Thursday, December 11, 2008

Emerging from the 'Fog'

Life in Jos resumed on Wednesday after the muslim holidays on Monday and Tuesday. Slowly things are getting back to the "new normal." It can never go back to exactly what it was at the end of November. We are all very wary. Curfew is currently 7 p.m. til 6 a.m. It makes for really quiet nights!

It was so strange to go to work and write the date "December 10." Where did the first 9 days of December go? I feel like I'm waking up from a Rip Van Winkle sleep. Gradually I'm remembering unfinished business from the end of November. We missed two holiday craft fairs in Nigeria and a number of other opportunities.

I have been going to bed at 9 p.m. and getting up at 6 a.m., but I have been exhausted throughout the day! Part of it is due to the fact that I missed my cup of morning coffee when we went to Abuja, and I've decided to just let that go. I do wake up during the night, not with fearful thoughts, just with an active mind. I've determined not to let myself get up and work because then I know I'll really be tired during the day. I think it's all just part of the stress that we've been absorbed in for the past two weeks.

Our two staff members who had their homes torched are actually radiant. They are simply so grateful to be alive. Talk about putting life in perspective.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Heading back soon

I think this mental break in Abuja has been really good for the kids and me. We needed to distance ourselves a bit from the situation.

Bayo felt he couldn't leave Jos when all of the people he works with are there. He had a tough day on Saturday when he took a foreign human rights reporter around to one of the hardest hit areas. A lot of people from his own tribe live there. He was shocked at the level of destruction and how many were killed. We personally know five families whose homes were burned in that area. One of Bayo's distant relations was killed in the fighting.

This morning I spoke with one of the MF staff who lost her home. I asked if they were able to get anything out. She said everything is gone--even their credentials. It is virtually impossible to replace credentials here.

We're heading back soon. Pray that God will give us strength and wisdom as we help many people pick up the pieces of their lives.

Friday, December 5, 2008

We're in Abuja

The kids and I traveled to the Nigerian capital of Abuja on Thursday just in case there are reprisal attacks this weekend.

I heard that Jos had a huge rainstorm on Thursday, complete with hail! That is absolutetly unheard of for December. In general, we don't get even one drop of precipitation from November til March.

In my packing to come to Abuja, I discoved that David's US passport expired 4 weeks ago. I figured I would get that taken care of in Abuja since the US Embassy is here. We went this morning, and I found out all of the things I am supposed to bring. I guess I should have looked at the website first! The most important thing is that both parents and the child must be present! (Bayo is in Jos.) Then they need his original birth certificate, photos from birth til present, our marriage certificate, and about 10 other things! I had no idea it would be so complex for a renewal. When he first got his passport, we needed his birth certificate, our marriage certificate, etc. I thought a renewal would be a breeze!

I have very limited internet access at this hotel so I won't be posting much. Just wanted to let people know that we are fine, and as of 10 a.m. Friday morning, Jos was calm.

We continue to pray for peace in our city.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

This 'n' That

Regarding our accountant whose house was burned down, I forgot to mention: I just "happen" to have her passport in my possession! I'm so glad she won't have to go through the work and expense of applying for a new one.

Here's an interesting article.

We had four Nigerian visitors who came by today to check on us and to tell us their own stories. I wish these types of stories were only in the movies.

Rumors of potential attacks abound. We're trying to keep our heads cool. In corresponding with my superiors, they advise that we get out of this hot spot for awhile.

So, until tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Today was the 3rd day of calm. However, we are still very alert and watchful. The kids and I have not left the compound for 6 days now. That doesn't bother me at all at this point. I have plenty of things to do in the house.

I heard that people fled to 13 areas within Jos which have become refugee camps. An estimated 30,000 people are at those camps. This is mind-boggling to me. The places they ran to do not have bags of rice, toilets, running water, blankets, etc. No one was expecting them. I have not heard how they are faring, but I can only imagine it's pretty rough.

There is a group of organizations in place to handle relief measures. They appear to be well-organized.

If a refugee could at least make it to a friend's home, he had a greater chance of eating something. Even if the supply were meager, it would certainly be shared.

Among our neighbors, we shared what little resources we had. After Bayo came in from Abuja, I sent Tobi around the compound to share some supplies with our neighbors. When he came back from one house, they had filled our basket with food. Tobi was glowing when he came inside: "Look what they gave us, Mom. It's like trick-or-treat!" This from a kid who has never been trick-or-treating in his life. (They don't know about that tradition over here, and I'm not about to start it!)

