Thursday, March 03, 2011

A year in review

I know we are starting March. So my year in review is a little late, but we have been busy!

Each year I like to look back at all the things we learned the year before. What were our biggest successes, biggest failures, biggest challenges and biggest growth? How much can we take from what we experienced in the year before to make us into better people, better reflecting who God wants us to be. We are learning about gratefulness and finding the good blessings even in the midst of hard situations. We are learning our own strengths, as well as our own shortcomings. So good!

 

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Paul has had a wonderful year, although quite challenging when you ask him. Paul still has another 7 or so months left of “official” language study. Every week he struggles with the time behind a desk, in class, finding ways to make language learning more than an awful chore he has to learn. But yet he is also the first to see there has been great growth in his language skills. The majority of the young men he works with all speak French, so it is tough to force them to speak Tamasheq with him, but he tries!

I asked him on the spot what he thought the biggest struggle was last year. His answer was “scheduling his time” . So many requests, so many needs, language study, shop work, and a family all needing his attention. And nothing like a regular job workday in sight! So trying to find how to manage his time and be a self organizer has been hard.

I also asked what he thought an achievement of his was this year that improved his capacity to live here in Niger. He said he had come to terms with Africa a lot more! Crazy driving, no rules, frequent strikes, power outages, corrupt officials and hard-headed Tuaregs are no longer a thing to make him bang his own head against a wall, but something he has learned to navigate with much less stress. Yay!

Paul has also been using his skills as a welder to bless other groups. He has built a whole lot of desks and chairs for a school, and now a bunch of bright green metal benches for the new CURE hospital for Children in town. He is working with a few young men as apprentices and sees great potential for teaching and will start this more formally this Fall.

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Chantelle finished formal language study the end of November after completing 25.5 months in Tamasheq language studies. I am finding this doesn’t mean a whole bunch to my schedule since the last months the large majority of my language was all with national friends and work anyhow. I am now spending a big majority of my time in the Girls at Risk training school. I love working with these 60 girls (all between the ages of 12 and 19) and see huge potential. We are still working out some of the kinks with supplies, lesson planning and especially the guards for the centre, but overall we are really seeing great potential and excitement in the girls. As we get to know them better in the school, we are also seeing increased opportunities to invest in their lives outside of school. The real relational heart work comes at their homes, on field trips, sitting and having tea anywhere, talking about life, love, health, heart issues and faith in the context of this wonderful friendship we are building. I am getting great friendships going with many of the girls and am so proud of their progress and excitement to learn as we are on this journey together.

I am still working on the School feeding program out in the village, but with increased security concerns, I can’t physically be out there. A real bummer that we are creatively trying to find a way around.

On a creative side, I still try to make time! I have done quite a bit of photography for myself and for others, I am trying to do a bit of sewing and reading. With security concerns keeping us on curfew and in town I need some new hobbies!

I have struggled with stress and anxiety this past 7 or so months more than normal and am trying to find ways to be proactive and have a good self-care plan in place. Some things are out of my control, so I try to control how much they stress me out at least!

 

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Bennett is a very active, bright 6 year old. Well he turns 6 Saturday, so close enough! He loves to snuggle and is easily affectionate. He has learned to write this year and the beginnings of learning to read, and is very excited to read. He loves books at night. He misses Canada and talks about it, whereas Arielle never does. He also loves to talk about nice hotels (like the resorts we stayed in on our last two vacations) and hopes to live permanently in one. He even hopes there is a nice hotel in Heaven!

Bennett is so funny. He also loves his French school but he is quite observant (for a 6 year old!) about many of the cultural differences that he observes between him and his classmates. Here are some of his recent funny comments, we never know what “astute observation” is going to come out of his mouth next!

Bennett- whose goats are those?

Mom- the people who live in the hut there

Bennett- Oh. I thought God sent us goats that don’t belong to anyone so that they could eat all the garbage!

I have the best rule EVER for the house! When we play with something, or anybody puts anything on the table, they clean it up before they go to bed! Then we will always have a clean house! (His Daddy LOVED this one!)

You know why it took me so long to eat my breakfast this morning Mom? My heart was dreaming of victory and I forgot all about my yogurt!

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Arielle has had a really good year. She thrives in the French preschool class she is in. She is slow to talk to adults (still shy and unsure), but when you hear her talk with a group of little people I am amazed how much she talks, especially in French! On days home she loves to follow our housekeeper Rebecca around and help clean and chatter away in French. We are proud of how her emotional stability has grown. She loves to read and colour and be read stories. And she loves hanging out with all her aunties here! She plays better with the young Africa neighbours than Bennett does and is quite content to sit in huts or chase goats with some of her new friends. She loves visiting African friends, whereas Bennett is a little more iffy. She even has learned some Tamasheq!

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If you know Paul and I you know we aren’t people who just gloss over things that might be hard. We can’t ignore tension or pretend things are all shiny happy (fake!). We tell it like it is and are learning how to be positive catalysts for change. It is never an easy task. So frustrating sometimes when we work with a very prideful people group who used to be Kings of the Desert, and who didn’t seem to get the message they are now the poorest of the poor who have no skills and people look down on. They don’t seem to want to work or grow and learn sometimes. So frustrating! One of the major things we are learning is how to use our natural personalities who desire honesty and authenticity and to apply that to our lives and situations around us in the best way possible.

We have experienced (and continue to experience) several areas of extreme frustration. Sometimes we wonder how we can get past them, what are our options, our best solutions, etc. Maybe there are no solutions and this is just part of the journey we will continue to learn from here in Niger? Maybe there is another solution that we just haven’t found yet? Truth of the matter is we love what we do. The work we have, the people we work with and the role we clearly feel God has for us is very rewarding and fulfilling in many ways. No matter what the road blocks, we still feel this is where we need to be, the work that we have to do is here for now. We trust when the time comes to move on (if ever!) that God will clearly lead us that direction as we look only up to follow Him.

We also live in an interesting situation of security. We are neither really secure, nor really insecure. It feels like jello some days if we slide closer to one side or another. In general we feel safe in town and take all the precautions possible. We will see what (if any) affect all the upheaval in the countries north of us has. We also have National Elections in a few weeks, finally getting a new government after the coup d’etat more than a year ago. We pray this is a good government, but you just never know here!

So overall this past year has been one of great growth. Also increased stress, but hopefully with an equal measure of learning and personal growth. God is good and we count ourselves lucky to be here in this time when He is clearly teaching us and refining us and using us to achieve his purposes.

This is a verse we hold to and try to make our life mantra at this point!

Philippians 4:11b-13  I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

1 comment :

Freya said...

Great Entry! I love to hear about your family's adventures, struggles and victories.

I am learning that no matter where we are, we are going to have to struggle through things that seem beyond us. Just know your capacity is expanding, and there is lots of love and prayer coming your way from back home!