Thursday, August 27, 2015

Tid Bits

Mariama is growing beautifully.

We celebrated Zach's 32nd birthday on pillows circled around our living room and Indian food.  The night was made complete with some "Indian dancing" and meditation on Scripture.

We went on an outing to another compound.  They have a trampoline, swings...and well-maintained grass!  It's very beautiful.  Baby and Falaka enjoyed some cuddle time under a big mango tree.

"Not again!" says Mariama as we point a camera in her direction once again!

At the office we celebrate birthdays once a month.  In July we celebrated the birth of these two cuties.  Can you tell which one is mine?  Yes, the pale one who is not all bundled up despite the many warnings that she is going to get sick!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Another Daughter?


It has been a week and half since my (Christy) friend Falaka came to visit us from a nearby state.  Falaka and her husband are dear friends of mine from Cameroon when they were living there for a time.  We have so enjoyed having them here, that we are praying about Daso remaining with us for the next semester of school.  She is delightful to have around with a quick sense of humor, bright mind, and helpful heart.  School in the state where she’s living has been hard for her because of her tribe, religion, and region of the country. 

Please pray with us as in the next couple of days we make this decision that would essentially makes us “parents” of a 6-week-old and a 9-year-old.

Some things we are considering:  Schooling, transportation to and from school, the redefinition of family time, food preparation and chores, scheduling with work hours, financial implications of another dependent, being sure we have the reserve to pour into this precious girl, being sure that Mariama gets the care and attention she needs, and that we  still have time for each other.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Follow our blog (it is easy!)

Do you pray for us regularly or wish you did?  Do you wish you knew what to pray for--and in time?  Well, then this e-mail is just for you!  Since our return to Nigeria, Christy and I have started frequently posting to our blog, often not only with pictures and stories, but also with specific prayer requests.

We have been hearing from many of you that you are praying for us, and we want to get the answers to prayer (and more prayer items) to you more quickly.  But if you want more frequent updates, then you need to sign up for them!

Just click this link:  Subscribe to Yodelings by Email

and then follow the directions.

If that sounds easy to you, then that is all there is to it!

* * *

If that doesn't sound easy, just e-mail, me, and I will do the first two steps for you!

If you want to know what you will do next, here are some instructions:

1. Click this link (same as link above): Subscribe to Yodelings by Email

2. Enter your e-mail address and copy the letters you see (this is to prove you are human, not a robot)

3. When you see this page: go check your e-mail:

 4. And and click the confirmation link.

 5.That is all! You will see a confirmation page like this:

Mariama's big debut

Christy and her mom on the day before Mariama came
It was the day we had been anticipating for nine months.  Only the day after her due date, the excitement started.

Now, if you are like me, prior to this experience, you may be asking yourself, why do people, especially women, talk so excitedly and in so much detail about birthing experiences?  Is it really that interesting?  Isn't it a bit of a private subject?

Well, now, I know from experience--as a husband that is.  It is incredibly exciting, a little bit scary, and if you have read up on the subject when your turn comes, you are less worried about the decisions you will have to make--and that others may make for you.

You all have been praying for Christy and I as we anticipate Mariama's birth.  Let me attempt to share the story, so you can better praise God with us.

* * *
Christy hard at work. The park pictured above in distance.

We had just finished a nice dinner at our friends' house and Christy was driving home when suddenly her water broke.  She and her mom got quite excited.  Just as we had prayed, God was sending Mariama close to her due date, so Mommy and Daddy Watkin would enjoy having baby around.  (We didn't know her name would be Mariama yet, because we still had three sets of names we were considering.)

Christy called our helpers, Renee and Jody, and they arrived around 9:30pm or so.  Renee and Jody are answers to prayer, too.  When we came to Nigeria, we had no idea that Renee, one of my old friends from when I first came to Africa, was also a Doula and glad to help us.  Then, three weeks before the due date, Jody showed up in the country, a Canadian labor and delivery nurse.

Christy with Renee and Jody
The contractions were already starting.  I was glad about that.  Once the water breaks, Renee told us we only have 24 hours until the baby should be born.  Still, although Christy was quite excited and bustling about, it was time to sleep. We all needed strength for tomorrow.

Speaking of strength, of all days for Mariama to come, I was thinking to myself, "why does it happen when I am feeling like this?'   I had just left Christy's laptop computer out in the rain all day, along with a book I had borrowed from a friend.  I found out later that the laptop worked (miraculously!), and Christy's dad read the borrowed book for the next two weeks.  But at that moment I was just feeling really stupid and really tired.

