Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas in Niger

Over the years, many people have asked me what Christmas looks like in a country like Niger. It is a predominately Muslim country (between 80 and 98% depending on how you look at the stats) and there is no snow, no pine trees with lights or decorations on houses or anything else like that. But no matter where in the World we live, we celebrate Christmas with people. We celebrate Christ’s birth in ways unique to each location but also in ways that reflect our deep roots to family, friends and neighbours.

Here in Niger this Christmas some teammates noticed that the “sermons” from the mosques that they say over the loud speakers 5x a day are getting longer. A local friend says they are speaking out against Christmas, against Christ and telling people not to celebrate. However very few of the people here actually speak Arabic and thus few understand what they are saying at all. With multiple mosques in ever community it can feel oppressing but we sense God’s presence.

The “Grand Mosque” in Niamey

mosque-1

 

So for us when we are here in Niger, Christmas is about community and worshiping and celebrating together. Each year the International church has a carols, candlelight and cookies service where we sit outdoors with candles and sing carols and worship and enjoy fellowship.

Christmas-1

We decorate our house with a little tree and we make homemade ornaments

Christmas-5

Christmas-6

 

I also enjoy setting up my nativity collection around the house on the holidays. I am slowly collecting them in my travels and love their unique styles and materials. Here is a sample of one table set up Smile These represent Ghana, Burkina Faso, Spain, France and a Paul McIver original!

nativity-3

 

Two of our Christmas seasons here we have also been really blessed to have family visit us. It is a great time of year weather wise to be in Niger and we love every minute of spending holidays with our families!

Christmas-7Christmas-10

One of our favorite parts of the holidays here is the time we spend with our team. Christmas-3Depending on who is home in Canada on furlough and who is visiting and who we have for volunteers, this group of people looks a little different every year. We love the way God has given us family here in this group and we laugh so hard together! We have great times of fellowship, worship and laughter!

 

Another special part of the holidays here is the visits we have with our National friends. We go and bring treats and share meals and share the Christmas story with many of our dear Nigerien friends. Here is Bennett and Arielle in 2011 with the daughters of our friend and co-worker Mohammed.Christmas-4

And finally, we enjoy special times with just our immediate family. Nothing is more important to me than my family and our Christmas holidays are full of baking, stories, games (lots of games!) and laughter and hugs and Christmas traditions. No matter where we live, these follow us. I am so thankful!

Christmas-8

Christmas-9

Christmasportraits-9

Christmasportraits-19

So from our home to yours, we wish you a very Merry Christmas, no matter where in the world this holiday finds you! May it be filled with loved ones, special traditions, memories and joy as we celebrate Christ’s birth!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Transitions- Pain and Joy mixed together

first-career-transition

“Look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.”

 

We have just arrived back in Niamey, Niger. Our second home in this world and arriving is exciting and brings tears of joy to our eyes, but also we realize there is great sadness in the leaving. One of the hardest things to do is big transitions. Where life looks so different on one side as compared to the other. It takes weeks and lots of purposeful time talking, praying and preparing to do this as well as possible. We have spent lots of time talking through it with our kids to help them do it well this time. Now that they are older, the transitions are harder and more real to them.

familyweb

The leaving

The hardest thing to leave is people. Nothing can replace the dear family and friends we have at home in North America. We find that almost everything else is a willing sacrifice, but leaving loved ones hurts and truly costs us something in our hearts. I always say the leaving would be easy if we could only bring them with us. So many of them support us deeply and encourage us and we are so thankful, and while some don’t support us, we are assured none the less that this is where we are supposed to be. God has clearly placed his call on our lives to the work He is accomplishing in Niger, and the work He is doing in our own lives and characters through our time here.

Leaving this time after 17 months at home in Canada has sent us out with such an amazing group of supporters. We have connected deeply with so many of you on so many levels. I made so many rich friendships in different places. We tabulated it up and we had 76 speaking engagements and we drove just over 10,000 km in those 17 months, not including flights for work to Ontario, BC and Saskatchewan. You welcomed us and we were inspired by your own passions in your communities and for God’s work around the World. We were touched to see your generosity and partnership in the work He is doing in Niger. I can’t wait to see a bunch of you come out to Niger sometime in this next term to see first hand the Tuareg people, the school, and so much more. To experience this beautiful land and it’s people and challenges yourselves.

