Abundant Life in the Desert

...a journey with the Bowden Family


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Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might

Posted on November 26, 2018 at 10:10 AM

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might;” (Ecclesiastes 9:10)

“Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24)


Ecclesiastes 9:10 was my Grandmother’s favorite Bible verse.  I am beginning to see the reason why.  Since coming to live on the mission field we have been challenged by many different things.  These challenges have taught us something special.  It is not about how good we are at doing something or how well prepared we have been but simply doing whatever the Lord puts before us with all of our hearts unto Him. 

Many times we do not feel like we are enough to meet the challenges of living on the mission field.  The truth is that we are not!  In our home country there are experts or “specialists” for everything.  Here on the mission field we often wear many different hats trying to meet a wide variety of needs.

A few weeks ago I was asked to help teach music at Abraham’s Place.  Why?  Because there is no one else.  There is a whole new generation growing up in Niger that has a heart for music and worship – but there is no one to teach them.  When I was young I had several years of piano lessons.  In my twenties I picked up guitar.  I am not a musician in any sense of the word.  I know that I am not gifted in music.  On a category of musical giftedness from 1-10 I am maybe a 0.  But you know what?  Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might unto the Lord. 

I prayed about it and realized that I do know enough to teach the children how to get the basics of chords in both piano and guitar.  I said “yes”.  I am now teaching a weekly music class to about 14 children.  And you know what?  The kids love it!  They are learning a lot and are even starting to play a couple of simple songs after only the first couple of lessons! 

Many times on the mission field the needs that I see everywhere overwhelm me.  The great amount of people who are still waiting to hear the Gospel, the great need for children and youth ministry, the great amount of time needed to disciple new believers and new leaders.  It is overwhelming.  But I am learning that in whatever state I am to be content.  Learning to put my hand to the plow in whatever the Lord asks me to do.  Learning to fix my eyes on Him and let His strength be manifested in my weakness.


That’s it.  The secret.  It is not about being strong but about being weak.  It is not about knowing what to do but knowing the One who knows everything.  It is simply being willing to say “yes” to go and put my hand to the plow without looking back.  What is the Lord asking you to put your hand to today?

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might;” (Ecclesiastes 9:10)




I would rather be a doorkeeper...

Posted on November 2, 2018 at 6:15 AM

Psalm 84:10 “For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand.  I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.”

This week I have been meditating on what it means to be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord.  In all honesty, I used to think that this job description was boring.  I thought that being a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord was the most menial of all tasks that we could desire. 

As we live and minister in Africa my perspective has changed based on the culture that we see around us.  Doorkeepers or gatekeepers are a vital role to everyday life.  Each home is surrounded by a tall wall with the only entry point being the gate.  The “doorkeeper" or “guard’s” job is to wait and ancitipate the “Mai Gida” (the owner) arrival and to welcome him back by opening up the gate to his home. 

My son, Isaiah, often plays the part of the “doorkeeper” here at our home.  When he hears the sound of our V6 landcruiser engine outside the door, he runs and joyfully opens the gate to let us in. May we all, like my son, eagerly anticipate the presence of the Lord, and when we hear Him, joyfully open up the gates of our heart and let our Lord come in.

As a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord we are called to receive and release God’s kingdom in our lives.  We are called to be doorkeepers that eagerly anticipate our heavenly father’s presence.  Our job is to receive Him with joy and let His presence flow through us to a needy and dying world.  What a privilege it is to be a doorkeeper in the house of our God!  Let our lives be the “hotspot” of the Lord’s presence.  Let our lives be filled with the presence of our Lord and King.  What a privilege it is to serve as a doorkeeper in the house of our God!


Posted on July 17, 2017 at 9:25 AM


 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)

“Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

A little while ago I went out to visit with some believers in a village where we have a church.  While visiting with some of the Christians I greeted some of their friends and families as well.  I asked them what they thought about the church since it had come to their village.  One of them responded by saying that even though he had not become a Christian, that since the church had come to their village, the average standard of living and quality of life had increased for everyone!  Wow!  You see, the Gospel has a transformative power that affects culture (beliefs/perspectives/thoughts/attitudes/actions) from the inside out.  Even the not-yet-believers in this village realized the fact that the church had brought a positive change to their society just by being present!

The Gospel has the power to bring change in every aspect of our lives and communities around the world.  The DNA of the Gospel is powerful and changes culture at its very core.  The church is called to be on a mission to initiate and bring this transformation into the world in every area of society.  Our prayer as the church is to be “Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.  Your kingdom come,  Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)

Anyone who has been overseas will understand that there are many “projets” or “NGO’s” around the world today.  NGO stands for “Non-Governmental Organization” and many of these organizations are supported with Government funds from their host countries.  These NGO’s are sent to meet specific problems in the world whether it is helping with famine or medical relief, education, well drilling and other aspects of poverty to just name a few.

A bit crude but basic and effective way to understand most Government funded international NGO’s or Projet’s for someone who has not traveled overseas would be to look at the federal welfare programs that are available in the States.  These programs exist to meet physical needs SEPARATE from meeting the spiritual needs in society.  In this day and age most employees of Government programs are specifically told to not share their personal religious beliefs or proselytize while on the “job”.  “Forcing” your personal beliefs on someone else while on the clock can mean instant job termination or even a lawsuit.  So the primary mission of these programs can be summed up as trying to meet a physical need without addressing the underlying spiritual condition. 

