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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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

In One Month– In Two Weeks

In two weeks and two days, I will be on a plane from Detroit to Paris, en route to Niamey, Niger. I can still hardly believe it. The past month has been an amazing, breathtaking, overwhelming journey of watching God provide in so many ways. It’s also been a challenging time of learning about patience and joy, both in formal settings and in my day-to-day struggle. The next two weeks will be a hopefully-not-too-tumultuous transition time. I’ll have a few more temporary “lasts” before I head out, and those can be hard at times. But the ache of a “last” significantly lessens when I already have my return ticket.

God’s Provision

I’m fully funded. Wow. It still makes me smile out of both joy and embarrassment. It’s so easy to laugh at my doubts and insecurities once I’m on the other side of God’s provision. In less than a month, God provided more than the $5000 estimated cost for my trip. What a blessing!! He provided through generous, faithful gifts from my family, my friends, and a good number of my parents’ friends. I am so, so grateful. I’m grateful to God for His faithfulness and for His graciousness towards me, even when I was hesitant to trust Him. I’m also incredibly grateful for the love and support that so many people have expressed for me and for this trip back to Sahel. Thank you!

SIM Orientation

At the beginning of March, I flew down to Charlotte, North Carolina, for a week of training at SIM USA headquarters. SIM is the mission organization that I’m going through in this trip to Niger. SIM has been around since the late 1800s, and its acronym originally stood for “Sudan Interior Mission.” Today, SIM has a presence in around 50 countries, both as sending and receiving nations. That’s right—they don’t just send out of the US. Hardly. International Headquarters are currently in the US, but apparently South Korea is quickly approaching the States as the largest sending country. Clearly, I got to learn about SIM from orientation. 🙂 If you’d like to check out this Gospel-driven, need-fulfilling, prayer-focused missions agency, please visit their website: http://simusa.org/

At orientation, I had about 3 days to receive so much information, encouragement, prayer, good food, and joy from the staff and other missionaries at SIM. We talked about other cultures, about missions and evangelism, about spiritual warfare, and about bodily functions on the mission field. (Missionaries are quite comfortable talking about their digestive systems, at least from my personal experience.) I had the chance to get to know 3 other STAs (Short Term Associates). All four of us women, between the ages of 21 and 24, either are in or are heading to Africa within the year. Two of the girls are doing medical missions and the other young woman is actually going to Sahel Academy for the 2015-2016 school year. God is so good!! It was wonderful to talk with Naomi, the girl going to Sahel, and it brings me so much joy to already know one way that God is going to fill a need at Sahel for next school year.

Orientation was a wonderful time to take a break from my relatively crazy life at home in order to spiritually and mentally prepare for returning to Sahel. I still need to work on lesson plans, finish reading Persepolis, and start a myriad of packing lists, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time in North Carolina a few weeks ago. I also had the chance to have Ethiopian food and eat out of a communal plate, two new and spectacular experiences for me. 🙂

A Few of My “Lasts”

When I got home in December, I wanted to get more involved at Hopevale, my home church. I talked with our Children’s Ministry Director, and I decided to help as a small group leader for 3rd grade boys on every other Sunday morning. It’s been great! I feel like I don’t get to see them that much, since it’s only every other week for one hour. But it’s still been really fun. I think in February we were talking about kindness, and in March we’ve been learning about patience. It’s totally been what I need to learn, too, so that’s been cool. And convicting at times, no surprise. This past Sunday was my last Sunday with the boys, though. As I expected, most of them gave a general, “Okay. I’m not sure how to respond, but I hope you have fun” type of response when I told them, “Hey guys, so this is my last week hanging out with you because I’m actually going to Africa.” But one of my sweet, attentive, hair-gelled-up-in-front 3rd graders really listened. He also gave me a hug before leaving the classroom. I think he even told me to be safe. 🙂 It was just really encouraging and heartwarming to see that to some degree, I apparently have made an impression. I need to remember that “doubting myself and my impact” is actually doubting how God can use me. Because it’s Him at work, not me.

