Transition from Hungary to France

Saying “szia” to Hungary

It’s always hard to leave people and places that you love. Goodbyes do not get easier. Sometimes, even with practice, we don’t get better at saying goodbye or hearing goodbye. However, God has taught Stephen and me something that helps to ease the sorrow and challenge of transitions: prayer.

And so, last Saturday night, around 23.00, Anna, Stephen, and I prayed together. We thanked God for such an amazing English Camp. We praised Him for the joy and fun of spending time together as the three of us. We thanked Him for the unexpected gift of being able to see Shakespeare in Love performed live in Budapest (completely in Hungarian, of course! And since I (Abby) basically have the story memorized, it still made complete sense to me. 😉 ). We praised God for the 9 students who made commitments for Christ at English Camp and for the chance to hear the refugee story of an Iranian brother in Christ.  We praised God for the joy of Gateway Christian Fellowship, a church plant in Budapest where Anna is a member and where God is bringing the nations together to expand His kingdom. We thanked God for the joy of talking and spending time together in the same place, without needing the miracle of technology (although we thanked Him for that, too). And ultimately, we surrendered our plans and our friend into His hands, knowing that He loves Anna more than we ever could, and His plans are so much higher and better than ours. We asked Him to help us all to listen more closely to His Holy Spirit and to always be ready to respond. And thankfully, we also prayed for safe travel for Stephen and me. 🙂

After prayers and goodbyes, Stephen and I loaded our stuff into our Bla Bla Car driver’s van for the 11-hour drive to Strasbourg. For those of you unfamiliar with Bla Bla Car, it’s a great website/app for carpooling in Europe. You type in your original location and your desired destination and your desired day of travel, and you select whichever price, time, and driver works best for you. It is typically way cheaper than both flying and taking a train, and it offers the opportunity for great conversation! In fact, within about 2 hours of our drive, I got to answer the question, “So, have you always thought this way?” with my testimony! It was so cool. Granted, we were also jolted awake by the van bumping into the guardrails a couple of times, but that was apparently due to the power steering. And we were totally fine! Jazzed on adrenaline, but fine. 🙂 And we arrived safe and sound in Strasbourg, France, around 11am on Sunday. (PS Crossing boarders in Europe with the European Union is totally anti-climactic. No one really cares. Zero extra stamps for driving all the way through Austria and Germany. Trying not to be bitter. 🙂 )

A new language

Approximately 10 minutes after we disembarked from the Bla Bla Car van in Strasbourg, I (Abby) was geeking out about being in France. After studying French for about 6 years (high school and college), I had used it in Niger for a total of 6 months (sporadically) and Paris for a total of 3 hours (still worth it). And then, Sunday mid-morning, there I was searching for any open shop to buy something with our large Euro bill so that we could actually pay our Bla Bla Car driver. I went from nervous to excited to elated pretty quickly as I bought a croissant and a bottle of juice from the lovely Madame who ran the small cheese-and-drinks shop. It was so great!!

What wasn’t so great? Stephen’s transition to the French language. I wasn’t in translating mode yet, and Stephen has only briefly, briefly studied French. By Monday evening, Stephen was exhausted and kind of frustrated with how challenging and isolating it was to not understand a language that other people are speaking. And really, Monday evening it was Stephen, 1 other couple (French), and me. Not understanding the language was really frustrating.

Thankfully, that experience has led to some great reflection and conversation for us, hala Istennek. By Tuesday, I focused more on translating the conversation into English for Stephen and translating Stephen’s contributions into French for our hosts (more about them in a second!). We’ve also been able to think about the future when, Lord willing, Stephen and I will be in some kind of formal language school for wherever God has called us to serve long-term. Stephen and I learn differently and will need to give each other space for that. We’ve been able to gain wisdom from our dear friends, Justin and Jenna, on that different-learning-styles topic already. Also, it was just good for Stephen to be honest and share his frustration (even though it’s not wrong to be frustrated) and for me to apologize for not being more aware of him (even though it’s not wrong to not translate everything). It was a good opportunity to practice communication and grow in our relationship together. #marriage

Highlights so far

I’m trying to break up all my thoughts (there are usually a lot) into a couple of posts, or at least shorter posts. 🙂 So for now, I’ll sign off. I’ll try to write soon, though, to give more details about how God has blessed us this week in France. Here’s the summary so far:

  • Church with the Dodsons, completely in French!
  • Learning directions in Strasbourg, the hard way. 🙂
  • Meeting Jean-Pierre Pozzo, Dad Morris’s Timken colleague, and staying with him and his wife, Jocelyn, at their lovely home in Colmar.
  • Resting and relaxing in Colmar, enjoying the slower pace before heading back to the States.
  • Wonderful conversations with the Pozzos about religion, church, Stephen’s new job, and why we read the Bible.
  • Equally wonderful meals with the Pozzos. 🙂
  • Fun and great conversations with the Dodsons, including their almost-6, 3, and 1 year-old daughters. 🙂

Yes, Mom, we are still coming home on Saturday. 🙂 But we are also still enjoying our trip, still in love with each other, and even still content with walking most places that we want to go. God is so gracious, and we are already praying that this trip and these experiences continue to change us and influence how we live our lives and follow the Holy Spirit when we return to our comfortable, familiar Ohio home. Thanks for praying with us!

