Saturday, December 10, 2011

Maps of the World

The other day we had a customer who ordered a wallhanging with a map of Nigeria, and then asked if we could also make one with a map of Canada. Well, we do a lot of Africas and a lot of Nigerias, but we've never been asked to make a map of Canada before. The ladies are always up for a challenge, so they accepted the job. A few days later I heard about it, and I said, "Do you know what Canada looks like?" I sent for the world map in the school, and we had a good long look at Canada. To tell you the truth, I'd never really studied it before. The whole northern part of Canada is islands! If we had a few weeks to get it done, we could do it, but since the customer was coming in just two days, we had to act fast.
After mulling it over, I said, "Why don't you make the Canadian flag instead of the country." So, they called the customer, and the customer agreed to the change. Two days later, this is what I saw:

I was pretty impressed with their Canadian flag! We had looked at it on the internet together, but then they figured out how to enlarge it and get everything done.

The other wallhanging is a map of Nigeria. Cleverly, it also has the green/white/green of the Nigerian flag on it. The yo-yos are just for decoration.

I'm pretty impressed with how well the ladies can tackle new projects and get a beautiful result.

Friday, December 2, 2011


When I see graciousness in action, I try to remember those experiences--in the hopes of becoming more gracious myself.

While we were selling our Women of Hope handicrafts in Abuja, a woman looked through the five aprons we had on display. After she decided on a lime green batik apron, I noticed a small hole in the fabric. I told her, "Oh, I'm sorry, this one has a small flaw. Can you choose another color?" And I took the lime green apron off the display table and packed it away.

She checked through the other aprons, but couldn't really find one that she liked as well. Then she said, "Just let me buy that one--someone's got to take it."

We thanked her and threw in an extra gift bag for the favor she did for us. She was an example of graciousness in action for me.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

World AIDS Day 2011

Every December 1, we commemorate World AIDS Day. We remember those who have died and we celebrate the advances that have been made in the care and support of people living with HIV/AIDS.

Our women will be participating in a march through part of Jos today along with hundreds of others.

Yesterday, we marked the event in two special ways.

Six of our women acted out a 10-minute drama during the Hillcrest chapel service. They showed the story of a young woman who was just diagnosed with HIV and how her auntie threw her out of the house because of it. As she was walking around looking for help, she encountered someone who was willing to house her. That person also introduced her to a ministry with a sewing program where she could receive help. After the drama, all of the women introduced themselves and told a little bit of their own stories.

The drama was based on an experience that some of them have had. Thankfully, there are some families that continue to show love and support in the midst of an HIV diagnosis.

Bayo and I traveled to the US Embassy in Abuja (capital) in order to take part in their commemoration of World AIDS Day. Esther David, one of the first women in the sewing program, also went along. We were able to share briefly about our work with women and children. Esther shared boldly, as she always does, about living with HIV, and her gratefulness to Mashiah Foundation for care and support and also to PEPFAR for providing her with free drugs for the past nine years.

PEPFAR stands for President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. It is the largest humanitarian relief ever given by the United States. HIV-infected Nigerians are incredibly grateful for this gift. PEPFAR works in 15 countries around the world.

Esther testified that had it not been for PEPFAR she may not have lived to raise her four children, ranging in age from 9-19.

The day would not be complete without selling our handicrafts made by the Women of Hope. It was a really great day in Abuja.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Orphan Boys

We have continued to get to know our new family of orphan boys.  They spend a lot of time at Bezer Home as their own home is just a short distance from us.

The other day I saw the 10-year-old engaged in full-face, open-mouth laughter. What an incredible sight! In the few months I have known him, he has progressed from a blank, vacant stare to flickers of smiles and now even bold laughter. It's amazing what food and love can do.

Two of the older sisters are now enrolled in our sewing program. It's great to see their determination to work hard and earn money.

In addition to what the sisters are earning, we have been giving them some food items as well as a little weekly cash to buy more food items. We have found that it's a real balancing act when helping someone and trying not to create dependency.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Home Visit

Today a friend and I visited the hungry boys in their home. From Bezer Home, we trekked along muddy paths, crossed a small stream, and then meandered on various paths as we followed the boys to their home.

