Tuesday, April 27, 2021

As Seen At Church: The Pot vs. The Pot Belly

Every Sunday a large container filled with water bags is brought in and placed within reach of all the thirsty church goers.  Today was no different.  A large pot was brought in and placed just inside the church door where those of us outside were witness to all the shenanigans that happened around it.  About midway through the service, the pot caught the attention of a little boy.  He had a nice little round pot belly on him and he stood just a little taller than the pot itself.  He began throwing a biscuit into the pot which was kindly retrieved by two children who were hanging around, enthralled with helping him out.  After several throws and retrievals they caught on to his game and they stopped fetching it for him.  So it was up to the little guy with the pot belly to fetch his own biscuit out of the pot.  The first time he successfully bent over the side of the pot and handily retrieved that biscuit.  So naturally it was time to try again.  This time leaning that little pot belly over the pot there was a sudden and collective gasp from the audience as gravity and that little pot belly took him right over the edge until all we could see were two little toddler legs sticking out of the pot.  He was quickly rescued and the pot removed from reach while we all had a good laugh.  That pot and gravity got the better of him!

Thursday, September 17, 2020

It's a Death

Photo Credit:  R. Stoll

To be human is to hope, to set one's heart and mind on an outcome and to desire with all that I am to see it come to pass. 

It doesn't take long for us to learn to hope.  I ran into the Mom of one of my first graders from last year who told me that her son, all of seven year's old, has been shedding tears.  He loves Sahel and he had hoped to be there again this year.  He is grieving the loss of that dream because he knows Sahel is damaged by flood waters.  His five year old sister, an incoming kindergartner, is sad too because she's  been looking forward to being at Sahel with him.

On the other end of the spectrum, I think of one of my former first graders, now a senior, hoping to get a scholarship to play softball in college.  She had been diligently practicing and working out all summer on our softball field.  What will happen to that dream now that our softball field is underwater?

It's a death.  It's a death of the hopes and expectations of almost every student and staff member at Sahel.  It's hard and we are grieving it.

Paul's words in 2 Corinthians1:9 resonate.  "Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death."  But then, they go on to remind us of a glorious truth.  "But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead."

This school, this ministry currently underwater, belongs to God, who raises the dead.  Just like Paul said in verse 10, we, too, can say, "He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again."  We went through this in 2012 and God brought our campus back to life.  Yes, it is far worse and deliverance may not come in exactly the same fashion - we have so many questions about the future but "on Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers." (2 Cor. 9:10) 

This is key, we are being helped by your prayers - those of our community, those of our friends and churches in faraway places and those of our fellow international Christian schools.  Your prayers for us are sustaining us during a chaotic and overwhelming time.  As you continue to pray, we know that God will be our help.  He has helped us to locate and rent two school buildings.  He will help us to see the work on these two buildings, particularly the elementary, completed so that we can fully move in and bring some order out of the chaos.  He will help us, students and staff alike, to understand that He is a God who raises the dead, that in Him our hope is secure.  "Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted us in answer to the prayers of many."  (2 Cor. 1:10 & 11)

On the left: circled in green you can see a small plaque placed after the 2012 flood to mark the waterline and commemorate the faithfulness of our God during that difficult time.
Bottom right:  Ken F. uses his canoe paddle to measure how far down the plaque is.  Notice that the rock detailing on the side of the building is not even visible.
Top right:  the plaque's apt reminder - 

I will never forget this awful time,
as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope
when I remember this:
The faithful love of the LORD never ends!
His mercies never cease,
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, "The LORD is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!"
Lamentations 3:20-24

If you would like to help the school recover from this devestating loss you can do so through TeachBeyond, one of the organizations that partners with us to provide staff.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Flood 2.0

As a school and as a mission, we never wanted to relive this story again.  2012 was enough.  God had spared us in amazing ways.  He had helped us rebuild and come back to our compounds with safer walls that would protect us from the river's threat during rainy season. We were thankful that we could look back and recount all the ways that God had been faithful but had it been our choice that would have been a book we never reopened after the last chapter had been read.

But that is not the story that is being written. Instead we have had a very heavy season of rain and our team of guys watching the river kept seeing the water level go up and up, passing the level that caused the 2012 flood and going up.  They sandbagged. The dyke held. The water level went down and then back up. Our section of the dyke held.  But downriver from us water began pouring in filling the areas behind our walls, walls where a threat had not been anticipated in the past.

Sunday evening we sat on the steps of our Admin building trying to decide the best course of action.  We would give it one more night and reevaluate in the morning.  By 8 am on Monday morning the road to Sahel Academy was impassable by small vehicles and we were starting to enact our evacuation plan, going through the school and putting everything up waist high or more.  I worked together with our elementary team.

At 2:26, I took a moment to look out the window from the second story of our elementary building.  This is what I saw.

I could see all that water being held back by our wall and I could see houses in the distance where it looked as though the water was half way up the doors.  Honestly, it felt like it was only a matter of time, especially when we began to see water leaking through several of the seams.  We continued to work.

Around 4:15, the elementary principal came running around the building shouting that the wall had broken.  There were three of us in the same area and we hopped in one of our colleagues cars and we tore out of that area to one of the higher points on campus.  I didn't want her car to be under water.  I ran by the house of a family in quarantine to yell at them and tell them the wall had broken and then I ran towards my classroom where I had left my phone plugged in to charge. I grabbed it and my water bottle and waited for the principal who had run back to the area as well.  While I waited I watched the water pour in where the wall had broken.  This was not a story that we wanted to be ours and yet here we were again.  

When it was all said and done, we waded out to the front entrance in water that was up to our chests.  It is the first and the last time I hope to be taking a selfie in the Niger river!