This week and next week will be my last riding lessons to teach. This is a harder goodbye because I’m pretty sure that I won’t be returning as a full-time instructor this summer. I will hopefully still help with camps at Willow Pond Stables, but I don’t have a consistent enough schedule (or life, let’s be honest) for me to recommit to teaching weekly lessons. Please pray for Karen, the barn owner, and for Roxie, the instructor who will both keep her lesson students and add my students to her roster. By the way, she also has a full-time job, so yes, she’ll be quite busy.

Thursday is going to be my last day substitute teaching. Well, I mean, I’ll be subbing at Sahel for 2 months, but this is my last day subbing in Michigan for this school year. I think I’ll actually miss it. 🙂 It’s been such a good fit for me right now, and I’m incredibly grateful that God allowed me to have as many subbing jobs as I’ve had. I’ve been able to stay pretty busy, minus our Michigan snow and cold days. I’ve had the chance to see different schools and classrooms and learning environments and students. It’s been a great way to transition before diving in to my first year as a teacher. And shoot—I don’t have to plan or grade! I know that those are both worthwhile, rewarding parts of teaching, but they sure are time consuming. And I’ve been grateful for the reprieve from those activities.

A Glance at the Next Two Weeks

Let’s be honest: I will not be writing another blog post before I leave. I’m averaging about one a month at this point, and the next 2 weeks will be especially full. Consequently, I’d like to give a little insight into what I’m thinking the next two weeks will hold. While you read, God will be chuckling at my futile attempts to plan my own life. And so:

Abby’s activities for the next 2 weeks

  • Visiting friends in Cedarville.
  • Going to see an amazing performance of Doubt at Cedarville University. (Insert shameless advertising here: http://www.cedarville.edu/Offices/Student-Life-Programs/Ticket-Information.aspx)
  • Spending time with Stephen. Praise the Lord again for his full-time job and his vacation days. 🙂
  • Making way too many lists.
  • Buying some last-minute surviving-the-desert items.
  • Celebrating Christ’s death, His resurrection, and the life He gives with my family, my church, and my boyfriend.
  • Packingpackingpacking.
  • Praying, and hopefully mostly interceding.
  • Flying back to yet another one of my homes. 🙂

I’ll probably post quick updates on facebook, and I’ll definitely try to be more faithful with blogging once I’m back in Niger. Thank you for your readership and your prayers. Have a blessed Easter, and I’ll write again (relatively) soon.

Living Presently

Right now, for many reasons and in many areas, it is challenging for me to live presently, to focus all of me on right here and right now. Instead of listening to another 3rd grader tattling on his classmate, I want to think about my SIM orientation next week. Instead of giving my riding student my full attention, I’d rather my thoughts meander toward the next time that I’ll get to see Stephen. Instead of sitting and reading my Bible and journaling, I’d rather open my planner to copy down Sahel’s school schedule for the months of April, May, and June. Instead of dwelling in contentment and joy, I’m looking toward and longing for both the near and distant future.

And of course God knows this. (I mean, duh.) And that’s why He’s showing me what’s good and excellent and important and specifically-for-me in the here and now. Yet He’s also allowing me to look ahead and do a bit of planning, one of my guilty pleasures.

God focusing me here and now

 Substitute teaching – I’m really loving it. I had a rough day in a 4th grade classroom a few weeks ago, but in general, this job has been such a blessing. I’ve been able to meet and spend time with so many students whom I never would have known otherwise. I participated in a beautiful discussion with 3rd graders about how all people should be valued because all people are valuable, no matter their skin color or the way they smell or what they look like. I’ve been able to sub in some high school English classes, too. It’s always nice to remember that I did actually learn and remember some things from Cedarville… 🙂

Teaching riding lessons– I get paid to spend time in a barn with kids and horses. Right? How great is that! And, get this: the barn aisle is heated, and we have an indoor arena. Yes, I’m completely spoiled and so grateful. Teaching at Willow Pond is still such a blessing. I do have a request, though: please pray with me that we’ll be able to find a replacement instructor for me when I go back to Niger. As much as I don’t want to be replaceable, I really do want a great instructor to be able to teach and love my students and lesson horses. While raising support is a big prayer request for me right now, so is finding another instructor for Willow Pond.