I can't stress enough that the little bit of mental stress we have gone through is nothing compared to what thousands of Nigerians have experienced.

Our accountant fled her burning home with her cell phone and the clothes on her back. She told Bayo: "Everything I've worked for is gone."

So far, we know of four of our women in the sewing program whose homes were torched.

One of our HIV+ widows is trying to raise four children by herself, and now her house and belongings are gone. Think of the hardships she has gone through: HIV diagnosis, widowhood, and now total destruction of all personal property. How do you pick yourself up after that?

For the most part, I have found the Nigerian population to be very resilient when faced with near impossible obstacles. Nigerians are also extremely generous. I have learned so much from watching how easily they give to one another. Many, many people will give sacrifically during this time.

Last week I read a short book called Escape from the Storm by Ivan Gorelkin about his family's incredible flight from Russia in 1984. The author included a quote from Aleksander Solzhenitsyn which has a lot to say about keeping things in proper perspective:

You hear strange and insignificant conversations: about...some
mother-in-law who, for some reason, does not get along with her
daughter-in-law; how neighbours in communal apartments...don't wipe their
feet; and how someone is in someone else's way at the office...

What about the main thing in life, all its riddles...?

...It is enough if you don't freeze in the cold and if thirst and hunger
don't claw at your insides. If your back isn't broken, if your feet can walk, if
both arms can bend, if both eyes see and if both ears hear, then whom should you
envy? And why?

Monday, December 1, 2008

December 1: World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day.

There was supposed to be a large rally today of People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). I don't think it's going to happen. Somehow I don't think the government would take it too kindly if 1000 people marched through the main street in town today.
I believe the rally was being sponsored by PLACA (Plateau State Action Committee on AIDS). We are a member of that organization.
This is the first year that we had really planned in advance for the event. In October, my colleague Sarah and I started making plans to print a t-shirt for the event. This is what it says:

Front: Mashiah Foundation
Changing the story
Back: I'm Positive
Life goes on
We found a local printer who is really dedicated to quality work. I'm very happy with the sample he showed me. He was supposed to deliver 150 shirts to us on Friday at 1 p.m., but I guess something delayed him (see previous posts). Anyway, it's not a loss; it's going to be our uniform for the next year. We just thought today was a great kick-off day for our message.
The "Life goes on" theme is on our product tag now along with a picture of two HIV+ women sharing a joke. I'm thrilled with the double meaning of "I'm Positive. Life goes on" and "I'm positive life goes on." There is a big red ribbon on the back of the t-shirt which is associated with HIV/AIDS worldwide.
When many of our women were first diagnosed with HIV, they assumed death was imminent. Now they have been living for years by properly managing the disease with anti-retroviral drugs. Earning money through the sewing program has alleviated their main stress of 'how do I feed my family?'
I'm anxious to see the women we work with and find out how they are faring after the Jos riots. I anticipate there will be a lot of relief needs.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Fragile Peace

Jos was quiet today. We thank God.

Bayo was able to return from Abuja to Jos today. He said there was no sign of any destruction as he entered Jos from the south. Most of the destruction was on the north side of town and in the center. Bayo says it's probably for the best that he was stuck in Abuja; had he been here, he would have had to fight the temptation to go out and see what was happening. For me, that's not a temptation! As it was, Bayo knew more about what was happening in Jos than I did! He had kept in constant phone communication with people all over Jos.

I have not heard of any foreign missionaries or expats who were directly affected by the violence. The mental stress and the tension certainly affected us, but we did not suffer loss of life or property.

One of these days I hope to write a post about the 2001 crisis in Jos. That rioting also began on a Friday, but lasted for 6 days. We are very thankful that this one was curtailed in 2 days.

I'm trying to figure out what I've done for the past 4 days. Why are some areas of my house such a mess when I've been here all day? Well, I've been doing lots of cooking. Thankfully Angela has helped me a lot with the clean-up. I've been doing a fair amount of emailing. In 2001, I found that I had a hard time getting things done even for months after the crisis. That was how my mind reacted to stress. I'm feeling a bit of that now, but trust that I'll be able to work through it better this time.

Our hearts go out to the families of those who lost loved ones, both Christian and Muslim. Now begins the process of reaching out to those who were severely affected. I have not heard reports yet on the more than 100 women in our sewing program. So many of them live in the areas that were affected.

