Friday, August 31, 2012


Before I tackle these thoughts in swirling in my brain, I want to qualify them.  I hold an American passport.  I have enough money in my savings account to flee this country with my family immediately if I feel I need to.  I have options.  I realize this.  I realize that my Nigerian friends don't.  And, I realize that my next few paragraphs may come across like the priviliged American that I am.  That’s the only perspective I have through which to process this life that has become my reality.  I am hesitant to share all that’s on my heart because I fear that it will burden people that I love and that’s not my intention.  At the same time, it is my reality and it is something for which my family would covet your prayers, so, I’m going to go there.

When we accepted the assignment to come here, it was with great fear and trembling.  We’d read enough of the headlines to know that Nigeria is a hot spot for trouble.  Bombs, clashes, terrorism, these were realities that we had heard about.  We prayed long and hard about saying yes.  In fact, we initially said no.  But, we really sought the Lord on this one and we consistently felt in our spirits that we needed to come here.  We came to the realization that the places where the gospel is still most desperately needed are primarily difficult places.  There is a reason why these places are still so dark.  So, we said yes.

Through training, we would just pray our way through every news article and headline that came our way.  Knowing that our trust was in our creator, sustainer, and savior, not in the BBC reports.  We had nagging worries, but the Lord always brought peace and reaffirmed our calling.  He still does.  Nearly. every. day.

However, the reality is, we’re here now.  And it is hard.  There are seasons, weeks, days that are harder, but it is hard.  There are the general difficulties that we would face in any West African country, but then there is the very real fact that we live in an area of Nigeria that two religious factions each desperately want to claim as their own.  We live in a place where Christian and Muslims once lived as neighbors, where they shopped, worked, and raised their children together.  A city that was once known for it’s peace and tourism.  Now it is a city deeply divided.  The markets and the residential areas are now polarized into the Christians and the Muslims.   The people we know don’t want it to be that way, but it is and they have no choice but to live with the repercussions of it.

Most days, it’s not a major issue for us.  We get up, we do life, we love people the best we can.  But it’s always there.  This reality called terrorism is like a little nagging gnat always flying round your face.  

When they blast dynamite for new construction across the wall and your 10 year old hits the deck wondering if it’s another bomb blast, it’s there.  

When you chose not to take a much anticipated weekend trip because of the embassy warnings against travel and instead send your husband and daughter to pick up groceries so you can settle in for the weekend safely, it’s there.

When they come home from grocery shopping and your 11 year old is chatting incessantly about how she watched the police take down a suspected suicide bomber while crouching in a corner of the store with her daddy, it’s there.

When your 4 year old hears a tire burst and yells from the trampoline, “Mama, did you hear that loud noise, do we need to go to the safe room?” It’s there.

When you pray each Saturday night for discernment about where and when and if you should try to go to church on Sunday, it’s there.  

When your children say goodbye to family after family in just 7 short months because they, or their mission agency, have decided that the risk is just too great, or the stress is too much, it’s there.  

When you watch your househelper struggle to find a way to work because they’ve taken the motorcycle taxis off the road in an effort to prevent suicide bombings, it’s there.

When you ask where to find something in the market and some nice Nigerian lady points out the direction with the stern warning, “But don’t you go past that red building, it wouldn’t be safe for you,” it’s there.  

When your national friends call you to make sure you’re home because there is trouble in town, it’s there.

It’s a reality.  A daily, ever-present reality of our lives.  And the lives of our children.  It is heavy.  There are times when we second guess and when we wonder if we’re crazy.  And then we remember that we’re not.  We’re called.  We’re equipped.  We have a shield and defender.  A strong tower.  An ever-present help in times of trouble.  A mighty counselor.  And no matter what the situation.  He is there.  And I can walk in wisdom and confidence because He is there.  

Now, if you’uns would just pray that I’d remember that when that gnat starts swarming round my face, I’d appreciate it!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Visiting Churches

Choosing a church is never any fun.  For the 10 years prior to our time here, we went to church where we worked.  We didn’t have to do the “church shopping” thing.  Here, we’ve been faced with choosing a church.  For our first six months here, we attended a Baptist church near our home.  It worked because we could walk to church, many of the employees from our compound attend there, and it was an easy way to start in the Hausa church culture.  But, about a month ago we decided, for a variety of reasons, that we would like to visit some other churches.   We may end up back where we started, but we feel like we need to explore our options. 

