Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas Party ... Songhai Style

For Christmas this year, we decided to have a Songhai Christmas party for all our believers & their families. Since most of our believers are fairly new in the faith, we knew that they have never celebrated Christmas ... & since most are the only believers in their villages, they wouldn't even have anyone to celebrate with this year. 
Our believers come from a Muslim background where they have 2 huge holidays they celebrate every year. When they accept Christ, they leave their former way of life including these holidays. One believer told us, "I left my old life & the holidays I used to celebrate. I want to know how to celebrate the holidays that Christians do."

So we thought this would be a great opportunity to celebrate the Christmas holiday with them & give them an opportunity to be around like-minded Songhai. We usually only invite believers in to Niamey when we have conferences or discipleship seminars but we asked them to bring their families for Christmas & many of them did.

We started Christmas Eve out with killing & roasting a sheep ... it's a very traditional way to celebrate a big event here (weddings, births, holidays, etc). Biba & her team of helpers cooked all day to have enough food for the 50+ people that would be there. We ate, we sang, we watched the Jesus film & we celebrated the birth of Christ with our Songhai brothers & sisters. 

On Christmas morning, we took all the believers & their families to a local church to participate in their Christmas morning services. In America, it seems that we are so quick to get through these kinds of services so that we can get home & be with our families. Here, their families are their church. There was absolutely no hurry that morning. The service "started" at 9 & ended with a meal around 4 pm!

We all said, "See you later!" to the sheep!

Don't ask me why. This is just Mark Phillips & his craziness.

For those of you who ever came to our house in Ayorou, you might recognize these 2 girls. We were so glad their brother, who is a believer, brought them in. We had not seen them in over a year!

Cephas cooking up a pre-dinner snack for the Songhai team.

Everyone lining up at the "HUB" for the Christmas meal

The believers' children were so precious! They loved having a big celebration meal & getting their own plate of food!

Who knows this guy?!

After dinner, Randy brought everyone inside the "HUB" to sing some songs & watch the "Jesus" film.

Of course, he had 2 little helpers to lead the music!

And I got to hold Ibrahim's baby all night long!

Izzy was SO happy to be back with her best friend Nafissa!

Christmas morning at church ... the kids row!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Volunteer Testimony (FBC Hurst, November 2012)

I thought that my trip to Africa would be about building relationships with the wives of the believers that are there on the Mehana Road. What I found out was that this trip was about building my relationship with God in a way I never imagined. There were so many obstacles that got in our way from the very beginning and it seemed like they just continued one after another, but through it all, God gave me peace. You are probably saying to yourself, "Great!", but this experience is completely foreign to a girl that has the middle name of "worry, panic, then beg for help." I have a huge phobia of traffic (yes, even in the DFW area)! As long as I am driving, everyone will still be my friend/ relative when we arrive at the destination. But this crazy, lawless, round a bout traffic in Africa, was not even making me anxious. Then it hit me! God has been taking care of me!

At night I would read the Bible. The first night, we didn't have luggage or our books to use to witness. The passage God had given me to read was the time when Jesus was calling forth his disciples and he said to them to take nothing! Well, we had nothing to take or use the first day in the village but God had my back.
I had always been fortunate to grow up in a Christian home. Witnessing wasn't something I really thought that I needed to do since everyone that I was surrounded with we're already Christians. As I got older, I realized that there were opportunities, but I figured someone else would come along and witness to them. At least that is what I thought. Then I went to Africa, down the same Mehana Road that many other groups have been to. My thought was well, maybe some of the women, somehow, haven't heard the gospel story. But, I mean, there have been so many trips made by our church, it couldn't be possible.
We came to a village where a woman and her children were working in the shade. We approached her and asked if we could tell her a story. I thought, sure she wants to sit and talk. So, we shared the love that God has for her and the sacrifice that was made for her and all man kind. When we were finished, we asked her if she had any questions. She answered "how can I have questions about something, when this is the first time I have ever heard this story?". WHAT??? Really??? We talked to her some more before we left and she said she will think about our story. The seed had been planted! God was building the relationship with her through the story. He was building a firm and much stronger relationship with me. 