We may have peace right now, but it is fragile indeed. When that much blood has been shed, people don't forgive and forget. Continue to pray for God's peace to prevail and for genuine healing of hearts to take place.

Day 3

It seems that the worst of the crisis is over. We heard a few random gunshots from 6-7 a.m. There is a lot of traffic on the main road outside our compound.

Some friends from the north side of town made it to our compound on the south side early this morning. We are so grateful that the violence in their area did not continue through the night.

We now have a city-wide curfew from 6 p.m. til 8 a.m.

Angela, who sought refuge with us, briefly returned to her home this morning. By the look on her face, I knew the devastation was significant. Her home was not burned, but so many homes around her were still burning this morning.

So far we have heard that two of our staff members had their homes torched.

We are being creative with the food that we have. I have actually enjoyed the challenge of coming up with nutritious meals from the bits and pieces of food in my kitchen and freezer. We had banana muffins and Russian tea for breakfast. For lunch we'll have 5 bean soup with some bits of meat from the freezer. I just dumped in what was left of our taco salad (mainly minced meat and beans) from a few days back. I did pick the wilted lettuce out. (I'll see if my in-house food critic notices. Tobi is extremely perceptive when it comes to food. He's only 8, but he can tell if I've used margarine or butter in food preparation. He much prefers butter.) I'm also making whole wheat dinner rolls. We'll have a tasty deep-red Nigerian drink called zobo with our meal. We had made it for Thanksgiving and had a lot left. I think we'll eat outside on the picnic table. Serving lunch to 12 today.

I will send food out to the guards as well. Normally they buy lunch from vendors who are close by. They probably wouldn't think much of the above soup I mentioned. In Nigeria, soup is something you eat with your fingers, not with a spoon! We made okra soup last week and I have just enough for two people. We will serve it with a starch called gari (made from ground cassava).

In Nigeria when eating at someone else's house, it's not polite to completely clean your plate. You're supposed to leave a little bit on your plate. A few days ago when I gave Angela's son a plate of rice, I told him to finish all of it because we can't waste food. When he had a bit remaining, I saw him ask his mom with his eyes if it was really ok to finish all of it.

Bayo is on his way from Abuja now. He has been there for the past 6 days. He had planned to return Friday morn, but was unable to due to the violence. I texted him my shopping list. Stores are starting to open in Jos, but some prices have quadrupled. Prices will come down somewhat, but will probably remain high for quite awhile.

During this crisis we have never felt personally threatened or in harm's way. If we had any trauma, it was mainly just the mental stress of having our city under seige and having to plan ahead in case the crisis escalated. The general population of Jos has faced incredible hardships. Unfortunately there has been much loss of life and untold property damage.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

God Willing

When I first came to Nigeria, I noticed that many people ended their sentences about future plans with 'God willing.' I thought it strange that the tailor would say, "I'll have your dresses ready in 2 weeks, God willing." In my mind I was thinking Just get it done on time, ok?

I do enjoy making plans, but I am learning a lot about surrendering those plans to God. A few weeks ago I was having an awful time because my daily plans were not working out at all. I would start the day with Plan A, but by the end of the day it was pretty close to Plan J, and I was completely frustrated. Through this, I became aware that God is more concerned about how I react to changes in my plans than to whether the plan works the way I want it to. That was a humbling lesson to hear. I can't say 'learn' because unfortunately I haven't learned it yet. I'm just aware that I need to learn it.

We tend to have a fair amount of external factors that are beyond our control so it's actually quite easy for plans to go awry.

Friday morning I was up early, handling a bit of email, getting ready for a normal workday. Suddenly all plans came to a halt as I started receiving text messages and phone calls about chaos in Jos. It became obvious that ALL plans were going to change that day.

I was hoping to attend a ladies' brunch on Saturday. No way.

We had planned to attend a 4 hour Thanksgiving service at our church on Sunday. Then later in the afternoon, we were planning to attend another Thanksgiving service for a newly married couple. All of those plans have now been cast aside.

Maybe it's not such a bad idea to tack 'God willing' on the end of my future plans. I just don't want to become fatalistic in my thinking. Maybe I can put it this way: I'll work as hard as I can in the work God has called me to do, and if plans change along the way, I'll ride out the adventure and see what God has in store.

Day 2 and Holding

We had a fairly peaceful night, although the guards told me they heard gunfire throughout most of the night.

