Monday, February 10, 2014

What does it mean, "Je prie trop!" ?

A week ago we heard a lot of hammering and yelling and loud music! Then we saw the paint going on the walls and then the lettering. Our guards said it was a bar, then they heard it was a restaurant, but all we heard was yelling and fighting and drunks walking down our street. Our street used to be nice, a pleasant street with goats running outside our gate. We were the only house with a gate on our road, until about a month ago and the construction started across the street from us. Now there is a hole in a wall (not ours but theirs!) and the walls are going up. Soon we will have a neighbor with a gate. But between the hammering and construction work across the way from us and the bar construction right next door to us, our street is no longer the nice quiet little street!

The Exoti'c opened last Wed. Because of the problems we had already encountered--loud music at all hours of the day and night and a fight that broke out over a girl even before they opened we decided we needed to do more to make sure we were a bit more secure! We have never had to worry about our neighbors before. Now that there is a bar going in next door we decided we should be concerned about it we we have taken some precautionary measures!

Wednesday night, Thursday night and Friday night the music was loud and went on and on and on! 1 a.m., 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. Boom, boom, boom and then some kind of weird electronic African music! Saturday night we came home about 9:30 p.m. and the music was reverberating in our living room! Boom! boom! I decided enough was enough! With Milton backing me up I walked over to the bar and asked to see the "responsable". Just remember I do not like confrontations and in French it never quite comes off as it should. How do you confront without being threatening? The Madame came out of the interior --the music was so loud you had to yell to be heard. So she telecommanded the music to lower the volume. I explained that we were neighbors and would they please lower their volume b/c we could hear the music in our living room even in our bedroom! As I looked around I saw that they had only one or two customers and they were not eating anything just drinking! I tried to explain that this is a residential area and that neighbors had been talking and were not happy with the volume of the music so high. I explained that there is no need for the music to be so loud at 1 a.m. and certainly not at 3 a.m. She told me in no uncertain terms that she had her power--the power of her authorization from the Ministry of Interior and she is authorized to have an orchestra. I started laughing, "an orchestra? Really? That is an orchestra?' I told her that it would be in her best interest to lower the volume. I explained that several neighbors were complaining about the loud music. I simply stated that if it did continue that there would be problems in the neighborhood. Please turn down the music! I told her that the people at the mosque were upset b/c of the volume of the music as well. She inserted, "And I pray too much." Really? Is it possible to pray too much? Maybe it is when you aren't certain of what you are praying for or that there is a God who even hears you. I simply stated to her as I took her hand, "Madame I also pray for you!" Thank you for turning your music down! And the music stayed down.
I really did try to be as non-threatening as I knew how in the French that I have! But sometimes I come across worse than I mean to! But just taking her hand and telling her I prayed for her seemed to calm the waters!

When we came back to our gate our guard and gardener met us and they were laughing so hard,"Linda, I saw you over there talking to that woman. I saw you. I climbed up the ladder and watched you talk to her." I climbed up on the bench and watched! I saw you too!" Then they both burst into laughter. They too are concerned that the bar will draw undesirables and our guard has been able to stay awake at night!

Today the bar was quiet. This evening there were four cars in front but still the music was down low! Now to get a peaceful sleep. I sure wish I could learn to confront in a nice gentle way. But this was better than I thought it would be. Prayer does change things!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Daring to Hope

I subscribe to A Holy Experience and last night as I read the post on Daring to Hope, I thought to myself, "This is just what she needs to hear. This will give her the hope she needs to get through this month." She had decided or I should say they had decided that if they were unsuccessful in getting the visa for their daughter they just received guardianship for, that she and the child would stay behind while the rest of the family left for Ethiopia where they planned to visit their children's birth family. She felt very strongly that their new daughter should not be placed with another family for 3-4 weeks but she would rather stay behind with her should they not get the needed tourist visa. We didn't understand why she wouldn't get it, but we had never walked this path before, so we felt there was always things we might have missed. Maybe there was a document that was needed that we didn't have. I had not been successful in finding out all the info that was needed from the other families I knew who had done the same thing--just to make sure we had done everything that needed to be done. When I read this devotional for Thurs. night, I thought, "It's too late for her to get the visa anyway since they only process them two days a week and they are pretty strict about the hours so I really didn't see it as a way to get the visa or to even give hope in getting it next week. I just felt she needed to hear the message. It was this quote at the end of the post that leaped out at me.  I wanted to call her and tell her but knew she had to read it for herself. So I sent it to her. Little did I know the impact this would have on her.   When you're this close to giving up hope:

 "Hope is the thing with wings
That lands at the end of you 
And shows you how to open to possibilities 
So you never close again."

