Our trip to NYC

Last Saturday, December 5, Nancy and I took a trip into New York City.  It had been a long time since I was in Manhattan.  My dad was born on Long Island just outside the city, and in the years when I was growing up, we would sometimes go to my grandfather's house and take the train into downtown New York.  When I joined SIM, we also had to go into the city for medicals and some outreach.  But other than using the airports and speaking at my dad's home church, I have not been in the city for almost 25 years!

We took the bus from Scranton into New York.  Good thing we did, too as the weather was nasty and the traffic was horrendous.  We went to meet up with two colleagues who had come from Niger for a conference.  Peter Cunningham hails from Australia and works on our agricultural project in Niger.  Ayouba Saabo is a Nigerien who works on the project.  He had never been in the US before and had never seen snow.  He got to see it on December 5. 

We didn't have much time, so we elected to take the subway to Battery Park at the tip of Manhattan Island, where we walked around in the cold and dreary weather while it got increasingly more inclement.  It was raining during a good part of the day.  It would have taken all of our time to visit the Statue of Liberty with the long lines, expensive tickets, and miserable viewing conditions, so we decided to take the Staten Island Ferry. 

The ferry goes from Manhattan Island to, naturally enough, Staten Island. Here I am with Ayouba on the ferry.

When I was a kid, this ferry cost you a nickel one way.  Now it is free.  That's deflation for you.  Anyway, the ferry goes right by the Statue of Liberty and gives you a good view

After the crossing, we had lunch in a deli ( a very New York experience) and then went up to Rockefeller Center where we wandered around and saw the big Christmas tree, the ice skating rink in the plaza, Radio City Music Hall, and St. Patrick's cathedral. Across from St Pat's is the famous statue of Atlas straining to hold up the world.  We never saw the statue of baby Jesus holding the world in his hands in St Pat's, even though we looked for it.

By then the rain had turned to snow, and it was blowing and cold.  The snow was melting on contact.  The crowds were intense and ballooned with all the umbrellas people were carrying.  In fact the worst part of the day was all the umbrellas barreling at you down the street at eye level.  You had to dodge and weave in order to avoid getting one in your face.  We did some window shopping and had something to eat, then caught our bus back to PA.  It was great to be on the warm bus, out of the wet snow.  I don't know if the snow accumulated  in New York, but just outside the city it was laying on the ground, and when we got home, there were 4 inches (10 cm) on the ground.  Here are two pictures of Times Square, one in the morning when we got there when the weather was still okay, and one at night just before we left.  Note the snow falling!!



Since I left college, American Thanksgiving has always been the time when my family gets together.  It's even a bigger holiday than Christmas in my home.  Rarely do we all get together for Christmas.  This year we gathered, as usual, at my brother Tim's house on the fourth Thursday of November (Nov 26 this year) for the annual feast and family fun time.  My two brothers (one lives in Ohio one in Oklahoma) and their families couldn't make it, so we only had 26 people, but we had a great time eating turkey and all the trimmings. 

My family loves pie, and my sister-in-law, Laurie, and her mom are the queens of pie.  Between them I think they made at least 10 pies.  There were 13 pies in all, 1 for every 2 people (!), including the traditional pumpkin as well as pecan, blueberry, cherry, berry, strawberry, chocolate, and apple.  What a feast!  Here's a picture of some of the pies arranged on the cupboardThe pies were gone by the end of the weekend!

It has often been the case that we have guests from other countries during our Thanksgiving celebration.  I can remember citizens of Pakistan, Iran, China, Taiwan, and Europe around the family table in years past.  This year we hosted a family from Puerto Rico who are friends of Laurie.  Here they are around the table with Laurie and some of her relatives.  We also had JR, Daniel's dorm mate who lives with his adopted family in Texas  and couldn't get home for the holidays.  He was born in Haiti. 

After the feast, we often lay around in the living room talking, singing, and having fun.  Here are Daniel and three of his cousins getting mutual scalp rubs. 


Finally, a picture of my beautiful daughter Suzanne sitting next to JR.