My phone rang at 1:45 a.m., and I was instantly awake. Turns out, the person just wanted to know if we were safe. I was wondering why he was calling at that time. Later I remembered that calls are free between midnight and 4 a.m. He probably didn't have any phone credit so he took that opportunity to check on people.

You can find quite a bit of news on the internet today if you google "Jos election violence." For the most part, I think the reporting is quite fair, although I think they have greatly decreased numbers of those injured and dead.

We are actually seeing hundreds of people fleeing from the Tudun Wada area which borders the area we live in. It's mainly women and children. They are not quite running, but they are walking very fast. They are all trying to get to the Air Force base which is a trek of about 2-3 miles.

I saw a family of 6 plus the driver get on a motorcycle this morning. The four children were quite small. I have never seen 7 people on a motorcycle before! The traffic I was able to see appeared to be mainly heading south out of town.

Of course, rumors are abounding. We heard this morning that our church was burned, but just now a member confirmed that only windows are broken.

Tobi just asked if he could play outside. I said no, but that he can watch another video--he sure was surprised. Letting the kids 'veg' out on videos seems somehow appropriate these days. They do know what's going on, but I try not to let them hear details.

Amazingly, we have had uninterrupted power for 36 hours now. I always feel better when we have power. I know I can do email, the kids can watch videos, the lamps provide a warm, homey glow even in the middle of the day, the limited food in the fridge & freezer is not spoiling...

I have had to get very creative with meal planning. It's a good mind-stretching experience. We have food; it's just not in the quantities and types that we would normally have. We are now feeding 5 extra mouths plus our family.

One woman who is with us now went to the hospital at 5:30 a.m. on Friday to line up to get her anti-retroviral drugs for HIV. That hospital is in the area of town where the fighting was quite heavy. She had to stay in the hospital all day because it was not safe to go out. She said many people were taking refuge within the hospital compound. She also said many people with injuries were coming in. By 4 p.m. she was able to trek to her home about 2-3 miles away. She said there were many soldiers on the main roads.

The other woman with us forgot to bring her anti-retroviral drugs for HIV when she fled. These drugs must be taken religiously, at the same time in the morning and evening. It's not possible for her to go back home to get the drugs. If the drugs are not taken properly, the body can develop resistance to the drugs in a fairly short amount of time.

Lives are simply being disrupted in every way imaginable. Some disruptions are manageable; others are devastating. We have heard of numerous homes being destroyed by fire.

Continue to join us in prayer for this situation.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Violence in Plateau State

Yesterday was the first time that I have not had to work on Thanksgiving Day since I have lived in Nigeria. It's not a holiday here, but it was a 'no movement' day due to elections held on Thursday. No driving is allowed. People are supposed to walk to the polling places and vote.

We had a nice quiet holiday at home (well, we had to be home). I took most of the day to prepare a nice Thanksgiving meal for our family and some family friends who came over. I want our kids to have an understanding of the American Thanksgiving holiday. Interestingly, most (all?) churches in Nigeria hold a Thanksgiving service on a Sunday near the end of November every year. It's an all-out 4 hour service where they truly express their thanks to God for seeing them through another year. We will be attending two Thanksgiving services this Sunday.

As we were preparing for work and school this morning, we started getting all kinds of text messages from Mashiah Foundation staff members in various parts of town. Jos is a city of about 1 million people. There were reports of fighting, gunshots, cars burning, etc. By 8:00 we heard that school was cancelled.

Elections here always come with the possibility of violence. It's too early for me to comment yet on what has provoked this outburst of violence, but it most likely has something to do with election procedures or results.

Sadly, one friend sent me an email that someone was killed just near their compound.

It is common here to live within compound walls. And we're so thankful for it especially at a time like this.

Please pray along with us that peace will soon be restored to Plateau State.

For the Love of Reading

For as long as I can remember, books have been my best friends. When I was in elementary school, I would beg my mom to let me read "just one more chapter" before turning out the light.

Maybe I majored in English because it was just a natural fit. I generally have 2-4 books going at the same time. In a way that's reflective of my life because I am normally working on a number of major projects at the same time.

In the past few years, I have made a conscious decision to read mainly non-fiction. I have found that fiction just doesn't satisfy. In one of the latest books I read, I came across an author with similar feelings, and she put it so well:

"I never can get interested in things that didn't happen to people who never lived."
--Helene Hanff in 84 Charing Cross Road

Since I was a child, I've wondered why true stories are called non-fiction. It's really not a very pleasant sounding word. It doesn't sound intriguing even though most non-fiction I've read is very intriguing. Why does it need to be defined as what it is not? The word actually means "not not true." I just think whoever coined the term non-fiction could have come up with a better term.