She said that devotional was just what she needed to hear and she went to see if they might change their mind. They did. We know this had to be a God thing. God uses human instruments to accomplish his will. It was his will that she and her child spend Christmas together with the rest of the family. I am rejoicing that I listened to the Lord and that I had kept my mouth shut and had not said something I would regret. I often have a hard time keeping it shut when I should. We had no idea why initially they had said no. I only know that they did change their mind. I am grateful for that and that this family can be together. I am grateful too that I got to play a huge part in this. I wasn't on the sidelines but was fully a part of gathering all the principal actors together. It was the highlight of my year and I praise God that he was glorified in all that we did. He gets the glory not me. I was just an instrument he used.  I know too that we were both at the end of ourselves, but I continued to hope--to be open to how God could work in this situation. I know that oftentimes it is in releasing a situation to him that we are set free and often that is when he works on our behalf. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Things that Matter--Gratitude and Friendship

For the past several Thanksgivings I have tried to do something to really make us think about the day and not to just eat a big meal and have fun and games together. Last year we had a lot of touching commentaries about things we were grateful for--especially after coming through the flood. We all had little stories to tell about God's grace and protection.

This year I was looking for something unique and had waited really late to do anything. I had gone to Abidjan and back and had come down with a bad cold which seemed to knock the wind out of my sails! I kept thinking, "I need to decorate. I need to get stuff out." I just didn't until Tues. before Thanksgiving. I had some time to prepare and decorate. I went on line and found a Thanksgiving tree idea that I liked. I went searching for paper to do it with and found some from last year--pumpkins!So armed with my idea I had Milton print out some leaves for me at work! Then I went looking for a branch for my tree. It needed to have several branches or it wouldn't look very good. I had planned to buy some dry corn to put in the jar but I didn't get around to it. I cut out leaves and poked holes in each one and left some string on each one to tie it to the tree. Before I left on Thurs. afternoon to go meet with the notaire I put my own little bits of gratitudes on the tree. I really am grateful for an understanding husband who supports me when I am gone the whole afternoon and there is nothing I can do about it. He has always said that the one thing he liked about me is how I care deeply for people. I usually try to warn him when things are going to get crazy! Here are a few of what people said they were thankful for. When people came in I asked them to write something down and put it on the tree. After our dinner we read each one, not necessarily the one we had written but one we picked off the tree. It was touching to see and hear what people said. I truly am thankful for the families we celebrated with. Four of the five families here had adopted! We truly have a lot to be thankful for. Here are a few pictures from our evening together. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Waiting until the Very Last Minute

Last week I was helping a SIM family with the preliminary steps to adopting--gaining guardianship of a 13 month old little girl. It all happened very fast, so fast we didn't have time to inform the director that it was happening! Before I knew it we were sitting at the notaire's office with the birth parents and they were signing the relinquishment papers. I thought "This usually takes a month and we have everything ready in a day! This can't possibly be happening." When I asked the young mother when her daughter should go to live with the new parents. She said, "As soon as possible. I am sleeping outside and it's not good for her. She also has a bad cold. I don't want it to get worse." So she went to live with her new parents. Wow! It has never happened this fast. Then we needed a "Authorisation parental" document so the family could travel with her. We needed several things from the birth parents and they provided all the documents needed. When we couldn't get everyone's signature at the same time, the clerk for the notaire brought the document to our house for the family to sign. Then he drove to the birth father's house with the birth mother to get their signatures. All at the very last minute! When we needed that document it was ready just before noon and we headed to a government office to get another document which they refused to give. They didn't seem to understand what we really wanted to do. When I called the lawyer (different from the notaire) she got us in that same day and she opened a file. OK! This doesn't happen like this either. Of course she also told us there was no way we could get something in time for the family to travel together on Tues. I gave the attorney the contact info that I had for someone at the Ministry, but the number didn't work. Wonder if that was God's hand? Today I have not doubt that it was. That door seemed to be shut! As we sat brainstorming with her, I mentioned that I knew a couple who had traveled without it going through the Ministry but they had gotten something but I wasn't sure where. She knew someone too from Nigeria who had gotten a paper too. We just didn't have enough information.  So we left..discouraged but planning to try again on Mon.

