Saturday, December 15, 2012


I have to start this one by saying that I did not transition gracefully from America to Burkina like I imagined I would. I had great hopes of instantly becoming this fantastic missionary who had such compassion and made wonderfully strong bonds with every person that she came into contact with, helped the poor and needy and told everyone about Jesus. Great ideals, right? :)
After almost five months, I have about the same goal set, but with a few modifications. Like anything in life, to do something new you usually spend a little time learning how. This is a small chunk of my story. Me, just learning how to live.
This place is a hot, dry desert similar to an Indian reservation, if you have had a chance to drive through or visit some of the more vacant regions of Arizona or New Mexico. I live in the capitol city, which is build for about 500,000 people. We now have a little over 2,000,000 people living within city limits. Add all the joys that come with living too close to your neighbors to the dust and heat.  I'm not sure what I expected, but even though I knew the lack of cleanliness was here, I was still floored by some of the things that I see on a daily basis. At the largest meat market in the city, I witness butchers who take naps on the same tables they cut meat on. I have seen more people poop in public than I ever thought was real. I have witnesses cattle inside houses and children swimming in the canals that look like they contain more garbage than water.
They are over-crowded, underfed, dirty, hot, and like everybody in the world, working to make a living. I had one of my more philosophical friends, in a conversation, tell me that suffering is a mindset. Suffering only exists because the person suffering is not choosing to NOT suffer. His personal rant ended when I asked him about people here who still get Dysentery and have no toilet, no doctors, and no relief from the 120 degree heat. People here suffer. It's not in their minds. I know a good handful of Americans who fall into his descriptions, but people here, no.
I came willing to give away everything that I have, and I was very discouraged when I really saw things that go on here. I realized my material possessions can't even begin to make a dent in the needs of the Burkinabe. That's "Burkina-bay" for those of you just as confused on the pronunciation as I was. I new that I just needed to start out by being friendly and getting to know people. This is possibly my favorite part of ministry, the people that you get to become close friends with. But to come to that place I was facing a double language barrier.  There are people here that I became friends with without talking to them. That blows my mind and is 100% a work of God. But the rest, I really had to fight to be able to build friendships.
Most Burkinabe cant afford to go to school or cant afford it until later in life. Not college, I mean elementary school. I come across so many people who speak less French than I do and I have only studied for four months. I do learn language quickly, but I'm no master. The people are genuinely impressed and look at you in a new light when you try to speak the tribal language here. Moore (More-ay) is something that I really want to spend my time learning, but I just wont be here long enough this stay and it will leave my brain once I get back to America.
There are just so many things that most people are never told about missions work. Why is that? Why is world missions so romanticized? Why is is portrayed as something blissful and easy? There are moments of bliss, oh believe me, they are priceless. I just have to wonder why no one tells about the times when Muslims throw rocks on you while you are teaching children's church? American Christianity doesn't work here. The joyful handouts of food and gifts that Americans think of, don't even work here. That's another disappointment. I was very disquieted by the fact that handouts don't go over well here. People will fight and scrap to get everything and then still feel like they didn't get enough. Its really hard for me to see the opportunistic morality that takes over sometimes. It's really hard for me to witness the hardships and know what an uphill climb this country has in every aspect of life.
It is gorgeous to me now to see what God does in places that are so desperate for Him. The bible is real here. God intervening and making things happen where it is impossible for men, that's is so evident here! Trusting God for our daily bread, that's so real I could cry right now. I gave my leftovers from a restaurant to an old lady and she acted like I gave her a new car. Instead of feeling like a good Samaritan, I felt guilty. I wish I could help more people.
I heard the most impactful message that I have heard in a while from a visiting American pastor. It hit me really hard. He spoke about the woman at the well. My first thought, "Heard it!". How horrible is that? There is always something new that we can learn from scripture no matter how many times we've "heard it". Obviously, I didn't really hear it the first times anyways. We all know the woman's story, she had had several failed marriages and was now sleeping with someone who was not her husband. In a patriarchal society very close to how it is in Burkina Faso, that could have some serious ramifications. This woman was at the well getting water, when no one else was there. I guess she knew she had a reputation and didn't want to deal with the judgement of others. Anyways, Jesus talks to her and lets her know that he knows all about her past and what she is dealing with (I could just shout about how He shows me that He is an understanding God). He tells her that he has water that will make her thirst no more. He is talking about spiritual thirst and He is talking about salvation. Now she ends up getting saved, but the point that shattered my thoughts was why she was at that well. She didn't come to the well because she was looking for men, she didn't go to find fun, or adventure, friends, she went to that well because she was thirsty!!!!
It's a basic survival skill. When you are thirsty, you go get water! She went to that well because not only was she literally thirsty, her soul was dying of dehydration! She desperately went in search of something to quench that thirst. How many times have I started snacking when I was really just thirsty? Recall to yourself when you've done that too. Think about the moments in your life when you had nothing left to do but cry out to God, because your problems were too big? What got you to that point? What made you realize that you were just snacking on things the world has but now you are dying of thirst for something that will actually fill that void?? Have you even been there?
The people here are so thirsty. They know life is hard. They are like the woman at the well, they keep coming back to things that wont satisfy. They know they are thirsty, but no one is here to show them relief.
"Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28
"As a deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God." Psalm 42:1

