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

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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.

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

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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Ella was an amazing first time flyer!

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

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