so.  Beginning in December, the temperature cooled down quite a bit!  I found myself wanting to wear socks around the house and putting on jackets and (...I would never have guessed!) even scarves!  I even had my dad leave one of his sweatshirts behind for me.  It was quite a delightful surprise, this "Cool Season."  Allow me to summarize.  Here are a few ways to know that it's winter in Niger :)

1. You can wear your hair down all day.
2.  You need a scarf AND jacket just to keep from freezing on your early morning commute to school.
3.  Shaving becomes tricky when you can't keep your legs from getting goosebumps.
4.  You wish you had a pair of slippers to create a barrier between your feet and the cold tile floor.
5.  You can wear jewelry again because you don't sweat nearly as much, which typically creates a lovely green tarnish on your neck or wrists.
6.  Running in the afternoon is quite pleasant and if you run at night, you don't even break a sweat because it's so cold.
7.  You don't use your air conditioner for two whole months!
8.  Sleeping at night requires at least 2 blankets and a sheet.
9.  Getting out of bed in the morning becomes increasingly difficult, because your bed is, oh, so warm.
10.  There has hardly been a cloud in the sky for weeks.

In addition to the coolness, things have been a bit dusty.  When it hasn't rained for weeks in a sub-Saharan location like Niamey, well, let's just say it's easier to remember you live in a desert.  During the cool months, a hot, dry wind called Harmattan blows from the northeast, affecting much of West Africa.  If you look at the map below, you can see that Harmattan is heaviest in the lower half of Niger, right where Niamey is!  This wind is so strong, it can carry huge amounts of dust hundreds of kilometers over the Atlantic Ocean!  Here are a few ways to recognize Harmattan:

1.  Turning on the shower creates a small puddle of mud in the tub.
2.  Things look normal until you put your hand down and find a hand print where your palm has picked up the dust.
3.  Your once-white clothes are more off-white now.
4.  If you blow your nose, your boogers will be brown.
5.  The air has a certain dusty smell to it.  All the time.
6.  It's so dry without the rain, making everything extremely full of static electricity...from hair to skirts to paper!
7.  Even your bed sheets smell like dust.
8.  You can draw pictures on the toilet seat with your finger.
9.  Your hands and feet never feel really clean.
10.  There is so much dust in the air, you cannot distinguish the line between the river and the sky!

I am so grateful for the beautiful weather we have had!  And although it has begun to heat up again this week (triple digits!), I am clinging to cool season as long as possible!  No AC for me until I'm desperate :)  Bon chance!