But, thank God, the next morning I was feeling ready for the adventure.  And boy it was an adventure.  Renee and Jody said since Christy was at 4 or 5cm, it was probably time to head for the hospital.  It was still only 5am?  We arrived at 6am, to a locked gate, but the person on night duty opened for us and called Dr. Sule.

* * *

Dr. Sule, by the way, is another answer to prayer. While we were in the US, we had been advised to consider delaying coming back to Nigeria.  There were many reasons, but one was that the doctors were on strike.  Christy used Facebook to reach some of our colleagues in the office to get another perspective.  That's when she got Dr. Sule's number.  We had never heard of him before.

I thought, "well, lets try calling him".  I picked up our phone, which up to that point couldn't get reception in my parent's house. But at that moment, I saw it was showing a bar or two of connection.  Christy tried it and dialed straight to Nigeria.  She had been warned that Dr. Sule is busy and may not answer on the first call ... but he did!  He spoke so gently with Christy, encouraging her that not all the doctors were on strike and that she didn't need to worry about having her baby in Nigeria.  Christy took that call as encouragement from God that our baby was in his hands.

* * *

We thought that our baby might be coming right away and were eager for Dr. Sule to get there.  When he finally arrived he was a gentle and professional as ever.  He hadn't even put on his formal doctor's clothes, he had come out so fast.  As humble as ever!  We love how open Dr. Sule is to all of our questions and preferences.  He really was a key player in this event!

Things get pretty foggy around then for the next few hours, I don't remember exactly what happened.  From 6 am to 12 noon, Christy got more and more tired.  The doctors came and went.  We kept looking for progress, pushing Christy to keep moving, so the contractions would be frequent (I was timing them for her on her Contraction Timer app!)  Finally, at twelve, we realized that she had been at 8 cm for too long, maybe three or four hours?  The doctors suggested we use intravenous oxytocin, a steroid much like the pitoicn that birthing mothers naturally produce to speed their labor.  Christy and I had wanted to avoid this.  After some discussion (I'll spare you the details) we decided, it was an hour of walking for Christy and if there was no progress, then we'd use the oxytocin.

We sent out a prayer request by text message to our families, asking for strength.  Praise God!  The sleepy Christy suddenly woke up and seemed to have lots of energy to work had.  She walked up and down the street outside the hospital.  We walked and walked.  She felt like she need to go the bathroom in a really bad way, but of course we all knew it was really the baby coming.  It really felt like we were making progress!

But we weren't.  We were all gathered back upstairs in Christys room.  Actually there were so many people and so much stuff that we filled up two of the small inpatient rooms of Oasis Medical Center.  In addition to those I have already mentioned (Renee, Jody, Dr. Sule, Christy and myself) Christy's mom, the gynecologist  and midwife were also there.

This is where it got really intense.  I reviewed the facts with Renee and Jody.  God had answered our prayer and given Christy strength, but it didn't seem to be helping.  We had no apparent progress and more pushing and walking wouldn't help.  Christy had been vomiting during the contractions since last night at 9pm, so naturally she felt completely wiped out. She hadn't eaten anything, except about a half cup of juice.  All she wanted to do was sleep, but if she slept then the contractions would slow down.  It was now 1:30 pm.  Renee and Jody both said the oxytocin wasn't such a bad idea, and at this point I was agreeing.  I really didn't want to get in a situation where Christy was too tired to deliver the baby, and didn't like the idea of that leading to a C-section (though I knew that Dr. Jibrin could do it if necessary).  So I said we should go ahead with the oxytocin.

As the midwife put in the IV and administered it, I suddenly realized now was the time for me to do what I had been practicing, that is, to help Christy to relax.  I would speak calmly to hear, telling to "relax your forehead, cheeks, your jaw, your lips, your neck, . . . " all the way down to her toes.  It actually worked!  I was amazed at how relaxed Christy was, even falling asleep between the oxytocin-induced contractions.  I was so focused on Christy and helping her relax, that I didn't even notice the time going by.  I guess it was an hour later we got the good news that Christy was free to push that baby out!