I never thought the day would come when I could say that I was apart of witnessing to a person who had never heard the gospel before!!!! God has my back! Everyday he is with me - all we have to do is pray, have faith and do what he asks! Even if it means to go across the world to Africa!!!

- Alicia B

Weekly Prayer Focus: NLTS students

As you saw in a recent post by Mark, our first class of the NLTS (Niamey Leadership Training School) has finished their first of 12 courses in a 2 year program. These believers learned a whole lot in a little time! The first course dealt strictly with the Old Testament. 6-8 hours of classes for 5 days in a row & studying about the Old Testament non-stop (plus memorizing a verse a day!) ... it makes my head hurt just to think about it!

But these men are eager to learn & grow & plant churches in the villages where God has placed them. As they are back into their "routine" of life in their villages, would you pray that they would be ever aware of the lostness that surrounds them? Would you pray that everything they learned & memorized would propel them forward with boldness & excitement to preach the Word with every opportunity they meet? Would you pray that they would continue to grow in their love for the Lord & their faith in Him? And would you pray that when (not if) the persecution comes, they would stand strong & cling to the One that has saved them & called them?

The task they've been given is not an easy one. They can't roll out of the village in a 4x4 truck when persecution comes. They can't hop on a plane & go back to another country when life gets tough. They can't drive to the nearest Christian bookstore & pick up a book on "how to survive persecution" when their faith is faltering because everyone has rejected them. And most can't even call on their nearest brother in Christ to share a cup of tea (or 3!) when they feel like they are the only one in their village who believes ... because the reality is, they ARE the only one. Their nearest brother may be a 4 hour bush taxi drive away & they don't have the extra resources to even take a trip like that.

So will you pray for our friends & your brothers in Christ? You may not understand their life on a day-to-day basis but you cling to the same God when life starts to falter & you pray to the same Father when all hope seems lost. You know what it's like to need encouragement in the daily grind, so will you pray that our brothers would receive it too? Will you pray that they would be a light in the darkness & stay faithful no matter how black the night may seem?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Volunteer Testimony: FBC Hurst Garden Project (September 2012)

In September, a team of four came from First Baptist Church (Hurst, TX) to conduct garden & water purification projects along the Mehanna Road. Having never done something like this before, we were a little timid of how it would go. This is not only a new concept to us but also to the Songhai who have been planting their gardens in the same manner for centuries. 

The basic idea of these garden kits is that you fill a 5 gallon container with water. The container is then connected to a drip house which is either planted underground or runs alongside the rows of crops. The water slowly leaks out throughout the day & the containers only need to be filled twice a day. The crops are consistently receiving water & the ground stays damp throughout the day, producing better crops.

The current way of gardening consists of retrieving water from the river with watering cans & dumping the water onto the crops. This version uses more water & more man power due to the multiple trips to the river throughout the day because the sun dries up the majority of the water before it can be soaked into the ground.

While we were skeptic that the Songhai would think we were looney with our contraption, they actually understood it! They watched from afar as the first kit was being assembled. They then were amazed as they saw how the containers were filled once &, hours later, the ground was still damp. They even said, "Our children can now work the gardens without messing up the crops!" 

The onlookers went from observing to learning how to put the kits together to doing it by themselves without any help! In a few villages, the Songhai decided to use these kits for the entire community. Instead of it being a personal garden, they decided to use them to create community gardens!

As seeds were being placed in the ground & these Songhai men & women were learning a new way to water & grow crops, seeds of Life were also being placed in their hearts. We pray they will learn a new way to water & grow what has been planted in their hearts & minds.