There are indeed little things we will miss. Coffee dates at a cafe (and good coffee in general). Easy grocery shopping and a large variety of food. Sane driving. Holidays celebrated and decorations. The colors of Fall, the amazing beauty of the Rocky Mountains. Camping. Activities like libraries, sport teams to join, weekend getaways to beautiful places. So many parts of everyday life that look a little bit different here.

The arriving

Coming home to our house in Niamey felt like home. Driving down the streets and seeing the same sights and smells and so many of the people we love, it felt like we had barely been gone at all. While the leaving was especially hard for our two older kids this time, once they were in our house they were excited to see some of their toys, their own beds, and to remember all the good memories here. What a blessing to have our home still here and not to have to start over setting up at some place new. It gives a good sense of rest and belonging already, even though there is a lot of work ahead to get it cleaned and set up again and unpacked.

The greatest joy in arriving is the people, which ironically was also the hardest to leave behind! While we can never replace the family and friends we left behind, we have been blessed with an amazing community here in Niger. We have a wonderful team we work with day in and day out. They are surrogate siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents to our kids and us, they help to fill that gap in our hearts and it is beautiful to see community work as God intended. We have great sets of friends here in our team and in the general community. I personally count many of these women as sisters. Women who love me, walk with me, know me deeply and love unconditionally. We go through life together and I am so happy to be back among them. Our kids are thrilled to see their friends here again and we look forward to re-establishing family traditions and outings and community times as a normal part of our life again. Thank you Jesus for this community here in Niger of people who are full of grace, who seek your heart and serve you.

Already our Tuareg friends are also showing up to greet us. Our guards and their families re-embrace us in their lives. Paul’s apprentice Hama was waiting outside the gate on our second day here, eager to see Paul again. While we were gone we put him through a program at a local trade school so he could keep learning. He exceled and got his certificate and has been working at the International school as a welder/handyman where he has become known for his great work ethic and attitude. He is eager for the Men’s program to launch again so he can keep learning.

20131214_123044

I can’t wait to get out next week and starting visiting our Girls and their families. Some have gotten married and even had babies as well in this past year. I have missed them and I can’t wait to hear more about the changes in their lives and what is new and exciting with them.

In posts to come we will reintroduce you to the country we are in, it’s people and the things we are experiencing like for the first time!

Until then, a few pictures of our travels!

An early morning flights out of Amsterdam has us enjoying our last Starbucks and rolling our carts through the quiet hallways.

20131212_060849

Ella was an amazing first time flyer!

20131212_080905

Bennett’s picture out the window of sunrise over Paris.

20131212_074900

Monday, November 18, 2013

Introducing Ella !!

Dear blogging friends. While many of you know us in person and have heard the news, I realized there are also a good chunk of you who follow this blog who live elsewhere around the World and thus I am sorry I am late with this blog! (In my defense- we are moving, packing and having a newborn , so pastimes such as blogging have been put on hold!)

We are so thrilled to announce that our precious daughter, Ella Sahara Grace, was born exactly a month ago today on October 18th!

Ella Sahara Grace McIver

 

This amazing miracle gift from God is already such a joy and blessing to us. I am reminded how special it is to be a mother. I love the late night snuggles while she nurses and I can gaze into her eyes and pray blessings and protection over her future. I am excited to see her grow up and to see the wonderful child and daughter she will be. But I don’t want her to grow up too fast either! I am determined to enjoy this stage and every stage, to embrace and slow down and snuggle and be present in each and every moment.

Now that Ella is here we have purchased our return tickets to Niger, leaving December 10th and arriving in Niger on the 12th. Please join us in prayer for all of Ella’s paperwork for her passport, visa etc. to come in on time and for all the stresses related to packing and moving our family back around the World. Pray also for our hearts and that of our families back here in North America. The absolute hardest part of moving back overseas is saying goodbye to the precious members of our family who we will not see as often. We will miss family events, special moments and lots of family birthdays, vacations and hugs. We know clearly we are doing what God has given us in this time, but the distance is still hard, as any International Worker can attest to.

 

Ellaphotoshootweb-68

 

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made

Psalm 139:14

Ellaphotoshootweb-3

profile-1

Thursday, October 03, 2013

The opinion and judgement factor

 

Ephesians 4:29

New International Version (NIV)

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

 

Over the past while I have been ruminating, and even written several drafts, on a post of opinion and judgement. Maybe it is just because I have become more aware, or maybe it is a return to North American culture thing that triggered me to notice it more, but more and and more I have become aware of the judgement factor.