On Sat. I ran into my friend who had traveled with her daughter before their adoption was finalized and she gave me the info I needed--the contact info, but we weren't able to reach him! Then she said she would send me copies of what they got. This was looking more hopeful. I got the papers this morning just before I took Milton to work at SIL. My thought was to print them out from Milton's office. Just as we arrived at SIL he got a call that one of his translators was in an accident and was at the emergency room, so off he went. I went upstairs and got my documents printed out. Then I prayed with the SIL staff and had coffee break with them, etc. Still no telephone call. I was waiting to hear, "Come pick us up. We have the visa." Instead at about 11:30 I get a call saying, "This isn't working and we need the paper from the Ministry!" So off we went after I had called the lawyer because she was planning to meet us there. Nothing is ever simple here. Nothing! Nothing! Nothing! I prayed for a "Man of Peace" or I'd settle for a "woman of Peace". Someone sympathetic to us, someone who would do the job they were supposed to be doing. Well you see we were there right at lunch time and everyone or almost everyone takes off for two hours but we were able to make quite a bit of progress in that time. They accepted our Parental Authorisation although it didn't quite conform to what the needed. But it had all the information necessary. Then they said that all we needed was a copy of the birth mom's passport, but we got all three! They had to be legalized! Did that too!Then we sat and we waited for the woman--the only person allowed to keep the application forms for the Sauf Conduit! The only person who was allowed to sign for them--and we waited, and we prayed and I caused--schmoozed with the Fulfulde speakers I found among the police. I figured it wouldn't hurt to have a few friends among the police since I am notorious for getting pulled over here!

Just at the last minute--I was about to send the family home --once I found out if I could just take care of the rest of the process. In walked the Woman! I had given up but just at the last minute she was there. She scrutinized the documents and I ran out to get something that had been forgotten, getting the necessary photocopies (if you need a photocopy or something legalized, I can tell you where to get it done at the DST and they know me by sight I am sure!)

I once again found my Man of Peace and even got his name in case I need it again! He finished up the paper work and we came away at the last minute with the necessary document!

Off we went to the American Embassy--everyone in tow! We thought it was a done deal--give them the document they needed and we get the visa! Nope! They have to deliberate on it and make a decision. And kind what we were told it was like this: "Eeny, meeny,miny mo. He gets a visa. eeny meeny miny mo she doesn't get a visa." It doesn't seem to have anything to do with the fact that we had the proper documents, etc. Or maybe it was Scissors, Rock, Paper to decide.

In any case, I told the assistant to the consul that we believed in prayer and that we had seen God do some incredible things this past week. Doors would open just wide enough for us to get through, and we would find the next obstacle and we would find another door with a crack in it and we would slide through it. So we find out tomorrow morning if the door was open wide enough to get the visa so this family can travel together. They plan to return the end of Dec. but boy have we had the hardest time convincing everyone of that!

As I left the family at the Guest House where they are staying I said, "I have done everything I can do. It is now in God's hands." This has been quite the ride to say the least--a real rollercoaster at that. Now I can sleep and tomorrow I hope to get some decorations up!

We heard this morning that the family did not get the tourist visa that they had hoped for, prayed over, sweat over, and cried over. We felt for sure that the biggest hurdle was convincing the Niger government that this family could be trusted and would return with the child at the end of the month. The opposite turned out to be true. I guess we will soon find out what it is that we didn't do to their satisfaction, what piece of paper they still need or exactly what went wrong. Until then we can say we gave it our best shot. The Lord has something else in mind!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Hello Kitty for a Niger girl

This summer our friend Tina gave Alicia a small pink Hello Kitty stuffed animal for a little girl in Niger. We didn't know which one, but Alicia and I had one in mind. There was a little girl at the orphanage who was really courageous. She had had a serious accident and she was handicapped. As she learned to walk last Spring, we saw her cry many tears but eventually she made it. She was always a source of joy. It was our intention to give Hello Kitty to her. When we started going to the Centre d'Accueil we noticed she was no longer there. She is now attending school during the day and we no longer see her. So we began to think about who to give it to.

A week ago I began to work with a young woman who has two children. One who is called Esther is three years old. She has a sister who is 13 months old. She has experienced a lot of upheaval in her little life.  I saw Esther after church and asked her mom how she was doing. "She seems very angry. She is always fighting with me." I explained how natural that was considering the fact that her sister was gone and she didn't know why. Maybe she was thinking she would be next. I told her that her job is to reassure Esther of her love and to love on her a lot. To get the point across I knelt down besides Esther and began to talk to her in a soothing voice, the whole time using touch to convey love to her. At first her eyes burned with anger. I can only assume that she thinks I am the bad guy who took her sister away. She doesn't talk, is really quiet like her mom. I continued to soothe her and with gentle touches reassuring her of her mother's love for her.
Last Sunday we gave Esther  and her mom a ride home from church. As Esther got out of the truck and as we turned around to leave she had a big smile on her face and she was waving by. 