The next hour was truly incredible.  Christy actually used a squatting position (which she had been practicing for months) to help bring a baby down. (This by the way, was the position that the patriarch Job's mother used to birth him, and is still used in many villages today.)  However, for Dr. Jibrin and the new daddy to be (that's me) to see the progress, our little baby was finally born while Christy was in a sort of sitting position leaning against Renee.  Christy kept saying--okay, shouting--"she is not coming, she is not coming".  I could see and feel our little baby's progress and kept telling her (along with everyone else in the room) that actually she was coming and would be born soon.  I could see her hair for a long time--which was all wet and looked nothing like a cute little babies' hair.  Finally at 4:25pm--over nineteen hours after this adventure began, I was suddenly holding our little babies head, and (as I had heard so many times before) only moments later her whole body.

She was a rather purplish color, which is just what I expected, from what we read.  She didn't breathe right away either, which again is expected.  I was glad to have known all of this!  Dr. Jibrin was used to doing a few things with the baby at the mother's feet, but I put her right up on Christy's chest.  All of this had been arranged in advance, though there still was a little discussion as we did it.  We rubbed our new baby down and patted her so she would start breathing.  It was only a few seconds before she started breathing, but Christy was still anxious for that first cry.  "Don't worry," I was telling her "you know she still doesn't need to breath yet, the umbilical cord hasn't yet been cut, everything is okay."  And she did start to cry, first a little bit and then that wonderful sound of her crying.  I hardly even noticed that her color was changing, but it is quite clear in the photographs!  From dark purple-ish, to a bright pink.

I had no idea  newborn baby could be so beautiful (don't worry if you disagree with me, I always thought the most beautiful babies were not the newborn ones, but those who had grown a bit older).  Christy whispered to me "I am thinking the four names", and I nodded.  Those were the names I had been thinking of, too.  So our baby was born and at the same time her name was chosen, Mariama.

It was amazing to see the change that came over Christy.  Just like Jesus had said, Christy had forgotten all of her tiredness and pain.  She was so delighted to have Mariama in her hands. Thank God for a healthy mother and a healthy baby, born here in Nigeria! Thank you God!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

* * *

Well, there are a ton more details I remember vividly, some of which should really not be typed on a blog.  Let me just add one final note of thanksgiving to God.  Christy's mom was there through the whole process.  She tried singing, which was the only time that both she and I could hardly keep from crying, so the singing didn't really happen, though it was quite moving!  She also took pictures over everything, which is why I have only one picture of her, but lots of pictures of the birth.  As I write this, they have just arrived safely home this last weekend!  Thank God for the wonderful blessing of having them here for such a key time in our lives! Visas, travel, all the details worked out as open doors  Thank God!

God does care about water filters

In a previous post we noted that community members seemed to be losing interest in the water filter project we had started and may be asking themselves Does God care about water filters?  We asked you to pray for God to show is love to the community and bring them together as we attempted to finish the water filters.

Well, as Christy wrote that blog post (and sent it out as an e-mail) we know that many of you were praying.  Here is what God did.

I was feeling very tired that Saturday morning as I went down to see if I could spread the sand out to dry, so it could be sifted later in the afternoon. Christy had encouraged me to ask for help, so when I reached the house where we would spread the sand, I was looking around, not too hopefully.  However, I saw three young children sitting in front of the neighboring house... and I knew one of them, Geoffry, who has been visiting us for a couple of years now.  I asked him to help, and he not-excitedly agreed.

As we started spreading the sand, a number of children began to show up and help, even a tiny boy who look like he had just learned to walk!  As we spread the sand in the sun to dry, the children began to ask about what it was for and get more and more excited, including Geoffry.

So I taught them the four ways that the sand filter kill the bacteria and other pathogens (which we called "worms", but they are microscopic of course).  They repeated all four ways to me 1) In the top three inches of fine sand, there is what we call the "biolayer" bacteria that live there and eat the incoming bacteria, 2) as the bacteria go deep down through the fine sand some of them get trapped, 3) there is no air in the bottom of the barrel, so the bacteria can't breathe, 4) the bacteria have nothing to eat in the lower parts of the barrel.  I was glad they remembered them all (I would love to quiz them again and see how many they remember now, two weeks later!)

When I explained that after the sand was dry we would sift it, they apparently were listening, because some of the sand was nearly dry, and as soon as it was dry they asked me if they could sift it.  That wasn't my plan.  I intended just to spread the sand and go home until 1:00 pm when the seven adults were to arrive to finish the project.  However, they seemed so excited, I thought "why not?".  So I showed them how to sift the sand.  They sifted two small bags worth of sand over the next hour or so!  I eventually had to leave them, because I needed to go home for lunch, so I could be ready to work at 1:00.