I understand that everyone likely has an opinion on most things in life. We all take the information available to us and make choices when faced with decisions. Some people research and study and use all available methods to make the best decisions. Others do a little research and talk to people, others google, others go with a gut feeling. But whatever it is, you make a decision. What has surprised me is the way that people judge other people based on their decisions. And personally, I feel that women are especially susceptible to this (though men are by no means off the hook).

Let me give you an example. Being pregnant and just about to deliver I can assure you that it seems everyone out there has an opinion on what I should do. Especially about how I should deliver this child. Now I know a bunch of women that I love and respect who have given birth in the past few years. Their experiences range the gamut from those who chose caesarean sections for the ease and convenience, those who had medically urgent caesareans, those who had hospital assisted normal vaginal births, those who chose to stay at home with a doula or midwife present, and those who chose to give birth alone in their shower (and even other options in between but you get the point!). I know each and every one of these women love their children dearly. I know each one wanted a healthy child and a healthy recovery and was concerned for their own body as well. I do not judge any single one of them for the type of birth they chose, even if they chose something that I personally would not consider in my own life and situation.  In fact, I think it is fascinating to sit and talk with them and hear their decision making process and research and thoughts that led up to their choices. Not because I think what they did was right or wrong, but because it interests me in how we make choices and the different way or angle that we can all approach the common female experience of childbirth. (However not all women are open to discussing their decision- potentially because like me they feel that society is often judging their decisions and thus they would need to defend themselves- so sad!). I believe they all made what they felt was the best decision and no one can tell us that their choice was wrong. Each one has a healthy child now. I have been doing a lot of reading, talking to people and online research. My last childbirth experience was 8 years ago and did not go real well with some medical hiccups at the end that led to a temporary adductor muscle paralysis for months ( I am trying to avoid that this time!) , so I want to see what is out there for best practice and knowledge and research from all different sources, levels of training and medical professionals. I find it frustrating when there is contradictory evidence, even from people who are on the same end of the spectrum. For example when a birth coach and a long-trained doula and midwife all have strong different opinions on a certain practice or matter. But why do people feel they need to impress upon you their choices and what they believe to be right? Do they think that I love my children any less than they love theirs, or that somehow I don’t care and want the best for my child and my delivery? It is hurtful to hear some of their comments sometimes and feel their disappointment if I am choosing something other than what they chose.

But that is just one example. There are many types of situations where we do the same thing to each other. Why is it that we feel the need to judge? Why is it that we feel the need to put our opinion out there to convince or guilt someone into agreeing with us or feeling they are disappointing us? I feel one of the gravest things I fear in this society is that we are not encouragers or cheerleaders of each other. I went for a pedicure with my sister in law today and we were discussing this exact thing, that we face enough pressure and judgement from the world around us that our close community and families should be each other’s best advocates and cheerleaders. We should be the ones to champion and love and support each other, EVEN IF they make a decision that is not the same as one that we would make. I personally am doing everything I can do avoid a c-section delivery and it would not be my choice to have that unless there was really no other choice in a medical emergency. I am also hoping (and trying some natural methods) to have this labour start at 39 weeks because a smaller baby and earlier birth will lessen my chances of nerve paralysis this time and any chance of a medical c-section.  But I have no problem supporting and loving the people in my life who do choose to have a c-section or those who wait until natural labour starts even if it is 42-43 weeks. Because at the end of the day, unless they are choosing something dire and radical and endangering their lives with something crazy, I trust them. I choose to love the person and support them and trust they are making decisions, along with their spouses or whoever else is involved in their decisions, that they will think it out and do what is best for their family, their health and their situation.

Why would my opinion matter and I would waste my time trying to convince them what they are doing is wrong? I can see so much hurt and broken relationships that emanate from that type of thing. I have seen broken relationships emanate from choices where we judge. Who stays at home as a Mom and who goes back to work. Who spends their money in what way. Who stays close to family, who moves away for jobs and future. Who uses public schools vs. who uses Christian school vs. who home schools. Do we really think any of those people love their children or families any less and did not really think through and work through their decision? How much easier it would be if we knew we had support and care in our corner and the judgement was erased.

