Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Free Advice to Volunteers

The Songhai Team has a strategy for reaching this people with the Good News. We have asked for volunteers to do or help accomplish specific parts of this strategy. Know that you have been prayed for before you knew you were coming to minister to the Songhai people. You are a valuable part of God’s plan to tell and show the Songhai about His love. We are excited that you are coming! You are an answer to prayer!

With this in mind, we would offer you this advice:

Come fresh and rested to meet the Songhai people

Get plenty of rest BEFORE your trip... you will be tired enough from jet lag, heat, and all it takes to adjust to a new environment. You will be more prone to illness and less able to deal with cultural stresses if you are exhausted.

Come to minister to the Songhai and meet their needs

We will fill your days with fun and adventure, but it will not be a vacation. Come to give your all everyday. Come with a servant heart to be emptied out. Come to be used by God, not to be served or to be filled. Come with an expectation that God is going to do something great through you and your team that will further His kingdom on earth. You may not see this, but claim it by faith. Work confidently knowing His Spirit is with you to work through you. He will bless you, empower, and enable you to complete the task that He has asked you to do, and protect you as you do it. Also, look for ways to be encouraging and helpful to others on your team and your hosts.

Come to learn from the Songhai people

Come as a learner, rather than a teacher. Come with an open mind, rather than a closed one. Come to listen, rather than to talk. They are a proud, unique people, who are made in God’s image. Pray for God’s eyes to see, His ears to hear, His hands to work, and His heart to love. Be open, willing, and pliable to what God will teach you through this experience. When you come to give, you will find that you receive. Once you are home, it will amaze you to unpack your bag and find more than souvenirs “inside”– you will go home a changed person.
From another perspective, your learning actually begins before you arrive.  One thing that will make you feel more confident as you interact with the Songhai is to learn a few local greetings in the months leading up to your trip.  Our section called "Language Helps" will be useful.  It is also of great benefit to brush up on some basic French phrases, which will help you as you travel. 

Come to live in the Third World

It will not take you long to figure out you and Toto are not in Kansas! This is not America. There are no beepers, nor central air conditioning. Occasionally there is no electricity. Sometimes the Internet server is down for days at a time, and there is no e-mail. Other times communication to the USA by phone is impossible. It is not unheard of for baggage to arrive late or be forever lost. Most people do not own a watch. If you do not mind the wait, there is usually at least one flight out a week, especially if you would like to go to another part of West or Northern Africa, such as Libya, so do not panic. It is very unusual to find a diet coke. Yes, we do have a few bugs, snakes, mosquitoes, and scorpions, as well as Snickers, Pringles, and Perrier. However, do not ask for grape jelly; the French have better things to do with their grapes! No, you do not have to bathe in the river, unless you want to. We’ve never heard of McDonald’s here, but then again you do not have to chase down your dinner-- we do that for you.

Come committed to staying healthy

It is no fun to spend a couple of days in and out of the bathroom alone at the guesthouse. Your time is short, and your days will be full. Your team will be incomplete without you.
A person can only survive three days without water. You are coming to the desert, so you do “the math”. Bring an insulated bottle that can hold at least a quart of water. Drink only bottled water or water that has been filtered. Drink at least two quarts of water a day, preferabley MUCH more. Please, do not ask to drink from another person’s thermos bottle; this is a quick way to spread germs. A headache may be a sign that you are not getting enough water.

For emphasis, we will say again, you cannot drink too much water. If you get diarrhea (defined by three or more watery, loose stools in a 24 hour period) you will need to increase your fluid intake, adding a pinch of salt, several teaspoons of sugar, and a squeeze of lemon or orange juice to every quart of water.

Clean hands
Don’t be obsessive, but take every opportunity to wash your hands with soap and running water. Bring a couple of sacks of wet wipes or a cleanser, like Purell, to keep with you at all times.

Clean clothing
Bring at least one clean set of clothes for each day or plan on washing while you are on the field.

Personal hygiene
Take a shower before falling into bed at night– local germs do not make good bedfellows.

Please tell your Songhai Team Host and Volunteer Team Leader if you are feeling a little “off”, physically or emotionally. Not so that we can be nosey, but so that we can help you prevent an illness or stressor from getting out of hand. If you are sick, please do not help with food preparation.

First Aid
Keep even minor scrapes, cuts, and blisters clean and covered. Open wounds of any kind can become infected easily here.

Take your anti-malarial medication as directed by your physician. Use insect spray. Wear long sleeved clothing at night. Sleep under a mosquito net or in a room with screening. There is no immunity to malaria.

Medical care
Please do not come sick. For unexpected illnesses, we have physicians here who can diagnose and treat common illnesses and pharmacies where we can purchase drugs. Twenty-four hour clinics are available, but care is basic to nil. There is no such thing as an emergency. It takes at least 24 hours to get a medical evacuation flight to Niamey into Germany or France.