How do I find the time to read? Usually at the tail end of the day. I don't watch any TV at all--maybe 3 hours a month. Lately whenever we try to watch a movie as a family, I'm sound asleep after the first 20 minutes. I'm getting more like my dad!

We try to read to the kids every night. I can tell they are on their way to becoming life-long readers themselves. We are currently reading Little Britches by Ralph Moody to the kids. It's the story of growing up poor on a rough piece of land in Colorado. Recently Tobi has started reading to himself. Prior to this, he has read short books aloud to me. The other night he read for an hour in bed! Great accomplishment for a second grader.

I get a steady supply of good non-fiction from my British friend Kath. I've been reading her books for years, and I've never come across a lemon yet.

What are some books I've been reading in the past couple of years?
84 Charing Cross Road and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff
The Gervase Phinn series (5 books with anecdotes of his life as a school inspector in Yorkshire, England)
Do Hard Things by Alex & Brett Harris
Christy by Catherine Marshall (I know it's fiction, but it's based on a true story)
Little Britches by Ralph Moody (family read-aloud)
Empty Cradles by Margaret Humfreys (fascinating story of British children who were shipped off to Canada and Australia in the mid 1900s.)
Nobody's Child by Kate Adie (a history of adoption)
Eleni by Nicholas Gage (the story of why his mother was executed in Greece in the mid 1900s)
A Place for Us by Nicholas Gage (a Greek immigrant story of life in America)

Have you read a good book today?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Boys & Affection

Today I got a spontaneous hug from my 8-year-old. What a shock. He has reached the point where he only gives me a hug if I ask for one.

I had gone to school to pick him up. He and his friend wanted to know if Tobi could go to the friend's house. The friend's father was there and had already said yes. They were just waiting for me. Knowing that I often say no on school days--especially when no advance notice has been made--Tobi was so shocked that I said yes that it resulted in a spontaneous hug--in front of other people, no less!

I distinctly remember the day he started shunning familial endearment. One day after kindergarten, we were waiting for some fried potatoes, and I casually draped my arm around his shoulders. He gently shrugged me off. I got the message, and I was o.k. with it. My little boy didn't need his mother clinging to him.

I still greatly enjoy my 5-year-old's displays of affection. When I drop him off at school in the morning, he loudly shouts, "Bye Mom. I love you!" When he finishes pre-school for the day, he will run across the playground at full speed and leap into my arms as a greeting for all the world to see.

I'll enjoy it while I can!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tobi's 1001 pages

Tobi's elementary school set up a reading contest among the 2nd-5th grades for the October Break (11 days). The teachers had noticed that students often lose reading fluency over school breaks. The goal was to see which class could read the most pages (at their grade level) over break.

As an avid reader myself, I was really excited about this contest. The first few days we plodded along with me giving a lot of encouragement. Bayo and I dedided to offer Tobi some prizes if he could reach certain levels:

600 pages = a candy bar
800 pages = a small container of ice cream
1000 pages = N1000 (about $8.50) for shopping

Well, he made it to 1001 pages at the last minute. I let him stay up til 11 p.m. the night before school started! Even though it probably wasn't good judgment to let him stay up so late on a school night, I was quite thrilled to see his determination to reach a goal under pressure.

After school I gave him his 1000 naira for a shopping excursion. Here's the breakdown of how he spent it:
N900--3 cans of fruit cocktail and canned peaches!

Last week I had found the peaches in a store, and Tobi was stunned beyond belief at this great treasure!

Tobi's teacher has been conducting periodic reading fluency tests for all the 2nd graders. It will be interesting to see if his reading fluency has gone up after this great burst of reading.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Day of Rest

Taking a sabbath rest...interesting idea that I've never really solidified in my life. Yes, we go to church on Sunday and don't go to the office, but is that all there is to a sabbath rest? I don't think so. I tended to use Sundays as a day to get caught up at home. I never mentally took a true rest. God ordained a day of rest. Did God need to rest? No, but I believe he wanted to subject creation to a rhythm of rest.

During a Bible study I attended we were encouraged to find a way of taking a sabbath rest. One friend said their family takes a sabbath from 4 p.m. Saturday til 4 p.m. Sunday. I asked why they stopped at 4 p.m. Sunday. She said they always have homework to finish up and lunches to get packed for Monday morning. Fair enough. I decided to give it a try.