Another good thing to understand is that when an organization receives funding from the Government, that particular group loses its right to share its personal beliefs.  Basically, when an NGO receives Government foreign aid, it has to also represent the beliefs of that Government.  Some large aid organizations that were founded upon Christian beliefs have gone this route and have compromised the ability to do their good works in the name of Jesus.

As Christian missionaries serving in one of the poorest nations on earth, we see many organizations that come to meet physical needs with a lot of funding from various Government organizations around the world.  But many times these organizations treat the visible symptoms rather than the root problem.  Kind of like a band aid that covers an infected cut and provides a temporary solution, but can never really offer a permanent answer and bring healing to the underlying problem. 

As an example one year we experienced famine because of a terrible harvest.  Once this became world news millions of dollars was sent in foreign aid to help buy and distribute food on a large scale.  The only problem was that the aid came a year after the famine and just after another harvest which happened to be a bumper crop.  Many good self-sustaining business and food programs at this time either went out of business or were driven out of the country because of the free or discounted food prices.  So temporarily people had food but when the foreign aid money ran out, and the self-sustaining businesses were no longer in operation, the poverty and lack of food returned.  A band aid to a deeper issue in society. 

A better way is to teach people how to farm God’s way and to do it alongside of them.  We have local friends who do not experience the yearly famine as much now because they have adopted better ways to farm that are Biblically and scientifically proven to increase the yield.  Biblical approach includes teaching on how to have a good work ethic and to not be lazy, how to think long term and to fertilize the fields in preparation for next year’s planting, how to keep seed from the previous year to plant the following year, etc…  But this better way has taken, and continues to take, other long-term missionaries generations of living alongside and helping “disciple” farmers to impart this knowledge to them.  Praise the Lord for Christian missionaries who have had agricultural training that have given their lives to help farmers see a better way to live, and to farm.  This is the difference between a band aid fix and a long term solution.  A band aid fix takes a check.  The long term solution takes a life.  We can take many more examples (medical, job training, education, etc..) that show the same thing. When the church – you and I – make the Gospel central in how we live our lives there is a transformative power from God to bring change, hope and life in the darkest situations in society. 

I am convinced that the Lord has called His church to be the one ready to meet the needs and injustices in the world today by realizing that the root problem always comes down to a lack of, or a broken relationship with, Jesus Christ.  Once society is properly aligned with the Lord and with His Word, everything else begins to fall back into its rightful place.

So the question remains for you and I, as the church of the living God, are we engaged in professing Christ in what we say and do and letting the power of the Gospel bring broken relationships back into right alignment with the Lord?  Or do we have a “projet” mentality and are trying to treat the outside problems in society with a temporary band aid?  The name of Jesus does and will offend people.  But Jesus is the only one who has the permanent answer to every need and injustice in the world today.  Are we ashamed of the Gospel?  Are we ashamed of the precious name of Jesus?  The Lord Jesus wants to use you and I to reveal Himself to the world around us.  The world is waiting.  Heaven is waiting.  The church is the only one that has the answer.  His name is Jesus.  Let the Church arise!



Posted on June 16, 2017 at 8:55 AM


Last week, “Mslms” started the R_madan fast around the world. Here where we live, with a population of about 98.5% Mslms, it is no exception.  This month-long fast is done once a year based on the Isl_mic calendar, which means that it changes yearly.  This year the fast lined up with the hot season.  The hot season gets up to 115 degrees in the afternoon and is an incredibly difficult time of the year – the hardest, really.  This year's fasting also coincided with the beginning of the rainy season, which happens to be the planting season.  It takes a lot of energy to plant the crops in the fields.  Most people have at least two or three acres of land that they farm.  I have heard that a lot of people die during the fast, especially older people whose bodies cannot handle it as well.

During this month, most Mslm men and women (from about 13-15 yrs. old and up) fast from sunup to sundown.  Here that means from about 6:03am to 6:55pm each day.  During this time, you are not supposed to eat any food or drink water.  I have heard that it is taboo to even swallow your own spit.  An interesting fact is that most people doing the fast put a stick in their mouth to chew on and to also show everyone else that they are fasting. 

The amazing thing about the “fast”, though, is that as soon as the sun goes down, the feasting begins!  Most stores here are empty because everyone has bought up the food supplies in preparation for the nightly “celebration”.  The food prices soar during this season.  Everything jumped by at least 20% or more in one week, just because everyone is buying up all of the food.  You might say, well, it is a fast, right?  During the day, that is correct.  But at night there is feasting  that continues through until early morning.  There is more spiritual fervor during this time as well, since people stay up at night listening to messages being preached via loudspeakers on the streets.

