Wednesday, June 24, 2009


"Snap me! Snap me!" "Auntie Sara, will you snap us?" Nigerians call pictures "snaps." Here's a collection of a bunch that I've taken over the last couple weeks at the children's homes and at the Kisayhip village. I will try to be more regular about adding pictures! Enjoy and breathe in Nigeria!

"Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary use words."

Big sister at 7 years old carries around her younger brother all day at the Kisayhip village.

Two children that I adore at CLAPAI children's home, holding on tight!

The staff and intern women of Back2Back Nigeria for summer 2009.

Two gorgeous siblings at the Kisayhip village.

Andrew and Sheena from our first group from the states, with a couple kids from the Kisayhip village.

This is probably my favorite picture that I've taken here as it's such a typical Nigerian woman with baby on back, head-to-toe in the beautiful Nigerian tapestries.

The staff children walking with some kids at the Kisayhip village.

I'm pretty sure we were the first white people that these kids at the village have seen and also, the first camera.

Pretty girl throwing up the peace sign in the Kisayhip village.

One of the staff women and I at the OLA orphanage.

At our first outreach and meeting of the children of the Kisayhip village.

The Oasis home--future home of the CLAPAI children's home--from the top of the boulders on the new Back2Back property.

Marybeth from our first group from the states thoroughly intriguing the kids.

Marybeth with more of the Kisayhip kids.

In front of the Oasis home with my girl Maryam, one of the girls from the surrounding village.

Just under 2 mos. old and found in a gutter, Mary Margaret is one of the new additions to the OLA orphanage.

Lois, another kid that lives in the village.

Patiently waiting in line for suckers being handed out.

So full of life in the village.

Some women that we shared food and prayer with in the Kisayhip village.

Playing with the camera in the village.

More girls from the village.

"Bah-ture-ay!" or "Look! A white person!"

More kids at the village.

At the boulders overlooking the new Back2Back property with a village kid.

Cute kids at the village.

Fumi, one of the children living at the OLA orphanage.

Dancers from our celebration night with the CLAPAI kids.

One of the traditional African dancers at our celebration night.

Cute kid in the village.

Another adorable face in the village.

Amidst the celebration night dancing with one of the CLAPAI girls.

Staff kid, Caleb, with his first caught lizard.

The day I got to witness 100 children playing with and seeing bubbles for the first time.

Helpful big sister carrying the little one.

In the boulders overlooking the B2B property.

More snaps in the village.

Beautiful Abigail from the village.

Abigail fascinated by the white person hair during our bench building.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Beautiful girl from the Kisayhip village overlooking the new Back2Back property.

It's been interesting trying to adjust since nothing is Americanized. And I mean nothing. Well, we have a Coca-Cola bottling company but that's pretty much it. All the stores are specialized, like you go one place for veggies, another place for napkins, another place for bread, another place for eggs, etc. And since we don't have a clean water well we purify our water daily. Recently, as a 10-person household we just decided that in a couple of days we're going to buy live chickens and kill them and clean them ourselves instead of buying the ready poultry. 10% because it's cheaper, 90% because we want the experience. I'm thinking I'll opt out of the preliminary stages of the process. Life here just takes a lot longer to get things done... and I'm kinda getting used to it.

I feel ridiculous when I think about how much I struggle back home to fit God into a neat little 20-30 minute window that isn't always fulfilled. "I don't have the time" is a lie that I'm constantly fed in the states. Now, even when simple tasks are taking much longer to accomplish and I have a schedule full of internship stuff... time for God is easy, longer, and more in depth. I'm realizing that I have a lot less distractions here. Those things that are easy to overdo like internet and TV, just aren't as accessible.

Last week we visited and outreached in the Kisayhip village. All of the children in the village are super friendly and follow us for miles when we walk around and share prayers/food there. All of the children crave attention and want nothing more than to hold onto your hand. The babies in the village are without pants/diapers/underwear and are taken care of by siblings during the day, who are oftentimes, only maybe 5 or 6 years older than them. The Lord is teaching me that I am so incredibly blessed at home and that there are IMMENSE needs here. I'm convinced that if people were aware of the conditions here, they would be moved to do something.