I've been working on taking a sabbath rest for about 5 weeks now. I find myself really looking forward to this mini-vacation in the midst of a normal week. I must admit, it takes a very conscious effort to plan to 'do nothing.' It involves planning ahead with meals. I try to have some things on hand that I just need to heat up. The main thing I need to do is make sure I don't get on the computer...because that quickly turns into work.

During our sabbath rest, I read a lot--to the kids and just for myself. I've been trying to take naps on Sunday, but I haven't been very successful yet.

Sunday is a big visiting day in Nigeria, but we basically stay home. If we go out, it's just to Bezer Home for a hike. One weekend we went on hikes both on Saturday and Sunday. When is the last time I was such a carefree mother to just jump in the car and do something like that?

The mental break gained from a sabbath rest has definitely been worth it. I find that I'm very refreshed and ready to meet the challenges of the new week. One time my refreshed state of mind back-fired on me. I was feeling so rested, I decided just to check a few emails one Sunday night after the kids were in bed. At 1 a.m. I finally got off the computer. Monday morning came a little too quickly! Hopefully I won't repeat that mistake!

Looking forward to Saturday afternoon!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Open Doors

At our staff meeting for the Self-Sustainability (sewing) Program, on September 1, I announced that we would not take any more women into the sewing program until January 2009. An hour after our meeting was over, Sarah, our head counselor, met me and told me to sit down.

After our staff meeting, Sarah had met with various women who needed to see her. Three stood out:

Tina*, an HIV+ woman in her 40s had recently been laid off from her job as a clerk at the university. She really wanted to join the sewing program because she has no other means of income at this time. She has been without work for 15 months. It is extremely difficult to find a job in Nigeria.

The next woman who came, Janet*, is someone Sarah knew years ago. Sarah described her as being very well-off and pleasantly plump when she knew her in the past. Sarah was surprised to see how emaciated the woman is now. Janet was never able to have children, and when she became sickly due to HIV complications, her relations decided to send her home to the village to die. But Janet wasn’t ready to die. She had heard of Mashiah Foundation and she was determined to come and learn how to sew so she could feed herself.

Then a disabled woman named Nancy* met with Sarah. Nancy’s wheelchair is in need of repair. For the meantime she gets around on her hands. She too has HIV. She survives by selling local brew in her neighborhood. A friend who is HIV+ told her about Mashiah Foundation. Although Nancy will not be able to use a treadle sewing machine, we have some other projects that she can do such as beading.

As I listened to Sarah narrate these three stories, I just smiled, and said, “God, what are you up to?” We make our own plans, but God has the final say. I was strongly convinced that we are not to close our doors at this time. Four months is a long time for someone to wait when they are already despairing of life. Instead of closing our doors, we have decided to keep our doors open, knowing that that is what Christ would do.

*names have been changed

Friday, June 27, 2008

I'm Back

Wow--It's been awhile! It took me a good 30 minutes to get into my blogger account. I did write down the user name and password for reference, but I just couldn't get in. Finally I was able to reset my password. Hopefully I'll be posting more often now so remembering my password shouldn't be such an ordeal!

It's only right that I share a bit about what has sidelined me for the past weeks. Back in November 07, the ELCA asked the Women of Hope to make a quilt replicating this He Qi painting. I don't know how large the actual painting is, but we had a computer printed picture that was 10" x 13". We were asked to replicate it as an 18' x 24' quilt--maybe I should call it a tapestry. Sometimes I'm even surprised that I accepted the job. It was so far beyond me that I would wake in the middle of the night with a kind of terror--how am I ever going to get that done?!

I left the picture on my piano for months. Somehow I thought that inspiration would eventually strike, and I would just know how to do it. Prior to this, almost all of my quilting has been straight lines. How on earth were we going to make all those curves--and get it to look decent?

Well, inspiration never did strike. (What did I hear about inspiration once? It's actually 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.) Finally our deadline was looming far too close. I just had to shelve everything else on my schedule and sit down with the women and start. Our methods were rough at best. I took my color picture and made overhead tranparencies with the photocopy machine. The transparencies were not that clear. Then we went to a school with a very tall wall and projected the images onto gumstay (something like interfacing). We traced out the picture in 6 sections with an overhead projector. Later much of our pattern had to be sketched by hand because it just wasn't clear. We began our sewing with the two candles in the lower left. To my shock, it only took us 30 minutes to figure out the curve technique. Do you mean I lived with fear all those months when the solution was really that easy? The women quickly caught on.