Because people tend to stay up basically all night feasting, the whole nation here goes on “night shift” for one month.  Basically, many people stay up at night and sleep during the day.  People tend to do their work only in the mornings since it is a bit cooler and they have just had breakfast before the sun came up.  By early afternoon, they try to sleep through the hottest part of the day until the sun goes down.  Thus, the cycle of life changes to almost the opposite of what it is the rest of the year.   Up all night, and asleep during the day. This is a month that is difficult to get anything done, since most people view fasting as their primary “job” during the day, and try to just get through until they can eat and drink at night.  So this is the most unproductive time of the year for getting paperwork done for work, school, businesses, etc…  

This morning, one of our neighborhood youth came to greet me.  He is probably about 15 years old and usually goes to school.  I asked him what he was doing today.  His response?  “I'm fasting!"  He is not going to school or doing anything else all day – just conserving his energy and fasting until the sun goes down.  This is typical.  Many times parents tell their teenage children that they have a choice of either fasting and then feasting with the family at night, or not having any food to eat for the month.  This helps to motivate youth to start fasting, knowing that they are guaranteed food with their family each night.

“Azumi” is the Hausa word for “Fast”.  This month, the most common greeting in the marketplace is, “Yaya azumi?” which is Hausa for asking how the fast is going. 

We are thankful to be a part of the growing Christian community here.  Because the church is growing, most people in the larger cities know that Christians do not participate in the Rmadan fast.  This is a great witness to the Mslm people here.  Many of our Christian friends use this month as an opportunity to share with their friends why they are not participating in this fast - that they have been saved by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, not because of doing any good works.  Christians also share with their friends the real meaning and purpose of fasting for the Believer from the Bible (fasting is between you and the Lord, not publicly to get praise from man).  Thus, this is a very important time for the church around the world in Mslm nations to be a shining light and testimony to the grace and goodness of Jesus Christ. 

Please pray with us this month for the Mslm world, that they would experience the love and grace of Jesus Christ, who has already paid the penalty for our sin.  So many are hungry for a true relationship with God and are trying to do many good works to obtain their salvation, but are trying to do it in their own strength and in fear that it is not enough to save them from judgement day.  It is truly a horrible thing to live in fear all of your life, not knowing if you did enough good works to save yourself from going to hell. 

Ultimately, there are just two categories.  Lost or found.  Not "Mslm" or "Christian".  You can condense all of the different religions and beliefs of people around the world and they come into one of these two categories: lost or found.  It is hard for us to understand why so many Christians are afraid of Mslms, knowing that many are still in the lost category and need to come to know Jesus.  We should be filled with love and compassion for anyone who has yet to receive Christ, knowing that one day, each one of us will stand and give an account of our life before the Lord.  Just like the thieves on the right and left side of Jesus when He was dying for our sins on the cross.  They both made a decision about Jesus at that point.  One believed and opened up his heart to receive Jesus’ love and forgiveness; the other one mocked and rejected Him.  One was found; the other was lost.  We all fit into one of these two categories.  Do we know Jesus Christ, and have we accepted His gift of salvation that He paid for with His own blood?  Or do we trust in our own good works to redeem us? 

Lost is living in fear of death.  Found is living in victory that Jesus has conquered death.  Lost is living with hopelessness.  Found is full of hope and expectation that all things will be made new.  Lost is filled with fear and anxiety.  Found is trusting in the One who holds us in His hand.  Lost is wandering aimlessly and without purpose.  Found is at peace in the one weaving the threads of our lives, the good and the bad, into the greater tapestry that will one day be made perfect in Him.  Lost is looking at ourselves.  Found is looking at Him.  There are just two categories.  Lost or found. 

Pray for those who are still in the lost category.  Let our lives as Christians be full of the love and compassion of Christ for those who are lost.  Pray for those around you that might not know Jesus yet.  Ask the Lord to make you ready to show His love in a tangible way to those who need a revelation of who Jesus really is.  Let us remember what it was like to be lost.  It is only by God’s grace we have been found. There is nothing left for us to fear.  Let us use the time that we have left in this world to be bold witnesses to the love, grace, and truth that is found in Jesus Christ alone.  At anytime, anywhere, any person can come to know Jesus and go from lost to found.  Amazing grace…

“The Lord is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6).

“For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13).



Posted on January 9, 2017 at 10:05 AM


“Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool, Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest?" (Isaiah 66:1).

This week we had two church dedications in two different villages. Both villages previously had stick “huts” made of millet stalks for the roof and walls that they had to replace each year. The Christians in these villages had become used to holding their worship services outside in the wind, rain and sand. But last year the Lord provided the funds for us to build two new concrete and steel roof church buildings. The Christians in both of these villages were so happy to hear the news, and to see these buildings go up over the last couple of months.

Here are a few of the testimonies from the church members during the dedication service:

The Believers in the village of Karoussa:

“We have been praying and believing for many years asking the Lord to provide a building for us to worship in. There was a time when it seemed impossible for us to ever see this happen, but we continued to have faith and believe that the Lord would provide a place for us. Today we thank the Lord for answering our prayers and for this beautiful building that He has provided for us to worship in. We are so thankful!”

The Believers in the village of Kwaita:

“Our testimony is that the Lord has answered our prayers. We do not have the words to express our gratitude to Him. During the rainy season often we would start to worship outside, but because of the rain we would get wet and would have to go into the pastor’s small “daki” (mud hut) to finish our worship service! Now look at what the Lord has done by providing such a beautiful place for us to worship in. Now we will be dry in the rainy season. All we can do is say thank you to the Lord for His provision and for answering our prayers. Thank you!”