I lay in bed Tuesday morning with a barely functioning brain.  Too tired to even open my Bible, God brought the words of 1 Peter 2:23 to mind.  I add a little more here for context:  "For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly."  As you can well imagine there are just SO MANY questions.  In the face of those questions, I have the challenge of walking the same road that my Saviour walked, one of continuing to entrust myself, my colleagues, this ministry and our mission to the Father.  He is sovereign and He knows what He wants to accomplish in this that will bring glory to His name.

Here are some things He has already done:
  • In those last hours, He sent some strong young men who helped us move alot of things to our second floor where they are dry and safe.
  • Just minutes before the wall broke, several men were standing in front of it inspecting the leaks.  When it broke, no one was there.
  • He held back the water until the last bit of chemicals in our science lab were carefully stored upstairs.
  • He gave one of our guys the foresight to turn off the electricity to the whole campus so that when water began pouring in we had one less thing to worry about.
  • He sent some men in through the wall who stuck with us and helped us put up a bunch of last minute things in the elementary, computer lab and some colleagues' houses that hadn't had time to prepare.
  • Passports, wallets and lost pets have been recovered.
  • He has given us joy and laughter even in the midst of tears.
He is good and worthy of our praise.

School was to have started on September 1.  We are in the midst of trying to recover as much as possible from homes and the school and we need time to regroup and make decisions about the future.  We covet your prayers for wise decision making, for health and safety for those wading into the water and for God's provision of new homes and school buildings.  For several colleagues, this is the second time they have been through this.  Many of our leaders, including our SIM Niger Director, treasurer and the Sahel Academy Director and their families were all living on these compounds.  This means they are dealing with this loss and having to make important decisions about ministries simultaneously. Many of our Nigerien colleagues' homes are being threatened or have already been lost.  Please pray that all will know and experience the loving care of the Father. 

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Make Plans to Immigrate

First Grade recently began a study of Mexico.  One afternoon this past week we were talking about the symbols in the Mexican flag and what they mean.  Then our conversation expanded to the flags of each of my students' countries and the meaning of the symbols on them.  When I got to my Indian student, he described the orange, white, and green bands on the flag quite well.  Then he declared, "And it has a wheel in the middle!" 

Of course, I asked what the meaning of the wheel was just to find out the extent of his knowledge.  "The wheel is there so the Canadians will come!" he said with great excitement.  "Oh really???"  I think to myself.  "Yes," he said, "And they will speak Canadian!" 

I'm not going to lie, I laughed out loud then.  "O__," I said, "Canadians speak English."

"No, they speak Canadian,"  O___ insisted.

"O___," I said,  "I am Canadian.  Canadians speak English." 

There you have it, if you happen to be in the Canadian portion of my reading audience and you have felt a sudden desire to immigrate to India, you must be responding to the call of the wheel.  Make plans to immigrate now.  But before you go brush up on your Canadian, eh!

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Learning the Books of the Bible

Part of the First Grade memory program at Sahel is to learn the first five books of the Bible.  For such big words, music is always the way to go.  I stumbled across this song and thought I would try it out this year mostly because I love the simple truth that is communicated between all the big names:

The Books of the Bible, 
Time tested and reliable.
Scripture has a power that's undeniable.
The Books of the Bible,
their wisdom's verifiable.
Scripture has a power that's undeniable.

Here's what it's supposed to sound like:

It has absolutely been a hit in the classroom.  So much so that if I would, they would have me play it over and over again.  When I stop playing it well they just keep on singing it themselves.  The evidence is all here.

So obviously, we haven't quite mastered all the names.  In fact, at one point they were singing about the book of  "Eccludiastes".  And of course, there are times when you get lost in all those big names so why not start all over again when that happens!  Don't worry if you never make it to the end!

Love that they are learning important truths about God's word through song!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Jumping Up to High School - The Visible Effects of this Transient Life


It was January 2012, I took a picture of my then second graders jumping off the sidewalk.  Then just because it was such a fun picture, I immortalized them in black and white as my blog header. 

In 2015 those second graders graduated from fifth grade and moved up to Middle School.  So just for fun I took another picture, same location, same order.  It was amazing that in such a transient community the core group of this class was pretty much the same.  Three years later and the picture looks much different.

In May of 2018 my friend Anne organized the graduating Eighth Graders for a jump shot in the exact same order.  You can see the group was significantly reduced in number.  Of the group of 9 moving on to middle school, only five remained for the shot.  Four of the students had returned to their home countries - two permanently and two for home assignment with their families.  So in reality out of that core class of 10 that I taught in Second Grade 7 students remain which I would say is still pretty incredible!  Not to mention that they have actually been joined by quite a few more students. 

And here they all are!  The Eighth Grade has adopted a Nigerien cultural practice of dressing up in a uniform to celebrate their graduation.  Nigeriens often do this for special occasions such as wedding celebrations or simply to show their identity as belonging to a certain group. 

One thing that hasn't changed - they are still a great bunch of kids!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

A "Welcome Home" Tradition

It seems there is a little "Welcome Home" tradition developing when I return from home assignment.  Upon my return from my last home assignment, I woke up one morning to a flat tire - a little "happy to see you again" gift from my car.  This time I gave myself the gift in a much more dramatic style by running over a six inch pipe sticking out of the ground - a nice pop and "psssssszzzz" as the air fizzled out and all of this in front of a truckload of soldiers.  Oh me, oh my!

The wonderful thing about Niger is that help is just around the corner.  The security guard called the guy on the corner who fixes tires to come and he changed the tire after borrowing a workable jack from one of my friends.  So help came quickly.  Not only that, I now know that I need a new jack and four new tires. So I'm thankful for the wisdom God provides even out of my dumbest moves!
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