Come ready to experience African cooking

While you are here, your taste buds will be treated to a new delight every meal. You can try fried grasshoppers if you would like, but we do not normally eat things really strange like zebu hump, cow stomach or tail, goat head, or anything that moves on the plate. However, we do eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in season, grains, noodles, milk, beef, fish, and eggs in African, French, and American recipes. Good chicken is a little harder to come by. French baguette bread loaves are almost always available. Imported foods such as cheese and ham are very expensive. Rarely would one find a Diet Coke or Mt Dew.
Daily shopping and food preparation take a great amount of time and effort to make sure that you have something healthy to eat at every meal. So, be adventurous and try at least a spoonful of everything without complaining. You will not be served cheese with your whines! We will be willing to alter menus for serious food allergies (hives or anaphylactic shock), but not for food preferences. The noted exception: If you are required medically to be on a certain diet (we’re not talking here fad diets or preferences) you will need to contact us and tell us about it; you will probably need to bring your food with you and/ or plan on preparing your own meals.

Your mother always told you about the starving children in Africa; everything she told you was true. Your mother was right all along. While you are here you will meet some of these starving children face-to-face. They beg on every corner. They are rummaging through the trash heap as you leave the restaurant. They are watching you eat in the village; they will eagerly eat what you thoughtlessly threw down in the sand and drink the last swallow of coke in your can after you discard it. So, do not waste food, especially in front of them.

If you are offered food or drink in someone’s home, keep a smile on your face and say “No, thank you. I am not thirsty/ hungry” if you do not want any. They are probably offering you the very best they have in the very best container, and they will seat you in their best and only chair. Hospitality is a virtue in Songhai culture, as is the receiving of this hospitality. Slurp your tea very loudly to express your thanks. Burping and spitting out bones on the floor is acceptable in Songhai homes only. If your food comes straight out of the fire, it is ok to eat. Do not ask what it is, you might not want to know. The dish you are offered will often be the entire meal for the whole family. The guest will get to dig in first. So, eat a small amount from the side of the plate nearest to you, leaving most for the rest of the family. Eat ONLY with your right hand, and DO NOT lick your fingers until you have finished completely.

Come prepared, period - it’s the original Boy Scout motto

“What to Bring” and “How to Bring it” has already been covered. If you have any questions, let us know. Please, do not fret thinking about what you forgot or lost along the way. We can purchase basic toiletries, personal feminine items, and enough clothing here to get you by, meaning, you will not be needy but neither will you be making a fashion statement!
We will caution you not to wait till the day before you leave to begin shopping and packing. If you do so, you will probably not make it to the airport on time for your flight.

You must spend hours on your knees in prayerful preparation for this trip. One volunteer recently wrote,“Food can be bought, clothes can be washed, but a heart prepared makes all the difference.” Amen!!

Come willing to open the gates of Heaven

You are coming to a Muslim/ Animist area, and you are wearing the perfume of Christ. Most people will be excited that a white person is in their village, anticipating the gifts they think are bringing. Most people will tolerate your presence. However, not everyone will be glad you are here, and these folks might be disruptive in various ways.
We have had team members and volunteers spat upon and yelled at, but not ever physically assaulted. We frequently have volunteers to be the topic of discussion at the Friday mosque preaching.  Occasionally demonic possession has been confronted. This should not surprise you; you should expect it. Matthew 5:11, 12 speaks directly to this:

“God blesses you when you are mocked and persecuted and lied about because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, ancient prophets were persecuted too.” (New Living Translation)

Come to work as a team

We do ask that you come prepared to do your job, which includes a plan to accomplish this task, along with the supplies you need to finish your task. You will be in dialogue with your Songhai Team Host before you arrive to talk specifically about your task, how it fits into the overall strategy, and what expectations we have for you. Respect your Volunteer Team Leader; make it easy for him or her to do the job. Be willing to follow his lead. Be well prepared to accomplish your ministry once on the field.
Personal goals are secondary to team goals. Sometimes volunteer teams will actually come together for the first time when they arrive on the field. If this is the case, we ask that you try to be in contact by e-mail or phone with your other team mates before you come, to share ideas and begin getting to know one another.

Especially for those of you coming from the same place, work hard at knowing one another well before you come. You will need to help with one another's weaknesses, as you will have a few of your own before the trip is over. Build your team on each other's strengths, and see differences as unique blessings that God has given your group. Avoid divisive grumbling and non-edifying complaining. This tears a team apart quickly, takes the joy out of the day, and makes ministry a burden.

Major on the positives. Focus on the job to be done and your role in bringing your task to a successful end. Do your part and then some. Take care of interpersonal issues among team members before coming. EACH PERSON should have an assigned task or know their role BEFORE coming, and then keep an open mind and be very flexible.

We ask that you spend time with the Lord before coming to look at your motives for wanting to be a part of this trip. Has God called you to do a specific job with this volunteer team that is forming? Critically look at your physical abilities, emotional stability, and spiritual maturity. Traveling to and in Niger is physically, emotionally, and spiritually taxing to the very limits. Please consider carefully and prayerfully your decision to come to Niger. This is not a vacation. If you have specific questions as you consider this volunteer possibility, please ask us. Also, have someone you trust to pray through your calling with you, discerning God’s voice leading you in preparation.

Come ready to be changed

After the trip, you will never be the same again. You will change; you will have a different worldview. God will speak to you in different ways than before, you will see God as you never have done so before. So, buckle up and hold on! Be ready for anything. Because of what God has done, is doing, and will do, we can definitely promise you an adventure.

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