Some women in at one of the village homes we stopped in.

Two interns, Stephanie and Tina, holding a set of twins in the village.

Playing with the million kids in the village.

Two hungry bellies in the village.

When we were doing the outreaches, we broke up into groups and would then rotate who prayed for each hut we went to. In one hut that we went to we sat inside the dark room and flies were swarming everywhere. About 4 or 5 adult women came in (polygamy is not rare) and 5 or 6 children. It was my turn to pray, and as I was about to pray a little girl that was about five ran in and dove her head into my chest and hugged me while saying some phrase in her language over and over again. Right behind her crawled in a 15-year old girl with flip-flops on her hands as she dragged her body and two shriveled up legs behind her. I think praying in that moment with that crowd of people had one of the greatest impacts on me so far. I'm really excited for the medical missions group to come in mid-July... the need is so great. There are many women with open wounds as they've been hit by the motorcycles when they go into town. (Motorcycles are EVERYWHERE and there are tons of accidents all the time because of all the foot traffic here.)

We are talking a lot about overreacting to situations and needs that just aren't well with our soul. I'm learning that God is in the process of opening our eyes and nudging us in the side when we see this broken world that He has asked us to reach out to. The small nudge that you feel when you see someone living on the streets, hear gossip, or see children begging... is an opportunity to react or ignore it. We're dialoguing a lot here about overreacting to the injustices in the world. I think that God calls us to overreact to what we see wrong with the world to attempt to bring a little bit of heaven to earth. For myself, it's easy to just be lukewarm and partially react or not react at all to those injustices and things that aren't well with my soul. I think the biggest lie that I am fed is that my small reactions are sufficient enough. I think that God does want us to do something, but how much more glorifying to God is it when we react so hugely that all He can do is intercept our actions with His plans. I'm trying to understand what it looks like to overreact so much that God can take my mustard seed volume of faith and proceed to magnify it beyond or comprehension. Not to undermine those hard first steps to simply "react" to an injustice... but I used to look at "overdoing" something to always mean that it's unnecessary or excessive, but what if it can be used for great? What if we (humans) have messed up the world so much that overreactions are just what we need to counteract those injustices? The staff parents have talked about instilling this idea into their children to show them that they CAN change the world that they live in by seeing and living in the world and overreacting to it in a Godly way. I hope my kids can be raised with that same awareness of the fact that they can make a difference. And we don't have to be in a third world country to overreact--we can overreact where we are since we are called to be in mission and reach the people God has placed in our lives.

On Sunday we went to church in the Kisayhip village that we have been doing outreaches in. The African church service was so much fun. All of the Nigerian women were in their head to toe Nigerian dresses and headwraps. A few women played an African drum and a few other make-shift instruments including a couple clay pots, it sounded so cool--I'm going to try to record a few seconds of it next time we go (in a couple weeks). They were incredibly welcoming though and I loved how joyful they were in giving. This village is so poor but they are so faithful in giving back to God. They took offering 4 times during service and every time they would dance on up to the bowls and put in another bill while singing. After the 4th offering, the pastor mentioned that a man with immense need was present and needs some help with money. He hobbled up to the front of the church and just as many people danced on up to the front again putting even more bills in the bowl next to the man. Towards the end of the service the pastor spoke directly to us and said that he was so thankful for our time and the food outreaches and told us that he hoped that we weren't just here for a vacation amount of time and hoped that we would stay here to live because now we realize the great need here.

Last week we also went grocery shopping in the market. Sooooo much different than anything I've ever done before involving purchasing/finding groceries. Picture a flea market that is ginormous and winding and full of hundreds of small shops. But picture that same flea market in a giant mud pit with multitudes of motorcycles, occasional trucks, and lots of foot traffic. The shops are all specialized and usually only sell one or two items and you barter for everything (especially since they give you an initial high price for being white). We would ask for a head of lettuce and if they give you a high price--like 100 Naira. You say, "That lettuce is not up to 100 Naira. Give me your best price." And the bartering continues.

