When Oceans Rise

Have I already mentioned how this song almost always makes me cry? Because it does. I’ve had a few times when I can sing it with dry eyes, but for the most part, the timing or the words or my emotions combine with the music and lyrics to coax my close-to-the-surface tears (and snot) to come streaming down my face. This past week, I’ve gained a whole new understanding of oceans rising and feet failing. I’d say it’s been an “emotional roller coaster,” but that’s cliché and gives the connotation of something fun and exciting. While this week has had some exciting and fun moments, it’s also been rather challenging, heartbreaking, and just plain sad.

June at Sahel
One of the other missionary families here at Sahel has a common saying for the beginning of the summer: “June sucks.” Of course, Sahel students and teachers alike eagerly await the beginning of summer, in some senses. We love the freedom from planning teaching grading, homeworking, studying, and taking way too many IGCSE exams. We enjoy the accomplishment of finishing another school year. However, we also know that the end of the school year means the beginning of even more goodbyes. Seniors are graduating and leaving this place. Some families will be gone for only one year, maybe for a home assignment. Other families are changing locations, transitioning to a different ministry or job. Teachers come and go and mostly go, especially the pesky ones who had to go and get engaged. So amidst 5th grade and 8th grade recognitions, finishing exams, and a wonderful graduation ceremony, the Sahel community also has to say way too many goodbyes.

This happens every year. Can you imagine? Every year you love and cherish friends and teachers, only to say goodbye and never know if or when you’ll see them again. But this year, we had another unexpected, untimely, unfair goodbye to say.

Jesse Jones

On Friday, May 29, I gave a final exam to 18 of my students. Some time around 9:30, Jesse came up to my desk in the computer lab and handed me his typed response to the 2 essay questions he chose to answer for his World Literature exam. Even though he had missed the past few weeks of school due to illness, I had no doubt that Jesse was turning in high quality writing with a depth and understanding of the questions and the texts he referenced in his answers. He was always a diligent, high-achieving student in World Literature.

By 8:00pm that same day, Jesse had passed away.

He had been sick for a few weeks. I don’t understand everything that was going on, but maybe a half hour after he turned in his exam to me, Sahel staff rushed him to the medical clinic after he became very ill outside the school library. He stabilized that afternoon, and Jesse was able to talk with his mom and his older brother, Jordan, for a few minutes. Jesse talked about how he felt like he should be worried, but he just had so much peace. Jordan Jones was also in my World Literature class, and he graduated this past Thursday.

Here’s what you need to know about this whole mess of reality:

  • Jesse loved God with all his heart. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind of where he is right now. He is whole. His body is healed. He is worshipping His Savior, and He has more joy and happiness than he could have ever known on earth.
  • All but 1 of the elementary students were off Sahel’s campus, at the pool on Friday morning. They did not see Jesse that morning, and they will not remember Jesse as he was outside the library that morning.
  • He passed away before the end of the school year, while all of the Sahel community is still here in Niamey, able to love and comfort and mourn together.
  • God is good. He is here. He is sovereign. Death is not natural, and it was not in the original plan back in Eden. And yet, God redeems all things for His glory.

For these and many other reasons, I’m choosing to praise God through the pain, tears, confusion, sorrow.

Since last Friday

I’ve been to a great many events and processed a number of experiences since last Friday. While I’m sure I’ll go to some similar events and work through similar thoughts in my future, I certainly hope that I have time in between for healing.

I went to the home of a family who had lost their 11th grade son. I looked through childhood photos of a sweet, kind, smiley young man with the world’s most impressive dimples. I listened as a grieving mother remembered her last day with her son.

I looked through photos on the school computer to create a slide show for Jesse’s memorial service on May 31st. After that service, I had the chance to talk with one of my amazing, resilient, godly, courageous, and hurting now-11th-grade students. His thoughts and processing challenged and inspired me, and I was honored to be a listening ear for him.

I attended the funeral of one of my students. Do you know how much that hurts? I stood with one of Jesse’s classmates and tried to speak truth to her while the sweat dripped down my legs and the tears threatened to spill down my face. “Nothing you did or did not do caused this to happen.” “Yes, God could still bring Jesse back, but Jesse doesn’t really want to come back now. He’s in heaven.” “It’s okay to grieve in your own way; we all grieve differently.” And as they carried the closed casket directly in front of us, I held her tighter and supported more of her weight, literally and figuratively carrying this burden of reality and sorrow.

I also went to a graduation banquet, a final assembly, and a graduation ceremony to celebrate all of the achievements of these amazing Sahel students over the past years. We laughed together, we remembered, we prayed, we ate great food, and we said goodbyes. Only, really, we don’t quite say “goodbye” here.

