Monday, November 28, 2016

The Compliment

"You look beautiful, Miss Knox!"

Elementary students have a way of brightening your day.  I walked down the sidewalk to find my students lined up, queued by the whistle.  School has begun, another Monday morning.  I'm smiling for the students and because I know I'll have a better day if I do.  I'm choosing joy.

I look forward to Monday mornings if I let myself.  Sometimes I forget how sweet it is to teach these 8 and 9 year olds.  And then I get a comment like that, "You look beautiful, Miss Knox!" Words received with a hug and smile.

"Thank you," I reply.  I'm still smiling, but this time my eyes sparkle with the knowledge that I am loved.

That student might never know the meaning of her compliment, how deep kind words can go and how soothing they are for our hearts.  My students teach me on a daily basis, if I will receive it.  This morning I was reminded of the power of an enthusiastic compliment.  I was reminded that the power of life and death are in the tongue.

These are the little ways that I am blessed.  These are the kisses I receive from my Heavenly Father over and over again.  So today I remember to speak words of life and encouragement (one of our spelling words this week!).  Choose joy.  

"The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eats its fruit."  
Proverbs 18:21

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Walking Close to My Example

The little boy's face haunts my thoughts.

It was a clear, crisp morning from a rainy weekend.  The dry sand drinks deep.  Sweet breezes, blue skies, sunshine.  I didn't want to get out of bed that morning, but I'm glad I did.  I had already decided in my mind the night before that I would go for a run in the morning.  I must stick to my commitment.  Exercise has become an important part of my daily activities.  And I didn't want to "slack off" just because we had the day off of school.

I hiked my skirt over my shorts and pulled at the laces of my tennis shoes - my classy missionary look.  My mind wandered to the day's events.  All over the country, thousands of rams and sheep covered the streets - first alive, then quite dead.  Blood washes into the streets as throats are sliced, rams and sheep sacrificed.  And for what?

For the past two years I have taken time to view the celebrations.  Traffic is quiet on these days because there is too much celebrating to do for locals to be on the road.  A quick drive through any neighborhood in town is enough to give you an idea of what it might have been like in Moses' day.  I do not envy the priests who made sacrifices on behalf of the people.

But this day was different.  Unlike the past two years, I had no desire to once again view carcasses stretched out on wooden poles, leaning against a small fire.

As I passed my neighbors on my walk to school, I secretly hoped that the 9 or 10 sheep inhabiting the roadside and yard for the past week or two would still be alive.

They were.

I finished my running, thankful for the space and time I had to clear my head and be before the Lord. Two men wearing all white came through the gate.  "Bonne fete!" I halfheartedly called to them as they smiled and waved.

I quickly made my way home by way of the street I walk a thousand times.  And though the family continues to gather and the celebrations bring them much joy, I can't help but feel a lump in my throat as I watch a little boy trot closely behind an older man, trying desperately to keep up.  No more than 5 years old and dressed in his best, he used one hand to steady a prayer mat on his head, mimicking the man he was trying to follow.

My heart aches for this little boy - who has no control over his circumstances.  No control over where or into what family he is born.  He is lost.

Aren't we all born lost?

Just as that little boy reflected the actions and example of his elder, I pray that I look like the one whom I follow, Jesus Christ.

Later that day, I walked outside after dinner at a friend's house.  Smoke filled my nostrils and all I could think about was the thousands of rams being slowly roasted over open fires that night.  The air was thick and the smell potent.

I want to be the "aroma of Christ" to those around me.  Though my language skills are not nearly enough to have deep theological conversations with my local friends and neighbors, I am able to live a life that shines the love of Jesus.  And that's my prayer.

For eyes to be opened and hearts to be softened to the love of God.  My prayer is for the darkness to be lifted and for the miracle of redemption to be embraced.  I long to see these people free from bondage, to be free from oppression and shame and a works-based mentality, as if salvation can be earned.  Please pray, too.