It’s complicated, way more complicated than the same quest in the States.  The first and most glaring issue is that we live in a city that is racked with terrorism.  It is a reality of our lives.  We check security loops before we leave our gates to go grocery shopping.  We ask our gate guards about the status of town before we go to the market.  We’re never out aftr 6:30 PM and we live almost all of our daily lives within about 5 square miles of our house.  We know that Sundays are the most risky, with military checkpoints being far more numerous than the rest of the week.  Not to mention there are lots of road closures and so it’s vital that we know alternate routes from point A to point B.  A church might be great, but if it’s a 20 minute drive on Tuesday, it will likely be 40-50 minutes on Sunday.  Honestly, it’s enough to make a person seriously consider a family church model.

Secondly, we’re white.  And we’re missionaries.  And that means that we can’t just slip in and fill out the visitor’s card and head home.  We will have to stand, introduce ourselves, be stared at for the entire 2-3 hours service where we understand about every 4th word, pray that we get the offering routine right, drink warm sodas in the pastor’s study, and hope that we don’t do anything that’s too culturally offensive while we’re there.  Oh yeah, and that’s with 5 children in tow.  

Finally, we’d like to find a place where we can serve and worship, not just show up.  And yet, we only understand about 20% of what is happening (if that.)  How do you decided if it’s a good fit when you don’t understand the language and the culture?  We need wisdom, discernment, and perserverance to accomplish this task.  We appreciate your prayers as we seek to follow the Spirit in this area of our lives.  

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Cultural Encounters

This year, we’re doing something different with our curriculum.  For the last several years we’ve done a very history focused curriculum, but this year I wanted to take a year away from that and do something lighter.  So, I chose a program called Children Around the World by a company called Winter Promise.  The focus is world geography with an emphasis on what children’s lives are like in different parts of the world.  I’ve beefed it up with coordinating literature and it’s working well for us.  

We study a different country each week, one continent at a time.  One of the neat parts of this curriculum is that each week we plan a cultural focus night to go with whatever country we’re studying.  We’ve decided to do it on Friday nights, when we normally have family time anyway.  The curriculum gives suggestions for foods, games, cultural presentations, etc. and then the kids and I have a planning session each Monday where we decide what to include.  Then we divide up the chores and get it all done before Friday night.  

We’ve only done two so far.  The first week we focused on our own family’s culture so we ate our favorite foods, played favorite games, etc.  The kids each made a collage of their own to represent our family.  It was fun.

This past Friday we had studied the British Isles, so we had an English tea.  My job was to make crackers, like the British use at Christmas.   Lizzy and Isaac made their own Guy Fawkes (which they wanted to burn but the rain saved us) and shared about Guy Fawkes Day.  Lily and Abby set the table and made the scones.  We all worked together to make tea sandwiches and such.  We certainly had to make some adaptations since we don’t have American grocery stores available, but we made it work.  

The beautiful flowers the girls gathered from the yard.

Our table, set with our mishmash of "fancy dishes."

Lizzy, Isaac, and Guy Fawkes

One of the things that I like about the curriculum is that it really leads the children to think about and process how children around the world live differently.  We’ve already addressed topics like child labor and trafficking and they have a journal that helps them to process how they can be a part of solutions to problems like these.  

I look forward to sharing more of our cultural night fun throughout the school year.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Kindergarten Man

This year, we’ve decided to do Kindergarten with Abe.  We debated a lot, because he won’t be 5 until October.  I am not normally an advocate of early kindergarten, at least not formal kindergarten.  Especially for boys.  But I am an advocate of each child getting what they need and it was very clear to us that Abe needed school.  

That boy’s mind works constantly.  His wheels are always turning and if he’s not directed towards positive ways to use all of that mental energy we regret it.  Free time for Abe= damage control for Ryan and I.  He disassembles, experiments, wanders, and explores in ways that are not always positive.  

When I had more time, I could have provided Abe with more hand’s on stuff just through things I made up and activities off the internet, etc.  But, I don’t have that sort of time to create things right now.  By having him on the lesson plans and in a curriculum, he’s getting more focused attention than he has in the past.  It may be that he ends up having two years of kindergarten, but that will be just fine with us.