The actual piecing took about 3 weeks with a core group of 13 women doing the work. The machine quilting took longer than that simply because our new long-arm quilting machine kept breaking down. We have since learned many tricks of operating that machine: #1 is brush lint out of the bobbincase every 20 minutes or so. We assembled the quilt in 3 sections--that's the only way it was possible to get it on the machine.

Only after we had finished did some of the women confess that they didn't believe this job was possible. It was wonderful to watch their continuous transformation into fabric artists. I had started the job by having my hand in every detail, but gradually I realized that Esther, the project manager, was fully capable of leading this project. When they reached an impasse, they would come and ask me for advice on how to proceed.

The first time I saw the whole thing stitched together, I had this kind of holy fear/awe when I looked at it. It was so much more beautiful than I ever could have imagined. For a first, very rough attempt (oh yes, there are flaws), how did it look that much like the original painting?

Years back I came across a quote from Charlie Peacock: We create out of the imagination of God. I just feel so much that God's hand is on this quilt. Yes, we worked very hard, but it's just not possible to take full credit for how well it turned out.

We shipped it to Chicago today via FedEx (that cost an arm and a couple of legs). Total weight: 61 pounds. I just felt kind of drained after we sent it--like, is it really over? Later in the afternoon I suddenly realized that we did not put our label anywhere on the quilt. I couldn't believe I had forgotten that--me, the one who insists that all of our work bear our label with the red ribbon. I toyed around with the idea of sending a label to Chicago and asking someone to handstitch it on the back. A few hours later, it hit me, that forgetting the label made perfect sense. It's God's quilt--let the recognition stop there.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Monday gathering

Today we moved our Monday gathering to a new place. We used to meet on the Bezer Home compound, but due to the construction of our new Vocational Training Center, there was no room left for us. So we packed up our tent and headed out the back gate to the beautiful rocky hills. This is also part of Mashiah Foundation's land. It's completely undeveloped, and we actually like it that way for now. We will have room to expand whenever the Lord leads us.

It threatened to rain this afternoon which would have sent us scurrying for cover. But thankfully the storm clouds passed us by. The weather got quite cool though. Women pulled out extra sweatshirts and stocking caps for their children.

Esther David, the matron of Bezer Home, is pictured above. She recently attended a special training for those who take care of people with HIV. Today I asked her to share the knowledge that she learned from the workshop. She gave basic tips about caring for babies, providing good nutrition for children, etc. Esther's Hausa is sprinkled with English here and there so I generally caught the gist of what she was saying. One thing she told the women is that they can actually eat the backs (skins) of the potatoes, that it's actually very healthy. The women just shook their heads at that.

The rest of our time today was devoted to auditions for our 2nd Women of Hope album. In 2007, we produced "I Must Go with Jesus" as their first album. We have had modest sales both in Nigeria and in the U.S. All of the songs are in Hausa with a few verses sung in English. I really feel that the CD captures the hope and joy of the women. I never tire of listening to it. Well, now we're ready to do the 2nd one.

Today I announced on-the-spot auditions. First I told the women that if they auditioned, they were telling me that they are ready to speak out and to let their faces be seen. I was quite shocked that 33 women tried out today! It was great to see some new people get involved. We are planning to do 8 songs: 6 in Hausa, 1 in Igbo, 1 in Yoruba. These are the three major languages of Nigeria. We will primarily sing Hausa songs because that is the dominant language of our region. I'm planning to have a different lead vocalist on each of the 8 songs. I'm looking forward to to our "choir practices" this week under the mango tree where we will continue to narrow our selection of song leaders.

Oh yes, I think I also got the title of the album today: Women, Come & Sing. A woman named Elizabeth always sings that song. I never knew what it meant until I heard the translation today. Many of the women have testified that their spirits are always lifted when they come to our Monday gathering for prayer, Bible study, singing, dancing, and plenty of laughter.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Plan B is often better!

Last year I wrote a newsletter about going from Plan A to Plan G in one day, and how it's just best to enjoy the ride. I wish I could learn to heed my own advice before I get my nose out of joint.

Since our sewing program has expanded so much, we can no longer fit inside a building for our large group gatherings on Mondays. So I decided that we would sew a canopy that would seat 150 people. Never mind that I didn't have a pattern and had never sewn on vinyl-tarplike material before. But that's a story for another day. The canopy is not perfect, but it has been serving our purpose very well for the past few months.