Scenery on the new Back2Back property.

With each passing day, I'm realizing more and more that I'm a privileged white girl. Their norm meat market seems completely unsanitary to me as I observe the neatly stacked piles of miscellaneous meat that are sat out for the public (and flies!) to handle and purchase. Most of the meat I can't even distinguish what animal it came from (I also attribute that to my whiteness). Below the cut up meat were usually a few dead and stiff animals on the shelves below waiting to be cut up. Mmmm... am I making your mouth water yet? (:

We split up into two groups to go shopping. My group of four had vegetables and fruits and the other group had cleaning supplies and paper products. It took us three hours just to get our few things. Firstly, it's hard to find what you're looking for and then once you do find it, the vendor may only have a poor quality product, or only 2 when you need 10, etc. Everyone was very nice and helpful though, we had a few people shake our hands just because they were pleased that we were in their city. And we commonly hear, "You're welcome." They say it when giving you something or inviting you somewhere or just to notify that we are welcome in their city. To which we say "Thank you." Kind of backwards from US culture, but I think this order makes more sense to me now.

With the precious kids, I'm trying to figure out the balance between loving on them with all that I have and being conscious of boundaries with disease spread. Of the 20 children at CLAPAI (see previous post), two of the children are living with HIV/AIDS--but all of them have a relative that is either living with the disease or has died from it. However, no matter how much I try, I cannot begin to communicate to you how amazing these kids are and how big their hearts are. They are just full of so much life, energy, and curiosity! I can't wait to share with you some of their amazing personalities.

There are grades 1-3 for the twenty children that range from age 5 to age 11. Next week, we'll be giving their teachers a week off by teaching. We're spending this week preparing a bug/animal curriculum and trying to incorporate that theme into not just science, but also into their other subjects. I'll be teaching English all next week with another one of the interns for the three grades. Please pray that my teaching abilities will be sufficient for the week! I'm so excited to be able to show you guys what animal/bug week looks like. It will be great!

Yesterday we went on our African safari. It was a four hour drive to get to this large animal reserve. We got in our safari jeeps and saw some cool animals, but didn't spot any elephants, lions, or hippos. I think the highlight for everyone was the hot springs that we swam in afterwards. We swam in this clear, blue lagoon looking water with white sand coating the bottom. Palms and lush bushes lined the edges and a couple trees had bent over the water just enough for us to climb up and jump in.

I will be updating more regularly and adding pictures, I promise! Oh, I also posted a segment of the Shelter bible study that Back2Back is going through this summer--check it out, it's good!

shelter study

Below is taken from one day of our week-long "Shelter" bible study where we are examining Psalm 91 and what it means to "dwell in God's shelter". Enjoy and let me know if you'd like to see me post the rest of the days of the "Shelter" study.

There once was a king who announced a painting contest. He was building a new palace, and he wanted the main entrance hall to be decorated with a large work of art. The king envisioned his kingdom as a peaceful land, so whoever's painting best symbolized peace would win a large cash prize.

Over the next few months, hundreds of paintings arrived at the palace. The king decided on the top two. Before announcing a winner, he hung both paintings in the palace for public viewing.

The first painting was of a majestic lake, so tranquil and still that the lush hills behind it were perfectly mirrored in its reflection., The sky was a brilliant blue with soft, puffy clouds floating above. Wildflowers bursting with color outlined the lake, and a family of deer calmly grazed in a far meadow. All who saw it felt peace and happiness.

The second painting portrayed a tall mountain cliff, rugged and strong. A few small trees grew out of the cracks of the face of the cliff, with gnarled roots clinging for life. A foamy waterfall angrily crashed down the cliff and into the rocky land below. Above, dark ominous clouds loomed, and in the distance lightning flashed. Halfway up the cliff grew a small bush. In its branches, a bird sat in a nest apparently warming her eggs.