They live in a decent home by local standards. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw it. Their father built the home before he died, and it is now owned by the children.
But as we visited further, we realized that the boys and their two older siblings and a baby all share one room of the house while the other rooms are rented out to tenants. The problem is that the tenants are not current with paying their rent. They are blatantly taking advantage of these young orphans and their inexperience.

For the first time, I heard the whole story of the eight children left behind. The 16 -old was able to tell us the exact dates when their parents died. Almost three years ago their parents died within three weeks of each other. While on his deathbed, the father begged his children to get an education, as that was the only way they could get ahead in life.

But how do you get an education when you don’t have money to pay school fees and your main concern is how to feed yourself every day?

The boys shared that every day they look for small jobs in their community so they can earn some small change to put something in their bellies. Many times they pack sand from the stream and sell it to people who are building houses. I shared another small job opportunity with the boys and asked them to tell me by tomorrow if that is something they want to do. They are eager to work and eager to learn.

Their older sister just joined the sewing program at Bezer Home. We are hopeful that in a few months she will be earning some money to help her siblings.

I asked them, “What’s your biggest problem right now that you need help with?” Fully expecting the answer to be ‘food,’ I was quite surprised when the eldest said, “My education.”

I said, “Well, we’ve got that taken care of for now. I hope you understand why I had to put you in 3rd grade. I don’t want you to feel bad about that.”

He said, “I finished 6th grade, but I couldn’t read or write so I know you had to put me in a lower level.”

I continued, “I hope you boys won’t run away from the school.” They shook their heads and laughed quietly. I could see there was no chance of that happening.

We left some raw food ingredients with them as well as promises to see how we can help them solve some of their immediate problems.  Our goal is to help this family figure out how to sustain themselves. We want to be careful that we don’t create an unhealthy dependency.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Power of Food

This week I learned that our three hungry orphan boys often quell their hunger with a local alcoholic brew made from corn. It costs just pennies for a large bowl; perhaps it's even given to them for free. It fills them, dulls their senses, and allows them to sleep without being aware of the gnawing hunger in their stomachs.
As I have reflected on their feeding situation, I have been forced to really look at my own use and mis-use of food.

How often have I discovered a container of moldy food in my fridge? Why do I allow this to happen? I could blame it on the erratic electricity, but let me look a little closer to home and ask why I didn't care enough about using that food before it spoiled.

For years I have not allowed my children to use the phrase, "I'm starving," when they really mean "I'm hungry." Should we even be allowed to use the phrase "I'm hungry"? Maybe it would be more accurate to say, "I'd like something to eat."

How many times have I said, "There's nothing to eat in this house." No longer can I say such a thing. Even when there's 'nothing' in the house, there is still something.

Today my helper made a big batch of moi-moi (pronounced moy-moy) to take to my children's school for a celebration of Nigerian Independence Day. Moi-moi is basically steamed bean cakes. She took black-eyed peas (beans), 'washed' them until the outer casings came off, added onions, hot peppers, and salt; then blended it all together. She put the liquid in clear plastic bags with a chunk of boiled egg, and then boiled it until it became firm. Moi-moi is really a delicious, filling meal.

I took a bunch of moi-moi to Bezer Home for the three orphan boys and another family that is also hungry. I discreetly gave it to them, and they sat down and ate it in a quiet corner. About ten minutes later, I was shocked when I saw the two oldest boys swinging on the swing set with great fervor. And the youngest was contentedly sitting against the water tank looking at a book from school. This behavior was such a marked contrast to their normal look that it gave me pause. For now, it's really that simple: food brings joy and contentment and strength.

We are currently working on a plan to help the older boy earn some money on a daily basis. Our goal is always to encourage self-sufficiency and not dependency. Obviously with young orphaned children, there is a place for handouts.  One of their older sisters will be joining the sewing program next week. Through that program she will be able to earn money to help herself and her brothers. In the meantime though we'll be bridging the gap.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Problem of Math

I am passionate about basic math knowledge. Last week I gave math tests to all of the children at our school based on the grade they recently completed. All of them scored anywhere from 1-6 grade levels below where they should be. The problem is, they have simply been passed on to the next grade even when they cannot grasp the most basic math concepts at that level.

