Thursday, March 28, 2013

Didn't see that one coming...

On Sunday, March 17th, I was keeping a promise to my kids.  We had been struggling to get to the schoolhouse on time ever since we got back from winter break and it seemed like every morning was a battle.  So, at the beginning of the week, I had cut out a green clover and I told the kids that every time we got to the breakfast table on time and every time we got to the schoolhouse on time, we'd put a sticker on the clover.  Then, if all of the leaves had a sticker by the end of the week, we'd do something special for St Patrick's Day.  This isn't the sort of thing I usually do, but I'd tried normal solutions and I needed help.

So, that morning, I got up, wrote us some cutesy scavenger hunt clues that reviewed the life of the real St. Patrick, and hid them around our compound.  Then, I proceeded to get the real milk we'd purchased as a treat the day before and I colored it green.  I made up some green doughnuts to go with it.  We enjoyed our doughnuts and milk and the kids went on their little hunt.  The little game ended with a cooking pot containing a little bag of cheese nips and a candy bar for each of them.  Then, we came back inside to prepare for the day.

That's when the phone rang.  On the other end was our volunteer teacher, explaining that as they exited the compound to go to church, the guard handed them a note that someone had left at our gate.  It was addressed to the to our organization.  She read the letter to us, and we knew it was something we needed to share with our security officer.  So, we asked her to re-read it to us and we jotted it down.  As I was writing it, my hand was shaking.  The letter began with Arabic script, then had a number of ugly ranting phrases about western influence and the will of Allah, and it ended with the words, "You have been warned."

We immediately called our security contact.  Ryan read him the letter and he was insistent that we needed to leave the compound and go to another city.  So, in the course of 2 hours time, all of the personnel in our city threw together our possessions and passports, formed a caravan and headed out.  We decided to travel by an alternate route, in case someone really did intend to do us harm.

You can imagine what it is like to hand your children a suitcase and tell them to fill it quickly with clothing and their most important possessions.  To lock up your house with 2 birds, your dog, and cat inside, without having made arrangements for their well being.  To leave flour, sugar, and breakfast dishes strung across the counter and table.  Drawers hanging open, where you've quickly grabbed whatever your hands find to carry out.  We have laughed ever since at some of the things that did and did not make the cut.

Now, some of you reading this think we overreacted.  I completely understand.  But, we have lived for the last 14 months in a place where we are constantly  looking over our shoulder.  We have lived with  bombs and gunfire.  We have avoided certain areas of town because of riots or communal clashes.  We have worked around the parts of town where we could most likely build relationships with those we came to reach, because we can't safely go there.  I have stopped to ask where I could find a certain item in the market and a nice national lady has told me, "Go over that way, but don't go past that red building, you won't be safe."  We have seen increasing roadblocks, more road closures, security tighten at churches, the school, and all over town.  We get wanded when we enter churches, stores, and restaurants.  We have begun to question if this was the time for us to be here and if this is really the place where we can be most effective at the present time.  We have gotten worn thin.

Then, over the last couple of months, white people have started disappearing.  One of our own colleagues narrowly avoided a kidnapping and had to flee his city under the advice of the army and the police.  We were struggling.  I had been praying particularly over the last week that the Lord would confirm the work of our hands here, if he desired for us to keep our children in this increasingly tense climate.  Then we got a note on our gate.  On. our. gate.  Now, you might be able to tuck your children into bed at night with the words "You have been warned" ringing in your head, but I'm a wimp.  They trust me to take care of them and for me, that would be crossing a line.  Especially since I had begging the Lord to clearly direct us.

So, we traveled to a safe place and we stayed there for a week.  Praying, crying, talking to one another and our leadership about what is next, and just trying to love our kids.  Our kids who fled their home and are looking to us for leadership.  Over and over, we've pointed them to the throne and the God who still sits firmly on it.  We've sang songs that remind us that He is faithful and He loves us, and He has a wonderful plan for us.  And, with the advice of our leadership, we made the difficult, but relieving choice that Nigeria would no longer be our home.