After several weeks, the king declared the second painting the winner. Confused and upset, the people asked the king to explain his decision. He said, "Peace is not the absence of conflict. Peace is a stae of mind. Those who experience peace have love in their hearts even when turmoil surrounds them."

Sometimes as Christians who have made the Lord our dwelling, we find ourselves on a scary rocky ledge with a dangerous storm looming overhead. That is the truth--that sometimes those of us that rely on God's promises of shelter and protection and deliverance find ourselves in situation wondering. "Where has my God gone?" "Where is God with His promise of MY shelter?"

We don't like to admit it, but it is true there are certain promises that at times seem to go unanswered. For instance, in Psalm 91 notice some of the things God promises for those of us that claim Him as our shelter:
"Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence."
"A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you."
"If you make the Most High your dwelling—even the LORD, who is my refuge, then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent."

But there are many in this world, many people who have truly "Made the Most High" their dwelling, that have had tragedy strike them. At first glance we might say the person whose wife is killed by a drunk driver was not sheltered well by God. Or we might tend to say that the person who has an accident that leaves him paralyzed did not experience the promise that "no harm will befall you." Or what about the family whose home is destroyed by a ferocious hurricane. Might we be inclined to question the promise of God that "no disaster will come near your tent"? This week you've been working and playing with children that might question these promises as well.

Disease, financial woes, loss of loved ones, violent attacks because of their Christian beliefs, etc.--it would be hard to find a Christian that has been untouched by trials in life. For some, these are deal breakers00they have been reason enough to walk away from the faith of their childhood or for others to prevent them from ever accepting the Christian faith in the first place.

God's promises for shelter in these and other verses seem clear. But there are other verses that seem equally clear that we need to take into consideration as well. Conider what Jesus said in John 16:33, "In this world you will have trouble."

Today there is a teaching (called the Health/Wealth Gospel) that says if you truly walk with the Lord, then God will give you everything you need and He will protect you from every unwanted thing that might make you uncomfortable or that could harm you. This teaching would take the promises of Psalm 91 at face value but would not easily deal with what Jesus said about us having trouble in this world. But we must take every teaching of the Bible into account to form our full understanding of all of its teaching. So how do we mesh these seemingly two contradictory teachings?

Let's face it, our lesson today can be summed up with the familiar yet troubling question. "Why do bad things happen to good people?" At its core, this is about the problem of evil in the world. If God truly does shelter us, then why did my dad lose his job during this economic crisis? If the promises of Psalm 91 are true then why did...? There are any number of ways to finish that question for which there seem to be no easy answers. And at the end of the day, those of us that seek the Lord as our shelter are wondering how God's promises apply in the midst of our questions and doubts.

I am naturally drawn to the challenging side of things. As a pastor I have sought to be faithful to preach and teach the promises of Scripture in the midst of trials and tragedies. So when we began talking about Shelter as the theme for this year and I read Pslm 91, my min naturally went to the people for whom these promises might appear to be empty. I don't find this an easy task, but I am compelled to help each of us wrestle with our questions.

First, I think it is important to remind ourselves that God's promises of shelter apply on the most profound level of eternal things. No matter what happens to us in this life, nothing and no one can snatch us out of God's hands. We are always His and always will be. We have our salvation which assures us protection from the evil one and eternal punishment, and assures us of entry into the presence of the Father of eternal joy. Nothing that happens in this life can hurt us at this level. That is the most profound shelter we can imagine.

Secondly, we must loosen our understanding of Psalm 91 a bit. Our understanding of these promises has to be shaped by the teaching of Jesus in John 16 and vice versa. We can't ignore one for the sake of the other. They are both true and both apply to us as followers of Christ. As we combine these two teachings, our understanding of shelter starts to change.

For instance think about the shelter that God provided for Jonah when he found himself thrown overboard and adrift at sea. The bible says that "God provided a great fish to swallow Jonah." I wonder if Jonah had the promises of Psalm 91 in the back of his mind as he sat in the belly of the big fish. I doubt that was the kind of shelter that came to his mind he studied Psalm 91 and yet can we say God didn't provide shelter for Jonah?