God, give me grace as I find you in every situation.  Give me peace as I wrestle before your throne in prayer for the people of this African country you love.  And help me to be a light in a dark world.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Another School Year

School is in session!  Students flooded the halls and sidewalks of Sahel Academy on Wednesday, August 10th.  Old friends were reunited and new friends were welcomed.

I am so excited to be teaching 4th grade again this year.  After just one week, I noticed what an incredible advantage there is to teaching the same grade twice!  This year is also special because I have the same students that I taught my first year at Sahel.  Of course, they were second graders then and I was in my first year of teaching.  A lot has changed between then and now, for which I am very grateful.

I have 9 extremely diverse and lovable students from all over the world.  Over half of my students do not speak English at home, meaning that English is not their first language.  This creates wonderful learning opportunities in the classroom, for both me and my students.  I love being able to make connections between languages.  During reading, we discussed the word "genre" the other day, which in French means type or kind.  Perfect!  In our science unit about nutrition and digestion, I suggested that a biscuit be added to the example meal to make it more balanced.  A student raised her hand with a shocked look on her face, "Miss Knox!  How can you eat something so sweet for dinner?!"  I quickly realized that a biscuit here is a cookie, not a dinner roll.

Ready or not, school starts.  And unfortunately, not all of our teachers have been able to raise their support in time to be here by the first day of school.  Consequently, for the time being, elementary teachers are in charge of their own P.E. classes!  Miss Oostra and I have paired up the 4th and 5th grade classes.  This is especially sweet for me since I taught the 5th graders last year.  Having grown up going to sports camp every summer, along with three athletic brothers, I have truly enjoyed the opportunity to be with the students outside of the four walls of our own classroom.  Though P.E. was rained out on Tuesday, on Thursday we began a frisbee unit!  Between recess duty and teaching P.E., my Tuesday and Thursday mornings are quite long!

Living in the same house as I did last year has made the transition back to life in Niger much easier.  I am also blessed to be using the car of a friend on home assignment.  I currently live with one other single teacher at Sahel, Danielle.  In October, we are expecting two more housemates.  Just a few houses over and on the same compound are three other single ladies who teach at Sahel.  What a party!  It's exciting to meet other enthusiastic teachers.  I made tacos for dinner on Wednesday so that we all had a chance to fellowship.

Starting another school year at Sahel Academy has been incredibly joyful.  I can't explain it, except that God answers prayers.  What a beautiful place.  I am honored to be serving the Lord in such a way.  And my prayer is that God's Holy Spirit empowers me to daily live a righteous and holy life as a testimony to those around me of His love and glory.

"I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me." - Psalm 13:6

Miss Knox and Miss Oostra
on the first day of school!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Saying Goodbye and Saying Hello

"It's good to cry."  I'm not sure how much I really understood that statement.  Crying means that something hurts, and tears are a product of pain.  So why would it be good to cry?

Leaving Pennsylvania on July 26th was probably one of the emotionally hardest things I've ever done.  Don't get me wrong - the first time was hard, too.  But this time was different.

I cried all the way to Boston.

The poor lady on the plane next to me didn't know what to do.  She offered some napkins as tissues and even wrote me a note tucked into my journal for me to find later.  Yes, God provides.

As I sat by the window on my flight to Boston, I realized all that I was mourning.  I was (and maybe still am) mourning the loss of an incredible summer at home with family and friends who love me.  I had to say goodbye to church friends who make me laugh, to my adorable baby niece, and college friends who visited for a whole weekend.  I mourned the loss of blossoming friendships and potentially fruitful relationships.  I drank in the lush greenness on the way to the airport as we sang "It is Well."  And I thanked God for the sunset, balm for my soul.  Yes, God provides.

Goodbyes are easily the hardest thing about living on two different continents.

And I'm not sure how to put this into words, but crying really is good.  It means that this summer was meaningful and that time and people were enjoyed.  If there were no tears, then richness of relationship is lacking.  I'm thankful for those tears.  I'm grateful to God that I have family and friends to love, who are worth crying for.