We are so thankful to see the Lord’s provision and answered prayer for the Believers in these two villages. But the greatest miracle is that the Lord of heaven and earth would choose to dwell in our hearts. As Paul wrote in Ephesians “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”(Ephesians 3:17-19).

You and I are the church where the presence of Jesus dwells. May His presence and His love continue to rest and grow in our lives until we are filled with the fullness of Himself. Forever.




Posted on November 22, 2016 at 7:25 AM


“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)

One of the joys of missionary life is being a part of the celebration of a new life, i.e., baby dedications. This past week I went out to the village of Kwaita to join in the special celebration of a baby boy born to one of our pastors that we work with. Pastor Inussa and his wife Ra’hanatou are some of the first believers in their families. They gave their lives to Christ about three or four years ago. Pastor Inussa and his wife Ra’hanatou graduated from our Bible school two years ago and have been faithfully serving as pastors in the village church of Kwaita.

Pastor Inussa and Ra’hanatou watching as I hold their baby boy. Here in Niger, the baby dedication is also the time that the name of the baby is given formally in front of everyone, and usually the name holds special significance for the Mother and Father.

What is the name that they gave to their beautiful baby boy? Immanuel. Immanuel means "God with us!".  What a testimony in the midst of persecution. God is with us. A daily reminder of the testimony of Pastor Inussa and Ra’hanatou, and the heritage that they are giving to their children.

Pictured here are the pastors from several other villages praying the Lord’s blessing over little Immanuel.

We also spent some time praying over Immanuel's mom and dad (pictured above).

After the baby dedication it is time to eat! This is always something to look forward to. The first dish is called “tuwo” (ground millet mixed with a slimy sauce) and is actually Anna’s (our daughters) favorite meal. The second is a dish of sweet potatoes mixed with a peanut butter sauce. The best thing? Squatting around each dish and using our right hand to eat the food. Yummy!

Then it is time to get back into the landcruiser and put the gear into four wheel drive and head back home through the deep sandy roads while remembering Immanuel, God with us. Even in the middle of Africa, even in the midst of persecution and difficulties, even in the ups and downs of this life, once we belong to Jesus HE IS ALWAYS WITH US. Let’s take a moment and remember Immanuel, the One who came and gave His all for you and I. God with us.  Forever.  Thankful.




Posted on October 12, 2016 at 10:50 AM



“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24)

I love carpentry. There is just something about working with your hands constructing something out of wood that feels so good. This last week I put my tool belt back on.

I am teaching a course on practical ministry to the leadership students in the Bible school this term. One of the segments is a hands-on class focusing on how to do concrete repairs, painting, and carpentry. The goal is to help the students learn a practical skill so that one day if they are pastoring a church they can do the maintenance and repairs themselves. Wooden benches are used everywhere here. Because of their demand, wooden benches are valuable. Most of our students are farmers and have never had the opportunity to build anything before. So last week we built five wooden benches together. They loved it! But then the big test…

This week I left the tools and lumber material at the Bible school and told them that they each had to build a bench themselves and complete it by Friday. All week they worked on their benches on their own time when I wasn’t around to look or check on them. Friday came and they proudly brought out their handiwork! They did a great job! I was so proud of them.

This reminded me once again that WHATEVER we do, we are to WORK at it with our WHOLE HEART unto the LORD. We are serving and working for the Lord. It is all about Him. Even when no one else is looking. He knows. He cares. Let’s put our tool belts back on!


What a Shop Vac, pencil eraser, catheter and Micaela's nose have in common

Posted on October 1, 2016 at 7:25 AM

What a Shop Vac, pencil eraser, catheter and Micaela’s nose have in common

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Last week we had a scare. Something that has not yet happened in our nine years of parenting. Micaela, our wonderful and vivacious two year old, stuck a pencil up her nose. Not a big deal you say. Righhht. When she took the pencil back out of her nose the eraser was gone. Where do you think the eraser went? Uh, oh.

The eraser was stuck up Micaela’s nose. Dani, being the ever efficient nurse, immediately took her nifty little otoscope and did a small examination. The verdict was confirmed. The pencil eraser certainly was still stuck up in her nose. What to do now?

First, we tried to make her sneeze. We blew flour up her nose, sprinkled ginger around her nose, and did everything including sneezing ourselves trying to get Micaela to sneeze. No luck. She was just not going to sneeze.

Our second attempt to rid Micaela of the eraser was based on a google search. Obviously many parents have had a similar thing happen to them and knew how to deal with a difficult object up a small child’s nose. So we decided to try it also. We got out our shop vac. Dani them searched for a small empty pen like container that we duc taped onto the end of the shop vac. Okay, ready or not – suck it out!

Unfortunately, the google search did not say anything about how the children respond to the noise of a shop vac and trying to put the end of it up their noses. Ugly. After we tried a few times and Micaela seemed to be on the verge of hyperventilating, we decided that maybe our case was a bit different than the rest of the parents in the world. So, what now?

Third attempt. Mother’s kiss. What is the mother’s kiss? You hold one nostril closed while blowing into the mouth of the child and the air forces out the object from their other nostril. We blew and blew and the eraser did not come out. Many other things came out including buggers and snot, but not the eraser. Gross.

