Before I left for Niger, Stephen and I would talk about my lack of adventurous spirit. Actually, Stephen would listen as I lamented my pathetic avoidance of adventure. We’d take small moments—my willingness to teach riding lessons or to walk through Pentwater by myself—in order to affirm my miniscule steps toward adventure. Per usual, he had more faith in my ability and my tendency for adventure. Consequently, for Stephen and for myself and for other friends, family, prayer supporters, readers—here are some ways that I’ve learned to be adventurous.
- Playing softball at NUTS—NUTS (Niamey Universal Tournament of Softball) is a weekend-long tournament where softball teams from Niger and Burkina Faso come together to play a distinctly American sport in a distinctly African context. Well, at least the climate is distinctly African. I sweated my way through 6 games over the 3-day tournament, and I loved it! If you are unaware of my typical disdain for all things athletic, I can explain it in this way: the failure-fearing perfectionist in me rarely allows myself to try new things in front of an experienced audience. I guess softball in this missionary community is an exception. I had a marvelous time, and even though I was exhausted at the end, I’m still so glad that I played!
- Traveling out to Galmi with minimal plans—Granted, “minimal” is totally a matter of opinion. I knew how I was getting there, how I would get back, and where I was staying. (Wow. The trip was completely planned. How was this adventurous…) I had the chance to travel the 7-hour drive to Galmi, a town east of Niamey in more south-central Niger, over the past few days. There’s a mission-run hospital out in Galmi, as well as a one-room day school. I got to travel with some great people both on the way there and on the way back. And God gave me some beautiful moments of true restfulness and vacation while I was away. I had no idea how much I needed an escape. So, after 2 and a half months in Niamey, I finally traveled farther east than the airport!
- (Finally) speaking more French—I spoke with the young father who came to the doctor’s house at 9pm to get more medicine for his baby with croup. I spoke with the bus driver when we had zero clue as to why the bus stopped and half the passengers exited. I spoke with the man selling cell phone credit, assuring him that my friend really did want dix mille, not deux mille (10,000 vs. 2,000). I spoke with the SIM driver as he took me back to Sahel, asking him if “traffic” is the meme mot in French as it is in English. It’s more accurately translated to “circulation,” for those who were wondering. Finally, after over 2 months in the amazing francophone country, I’m becoming braver in my use of French.
- Peeing behind a bush on the drive to Galmi—enough said.
- Taking a tour of the hospital at Galmi—Like the softball bravery, this means more if you know me. As background, you should know that I have passed out for the following reasons: having my blood drawn, superficially lacerating my pinky finger, seeing the blood from a horse’s leg injury, having a splinter removed from my finger, pinching my hand on a barn door. I am literally what you would call faint of heart. But I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to see the Nigerien hospital. So I warned my friend to walk behind me, just in case. I focused on not focusing deeply on any of the sights or smells I encountered. I essentially allowed myself to get an overview of the hospital without being overwhelmed. Also, God’s grace and his miracles are both very, very real. Pray for the hospital at Galmi and all of the amazing work that they do. It’s a busy place with more sickness, life, death, and unanswered questions than there are doctors or hours in the day. And the work that they do in the name of Christ and the Gospel is beautifully compelling.
- Giving and receiving life stories—To be honest, this is one of the areas where God was already working in me before I came to Niger. I love hearing other people’s stories, especially when it’s another believer describing God’s grace, goodness, and presence in his or her life. I also enjoy sharing my story, even if it means opening up and becoming vulnerable for the conversation. Here are some highlights
- A sweet divorcee who shared her pain and her wisdom from the shock and disappointment of the end of her marriage. She came out to Galmi for a few weeks to help in the hospital.
- An impressively young doctor with a brilliant capacity for learning languages, performing surgeries, and loving people. Of course, she’s also a great cook.
- A fun, sarcastic, loving family that rediscovered part of their past and part of their heart as we toured the Galmi compound and hospital.
- A deep-thinker nurse who is also in a long-distance relationship, learning to process the reality of death while also asking the tough, essential question: what does the Gospel look like in Galmi, Niger?
- A short-term-most-likely-turning-long-term missionary working with children’s ministry in Maradi, discovering how he might fit into God’s kingdom work in West Africa.
As a sidenote, a majority of these amazing people are from Australia. It’s basically required that I visit Australia at some point in my life. Probably Tasmania, specifically. I guess I’ll just have to be adventurous again. Oh darn.
God’s teaching me other ways to be adventurous. I’m trying cooperative learning activities with my 9th graders. This might only make sense to other teachers, but essentially I need all 9 of my students to effectively work well in multiple groups. It’s a challenge, but it’s also been great to remind myself of something; I need to keep high expectations for my students. In order for me to expect my students to be brave and adventurous in the classroom, taking risks and choosing to truly engage in learning, then I need to be willing to take risks, too. I need to trust them with cooperative learning and hold them accountable. Because they can work together, and they can learn more when they do. I also need to work on the essay that I said I would write with them. Right now it’s about control and safety and the man at the Chinese restaurant who warned me to be careful in Africa. I’ll post it when I finish it. (There, now the Internet will hold me accountable.)
When it comes down to it, my bravery and my willingness to be adventurous isn’t what matters. (Surprise! It’s not about me. Again.) Adventures are fun because when I escape my comfort zone, I’m reminded of how weak and broken and fragile and futile I am. I see that I am small and incapable of teaching. I see that I can’t conjugate a verb for the life of me. I see that I still have biases and prejudices and fears that I wish weren’t part of me. And I’m reminded, again, that I need Christ.
Day 1 of the SIM orientation was yesterday. One of the comments from our discussion about spiritual life here in Niger is that we cannot ignore our dependence on God. In my American context, I could probably go a few days without truly communing with God. I would be moody and cranky and altogether obnoxious to be around, but I could survive. Here? I’m a hot mess of mostly hot and messy emotions, insecurities, fears, insufficiencies. When everything is new and different—I think we used the word “unfamiliar” this morning—I cannot pretend to have it all together. And because of how Jesus and the Gospel work, that is beautiful.
So three cheers for adventure! And four cheers for God’s reminders that my ability to be adventurous comes solely from my confidence in Him. What a great and mighty God we serve.
Requests for prayer
- Motivation and diligence in working on planning, grading, and completing the edTPA
- Being present here—As I get closer to my departure date, I’m starting to think more about being home. It’s already bittersweet, and I still don’t want to leave this place. Pray with me that I make the most of the time that I have, loving and living well in this place, here and now.
Reasons for praise
- This week of break has already been so restful and rejuvenating! I’m so grateful for the time to travel, sleep, read for fun, and hear other peoples’ stories.
- Remember how I’m still healthy? That’s pretty amazing.
- Day 1 of the SIM orientation, learning about SIM and Niger and the dominant religion here—it’s been amazing and eye opening.
- God has given me some really great conversations and opportunities to verbally process recently. I thrive on that, and He’s been gracious to provide me with these chances.
- Safe travel to and from Galmi.