Music and Adventure

Anyone who knows me knows I like music. To a lesser degree, I also like variety and adventure.
In 2010 I will begin a new adventure. And that adventure involves music. I plan to begin studies leading to a PhD. And what will the subject of that degree be? I'll be studying the music of the Songhai people of Niger, with whom we have worked for the last 20 years. This plan has been a long time coming, and it promises to be a five-year adventure. I'll be writing more about it in this blog in the weeks and months to come. Suffice it to say that I'll be doing the studies through the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies in Oxford, England. I have to go to England in March to begin with a 10-week "induction" course. Nancy will go with me for the first month to encourage me, sightsee, and see where I'm going to be. Then she'll return to the US to be here when Daniel and Suzanne finish college. I'll stay until early June.

While I'm in England, I'll take courses in research methods, learn about the OCMS program, and have a supervisor assigned to me for my studies. Then I return to England each year until I finish the degree and have to spend only six weeks there per year meeting with my supervisor and reviewing where we're at. The rest of the program will involve research, writing, reading, and communicating with my supervisors on line.

Today I took the first step in the pursuit of this program. I bought tickets to England for next March. I leave with Nancy on March 24.


Succes and Enthusiasm

What do these two words have in common? A while ago I wrote a blog about failure and success. In that blog I cited a quote from Winston Churchill: "Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." I like that quote. It mirrors in many important ways my experience over the past few years. And it seems to me that the oft-quoted saying in Christian circles that we just need to be faithful in order to be a success seem rather flat and empty. It seems there's more to being a success than just being faithful.

One key to success, I think, is our attitude. We need to continually have God's perspective on the events of life. I know, easier said than done. This is where the word enthusiasm comes into the picture.

Recently I learned something about the etymology of the word enthusiasm that makes the quote by Churchill seem even more inspired. While relaxing at a home by a lake, I saw a plaque on the wall that wasn't the usual Christian "kitsch." I abhor kitsch. I don't like to have what everyone else has. This plaque simply stated the definition and origin of the word "enthusiasm." I had never learned this before, and it's really neat.

Enthusiasm comes from the Greek enthousiasmos, and this word is composed of the prefix <en> and the word <theos> with suffixes.!.! Now I know there are a few Greek scholars out there who know that theos is the Greek word for God. So the word enthusiasm comes from the Greek "in God." So enthusiasm means "an exalted or ecstatic feeling, and someone who is enthusiastic is
"inspired by God" or "possessed by God." Wow, I was blown away when I saw this.

This is even more meaningful to me because the way I usually respond to people, to God, and to what's happening around me is enthusiastically. Even though I've had some of the wind knocked out of my sails over the past few years and my enthusiasm has waned as a result, I normally respond this way. Isn't it neat that God continually has a way to refresh my soul and bring me up from the pit of despair, showing me more about myself and Him in process.

So here's my definition of success: live a life inspired by God and possessed by God. Do all things with enthusiasm, even when they don't work out as I had hoped.


Marathon Journey

Nancy and I just completed a 9-week, 9,000-mile journey through 23 states in the US. It was a marathon, and we showed our power point dozens of times in many different settings in homes and churches. It wasn't all business, though, and I want to put some of my favorite photos up on my blog.

The first part of our trip was taking our kid
s back to college, especially Suzanne, who is beginning her freshman year. Here's a photo of Nancy and Suzanne together at Cedarville University.

After we left Cedarville we visited many beautiful spots in this beautiful land. First, however, I want to show you a shot many peopl
e would not expect. This is near Toledo, OH. It's the Islamic Center of America.

Later on, we spent a memorable, sunny day at Indiana Dunes on the southern shores of Lake Michigan.

Afterwards, we visited Chicago and saw the "Bean." Your reflection is all distorted in the "bean."

We then traveled through the Midwest from top to bottom (Minnesota to Texas) in a week. We did get to spend two nights in the Ozark Mts in Arkansas, and
we saw the Pea Ridge battlefield, one of the major US Civil War battle sites.

We also spent two nights with my look-a-like brother in Oklahoma.