After the third attempt, we were about done with it all. Ready to just leave the eraser in Micaela’s nose for a few years until it came out naturally. But we realized that we could not give up – not yet. So we called up our Doctor. We are blessed to live in a place on the mission field where we have several awesome missionary doctors that work close to where we live. Whenever we have a crisis that goes beyond what we can do (like pencil erasers up noses) we give them a call.

A little bit later we drove the twenty-five minutes over to the hospital where our missionary doctor friend works. He came in on his day off just to help us out. Wow, we were so thankful! After spending about thirty minutes examining Micaela and trying himself to get the eraser out, he told us that “I think I am going to have to send you to a more specialized place where they might have to give her anesthesia and do an operation to get it out – first thing tomorrow morning!” Okay, this is when things started to look a bit more serious. An operation? Anesthesia? Driving three hours away tomorrow to see a specialist? Are you kidding?

Five in the morning the next day we all piled into our Land Cruiser and started the drive to Galmi, one of the best missionary hospitals in the whole nation. Three hours later we arrived and a doctor came out to examine Micaela. After a few minutes he took us to another examination room where they have several dentist chairs set up. Then he gets a catheter out. A what? That is right, a catheter. Wow, we are learning so much from a pencil eraser…

Our friend the missionary doctor then inserts one end of the catheter up Micaela’s nose until it passes the eraser and enters the back of her mouth. Micaela not liking this is an understatement. After the doctor inserted the catheter he pumped some air into it making a small ball inside her mouth. Then slowly and carefully he PULLED the ball of air back out through the entire nostril! Hurts to even think about this happening… Anyhow, after the catheter comes out he checks inside her nostril – all open and clean inside! But where is the eraser? We hadn’t seen it come out yet…

A few minutes later we hear a cry and someone comes running up to us with something that they have found on the floor of the dental room while cleaning up. The eraser! Yes! Dani and I are relieved to finally have closure on this episode. We are also so thankful that it was not necessary to give Micaela anesthesia and do an operation. Yeah!

Driving back the three hours to our home, we were so thankful to the Lord for His protection and help in a crazy situation. Amazing to look back and see how the Lord used so many different things and people to help us find a solution. We are thankful for the Lord’s protection and guidance in all of the circumstances of our lives. We are also thankful for the Body of Christ here and around the rest of the world. The Lord loves to show us His goodness and faithfulness in the small things in our lives. Like a pencil eraser. We are so thankful.






Some more random things I have learned as a missionary (Part 2)

Posted on September 29, 2016 at 9:40 AM

Some more reflections of some of the random things I have learned as a missionary in Niger (Part 2)

(This knowledge did not come from a textbook but from actual experience, which is a fancy way of saying that I first did it wrong before I got it right.)

37. Cash only. It you are used to swiping your credit or debit card to make purchases, think again. A credit card is basically worthless here unless you happen to find one of the few ATM’s in one of the main cities to be able to withdraw cash.

38. Businesses typically do not provide change for their customers. It is the customer (buyer’s) job to make sure that he comes with change that he will need to make his/her purchases. If you do not do this you will spend a lot of your time waiting while someone tries to find change from someone else in the marketplace. This can take some time. Learn to be frugal with your small change!

39. If you need to fuel up, make sure that you stop at an even number according to the cash that you have in your wallet. If not, you might be looking at waiting with a full tank of gas, until the attendant is able to find change for you in the marketplace. You could have to wait up to twenty to thirty minutes just to get change back…

40. The cash/bills that you get from a bank overseas are typically torn, stapled together, or taped. Make sure that when you go to the bank to withdraw funds that you not only count the money, but exchange the “bad” money for “good” money before you leave the bank. If not, many people in the marketplace will refuse to accept your money as payment. NG.

41. Carry your wallet in your front pocket to prevent a pickpocket from stealing it from the back pocket. Always good advice to keep when walking or driving around the market.

42. As a missionary, you will have to do a lot of Government paperwork in various aspects of your life. Just keeping up with the visa renewal and passports can be a time consuming job for a large family. But it is necessary and a part of missionary life. Be patient, keep being persistent, and at the end you will get your paperwork done. Try to make friends as you get your paperwork done. You will meet many of them again in the future when renewing your paperwork, and having friends in the process helps a lot.

43. Make sure that you know what “Do not enter” means in multiple languages. The police do not care if you do not know the language, just that you did not obey it. That could be a costly mistake…

44. Enroll in the SMART program in your country to receive the latest updates from the American embassy. Most importantly, pray. Fast and pray. Those are the greatest weapons against terrorism.

45. Keep a full tank of gas in your vehicle. You never know when you will need it, and sometimes you cannot get it. If you hit half a tank, it is time to refill!

46. A pair of pliers, screwdriver, and hammer will be your best friends. Things seem to break quite often and very frequently. Even brand new things. Why? The available merchandise comes without a guarantee for starters. Second, it also comes without being inspected after being imported from another country. We have replaced our bathroom faucet handles at least once a year for the last six years. The handles just fall off! Having some small hand tools will help to fix small plumbing problems, change light bulbs, and a variety of other small tasks.