I just want to say, that it has taken a while to get adjusted to the living conditions here, but that God has shown me why people need him. People don't come to the well unless they are thirsty. that is the only reason. They have so many basic needs here that are not being met. I'm so glad that I get to learn the culture and figure out how to best help the Burkinabe. Pray for me and others here who are trying to get things rolling. God is showing me His compassion for all people.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The "Blue Men", Their Tea Ceremonies, and The War in Mali

I am sick in bed thanks to my delicate American stomach, so I got the idea to research the war in Mali. Mali is just three hours north of Ouagadougou and I am very curious about the civil war and what is causing the conflict.  The embassy won't let us go more than an hour north without extensive paperwork, since we are American; and Mali is sending their American missionaries to Ouaga to keep them safe from the war. The war is a civil/religious war and really only began earlier this year. I decided to kill two birds with one stone in my research and read all of the articles in French.
Practice makes perfect, right?
Anyways, I gained more information than I imagined and significantly beefed up my vocabulary list.
Like I mentioned before, it is about a three hour drive to get to the Malian border from here. We are close enough to hear about the war, but because of the causes, we are not involved. Our government here is completely different from Mali's. I started reading a few articles and quickly learned that the rebellious party is an Islamic terrorist group. They are not Al Qaeda, but they are very similar in beliefs.  They call themselves "Mouvement National pour la LibĂ©ration de l'Azawad" (MNLA). In plain English, National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad. The Azawad are trying to take control of Mali one city at a time. Mali, as you can see on the map here, looks like two triangles stuck together. Burkina Faso is the little land-locked country right underneath Mali.
The top "triangle" of Mali is where the wars are. There are three cities that have been taken by the extremists.  They are Gao, Kidal, and Tombouctou. How we pronounce these cities? Your guess is as good as mine.
The next logical question - Why are these guys taking cities and what do they plan to do with them? The rebel group is a branch of Muslims from the nomadic people called, "Touaregs". The Touaregs (tour-eggs) are a fascinating group of people, but I will discuss their culture in a moment. The small percentage who are causing trouble are capturing large cities there because they believe that Mali should be under Sharia Law. For those of you who are not familiar with Sharia, it is the governmental law system dictated by the Koran.  It is a theocracy in which Allah is the highest form of political power.  The rebels are trying to instate their form of government over the now instated government that partners with the rest of West Africa, France, and the United States. Very similar to the American Civil War, it is becoming quite a problem for Malian officials who are trying to protect Malian citizens.
This little map is in French, but the idea still gets across.  You can see where the cities are in Mali, where Ouagadougou is in relation, and the half of the country is not afflicted. The citizens in the area that is afflicted are fleeing to neighboring regions such as Algeria, Mauritania, Niger, and Burkina Faso.  We have a Touareg refugee camp just a few blocks from our house.  This is what really got me curious about what is really going on in Mali. They are friendly with us and we see their tents set up at a local school. They ride camels although they are technically in the Sahel in Burkina and not the Sahara. I started to research their culture and they are fascinating!

They are referred to as the "blue men" by other people groups in West Africa because of the traditional indigo dye that they use for their robes and turbans. The dye often stains their skin, hence the nickname. They come from Libya originally and are a nomadic people group.
This map shows the area that they live in. I like maps, can you tell? They live large white tents and have a very distinguished style of dress. They have many different turbans for all different occasions.  The white are for ceremonies and holidays.  The red, yellow, and green are for dressing up, and the traditional blue are for every day. The blue is really beautiful on their skin tone.  They are part of the people groups known as, L'Afrique Claire. The northern-most third of Africa has lighter skinned people such as, Egyptians, Moroccans, and the Touaregs. Here is a great picture of le peau claire.