Uncle Jim

A little over 8 years ago, my Grandpa Cline passed away. I still remember how distraught I was after viewing what used to be my grandpa in the casket. After the viewing, our dear family friend, Uncle Jim, spoke a beautiful truth to me:

“You know, for Christians, we don’t really have to say goodbye. We just say ‘See you later.’”

He might not remember saying that to me, but clearly I haven’t forgotten. So to sweet Jesse, to the amazing class of 2015 at Sahel Academy, to my students in all 5 classes that I taught these past 2 months, to the many other students who befriended me, and to the marvelous staff, my amazing friends, here at Sahel, I say see you later. And really, in the grand scheme of things, see you soon.

In the next week

I have a feeling that the ocean will stay pretty high for the next few weeks as I transition and process. I have 4 more days here in Niger before I fly back to the States. In these next few days, I have more “See you laters” to say. I also have some packing, cleaning, and classroom-preparing to do. Then on Friday, I get to see my fiancé again for the first time in 2 months. 🙂 Gracious am I grateful for that.

So in the next week, the week after, and the weeks to come, I’ll keep processing and praying. I’ll keep missing people and places. Hopefully, maybe, I’ll keep updating this blog. 🙂 (I mean, I’ll definitely let you know when I’m home, no worries.) I’ll keep learning about preaching truth to myself, which I realized in the past few weeks that I’m not so great at. So, I’ll start with part of the Oceans song.

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander

And my faith will be made stronger

In the presence of my savior…

For I am yours,

And you are mine.

And of course, I’ll go back to the source of truth:

“Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Psalm 73:23-26

Also, I wrote that passage in my journal on May 14th, over two weeks before Jesse passed away. God is good and faithful.

Thank you again for your prayers.

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Discovering Daily Treasures

In October of 2013, my dear friend Pat Bates gave me a book: Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young. My sister also has a copy of this book, and we somewhat-jokingly believe that God might switch around the pages every once in a while so that every day that you read this devotional, you read precisely what you need to hear. Yesterday morning/afternoon, I read about “hidden treasures strategically placed” along my path for each day. Young clarified that these treasures might be “trials” or other “blessings” (150). Over the last few weeks, I’ve been discovering both types of treasures: the trials and the blessings.

IGCSE Relief

As of last Friday, all of my students have finished their IGCSE exams! This is a huge relief for both my students and for me. (There’s still one class of students here at Sahel who have to take 2 Sociology exams next Thursday and next Monday, so you can continue praying for those students and their instructor.) Now that the exams are done, we’re finishing up group projects in 3 of my 5 classes. The crazy thing is, we only have until this Thursday to finish these projects!

For the high school at Sahel, exams are Friday the 29th and Monday the 1st, so after Thursday, my main responsibilities will be grading and organizing all of the teaching materials for my classes for whoever will be teaching these courses next year. And yes, I am certainly anticipating that both of those activities will take way longer than I could ever hope or imagine.

Yearbook Adventures

There are so many qualities that I admire about my fiancé. On his extensive repertoire, his experiences and skills with helping to create a yearbook especially amaze me. And let me tell you what—it certainly would have been nice to co-advise the yearbook class with Stephen this quarter. 🙂 There are just so many details, so much checking and rechecking, so many technological questions and answers to discover when it comes to actually taking a yearbook to print. It also doesn’t really help that everyone’s reactions to “Oh, we used Publisher to make this yearbook,” all resemble pleasant shock and surprise.

The cons: It’s rough being a perfectionist when you don’t really know what you’re doing. It’s also a bit rough representing a yearbook staff and an entire school when I make decisions about which page will go where and how much to crop off and where the title should fit on the spine. Also, our visits to the printers are rarely planned and don’t always happen at my most convenient times. Hence the trial-treasure theme.

The pros: I’ve been able to visit the Nigerien printing company multiple times, practicing my French and my Nigerien communication skills all the while. I’ve also had some good cross-cultural conversations with Joel, Sahel’s business agent, as we sat in traffic or waited for the 1pm prayers to end. Also, it’s done! The books are printed and sewn. Now they’re printing and gluing on the covers. Praise the Lord!