47. Talking about changing light bulbs, when electricity fluctuates up and down in the hot season (from 235 volts down to 110 volts) every other minute, you will have to change many lightbulbs. Make sure to keep large appliances on regulators (fridge, freezer, electrical appliances like computers, etc…;). It is better to spend $35 on replacing a burned out regulator than a $700 fridge or freezer.

48. Unplug all electrical hand appliances after using them. The fluctuating electricity will burn them out if you leave things plugged into the wall socket. Use it and then unplug it! We have to even unplug our cd player from the wall after we use it.

49. It is all about relationships, not about being productive. You cannot compare your effectiveness as a missionary from what things you accomplish on your daily to do list but from the relationships that have been established during the day. Ultimately, that is what it is all about anyway.

50. Learn to gage success by not from what you get crossed off in your to do list, but from how many relationships that you have been engaged in during checking off your to do list. Sometimes it is only getting one thing done, but getting to relate with dozens of people in the process. Like going to the bank… (See previous blog Part 1 “thirty six things that I have learned…’;)

51. Make sure that you have some exercise in your schedule. It will help keep your body fit for the inevitable hardships and also ease the “mental” stress of life and ministry. Just like doing devotions and having a quiet time with the Lord is essential every day, it is also a good policy to try to get some physical exercise.

52. You are the minority. You are different. You are white. Get over it. Everyone else knows that and will always remind you of that fact. Now you know what it is like to be a minority and should use this opportunity in the future to be more sensitive to others who feel like they are in the minority. Whether someone is crippled or has a handicap or has different skin color, being in the minority should give you more compassion and love for others no matter how different they are.

53. I often remind my friends here that my skin might be white, but my blood is the same color as theirs. Remember the important things – it is what is in the heart that really matters. No matter what culture, people group or race. And most importantly, WHO is in your heart.

54. Preach the Word. Stay in the Bible. Let the Bible confront culture. It is not your job to change the culture, but to preach and live the Word.

55. Do not forget to take the time to sit down and share the Gospel simply with those close to you (friends, neighbors, workers) who do not know Jesus. Death comes quickly and often and you might not get the chance if you do not do it today.

56. Be prepared when someone dies to go and give your condolences to the family. Bringing a small gift of some rice or beans is a nice token of sympathy also. Even if you do not know the person well, it is necessary to take time out of your day to visit and express your sympathy with the grieving family members. This applies to either Christians or unbelievers. This is a must do in many cultures. Not going to offer sympathy is viewed as being rude, uncaring, and unloving. Even just spending ten minutes with someone who has just lost a loved one goes a long way to show the love of Jesus in another culture.

57. Learn to ask questions in order to get at the heart of a matter. Many times if you know the answer, but do not ask questions to have the person get to the answer themselves, it comes across as being impatient, rude or prideful. Our black and white “tell it as it is” American way can be very rude and make things worse if not communicated in an appropriate way. The right questions will give you the right answers without coming across as judgmental or rude.

58. Share from lessons that you have learned in your life. People love stories, and it makes you more relatable when you share things that the Lord has taught you. Especially your mistakes.

59. Always keep several containers easily accessible in the house filled with fresh water for when there is no running water. Put a little bit of bleach in the containers to keep the water fresh. If you do not put some bleach into the water, it will turn green and smell. Taking a bucket bath with moldy water is not much fun. 

60. Have fun. Seriously. Have fun. Make sure that you choose to have fun with your family and with those inevitable cultural stressors that will come your way. If you learn to laugh easily at yourself and some of the stressors, it will help to cope with the ups and downs of living overseas. Do not take yourself too seriously! Laugh! The joy of the Lord is your strength.

61. We have made Friday night a special “family night” for our family. We make homemade pizza, watch a movie together, and just enjoy each other. So worth having a specific time set aside once a week for the family to have some down time. It also helps to celebrate the end of another week of school and ministry and a good way to introduce the weekend. Take a break, laugh, and give yourself a reward for a week well done!

62. Learn from your mistakes. You will make them. The only option is to try to learn a lesson from them and grow. This is how we grow!

63. Keep Jesus at the center of all that you do. It is easier than you think to be in full time ministry and to get caught up in the ministry schedule and programs that you forget the reason why we are doing all of that, namely, Lord Jesus. We are His disciples following Him. If we start following anything or anyone else, we have forgotten that we are HIS DISCIPLES. A disciple is one who follows. A disciple of Jesus is one that follows Him. Keep Jesus at the center of your heart, your life, your ministry, your family. It is all about Jesus. It is not about me.

64. Keep your identity in Jesus. Not in your work. Not in your ministry. The Lord has called us to Himself first. Knowing Him is our ultimate mission.

65. There is a great need still for missionaries. Some places of the world are currently reached and do not need as many full time missionaries anymore. But there are others that are still vastly unreached. Places where there is less than one Christian for every 30,000-40,000 people and only a couple of pastors or missionaries reaching out to them. Like here. They will never hear the Gospel unless a missionary comes to tell them.

66. Even more importantly, there is a HUGE need for missionaries who will come and invest their lives into new Christians through discipleship and leadership training. Investing into new Believers takes years but long term it is the most effective way to multiply and reach more people. After all, as a missionary you are really trying to work yourself out of your job. Training up others is critical not only for multiplication, but for the future foundation and health of the indigenous church. Discipleship is the key.