* * *

Around 1pm, I was back at the house where we were working.  Daddy Watkin was with me, and the children were all around helping too.  We continued working for a couple of hours, before two of the women arrived--the two women who had been most faithful in coming of the seven.  (The other five adults we were training never showed up this day!)  We washed all the sifted sand and small stones, and even broke some bigger stones with a hammer to make the small stones we needed.  It was a lot of work, but with the eager children, we had a lot of help!  Praise God!  

An hour before it would get dark (around 6 to 6:30 pm year-round in Jos), we decided to just try to assemble the filter.  I wasn't sure we would have enough of the fine sand to fill it, but we tried to fill it anyway.

We glued the pipes so they wouldn't leak.

We poured in the stones and rough sand near the bottom so the fine sand wouldn't clog the pipe.

Then, while it was still light enough to move, we carried the water filter in the kitchen.  Now was the moment of truth.  Would we have enough fine sand? We began to fill it . . .

We had enough fine sand to fill it with just a little left over.  Thank God who sent the children to help and let us finish this project while Christy's dad was still around.

We poured water into it.  The water looked a little dirty coming out, but soon looked less and less dirty.  We knew we couldn't drink the water for fifteen days anyway, so it had time to start flowing "with light" as we say in Hausa, that is clear.

Thank God our first water filter is finished!  Yesterday after our Sunday prayer meeting, we gathered to pray for the filter and drink its water.  (I unfortunately had to leave just as they were bringing the water, so I can't tell you what it tastes like.  Maybe I will get to try it tonight!)

This is why I am alive

"That is why I am alive."  The words caught my attention in a new way.  We often talk about "what is worth living for" and the purpose of our lives, but the way John said it, it carried a different meaning that day.  It was my birthday and also happened to be my first day back in the office after being away quite a long time.  Christy had left the house with Mariama for the third time in Mariama's life to celebrate me, and was in the kitchen chatting with John.  I happened to come in on the middle of their conversation.

This story starts with the same John featured in "God of Contacts"
". . . sometimes in the morning I feel tired,"  John was saying, "but when I start sharing with people about why Bible translation is so important suddenly I have energy."

I could guess the previous conversation.  Christy had probably been asking about the Ministry Partner Development (MPD) that John had been doing.  John had been traveling all over town and meeting with about four potential partners each day, many people he had never met before.  He would share with them the vision of why Bible translation is so necessary for discipleship in Nigeria and ask them to become a part of the team.  He would also get phone numbers for more people he could call, and then call them in the evenings.

Then John shared the convicting statement.  "That is why I am alive."  He could have died already in one sickness or another, or the car accident a couple of years ago where other passengers died.  But he is alive . . . and he knows it is for a reason.

* * *

Many of you have been praying for my health over the last several weeks.  From July 1 for five and a half weeks I was so sick that I did not go to the office for a single day.  During the total sickness (which actually started in May) I had malaria three times lasting five days each.  Christy changed the sheets on our bed nearly every night because of sweating, sometimes twice a nights.  It was actually quite intense.

There were several times during the sickness that I felt an incredible closeness with God.  He spoke to me with specific Scriptures, and once as I sang a modified Psalm of praise, it was as if God himself was singing over me.  There were other times when I was so tired I could hardly think to pray, but I could listen to the Bible on my phone (you can listen to audio Scriptures for free online, by the way, and if you have a smartphone you can download them with various apps like or YouVersions "Bible" app).  By the time I was better I had listened through most of the new Testament, some books several times--though not always awake! :)

During the days of sickness, besides the Scripture messages, there was another lesson I was thankful for.  I had been praying since last year that God would teach me humility, because I was increasingly finding my pride to be disgusting.  Suddenly, in this sickness, I had an avenue to experience that "all men are like grass".  I used to take a lot of pride in my work, in my mind, and in my physical strength.  (As I write this, I want to go back and edit away the words "a lot of", because it doesn't make me look good, but maybe it will help you all to pray more, so let them stand!)

When I got sick I realized that work went on without me, no one called to ask me questions about what to do or not to do in the office.  They may have missed, me, but they were able to do without.  As I became very tired I found I could not think as well, and at times I could not remember even the simplest things, like why I had gone into the bathroom, or what I was planning to say.  Also, my physical strength was pretty much gone.  I would just walk back and forth between the bed, my couch, and the bathroom.  Where did my strength and my mind and my ability to work come from in the first place?  The devil wants me to be proud and say it is from my studies, hard work and exercise and maybe that of my parents.  The sickness proved all of that is a deceptive lie.  I am alive only because God gives me life.