 Men and women both wear long, full coverage robes to battle the sand and the sun of the Sahara. The traditional Touaregs only show their eyes. This dress code also works well with the Islamic robes for modesty that the Koran prescribes. The Touaregs are what you would picture in your mind when you think of the classic guy who pulls a sword on Indiana Jones in a market alley-way.  The pointed shoes and the intricate swords are just some of the beautiful Touareg wares.
The one aspect of their culture that I found to be particularly interesting is the Tea Ceremony.  The tea ceremony is a greeting. What if we had that in America? Every time a visitor was passing through or someone that we knew was in the area, we would hold a ceremony. It is such a unique way to honor guests! The ceremony has three parts. They use green tea for all three parts, but the tea is brewed differently each time. It is rude to not take the offered tea and also it impolite to only take part of the teas. The first tea is bitter and symbolizes death. The second tea is very strong and symbolizes life. The final tea is made sweet and symbolizes love.
I immediately saw the gospel spelled out here. Jesus died for the bitterness of sin. He lives again so that we have him for the times when life seems stronger than we can handle. Finally, what's left is the sweetness of his love. How cool that Jesus is there with an unreached people group just waiting to know what he has to offer. The Touaregs can be a violent and treacherous people, as the wars clearly show. I can't go to their camp and talk to them, for safety's sake, but I did buy several of the tiny tea ceremony pots. They are near us for a reason. Pray that they will come to know Jesus through the missionaries in the area.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A few more pictures from Fulani Ministries

Here are the kindergarteners and first grade planting some mango trees. Fulani Ministries teaches the Africans to put back trees for however many they cut down. They also teach them how to manage garbage in a way that is healthy for themselves and the Earth.
The guys who showed us how to work the soil and plant the trees are graduates from the church planting program. They were very kind and great teachers. They explained to the kids about how trees grow and how termites can kill whole plantations. They showed us the fertilizer that repels termites but is still good for the soil. The second photo shows the tool that they use to dig. I have to say that it was kind of intimidating! Also, these hats are made and sold by the Fulani.
This is used for shaping the bricks. The bricks are made from mud and straw. The mud is pushed around with the feet to get all the air out and then packed tightly into the mold. It gets pushed out of the mold and then sits in the sun to dry.

Here is kindergarten squishing mud (how fun is that?) and then the end results. Mudbricks! Everything here is constructed from mud bricks. They don't last very long unless they are covered by cement. Fulani ministries teaches people how to make cement with sand.
Finally, our whole time spent at the Fulani ministry we were priveleged to have traditional Fulani music. The two stringed "hoddu" is simmilar to a banjo and is made of a gourd and goat skin. They played gourd drums and showed us some traditional Fulani dancing.