67. There is a still a great need for long term missionaries. Short term trips have a place as long as they facilitate longer term involvement in missions, but there is a greater need for missionaries who are coming prepared to live long term to raise their family, learn the languages, and invest their whole lives in reaching the people in that particular nation in discipleship and leadership training. Could that be you?

68. There is no greater joy than to be involved in missions. Such adventure, fulfillment, and joy. Also persecution, dying to self, and many tribulations/trials. They come together, but the knowledge that you are living your life in light of eternity far outweighs the temporary problems and hardships. He is worthy of everything! What a joy to live this life completely, radically, and passionately for Jesus.

69. You do not have to live overseas as a missionary to experience this kind of life. But you will experience the adventure and joy together with the hardships and persecution that will come your way if you really live your life sold out for Jesus. But He is worth it! One life lived sold out for Jesus lives a more fulfilled life than a million lives lived for any other cause, person, or reason.

70. Take time to rest and rejuvenate.

71. Stay in the Word and full of the Holy Spirit.


And the learning continues…





Some of the random things I have learned as a missionary (Part 1)

Posted on September 23, 2016 at 10:45 AM


A few reflections of some of the random things I have learned as a missionary in Niger (Part 1)

(This knowledge did not come from a textbook but from actual experience, which is a fancy way of saying that I first did it wrong before I got it right.)

1. How to slice a mango properly - note first that there is a gigantic seed in the middle. Mangoes are not meant to be cut in half like an apple. Mangoes are not cut, they are sliced. You cannot cut through the seed of a mango without risking cutting off a finger. Slice around the seed.

2. It is culturally taboo to ever walk on a mat without first taking your sandals off. Treat mats like couches. Never, ever, even THINK about walking onto a mat with sandals on, especially a mat lying on the ground outside. Even if you have to walk into the middle of the road with traffic, never walk onto a mat without first taking off your sandals – NEVER!

3. If you live in a 110-120 degree average-outside temperature nation, and you are used to living in a 20-70 degree average-outside temperature nation, you might want to drink a little bit more to replace lost body fluids (due to extensive, massive amounts of sweating even while only sitting). Don’t try to “man it up” and only drink a couple of times during the day – dehydration is NOT a fun thing to experience from simply not drinking enough water.

4. IF you don’t drink enough, be married to a nurse who can make hydration drink while you are in a comatose state using a 1 liter glass bottle and mixing some sugar and salt together in the correct formula. After drinking this “magical” formula, you will experience incredible relief after approximately only 30-55 minutes after drinking 1 liter. (How do I know that? One word: Experience.)

5. Always greet everyone you see. I didn’t say everyone that you know but everyone that you see. And don’t say “how ya doin'?” and keep walking. Make eye contact. Smile big and say “Good morning!”, “Did you sleep well last night?”, “How is your family doing?”, “How are your children doing”, “Are you healthy?”, “How is work going today?”, “Are you tired?”, “How is the heat today?”, “What is your name?” These are the MINIMUM greetings to use when meeting anyone at anytime anywhere. For friends, it is recommended that you add a few extra greetings to that list especially if it has over a day since you saw them last. Remember, to not acknowledge someone by stopping and greeting is considered extremely rude and will be remembered. Always stop, meet, and greet!

6. Don’t ever refuse a drink or food from someone if they offer it to you. Even if the water comes from a village well and is loaded with amoebas. Always accept the hospitality of the people you are visiting with. You can always take Flagyl or some other type of “digestive cleaning” medicine later on, but you sometimes only have one chance to receive the love from people who are trying to give you the best that they have. You show that you accept them when you receive their food and drink – no matter what kind. Period.

7. In the rainy season when there is a thunder storm, unplug your router and computer. Many houses overseas do not have lighting rods installed on top of them, and it is very likely that lighting will strike the house at some point. We have lost at least one router and some wire due to a lighting strike. Costly mistake, and the burning smell was not pleasant.

8. Always have a spare tire. If able, it is best to have a spare for your spare. AAA services do not extend to outside the US.

9. Pray in the Spirit frequently while driving. This will help calm you down as the driver. Someday they will come out with a video game of driving in Africa. Until then, imagine a one-way road with four-way traffic. Traffic coming from behind you, toward you, and from both sides of you while trying to maneuver around a hole in front of you, animals next to you and children crossing the road ahead of you. Crazy = Fun = Incredible adrenaline rush.

10. Do not leave the road unless absolutely necessary. Thorn trees are everywhere, and thorns like to puncture tires. Punctured tires like to become flat tires. Flat tires take your spare tires (remember, no AAA).

11. When trying to find a “bush stop” (no public restrooms next to the roads here!) try to find a place that is:

a. Remote

b. Has bushes

c. But doesn’t have thorns (remember, thorns like tires…)

d. No animals (animals mean shepherds, shepherds mean people with nothing to do but watch their herd, and you...)

e. Did I already mention remote?

12. Always find shade to stand or sit under. It is also a good idea to remember to park your vehicle under a shady area. Car batteries do not like extreme heat.