On the way home Alicia says, "Mom I want to give Hello Kitty to Esther. She needs something to comfort her and do you think I can give her a coloring book and crayons?" So we put Hello Kitty in a gift bag along with with the crayons and coloring book. I gave them to her this week, but forgot to get a picture.

This morning at church Esther and her mom sat next to me and I got several little smiles from her. Under her arm was Hello Kitty! When I asked her mom how she was doing she said, "She has it with her all the time. She calls it her be-be." We gave her a ride home again and once again there was wild waving as we left and a smile for Tanti!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Gratitude poured out and running over

Almost everything I have read this summer has been connected to God's grace. I began a gratitude journal in May. I am reading 1000 Gifts and I really needed to refocus.  Home assignment was hard and I was tired. I was beginning to focus on what wasn't going right and becoming fearful and anxious about a lot of things. With a refocus, I began to see God's hand in my everyday life! I am not up to 1000 gifts yet but I am working on it. I would like to share how God blessed us this summer and how we saw God's hand in the everyday things.

1. God provided for our summer.  We had a van to drive, and a house to call home base for the summer.  We weren't there much at all but it became our haven when we were there.

2. God provided for my surgery--a place to stay with SIM Benin friends, and a place to stay as I recovered from the surgery and addressed other health needs. I also got to stay with good friends and help organize a tea party! That was really fun!

3. We had family who came to TX and we got to spend time together and that was so good!
I got to see my brother on three short visits and that was good too!

3. God provided a get away for our family at Broom Tree Refuge We really needed this time together as a family.  We had been away from each other for 5 weeks and Milton and the kids had experienced some traumatic events just before leaving Niger and in their travel home. BTR was just what we needed.  We used the time to prepare for the summer travels. We played games together and just sat and talked. It was good! We had fun together in the pool, and tubing on the lake.

4. God provided places to stay in our 10 state road trip.  We saw friends, we reconnected, we grew deeper, we supported friends who were going through difficult times, and we laughed and rejoiced with those experiencing great joy.

5. We saw God's hand in our visit to John Brown University. grew up in NE OK just across the stateline. I have friends in the area and family. We were able to visit JBU with SIL friends whose son has grown up with Alicia and John.  As we met with the Ed. Dept. chairperson we were struck by: She had overseas experience in Honduras (Alicia sponsors two Compassion kids from Honduras!), she is a social worker with orphanage experience (that impressed me!), she is an adoptive mom of twins! Last but not least--she prayed with us! No one did that at any of the other colleges we looked at and that really stuck with us.  When we met with someone from the Digital Media Dept. we found connections with our home church and with a childhood neighbor of mine! John also really connected with the professor in the program.  We were impressed with the emphasis put on mentoring the whole person. In a visit with a friend in the area she said she and her husband would gladly host Alicia if she goes to JBU! What an answer to prayer should she decide to go back next summer!

6. This was the first time the kids were involved in presenting our ministry. We had explained that we wanted their help, that they were an important part of our ministry, and that they had a contribution to make. John helped put together a presentation on the flood and our help with the renovations. Alicia put together a ppt. of our orphanage ministry and Milton did an overview of the translation work and his ministry.  It was great.  Our first presentation was at a church in Iowa and the kids did a great job! We looked forward to presenting together in other churches. Unfortunately none of our churches had the time for us to present! We actually were able to present in one church in TX in an evening service. The kids were a bit disappointed but we made the best with what we had to work with---presenting in small groups. One family hosted us for an evening and about 20 people showed up to hear us talk about our work and ministry.  The kids did a great job of talking about their involvement in ministry here in Niger.

7. While we were in Iowa a friend showed me how to make rumba scarves. These scarves are hand made from already crocheted crochet thread. You simply have to finish them by gathering them with a rug hook or by following the knitting instructions (we didn't do that). I showed Alicia how to do them and we began making and selling these scarves to raise funds to sponsor Alicia's two kids through Compassion and to help one of the orphanages in Niger. We were amazed once again at how God worked everything out for us to sell these scarves.  We brought some thread and some scarves back with us to hopefully sell at our Christmas bazaar here in Niger. More importantly was the lesson we both learned--God takes care of his children!

8. While in Chicago area, Alicia got a message from her bff from Norway that they would be at O'Hare Airport for a 5 hour layover and could we come up. We did! That was truly a God moment! Their itinerary had been changed just a couple of days before they came through! Wow! We got to spend one hour with them since their plane was late getting in but it was an hour they will never forget!

9.We had two fabulous weekends with churches that don't know us.  We spent the weekend in Lufkin and was introduced to Hamony Hill Baptist Church.  As we walked into the church there was a huge poster of pictures of Western Niger Fulani on the wall! Wow! We had a great time getting to know Ben and Melissa's family, speaking to the kids and then getting to know the pastor and other key people at the church.  We saw God's hand time and time again in that short visit!