We decided we’d give him stuff to chew on.  I was careful to chose very hand’s on active curriculums and chose supplemental materials that are perfect for a busy boy like Abe.  I’m minimizing the busy work and maximizing the concepts and he’s doing great.  He can’t form his letters well, but he knows all of his letter sounds.  He can’t form his numbers well, but he’s a whiz at mathmatic concepts.  He loves, loves, loves school time and he is a joy to teach.  Mostly.  He’s much more of a joy to teach than he is to manage, so we’re teaching.  And he’s learning.  It’s a good thing.

Here are some pictures of Abe during his first few weeks as a kindergarten man:   

Here he is making letters with his letter construction set.  He enjoys putting the pieces together to make letters and all sort of other things.

Abe loves to have his picture made.  Here is an A that he make, but he wanted to add a handle so that I could take his picture.
He's learning to enjoy peers.  Here he is enjoying pizza and a friend at a birthday party.

He LOVES to dress up.  Cape, mask, googles, hat, bandana, you name it... he usually is wearing one.
Abe has two favorite creatures in the world these days, Isaac and Snickers.  He thinks his brother Isaac hung the moon.  And the dog, I honestly think that dog is going to be the key to Abe learning about compassion and kindness. He seems to "get it" with the dog more than he does with people.

Here's Abe showing me his "baby snails" which he loves to visit on the bush out front of our house.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Off to a Good Start

So, we’ve kicked off a new school year.  This year Ryan convinced me to move our “home school” out of the house.  We had been given a little storage building when we first came and one day, after Ryan had been in there, he came in and suggested that we convert it to a school building. I was resistant at first because I have really loved having school in our house.  I love the philosophy that learning is simply a part of life and we don’t separate school and home.  But, in the end I caved.

For a lot of reasons, this was a good idea.  The culture here is very different and I found that I was spending a lot of time greeting folks who stopped in to see Ryan, offer items for sale, see one of our employees, etc.  While these things have the opportunity to build relationships and provide ministry opportunities, they were also causing a lot of frustration to my children.  We decided that by moving our school to a defined area, it protected them and allowed them to get the focused teaching they deserve.  I’m still easily accessible if there is a legitimate need at the house, but it allows me to weed out about 90% of the interruptions.

It didn’t take much to get it ready.  We paid for someone to come in and repaint it.  It already had wiring, so we just had the electrician do a little bit of updating and install a battery so that we could have a light bulb in each room for those days when the power is out.  We found all of the furniture in mission storage containers, all remnants of missionaries who have come before us and left behind odds and ends. 

Here's the room where the kids to most of their "quiet work."  This is where we keep our curriculum books, our art supplies, and the teacher desk.

This is the "noisy" room.  It holds the dramatic play stuff, the manipulatives, the free reading books, our workboxes, and the instruction area where we pull kids to do focused lessons.  It's all squeezed in there, but it works.  

In hindsight, it was truly the Lord who inspired us to do it when we did.  With the arrival of our volunteer teacher, it’s absolutely perfect.  She has space to school the kids away from the house so that I can study in the afternoons.  They have all of the materials they need in that dedicated space.  It really couldn’t be a better set-up.

Our first week of school went well.  We went hard from 8:00 to 3:00 every day.  At 3:00 we had to stop because my language helper was waiting outside the school room door to come in and teach me.  I was exhausted at the end of week one.  I looked at Ryan and told him that I didn’t know how long I could sustain this pace.

The crazy thing is, people often tell me that the I only need to cover the basics with the kids right now.  But, the bottom line is, the basics times FIVE still takes a while.  And let’s be honest, the last 2 years have been just the basics just to get us here.  So, I know in my mama’s heart these kids deserve some science and art.  That’s why I’m so thankful for our volunteer who is happy to spend the afternoons covering astronomy, PE, geography bingo, and the like while I hang out with my voice recorder and my Hausa dictionary.

The back to school season has always been one of my favorite retail times.  I just love going to Walmart and Target and stocking up on cheap gluesticks, crayons, and folders.  I’m kind of a back to school junkie.  So, this year I struggled.  It’s been our tradition to have a back to school night just before the first day where we give each of the kids some fun school supplies and a “first day of school” outfit.  We didn’t spend a ton of money and we always bought things that the kids needed anyway, but it made it more fun.  This year, I really struggled with not having those items available.  It was stupid, we had all we needed, but I missed the anticipation and delight of choosing special things for each of them, and preparing in that way.