Koba and the Red Lion

I had the amazing privilege of helping with the middle school play these past few weeks! We did a one-act, African-fable type show in which a young boy learns to be courageous and selfless as he fights the Red Lion, saving his family and his village from danger. I had a marvelous time helping out the director as we created a set, brainstormed for costumes for a monkey, a zebra, a vulture, etc. I also had the chance to be in the sound booth, calling out cues for our awesome soundboard operator. Of course, I loved being a part of the production, simply due to my love of theatre and the joy that comes from watching students create live art. Selfishly, I also loved being a part of the production staff. I thought of A Very Common Procedure and The Last 5 Years and Purgatorio—I’m so grateful for the chances that I had to Stage Manage for Cedarville senior theatre projects. And yes, I thought frequently of Taming of the Shrew and the other shows that I’ve been in through the years. If I can figure out how to stay on one continent for a prolonged amount of time, I think I might need to audition for some community theatre. 🙂

Under the Weather

The past couple of days (really just since Friday morning), I haven’t been feeling very well. Food rarely enjoys staying in my system for extended periods of time. Not to worry: I’m staying hydrated, I’m taking it easy, and I’m resting a lot. I’ve also taken some medication and I’ve been talking with our school nurse. I guess I’m only mentioning this to say that prayers are appreciated, and I’d really love to be able to be fully invested in school this last week. I feel like a really crappy teacher when I’m only feeling well enough to sit behind the desk and watch my students work on projects. Thank you for your prayers.

7 Pieces of Double Bubble

Why would someone chew 7 pieces of Double Bubble at one time? That is an excellent question. Another excellent question might be, Why would 16 missionary women sit quietly in a back room with no electricity, and then shout “Surprise!”? And finally, Why would someone have a surprise bridal shower when that person isn’t getting married for over a year? You guessed it: Because I have amazing, loving, caring, selfless friends here at Sahel.

Last Friday night, I thought that I was going to dinner at a friend’s house with Hannah, Rachel, and April. It turns out, I was going to my first bridal shower! After a long week and an even longer Friday, I couldn’t even express how encouraged and loved I felt all through the evening. (Oh, and the electricity did come back on, don’t worry.) We had delicious food—fresh summer salads, brochettes, and really yummy desserts. We played some party games, digging through our purses for used tissues and 3-month old receipts; scrambling to think of love songs that start with “B,” “R,” “I,” “D,” and “E;” and finally, watching me add a piece of gum to my mouth for each question that I answered incorrectly about my fiancé. I did get 13 out of 20 questions correct, but clearly we have more to learn about each other. 🙂 Good thing we’ve got our whole lives to learn.

The evening ended with some of my friends praying for me, for Stephen, and for us. I am so blessed and so grateful. It may be a long year of engagement, but I have high expectations for what God will teach us and how He will lead us even just through our engagement, not to mention our marriage.

Prayer and Praise and Leaving Well

Last night, at the end of a student event called O.M.C. (Organized Mass Chaos), some of the students led a prayer and praise session. We sang a song or two, then had time for guided prayers, either in groups or individually. It was wonderful. I love the songs that we sing at the Nigerien church I attend, whether we’re singing in French or in Hausa. I also enjoy the songs we sing at the evening English worship service here on campus, although I rarely know all of those songs. The songs we sang last night, however, reminded me of Cedarville and Hopevale and trips to Hungary. We sang “Revelation Song,” “How Great is our God,” “The Stand,” and “Oceans.” So yes, naturally, I cried. (“Oceans” can make me cry more reliably than onions can.) I looked around the room at these amazing students from so many countries and backgrounds and families, and all I could think was, “I have to leave again.” This time more than last time, I’ve been really looking forward to being home. I think having a fiancé to come home to is definitely influencing my mindset, but I’m sure there are other factors. However, last night, all I felt was sorrow knowing that once again, I have to say goodbye. And once again, I have no idea when/if I’ll see these people again, this side of Heaven.

As “Oceans” started to play, I made my way over to Hannah, tapped her on the shoulder, and latched on to her as our tears fell. I guess it’s good to start the grieving, the leaving sooner rather than later. And it was certainly good to start the grieving process while also singing praises to our good, constant, faithful, strong God, for “We are His, and He is ours.”

Humble Yourselves

For the May 22nd reading in Jesus Calling, one of the verses listed was I Peter 5:6. When I looked it up, I couldn’t help but notice verse 7, as well. I think I frequently only hear verse 7. It was really good for me to dwell on how verses 6 and 7 connect.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

I Peter 5:6-7

Amen. Thanks for praying.

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.

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

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.

Learning to be a teacher Aka The emotional roller coaster Aka Choosing joy

Teaching is hard. It’s also amazing and fun and exciting and fulfilling. But it can just be hard, too. Also, teaching for the first time, with only 4 years of theoretical “experience” is pretty rough. Add to that being away from home, learning to exist in near-constant heat, and constantly battling internally over whether or not I’m “experiencing the culture” enough—then teaching becomes très difficile.

