Learning to be Adventurous

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.

A Long Overdue Update

I should stop being a hypocrite. I’m having my students in World Literature write Personal Essays (which I’m loving, by the way), and I’ve realized that I’ve been slacking off in my own commitment to write.

Also, I read the note from Amanda Custer labeled, “Open when you haven’t blogged in a while.” Oh, hello Conviction. I was wondering where you’d been. It’s so nice to have you back.

But really, thanks, Amanda.

Since we’re working on organization in World Literature, tone in English 9, presentations in ICT, and editing in Yearbook, I’m feeling quite a bit of pressure to make this a good blog post. Here goes nothing.

First, the bad.

My awful week

Last week was a terrible week. It just was. I went home sick on Monday after throwing up and feeling like I might faint. Wednesday contained one of the worst classes ever—complaining students, feeling like I hadn’t prepared them well, not knowing how to handle classroom discipline issues, etc. Then on Thursday, I dropped the Yearbook tripod on my toe, causing it to bleed and me to almost pass out. All of this, combined with sheer exhaustion and expert pity partying, resulted in my lying on my bedroom floor last Thursday evening, heaving with sobs and wondering what I’d done wrong. Why was this week so hard? Did I slip into pride again? Was I trying to do this by myself? What was God teaching me through this? And how could I change so that I never ended up with another terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week like this one?

Then my dear friend Hannah spoke wisdom and life into me: “I don’t know, Abby. I don’t feel like it’s anything that you’ve done wrong. Sometimes, you just have to be. You just have to be.

I allowed those words to scare me first. I did one of those chuckle-sobs or giggle-cries, when you’re still upset, but you know that you’re being ridiculous. “But if I didn’t do anything wrong, then I’m really not in control of this situation.”

At that moment, God brought to mind some key truths for me to cling to:

  • Christ is all I need. (If you know Cedarville and Dr. Brown, then you know the tune to which I heard this truth.)
  • Christ is more than enough for me.
  • I want Jesus to be my everything.

All of that from a crappy week of human failings and insufficiencies. I hope that I remember last week. I hope that I remember just how broken I was, how heavy my head was with the weight of my sinuses and my shortcomings, how red my face was after I finally just cried the tears til they stopped. I hope that I remember the liberating peace when I believed God at His Word. I choose to believe that Christ really is all that I need, even when I’m a hot mess of selfish emotions. I pray that I remember that.

Thankfully, my week did improve from there.

Professional Development Day

We didn’t have school on Friday due to a Professional Development Day. I want to clarify what this is, for both the educationally-minded and for those of you who no longer live by a school calendar. Typically, these days are painful, boring, and filled with teachers whining about how much grading and planning they could be doing instead of sitting in pointless meetings. Super cheery and encouraging, huh? I know that the issue is mostly attitude, but I also just have to say: Sahel has good PD days.

The recipe for an uplifting PD Day

  • Start with at least 30 minutes of praise, worship, and prayer. Communally, as the entire staff.
  • Add practical teaching advice and demonstrations from the secondary and elementary principals.
  • Gently stir in some teambuilding activities.
  • Allow the staff to simmer as they eat delicious fried rice and nems.
  • Thoroughly mix all ingredients with a collaborative discussion about classroom management, after a week when you were the poster child for a mis-mananged classroom.
  • Then finish the day with a time of chatting and prayer with your mentor and other mentees.

So yeah. Not only did I not have to plan and teach for Friday; I also had the chance to benefit from the wisdom and conversation of those older, wiser, and infinitely more experienced than I.

Sunday with M. Grandouiller

Last Sunday I had the immense privilege of spending the day with my friend M. Grandouiller. I had no idea how encouraging and revitalizing time with M. Grandouiller would be. The first time I saw him here in Niger, I felt my smile all the way down in my toes. He was someone from home, even though he’s not from Michigan. He’s someone who knew me before July 31. And he’s someone who was excited to see me, too.

Sunday was full of cultural experiences, good food, and great conversations in French, Tamajaq, and English. We went to church together at a very multicultural church where one of my student’s fathers is the pastor. Then we went back to the compound where M. Grandouiller was staying. A Tamajaq friend of M. Grandouiller’s brought us lunch: ground millet and gambo. (Spelling is questionable at best.) While I still don’t remember our guest’s name—something along the lines of Attahar—it was wonderful to speak some hesitant French with him, and it was great to see the joy with which he and Monsieur talked.

Then in the evening, after the English service, Monsieur took me out to dinner. While the nice Italian restaurant was closed, we had a great time at Dragon D’or (The Golden Dragon). We missed you, Madame Grandouiller, but we still had a great time eating nems, watching France 24, and discussing Cedarville, theology, ideologies, and life on the mission field. I hope that you read this, Monsieur, and I hope that you realize that I so appreciate the time that you spent with me. I also hope that my daddy reads this. My time with Monsieur reminded me of our Daddy-daughter dates, and, well—I miss you. But it’s a good kind of missing. It’s the I-can’t-wait-to-see-you kind that still allows me to live here, in this moment, full of joy and contentment. So, Daddy-daughter date in December? 🙂

An edTPA update

First of all, I need to say thank you. Thank you so much to all of you who are reading and listening to me as I whine and complain about the edTPA project. For those who have been fortunate enough to miss out on the obnoxious levels of anxiety that I associate with this assignment, here’s the reality:

The state of Ohio and Cedarville University want to make sure that I’m a good teacher.

Bam. There it is. Consequently, I have 3 Tasks to complete before November 7. I have a rough—I repeat, rough—draft of Task 1 completed. Which means that it isn’t really complete. But still. I have started and almost finished filming for Task 2. Let me just say, it is pretty hilarious to rewatch some of this film. I should probably be critiquing myself more, but to start with, I was just cracking up at all of the side conversations. The gems:

  • the level of acceptability of airline food
  • ebola in the States
  • the necessity of wearing seatbelts and calling an ambulance
  • requests for making music videos in class
  • requests for making parodies of music videos, also in class
  • reasons why the humans should have won in Avatar
  • A question, “Wait, there’s a movie of The Joy Luck Club?”
  • Followed by the passionate exclamatory: “Then why are we reading the book?!”
  • Followed by throw-your-head-back laughter.

Sometimes all I can say is, “Yes, this is real life right now.” Then I smile. 🙂

So the edTPA is still coming along. And I’m so grateful for the prayers that are shepherding me through this challenge. I can’t even call it a trial, mostly because I knew it would be coming and it’s part of my homework this semester. Filming today went so, so well. I seriously thought, in the middle of class, “So many people must be praying for me.” So thank you.

More ways for us to pray:

  • Please pray for the end of the Ebola crisis here in West Africa. No, it still isn’t in Niger, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be pleading with our Father to end this crisis.
  • I need to surrender my anxiety and my desire for control. Again. The edTPA is not going to ruin me unless I let it.
  • Pray for my students, please. Some of them have struggles more real than I can comprehend. Others just need help and guidance as they grow up and –hopefully—mature. Pray for patience and wisdom for me, too, please.

Just a few reasons to praise God:

  • He is all we need.
  • Fall Break is just around the corner (Oct 11-20). 🙂
  • He has surrounded me with great people who are becoming my good friends.
  • I’ve had some really encouraging texting and phone conversations with friends and family over the past two weeks.
  • The cross was enough.

Eh. That was a weak organization. Hopefully my editing worked. The presentation was poor again, due to my lack of photographing skills. As for the tone, I hope that my frank yet positive diction (vocab word) allows my readers to sense a content, joyful, finding-a-home-here kind of tone. How’s that for teacher talk?

Sometimes I just can’t turn it off.