Growing in my relationship with Stephen– Gosh, he’s great. And you know, I really don’t want this blog to melt into a mushy don’t-you-wish-your-boyfriend-was-wonderful-like-mine kind of thing. I just want to publically praise God for His grace, His timing, and His wisdom. And I suppose I do want to give a few highlights from recent weeks of dating Stephen: cooking a rather delicious Valentine’s Day dinner together, joining his family in a snow ball fight, waking up to a text because he goes to work around 4am, praying together over the phone, planning our upcoming visits, trying to stay focused in the here and now of our relationship (even though “here” is technically different for both of us…), and looking to, longing for when “here” will be the same for us both. Hopefully that wasn’t too sappy. 😉

Raising support– The biggest blessing about support raising so far has been the groups that I’ve had a chance to talk with. I spoke to my dad’s Kiwanis club, a group of local businessmen who give and support and build into their community. They wanted to know about my time in Niger last fall and the opportunity that I have to go back. I also shared with my mom’s Bible study ladies; they of course have been praying for me all through last fall—and many other life phases. They graciously listened and assured me of their prayers. My time sharing with my own Community Group from Hopevale was exceedingly sweet, too. I’ve only been back in the States for 3 months, and I only really joined the group in mid-January. On top of that, we meet every other week. And yet—I’ve been so blessed by the acceptance, the discussions, the prayer, and the true biblical community that they’ve welcomed me into. It’s so encouraging. These opportunities to talk about my upcoming trip and my need for prayer and financial support—these have been a main source of encouragement for me in the past few weeks.

I’m currently at about 22% of my support raising for returning to Sahel. When the funds are in my account to buy my plane ticket, SIM will take care of that. I’d love to be able to fly out around April 10, and I’ll most likely return on or soon after June 10. If, dear reader, you are interested in supporting me financially, you can go to www.sim.org/giveusa. You’ll need my STA (Short Term Associate) number, 042528, and my full name, Abigail Cline. You’ll also need to know that I’m deeply grateful. 🙂

Looking ahead

When I do indulge myself and glance into my next few weeks, I alternate between exhilaration and terror. There are so many unknowns, so many uncertainties. All I have right now, though, is right now. That and a really good, really faithful, completely sovereign God. Something tells me that I’ll be okay. Now I just need to listen.

Change is the Only Constant

Through the month of December, I couldn’t help but think about how transient this life is. I was transitioning from student teaching in Niger, coming back to the States, back to my parents’ home, back to icy roads and free water in restaurants. I thought about my friends whom I was saying goodbye to. I thought about an aging friend in Cedarville; I almost had to say my last goodbye to her. I thought about the fact that life would not have been this tumultuous in Eden. The way God started this earth, the way we could have lived, in perfection, we wouldn’t have had all of this change. No death. One language. Perfect communion with God. People would still grow and mature and learn and develop, but I don’t think the changes would have been as painful as they are now.

But change is a part of this life. And, like all things in this life, God redeems it and uses it for His glory, for the good of those who are called according to his purpose. As much as I fear and resist change, I’m learning more and more that change mandates trust. Either I try to trust in myself or I can surrender and trust the almighty, sovereign, good Savior of the universe. Such a tough decision for my weakling heart.

The life of a substitute

I’ve started substitute teaching! It’s a real thing now. I officially love when I can accept a job before the morning-of. Those 5am calls are rough. In the past few weeks, I’ve been a teacher for high school PE (almost all boys), for 1st grade, for high school history, and for middle school drama. 🙂 I’ve also been blessed to join some special education classrooms recently. In my 8 days of subbing so far, 4 of those days have been in some kind of special education classroom. I’m really excited for how God’s been opening my eyes to the needs, the joys, and the opportunities of students who learn differently.