We skipped the back to school night because I couldn’t find a way to modify it to my satisfaction.  Instead, I just had little treats waiting for them at the school building on the first morning.  They weren’t much, some cheap pencils and erasers that didn’t last through the first week, a candy bar, some gum, and a favorite drink for each of them.  That was it, along with a card I’d written to each of them.  They were satisfied and none of them seemed heartbroken by the change.

 Here's the whole crew on the first day of school.

All in all, we’re off to a great start.  We’ve finished 3 weeks.  We’re 1/12 of the way there!  I feel like Laura and I have got a good system worked out.  I am getting to keep some of the things that I love or feel need my attention and yet I have a good amount of time to focus on my “other job.”  The kids seem happy and come back most afternoons excited about what they’ve done with Ms. Laura.  I have time in the evenings to enjoy my family and do things I enjoy rather than stress over my to-do list.  I feel like my quality of life has greatly improved. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Language Lessons

This little guy posed for Ryan this week.  Isn't he cool?

As I’ve mentioned before, language learning is a big deal in my life right now.  It’s stressful.  It’s frustrating.  Often it seems fruitless and pointless and never ending.  Like the day when you realize that you have to memorize two words for nearly every noun because the word for horse is totally different than the word for horses and that basically there is no consistent pattern for creating plurals.  Those are the days when you walk away from language going, "now...where did I leave that suitcase?"

Then, there are the good days when it’s actually sort of fun and you have these “breakthrough” moments.   Those times when you attempt to create a sentence that contains more than a simple subject and verb and you succeed.  Or the day when you’re sitting at a military checkpoint and the soldier calls another soldier over just to meet you because he’s amazed that a white person is bothering to learn his language.  On those days you can totally convince yourself to push on and perservere.

At the end of it all, I’m not sure how fluent of a Hausa speaker I’ll be.  But, I can tell you that I’ll know more about the culture here simply from having taken the time to learn the language.  I’ve chosen not to use a traditional language learning approach.  I’m trying to use something called GPA, which stands for Growing Participatory Approach.  Basically, I spend time each day with a language helper and we sort of explore language through pictures, objects, movement, etc.  Rather than studying rules, I play with the language and discover the rules through trial, error, discovering patterns, etc.  Initially, it seems slower, but long term I think it will be the best choice for me.

All of this experimenting has taught me a good bit about the culture here and how people live.  For example, when you show your helper a picture of a sink and ask her for the word and she tells you, “We don’t have a word for this thing, we Hausa people are not using it.”  And your mind instantly flashes to the rows and rows of plastic sellers in the market and the gazillions of buckets they sell and you say to yourself, “Of course you idiot, sinks are not a part of their daily routine.”

Much of my language time is me trying to think through 10 different ways to ask the same thing.  For example getting to the word for vegetable involved coming at it from no less than 6 different angles.  But, we got there and I got to review lots of other words in the process.

Things here seem very black and white.  So much more of life is about function, practicality, survival.  Many of our “Bature” conveniences are simply called by their function.  The dustpan has been labeled, “the thing for packing dirt.”  The light switch is “the thing for bringing light.”   And our endless stream of rooms have just been named by function.  The kitchen is “the room for preparing food.”  The bedroom is “the room for sleeping.”  Even colors are treated that way, brown is the word for dirt, green the word for leaf, etc.  

You can imagine how comical it was when I had a lesson activity a few weeks ago that suggested I leaf through a magazine and point out pictures of items that I did not yet know the words for so that I could identify vocabulary gaps.  Since magazines are not a part of our life here, I had to go to a pile of cut and paste magazines that I inherited from another American friend.  On the top of the stack was a Martha Stewart Living magazine.  Let’s just say that leafing through one of those shoulder to shoulder with a woman who lives in a mud/cement room with a single light bulb and a mattress on the floor seems a bit ridiculous.  But, we did it.  It resulted in lots of confused looks, a few chuckles, and a good bit of explanation on my part. 

