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.

Settling back in

I think the biggest difference is that I’m no longer doing homework for Cedarville. I can’t lie: it is wonderful to not be doing Cedarville homework right now. 🙂 There are many other differences between my time at Sahel last fall and my time right now, but the lack of Cedarville assignments is definitely an obvious blessing.

The people have changed. This community will forever be a revolving door of comings and goings. I had the chance to say goodbye to many people last December, but there are friendly faces that left before I returned. The friend groups and dynamics have altered slightly compared to last fall. Certain students have switched classes or gone on home assignment, giving our discussions and conversations in class a different vibe. Beyond that, though, people just change. We mature and grow and digress and stumble along through various experiences that impact, affect, change us.

I’ve also changed. I can’t always tell the difference between “faking it til I’m making it” and genuinely having confidence in the classroom, but I’ll take either approach at this point. With no Dietrich to back me up on teaching choices (except that he’s still great about responding to my emails) and no Jenn to bounce ideas off of (again, save through email), I have to gain some independence in the classroom. I will say, I’m learning to enjoy having my own space to teach, to facilitate discussions, to encourage collaboration and learning. I love listening to and engaging in conversations about Persepolis and religion, Nervous Conditions and racial equality, Silas Marner and the complexity of human character. I still have so, so much to learn about teaching, but I’m deeply grateful to Sahel for trusting me to teach, prepare, instruct, educate their students. I missed the young adults that I get to teach, and I’m so happy to be reunited with them.

“Becoming more adventurous”

Last summer, when Stephen and I had only been dating for about 2 months, he gave me a remarkable gift. He presented me with a stack of envelopes and gave me instructions to open one envelope every other day for the duration of his time working at the Christian summer camp Skyview Ranch. Each picture included a chalkboard sign describing something that he appreciates about me. (I know, right? He’s so great. :)) Those even-numbered days were a constant highlight through last summer.

In one of my favorite pictures, Stephen is hanging upside down on a set of monkey bars, his legs hooked on one of the bars. He’s sticking out his tongue, his hair is listening more to gravity than to him, and he’s holding the chalkboard that says that I am “… becoming more adventurous.”

Granted, he was partially mocking me in this picture, referencing past conversations that we’ve had about risk-taking, being brave, and seeking adventures. But I’m realizing that for me, becoming adventurous connects closely with listening to the Holy Spirit. You see, I hate failure. I’m a recovering perfectionist, and I sometimes can’t handle not succeeding. It’s an issue, for sure. So for me, listening to the Holy Spirit, being willing to make a fool of myself, and trying something new are all intertwined.

Here’s what this means for me right now:

  • I used a sewing machine for the first time to hem a small headscarf—more like a big head band. (Kathy owns a sewing machine. :))
  • I went jogging—twice. The second time, I initiated it. I’m finally trusting God enough to ignore my non-constructive self-talk and just start working out.
  • I also attempted cartwheeling. I’m a 23 year-old girl who has never learned how to cartwheel. I’m still learning, but at least I’m trying.
  • I played volleyball in the pool with some boys at the American Embassy Rec Center. I’m assuming that they were Nigerien. They were probably middle school-aged and we passed and set the make-shift volleyball in the pool for a couple of hours.
  • This morning I ended up leading the teaching of a Kids’ Club in Kwarateji, a village just outside of Niamey. I was visiting with my friend April, another Sahel teacher, and the Nigerien believer leading the club asked if I wanted to teach the lesson in French and have him translate into Zarma. Talk about praying for the right words from the Lord! We talked about Cain and Abel and how sin requires a payment of death. Then we connected the Old Testament sacrifices to Jesus’ ultimate, final sacrifice for us. Why is it that I’m sometimes bolder about my faith in French than I am en anglais?

At least in the small things, I think I’m learning to be brave.

Sahel life

May is upon us, and school is getting busy. In some classes, I’m struggling to figure out how I’m going to fill every class that we have left. In other classes, I’m really struggling to finish up the units that we currently have going. Some of my students have taken at least 2 of their IGCSE exams. I have 5 more exams (papers) to prepare my students for. Each course has between 2 and 3 separate exams/papers that students must take. After next week, my 9th graders will be done with their English exams. Hallelujah!

Speaking of the amazing 9th grade class, they successfully completed their 4th Movie Night fundraiser last Thursday! They did an excellent job, and I’m so grateful for my co-sponsor Rachel and all of the 9th grade parents. We had a great time preparing and serving loaded baked potatoes while families from the missionary and Sahel community came to watch Big Hero 6. It does feel good, as a pseudo/stand-in class sponsor, to have this event over. More than that, though, it feels wonderful to have worked with such a great 9th grade class!

Another huge praise: we sent the yearbook to the printers!! Granted, I don’t have a hard copy yet, and that will make me feel much better when I can actually hold our finished yearbooks. But once again, I’m feeling so proud of and grateful for the yearbook staff this year. I’m also really grateful for Dietrich who helped them to get so much done during the first half of this semester! Thank you for your prayers for this task.

We have 3.5 weeks of school left. What?! How did that happen? Didn’t I just get here? Time flies when your “first year of teaching” is actually a fall semester of student teaching and then less than 2 months at the end of the school year.

Also, please keep in mind and in prayer the needs for Sahel Academy for this upcoming school year. We still need a 4th grade teacher, a high school English teacher, and math and science teachers for middle and high school. Additionally, the school really needs a new director so that the Administrative team does not have to carry that weight of responsibility. Thank you for praying with us and for us. We’re praising God and waiting expectantly to see how He is already planning to fill these needs.

God speaking

I’m trying something new in my journal. In a conversation that I had with Mrs. Morris a few weeks ago, she mentioned that sometimes she writes in a journal in one color of ink for her thoughts and prayers, then a different color of ink for what God tells her. I thought about that quite a bit. I’m relatively consistent with my communications with God in that I talk at Him a good amount. I tell Him my anxious thoughts. I praise Him from time to time. I tell Him my fears, hopes, concerns, petitions. But how frequently do I seem to really hear from Him?

I’m starting to write in cursive when I feel like I’m hearing God’s words. (Yes, my wonderful elementary teachers at Grace Christian School did teach me how to write in cursive.) I don’t mean to be pretentious; I’m not getting specific messages from God. I’m not hearing an audible voice calling to me in the wee hours of the morning. “Yes, Eli, I’m here.” I just mean that I’m trying to quiet myself a bit more than usual so that I can receive whatever passages or phrases from Scripture God is trying to remind me of. I’ve also been reading Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot, which has been both encouraging and challenging, reminding me to truly wait on the Lord. It’s a slow struggle for sure, but I get the feeling this is one of those good struggles.

Prayers

  • Pray for 9th and 10th graders taking their IGCSE exams in the upcoming weeks.
  • Pray for 11th and 12th graders taking AP tests.
  • Pray for and end to the meningitis outbreak. Pray for quick, effective treatment for those who are sick.
  • Pray for my family back home, for good health and great time with the Lord.
  • Pray for Stephen and me, that we will continue loving each other well while also living presently where we are.

Praises

  • The yearbook is at the printers!
  • The Movie Night was a great success.
  • We’re making it through hot season. 🙂
  • God pursues us, and He is so, so good.