And so maybe shelter isn't so much about the nice house in the suburbs with four bedrooms and three baths. Maybe it isn't so much about NOT knowing what the inside of a hospital looks like. Maybe it has less to do with the avsence of uncomfortable and unwanted things in life but more to do with what the king said about peace in the story at the beginning of today's lesson. It is about something else that God offers in the midst of trouble--His peace, His presence, His joy, hope, faith, etc.

What Jesus said about trouble in John 16:33 is only part of His teaching there. The full verse says, "I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world." When we are "in" Jesus, we will always have peace no matter how many or how severe our troubles in this world. And this is why some of the 3 billion people in this world that live on $2 a day, or whose homes are crumbling around them, or who have been out of a job for four months or that live in a children's home can still be happy--they can still have peace. It is because their understanding of shelter is not about the absence of trouble, but through the "overcoming" power of Jesus they have found the joy and peace of God's presence in the midst of whatever happens in this world.

Reflection questions:
1. What trial that you have experienced in your life do you most want to talk to God about?
2. What do you think Jesus was referring when he said, "In this world you will have trouble?" How does this make you feel?

Friday, June 5, 2009


Hey all,
After the 16-hours in the air plus layovers and driving, I can say that being here in Nigeria is so worth it. Also, I'm so excited to finally be able to tell you all of you about what God is doing over here in Jos. Nigeria is gorgeous, below is a picture I snapped during a hike we took.

This country is nothing what I would have imagined Africa to be like. However, I've been told that it's only incredibly lush because we have just entered the rainy season! There are two seasons here--rainy and dry. I had this idea that the temperature here would be extremely hot and intolerable, but because it downpours for 30 minutes or so a day, the weather is like upper 70s and sunny for the rest of the day. There's a picture below of the staff kids playing in the rain, they're out there enjoying every second of our downpours.

This first week we visited the CLAPAI (Child Love And Protection Advocacy Initiative) children's home. All of the children that live there have in some way been impacted by HIV/AIDS, whether their caregivers had/have it or they have it. The children are so sweet and full of life! We'll be working with this children's home very closely all summer and I'm so excited to get to know the 15 children that live there. Below are a couple pictures of the kids at CLAPAI.

I'm interning here with 4 interns--two from Iowa, one from Tennessee, and one from Ohio, and am here with two staff families, the Ramos' and the Guckenbergers. Almost all of us are living cozy under one roof, learning the true meaning behind living in community. Below is a picture with two of the Ramos' sweet boys.

We've visited the Kisayhip village area where the future Back2Back campus will be. This land where Back2Back will be is absolutely beautiful! I'll have to post pictures later. There's something about these giant stacked boulders and lush, rolling hills that is just breathtaking. As for animals... we saw a few monkeys running around on the rocks when we were hiking, there's cute lizards everywhere, and surprisingly, I've only seen one spider and two cockroaches while in Jos.
Later on during the week, we visited the children's home OLA (Our Lady of Apostle), which is an orphanage and hospital staffed by nuns. I think it's amazing that even though kids can have these terrible pasts and endure such hurt, somehow--if you work hard enough, you can still get them to laugh and smile. And personally, for me, that's all I need. If I get a smile, that just fills me up with more energy to continue loving on them and pursuing their heart. I put together a few pictures of Jos, CLAPAI (kids in red), and video of our time at OLA real quick... I'll have that up as soon as the internet stays connected for a solid amount of time. It's been such a blessing to be able to have electricity here so often. Most homes in Jos don't have electricity, so there's not that large of a push to have consistent electricity. We can usually count on it going out at least twice per day here, but it's been phenomenal to be able to stay connected to the world when I can.
Our first group comes on Sunday! They are from Kentucky and will be living with us for a week. I'm excited to see how God uses their time here and how they are impacted during their time in Africa.
I'm sure I left out many things, but know that where we live is super safe, this place is gorgeous, and God is doing incredible things in Jos, Nigeria this summer. Thank you for your prayers and support!

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