Thursday, December 28, 2017

Six Months Later


December marks 6 months...I have been 'home' for 6 months now!  I'm not sure why, but this seems sort of monumental.  For those of you who have experienced transition before, maybe you know what I'm talking about.  It's like that feeling you get after hiking a trail in the mountains.  You're sore as all get out, but you can look back and smile because you made it.  Of course, I am also anticipating the trail ahead.  But for this moment right now, I just want to thank God, to reflect on the last 6 months, and to share with you how faithful my God is.  My prayer is that you would see Jesus in a new light and that you would "praise God because of me." (Galatians 1:24)


I got a job in August as a building substitute.  Not ideal, but a job nonetheless.  Thank you, God.  I wasn't looking for anything else, but in October an opportunity opened up for me to teach ESL (English as a Second Language).  And I love it.  Thank you, God.  Again, I wasn't looking, but an opportunity to move came up and I now live with another Christian.  On a farm.  Thank you, God.  He used my experience in Niger teaching kids of multiple ethnicities.  He remembered my childlike desire to always live on a farm.  He knows me.  He sees me.  He cares for me.


On June 11th, after over 36 hours of traveling, I descended the escalator in the Pittsburgh airport, greeted by my family who wore matching African outfits.  It wasn't hard to find them, as they stood in a postcard picture perfect group holding a "Welcome Home Hannah!" sign.  You see a lot of crazy things in an airport, but this group whom I call "my people" stood out.  They looked different, out of place amongst the Americans wearing traditional summer garb.  Perhaps that's a good picture for how I've felt for the past 6 months - like I stand out somehow, just a bit awkward, or out of place.

It took awhile for life to feel ordinary when I moved to Niger, and in some ways, I don't know that it ever fully reached "normal."  Camels and bush taxis ready to tip were still exciting to see.  The dirt and haze and dust storms never stopped being strange.  And even by year 3, I still loved to stay up in the middle of the night to listen to a good African thunderstorm.

I feel the same way about life in America.  Some things felt "ordinary" right away.  But even after 6 months, there are still some things I haven't gotten used to.  I see something new and different every time I go grocery shopping, there are SO many options.  I can't bring myself to wear leggings as pants, though it seems to be the style here in America.  The number and different kinds of Christmas decorations is outrageous.


I really struggled.  At first.  All my community was suddenly taken from me.  The people who knew me best were no longer living with me.  The people I laughed with and shared life with were gone.  The hardest part about coming to PA was that it didn't feel like home.  It was supposed to feel like home, I thought it would feel like home.  But it didn't.  And there were 3 years between me and the people I knew when I left.

Being with family again was just as refreshing as the lush green Pennsylvania scenery all around me. And yet at the same time, I felt unknown.  I noticed something funny about this when I went to the annual family reunion this year. I obviously haven't been able to attend for the past 3 years, but this year, I was excited and a bit nostalgic because I was finally on the right side of the pond for Labor Day.  So when I arrived, why did I still feel empty?  It wasn't that I was ungrateful for my family or even that I didn't want to be there.  But much of my "family" was still in Niger.  The people who had become family to me were across an ocean, too far away for inside jokes and games.

These were the quiet moments, unnoticed by most, when I mourned and grieved the loss of meaningful community.  There were quite a few of these moments at the start of my return, some easier to recognize than others.  They tell you to take time to grieve when you come back, but sometimes grief isn't something you can schedule.  It just happens.

Culture Shock

My first Sunday back at church proved to be a bit shocking.  The kind of shock that makes it hard to smile or even talk to a friend.  However, you have to know where I came from to properly understand.  I went to a small church in the backyard of the pastor.  An open-air pavilion, if you can even call it that - tin roof and straw mats with sand floors.  We had a choir and a piano and someone always played the djembe drums.  Even though it usually lasted about 3 hours, the service was simple.  It was like family - welcoming new visitors, listening to praises and prayer requests, and we always shared a simple meal of rice and beans when it was finished.  The breaking of bread with brothers and sisters in Christ.

Now imagine my shock when I stepped foot in this American church.  TV screens and monitors, cameras and equipment.  There was a baptism the next week, so naturally the full-sized pool was ready to go, along with boats and docks and life vests scattered across the stage for thematic flare.  I sang.  I listened.  But I didn't feel home.  I didn't know most of the people there.  After 7 years, much of the congregation had changed.  So naturally, even though I was dying to tell my story, there weren't too many people with questions.  Most of my summer felt like this.  I was shocked and out of place.

To the Point

Despite culture shock and grief, God shone through.  He sent people to encourage me, ask me questions, and mostly just listen.  These sweet divine appointments were small things that showed God's great care for me.  I hope you know God like that.

I was hurting at times, but that didn't stop God from being a good good Father.  The Lord's provision for me is reflective of his tender care and intimate knowledge of his children.  I am continually challenged to trust God more, and every time I do, I find Him the same.  Though I ebb and flow, He never changes.  He holds my future and I have nothing to worry about.

"But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."  -Matthew 6:33-34

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Wednesday night sharing

I found this unpublished post today.  It was written in July, after I spoke at Crossway Church on a Wednesday night.  In case you missed that night or you just want a reminder, it's worth a read.


This past Wednesday, I had the pleasure and privilege of sharing at one of my supporting churches.  The theme for the night was knowing God's love.

"See what great love the Father has lavished on us..."  -1 John 3:1

I told stories from my 3 years at Sahel Academy, reflections of God's love.  I can't retell all of the stories, but I can share a few highlights from my talk, lessons I learned:

1.  Gratitude produces joy.

I have Ann Voskamp's book "One Thousand Gifts" to thank for this one.  This book challenged me to name my blessings out loud.  And in doing so - by being grateful every day, taking time to really list specific things that made me smile - I began to recognize God's kisses from Heaven to me.  His love was all around me.  In the busyness and distractions of life, we can be really good at ignoring God's love.  We refuse to be filled with it, and we can't properly love others without it.  In this way, gratitude affected not only my relationship with God, but also, my relationship with others.

2.  How can something so hard be so good?

This was a recurring question that came to mind throughout my first year.  I was enjoying the culture and enamored by every new site; it was all strange and exciting.  I loved meeting new people and was eager to finally apply my 4 year college education.  Things were great; things were hard, too.  I faced feelings of inadequacy in regards to language, teaching, and just being able to do everyday things myself.  Too often, we run from struggle.  I didn't realize that the two - challenge and joy - could coexist so beautifully.

3.  Our lives are a testimony of God's love to those around us.

I was given the opportunity to share the Gospel with non-Christian students and their families.  I can only pray that the seeds planted during my time at Sahel will take root.  Our day to day testimony is powerful, if we allow God to be in control.

4.  God answers prayers.

There were many times when God answered my prayers during my time in Niger, not to mention all that He did to get me there.  I prayed for mentors, and God sent my parents (for a whole year!).  I prayed for redemption after teaching 2nd grade in my first year, having felt like I failed.  And God gave me the same class as 4th graders two years later.  I prayed for housemates, and God gave me friends who became family.  I prayed for my students, and I watched them grow in spiritual maturity and character.  I prayed for a friend to talk to when I came back to PA, and God sent me a missionary to China.

5.  God loved me through my students.

I found joy in teaching after my first year.  This was greatly due to the love I received from my students.  They taught me what classroom community should look like.  They prayed for me.  They wrote me the sweetest notes.  I felt as though we were all a part of a little club.  I already miss them.

Though my time at Sahel Academy and what I learned in Niger is much more complex than just 5 points, I thought this might give you an idea of how the Lord worked in my life for the past 3 years.  Praise God!

"I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." 
-Philippians 1:3-6