So, it's been an eventful summer to say the least!  My time was filled with a celebratory wedding of distant friends whose friendship originated in Niger, days off in Michigan visiting an old college friend, and a trip to Texas to see my brother and former housemate in Niger.  I was able to speak at a couple churches and even babysit for my cousin and her 5 kids.  I watched my brothers play in the church softball league and held Ellie Jane for hours at a time.  My summer consisted of pool lounging, evening walks, coffee dates, porch swings, stunning sunsets, and rich conversations.  Yes, God provides.

And upon my return to Niger, I've felt a similar love and affection from the people here:  homemade muffins, ice and cold water already in the freezer, lunch from a friend, house cleaned, and bed made!  Yes, God provides!  I have kept myself busy unpacking and organizing my room and running errands to get the house back in order.  I've enjoyed the sweet conversations with friends reunited and new ones.

The last Friday of every month is SIM's Day of Prayer.  The missionaries on the "Harabonda" side of the river gather in the evening to worship and pray together.  This past Friday I was reminded that we serve a God who satisfies our needs.  I am excited to continue meditating on that truth:  the Lord satisfies our needs, the ones we can't quite articulate and the ones we don't even know yet.

Praise God for our Heavenly Father who knows us intimately, for Jesus Christ who loves us deeply, and for the Holy Spirit who guides, comforts, and speaks to us on a daily basis.  I am in awe of how God has answered your prayers for peace as I transition from one culture to another.  Thank you!

"The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.  You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail." -Isaiah 58:11

Monday, June 20, 2016

Home to Home

Two weeks ago today, I arrived back in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The past 14 days since my arrival have been quite full - full of friends, family, celebrations, road trips, and more.

I left Niger on June 6th at 2:30am.  It was an uneventful trip across the ocean.  I was thankful for the other travelers from Niger who kept me company the first half of my journey.  And I was extremely grateful for my welcoming committee, including my niece, Ellie Jane!  Tears of relief and joy overwhelmed me as my family embraced me.

It's difficult to describe the emotions of leaving such a large part of your life.  And even though I know I'm returning for another school year, there were a lot of goodbyes that were final since there are many who won't be there when I return to Niger at the end of July.  But the night of my departure added some closure, as about 20 friends wished me well by taking me out to dinner at a favorite local restaurant.  And because my housemates and neighbor are awesome, they stayed up with me playing card games and eating chocolate fondue by candle light since the power was out, just to stay up long enough to take me to the airport.

My time back in the US has been equally as pleasant and meaningful as that night.  I spent a day catching up with my "little" brother by going to the Outlets for some shopping.  The long drive to Grove City was just what my weary eyes needed - white clouds against blue skies, and lots of green!  And of course, we stopped to play at the toy store shaped like a giant space ship, because you're never to old to play with toys.  I spent that evening watching Chad play softball and snuggling with Ellie Jane.

This past week, I was in Michigan catching up with good friends.  My roommate in college hosted me for a few restful days.  I enjoyed some wonderful conversations with her and her dad about his experience growing up in the Ivory Coast.  We laughed and reminisced about life in West Africa.  I am so grateful for that time to be understood.  I truly enjoyed getting to know the Gould family and wished it could have lasted longer.

My next Michigan stop was in Freeland, a beautiful suburb of Saginaw.  I was warmly greeted by Abby and her beautiful family.  I can't express enough gratitude for the things that fed my soul that weekend - steak on the grill, roasted marshmallows over the fire, late night chats, horses, fields, sunsets, and friends.  The entire wedding weekend was absolutely gorgeous.  What a privilege to stand beside such a wonderful friend as she married her man.  Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Morris!

And finally, I'm home again.  Ready to think about and debrief in my heart and mind the things that have happened these past two years.  I am excited to remember the things the Lord has done and to pray for the things that He will do.  God is good all the time.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Past, Present, and Future Blessings

"Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift.  That is why it is called the present."  -Master Oogway, Kung Fu Panda (Bill Keane)

Hello all,

It's been awhile since I've posted.  And, well, I miss you.  I'm glad we meet again here.  Welcome to my life in Niger, West Africa.

Fourth grade has a paper chain count down for "days until we become 5th graders."  There are only 6 more rings on the chain.  Can you believe it?!  Fourth grade just started yesterday, right?

