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August: And Back Again


I have been back in Niger now for a couple of weeks. The wet season is in full swing, and it looks to be a good year for rain. A few months ago, the vine that grows around my porch was brown, and flowers were a rarity. At the time, I considered removing it. I returned home to a green haven of yellow flowers. A good rainy season in Niger lasts for about 12 weeks. If the rains continue to the end of August, the crops should do well. A second year in a row with an absence of widespread drought is exactly what Niger needs to help feed a population that is swollen by refugees from various countries.

The political situation at the moment is steady. The government seems to be doing a good job, and people appear to be maintaining their trust in the current president. Outside instability, as of yet, has not had a major effect on the country of Niger. Of course, caution is still wise.

I returned to Niger to find that a few of my friends are reevaluating their decision to become Christians. Islam’s holy month of Ramadan is about to come to a close. During this time, Muslims fast during the day and eat large meals at night. The month is concluded with large feasts. Most Islam in West Africa is more of a cultural phenomenon than what is represented by the religious Islam of North Africa and the Arab world. When violence is linked to religion, politics and power are usually the root factor. Africans are traditionally spiritual people and very much believe in a world of spirits and divinities. Through the centuries, the spiritual paint of many Africans has been cast across the canvas of Islam. Foreigners may practice whatever religion they choose, but family members must participate in the religious continuum chosen by the elders. Ramadan is an extremely important social event. Families and friends come together and celebrate a spiritual inheritance whose interest has been compounding for generations. The collective, communal unity that is found in Islam is a characteristic that is almost absent in modern, individualistic Christianity. Most Nigeriens depend upon their family units for food, education, arranged marriages, land, etc.  In Niger, abandoning the religious decisions of the family is a decision that comes with intense social risks and occasionally, a physical price. However, it must also be noted that freedom of religion is protected by federal law and is an idea that flows naturally from the African embrace of all things spiritual. Religion in Africa is usually more defined by the family than by the religion itself. Pray for new Christians in Niger.

In a few weeks, many missionary kids who are now young adults will be stepping onto a college campus or through the door of an American job. As they return to the country of their passports and begin the next chapter in their lives, they will be forced to make a challenging shift. I used the word ‘passport’ instead of ‘home’ because most of these students have spent more years in the country of their parents’ vocation than in the country of their parents’ origin.

I lived 8 of the first 9 years of my life in Africa. A few days before the beginning of 3rd grade, I returned to live in the United States and felt like a foreigner. I went with my mother to visit the principal at my brother’s new junior high. We were standing in the cafeteria, and I told my mom that I was thirsty. The nice lady smiled and pointed to a metal box hanging on the wall. She could tell I was confused and pushed the button for me. A spout of water sprang up, and I struggled to develop a plan of action for procuring my drink. I had never seen a water fountain before. Oklahoma was a nice place to visit and eat grandma’s pie, but it certainly wasn’t home. I looked like all my peers, and we all spoke English, but that was about the extent of our similarities. I probably would have said that I was African, but that’s not really true. I was neither African nor American. I was missionarian. Pray for missionary kids, especially those who are beginning a new life in a new country as ‘adults’.

I spent much of the last 10 days assisting an American team which came to Niger to visit orphans and marginalized children. The life-expectancy in Niger is about 54. Therefore, children and young adults make up a large percentage of Niger’s population. Since the family unit in Niger is so extensive, a true orphan is rare. What is more common is a child whose family cannot afford to care for them and thus is abandoned. There are many Christian orphanages here, and they are doing a great work. However, educational difficulties, lack of general oversight, financial dishonesty, and social maladjustment are among reasons why most countries around the world have recognized that the traditional orphanage strategy often yields results that are undesirable. Recent strategies include day cares and community centers that provide support so that children can remain in their homes. The government of Niger has recently made great efforts to place orphans in the homes of families, preferably related families. Niger is frequently on the cusp of drought, and taking in an extra mouth to feed is often an unwelcome prospect. Pray that Nigerien, Christian families would be willing to open there homes to needy children.

I spent a great 6 weeks in the States and want to say thank you to everyone. If I didn’t get to see you, maybe you’ll get luckier next time. The funds I was able to raise will be sufficient to keep me here for one more year. This was the most successful month of fundraising that I have ever had. There are specific individuals who have been extremely supportive; you know who you are. I couldn’t do it without you.

-Ni si yo no. ~ You’re not a camel.-