I have always loved math. I'm sure I had some excellent teachers over the years who cultivated that foundation. We intend to re-build that foundation for our students in our new school. Currently, each student attends two math classes every day. I even wanted it to be three math classes a day, but the teachers squelched that idea. I'm just trying to help the students catch up on math so they don't have to stay in secondary school until they're 25!

I'm grateful for people like my neighbor who volunteer their time to tutor some of our children in math. The one-on-one tutoring in invaluable. I know it has made a difference in this girl's life.

In general, our students have a fear of math. We are hoping we can help them overcome that fear. We have hired three math teachers who have a solid understanding of math concepts. Here's to a great school year of learning the basics and building from there.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


I've really missed this place! I'm sitting here in my home office at 10:30 on a Sunday night. The house is quiet, the electricity is on, and I have some time to pray, "Direct my thoughts, Lord. What should I share?" Well, it's impossible to write about all that's gone on in the past six months so I guess I'll just share a story that's been on my heart for the past week.

We started our school last week. For the first time we invited children from the community to enroll. Prior to this, we have only worked with the orphans and vulnerable children we know through the ministry. Last Monday I took a few minutes to interview each new child to get some basic information.

As I was asking one young boy some questions, I realized that he couldn't really pay attention to me. Perhaps some of it was a language barrier, but I instinctively knew that he was hungry.

I asked his older brother if they had eaten that morning. No.

"When did you last eat?"

"The day before yesterday."

"I'm sure you had pap* for breakfast yesterday." Nope.

"I'm sure you had tea yesterday." Yes.

"I'm sure you had bread with your tea." Nope.

I take a closer look at the boy sitting before me. His brother says he's 9, but he looks 5.

They tell me more of their story:
Dad is dead.
Mom is dead.
Step-mom is dead. (Dad had two wives.)
Their older siblings try to feed them when they can, but food is not steady.

What kind of childhood is this?

The three youngest children have come to our school. They haven't been to school for a number of years. They are 16, 13, and 9, and none of them can read. That will be the first item on our agenda--after we fill their bellies.

*corn is soaked for 3 days, using fresh water every day, then ground, and then cooked into a porridge.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Fatima: Then and Now

It's March, and I recently remembered that Fatima came to us in March 2009. I can't remember if I've shown her before/after photos here.

Here is Fatima during those first days of complete incapacitation. She didn't have much hope for herself, but we did. By December of 2009, I was giving her 'orders' to make herself walk from her bedroom downstairs to the sewing room upstairs. That would take her nearly an hour. Eventually the tough love really paid off.

Here she is sometime in the first part of 2010, attending an individual literacy class--upstairs.

Here she is in February 2011, enjoying an orange.

And this photo was taken just last week. She has more than doubled her weight since we first met her. She used to walk with her body bent at a nearly 90 degree angle. Now she has just a very slight limp. I love the transformation we have seen in her.

Fatima no longer lives at Bezer Home; she has moved closer to her family. She still attends Monday fellowship and a sewing class during the week at Bezer Home.
When Bezer Home first started, we thought we were going to be doing hospice care. We are delighted that that has rarely been the case; rather our residents usually rise up and walk!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Our Daughter

Just before Lily started Kindergarten, Bayo and I sat down with her to chat about some things she might face because she is adopted. I was concerned that she might get some uncomfortable questions about skin color in our family, especially because she is a different color than her brothers.

I said, "Lily, if your classmates ask you why your mom is white and your dad is black, what will you tell them?"

She responded, "Because they were born that way!"

How refreshing. We brought it up because we thought her classmates might wonder why she's black like her dad and not brown like her brothers. But it looks like she'll be able to hold her own with any questions people throw her way.

Or maybe most people just won't notice the color variation of our children. Case in point:

Recently I was chatting with a friend who moved to Jos about a year ago. I mentioned that we would appreciate her prayers for Lily to get a visa. She looked confused as she said, "But she's your daughter so of course she should be able to travel with you."

I said, "Yes, she's our daughter, but she's adopted and we still need to complete her U.S. adoption."

My friend had no idea. I was quite tickled that she hadn't noticed the color variation of our children.