10. The last weekend in Texas we decided to go to church right there in Lancaster. Not far from our house is the First Baptist Church.  I had visited the church my first weekend there in early June, but Milton and the kids weren't with me. Most of the congregation are over 50. We did not see any young people (don't know if there are any.) But it was the friendliest church we have ever been to this summer! When the pastor found out we were missionaries and headed back to the field, he asked us to come forward to pray for us.  Several people wanted prayer cards and someone gave us a gift! They promised to pray for us regularly! Oh my! I have never experienced that before.  God truly went ahead of us to prepare the way. And all we wanted to do was worship together our last day in Texas! Then we went out to eat at this little Italian restaurant in town. Two ladies came up to our table (they were from the church). They wanted to take care of our lunch for us! We were all bowled over by how God orchestrated all this! Wow!

We saw God's hand in every detail of our home assignment--from protection as we traveled to connecting with friends, family and donors. I keep coming back to what God is trying to teach me.
There is great joy when we can see what God is doing in our lives.  We just have to take time to see it! As I return to Niger my hope is to continue to focus on what God is doing in me and through me, instead of focusing on the negatives. Whenever I find myself sinking in the mire of despair, I want to remember how God worked this summer and the love he lavished on us through his children.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Another One of those Open Doors I Keep Walking Through

Just a few weeks ago, I got a call from a fellow missionary. A young mother had died a short time after giving birth to her daughter.  The father was desperate to find someone to care for his child, because he was afraid she would die. Little did we know we were dealing with a premature baby. As we talked through the possibilities, we finally decided on a course of action involving one of the local orphanages that we both help out at.  We knew that the couple who run the orphanage were exhausted from not enough help with caring for about 30 children. But we knew that we wanted to be above reproach in how we helped this dad.  We did not want to be seen as placing babies with families or with anything that would be frowned up on by the authorities. We were assured that if they were willing, the orphanage could place the baby temporarily with this family until the father could return home to Benin and decide with his family and the mother's family what they should do with the child. So we embarked on an adventure. My friend had to pick up her kids at school, but this baby was so tiny that we decided I would wait for her and her kids at the school. I stayed in their truck while she gathered her kids. I got the baby to drink some formula but the nipple was pretty big for her tiny little mouth. She had a hard time sucking but later she managed to start sucking! She was taken to see a doctor friend we know and he thought she was a good 6 weeks premature maybe more, just really hard to say. She was so tiny! But she seemed to be in pretty good health except that she had an eye infection. The next day I stopped by to see her.

I don't think I was much help other than giving a little bit of advice here and there and lending moral support to my friend who was so courageous to take this tiny baby in and care for her. I really didn't know if my friend would be able to handle another little one since she is also preparing for a year away from Niger and I know how it is to pack up house for that length of time!

It is really hard fostering a baby. It is so easy to grow attached, and to get really emotionally involved! It is always necessary to keep your eyes on the goal. We have no foster parent training out here--but maybe we need some! Especially if we continue to foster little ones.This is definitely a need and one we could probably partner with the orphanage to help them out.

When I found out where the parents were from I had to chuckle.  This is so like God to do something like this! The birth mom's village is one of the first villages SIM Benin's  translator Roland Pickering and later Christine Jew worked in while doing language learning in Lokpa.  It is also the language we were assigned to work in back in 1994. Because we were so long in getting to the field the Bible was almost completely translated in Lokpa when we arrived. We knew the history, we worked with some of the Lokpa youth, and we knew the area! We heard a lot of stories about the people at Gaounga and know missionaries and nationals who live there or have lived there.  I don't think it is a coincidence that this child is from a village that has a Christian presence!

As the foster mom has taken the baby to the maternity center to be weighed she has been a testimony to the staff there.  Once when she went they asked if there was anyone who would help with taking care of a couple more preemies!  A matter of a few weeks of care and these babies would be able to thrive with their families or if there is no family at the baby orphanage, where Alicia and I and Sahel have a ministry to babies and to the staff that work there. I can't wait to see just what God is going to do next!  But I am excited about what he wants to do in the lives of these babies we are helping to save!

At this moment the father has not decided what he will do.  My friend will foster this little one until she leaves for the States. At that time the orphanage where we have been volunteering over the years will take her until Dad is able to take her or he makes a definite plan for her! Oh and Dad has named her. Her name Mouibatou means one who is loved in Lokpa. I did some exploring to find out the meaning as I still have friends in Benin I stay in touch with!