Our Monday large group gathering was to start at 1 p.m. today, and the canopy was not up. I went to find out why and was told that the builder was marking lines for the foundation of the new vocational training center. Our canopy center pole anchor happens to be cemented right in the midst of some of these lines. What can we do? The sun in scorching hot. All of these ladies are standing around wondering where we're going to meet. There is no place big enough to contain all of us. I met Sarah and told her to make a choice: under the mango tree, inside the uncompleted clinic building, or maybe we could all squish in the Bezer Home living room. She refused to be disturbed by the last minute change of venue, and quickly made everyone feel at home under the mango tree, the baby flame trees, and on the rocks. However, I sat at the back by the cement wall, silently pouting that nobody told me I wouldn't be able to use the canopy today because they would be marking lines.

It didn't take long before the Lord showed me that this place was even better. Sarah was standing in the middle, sharing from the Bible; the women were seated all around her, a bit helter-skelter due to the large rocks, but it was beautiful. I never would have believed that 60+ of us could gather in this area and all find a bit of shade. It was such a gorgeous setting with the mango-laden branches nearly touching the ground. The baby flame trees provided just the right amount of shade.

While Sarah was speaking, some of the ladies in the back by the compound wall started screaming and running. I stood in my spot scanning my eyes for what the problem might be. I thought perhaps it was a bee. It was actually a 2 foot long snake, about an inch in diameter. Once the ladies recovered from their fright, a couple of them took off their shoes and started beating the snake to death. For years Bayo has been telling me that there are snakes on the land. I believed him, but I had never seen one myself until today. The ladies had a good laugh after everything was under control.

You know, it's good to have a change of setting once in awhile. I just want to be more welcoming of it the next time it surprises me.

The Pregnancy Bible

Yesterday a brand-new father came up to me after church and vigorously pumped my hand saying, "Thank you SO much for that pregnancy bible you gave us! It helped us so much." He and his wife were married in June 2007 and gave birth to a baby boy in March 2008. This is absolutely the best thing that can happened to newlyweds in Nigeria.

They had visited us in our home in August 2007. Bayo, who is much more observant than I am, had noticed the new bride covertly spitting into a hankerchief while she sat in our livingroom. He later nudged me and asked me to give her my standard pregnancy book which I always try to have on hand. They were very grateful for the book. I didn't see them again until yesterday in church.

Back in 2000 when I was pregnant with Tobi, a fellow missionary named Dorothy Ardill gave me a copy of What to Expect When You're Expecting. She said she usually picked some up at garage sales in the U.S. and brought them back to Nigeria for expectant moms. She didn't even want me to give it back to her; she said I should just pass it on to someone else when I was finished.

Dorothy's kindness to me has blessed many other people as I took up the challenge and began scouring garage sales, used book stores, and my friends' bookshelves when I was back in the U.S. To date, I'm sure I've given away over 50 copies. I never ask for the books to be returned. I want the books to get out into the community and to be used and re-used for years to come. Numerous friends in the U.S. have helped me collect pregnancy books over the years. I just checked my stock--I'm down to only 3!

I'm happy to give out any type of pregnancy book I get, although I prefer the What to Expect books because of their simple month-by-month format as well as their question-answer format. In general, these books are not readily available in Jos. The average Nigerian woman does not have a book to refer to during pregnancy. They are always thrilled when I give them the book. So many have commented that it helped put their fears to rest, and they didn't have to run to the doctor for every little symptom.

For a number of years I have given out diaper bags (from the U.S.) as part of a new baby gift. A young mom in my parents' church in Minnesota really took this on as a ministry of her own: Allison started collecting diaper bags and sending them to Nigeria. I've probably given out over 50 of these as well. New moms love to have an attractive diaper bag. Diaper bags are available for sale here, but they are quite costly as they are usually imported. I have often bought diaper bags for 99 cents at the Goodwill near my parents' home. It appears that many of them come from formula companies and are probably even given away free in the hospital.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Finally, a blog!

The idea of creating a blog has been floating in the back of my mind for a few years. Finally, I realized it is the only way I can share lots of tidbits and stories from life in Nigeria. I'm in the process of working on our May newsletter right now and realized that I have so much to say that I can't possibly get it all into one newsletter. So from now on I'll be writing a post a few times a week. Thanks for coming along on the journey!