After a week in Texas with relatives, friends, and supporters, we moved on to Sebring, FL and the SIM Retirement Village, where Nancy's parents live. This became our home away from home away from home for two weeks.

Finally, we moved on to Charlotte, NC, SIM headquarters, for debriefing interviews and a week-long retreat. During the retreat, we spent two days r
elaxing and seeking God at this lake-front property.

Finally, we returned home to PA via the mountains of Vir
ginia, which were putting on a display of their finery.

When we got back, we had a big surprise. It snowed for one entire day. Here's what it looked like outside our window. Brrr!!


My Real Double

A few years ago, I wrote a blog about my "double," Zinedine Zidane. Well, at least some Africans think I look like him at first sight. I don't think there is much resemblance.

There is someone who looks just like me, however. It's my brother, Dave. He is four years younger than I, and there are two more brothers in between us (I'm the oldest in the family). But people do really confuse us. It's not too hard to distingui
sh us if you know us, but you could do a "double" take if you don't know us well.

So when Dave came down dressed in a blue shirt and tie for our nephew's wedding in June, I rolled my eyes. People were going to have fun distinguishing between us that day. In the end, it worked out fairly well, and most people didn't call me Dave or ask me how things were in Oklahoma (that's where Dave and his wife and four kids live), but several people commented how much we resembled each other. See if you notice the likeness.

It's great to be back on American soil for a while. It's also great to have our family back together again for a while. Daniel has been at university the past two years, and we've missed him. He came out to visit us on May 7 and was in Niger for Nancy' birthday, Suzanne's birthday, and Suzanne's graduation from high school. What fun we had! Here's our family picture at the wedding in CT, which I mentioned above. This was only five days after our return from Niger, so we were still a bit overwhelmed and tired.



A huge cloud of black smoke cast a long shadow over Niamey on the afternoon of May 27, 2009. The big, central market was on fire. The market is like a open-air bazaar confined to a vast walled-in spot in the center of Niamey. Here's a picture of the black cloud from across the Niger river.

The immense fire burned all afternoon from 2 p.m. until about 7 p.m. At 5, I happened to be traveling in the center of town via taxi. I hopped off the taxi and took a walk up near the market to see the conflagration. Though traffic was obviously being blocked, people could walk quite close to the market where a cordon of police was keeping everybody away. I could still see big, black plumes of smoke rising up out of the center of the market, though I couldn't see the flames. Just then, the wind shifted as a storm started moving in from the northeast, and it made the flames go back in the direction from which they had come. The contrary winds made it difficult to control the blaze.

Many shops crowded into the center aisle of the market were completely destroyed. The government news service said over 100 shops were totally obliterated. Hundreds more were damaged. But thanks to the work of many firemen and police, many hundreds more were spared much damage. Still, the loss of goods and income is incalculable. Pray for these poor people. They have suffered much. What caused the fire? I heard by the grapevine that it was an electrical short circuit. This is not the first time this market has burned. Back in 1982 (before I arrived in Niger), the market completely burned to the ground. Other markets in Niamey have suffered fires during our time in Niger. One even experienced a flood!

Fire can be so destructive. But it can be beneficial when under control. In that case it gives heat and light to those who are around. That's why there are two words in French for "fire:" "incendie" for the out-of-control, destructive fire; and "feu" for the under-control, beneficial fire. I want to be a fire like the latter, lighting the path for those who are around and bring beneficial heat to the world.



"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where termites and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal." --Matt 6.19

All right, I've taken a few liberties with the text and introduced a term that does not exist in the original. Call it the Revised Niger Version. We don't have many moths here, at least not those that cause much destruction. But termites...

For years we have kept some personal valuables and keepsakes in three cardboard boxes. These are all paper-based valuables. Some of the stuff is more than 23 years old. When we moved last year, we decided to store the three boxes on the floor under our computer desk.