Starting to recover, but a friend told me to rest and washed the tank for me anyway
As I began to get better there were days I would feel stronger.  I felt excited just to be able to walk outside and get a gift from the car or to open the gate for someone.  Later I could carry buckets of water.  Then I could walk all the way down to a prayer meeting in our neighborhood.  Each time, I would feel that I was pushing my limits, so I would go back to resting, but I was glad for the freedom that was coming with recovery.  I found myself wishing I was well enough, so I could help Christy by washing dishes!

* * *
Now, after all that, you may be in danger of thinking I am some kind of a hero.  Actually, the whole point of telling this story is to show you how much I need prayer.  Just keep reading and it will be clear!

I think I mark the day Christy's parents arrived as the day I was officially well.  Actually it wasn't that simple, because the healing was so gradual that there wasn't really a single day I was better.  They even recall that the first few days they were here, I was still easily tired by simple things.  However, now I can tell you with certainty that I am feeling strong.  I walk where I want to walk, I carry what I want to carry, and I don't feel sick or tired.  It is truly liberating.   Praise and thank God with me for life and health! ! ! ! ! ! !

It was wonderful to have Christy's daddy around!
On Friday, however, I was sitting in a funeral service when suddenly it struck me.  Here only a few weeks after I recovered, I was falling back into the same patterns of pride as before my sickness.  I was thinking of myself as smarter, better educated, more important in the kingdom of God . . . . No! I could never think such things in the conscious part of my mind, but I realized that those kinds of thoughts deep inside were directing the way I interacted with the people around me in the service.  I suddenly though of John's words the day before "that is why I am alive" and I realized I desperately need your prayer.  That's why I wrote this blog post.

Please pray for me not to forget the lessons I learned during the sickness!  Please pray for me to continue to grow in humility!  Can you believe that after spending so much time listening to Scripture, during the visit of Christy's parents we had no regular pattern of Scripture intake?  Can you believe that just after asking you to pray for humility, I want to qualify more so you don't think too poorly of me, trying to take the few times of Scripture memory, devotionals and make you think "Zach is not doing to bad" or maybe even "hey, Zach reads the Bible more than I do."  No!  What I want is for you to pray for me to be in the Word, a LOT, especially during busy times... like today, when I rushed off to the office without sitting a moment to pray or read a verse of the Bible.  Please pray with me!  I know God will hear, and he will answer.  He loves these kinds of prayers.

Praise God!  I was strong and healthy by the time Mariama arrived!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

A new start

Sometimes I feel like titling my blog "PLEASE PRAY" in all capital letters.  But then I realize that is what every one of these updates is about, you praying with us.

Today feels like my first day in the office after about three months.  In May, I was away for an intense training program for ministry development (see our May posts).  In June and part of July I was sick. That is more than five weeks sick leave!  I have never been so sick so long before.  In July just as I got better, Christy's parents arrived and I was taking half days and working in Hwolshe rather than the office.  Then (drum roll) Mariama was born and I took two weeks paternity leave (and continued working in Hwolshe).

So, today I sit back in the office and pick up new routines.  Also, Christy and I begin new patterns now that we have a new one at home.  It feels almost like a fresh slate.

Actually it isn't quite that calm or simple.  I have immediately been swept up in meetings and planning that I had left undone (I hadn't quite expected that).  And at home I am expecting to be away this evening and all of tomorrow due to the death of a close friend's father.

Thank God:
  * That I am feeling very strong and healthy (though a little tired due to our new sleep schedule).  It has been great to walk as far as I like and carry heavy buckets of water without any negative effect!
  * For so many blessings in Christy's parents visiting us.  (See previous posts)
  * For our little healthy baby girl! (and a healthy Mama)

Please pray with us:
  * That we will establish new patterns that honor God including daily Bible reading (our previous Bible reading plans have been quite disrupted and we really need to get a regular intake of the Word again).
  * That we will be able to start speaking Hausa more in our home.  We want Mariama to learn Hausa!
  * For continued good communication between Christy and me.  Thank God for a relatively smooth transition to having a new little person in the house (all things considered!)

Go Away!

T here were children. Always so many children. Our children are a magnet for other children and so everywhere we go, they follow us giggling...