Subbing can be terrifying. I mean, ok, all I have to do is fill in for a teacher for a few hours, right? No big deal. And even when I had multiple sections of 40 high school guys for PE, I only had them each for 50 minutes at a time. What’s the worst that could happen? Please don’t answer that question. (Also, don’t worry—no fights, no broken bones, and some of them might actually have remembered my name by the end of the class period. )

The terrifying bit is the fact that each morning I get ready for a day full of unknowns. Sometimes, I’ve never even been in the building before. I don’t know who the other teachers are. I don’t know when classes change. For my first subbing job, I didn’t even know where the bathrooms were. Thankfully, I was only there for half the day. And almost every morning, I have a slight internal freak out: what if I can’t make it through the whole day? What if completely botch the lesson plans? Why did I ever think this was a good idea?? Of course, I keep these doubts to myself, I try to focus on breathing like a normal human, and I remind myself that God is so much bigger. And remember that one time He helped me teach in Africa? Oh yeah. That happened. Remember how He’s the same God now? Oh. Right. 🙂

Subbing is teaching me a lot about how I don’t know all the answers. It’s also been really cool to step in to fill needs. I like that a lot about subbing. Like most humans, I like being needed. Subbing allows me to, sometimes literally, respond to a call for help. I like that. And I already have 5 more jobs scheduled for February. Thanks for providing, God!!

Middle child—only child

Hey. What do middle children rarely get from their parents?

Any breaks.

Badum-cha!

But really. We also rarely get one-on-one time with parents. Sarah got Mom and Dad all to herself for a couple years before her baby “sisser” arrived, and Evan had their full attention after I went away to Cedarville. I always had to share my parents with my siblings, until now. 🙂

Thankfully, this truly is a blessing. Somehow my parents and I have navigated the transition to your-daughter-is-actually-an-adult-now land without too many bumps or scrapes. I love being able to have evenings with them. I try to help with housework and taking care of our horses. They’re both really understanding of me having my own schedule while also wanting to spend time with them. Especially since Stephen and I hope that we might eventually live and serve overseas, I’m really cherishing this time with my amazing parents. I mean, good food, great company, and free rent? What more could I want?!

The Door Analogy

Have you ever heard people talk about God’s will and doors? Forget about the whole, “If God closes a door, he also opens a window,” thing. First of all, how does free will lend itself to an image of us being trapped in a room with only two means of escape? Anyway. I’m thinking more about the Christianese jargon that “if doors are open, then I’ll continue going this direction. If God closes doors, though, then I’ll know not to go that way.” Is this doctrinally sound? I’m probably not explaining it very well, but I do have some questions:

  • Should you always walk through these spiritual open doors? Just because a door is open, an opportunity is available, does that mean that God wants you to “walk through it”?
  • What if a door is stuck due to humidity? Does that mean that God wants you to give up because the door is closed? Or are you supposed to hip and shoulder check that bad boy open?
  • What if I’m actually completely missing the point and overcomplicating an analogy that was intended to simplify things? What if the important thing is to pray? Just pray. Romans 12:2—“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Okay. Enough with the rant. Here’s the real reason why I’ve been thinking about doors and God’s will and my need to pray more:

Heading back to Niger

I’m currently applying with SIM to be a short-term missionary to Niamey, Niger, for mid-April through early-June of this year, 2015.

I agree. This is crazy. My mentor teacher and his wife will be returning to the States earlier than they had originally planned. Consequently, Sahel Academy needs a high school English teacher for the last 2 months of the school year. My visa to Niger and my yellow fever vaccine are still good through July of this year. I’ve talked with parents, boyfriend, siblings, pastor, SIM representative, Sahel representative, and a few friends in Niamey. I’m going back. 🙂

General feelings: I’m terrified. And ecstatic. And I once again have a deep awareness of my need for God. I cannot do this by myself. I should not and will not do this by myself. I need His guidance and blessing. I also need lots and lots of prayers. Feel free to contribute your prayers generously. 🙂 (Yes, eventually I’ll need cash, but we’ll talk about that later. 🙂 ) I can’t wait to see my friends and students again. It still feels surreal that I might be going back so soon. Gosh. God is so generous and good.