***If you have any interest in pictures from our trip, check out Stephen’s album on Facebook called: Angol Tabor and Europe Trip

 

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Angol Tabor

Hello friends, family, and interested readers! (It’s a long post, and pictures are at the end. ;))

Since we last communicated with you so much has happened. We have felt God’s blessing and his presence in so many different situations. And we have loved our time in Hungary! Here are a few of the highlights:

God blessed our travels, and we only experienced some mild discomfort during our flights. (We experienced the non-parent side of the crying/screaming baby from Pittsburgh to Paris. Abby had some stomach pain when we got into Paris. And Stephen had sinus issues which led to some kind of severe pain on the descent into Budapest. And about an hour into our time in Hungary, we were totally fine. God is good. 🙂

We hit the ground running once we landed in Budapest. Our dear friend Anna picked us up from the airport, and then we joined her in serving at a refugee shelter. After Abby got to hold a Nigerian baby and Stephen was a jungle gym for an African-Hungarian boy, we continued on to Kecskemet. When we arrived at 9:30pm, our amazingly gracious hosts welcomed us with fresh fruit and sweet treats. Hungarian hospitality is the best! Rozsa and Peter have been a blessing from God in how they have welcomed us and cared for us.

On Friday, we went to Kecskemeti Baptista Gyulekezet. For Stephen, this was his first visit. For Abby, for me, I was coming to one of my homes. I got really excited when I began to recognize the street and when I saw the sign, “Baptista Imahaz.” I was beaming when we pulled up to the front doors. After 4 years, after spending only a total of 4 weeks in this place, it still felt so much like home. I was excited and eager to enter the building, and then we walked down into the basement, the lower level of the church where most of English Camp planning, performing, singing, dancing, testimony-giving, and Gospel-preaching happened in past years (and this year). I couldn’t hold back my tears. It was so beautiful and overwhelming to realize that God had brought me back. And then I was even more overwhelmed to have my wonderful husband and my dear friend both comforting me and offering shoulders to cry on. 🙂 Thankfully my tears didn’t last long, though: we had God’s work to do. 🙂

And we had an amazing team to work with! God miraculously provided just the right number of English teachers for this year’s camp. He even gave us some fellow Clevelanders—a family of four who has been serving in Hungary for four years—and a fellow African American who was originally from Flint, Michigan, and probably at SVSU the same time as Abby’s mom! Isn’t God amazing in how He works?! Our team was made even better with the God-ordained gift of cross-cultural unity. But we’ll get to that later. 🙂

Angol Tabor was an incredible blessing from the Lord.  We had approximately 60 students aged from 8 years old to 83 years old. (Zsuzsa-neni had been a teacher for about 50 years, and she was such a blessing!)  Here is what the daily schedule looked like:

  • 9:00-10:00 – staff prayer (Such a rich, blessed time with Americans and Hungarians. It is a taste of Heaven to pray in different languages with no translation. Our God hears and responds to us all, and we still felt so united.)
  • 10-11 – First class session
  • 11-11:30 – Big group time (worship music, testimony, encouragement from Pastor Samuel, sharing the Gospel)
  • 11:30-12:30 – Second class session
  • 12:30-1:30 – lunch
  • 1:30 – 4:30 – sports/one-on-one
  • 4:30 – 5:00 – snacks
  • 5:00 – 6:30 – Gospel sharing afternoon (worship music, a Gospel message, a testimony—one day, there was a skit from four Hungarian girls from the church. They dramatized the story of the Prodigal son, and it was so moving. Another day, we watched the movie Do You Believe? in English with Hungarian subtitles; a great movie, and a good way to learn more Magyarul!)

Of course, I (Abby) could go on and on about the blessings and the God-moments throughout the whole camp. And truly, I’d love to talk with you more when we get home—in Ohio July 8, and up in Michigan sometime later in July. Just let me know. 😉 For now, I’d like to share two important aspects of the camp that were impactful to us, and the students.

  1. One-on-Ones
    • One-on-ones were both a new addition and a key highlight of English Camp this year. The purpose was to have the teachers available to the students for whatever they would prefer, whether that be conversation practice, answering tough questions, simply practicing colors with a game of “I Spy” (that was Abby’s first one-on-one).  Anna created a schedule and students could sign up for 30-min blocks of time, with the teacher of their choice, to promote and stimulate more opportunity to grow. Stephen had some great conversations, but he spent most of his time outside playing foci (soccer) with the boys. Abby, however, had at least 2 days that were booked solid with one-on-one conversations, mostly with young women from the camp. I feel so blessed to have had these conversations. I had a couple of tearful ones. At least 2, maybe 3 times, we ended the conversation with prayer. God humbled me and spoke through me, and allowed me to follow the example of several women who have mentored and poured into me. It was a blessing to be sure.
  2. Stephen’s class
    • Here’s the best part about being “the writer” for us: I get to share Stephen’s successes without being the least bit embarrassed. 🙂 Stephen did an excellent job teaching his class. He had a rather challenging, but awesome, group of 13-14 year olds. His students were reluctant to speak English and very eager to chitter-chatter in Hungarian. There was also some friendship cliques in his class. After Monday, he was a bit frustrated that his lesson plans didn’t turn out the way that he had hoped. (#teaching) Stephen was so humble and persistent and creative in his lesson planning through the week, though. And by the end of the week, he had his students actively participating in charades, catch phrase, Pictionary, and Fishbowl, completely in English (or at least mostly). His class confirms what we all knew: Stephen is the best teacher of the world. 🙂

