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.
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First Week Back

Sometimes it feels like I never left. Other times it feels like it’s been a lifetime since I was here, walking these halls, smelling these scents, eating these foods, loving these people, missing my people in the States. It’s been a challenging, busy, filling, tiring, emotional, encouraging first week back in Niamey, Niger.

A Weekend of Raw Emotions

Here’s my theory: (And don’t worry, since I’m a shameless verbal processor, I’ve talked this theory through with multiple people) Because this is my second time coming to Niger, I skipped the “honeymoon” stage of culture stress and leaped right into emotional chaos. Let me define some of my terms. In cross-cultural experiences, sometimes we refer to that glowing, everything-is-new-and-exciting, I-love-everything-about-this-experience feeling as the honeymoon stage. (Maybe this will make more sense to me in about 14 months.) “Culture stress” is the newer terminology for culture shock; basically, the processing stages of entering a new culture. And emotional chaos is pretty self-explanatory: people are gosh-darn fickle. (And by people, I mean myself.)

What am I basing this theory on? All of last Saturday was an emotional roller coaster for me. My travel went smoothly starting Thursday in Detroit, continuing Friday morning in Paris, and arriving Friday afternoon in Niamey. My dear friends Hannah and Miriam picked me up from the airport, and I was doing great. By Saturday morning, I was bawling on my pillow, wishing that I were home. Saturday evening, I was praising God for miraculously giving me a better attitude about being here. Then on Sunday—you guessed it!—I was a mess again. I think you get the general theme.

I think because there was not the same glow of my first trip to Africa, I was more aware of my own longings for family back home. I must say, though, God is certainly reminding me that He is constant. He truly is my rock and my refuge. He is faithful. I’ve leveled out through the week, and I can honestly say that I’m enjoying my time here at Sahel. Proof that God’s at work, and that He’s merciful to the undeserving.

 Jumping Right In

I’m so grateful that I arrived during the weekend and that we had a four day week. I had Monday to prepare for my classes, or rather to prepare for Tuesday and to get an idea for the rest of the week/semester. Instead of just listing out my classes, I’ll use Sahel’s/my acronyms and abbreviations to introduce you to my teaching life:

IGCSE—International General Certificate of Secondary Education—These are exams produced by Cambridge in the UK. Freshmen at Sahel take at least 2, sophomores at Sahel take at least 3. Teachers at Sahel named Ms. Cline teach 3 classes for 4 exams.

ICT—Information and Communication Technology—this is one of the classes that I’m teaching. Do I know much about computers? No. Do I have much confidence in this area? That’s a stretch. Am I learning with my students? Now you’re talking.

1st and 2nd Lang Eng—First and Second Language English—this is my 9th grade English class. Eight students taking one of two exams.

WL—World Literature—My 11th and 12th graders. We’re reading Persepolis, and the students are jumping right in. Praise the Lord, this class does not have an IGCSE exam, and they’ll totally be doing a project at the end of the semester, not an exam.

Eng Lit—English Literature—This is the 10th grade class that I’m covering for a not-quite-defined amount of time. They’ll have an IGCSE exam, as well.

YB—Yearbook—Thankfully this class won’t be as stressful. After next Thursday. When we go to print. Gah!

Again, I fluctuate between feeling adequately confident to teach and feeling utterly and completely overwhelmed and incompetent. I think that means that I’m a normal teacher, right? 🙂 I’m trying to keep learning about work time, play time, and rest time. I think I’m a slow learner…

Being Back in the Community

  • The pastors at the Nigerien church I attend greeted me warmly, welcoming me “home.”
  • I had a Francais-English conversation with one of my pastors: he spoke in English to me, I responded in French to him.
  • Multiple students came to hug me, saying that it was good to see me.
  • Per usual, the missionary community at our evening Sunday service gave me a warm welcome of applause after I re-introduced myself.
  • I’ve already had about 4 movie nights at “The Girls’ House” here on campus, so named for the three young women, three of my dear friends, who live there.
  • Kathy mentioned that her house feels “complete” again with me back.
  • I met with Mikki on Wednesday after school to pick up our mentoring relationship, you know, right where we left off.
  • Worshiping in French, Hausa, and English on Sunday. Praying with my mentor, my friends, my students, my fellow teachers. Depending on God because let me tell you what—there’s no other way that I’d be surviving.

Praying and Praising

Pray that

  • The meningitis epidemic in Niger ends. (Don’t worry, my vaccination is up-to-date.) Pray for healing and that God will draw people to himself through this.
  • Both teachers and students will work diligently and trust God through the end of this school year.
  • I will stay fully invested here in Niger, at Sahel, while also loving my family and fiancé back home.

