For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge- that ou may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21)
We sat tonight in the Kora Kano church, thankful that it’s been cooler. We sat in the back behind hundreds of other English speakers, listening to the words of a veteran missionary who used to work on this field as he brought us the Word of God from this passage. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the word LOVE. My mind drifted to last night…..
We were tired. It was dark and dusty. Dave and I walked with our boys down the long Kora Kano road with our three boys. “It’s okay with me that we haven’t gotten a taxi!” Dave shouted at me over his shoulder as I followed, carrying Caleb who was too tired to keep walking. “I agree!” I shouted back, “This is good for us!” And it was. Not having a car these past weeks and months reminds us of all our blessings. It gets us into the culture. It’s not easy or convenient, but it IS good for us. Good for the kids. Our heavenly father loves us. Of that I am sure. He provides what we need. Last night, we needed to walk. “Fofo!” a woman shouts to me the greeting in Djarma. “Ngoya!” I answer, delighted that I get a chance to use one of the five words I know in this language. She rattles of a sentence, and I respond in my best broken French that I don’t understand. Finally, I get it and respond with a smile, “I know it’s much better to carry him on my back!” She is referring to Caleb, who has fallen asleep in my arms. If I was a real African, he would be on my back.
We plod on down the dark and dusty road toward our house. I moved to Niger in May of 2007. In more than five years I have not learned a tribal language, and I still cannot speak freely with the people who live in this city. I have learned a lot. The more I learn, the more I realize I am just scratching the surface. I want to learn to speak Djarma so bad I can taste it. I am waiting on Him to provide a way. In our journey towards building a VILLAGE for women and children in Niger, we feel like we are walking down a dark and dusty road. We desperately want to do this right. This is why we are seeking out the wisdom of others– people who understand this culture better than we can.
Our latest debate has been with our Nigerien friends. The debate is over love. Specifically, should a woman (in this case a mother) say I love you to her children. On one side, it is not Nigerien to tell a child, “I love you.” Even many Nigerien Christians believe this. I have spoken with two pastors that I admire, respect, and whole heartedly trust that say that do not speak these words to their children. In this culture you show love. You do not speak it. To speak it is degrading. This totally threw me out of my box, and I landed with a thud on the pavement. My knees and hands felt like they were bleeding. I look up at my pastor friends and say, “What?!” My culture is so different. How will I ever understand? How can I make decisions about training women (mamas) when I just don’t get it.
There is a strength in these people I have never needed, personally. A strength that comes through generations of survival and subsistence living. Here are some things I know about Niger after living here for several years…. Women don’t cry. Whereas in my culture the tears of a woman can sometimes persuade sympathy, in Niger tears show weakness and disrespect. If I were to get pulled over for speeding in Niger, I would never get out of the ticket by crying. Women don’t make noise during child birth. Whereas in my culture, women are free to moan and grown and are given strong drugs to help their pain, in Niger the moaning and groaning is a sign of weakness and disrespect. In some villages in Niger the new baby’s grandmother with stand in the hut where the mother is giving birth and hold a stick. Grandma will strike the mother with this stick if she cries out in pain to remind her to respect the process of childbirth, the father, and the family. People here say their long greetings first before they do anything else. They ask how you are doing. The response to these greetings is almost always I AM DOING FINE. Even if things are not fine. If you are next to death, you might say you are a little sick. Besides that, everything is fine. Whereas in my culture you give a really fast greeting, “Hey how are ya?” and then before an answer is given you jump in with your real question. Don’t waste my time. Time is money. Men don’t say I love you to their wives or their children. They show it. They make sacrifices. They sell their last goat to feed their families. They teach their children to do whatever they have to do to be strong.
As this debate over love has been going on in my heart and my head God has been repeating some things to me again and again. The first one is PRAY. I have heard three sermons about prayer in English in the past month. He is making that VERY clear. The second one is that that I would simply trust him. God is love. He will lead us. This is his village. His plan. His show. I am asking him to show me, guide me, teach me about love. How to show love. How to fit in here. There is so much work to be done. I am here to love. And so I keep walking down a dark and dusty path. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1)