We would love to tell you more, but it’s so much more fun in person. So please ask us about any of these things when we return:

  • How Stephen learned to play soccer-four square
  • How Abby and Stephen got to lead a Girls’ Chat and a Man Chat—and how differently those went
  • How we survived the Kecskemet hail storm
  • How God clearly spoke through Stephen’s testimony on Tuesday
  • How Tunde and the kitchen ladies immensely blessed us
  • How the Holy Spirit told Abby to give her Bible to Mirella, and how Abby obeyed
  • How Anna then gifted a new English Bible to Abby
  • How Stephen impressed all the Hungarian women and men as being an excellent, godly man and husband. (Best quote, in hesitant English, from the lovely Eszter: “Abby, where did you buy this husband?”)
  • How Abby and Stephen practiced counting in Hungarian
  • How God blessed us with inspired connections and encouragement and His beautiful Church
  • And, best of all, how 8 students raised their hands to commit their lives to Christ!!

It is a little strange to realize now that English camp is already over. I hope that Stephen and I will continue reflecting back on all the ways that God blessed us and worked in and through us during those quick 5 days.


Since last Friday, we’ve had a lovely holiday. Friday evening, we went into the city center in Kecskemet for Kurtoskalacs (a doughy, delicious pastry cooked over coals so that the inside is soft and the outside is glazed—aka delicious!) and gelato and great company. Saturday we joined the Gateway Christian Fellowship church plant again to keep learning about Jonah and to worship with people from 7 different nations. Sunday, we attended Danube church, an English-speaking church in Budapest that reminded me so much of the Niamey English Worship Service. We even had a time for Hello’s and Goodbye’s! Sunday afternoon, we journeyed to Vac to spend time with some refugee men from Afghanistan and Iraq. Then Monday, we drove to Tihany and Balatonfüred, two towns on the lovely Lake Balaton, for our true vacation. We had some funny, some frustrating, and some blessed adventures there, all seasoned with lovely, deep conversation between Anna, Stephen, and me. And today, we spent time actually at the Lake (yes, Mom, it did get me excited for Pentwater), then went to an Adventure Park (zip lining and rock wall climbing!), and finally returned to Budapest for some ginormous burgers before crashing at a friend’s apartment.

So yes, it has been rather busy, but it has also been so good. And, unsurprisingly, Stephen is a boss at international driving. Our next few days will be in Budapest, then we’ll return to Kecskemet Thursday evening before leaving for France on Saturday. We’ll try to update more before then.

We so appreciate your prayers. Truly, we felt God at work at English camp. Thank you for partnering with us from across the ocean. One of our new favorite Hungarian phrases is Hala Istennek (pronounced Ha-la Eesh-te-nek). It means “praise God,” or “Thanks be to God.” And that’s how we feel right now: Hala Istennek.

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Waiting in Pittsburgh

PittsburghairportAs we sit in the Pittsburgh airport, Stephen and I are reflecting on how God has blessed us this past week with great times of transition and preparation.

Almost a week ago, last Thursday, Stephen finished his last day at FedEx! We are praising God for the job, the experience, the lessons, the provision, and the friends that Stephen gained from FedEx. We are also praising God that the 2am-10am season of life is coming to a close. Stephen started as a package handler at FedEx in the fall of 2014, and he finished as a manager last week. It has been a tiring, refining, sanctifying experience. And through it all, God is so good.

Minutes after Stephen got home from his last day at FedEx, we hit the road to visit my family in Michigan. We enjoyed most of 5 days up in the Mitten, watching two yellow labs terrorize each other, sitting on the back deck to enjoy the summer weather, and spending as much time with our sweet 6-week-old niece Jane Marie. We had a great time recharging, chatting, laughing, and creating even more ridiculous Cline memories. We had the privilege of catching up with both Grandma Cline and Papa Sears on our trip, which was a blessing. And we’re so grateful for Monday morning when Mom’s EBS ladies took the time to pray for us and our trip. You know, even though the Cavs lost and Pittsburgh won, it was still a great visit. 🙂

After driving back to Cuyahoga Falls on Monday, we had a little over 24 hours to pack ourselves for our 3-week trip. And we learned about our packing habits:

  • Abby
    • List-maker
    • Bag-stuffer
    • “last-minute” means the day before
  • Stephen
    • Stress-free
    • More relaxed fit
    • finishes packing an hour before we left the apartment
  • Both
    • Pile-makers
    • Clothes-rollers
    • Willing to trust and appreciate the packing style of the other (What a bonus!)