Lily is aware that she is adopted. We've been very open about it. But now we've come to a point where we're intentionally not going to talk about it--unless she brings it up. She is simply our daughter, no labels attached.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Towards Sustainability

In early December the Self-Sustainability Dept. of Mashiah Foundation gave out brand new treadle sewing machines to five of the women in our program. Over the years we have given out more than 100 sewing machines. This is an incredible gift to the women as it allows them to do much of their work at home without always having to pay transport to come to our sewing center. The machine is a big step on their road to being able to take care of their families.

These are always times of great joy--and always kept a secret until the staff come dancing out with machines. The recipients are often overcome with emotions. I haven't seen Nigerian women cry very often in public, but many times this gift is so overwhelming that their tears just pour out.

The women's immediate response is to praise God for their new machines. It's a time of pure jubilation.

I love how friends rejoice with those who receive.

I don't have any pictures here of the complete machine with the stand, but the women received both parts of
the machine that day.

We have one woman who does not have the use of her legs due to having polio as a child. Consequently, she can't use a treadle sewing machine. She comes to our program from time to time. I'm always reminded of the Bible story of the persistent widow whenever I see her. She kept telling us that she wanted us to help her buy firewood so she could be selling it at her house. In January, we paid for a load of firewood which she is selling from her compound. Ideally, by the time she finishes selling the wood, she will have capital to invest in another load of wood as well as some income to feed herself and her child.

She was so happy that day when some of our staff members visited her in her home and took the money to her. We will be following up with her to see how her business venture is going.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Open to Suggestions

We have been designing a new receipt for the Women of Hope shop. We just made some formatting changes so it will be easier to work with.

The other day, while proofing it once again, I realized that I would like to put a Bible verse on the receipt. So Sarah and I started looking for verses that would be appropriate. We checked out Proverbs 31, Isaiah 61, references to women, widows, orphans, the fatherless, etc, but we still didn't come up with just the right verse for our receipts.

This morning as I was heading out the door, I asked Bayo if he had a suggestion. He said, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Eph 2:10).

Later at our staff meeting I asked the staff if they had any suggestions. Esther said, "There's a verse in Romans that I really like. I think it's Romans 13, about verse 8 or so."

So I opened up the Bible and read, "Let no debt remain outstanding..." and we all burst into laughter! How very appropriate. Now that would be a good verse for our invoice which is what we use while we're waiting for the customer to pay!

We later found the verse Esther had been thinking of: Romans 13:11-12. "And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light."

We still have a day or two until we send it to the printer. Any suggestions from out there?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Glimpses of Love

Valentine's Day is celebrated here in Nigeria, but it's probably pretty low-key compared to the U.S. Personally, we didn't have any plans beyond sending heart-shaped cookies to school with the kids.

The day unfolded in a pleasant way, so I'll share some glimpses here.

In the morning, a man dropped off a Valentine's Day present for Mashiah Foundation: 48 rolls of toilet paper and 12 bars of soap.  Angela accepted the gift from the anonymous man. We gave a roll of toilet paper to each woman who came for Bible study that day. The remaining rolls went downstairs to Bezer Home for their use. I shared the bars of soap with the students in the school. There weren't enough for everyone so I asked siblings to share with each other. This might seem like an unusual gift, but it's really very practical and very much appreciated.

When I stopped by the Kindergarten, I saw a picture that their teacher had drawn on the new whiteboard. The children are all standing in the same order as the picture.

I told all the children in the school (about 20 right now) that I had a love letter for them. Their eyes lit up. I pulled my little red Bible out of my purse and read some passages from I John. I think they really got it. Then I gave them the heart-shaped cookies that my kids had made and the bars of soap.

When I saw Linda, one of the Bezer Home residents in the morning, she was wearing nicer clothes than she usually does--but she still had on her usual flip-flops. So I said, "Linda, I know you have some nice shoes. Will you go and put them on?" She went downstairs. Later when I saw her, she had completely changed her outfit. Some of the ladies helped her put on a bit of make-up. I just had to 'snap' her photo. I also promised to print some of the photos for her. We're trying to help Linda grow in her self-confidence.