13. Have patience. It is a fruit of the Spirit that you might need most. When you go to the market, have patience. Stop, meet, and greet. When you go to the bank, have patience. The thirty or forty people ahead of you have nothing to do all day but be at the bank. Be prepared to meet them all, greet them all, and to spend most of the day with them. If you spend less than an hour at the bank waiting, that is extremely fast. Use that time wisely by greeting and making relationships that can have eternal consequences. America is a production-oriented society. Most other countries are relationally-oriented. If you want to make a difference in another country, you must be relationally-oriented.

14. Have fun. Breathe in the smells (or at least most of them) and take in the sights and sounds of a different country - one that the Lord, in His infinite wisdom, created, and realizing that ALL of creation is His creation that He has made.

15. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Be prepared to laugh with others at yourself as you make many mistakes trying to learn a new language and culture. Laughing takes the pressure off and helps form relationships. Some of the deepest relationships are formed from the times that we are at our weakest point and need the help of others. Be willing to need help. Be willing to ask for help. Always show your appreciation for the help people give – never take someone trying to help you for granted.

16. Don’t try to meet every need that you see around you. Ask for Father’s help to know what He is doing and what He wants you to do for that day. Trying to meet every need will lead to burnout. Trying to do what you see the Father do will lead to fruitfulness. Remember, Jesus didn’t live each day to meet needs – He lived to do the will of His Father.

17. Learn how to take a "bucket bath" with only two or three small scoops of water. It’s okay, soap dries, too.

18. Many places only sell one color of paint – white. Learn how to mix color pigments together to make different colors when painting a room for your children. Remember, blue and red make purple!

19. Learn how to make “homemade” oil paint. Simply go to the gas station, pump some diesel into a jug, and mix a little in with the regular white water - based paint. Voila! You have made oil paint. When your children touch the walls and make smears, wiping the walls off will be a cinch!

20. Put towels on the floor at night underneath the doors to your bedrooms to hinder traffic. What kind of traffic? Cockroaches. There is nothing quite like the feeling of waking up in the wee hours of the morning with a cockroach crawling over you!

21. Always do devotions in the morning. Life has a way of filling up quickly even if the schedule is clear – and many times you can be thrown into needing to make decisions in a life or death situation without warning. Make sure that your heart and mind are focused on the Lord, and that you have received His grace for the day before starting it.

22. Learn how to kill termites. Or how to only have furniture made out of iron in your house. Those are the only two options.

23. When driving through a large mud puddle, aim for the middle. Typically the edges of the road are the places that are dangerous to drive, so aim right at the center of the hole and drive right in!

24. Learn how to make mango shakes. Lots of them.

25. When a sandstorm comes during the harmattan season, learn to always leave windows and doors closed in your house. A sandstorm can bring in over a half an inch of sand that covers everything in your house in only one hour. How do you think we found this out?

26. Find something to do for recreation. For some, it is a sport. I enjoy carpentry. Find a project and do it – it will help decrease stress and also give some time to enjoy life. You do want to enjoy your life. Find some things that you enjoy doing, and do them! That will keep you enjoying the other areas of your life as well.

27. Padlocks are used to lock doors overseas. Always remember to bring the key with you after “locking” your house. If not, try to remember to keep a hack saw outside the house. You just might need it! 

28. Sunglasses are awesome. Never drive anywhere without them. They will save your eyes. Always have a spare – sunglasses seem to go missing or break very easily.

29. Always barter in the market. Don’t take the first price for anything. The first price is typically twice the worth of the item, but that leaves room for bargaining – and people love to bargain! I think that some people sell things in the market just so that they get a chance to barter. Try to enjoy bargaining as well – remember, bargaining also builds relationship with the person. Just don’t be too stingy – a couple of rounds of bartering is sufficient. The other person probably needs the money more than you do.

30. After buying fresh fruit or vegetables in the market, soak them in water and a little bit of bleach for about 30 minutes. This will kill all of the “extra” terrestrial things that came with your fresh produce. Bleach is your best friend. Mix a little in water when mopping the floors of your home to kill parasites, mix it in water when washing dishes, mix it in your outside water tank that holds water for your house. Basically, whenever you are cleaning anything with water, mix in some bleach!

31. Unplug electrical appliances when electricity is low (multiple times a day). Low electricity will cause an appliance to break. The other option is to put your kitchen appliances on a stabilizer/regulator.

32. Always plug your fridge and freezer into regulators. These large items are too costly to replace, and just losing the power once can ruin their engines. Don’t risk it.

33. Learn how to wash clothes by hand. There are times that you will need to know this. Or be married to someone who loves to wash clothes by hand – that is also an option.

34. Learn how to use Skype on the computer. This is the only free and convenient way of staying in contact with friends and family in the States. Also, learn how to teach your friends and family how to use Skype. Skype takes two! When Skyping, learn to recognize when the screen freezes and stop talking. That way you don’t have to remember what you just said, and can just keep talking when it unfreezes.

35. Always have a hankie with you, especially when preaching. There is a big difference between knowing that you are sweating, and everyone seeing you sweating.

36. Always keep learning. Everyday, keep learning. Learn more from the Lord, learn more from the people around you. And love the learning. And love the Lord. And love the people.

To be continued... (after some more “experience”)

If you would like to read more, you can see more reflections in Part 2…