As I reflect on this year, I realize just how good God has been to me.  On Sunday, we were reminded of the importance and power of remembering.  I don't want to forget that Jesus has graced me with blessing after blessing.  My heart is filled with gratitude:

  • I had the privilege of being joined by my parents, a testimony to the entire community here.  I never thought I would teach at the same school as my mom or have classroom help from my dad.  What a blessing.
  • God blessed me with a wonderful class and class parents.  I loved every field trip, read aloud book, and creative paper.  
  • I was blessed with wonderful housemates.  Housemates who loved me well.  Who did the dishes countless times for me, helped hostess lovely parties, and who would listen to my heartaches. 
  • And my neighbors.  I couldn't have asked for better neighbors.  They take care of us single gals - fixing water filters, installing lights, replacing locks and keys, and sharing meals.  

It's exciting to move on and to look forward to what's ahead.  But it's also sad to end another season.  I am filled with mixed emotions as I celebrate the many blessings of this past year.  And yet, I grieve the loss of friends, as June begins the yearly mass migration of students, teachers, and friends.

I'm grateful for the past, living the present, and anticipating the future.  I am so thankful for what I have to look forward to:

  • I am an aunt!  I get to meet my niece Ellie Jane, who was born April 4th. 
  • I have the honor of participating in the sweet marriage of my good friend Abby.  She and Stephen tie the knot June 18th in Michigan, which means...road trip!
  • My youngest brother graduated from Grove City this May!  I am so proud of him and look forward to catching up on lost time. 
  • I look forward to family, friends, and a summer at home.  God is good.  

Reflecting develops gratitude and anticipation produces motivation.  But I don't want to forget to be fully present.  Just as Jim Elliot said, "Wherever you are, be all there."  So I take time to list everyday blessings:

  • Rain.  This May has brought more rain than anyone expected (last year it didn't rain until almost July).  Thunderstorms bring a freshness and coolness that is so life-giving in a dry desert.
  • Friends.  I received an unexpected phone call from a friend who recently moved to the bush.  What a blessing to know that she is well and to catch up.
  • Teachers.  The staff at Sahel are a different kind of people.  A couple weeks ago, I was sick almost all week.  A fellow elementary teacher didn't hesitate to step in and take on my class in addition to her own!  While being sick was miserable, I felt so loved and cared for.  Teachers are super heroes.  
  • Newborns.  There have recently been many new babies being born in our community.  I had the privilege of visiting one of these newborns of a mother at my church.  What a gift to hold him, just 2 days old.  His naming ceremony is on Saturday.

Thank you for journeying with me.  Thank you for your prayers and support.  Thank you for kneeling before Jesus on my behalf.  I have needed every prayer.  And my need for Christ hasn't changed.  From the first day I boarded a plane to Niger until now.  If anything, my realization of my need for Jesus has only increased.  I am a sinner in need of Almighty God's grace and mercy.

Thank you,

Sunday, March 6, 2016

High Heels and Curls

Neighbors, parents, and friends.
Teaching Thriller!
Last weekend brought smiles, laughter, delicious food, and lots of dancing!  What an incredible evening with the secondary students at Sahel, as Student Council (StuCo) put on a Hollywood-themed banquet!  We watched movie trailers scripted and produced by creative Sahel students.  We ate strawberry and Oreo creme filled cupcakes.  We chatted over delicious homemade bread and chicken penne.  Pastor Tad and Aunt Jenna, with the help of the Galmi Outreach team, taught us to square dance!  The Virginia Reel was my favorite.  After dessert, Rachel and I taught the students how to do a Thriller line dance!  And to end the night, StuCo set off a few fireworks!

As students arrived, parents snapped photos of their children and friends.  Someone asked me if I had to chaperone.  That was a strange question, I thought.  I don't have to be here, but I get to!  I enjoyed watching students transform into Hollywood stars, all dolled up in suits and gowns.  It was a time away to just be with the students and staff, all work set aside.  I am grateful for Sahel Academy and the space we have for students to fellowship.