 

Post-packing, here are our carry-on items:

carryonpacked

And now, we wait. We should be boarding in about 40 minutes, and everything is still running on-time. But Stephen and I have both experienced missions before, so we know the one essential trait: flexibility. And we’re so excited. We’re excited for what else we’ll learn about ourselves and each other, beyond simply our packing practices. We are looking forward to what we’ll see and learn and experience as we partner with Hungarian and French believers. And we’re so excited for what our faithful, good God will show us and work on in us. I’m also so excited to see Anna! And yes, we’re looking forward to airplane movie watching– that would go in the “both” column, too.

Thank you for your prayers and interest. We’ll update when we get the chance on the ground in Hungary!

The Morrises go to Europe

Hello friends and family and interested readers-

To say that it’s been a while is a significant understatement. Hopefully most of you have stayed informed even while I have been off-line. For those of you who last heard from me in the summer of 2015, here are some quick updates:

  • Stephen and I had a lovely wedding day on June 18, 2016, and we are quite enjoying marriage. (Almost a full year!)wedding
  • Stephen and I now live in Cuyahoga Falls, OH, but I’m still a Spartan. Go Green!
  • By God’s grace, I completed my first year of teaching at the amazing Roberts Middle School here in Cuyahoga Falls.
  • In about 5 weeks, Stephen will start a new job that we are so grateful for and so excited about! (More details on that later. :))
  • In just over a week, we are going to Europe!

If you’re interested in Stephen’s and my love story, our wedding website is still up –though not updated– Morris Wedding website. And if you’re interested in pictures, check out either of our Facebook pages. 🙂

 

To Europe!

On to the exciting new news, though: God has provided a way for Stephen and me to go to Hungary and France this summer! In short, my Hungarian friend Anna contacted us earlier this year. She’s a strong believer with fierce faith who invited us to come teach at the English camp that her church is hosting in Kecskemet, Hungary, in June. Stephen and I prayed and hoped and received godly counsel. Through God’s providence and a nice refund from the US government, we bought tickets to Europe! We are so grateful and so excited for how God will work this summer. We would love your prayers in the following areas:

Please pray for…

  • open hearts and minds that are ready to hear and receive the Gospel. The English camp in Kecskemet is boldly evangelistic, and we’re excited to partner with Kecskemeti Baptista Gyulekezet (Kecskemet Baptist Church website). (Just hit “translate.”)
  • Stephen and me to seek God and to listen and respond to His Spirit. A good amount of this trip is fluid and flexible. We want to be a blessing and an encouragement to the Believers we spend time with. We want to draw unbelievers closer to Christ. And we want to bring honor to God throughout the trip.

 

As for our itinerary, here are the generalities:

June 14– We head to Europe!

June 15-18– Time with Anna and the church family, preparing for the English Camp.

June 19-23– Angol Tabor! (English Camp!) Pray for Gospel-transformation.

June 24-30– Touring around Hungary and joining Anna in ministry.

July 1-8– Staying in Strasbourg, France, and spending time with dear missionary friends of ours.

 

If you would like more details of our trip or how you can pray with and for us, please contact us! My new email is abbymorris16@gmail.com. We’ll try to update the blog during our adventure, hopefully with pictures! 🙂

We are grateful for your interest and your prayers!

~Abby and Stephen Morris

A Taste of my Summer

I wish that summer could keep going forever. (Cliché, right?) I’m living the dream here at Glorywood Farm. I wake up around 8:30, and mosey down the stairs to our Keurig where I make my 2/3 coffee, 1/3 French vanilla creamer morning beverage. I let our wild-child 1.5 year old yellow lab out of his kennel, and we venture outside. I play with Cedar for a bit, trying to tire him out one round of fetch at a time. I clean two stalls, get grain ready for the evening, put hay in stalls, fill water tanks, dump manure, shovel clean shavings, and in general love living here. I give Cedar more attention, mostly just to make sure that he isn’t destroying anything in our yard, then return to the house for the rest of my breakfast and my morning devotions.

The rest of my day might include anything from making phone calls about limos and cakes to (finally) driving into town to register to vote to driving down to Akron for a visit to filling out applications for a real-life teacher job.

I hope that I was thankful for this summer while it was happening. I mean, I really hope that I thanked God daily just for his grace and blessings and inordinate goodness to me. Because now, looking back at the past few months since I returned from Niger, I am deeply grateful for the joys and challenges and space that God gave me. I’m reminded that I don’t need to get stamps in my passport in order to see where God is working. I can witness Him and I can join in right here, from Glorywood Farm in sweet little Freeland, Michigan.