Fulani Ministries

A few days ago, I was privileged to visit the ministry of a family that I know from the missionary home school co-operation where I teach. The co-op was taking the missionary children out for a field trip to see how mud bricks are made. I was very excited to see a new aspect of local culture and i knew I would enjoy the trip. What I didn't know was that I would get a personal tour of one of the coolest missions that I have ever seen.
We arrived around 9:30am to a tiny, clean village. It was a beautiful mild day, about 80 degrees. I knew it was not a normal village because (1) it was mostly empty, (2) it was clean, and (3) it was very small and organised. I was a little bit confused but I didn't question it because the DIALLO family was so gracious to have 70 people over to their beautiful land.  I met the owner of the home, Mr. DIALLO, he is a tall African man who speaks English, French and several tribal languages. African people capitalize every letter of their last names and when they write, they put them before their first name, so mine would be, MCNEIL Sarah. Anyways, Mr. DIALLO introduced himself and began to explain how the day would work. Half of the students would plant trees and half would make bricks and then they would switch.
We started the tasks and the children had a blast. They enjoyed being able to constructively use all of their energy instead of doing regular schoolwork. There were two trees left to be planted when the children were done so I volunteered to plant them. The men showed me where to dig and how to plant the little trees. The tools that they use to dig here are a little bit terrifying if you see them out of context. They are a cross between an axe and a shovel. I asked Mr. DIALLO what I was planting and he was happy to tell me that I was planting a mango tree and a guava tree. He then began to tell me how he shows the African people how to plant trees also. This is when I began to discover the awesome ministry that he has.
The DIALLOs own a working farm complete with acres of millet and corn, pigs, sheep, chickens, and smaller gardens with other vegetables. After I had planted the trees, I got to see the rest of the village just down the road.  They have a working store, restaurant and mechanical shop. Mr. DIALLO explained his ministry to me.  The round mud-brick huts with straw tops on the property are like dorms for students. People from the nomadic tribe, the Fulani, can come and stay there and learn to be church planters! Also while they are here, they can have literacy training and vocational training. That is the purpose of the farm and shops on the land. How cool is that???
Oh, and did I mention that the training is no cost to the Fulani as long as they help run the farm and shops while they are there? This is the kind of mission that really pulls at my heart!
The Fulani are the largest nomadic people group in the world, with an estimated 25 million people spanning 20 countries across west and north Africa. They highly value cattle and rely on bartering as commerce. They have an extremely fascinating and unique culture. They live out of reed huts and take them wherever they travel, so a traditional church building would never work for them. I love how this goes back to the very roots of Christianity.  I think most Christians forget that the church is rich because of it's people, not because of its wealth or possessions. The church for the Fulani is literally just the believers.  They are trained at Fulani Ministries to carry the gospel wherever they go and begin new ministries throughout Africa.  I love that this operation equips the people with usable skills so that they can still barter. With Mr. DIALLO being from the Fulani people, he understands how important it is to leave their culture still intact. 
They could potentially be a group that spreads Christianity to over 20 countries because they know the land, people, cultures and languages. How amazing that God is flourishing the DIALLOs ministry school and working through people to reach people. HE is so loving and full of grace! One huge lesson that I am learning during my time here in Africa is that it is our fault that there are people who have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. I know that is a really ugly reality to have to face, but it is 100% true. Jesus left us with the Bible and the responsibility to teach others about his incredible gift! This verse was in the brochure that Mr. DIALLO gave me before I left that day, "Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved".  So true, what I love is that he included the verse that comes right after it, the one that is not always included with the other. It is a bit of common sense and a reminder of our part her on Earth. "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?" (Romans 10:13-14).  The fact that this mission not only gives the gospel, but also offers food and work training for those who are interested in knowing Jesus blows me away!  I am reminded of 1 John 3:17-18.  "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth".  I want to ask you to pray for Fulani Ministries and also challenge you to examine what you are doing in your own life that is furthering God's kingdom and helping your brothers and sisters in Christ. If you want to check out the website for the ministry that I visited, here you go

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Trading Death for Life

If I complain about a problem at least I am attempting to control the problem by voicing my opinion. Maybe I can bring said problem into my realm of control and fix it there.  This is my most used strategy for fixing problems.  If I do not like something, well then, I either change it or move myself away from it. Control. That is my pet sin.  I do not even look at the behavior long enough to recognize it, let alone replace it with something else to stop it.  But I keep subconsciously feeding it until I am torn apart by the urge to control every aspect of the issue.  I am so hard-headed that I haven't caught on that I cannot fix any kind problem, no matter how forcefully I fling myself into it. 
My problem that I have been consumed with lately is learning French.  Oh no, Mon Ami, not my learning French.  I am happily stringing sentences together and talking to my African friends.  Not my French, but someone else's. 
How pathetic is that???
I am attempting to control and fix someone else's inability to learn a language. Not my problem to fix, yet not something I can move away from because of the situation.  Chris is still attempting to pronounce words in French while I am sitting there wishing I could either run away screaming or tattoo the phonetic spelling onto his face.  I love grammar. All grammar. I love syntax, phonetics, accent, and pronunciation.  Any language that has ever been spoken, I am fascinated by picking apart and building sentences and conversation.  I love to talk. I love to learn more ways to talk and communicate.  Chris really struggles with the new language.  If anyone has ever seen me play a game of baseball, that a physical manifestation of how fluidly Chris speaks French. Here is how I am feeling about this today.
In Roman times, if you were depraved enough to murder someone, you would have a most grisly punishment.  No bodily harm would come to you, technically...
The murderer would have the dead body of the person that they killed tied to their back.  Imagine the stink, the disease, or the certain ostracism.  The thought alone would make me never want to squish a spider to avoid having anything dead tied to me.
I feel like I have a dead, stinking problem tied to my back.  I feel like I am walking around in anguish because of the rotting sin that I have committed.
Okay, so I am being dramatic, but my point is, I caused the yuckiness to be in my own life!!!!
The rotting corpse is no Chris, don't get me wrong.  Not everyone has the same passion for talking like I do.  Chris is learning at the pace that he needs.
The dead, rotting corpse is my desperate need for control.  I tied it to my own back. 
I carry around the anxiety of needing to help him learn at my quick pace.  I only need to practice patience with him, not clever teaching strategies to bring him to enlightenment of all things French.
The feeling of learning patience is painful, but not anywhere near as destructive as my anxious need to control tied to my body.   Proverbs 15:18 shines a little light on my French class problem.  "A hot tempered person stirs up conflict, but one who is patient calms a quarrel."  My patience, if practiced will keep me from struggling with Chris over French.  "Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick tempered displays folly."  How good is it to trade in anxiety of control for wisdom? Awesome!
It wont be easy.  The problem will still exist while I fight it.  Sue Metcalf, a friend of mine, gave me a book by David Crowder titled, Praise Habit.  This book is humorous and insightful.  The main idea is that God is in all things and glorified by all things.  We as the creation are made to praise the creator, but we fall short because of sin and have an ugly habit of praising the creation.  David talks about his own journey to finding a way to praise God in every situation.  This is a lovely book, but if I am not willing to put it into practice in my life it is totally useless to me.  The idea here is that  praise is an action as well as a song.  My action of praise will be to kill the anxiety because my control is my pride and love Chris with patience.  "The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride." Ecclesiastes 7:8. 
Pride was the beginning and patience is the end.  Good trade-up, huh?
I prayed to God this morning to show me some kind of comfort from this problem.
Here is my answer. His word is alive and comforting me.
His word is alive in scripture.  His word is also alive because I am living out His word.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Are those geckos on my walls?