As I’m thinking about returning, I’m also thinking about what I’ll be walking into. Hopefully, dear reader, you are aware of the demonstrations and devastations that happened in Niamey a few weekends ago, on January 17th. In reaction to the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, groups of Nigeriens burned and vandalized many churches, pastors’ homes, and some Christian schools, mostly in Zinder and in Niamey. While this tragedy brought me to tears and to my knees here in the States, it is still deeply affecting my friends and students at Sahel. I’m humbled and honored that I’ll be able to come walk with them as they continue processing and growing through those trials.

To read more about the devastation in Niger January 17th, to see pictures, and to learn how you can pray and help, please read some of my friends’ blogs:

From the Michigander French teacher, Madame Rachel: http://racheltoniger.weebly.com/my-entries/hope

From Ms. Knox, the second grade teacher: http://hannahjoyinafrica.blogspot.com/ (Her post “From my eyes” discusses the burnings)

Continuing from here                               

One of my favorite attributes of God is His constancy. I struggle to describe it. He’s faithful, and that’s part of what I love. He never changes, and I depend on that, too. He is the same God yesterday, today, and forever. This also means that He’s the same God in Kecskemet, Hungary; in Niamey, Niger; in Akron, Ohio; in Freeland, Michigan. He’s the same, constant, faithful God. And He’s so, so good.

So really, change is not the only constant. Yes, our lives will consistently change. I’m no longer a college student. I’m only living in Michigan for 2 more months this winter before—hopefully—heading back to Niger. And I’ll only be there for another 2 months. I’m a substitute teacher, a riding instructor, and a soon-to-be long-term sub at Sahel. I can only see a few short steps ahead of me, and even those steps sometimes terrify me.

But there is one Being, one Truth, one Assurance more constant than change: God. For Believers, God is our true constant. He is my constant. I’m praying that I keep seeking Him and serving Him through the upcoming changes He has in store for me. 🙂

And no worries—I’ll keep you updated.

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.

Liking it here

You know, I thought months were longer. When did 31 days become so short? Of course, time always goes faster when I have a deadline, like, I don’t know, all of the stuff I need to turn in to Cedarville for my student teaching internship. But at the same time, I thought that these 4 months away from my family and boyfriend might feel like they’re dragging by. Well, dragging they are not. Zipping past is more like it.

My first month in Africa has been amazing, really. It’s been challenging, of course. I’ve had multiple late-night freak-outs where I’m sitting on my bed, journal open on my lap, pen in hand, trying to think of what else to say as I peer at my own handwriting through tear-filled eyes. I’ve had frustrating days of teaching, wishing that I could sit down with my students and just ask them, “What do you need me to do differently? How do you learn well?” I’ve had multiple conversations with Stephen where all I can say before we hang up is “I miss you. And I know that this is good and we can’t change this distance thing, but it’s still true: I miss you.”

So yeah. Life isn’t easy. And it’s funny, but all my sin and pride and crappy attitude followed me here to Niger. Apparently my sins didn’t get the memo that missionaries are supposed to have a handle on their lives. Ah well. Good thing God’s grace, forgiveness, mercy, and His convicting Spirit “followed” me here as well. 🙂

So, the other day, one of my students asked me pointblank, “Do you like Niger?”