Now that I’ve given the broad overview, here are a few details/insights into specific areas of my life this summer:

Freaking out—Wedding Planning Style

I hadn’t even been home a week when it happened. It started with a slight anxious feeling that threatened to escalate to a bursting point. I got smart, grabbed my journal, a pen, and a blanket. I positioned myself strategically on the hammock—outside where maybe I could relax, somewhat removed from family goings-on, in a comfortable position. Then the waterworks started. I was either naïve or clueless, though, because I didn’t grab Kleenex from the get go. I cried and journaled and asked God and myself lots of questions. Everything from wedding planning to my attitude to friends in Niger to my dad (more on him later). Through the tears and snot and subsequent headache, I released fears and lies to God in exchange for peace.

My wedding does not need to be perfect. In fact, it won’t be perfect. It can be good and fun, but it’s also not a direct reflection of Stephen and me. And if I can recognize that yes, I do care quite a bit about various aspects of our wedding, then it will make it a lot easier to communicate and exchange ideas with my fiancé and my mom. 🙂 (I now know to preface certain statements with, “I’ve already thought about this, and I’m attached to this idea, so if you don’t agree, please just tell me gently.” Yes, I’ve actually used that line, and yes, it has helped.) After my confessional and refocusing time, wedding planning has been significantly more fun, for which I am exceedingly grateful.

The best parts about planning this wedding:

  • We still have lots of time, so we don’t feel rushed.
  • Stephen is wonderful and very helpful in all of the planning. And he’s not just a “This is my opinion because I think it’s what you want to hear” kind of fiancé. He has his own opinions, he communicates them well, and he likes to work together on various aspects of this day. Yes, he’s a total winner.
  • I’m living at home, so that simplifies communicating with my mom. Also, I like my mom, so that makes working together on this just that much more fun. 🙂
  • I’m actually quite enjoying working with different vendors. I never would have met these people otherwise, but now we’re talking and interacting and sharing visions and working together and I had no idea that I would enjoy this process the way that I am. I think that’s the collaborator in me.
  • Every time I work on wedding details, I think about marrying Stephen and finally living in the same place, doing life together. Heck yeah.

Now, we’re in the “8-10 months out” phase of planning and preparing. I’m still definitely working on wedding plans, but I’m also being reminded to focus on marriage prep. Stephen and I started asking about and looking into some Gospel-focused marriage books, so we’ll probably start reading one of those pretty soon. Of course, nothing will truly, fully prepare us for the life-change of marriage, but hey—how could it hurt to read some good books? 🙂

If you walk with your Daddy—a Children’s book by Abby Cline, shamelessly modeled after the works of Laura Numeroff

When your Daddy is building up strength again, he might want to go for walks.

And if Daddy is going for walks, he might want some company.

Maybe, when you come home from Africa, your Daddy might ask you and your fiancé to go on a walk with him. You’ll say yes.

If you and your fiancé walk with your dad, you might create a pattern. So when your fiancé goes home, you’ll still go on walks with your dad.

If you continue going on walks with your Daddy, you will probably talk a lot with him. You might have silly talks about almost nothing. You might have serious talks about deep social issues. You might even start telling your Daddy things that you haven’t told your mom yet. (But that you tell her later. When you remember. I love you, Mommy. 😉 )

And when you walk and talk with your Daddy, you will realize that even though you were scared when Daddy was sick, God was still in control. Even though Daddy was in pain, and Mommy sometimes worried, and life got really hard for your family for 8 long weeks, these walks might show you just how faithful God is.

And if you keep walking with your Daddy, you will soon realize that you, your Daddy, and your relationship with him are all getting the same thing: stronger.

Afterword to “If you walk with your Daddy”

First of all, if anyone wants to illustrate this story, I’d be okay with that. Secondly, here are some details to help fill the gaps. A week or two before I left for Niger, around the end of March, my family found out that my Dad had throat cancer. As you can imagine, this did not make me excited to leave my family for 2 months. My dad started treatment before I left. He then continued his 8-week treatments while I was gone. I can’t really speak for just how hard that process was back home. For me, it was

  • wishing I could be home, even though I couldn’t have tangibly helped.
  • Thanking God for my friends at Sahel. Students, teachers, and friends were all lifting my dad up in their prayers. If I hadn’t gone back to Sahel, I don’t think all those people would have been praying for my dad. Just another way God brought things together for good.
  • Not really knowing how bad things were at some points.
  • Learning to trust God and surrender my dad and mom and family to Him.
  • Two very busy months.

Then I came home. At first, recovery was hard for my dad. After 8 weeks of 5-days-a-week radiation and 3 chemotherapy treatments, his body had taken a beating. So had his spirits. But God. God has been so faithful to my Dad and my family. Over the past 4 weeks, my father went from not speaking and using a stomach tube to full-on-conversations, going to work partial days, eating and drinking lots, and yes, going for walks. And I’m reminded right now, as I write this, that I have so very much to thank God for.

My dad’s PET scan (the scan to see where any cancer might be) is not for another few weeks. Between now and then, we’ll just keep building strength and menu options. And we’ll keep thanking God for how He has carried us all through this dark valley.