 Esther, a Women of Hope staff member, with Linda.

And Julie, another Women of Hope staff member with Linda.

And we always have a great time of worship on Mondays...

Then when I picked up my kids from school, a friend said, "I have a little token for the ministry in my car." Well, that wasn't quite true--unless you call lots of yams and a 50 kilo bag of rice 'little'!

We all got a kick out of this brand. I just had to take a picture of Lucky with the Lucky Thai rice!

It was just a good day with lots of love shown in personal, practical ways.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

In the Kitchen

 Last week I invited the older boys at Bezer Home to come over to our house to learn how to make donuts. They were so pleased at the invitation, as it's usually the girls who get to do these special things.  They caught on extremely quickly and had a great time in the process.

As well as learning how to make donuts, they also learned how to calculate the cost of ingredients so they could figure a price per donut. They made 75 donuts and shared them all.

I love those tight-lipped smiles--they're trying so hard not to break into an all-out grin!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Keziah Sunday, 2001-2011

We recently lost one of our little girls who has been part of the ministry for about 6 years.

When her mother Larai was brought to Mashiah Foundation, she was terribly sick with kaposi sarcoma. With proper treatment and care, Larai fully recovered. One by one, she began to bring her four children to Bezer Home. The first one she brought was her last-born, Keziah, fondly known as Mama. Larai resided in Bezer Home for three and a half years before she was able to rent her own place near Bezer Home. Larai is currently working as a staff member with the Women of Hope.

Keziah has had some kidney or liver issues ever since she was treated for TB a number of years ago. But basically she has been a healthy, vibrant girl. When the family returned from visiting the village at Christmastime, Keziah was sick. She was receiving treatment at the Mashiah clinic.

Then yet another Jos crisis erupted, forcing residents to remain home-bound for basically a week. Larai had been afraid to even go out to seek help for Keziah--and we didn't know that Keziah was still sick. On the morning of Friday, Jan 14, they arrived at our home. We touched Keziah and prayed for her, and sent her on her way to one of the major hospitals in town. Death never even crossed my mind. But that afternoon we got the call that she didn't make it. I believe Keziah was a secondary casualty of the recent crisis. No, she wasn't caught up in a riot, but because of the tenuous nature of the town, her mother felt she could not seek help.

Everyone was devastated. The mother especially. This little girl has been her reason for living.

Starting on Saturday morning, visitor after visitor came to console Larai. In Nigeria, this basically means sitting with the bereaved for hours and hours, many times saying nothing, simply being there. Larai's female relations stayed with her continually from Saturday morning until Tuesday, the day after the burial. I learned a lot about how the grieving process is played out since we were basically serving as her family.

Generally, when children die in Nigeria, they are buried very quickly. It's a painful affair, and the male relatives generally take care of the burial the next day. No service is usually held.

But we had a service for Keziah on Monday, Jan 17, at Bezer Home. It looked like there were about 150 people in attendance.After the service, we all trekked out to a community burial ground just behind the Mashiah Foundation land.

I was observing the committal service from a distance while standing on a four-foot stone fence. As the coffin was lowered into the ground, Larai started to wail and cry out for her daughter: "Mama, have you gone? Is it true?" Then she cried, "Mommy!" For a second I thought she might be calling me because that is what the women call me, but I also thought she might be calling one of her relatives. She called again and I didn't move. Then she called, "Mary Bet!" Bayo found me and helped me jump down from the wall so I could console her along with her female relatives. She kept glancing toward the grave with a crazed look on her face. The wailing continued until she was exhausted. By then, most of the people had started to trek back to Bezer Home. The men filled in the grave and then searched for big stones to put on top of the fresh grave.

The 20 minute trek back to Bezer Home was a welcome time of diversion and thought. Once we were back, I simply sat with Larai as did many others. That was the thing to do. You don't just jump up and start doing something. As we were sitting together, Larai scanned the crowd, and whispered to me, "Mama has people."  I know the incredible support gave her strength.

After the initial outpouring of grief, most people become quite stoic in the days that follow. We are currently working with Larai's remaining three children as well as the Bezer Home children, and especially Larai, to help them work through their grief. And of course, we are grieving too.