Jody and Sarah Fox - this phase of our Journey as IMB missionaries in Niger, West Africa

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Language Evaluation

For weeks we have been busy learning the language of the Songhai people. Language learning is very interesting. It kind of reminds me of a roller coaster ride. There are terrifying moments – like that feeling you get as the coaster hangs over the edge of the first drop. There are exciting times – like the initial first drop. There are boring moments as the ride drags on doing countless circles. There are the monotonous times when you ride the same coaster again and again countless times becoming bored and tired of even riding it. Then there are the times when vomiting seems necessary. Learning a language has all these characteristics and I think we have been in every stage.

However, we are learning it, and little by little we are able to communicate in the Zarma language. As I mentioned in our prayer letter, learning the language is essential to our ministry here. Very few people here speak English and the ones who do only know a little, so if we are to minister effectively we must have a grasp of the Zarma language.

We have spent nearly every week here studying and speaking the language and still young children could speak circles around us. So we know that grasping the language fluently will take some time, even years of practice. However, we will press on believing God has called us here, so He will provide our minds with understanding and our tongues with communication.

We just recently had a language evaluation and we have been told we are right where we need to be when it comes to language skills. Sarah seems to be doing a little better when it comes to hearing the language and the pronunciation of words, but for all of you who know us that should surprise very few of you. I, however, seem willing to just let ‘er fly spitting out words faster than most people can hear them, which again if you know us should surprise very few of you. If those words always make sense, are pronounced right, or in the right order – well that’s another story.

Please keep us in your prayers as we move to 5 days a week in language study through the month of November. After that we hope to be competent enough to move to our village full time and continue to grow on our own.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

October Prayer Letter

Monday, October 17, 2011

Snakes are Scary!

This past week we had a close encounter with a snake! Too close for comfort. I (Sarah) was outside in the morning reading my Bible while the girls played inside and Jody had already gone to study. Lauren came outside, so I sent her back into the house. I heard her whimpering so I turned around to see what was wrong. She was standing near the door, so I thought she pinched her finger in the door or was seeing a bug (she even whimpers at ants). But she whimpered louder and it was not her normal “I see a bug” whimper, so I stood up and ran to her. Right near her was a big black snake! I picked her up quickly and backed away. By now Camryn and Jordan were standing by the doorway too. They were in the house and Lauren and I were outside – the snake was blocking the doorway, so we couldn’t go in. I didn’t want it to go in the house, so I told the girls to close the door and run to their room. I stood there a few seconds trying to decide what to do. I was looking at his features as well – dark navy blue, about so long, and it looks like it had breakfast because there was a big bulge about halfway down. At that point I think the snake wanted to leave, but felt threatened because he raised up his head and his neck flared out! Once he did that I realized this could be a very dangerous snake, so I ran next door to tell someone. A guy who was staying next door came outside to see it, but the snake had disappeared. About 5 minutes later a few of the compound workers came with sticks and started poking through all the shrubs around the compound, but couldn’t find it. Then they brought down lawn mowers and mowed down all the plants – they were determined to find this snake!

As long as this snake was out there, we were all a bit on edge. We didn’t want the kids going close to any bushes and we were extra careful in keeping our eyes on them when they played outside. We always have lizards darting around, but now the lizards made me jump and I was extra jittery just walking around outside. When I had told the girls to close the door, it didn’t latch, so we were also concerned the snake may have slithered into our house… not a comforting thought! We looked under the beds and in every corner, but no snake.

About 3 in the afternoon, someone came to my door and said, “Sarah, your friend has been found!” One of the workers had spotted the snake, tracked him down, and killed him! It was hanging limp over a stick and my first thought when I saw it was, “Man, that is one small and pitiful looking snake!” I felt stupid for being afraid of it. Was it really as big as I had been telling people all day? Was it even the same snake? He laid it out on the ground and I saw that it was pretty long, and I saw the bulge in it’s stomach. Yep, the same snake! The snake that was such a threat to us earlier in the day and had kept us on edge all day was now pathetic looking and was no longer a threat because he was dead!