Bible Study girls!
Housemates :)

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Rainbows and S'mores

This past week was the first full 5 day teaching week at Sahel for a couple weeks.  The first week of February, we had a Professional Development day.  The second week, we had Field Day.  Though change is nice, it was good to have a full 5 days in a regular routine for the first time this month.

Fourth grade has started a few new things, including a read aloud, "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nihm" and a unit on "The Land Down Under," Australia!  The students have enjoyed attempting to speak in Australian accents...which ends up sounding more like an American south, West African, and British accent all in one; which I suppose is just as impressive, and quite entertaining!

In art class with Mrs. Knox (that's my mom!), elementary students worked on adding color to the library!  Fourth grade was the first class to put their handprints on the rainbow mural.  After praying with the students, Mrs. Knox clearly explained the rules and they darned themselves with smocks.  The painting went smoothly, like a well-oiled machine.  Mr. Knox helped clean off each student's hands outside with gasoline and soap.  It was a great success, and other classes have added their handprints, too!  Red, orange, yellow, green, and purple.  Next week, first grade will add blue and then the mural will be complete!
I got to leave my hand print, too!

Mr. Knox helping some 4th grade boys wash off the paint.

For just a moment, I need to brag on my mom:  It has been a pleasure and privilege to watch my mom interact with the students, showing them what art really is and how it can glorify God.  Every project allows the students to connect art to Christ!  (And she is not too shy to try big projects!)  Before bringing each class to the library, she prayed with them, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide her words:  our handprints and fingerprints are all unique, made by our creative Creator who loves each one of us!  I am so proud of my beautiful and talented mother.  And I get to be her daughter!

To end the week and begin the weekend, the senior class put on a class fundraiser...a family camp out!  It was great to see many families from the community come to fellowship as one big family.  Teams entered a relay race.  We enjoyed board and card games in the "Game Lounge."  Families gathered around the campfire to hear stories and sing camp songs.  Tents of all shapes, sizes, and forms popped up all over the field.  I set up my hammock between the soccer goal post and a nearby tree!  Though hot season is upon us, the evening was quite cool!  The net protected me from mosquitoes, but I was not properly prepared for the cold! In the morning, we all enjoyed an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast!  Great job, seniors!

My hammock and mosquito net!

Praising God for a restful weekend and looking forward to another week at Sahel!

Side note:  Presidential elections are this weekend.  Please pray for peace.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Spiritual Emphasis Week and Field Day

This week was eventful at Sahel Academy!

Monday began what we call "Spiritual Emphasis Week."  Both elementary and secondary students had the privilege of listening to and learning from the Roche Team, a group who ministers to children in Niamey.  Nate Bramsen spoke to the secondary students for an hour each morning about the lies of Satan.  Elementary students enjoyed worship, skits, and messages based on the life of Joseph.

For the elementary students, a new part of Joseph's story was brought to life through humor and drama each day.  And each day, a connection was made to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I was impressed by the students' insight.  On the second day, Joseph was betrayed by his brothers when they threw him into a pit and sold him into slavery.  Nate posed the question:  who are we in the story?  A fourth grader raised her hand and said, "We are the brothers."  Wow!  Just like Joseph's brothers betrayed him, we have betrayed Jesus.  Our sinful nature put Jesus on the cross.  And each day, God's forgiveness, grace, and redemption was spoken as truth for these young hearts.  At least 3 students received salvation, and a handful approached the team about assurance of faith.  Praise God!

What an amazing gift to have the Roche Team come to Sahel and speak Truth.  I am so grateful to be able to teach in a school where the name of Jesus is boldly proclaimed.  Please continue to pray for students in both elementary and secondary as they search their own hearts and respond to the Holy Spirit's convictions.  May they be filled with boldness as they challenge each other to live out the Gospel daily.


At the end of the week, Sahel enjoyed a day of track and field at Niamey's Stadium!  All 160 students, along with staff and many parents, came together to run, jump, and throw.  The weather stayed nice and cool throughout the morning, and even the afternoon was not too hot.  K-12 was divided into four teams:  The Blue Ninjas, The White Cobras, The Orange Tigers, and the Green Dragons.  It is always neat to watch the younger and older students connect, cheering each other on at their various events.  Praise God for no injuries and an overall beautiful day!