One of the pictures that proved the most fruitful was the cover shot.  It was a photo of a sort of wooden drawer organizer with a variety of aesthetically pleasing “junk.”  It included a button, a pair of earrings, some pens and pencils, etc.  One of the compartments had 3 pretty seashells and so, I thought I’d go there.  I pointed to them, fully expecting her to tell me they didn’t have a word for those.  She tapped her head and said, “We have a word for these, but I can’t remember it.  Wait, we are calling this one dodon kodi.”  

I thought for a moment, wondering why they would only call that one shell dodon kodi.  Then I realized that this shell looked a lot like the snail shells from the snails that are everywhere in our yard right now and I realized that she wasn’t giving me the name for the pretty seashells, but rather for the animal that populates that type of shell.  So I said, “Oh, snail!  Is that the word for snail?”  Happy that we’d come to a consensus, she smiled.  A little double checking in the dictionary confirmed that my hunch was correct.  

Your continued prayers are appreciated as we push forward with our learning.  It’s certainly not as glamorous or easy as I dreamed it would be.  But, I know that in the end when I can clearly communicate in the language, it will be such an accomplishment.  Not to mention on that day when I change my Facebook status to list Hausa under “languages I know,” I’ll breathe a sigh of satisfaction.  I know, that's a ridiculous carrot to dangle, but I'll take anything that works!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Amazing Provision

Ms. Laura and my big girls at our summer retreat.

The last month I have been working frantically to keep up with life.   We had our first language evaluation and I spent hours studying and working with my language coach.  When I wasn't doing that, I was working on preparing for our new school year.  There simply didn't seem to be enough hours in the day to get it all done.  The thought of maintaining this pace long term had me feeling pretty defeated.  I have spent a lot of time in prayer asking the Lord to show me how to juggle it all.  I know that we were called to continue with homeschooling this year and yet I know that I was called to pursue this ministry which means I am required to learn language.  Finding time to do all of it and sustain basic household responsibilities can be very daunting.  Not to mention, it would be nice to have time to simply enjoy my husband and children.

My colleagues know the intensity of language learning.  It had been suggested to me from the start that if I continued to homeschool I needed to consider requesting a journeyman teacher to come alongside me and help with the kids so that I could have time to dedicate to my apprentice requirements and language learning.  I briefly considered it, but honestly I wasn't sure I wanted to take on the responsibility of another person.   A good journeygirl would be a blessing, but there were no guarantees that I wouldn't get one with a lot of baggage.

But, this summer when we had our retreat, we fell in love with the volunteer team who came.  On that team was a great young lady who had just finished her master's degree this spring.  She was sort of at a crossroads, waiting to figure out what was next for her.  The girls fell in love with her and she was so kind to them.  She really invested in them during her time here.  So, at the end of the week, when it was suggested to us that we consider requesting her as a journeyman teacher, it seemed like a great idea.  We discussed it and she was willing to apply.  

For the last month we have been praying for and about her coming to serve with us.  We wrote a job request, she submitted her application, we were all anxious to see what the Lord would do.  We were a bit disappointed when we found out that even if they expedited her application, the soonest she could get through all of the clearance and training would be next April.  By then, I would have almost completed another school year and 8 more months of my apprentice term would be gone.  I resigned myself to squeeking by until then.

Then, on Monday we got a phone call from our supervisor letting us know that there was another development.  While it wouldn't be possible for her to come as an employee until April, her church was willing to send her as a volunteer to help us through this fall semester.  We prayed about it and told them on Tuesday AM that we would take her if she was really willing to come.  By Thursday the plane ticket was purchased and on Tuesday she will arrive in Nigeria.  

There were so many details that make it obvious that the Father's hand is all over this.  The fact that she was accidentally issued a multi-entry visa for her July trip, making it possible for her to return with no waiting period is one of those things.  The amazing ways that God has provided to get her here so quickly has all of our heads spinning.  

I am looking forward to sharing the load with her over the next few months.  I will continue doing some of the schooling, but she will handle a good bit of it, freeing me up to study.  We are hopeful that it will be a good solution to this season of life.  

We appreciate your prayers as we all adjust to our new schedule and the new dynamics it will bring.  Pray for Ms. Laura as she leaves her family, with only a 1 week notice!  We are so, so thankful for her church who obviously has a great passion for the Great Commission and a willingness to invest in her and in our family.