I believe God created us to live in community. To care for one another and exhort and encourage.  We are pitted against culture and forces and society who can often be against us and make this life hard. We need to be more of each other’s cheerleaders. More of the people who support, encourage and celebrate our choices, not those who judge or pressure or make you feel stupid for a choice that you make just because it is not a choice that they make.  I personally would feel so much relief from that, and I think all of our relationships would be better for it. Let’s not judge. Let our words be a gift to encourage, lift up and exhort others.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Summer update Part 2

Well here is Part two of our summer update. If you missed part 1 go back and check it out!

We continue to hang out with family as much as possible over the summer. We like to drop by unexpectedly (or expected) and just make even little visits count where we can. We went camping with cousins and had a hoot too! Once again, these photos are by no means exhaustive but representative of people and events!

bestofsummer (11 of 37)

bestofsummer (31 of 37)

bestofsummer (30 of 37)

bestofsummer (26 of 37)

 

We saw old friends and made new ones. We were active, camped, biked and did a lot of geocaching! We built epic sand castles!

 

bestofsummer (37 of 37)

Daddy’s Mayan ruins

bestofsummer (36 of 37)

Finding geocaches

bestofsummer (35 of 37)

bestofsummer (33 of 37)

bestofsummer (34 of 37)

bestofsummer (24 of 37)

We wipe out on our bikes! But she was a trooper and got right back up!

photo

bestofsummer (32 of 37)

We take fun family photos. I take lots of photos of my kids. But sometimes better than others haha!

bestofsummer (8 of 37)

bestofsummer (9 of 37)

bestofsummer (7 of 37)

bestofsummer (3 of 37)

McIver cardfront

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Summer update Part 1

I realize that this year in Canada I have been horrible at updating the blog. What was normally once every 10 days or so in Niger have turned into once every three months. But since this in part was created to keep our family and friends updated while we were overseas, I guess during the time at home I have not felt inspired to write. In truth we have been quite busy. From September to July we had 70 separate speaking/preaching/teaching/meetings going on to do with our work in Niger, as well as a 10 day trip to Niger for Chantelle in June for graduation of the Girls School. Wow, no wonder we felt tired at the start of the summer! Since then we have tried to take it a little slower, with the kids being on summer break and all, to get some of that rest that is supposed to be associated with furlough year home!

So I thought i would put together a two part update with mostly photos to show you what we have been up to this summer. We are in Red Deer until mid Fall as we await the birth of our child in early October so there is still time to catch up face to face as well!

 

First of all, Paul and I went on a short little trip for our 13th wedding anniversary down to Florida. The time away together was priceless and relaxing and I am so thankful for the wonderful husband God has given me!

We rode bikes on the boardwalk

Florida (1 of 4)

We took a tour of the Everglades

Florida (2 of 4)

We went to the Seaquarium

Florida (3 of 4)

And we just hung out and enjoyed the time together!

Florida (4 of 4)

 

We also got to spend a lot of time this summer with our favourite dog Sanka. For those of you who don’t remember, Sanka spent the first 5 years of his life as our dog before going to join the family of our good friends when we went to Niger in an environment that would not be healthy for him. We love him dearly to this day and he is an old dog now, almost 10 years old!

bestofsummer (29 of 37)

bestofsummer (27 of 37)

bestofsummer (28 of 37)

bestofsummer (2 of 37)

 

We went to Invermere/ Radium for a week to relax and enjoy boating, swimming and exploring.

bestofsummer (19 of 37)

bestofsummer (17 of 37)

We also got to see my Niger teammate Lisa who has just arrived home for her own year of furlough. Yes these are wild big horn sheep behind us!

bestofsummer (18 of 37)

We got to be a part of Auntie Rebecca’s engagement scavenger hunt day!

bestofsummer (16 of 37)

Recreating the famous painting “American Gothic” in our own style.

bestofsummer (13 of 37)

We house-sat for friends out in the country and enjoyed the country life for a week

bestofsummer (21 of 37)

bestofsummer (20 of 37)

I am a huge fan of canola fields in the summer. My hard drive is full of photos of them. So beautiful!

bestofsummer (23 of 37)

bestofsummer (22 of 37)

 

And we also had the joy of spending an afternoon picnic with our teammates from Niger the Cheungs who were around for a brief vacation. I stayed with them while I was in Niger this June and we love them to bits! This is the “Tuareg team” of the larger Niger team!

 

bestofsummer (25 of 37)

 

 

Stay tuned for part two!