God’s grown-up-style blessings

While some of these announcements still freak me out a bit, they’re also really exciting and totally grace a Dieu (thanks to God)

  • I have a job! This fall, I’ll work at Valley Lutheran High School as a Special Needs Aide. It’s a part-time position where I get to work one-on-one with several students, helping them with schoolwork, organizational skills, and general success at school. I’m so grateful and excited to join the VLHS staff in this really student-oriented position.
  • I have a role in a play! Actually, I have two roles. 🙂 I auditioned for a community theatre production in July, and I had a blast just at the auditions. The show is called Runagate, and it’s an original production based on the poem “Runagate, Runagate,” by Robert Hayden. I’m sure I’ll post more about this later. Our performance is November 14, and rehearsal begins September 12, and I’m ecstatic!
  • I started looking for a new car. Weird, right? For those who don’t know, I’ve been driving my older sister’s ’97 teal pick-up truck since about my sophomore or junior year at Cedarville. Don’t get me wrong: I love Killer. But after 201,000 miles, two run-ins (literally) with a parking garage, and kind of terrible gas mileage, it might be time for a grown-up car. So, the process has started, and once again, I’m so grateful for my Dad who went with me to look at new (new to me—clearly used) vehicles.
  • I’ve been working through a really great devotional book called Taking Every Thought Captive by Alaine Pakkala. I stumbled across this book as Stephen’s church was clearing out their old library. Basically, Pakkala has been offering verses to memorize and strategies for Bible study, and it’s all been really straightforward and really helpful. I haven’t been consistent or even adequate at memorizing Scripture since I left Grace Christian School in 2007. It was about time, and it’s been a wonderful transition.

Thank you

Thanks for reading. Thanks for praying. Thanks for loving my friends, students, and colleagues in Niger. Sahel Academy started school on August 12. Please continue praying that they have an amazing school year, even as they are a bit under-staffed.

When Oceans Rise

Have I already mentioned how this song almost always makes me cry? Because it does. I’ve had a few times when I can sing it with dry eyes, but for the most part, the timing or the words or my emotions combine with the music and lyrics to coax my close-to-the-surface tears (and snot) to come streaming down my face. This past week, I’ve gained a whole new understanding of oceans rising and feet failing. I’d say it’s been an “emotional roller coaster,” but that’s cliché and gives the connotation of something fun and exciting. While this week has had some exciting and fun moments, it’s also been rather challenging, heartbreaking, and just plain sad.

June at Sahel
One of the other missionary families here at Sahel has a common saying for the beginning of the summer: “June sucks.” Of course, Sahel students and teachers alike eagerly await the beginning of summer, in some senses. We love the freedom from planning teaching grading, homeworking, studying, and taking way too many IGCSE exams. We enjoy the accomplishment of finishing another school year. However, we also know that the end of the school year means the beginning of even more goodbyes. Seniors are graduating and leaving this place. Some families will be gone for only one year, maybe for a home assignment. Other families are changing locations, transitioning to a different ministry or job. Teachers come and go and mostly go, especially the pesky ones who had to go and get engaged. So amidst 5th grade and 8th grade recognitions, finishing exams, and a wonderful graduation ceremony, the Sahel community also has to say way too many goodbyes.

This happens every year. Can you imagine? Every year you love and cherish friends and teachers, only to say goodbye and never know if or when you’ll see them again. But this year, we had another unexpected, untimely, unfair goodbye to say.

Jesse Jones

On Friday, May 29, I gave a final exam to 18 of my students. Some time around 9:30, Jesse came up to my desk in the computer lab and handed me his typed response to the 2 essay questions he chose to answer for his World Literature exam. Even though he had missed the past few weeks of school due to illness, I had no doubt that Jesse was turning in high quality writing with a depth and understanding of the questions and the texts he referenced in his answers. He was always a diligent, high-achieving student in World Literature.

By 8:00pm that same day, Jesse had passed away.

He had been sick for a few weeks. I don’t understand everything that was going on, but maybe a half hour after he turned in his exam to me, Sahel staff rushed him to the medical clinic after he became very ill outside the school library. He stabilized that afternoon, and Jesse was able to talk with his mom and his older brother, Jordan, for a few minutes. Jesse talked about how he felt like he should be worried, but he just had so much peace. Jordan Jones was also in my World Literature class, and he graduated this past Thursday.

Here’s what you need to know about this whole mess of reality:

  • Jesse loved God with all his heart. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind of where he is right now. He is whole. His body is healed. He is worshipping His Savior, and He has more joy and happiness than he could have ever known on earth.
  • All but 1 of the elementary students were off Sahel’s campus, at the pool on Friday morning. They did not see Jesse that morning, and they will not remember Jesse as he was outside the library that morning.
  • He passed away before the end of the school year, while all of the Sahel community is still here in Niamey, able to love and comfort and mourn together.
  • God is good. He is here. He is sovereign. Death is not natural, and it was not in the original plan back in Eden. And yet, God redeems all things for His glory.

For these and many other reasons, I’m choosing to praise God through the pain, tears, confusion, sorrow.