Praise the Lord for

  • His faithfulness and His grace through this transition.
  • Safe travel and good health. (Yes, Mommy, I’m taking my anti-malarial medication still. 😉 )
  • The internet and technology and a very flexible, reasonable, and patient fiancé.
  • All of you. I so appreciate your prayers and partnership.

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.

A Month Later

Laziness. Fear. Time with family. Unrealistic expectations. Lack of confidence in my ability to effectively explain my life. I think these are the top reasons why it’s been a month since I’ve written for my blog. I’ve had some ideas of what to write. I’ve certainly had ample opportunity to actually sit down and do the writing. But I haven’t—until now.

Since it’s been so long, this will be a fly-by of reflections, thanksgivings, updates, and processing. Sounds like most of my conversations, to be honest…

 The Time Warp Game

My mom likes to play a Time Warp game. (I just made up that name for it, though. There isn’t actually a name for it. This is just how my mom thinks. 🙂 ) She’s frequently saying, “Can you believe that a week ago today, you were finishing your last semester at Cedarville?” or “How crazy is that two weeks from right now, we’ll be in Pentwater again?” Sometimes it really does boggle the mind, thinking of how quickly life can change. I’ve been playing the Time Warp game in my mind the past few days because a month ago today, I was in Paris, en route to Michigan, leaving Niger. When I verbalize that, it makes more sense why my mind and emotions feel discombobulated.

It’s been a crazy, good month. Hard, certainly. My first night home, I wept myself to sleep. (Crying doesn’t do it justice. This was tears galore, not trying to stop it, just allowing the act of weeping to exhaust me into sleep.) I miss my friends. I miss my roommate and our neighbor. I miss my students. Gosh, I miss them. I miss the warmth, the skirts, the constant refilling of water bottles, the planning and collaborating of our teacher workroom. I miss both planned and spontaneous prayer sessions. I miss that level of community and courage and dependence. I miss Sahel Academy like crazy.

However, it probably isn’t surprising that I’ve kept myself rather busy. Here are some fun (albeit exhausting) facts about what December 2014 included in the life of Abby Cline:

  • 3 countries on 3 continents—Niger, Africa; France, Europe; USA, North America
  • Finishing my student teaching and consequently, my undergraduate degree
  • 9 months of dating the man I love—and being reunited with him after 4 months of legit long distance 🙂
  • 8 different states—MI, OH, PA, NY, CT, MA, VT, and ME—en route to the wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Kurt and Molly Stultz. 😉
  • Christmas with my entire family together
  • Continuing registering as a substitute teacher, you know, for that grown-up, real life thing
  • Saying too many goodbyes
  • Just a crap ton of change.

 Truth reminders

For my fellow Hunger Games fans, I have an analogy: please think of the beginning of Mockingjay. So, Katniss is a hot mess of emotions and confusion, right? And she’s repeating to herself the few facts that she feels she can trust: “My name is Katniss Everdeen. I was in the Hunger Games. I escaped.” Etc. (If you’re that curious, read the books. You’ll thank me later.)

Let me clarify first that my life transitions have not been traumatic. I was never in a life-threatening situation. (No, Ebola still has not reached Niger.) But I’m still finding myself in need of some reminders, some reassurance, I suppose. So, here goes:

My name is Abby Cline. I am 23 years old. I live in Freeland, Michigan, in my parents’ house. I just taught for four months at an incredible school in Niamey, Niger. I spent 3 cold, early morning hours in Paris, France. I have friends in Niger, Hungary, Maine, Ohio, and various other states and countries; I don’t know when I’ll see them again. Oh, and by the way, I’m slightly terrified of my future.

You may have noticed some important truths that I left out. I think that’s why I’m terrified of my future—substitute teaching, looking for an actual teaching job, navigating living at home again, being an “adult.” Let’s try the truth reminders again:

 My name is Abby Cline. I am a sinner, redeemed by Christ’s atoning sacrifice. This is not of myself; it is the gift of God (Eph 2:8-9). I serve a faithful, loving God who will never leave me nor forsake me (Joshua 1:5). God has a plan (Eph 1:7-10). I am part of that plan.

I need more truth reminders than I realize. It’s almost like God knew that, so He decided to give simple, forgetful humans the Bible. Crazy, huh.

More to come

This whole processing thing is going to take a while. I’ve decided that I do want to keep up with this blog, even though I’m back in the States where my life is “boring.” (I don’t actually believe that, don’t worry.) There may be some more in-depth, reflection-type posts in the future. But I’m going to try to be realistic and not promise anything. 🙂 For now, this is the update. And here are the pictures. Because my internet is now processing more than just KB per second. Weird. 🙂

My wonderful, amazing, gracious roommate and friend, Kathy. We took this picture right before I left for the airport (hence the jeans).