“I do,” I responded, honestly. “I really do.” And that got me thinking (a dangerous pastime, I know). What is it that I like about Niger? So here you are:

Seven Aspects of Life at Sahel that I Really Like

  1. I love this missionary community. Sometimes I feel separated from actual Nigerien life, since I live on the Sahel compound and I don’t have my own car. But the positive side of that is the fact that I am getting so much time with so many interesting, driven, Gospel-loving, grace-accepting Believers. And I am so grateful.
  2. I like teaching. I know that this doesn’t surprise most people, but it always seems to surprise me. I’m actually enjoying the planning portions, too. There are still many times when I feel clueless and scatterbrained, but there are also times when my students come into my classroom before school starts, just to talk. And my day is made before 7:25am.
  3. Sometimes, I like the heat. Seriously. I just have to remind myself of the -15 degree Fahrenheit weather that destroyed all of our Tuesday classes at Cedarville last winter. With that perspective, I understand why Suz would miss this pervasive heat. 🙂
  4. I love that God is still constant and diligent, working in my life. I had a bad attitude after school on Wednesday. I was frustrated and drained and I allowed one not-so-great class to distract from all of God’s goodness throughout the rest of the day. So he reminded me of some verses that I read that morning:

Ezekiel 36:26-27

26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

He convicted me. I prayed for a better attitude. He answered my prayer. Same faithful God whether I’m in Freeland, Michigan; Cedarville, Ohio; Kecskemét, Magyarország; or Niamey, Niger.

  1. I love that I can hang out with young adults/my age people, and I can hang out with more experienced, time-wizened missionaries. (Is that the right way to say it? 🙂 ) In my last year at Cedarville, I attended Southgate Baptist Church, and I had the chance to get to know some wonderful, godly, hilarious women. Most of these women were about 15-35 years older than me, approximately. I love the blessings of friends who are around my age, so that we can process through similar things together. I also am so very grateful for my friends who can share years of wisdom with me. Since I’m living with Kathy and Nancy is right next door, I get to hear lots of stories, learn from lots of years of missionary life, and enjoy a beautiful community. With Mallory, Hannah, and Rachel about 25 steps away, I can also go hang out, listen to 90s music, eat no-bake cookies, and talk about how we have no idea what we’re doing with our lives. It’s a beautiful balance.
  2. I like hearing and speaking French. I need to get braver. But in general, I just really love the language. Even when my students bust out into off-topic French in class, I enjoy hearing it. I tell them we’re parler-ing en anglais, maintenant, but I do like to hear la français.
  3. I love getting to know my students and the other Sahel staff. These kids are great. And truly, I’m teaching mostly young adults, not kids. They are not perfect and they still have all the normal teenager-life-stuff going on. But they’re so much fun to get to know and to learn to teach. I’m so grateful that they are willing to get to know me, even though we all know that I’m leaving in 3 months.

So, that’s a little bit about why I like being here. If I didn’t have lesson planning to do (or sleeping to do, really), then I’m sure I could make it past 7 aspects. For now, though, this is reminding me of what I have to thank God for. And hopefully it’s allowing you to feel at peace about what God is up to and how He’s using me here. Hopefully it’s also giving you an idea of how to pray:

Praising God for:

  • A great first 2 and a half weeks of school
  • Good health and a good memory—I’m taking my malarone everyday. 🙂
  • My students and their families and all of the ministry here in Niger
  • Technology and the ability to communicate frequently with my family and Stephen

Asking God for:

  • Wisdom, creativity, and humility as I prepare to teach and as I actually get in front of my classes
  • Safety for friends (the DeValves) as they finish visiting in the States and then return to Niamey
  • Strength and passion for the believers in Niger
  • Opportunities for me to communicate Christ’s love to my students and my colleagues

Random side notes that will hopefully have pictures soon:

  • I played softball. Yes. Me + sports. It happened. 🙂 And I only bruised one of my pinky fingers!
  • I went with a community outreach group last week to a local hospital to play with some of the kids. We colored and tossed around a ball and attempted to “communicate” between English and Zarma/Hausa with one translator. It was wonderful.
  • I’m teaching 2 of my cooperating teacher’s 4 classes. I’ll pick up class #3 on Friday, then class #4 next week. Gah!
  • I’ve had the chance to show my pictures of my family, pets, home, and boyfriend to some of my friends here. It’s been good to share some home. 🙂
  • Michigan schools will start on Tuesday. We started 2 and a half weeks ago. Talk about a head start on learning. 😉 Well done, Sahel. Well done.