This reminded me of our spiritual battles we fight. I’ve been having many these last few months. I’m pretty sure our enemy, Satan, doesn’t want our family here in Niger doing what we’re doing. And if we won’t leave, he at least wants to make us as ineffective as possible. But this snake episode reminded me that our enemy, Satan, will have his head crushed (Gen. 3:15). He will be defeated. He has been conquered by Christ, our Savior. In some ways I have to liken him to the living snake – dangerous, poisonous, and deadly. But one day he will be like the dead snake and will not be able to harm us in any way. Satan and his followers are real enemies, so I have to be prepared to fight against them with my weapons: the Word of God, prayer, and faith. So many times I live my life in defeat, fear, or discouragement because I don’t use these weapons God has given me.

They told us the snake was a black cobra. We’re not 100% sure if it was, but if so a bite from one would have killed Lauren in less than 30 minutes. Wow! When I think about that I just have to praise the Lord and thank Him for protecting our family! God’s in control and we rest in that knowledge. We can’t live in fear – neither earthly nor spiritual fears. Our God is greater! As I John 4:4 reminds us, “for He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Frustrated and inadequate, yet never more confident in Christ

For the past 9 years, one of the key components to my life and ministry was my ability to communicate. Whether I was good at it or not is debatable, but talking about the gospel was something I could do from all kinds of angles. However, in the past few weeks I have been reduced to a mere infant all over again. Sometimes trying to get my words across by grunts and charades.

As frustrating as this is, what is even more frustrating is that even when I can communicate the gospel it becomes very apparent that I have no ability to convince anyone that Christ is the way, the truth and the life. It does not matter how well my argument is crafted, how well thought through my words are, how good my illustrations are or even the ability to prove their belief system is misguided and lacking. The message seemed to fall on deaf ears. 1 Corinthians 4:4, which says “…the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God”, has been given greater clarity in my mind the past few weeks. I cannot describe it any better than that. The minds and hearts of many in Africa and all over the world have been blinded by Satan and the darkness is overwhelming.

You may be thinking, well of course it is not about your ability, but about the God in which salvation belongs to. And yes, if pressed this would be my answer, but it has been too easy to believe that somehow I am responsible for the salvation of souls, even though I know this is opposed to Christ and the scripture. This lie from Satan is what wants to hang us up. It’s what makes us envious for praise for our part in someone’s salvation or growth in Christ. It’s what destroys us when the message of Christ is rejected by our friends and family. And it’s what keeps us from sharing the gospel because of our fear of not doing it well enough or feeling as if we are not qualified to labor for the gospel. These lies are from Satan and are his ploys, used to make us take our eyes off of Jesus Christ, “…the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2), and keep our eyes fixed on ourselves. And if we are honest with ourselves, maybe we can see in some way how we even have believed that lie.

My supervisor continues to say the same words to me again and again and I believe this sums up the problem very nicely and has become a great comfort to my soul. “God’s sheep hear His voice.” When hearts seem to be held captive by the power of darkness, “God’s sheep hear His voice.” When all illustrations are used and reused, “God’s sheep hear His voice.” When words are lost and darkness seems to prevail, “God’s sheep hear His voice.” God’s Word will prevail, God’s Word penetrates the darkness and has “…delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14). This is humbling considering we also were once lost and just as we heard God’s voice call to us, others will hear the voice of God call to them as well.

So therefore, proclaim the gospel confidently, for Christ saves lost souls, and He does this for His glory alone by using simple people like you and me. People who don’t know everything, people who have problems and sin, people who are uneducated, people who stutter, people who the world would cast off as nothing. Because in the end, it’s not about us, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelations 7:10).

Take it from me, almost anybody can share the gospel better than me at this point. But it’s not about my ability or inability and it’s not about yours either. “God’s sheep hear His voice.” Be faithful to share God’s Word with everybody and anybody and expect the words of God in Isaiah 55:11 to be true, “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” May you find comfort in these words, not because you are strong but because Christ is.