On another, more personal note, I experienced some sickness this week.  Wednesday after school, I came down with a fever.  I am grateful for Sahel's willingness to find substitute teachers.  A kind parent filled in for me Thursday.  While I am not 100%, I am on the road to recovery.  Thank you for your prayers.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Field Trip

Fourth grade went on their 3rd field trip last week.  Our geology unit in science has us talking a lot about rocks.  So what better way to learn, than to simply go hike some big rocks?!

Students made pet rocks
to go with our geology unit!
Early Wednesday morning 11 students and 8 adults loaded up into cars and drove just a few minutes to find what Nigeriens call the "Three Sisters," three rocky plateaus, begging to be climbed by curious children.  What a delight to walk hand in hand with the fourth grade girls, giggling and story telling along the way.  The boys couldn't help but chase ahead to climb to the top first.  The dads chatted and meandered along, helping keep watch.

The class discussed erosion and weathering, watching for natural gutters where water had washed away the stones.  Students named and identified the 3 types of rocks - igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic - and their properties.  I have never seen children so acutely aware of the rocks around them!  They frantically gathered rocks in hopes of finding a unique treasure.  Pockets were full and heavy by the end of our 2 hour adventure.  We hiked two of the "sisters" and returned to school before 10:00 am.  

God blessed me with such a wonderful time.  I had been sick all week, not quite feeling up to a trip off campus.  But it turns out, an early morning hike is just what I needed.  The cool morning air and breeze at the top of each plateau was food for my soul and the opportunity to have fun with the students was a nice change of pace.  Thanks to all the dads that joined the excursion!  11 students and 8 adults - almost a 1:1 ratio!  I am so grateful for these incredible parents.

Fourth grade with Miss Knox at the top of the first "sister!"

Under Construction

Sahel Academy is currently undergoing a couple additions on campus - the new elementary building and a covered sports court.  Watching the gradual progress of both projects makes me feel apart of it in some way, though my dad has played a much more significant role in the overseeing of these two major additions to Sahel's campus.  Yet, it is exciting to see the foundations being laid and the walls going up "kana, kana," in Zarma, "slowly, slowly."

SIM Director, Steve Schmidt; SIM Head of Construction,
Chad Winsor, Sahel Academy Director and Principal, Bev Farrer 
In October of 2015, a ground-breaking ceremony was held for the new elementary wing!  In order to prepare the spot of land they are using for the building, workers chopped down trees - by hand.  With just an axe, I felt like I was watching Paul Bunyan!  When they were ready for the ceremony, one of the smallest (and cutest!) kindergartners helped turn the first shovel of soil (more like sand).  All the elementary students and teachers gathered together to pray over the start of this exciting project.  Praise God Sahel Academy is growing and in need of new rooms for the elementary school, K-5.  When it is finished, it will be a two-story building with about 6 new rooms.  They hope to finish by June.

Pouring and smoothing the concrete by hand.
Last Thursday, January 28, was the big night for the covered court.  A team of men from the States came to help prepare the grounds for this huge project - demolition, dump trucks, jack hammers...every guy's dream!  The new court is the size of 3 high school sized basketball courts combined.  While you can probably imagine this process in the States requiring large cement trucks with funnels for pouring (15 loads, to be exact), we do not have such resources in Niger.

Workers lined up with their wheelbarrows of concrete!

Starting at 4:30pm on Thursday afternoon, about 100 Nigeriens helped hand-mix 130+ yards of concrete - over 40 tons of sac concrete, plus sand and stone.  Men filled wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow with fresh, wet concrete ready to dump and refill.  After 14 hours of non-stop pouring, the cement for the court was done!  Coming to school to see it finished the next morning was a treat!  What an impressive and unique experience.  The court remains covered in water to help with the curing.  The students are looking forward to having such a spacious place to play!