My wonderful, amazing, gracious roommate and friend, Kathy. We took this picture right before I left for the airport (hence the jeans).

At one of the Indian restaurants in Niamey, hours before they took me to the airport. L to R: me, Hannah, Rachel, Mal, Susan.

At one of the Indian restaurants in Niamey, hours before they took me to the airport. L to R: me, Hannah, Rachel, Mal, Susan.

I was actually there!

I was actually there!

Mom, Sarah, and I went to see WICKED in Detroit my second weekend home.

Mom, Sarah, and I went to see WICKED in Detroit my second weekend home.

While there wasn't snow on my first New England winter voyage, there were still breathtaking views.

While there wasn’t snow on my first New England winter voyage, there were still breathtaking views.

Stephen and I at our friends' wedding in Portland, Maine on Dec 19th.

Stephen and I at our friends’ wedding in Portland, Maine on Dec 19th.

One of my trips to Ohio included quality time with my dear friend Pat.

One of my trips to Ohio included quality time with my dear friend Pat.

While wrapping Christmas presents, I tried to stay modest while practicing some Niger skillz.

While wrapping Christmas presents, I tried to stay modest while practicing some Niger skillz.

Processing and Pondering Or How is October already over?

I was just talking with Hannah about whether or not we cried much when we were little kids. I mean, my parents probably remember better than I do, but I don’t recall being an especially tearful kid. I don’t know when the transition happened. Maybe it was when I began seeing more of the pain and destruction in the world. Maybe it was when I began to see all of the disastrous pride, selfishness, and sin in my own life. Maybe my hormones simplpy decided to take over my life and overflow my tear ducts.

Regardless of when it happened, I’ve somehow become a bit of a crier. In fact, that’s one thing that I’ve done consistently well here in Niger: cry. 🙂

But please don’t assume that I want to be on a plane heading Stateside. On the contrary, a few of my recent cries have centered on the paradox of wanting to be home while really, desperately not wanting to leave this place or these people. Other times, I’ve cried from feeling overwhelmed or simply at a loss. Truly, I don’t always know why I’m crying. For me, my tears seem to signify a few very significant recognitions:

  • I’m weak.
  • I’m imperfect.
  • I don’t have the answers.
  • I still, always need saving.

God has been reminding me of these truths, along with many other less depressing-sounding realities. He is all-sufficient. Maybe, someday, eventually, I’ll live as though Christ is all that I need. For now, I say it, I believe that I believe it. But I’m clearly re-learning this life-altering truth: God loved me when I was still a sinner, He loves me now, and He is all that I need.

I guess in the same way that I needed to do some re-teaching for the Theme and Organization lessons in my World Literature class, God needs to re-teach me about His sufficiency.

In other news and since we’re all mostly interested in the happenings and goings-on in Niger, West Africa, here are some specific situations where God has been humbling me and proving himself faithful:

edTPA: Accomplished

The edTPA is done!!! Last night around 2am Niger-time, I was fighting the temptation to quote way-too-important quotes in slightly irreverent ways: “It is finished.” Or “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.” (While I resisted the temptation last night, I clearly did not resist the temptation just now. C’est la vie.) Due to the support of wonderful Cedarville professor and Sahel colleagues, the prayer and patience of so many friends and family members all over the world, and they grace of a works-in-the-details Savior, I submitted my final assessment for my undergraduate studies. My other obligations for student teaching include: being observed at least 1 more time; teaching moderately successfully for the next 4 weeks; generally not ruining students’ lives. Due to God’s faithfulness and his sovereignty regardless of the outcome, I’m learning to trust him for those final responsibilities. And I’m feeling soooo good about being done with the edTPA. 🙂

Hippo sighting

I got to see hippos. Yeah, it was really cool! Mostly, though, riding in a boat on the Niger River was truly wonderful. A couple of weeks ago, a group of about 9 of us Sahel staff/missionaries and visiting family members went on a guided Hippo Tour. We ended up seeing about 6 hippos all hanging out together in the middle of the river, a very safe distance away from us. 🙂 The hippos were big and a little intimidating. The time on the river? A beautiful, peaceful, breath-taking view of river-life in Niger. Pictures are on facebook, although they hardly do the trip justice.

