Niger Summer Mission 2011 – Final Post

Wednesday, August 10

Where are we?
If it is Wednesday then it must be Niamey.  Boy do I ever have a greater appreciation for Rockers and other traveling performers who fall asleep in one city and wake up in another … do a show … start the whole thing over again.  Our schedule hasn’t been one causing great fatigue, but once again I must say that heat, humidity and long car rides do in fact cause fatigue.  And Kara gently reminds us that this isn’t even the hottest season of the year.  Thank you very much, but I will take my heat between 98 and 105-degrees … come January when Kara comes back they generally experience temperatures rarely under 100 and often above 125-degrees.  With those temps no egg is cooked over-easy.  Fried and fried through and through.

Enough frivolity about heat.  As much as each of us looks forward to beginning the long journey home tomorrow night, we will be leaving here with significant parts of our hearts left behind.  It may sound trite to the more savvy traveler or the cynic, but I won’t go down without a fight when it comes to any suggestion that these feelings are simply the ether of being in a new place, meeting new people.  That may have been true ten or so days ago, but by now … and considering the amount of time we have spent with Joel, Isti and Ibrahim … we can rest assured our friendships are real.  Whether they are lasting really is a matter of staying in touch.  Thank God for the era of email … though our inconsistent ability to post this blog may beg that question a bit.

Prior to our departure Coleen put together a great study based on the book When Helping Hurts.  As a part of the first exercise we were asked to list a few goals for ourselves during the trip.  The one most important to me was the first I listed: Leave wanting to stay.

I can not wait to get home to Jessica and the guys … the clock is ticking loudly in my mind as the minutes count down until take-off tomorrow.  That said, I definitely am leaving wanting to stay.  At the very least I leave with a great desire to come back.  Forget the heat, forget the inconveniences, forget whatever the barriers and challenges have been.  Those matter not one whit.  The people matter.  We have made friendships here that go beyond cultural differences and geographical distances; we have made friendships in spite of (and perhaps because of) our vastly different life experiences.  All these so-called differences blend to make a delicious stew … a stew requiring many and various ingredients, lots of patience in the preparation, and a keen eye to know when it is just right for dishing up.

After this very short time in Niger … I look at a place in need of our support.  I see a people driven by the kind of hope that comes from faith in God and trust in others.  I see a stew ready to serve.  Bon Appétit!

SPECIAL NOTE: today we had the privilege of meeting the Chancellor of the University of Niamey.  We enjoyed a very detailed tour of this sprawling campus personally led by Chako, a former cabinet minister in the government, an economics professor at the university, and a leader in the EERN.  As one might expect the rolling hills of grass and trees at a New England liberal arts college are not exactly what we saw; nonetheless we did see a university committed to quality education and the preparation of their young people to live and work and help this society.

Finally: as this is likely the final submission from Niger a few things must be said:

1)  Kara carries a weighty load of responsibility when she leads a group to Niger; she does it with grace and with a concern that we are all safe, well and getting something out of the experience.  She definitely keeps the trains running on time … or as on-time as Niger will allow.  I leave Niger with appreciation for all she has done for us getting us here, while we have been here … and quite frankly for having the vision to create an organization such as Remember Niger.

2)  To each member of the team … thank you for sharing your perspectives honestly and openly.  When given the chance we have worked well together, whether at the school or in the kitchen preparing our meals and cleaning up.  I will not soon forget you and your generous hearts.

3)  To all of you who have supported us through prayer, love, and donations … thank you for making this incredibly transformative experience possible.  It may be hard to imagine how much one can change in barely two weeks … but a place like Niger requires a quick learning curve and an attitude adjustment that can’t come any later than day one.  Our experience here has brought us closer to God as we have seen the Lord’s Spirit at work in our efforts and relationship building, at work in the hearts and minds of the fine people we have met, and in the indefatigable work of the EERN.  What the future holds for this country … who knows.  What the future will hold for the Christians here as their numbers surely grow … who knows.  What we do know is that we have the choice of letting things happen and watching as they do … or we can continue to step up, support them, and make sure people Remember Niger.

4)  This to Joel, Isti and Ibrahim … Merci!   MERCI!   MERCI!  These guys have been with us every day … from the airport on arrival to the airport (I assume) tomorrow.  Whether it was a trip to the Artisans’ Market or the long haul from Niamey to Maradi … they were our constant companions.  Their families sacrificed a lot of time with them, just as you all have done for us, yet always happy to do what we needed.  We drank a lot of bottled water and without their runs to the shop for it, we would have withered many days ago.  It is hard to overstate their generosity of time and their remarkable flexibility … more than anything it is impossible to overstate their decency, humanity, and commitment to their country, their church, and the future they are trying to build.  These are friends I pray I will now have the rest of my life … and that in whatever ways I can, I will be able to support their efforts.

God bless you all … tell people about Niger … they have to know about it to remember it!  Good things are happening here … we can all make a major difference.

Peace, Joe.