We are so grateful for the men that have made these projects possible for Sahel.  It is a blessing to Sahel families, students, staff, as well as the larger community to have such facilities for learning and recreation.  Praise God!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Home Again

After our visit to the States for Christmas, my parents and I arrived to Niamey late on Saturday, January 9th.  The next day, I took time to rest, welcomed by a cool morning, sunshine warmth.  A definite change from Pittsburgh.

Monday, there was a lot of work to do.  A week of work, and one day to do it all!  By God's grace, the planning and preparations all got done.  And I was ready to teach on Tuesday.  Of course, the 6 hour time difference made the first week of teaching a bit challenging.  I lay awake all night Monday, unable to will myself back to sleep.  The following weekend brought much needed rest.  I enjoyed my new hammock in the shade of African palms.  (Thanks, Chad!)

Since being back in the classroom, fourth grade has kept busy!  We made pet rocks to go with our geology unit.  We exploded a coke bottle after talking about volcanoes.  And thanks to Jacob and Amy for the "Insta-Snow," we had a snow day!  Students who have never seen or felt snow before were able to get a glimpse of the white magical flakes.  We finished a book called "Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle," ending with me dressed up as Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle herself!  We've continued to learn about how to research.  Some of the students commented on how much they felt like their parents or college students as they looked through books and encyclopedias to record information in their note books.    We still have a raffle every Friday, which the students so look forward to.  And we continue to pray to start every morning, and now end the day with a "high and low" of the student we prayed for.
There are a lot of changes on Sahel Academy's campus.  My dad has been involved in the construction of the new elementary wing.  The foundation is laid and walls are up!  A team from the States came to replace the roofing on the dorm.  And just this past week, we watched as another team and about 100 Nigeriens poured concrete for the new covered court.  After about 14 hours of hand mixing concrete, filling and dumping wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow, and carefully smoothing it all by hand, the court was finally done!

It's good to be back in Niger.  And I am grateful that I didn't completely miss cool season while I was in the States.  The brisk mornings and breezy afternoons are such a blessing.  I have enjoyed meals with family, brunch with neighbors, and game nights with friends.  We even went to the French Cultural Center for an evening of classical guitar!  An afternoon of kite-flying with a student and her family and an evening of tossing the frisbee with housemates are a couple more blessings.  As I adjusted back into the routine of life in Niger, my gracious housemates cooked for me and even did the dishes!  I am overwhelmed by the generosity and love of the community here.  I am looking forward to another semester together!

My housemates and me (Naomi, Lisa, Julie, Hannah)

Being Stateside

After returning from Urbana, the Lord knew what I needed.  I had just enough time to see a few good friends before feeling ready to return to Niger.

Being back in the States was good, and I had kept busy enough up to this point to not really think about the transition of cultures.  But there were a few things that reminded me that I was no longer in Niger.  For example, when I needed to run errands, I didn't think twice about getting in the car alone and going where I needed to go.  I knew how long it would take me to get there and I could count on the store to be open.  Drivers actually stay in their lanes.  There are no bush taxis or motos zipping in and out of traffic at their leisure.  Oh, peaceful American driving.

Hot showers, soft tissues, cuddling under big comforters, and fires in the wood burner were a few simple pleasures.  I enjoyed peanut butter oreos, real milk, and delicious venison.  We ate out at the Olive Garden for my birthday, and I had shrimp and chocolate cheesecake!  And I definitely made sure to find a Chic-Fil-A before returning to Niger.  Costco has everything you'd ever need in one store.  I could drink water from the tap, go outside without being stared at, and attend a church service in my own language.  Yes, home brought a few reversed-culture-shock experiences, but nothing too extraordinary.  Home will always be home.

I was able to see friends that I might not be able to see again for awhile.  I visited professors at Grove City and of course, stopped by the Outlets.  I ran errands in Cranberry.  I went to the mall with a good friend.  I visited neighbors and mailed letters.  The family celebrated Amy with a baby shower.  My time at home was full, but rich.