Since last Friday

I’ve been to a great many events and processed a number of experiences since last Friday. While I’m sure I’ll go to some similar events and work through similar thoughts in my future, I certainly hope that I have time in between for healing.

I went to the home of a family who had lost their 11th grade son. I looked through childhood photos of a sweet, kind, smiley young man with the world’s most impressive dimples. I listened as a grieving mother remembered her last day with her son.

I looked through photos on the school computer to create a slide show for Jesse’s memorial service on May 31st. After that service, I had the chance to talk with one of my amazing, resilient, godly, courageous, and hurting now-11th-grade students. His thoughts and processing challenged and inspired me, and I was honored to be a listening ear for him.

I attended the funeral of one of my students. Do you know how much that hurts? I stood with one of Jesse’s classmates and tried to speak truth to her while the sweat dripped down my legs and the tears threatened to spill down my face. “Nothing you did or did not do caused this to happen.” “Yes, God could still bring Jesse back, but Jesse doesn’t really want to come back now. He’s in heaven.” “It’s okay to grieve in your own way; we all grieve differently.” And as they carried the closed casket directly in front of us, I held her tighter and supported more of her weight, literally and figuratively carrying this burden of reality and sorrow.

I also went to a graduation banquet, a final assembly, and a graduation ceremony to celebrate all of the achievements of these amazing Sahel students over the past years. We laughed together, we remembered, we prayed, we ate great food, and we said goodbyes. Only, really, we don’t quite say “goodbye” here.

Uncle Jim

A little over 8 years ago, my Grandpa Cline passed away. I still remember how distraught I was after viewing what used to be my grandpa in the casket. After the viewing, our dear family friend, Uncle Jim, spoke a beautiful truth to me:

“You know, for Christians, we don’t really have to say goodbye. We just say ‘See you later.’”

He might not remember saying that to me, but clearly I haven’t forgotten. So to sweet Jesse, to the amazing class of 2015 at Sahel Academy, to my students in all 5 classes that I taught these past 2 months, to the many other students who befriended me, and to the marvelous staff, my amazing friends, here at Sahel, I say see you later. And really, in the grand scheme of things, see you soon.

In the next week

I have a feeling that the ocean will stay pretty high for the next few weeks as I transition and process. I have 4 more days here in Niger before I fly back to the States. In these next few days, I have more “See you laters” to say. I also have some packing, cleaning, and classroom-preparing to do. Then on Friday, I get to see my fiancé again for the first time in 2 months. 🙂 Gracious am I grateful for that.

So in the next week, the week after, and the weeks to come, I’ll keep processing and praying. I’ll keep missing people and places. Hopefully, maybe, I’ll keep updating this blog. 🙂 (I mean, I’ll definitely let you know when I’m home, no worries.) I’ll keep learning about preaching truth to myself, which I realized in the past few weeks that I’m not so great at. So, I’ll start with part of the Oceans song.

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander

And my faith will be made stronger

In the presence of my savior…

For I am yours,

And you are mine.

And of course, I’ll go back to the source of truth:

“Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Psalm 73:23-26

Also, I wrote that passage in my journal on May 14th, over two weeks before Jesse passed away. God is good and faithful.

Thank you again for your prayers.

Discovering Daily Treasures

In October of 2013, my dear friend Pat Bates gave me a book: Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young. My sister also has a copy of this book, and we somewhat-jokingly believe that God might switch around the pages every once in a while so that every day that you read this devotional, you read precisely what you need to hear. Yesterday morning/afternoon, I read about “hidden treasures strategically placed” along my path for each day. Young clarified that these treasures might be “trials” or other “blessings” (150). Over the last few weeks, I’ve been discovering both types of treasures: the trials and the blessings.

IGCSE Relief

As of last Friday, all of my students have finished their IGCSE exams! This is a huge relief for both my students and for me. (There’s still one class of students here at Sahel who have to take 2 Sociology exams next Thursday and next Monday, so you can continue praying for those students and their instructor.) Now that the exams are done, we’re finishing up group projects in 3 of my 5 classes. The crazy thing is, we only have until this Thursday to finish these projects!

For the high school at Sahel, exams are Friday the 29th and Monday the 1st, so after Thursday, my main responsibilities will be grading and organizing all of the teaching materials for my classes for whoever will be teaching these courses next year. And yes, I am certainly anticipating that both of those activities will take way longer than I could ever hope or imagine.

Yearbook Adventures

There are so many qualities that I admire about my fiancé. On his extensive repertoire, his experiences and skills with helping to create a yearbook especially amaze me. And let me tell you what—it certainly would have been nice to co-advise the yearbook class with Stephen this quarter. 🙂 There are just so many details, so much checking and rechecking, so many technological questions and answers to discover when it comes to actually taking a yearbook to print. It also doesn’t really help that everyone’s reactions to “Oh, we used Publisher to make this yearbook,” all resemble pleasant shock and surprise.

The cons: It’s rough being a perfectionist when you don’t really know what you’re doing. It’s also a bit rough representing a yearbook staff and an entire school when I make decisions about which page will go where and how much to crop off and where the title should fit on the spine. Also, our visits to the printers are rarely planned and don’t always happen at my most convenient times. Hence the trial-treasure theme.