A few weeks ago, I noticed some "cookie crumbs" under the computer desk and wondered who was eating while working at the computer (a long-standing rule in our house is that food and drink is not allowed at the computer). I cleaned up the "crumbs" and thought nothing of it. Then on Saturday, April 25, Nancy discovered more "crumbs" under the desk. It was after 9 p.m., and it was beastly hot and humid. She picked up one of the "crumbs" and instantly discovered it was dirt. We realized immediately we had a termite problem. I tried to pull out one of the boxes, but it was stuck to the floor and at my touch, the box crumbled into dust. It was infested with termites. Here are some photos of the mess.






Termites like a warm, moist environment in which to make their home. Believe me, we had a nice little termite mound growing right under our noses inside our house. It was wonderfully hot and humid under there with the computer right next door.






Now what was in those boxes? Old letters from and to family (I managed to salvage a good part of these), old love notes between Nancy and I (completely destroyed and irreplaceable), magazines (mostly not important), language learning materials (some of our old language notes for both Hausa and Songhai were totally destroyed, but I managed to salvage some), and notes for various courses I've taught in Niger (I managed to retrieve all of these from the mess of destruction).

I hate termites. But they do serve a useful function in this part of the world. You see, the soil in Niger is at best poor, and at worst, sterile. We don't have worms that can aerate the soil and replenish the nutrients to the soil. Termites do that job here. They will invade any organic matter left out in the field and break it down into decent soil. Sticks, stalks, compostable matter, and other biodegradable stuff left out in the sun to dry will quickly be turned into, if not manure, at least into tillable soil. How do you like that?

Will there be termites in heaven? If there are they will perform the good functions God intended and won't destroy. Anyway, our hope is not in earthly treasures which so easily turn to dust and ashes, but in God who cleanses us from all sin.



There's nothing like a hand-squeezed glass of lemonade to quench your thirst on a blistering hot day in Niger. It takes quite a process to make lemonade. We can't buy lemon juice in the store, but we can buy real limes and lemons. Here's my recipe for great lemonade.

First you have to choose the right lemons or limes. You want ones that are firm, not mushy or smelly. But you don't want them to be too hard. You should be able to squeeze them a little and feel juice in them. Lemons should be somewhat yellow and lime have a greenish-yellow tint.

Once you bring them home and wash them, you need to cut them in half and squeeze them. We have an old hand-squeezer that I use. It's not in great shape, but it's so much stronger than those wimpy, modern squeezers you buy in the store. While I'm squeezing the lemons, I also strain out the pulp and the seeds.

After squeezing the lemons, I pour the juice into ice cube trays. With long experience, I've discovered that lemon juice keeps well frozen. When the cubes are frozen, I take the cubes out of the tray and put them into small Ziploc bags five to a bag. Then I pop them in our big chest freezer.

When I want to make lemonade, I take a bag out of the freezer, put it in a 2-litre jug of cold water, and add 3/4 to 1 cup of sugar. Stir, pour over ice, and enjoy. Ahhhh! What a great way to quench your thirst.


Niamey, Part 2

Ok, so I guess there are a few things I like about living in Niamey, the capital of Niger. A few weeks ago I wrote a blog telling about what I didn't like about the big city. Here, I'll write about a few things I like.

6. More people are available to repair things. You have more of a choice about who will fix your car or charge your air conditioner or put a new screen on your window. Though the quality of workmanship is definitely better then in the villages, it still doesn't come up to the standards many of us would find acceptable in our country. We also have colleagues who are here specifically to help us fix problems with our computers and our houses, and that helps.

5. More services are available. There are a variety of bookstores, grocery stores, boutiques, bakeries, gas stations, bottled gaz, and other services available in Niamey. Many of these were not available in Tera or there was little variety or quality in the services tendered. At least here, there is more of a choice.

4. There are more believers and stronger churches. In Tera we struggled to get anything off the ground and everything depended on us. Here there are strong believers who can help carry the load, and the whole burden for the work doesn't fall on us. We have many African Christian friends we can share with, pray with, and worship with.

