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!

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.

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!

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.

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!

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.

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!

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