The pros: I’ve been able to visit the Nigerien printing company multiple times, practicing my French and my Nigerien communication skills all the while. I’ve also had some good cross-cultural conversations with Joel, Sahel’s business agent, as we sat in traffic or waited for the 1pm prayers to end. Also, it’s done! The books are printed and sewn. Now they’re printing and gluing on the covers. Praise the Lord!

Koba and the Red Lion

I had the amazing privilege of helping with the middle school play these past few weeks! We did a one-act, African-fable type show in which a young boy learns to be courageous and selfless as he fights the Red Lion, saving his family and his village from danger. I had a marvelous time helping out the director as we created a set, brainstormed for costumes for a monkey, a zebra, a vulture, etc. I also had the chance to be in the sound booth, calling out cues for our awesome soundboard operator. Of course, I loved being a part of the production, simply due to my love of theatre and the joy that comes from watching students create live art. Selfishly, I also loved being a part of the production staff. I thought of A Very Common Procedure and The Last 5 Years and Purgatorio—I’m so grateful for the chances that I had to Stage Manage for Cedarville senior theatre projects. And yes, I thought frequently of Taming of the Shrew and the other shows that I’ve been in through the years. If I can figure out how to stay on one continent for a prolonged amount of time, I think I might need to audition for some community theatre. 🙂

Under the Weather

The past couple of days (really just since Friday morning), I haven’t been feeling very well. Food rarely enjoys staying in my system for extended periods of time. Not to worry: I’m staying hydrated, I’m taking it easy, and I’m resting a lot. I’ve also taken some medication and I’ve been talking with our school nurse. I guess I’m only mentioning this to say that prayers are appreciated, and I’d really love to be able to be fully invested in school this last week. I feel like a really crappy teacher when I’m only feeling well enough to sit behind the desk and watch my students work on projects. Thank you for your prayers.

7 Pieces of Double Bubble

Why would someone chew 7 pieces of Double Bubble at one time? That is an excellent question. Another excellent question might be, Why would 16 missionary women sit quietly in a back room with no electricity, and then shout “Surprise!”? And finally, Why would someone have a surprise bridal shower when that person isn’t getting married for over a year? You guessed it: Because I have amazing, loving, caring, selfless friends here at Sahel.

Last Friday night, I thought that I was going to dinner at a friend’s house with Hannah, Rachel, and April. It turns out, I was going to my first bridal shower! After a long week and an even longer Friday, I couldn’t even express how encouraged and loved I felt all through the evening. (Oh, and the electricity did come back on, don’t worry.) We had delicious food—fresh summer salads, brochettes, and really yummy desserts. We played some party games, digging through our purses for used tissues and 3-month old receipts; scrambling to think of love songs that start with “B,” “R,” “I,” “D,” and “E;” and finally, watching me add a piece of gum to my mouth for each question that I answered incorrectly about my fiancé. I did get 13 out of 20 questions correct, but clearly we have more to learn about each other. 🙂 Good thing we’ve got our whole lives to learn.

The evening ended with some of my friends praying for me, for Stephen, and for us. I am so blessed and so grateful. It may be a long year of engagement, but I have high expectations for what God will teach us and how He will lead us even just through our engagement, not to mention our marriage.

Prayer and Praise and Leaving Well

Last night, at the end of a student event called O.M.C. (Organized Mass Chaos), some of the students led a prayer and praise session. We sang a song or two, then had time for guided prayers, either in groups or individually. It was wonderful. I love the songs that we sing at the Nigerien church I attend, whether we’re singing in French or in Hausa. I also enjoy the songs we sing at the evening English worship service here on campus, although I rarely know all of those songs. The songs we sang last night, however, reminded me of Cedarville and Hopevale and trips to Hungary. We sang “Revelation Song,” “How Great is our God,” “The Stand,” and “Oceans.” So yes, naturally, I cried. (“Oceans” can make me cry more reliably than onions can.) I looked around the room at these amazing students from so many countries and backgrounds and families, and all I could think was, “I have to leave again.” This time more than last time, I’ve been really looking forward to being home. I think having a fiancé to come home to is definitely influencing my mindset, but I’m sure there are other factors. However, last night, all I felt was sorrow knowing that once again, I have to say goodbye. And once again, I have no idea when/if I’ll see these people again, this side of Heaven.

As “Oceans” started to play, I made my way over to Hannah, tapped her on the shoulder, and latched on to her as our tears fell. I guess it’s good to start the grieving, the leaving sooner rather than later. And it was certainly good to start the grieving process while also singing praises to our good, constant, faithful, strong God, for “We are His, and He is ours.”

Humble Yourselves

For the May 22nd reading in Jesus Calling, one of the verses listed was I Peter 5:6. When I looked it up, I couldn’t help but notice verse 7, as well. I think I frequently only hear verse 7. It was really good for me to dwell on how verses 6 and 7 connect.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

I Peter 5:6-7

Amen. Thanks for praying.