Alambaré Outreach

A week ago from right now, I was sitting on some wooden benches in the Nigerien village of Alambaré, after eating a meal of peanut butter and jelly on baguettes with 11 of my students and 3 other adult supervisors. Sahel students go on weekend-long outreach trips to Alambaré at least once a semester. While we were there, we played with the kids from the village, told them Bible stories (the students spoke in French and the local pastor translated into their tribal language), and enjoyed a weekend away from Niamey, sleeping in tents or in the open. (I was in a tent, although apparently outside the tent was pretty nice, too: not too many mosquitoes and gorgeous stars.) Although I did not anticipate the fact that I would be an impromptu leader for the Alambaré trip, I had a great support system and we had a really awesome weekend. I loved spending time with the kids in Alambaré, hearing the Gospel presented in 3 different languages at least 5 different times throughout the weekend, and seeing our Sahel students really step up and step out of their comfort zones. I’m still processing from the trip (which will not surprise many of you), but I’m also undoubtedly glad that I went on it.

A mini-Cedarville Reunion

About mid-October, I had the chance to sit down and talk with one of the missionary couples here at Sahel. Of course, I get to enjoy many spontaneous conversations with a lot of amazing missionaries here in Niamey, but this was a more of a planned event. I had seen some similarities between Stephen’s and my story and Coach and JJ’s story. (He’s the PE teacher and the softball coach; naturally that has become his first name.) Both Coach and JJ attended Cedarville, studying to be teachers. Coach played soccer at CU. JJ currently teaches middle school English and helps coordinate all of the new middle school, partially due to her capacity for organization and long-term planning. (Yeah, I’m not sure why I see similarities between this really great couple and Stephen and myself… Bazinga.) Kathy invited their family over and we had a great dinner with Coach, JJ, and their 4 kids. Then the kids walked back home—they also live here on campus—and we just sat and talked. About life, missions, support-raising, teaching, married life, waiting on God’s timing, knowing God’s will, trusting God completely, etc. We just sat and talked, 3 Cedarville alums and my wonderful roommate chatting about life until about 11pm. Of course, I then started on lesson plans for the week, but the nighttime work session was totally worth the previous time of enlightenment and idea-exchange. And encouragement. I sincerely hope that I can be at least minimally as encouraging to others here as they are to me.

Thinking of Hungary

I helped to FSL last Thursday. That’s right. You may have heard of ESL, but have you ever thought much about FSL? French as a Second Language. I, a second-language French speaker, got to help teach French to Zarma-speaking Nigerien women last Thursday, and it was so much fun! It reminded me a lot of my time in Hungary teaching English to Hungarian speakers. I don’t know any of their native language and I’m basically trying to somehow impart at least some French to them. Of course, when I taught English in Hungary, at least I feel pretty confident in my English-speaking. But still. I liked the flexibility, the vulnerability of language learning, the risk-taking and smile-sharing that happen when nobody is that great at French. I went with the fourth grade teacher at Sahel, and the two of us worked with about 10 young women who attend a sewing school here in Niamey. They may or may not be literate in Zarma, and they are at various stages of literacy in French, the language of the government and the educated here in Niger. Unfortunately, I’ll only have 2 more Thursdays when I can help teach French. But I’m already looking forward to those days.

Afraid of the lasts

I’m going to be a mess. That’s funny. I’m already quite a mess. All I have to do is look at a calendar and I start freaking out. Here’s the issue: sometimes November looks like the longest month ever and I don’t know how I’m going to last or what I’m going to teach or how I’m going to stay focused here instead of just thinking about getting home and seeing my family and seeing my boyfriend and being done with student teaching.

Other times?

Other times November looks painfully, frighteningly, unreasonably short. I still have souvenirs to buy. I want to see the giraffes. I really don’t want to exchange this weather for snow. And I’m not ready to say goodbye. To this place, this school, these people. And how many lasts am I going to have? My last day at church. My last day teaching yearbook. My last time seeing friends who don’t teach here at Sahel. My last time talking with each of my students. I don’ t know how to legitimize my sorrow and my reluctance to leave without becoming a self-important drama queen. I don’t know how to honor God through this process. Which is probably why He has me here, huh?

The last few months have been so brilliantly amazing while also feeling like a rather “normal” possibility for how life could be. The next few weeks are terrifying and daunting and going to come whether I’m ready or not. Because I won’t be ready, and I don’t have to be.

What Hannah reminded me of earlier this week:

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.

Exodus 14:14

What God reminded me of just now:

And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.

Isaiah 42:16

Ways we can praise

  • God’s faithfulness and patience with me
  • The edTPA is done!
  • I still have a month left, thankfully. 🙂

Ways we can pray

  • That God will keep watering the Gospel seeds that Sahel students helped plant in Alambaré
  • That I will finish well—with student teaching and with my time here in general
  • That I’ll keep learning what God’s teaching me