So our 24 hour plane ride was about as miserable as it gets.  Thankfully I did not puke like I tend to do on planes.  I am not a good flyer, but it was all worth it once i got there.  It was like Christmas for the Hillhouses when we showed them all the American food that we brought to them. They were so happy about the pepperoni!
Jet lag didnt hit us too hard.  We were awake enough for a tour of the city and a trip to a cute outdoor restaurant.  Boef le creme is really popular when you eat out in Burkina Faso.  It was kind of like steak with a cream mushroom sauce. They eat alot of potatoes and beans too.  Most meals include rice and lots of veggies. The city is crowded, but I love it. Moto is the main mode of Transportation.  They are everywhere and there are no street signs... even if there were, the Burkinabe wouldnt follow them. haha.
When we got home it was dark and I noticed little animals all ove the ceiling and walls outside and inside Chris's apartment.  They are everywhere and I love them.  I went to sleep at 11pm Burkina time which is 6pm Missouri time.  I didnt wake up until 10am.  It was one of those sleeps where you wake up with the bed still mostly made because you slept so soundly. I fell asleep to the rhythm of our neighbors' African music.  My room is so comfortable and I love my shower because its not closed in.  all of the showers here are just hung above a drain in the floor of the bathroom. 
My first full day was mostly meeting the neighbors and the people who work at the house.  My French is so limited.  I really cannot wait to start full-time lessons next week. 
I also went to a tourist market.  I got to learn how to use the Francs and haggle in French.  I got a little elephant sculpture and some bracelets and a box made out of bottle caps.  I also had my first experience with the supermarche.  The biggest grocery store is smaller than the Price Chopper that I used to work at.  But I love it.  Its very similar to the Asian market that I have been shopping at in Americsa for the last few months.  I learned how to cook a traditional African dish called Sauce D'Arachide.  It is like a beef gravy over rice.  It is peanut butter based and so delicious.  I think I'm going to like it here, even with geckos on the walls.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Lord is with you, Mighty Warrior... reasons why am a Gideon.

  A few weeks ago I realized how much of a Gideon I am, but now I realize my situation is getting more like his every day.  This man was hiding from his enemy, doing necessary chores in miserable conditions in order to survive.  He was going about these tasks day in and day out hoping for something better.  He was just working when the angel of the Lord appears to him.  Yeah, not just any angel, the angel of the Lord.  That's kind of something that doesn't happen everyday.  Not only does the angel appear to him, the angel says "the Lord is with you, Mighty Warrior".  I think if there was any time that Gideon was feeling less like the Lord was with him, let alone that he is mighty warrior, it was probably right then.  The angel then goes on to remind Gideon what God is capable of.  Gideon pleads with the angel, saying, "how can I save Israel? my [family] is the weakest int he whole land, and I am the least out of all of them".
  Gideon doubted that he could do anything.  But what he didn't know was that he wasn't the one that would go on to defeat his people's enemies, even with incredible odds against him, but it was God fighting for him.  Gideon obeyed.  He went on even though he trembled in fear.  God blessed him because of that.  God does not call the equipped, He equips the called.
  I may tremble in fear when I look at the future, but I trust that God has great plans for me. I may question and need to be reminded of what God has protected me from, what He has delivered me from and spared me the heartache of.  I trust that he will give me the best.  He has already taken me farther than I ever thought I would go.  Because of that, I know that He wont stop now.                      
(Judges 6-7) (Genesis 28:15) (Psalms 13:5-6) (Proverbs 16:3)