My mom had a night with some ladies from church - what a blessing.  We talked about living in Niger and my mom was able to share her story and struggles.  They prayed for the both of us, showing us what it means to be a part of the body of Christ.  A long-time friend and neighbor offered to help with some last minute shopping - how helpful and so generous!  God is good to provide.

While my time at home was wonderful, I thank God that I felt ready to return to Niamey when it came time.  On January 8th, my parents and I went to the airport for a long day of traveling.  We made it to Niamey late on the 9th, greeted by good friends.

From one home to another, the Lord is good and He is God.

Blue skies, clean air, sunshine...ah!


While I was at home this Christmas, I had the pleasure of attending Urbana Mission Conference in St. Louis, Missouri for the third time.  The day after Christmas, my parents, Chad, and I packed up the truck for a 10 hour road trip.  While others might groan at such an endeavor, road trips are a blessing to me.  I love being on the road again with family.  Mom and I chatted in the back seat, we listened to whatever music was playing on the radio in each town we passed, and took the occasional pit stop for snacks.

Although this was not my first Urbana, I was feeling a bit uncomfortable to begin.  Why was I here?  I already knew my call.  But the Lord continued to open my heart and mind.  My good friend Abby Cline and her fiance Stephen roomed with my parents, brother, and I, which was a special treat.  To be able to process and share life again with such a good friend was life-giving.  I also caught up with a few others from Niger!  Rachel, a good friend and old housemate, was there, as well as my future housemate, Julie!  A former Sahel student was there representing CIU, and another single guy wanting to minister to the Fulani in Niger was there!  It was truly wonderful to make so many connections.

Through seminars, Bible Studies, quiet times, evening sessions, worship, and conversations with friends and strangers, I learned some important lessons.  I was reminded of the purpose behind missions - JESUS.  David Platt warned us to be committed to Jesus before committing ourselves to missions.  Francis Chan reminded us of the beauty of living under the authority of Christ.  In Bible Study, we discussed how the body of Christ needs each other.  And after talking with friends, I realized that it's ok to not know or understand the future.  I am in the palm of Almighty God - there is no better place to be.

God is good.  We headed home after a loud and eventful evening of New Year's Eve worship, grateful for all that the Lord had done and will continue to do.

Abby Cline, Abdoul Bala, Rachel Gillner, Hannah Knox


Time at home this Christmas was wonderful.

I was able to be with family - the entire family - for a total of 5 days.

We made the most of it, emailing a schedule of events before my parents' and my arrival.  Which means that even though my parents and I landed late Saturday night, we got together Sunday afternoon for game day snacks to watch the Steelers play.  No time to lose!  Grandma brought a cake so that we could celebrate my birthday all together, as well.  After a year and a half of separation, it was great to be reunited...and pick up right where we left off.

Amy is halfway along in her pregnancy and boys will still be boys.  My brother threw grapes to each other to see who could catch the most in his mouth.  Incredible.  But it's things like these that make me smile and know that I'm home.  Things like playing ping pong in the basement, listening to music turned up too loud, and just eating dinner together warms my heart.

The next night, we got together again for pizza from our favorite restaurant and to watch a Christmas movie!  After much debate, we settled on "It's a Wonderful Life!"  Thanks to the unusually warm weather, my brothers and I went for a hike with Jacob and Amy's dog Annie Wednesday afternoon.  The woods' crisp air, smell of pine trees, fallen leaves, bubbling creek, yellow was all so good for my soul.  The rest of the family met up to go bowling that night and we met back at Jacob and Amy's for hot chocolate and games.  Even though we are all grown and living in different places, it is easy to have late night chats among siblings.  I am so grateful for each of our own experiences and how we can still share life and joke together.

On Christmas Eve, we celebrated Christmas with a huge ham dinner with some of my favorites!  Sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, cheesy potatoes, crescent rolls, cranberry sauce...mmm!  And of course, pie for dessert!  What a treat.  We shared gifts around the Christmas tree and cleaned up for the candlelight service at church.  It was our last night all together for at least a few months.  I cannot describe to you how full my heart was to be with family again.

And on January 8th, my parents and I packed up to board another plane, on our way to Niamey.  Until we met again!