3. Colleagues. One of the hardest things about living in Tera was being alone. We had no one to share our joys and sorrows with and no one working with us in the ministry (except when Mike Murphy was there in 2004-05). It was extremely lonely for me and one of the reasons we left Tera. Here we have numerous colleagues and acquaintances. Though everyone is frantically busy, at least the possibility exists to be able to get a few minutes to share the triumphs and struggles of life together.

2. Internet access. We never had Internet access in Tera. We always had to come to Niamey to do our e-mail and surf the Internet. While there is now an Internet cafe in Tera, it is expensive, and we still wouldn't have it in our house. For a month now, we have had Internet access in our house in Niamey for the first time since Internet came to Niger. It is fairly reliable and cheap to boot. It's wonderful not to have to haul our laptop to the office or an Internet cafe to do e-mail. And Suzanne can do her Internet courses on line from the privacy of her own room. What luxury!

1. Fruits and vegetables. I'm a fruit and veggie freak. I need decent fruits and veggies to survive. One of the nicest things about Niamey is the quantity, variety, and quality of the fruits and vegetables one can purchase here. We can even get broccoli, one of my favorite vegetables, in the cooler months. I still miss some of the cold climate fruits like grapes and peaches, but they are made up for by papayas and guavas. We don't have the variety and quality one would expect in the US, but it's a far cry from where we lived for 16 years.

Admittedly, this list is not long. I can't think of anything else I like about the city. But the items listed here are very significant and contribute to an overall well-being that could not be matched in the country.


A half century!

I celebrated fifty years of life on January 29. We didn't have a big party, but we did go out to eat at one of our favorite Lebanese restaurants, where they have great hummus (if you don't know what that is, look it up in a good dictionary). Here are Nancy and I toasting all those marvelous years (no wine in glasses).

While we were gone, our pesky neighbors, the Rideouts, decided to decorate our house. They strung black crepe paper from the fan, draped a Happy Birthday sign over our bookshelf, wrote a hand-made card on black construction paper, and gave me a cardboard tie with "Fifty years of Magnificence" on it. Here are some photos of the tie and card. Later, I opened my gifts. I'm still waiting on two packages from family.

The next evening we had cheesecake at our monthly prayer meeting at the Rideout's house. Cheesecake is one of my favorite desserts. I got a lot of nice e-mail greetings and some sent cards the old-fashioned way.

"Seventy years are given to us!
Some live even to eighty.
But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble;
soon they disappear, and we fly away....
Teach us to realize the brevity of life
so that we may grow in wisdom." (NLT)

Psalm 90. 10,12


Separating the Sheep from the Goats

Good thing I'm not sitting on a throne on Judgement Day. When I first came to Niger, I had a hard time separating the sheep from the goats. In Niger they have some resemblances, both being rather small and undernourished with small heads. All goats and all male sheep have horns, so at first sight you might be confused. See if you can do any better than me. Can you distinguish sheep from goat in the following photos?

Now goats are a lot smarter than sheep. That's one way you can distinguish them. During our years in Niger and especially going back and forth to Tera from Niamey, we would often run into a herd of sheep or goats (or a mixed group) crossing the road (it's open range everywhere you go in Niger, even in the city). Normally, the goats are quite cautious. When they
hear the sound of the car coming or the sound of the horn blaring, they'll move quickly to get off the road and out of the way. Sheep are another thing altogether. They may stare dumbly at the approaching car, all the while standing their ground. They may double back on themselves, first swerving to one side of the road and then suddenly reversing course and running across the road directly in front of you. Or they may develop a herd mentality, where they all have to get to the same side of the road together regardless of the obstacle in their path. So they may all try to run to the farthest side of the road, again right in front of you. You wonder where their brains are. It also makes you wonder why Christians are so often compared to sheep! Are we that dumb? Non-believers are sometimes compared to goats. Do they have more cunning and sense than we do? Sometimes I wonder. But the sheep are the ones who get the most attention because they make more noise and are more numerous. They also stand out on the road more often.

So how did you do? Can you separate the sheep from the goats? Hint: if you're still having problems, look not only at the head but also at the tail. The tails of all goats are short while a sheep's tail is long.