During that time, we began to formulate a plan for packing up our house.  We knew we wanted to go back and get the most important items.  We were hopeful that we could pack our things up in a way that would allow a trucking company to come in and transport them out of the country.  Not knowing how worried we needed to be about the letter, we decided that we needed to do this quietly and as securely as possible.  So, on Monday morning, we quietly returned to our home.  It was one of the saddest days of my life.  Because no one knew we were coming, we were able to see their reactions to our return.  They lit up like Christmas trees.  They were clapping and hugging and so very excited to see us.  And then, we had to tell them that we'd only come to get our house packed.  We tried to explain the process God had brought us through and that our supervisors had encouraged us to relocate.  It was a very hard conversation to have.  Many of them don't understand.  Many of them do.  All of them are sad.

So, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday we packed our house by day and stayed at a safe place by night.  I have never packed like that.  Ever.  I am a list-making, spreadsheet following, purging, kind of packer.  This time I went in, grabbed the things I thought we most needed to do life until whenever we see our stuff again and shoved those in a few footlockers.  Then I  handed boxes to whoever would help, and everyone started filling them full.  People, we packed dirty bed linens, odd socks, half-used bottles of shampoo.  It was insane.  But, it's over.  After many nights of planning, decision making, wheel-cranking sleeplessness, I can rest now.

We are back in a safe place, where we will stay until our transfer paperwork is complete.  Then, we will fly directly to our new home.  The good news is, we will be targeting the same people group, using the same language.  They have actually just started a team to target that people group in that country, so we can join alongside them.  Ryan will continue to provide support to the personnel that will be left here in Nigeria, with occasional travel in to the capitol city.  Eventually, he will serve the same role in our home country as well.  We have a great peace about all of it.

I know that many of you have prayed diligently for us, with the bits and pieces of information we've sent out through our prayer updates the last 10 days.  We are so thankful for all of you and for the love that you've shown us.  We are once again reminded of the beauty of the Body of Christ.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

One Happy Boy

One of the differences I've noticed between my home culture and my host culture is the way they view, value, and interact with children.  Children are extremely important to a Nigerian marriage. When a couple gets married, it is fully expected that they will have a baby by the first anniversary.  If they don't there are concerns about why that is.  When a couple weds, many prayers are offered up for the rapid and extensive growth of their family.  In that way, children are highly valued.

This is very different from my American culture, where couples typically try to prevent pregnancy for a time and are often displeased when their family grows larger or faster than the couple would desire.   Our "large" family of 5 is not considered large by the standards of our host culture.

It seems like the rhythm of raising children is also very different here.  In the States, parents go to ridiculous lengths to insure that their children have the very best they can give them.  Many parents plan their lives around little league, tutoring, scouts, or whatever the interests of their children are.  We have children's boutiques, entertainment facilities for children, children's movie and TV industries, and the like.  It is a very child-centered environment.

On the other hand, we face a different extreme here.  I commonly see 4 and 5 year old children caring for babies.  I see groups of 6 and 7 year olds walking down busy streets or herding animals with no adult supervision.  I mean, I don't want to be a "helicopter parent", but my western mind isn't ready to go there.  I definitely lean toward the American style of parenting.

Which is probably why I really, really wanted to find Abe a pair of boots.  You see, Abe loves our
gardener, John.  When John comes to work, he puts on his work boots and gets out in the dirt and water.  Abe had been begging for a pair of boots like John.  But, you don't find child-sized work boots in our city market.  Trust me, we looked.  Abe got to where he could spot a pair of boots well before I'd see them and beg me to buy them. We would look and I would explain that they only had adult sizes.  The Nigerian shopkeepers would look at me like I was crazy when I asked for a pair of work boots for a 5 year old.  Why in the world would a person waste money on a pair of work boots for a child?  Abe rarely asks for anything, so I hated that I couldn't fulfill his request.

But then last month, when we were in Abuja, we stopped at an import store so that I could get a few things like lasagna noodles, canned green beans, and yellow mustard. Low and behold, I turned a corner and there was a bin full of little boots.  I'm sure they were first world rejects, made out of a croc-like material.  But we didn't care.  Abe lit up like a Christmas tree when I slid them on his foot.  For $10 I had the happiest boy in Nigeria.  He wears those puppies every chance he gets and he is absolutely thrilled with his little boots.  And so am I!