To give you better, clearer insight into my emotional roller coaster, as my sister and I have labeled it, here are a few categories of my life from the last few weeks:

Category 1: Reasons I’ve wanted to cry.

  • Mondays and Wednesdays have been pretty draining recently. I teach both English classes on those days. And when I have my 9th grade class, after lunch, sitting and reading for at least 45 out of our 90 minutes—it can get exhausting managing the chaos. Unfortunately, I’m still learning how to channel the chaos, using it for the greater good instead of allowing it to fuel my desire for a nap. Thankfully, Dietrich, my cooperating teacher, is very sympathetic and helpful in the brainstorming-for-ideas-that-will-make-this-class-more-enjoyable area. It’s a work in progress.
  • I’ve allowed the edTPA project that I need to do for Cedarville trap me with fear. It sounds so stupid, even when I say it to myself. But I’m so scared of skipping a step, or misunderstanding something, or just doing a bad job. Also, there’s a selfish, lazy, scared, sinful part of me (sidenote: I think there are quite a few of those sides within me) that just doesn’t want to do the project. Now, I know that this isn’t an option. Trust me. This achievement-driven, recovering perfectionist knows that “I didn’t want to” doesn’t cut it for missing a due date. I know that I need to do my edTPA. And I will. But first, I need to overcome this irrational fear. (Good joke. I need to listen to truth and allow Christ to eradicate my fears. Just sayin’.)
  • There are days when the last bell rings, my students escape from my sweltering, stench-filled classroom, I begin gathering my teacher-y stuff, and all I can think is this: “Did I actually teach them anything today?” I question my effectiveness as a teacher. Did I just babysit my students for 90 minutes at a time, giving them meaningless “activities” to keep them busy? Is my assessing actually influencing my planning that is truly turning into my teaching that is legitimately leading into another assessment? And the only logical answer I have at that point is: I want to nap. (Clearly, sleep is my escape. I already knew this, but it’s solidified now.) I don’t always have a happy-ending answer to those questions. All I know is that I need to keep asking them and keep responding to them as long as I keep teaching.

Enough of the depressing.

Category 2: Reasons I immediately praise God.

  • A box from my mother, packed full with not 1 but 2 new journals; mints so that I don’t kill my students with coffee breath; enough Mio flavoring to last me at least a year; and other various forms of encouragement.
  • My students send me to God with thanksgiving. Of course, at times they drive me nutty. But other times, one of them asks if I would meet with her some mornings before school to pray together. “I would love that,” I quickly respond. Another student offers me the beginning of a story that he wrote, “So that you can let me know what you think. But you don’t have to read it if you don’t want to.” “Oh please. I would love to read this. Thank you!” Another student asked me what I’m going to do after my internship: “Adjust to cold weather again.” “No, after that. Like, where are you going to work?” “I’ll probably substitute teach for a semester.“ “You could always come back here. Sahel pays real good.” The irony is funny. The sentiment is huge.
  • A letter from my boyfriend, the same week that the package came from my mom. Such a surprise and encouragement and blessing. And the pictures that he sent me are already on my wall. 🙂
  • Last week I went out to eat twice with different groups of friends from Sahel. It was so fun and so encouraging. And so yummy. 🙂 God has blessed me with such a rich community of my peers here in Niger. It’ll probably be harder to find this kind of friend group in Saginaw, Michigan, than it is to find it here. Also, I tried minced camel. It was pretty good!
  • I French-braided my hair, successfully. For the first time. In Africa. What more could I ask for? (Of course, I didn’t take a picture. But I swear that this event will be repeated, with photographic proof.)

In general, I’m realizing that I’m living in a paradox. Student teaching is really hard, but there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing right now. I miss my family and my boyfriend, but I don’t want to leave here. Sometimes I feel so anxious about teaching and my Cedarville assignments that I begin to use journaling and praying as an excuse to avoid work. Other times, I actually learn to dwell in the peace and confidence that God gives me, knowing that I am in this here and now, in Niamey, Niger, at Sahel Academy for this time to serve God and to draw closer to him. I just started reading in Esther yesterday, and you know what? Even though I can’t see the whole picture and I don’t have a wise uncle guilt tripping me into advocating for my entire people group, there is part of me that thinks I might be here “for such a time as this.”

That realization goes under the “Reasons I immediately praise God” category.

Thank you for joining me on this journey, listening to my woes and my joys. Thank you for praying with me and for me. God uses the church, His body, to encourage and edify and lift up in amazing ways. Thanks for being a part of that.

Ok. Enough avoiding lesson planning. And no more naps. At least not today.