"I was moved when the water begin to flow out in droplets onto the ground at exact place and they saw how this could benefit them on an ongoing basis to help grow food. They would dig with their fingers into the soil and see what was happening; they knew that water is life. I have a new and much more appreciation for the believers on the road and what a challenge it is to remain faithful in the face of opposition and even families turning their backs. I was moved to challenge my own faith to be bolder where it is so easy." - Ron R

Friday, December 7, 2012

First Class of NLTS

It's such a strange and awesome feeling to see something through to fruition after such a long time.  As I shared in an earlier post , we've been dreaming of the HUB for 3 years and now it's here.  Besides that, we've just completed our first class of our NLTS oral theological education program.

NLTS is where our leaders (who live in the bush and are almost all illiterate) will come 6 times a year for a week at a time over the next 2 years.  They will receive training geared towards oral learners that will help them as they lead and start churches all across Songhai lands!

I've been wearing my "Happy, Happy, Happy" T-shirt that Parx bought me for my birthday all week as it seems to sum up how I'm feeling!  I told someone "I just can't stop smiling!"  It's truly been an awesome week as we trained 17 men from 10 different villages and have now sent them back out.  The HUB is being used how we always dreamed it would: as a launchpad!

As I look at this picture of all these men I can't help but think of you. So many of you have faithfully prayed for these men and their villages.  Some of you were the ones who shared with these men, some were there when they believed.  Some of you took those initial steps in discipleship with these men and some of you have come and fanned the flame.  The point is that you've been such an integral part of this journey and we are forever grateful!

We were also blessed to have Living Hope here who came and helped teach this first class.  I shared with the team that some missionaries (at least in our part of the world) never get to be a part of what they've been doing this week: discipling a room full of believers who have a heart to reach their people with the Gospel.  It's not because we have a great strategy, it's not because we're super-faithful, it's because in God's Sovereign plan, He has chosen to call the Songhai people out of darkness. 

The first course we offered at NLTS was Old Testament Survey.  In 9 lessons we covered the Old Testament and how it was pointing to Christ on every page.  

At the closing session we had a presentation to all our first class attendees and those who helped make this week a possibility.  

Cephas got a case of some local energy drink to help keep him working so tirelessly!

Randy got a bottle of milk and some honey.  Let me explain.  The day before the conference began Randy said he felt like Moses.  He went on to describe how he’d led us to this pinnacle moment.  So much work, so much prayer, so much effort had led to this very point.  However, as Randy reflected back over the journey he saw some flaws in his own life and wondered if God would allow him to see this through.  In other words, as he stood atop the mountaintop peering into the promised land he was afraid that this was as close as he’d get and that he, like Moses, would not be the one to lead the people just when it’s starting to get good!

And so I gave Randy the milk and honey to remind him, he’s not Moses, he’s Joshua.  He has faithfully been serving in every role he’s ever been in.  He’s had faith when no one else did.  He’s listened to God.  And now, he’s taken us into the land and it’s time for him to enjoy some milk and honey!  

The guys all received a certificate of completion for the course, a box of tea, and some work gloves.  The first item is obvious but the last one, maybe not.  I started the class out on Monday morning with an example.  I told them that when I lived in Ayorou, Ibrahim showed me how to farm and I went with him almost everyday and learned how to plant, grow, and harvest millet.  I told them that even now, I own all the tools necessary to farm. 

And then I asked them “but do I have any millet?”  They all laughed and said “no.”

“Why not?” I asked them.

It's because I'm not farming they explained to which I responded that they were absolutely correct.  Knowing how to farm and even having all the tools you need doesn't mean anything if I don't put them to work.  I then explained that these classes were not just about acquiring knowledge (although knowledge is good).  These classes were not just about understanding the tools needed to harvest and farm (although they are helpful). I told them that if you want to have a harvest you have to put your knowledge and your tools to work.  Hence the work gloves.  I told them that you put on these gloves when you’re about to work hard.   I told them that they were about to work hard as we send them back out into their mission field. 

Each member came and received his things and then shared with the group the person or people that he intended to share with once he returned home. 

Thank you for praying for us, our ministry, and the Songhai people!