Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Evangelical Church in the Republic of Niger - November, 2011

In the region surrounding Maradi, the Evangelical Church in the Republic of Niger (EERN) has numerous congregations in villages where Christians are a very small minority.  Oftentimes, they are less than 2 to 5% of the population. 

In these villages, the church’s pastors and evangelist can be the only residents with a formal education.  As a result, many people – both Christian and Muslim – come to them in order to learn to read and write.  There is a great need for this, in a country where the literacy rate is estimated to be only 29% nationwide.

While almost none of these pastors and evangelists have training in literacy education, teaching people to read and write Hausa, the indigenous language of the region, has become a large part of their job.  The EERN has even begun to see literacy education as an important means of evangelism. 

First and foremost, the goal is to teach people to read and write.  But at the same time, literacy education is a way to spread the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The Bible is often the only book available in West African languages, and therefore it becomes a good tool for literacy education. 

While a small number of people embrace Christianity after going through these literacy programs, most remain in their Muslim faith.  But the effort has created an incredible amount of goodwill for the church.  The church is seen as a place that is willing to help its neighbors, regardless of their faith.  And because of this, there is a much increased interest in Jesus and his teachings. 

Without a doubt, the EERN is laying a strong foundation, both for the future growth of the church and for the holistic development of Niger and its people.  When I see the work the EERN is doing in Niger, it brings to my mind Jesus’ words from Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is looking for ways to support the EERN in its literacy and evangelism efforts.  The EERN is also a church that would love to grow its connections with the PC(USA).  If you are interested, there are wonderful opportunities for friendship and partnership. 

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This time of year in West Africa, countries like Ghana, Nigeria, and especially Niger, enter the harmattan season.  The harmattan is the dry time of year, when the skies turn hazy and the air becomes bone dry.  The wind originates from the Sahara desert in the north, and as it blows south, it brings with it a fine layer of dust that covers everything in sight.  Daytime can be hot, but the night is often cool from the lack of humidity.  The harmattan begins in early to mid-December and can last through February or March. 

To me, it’s striking how the land in Niger that appears to be a desert in the harmattan season can spring to life when the rains begin to fall in May and June.  Dusty, sandy earth can produce fields of sorghum and millet, and sometimes even beans, onions, and rice. 

The transition of seasons in West Africa evokes for me the images in Isaiah 35, a common lectionary reading in the Advent season:

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.

Later in chapter 35, Isaiah continues with this message of hope:

For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Although it’s the dry season right now, people are already looking forward to the spring, when rains will begin to fall once again. In the same way, we look expectantly to the future, but know already that God is doing wonderful things among the people and churches of West Africa

-Josh
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In the region around Maradi, Niger, pastors and evangelists from the Evangelical Church have begun literacy education programs to teach people to read and write.  Simple churches, made from mud bricks or millet stalks, often double as informal schools.  Many, if not most, of those who come to learn are Muslim.  In teaching literacy, the church is helping to improve the lives of people in Niger, as it reaches out to them with the Good News of Jesus Christ.  
This small mud-brick church building near Maradi, Niger, doubles as a worship space and a school.  While only 20 people can fit inside the building, about 10 by 15 feet big, more than 50 gather outside during worship.  The doors and windows are left open for people to see and hear.  During the week, the pastor conducts literacy programs for adult residents of the village.  
This evangelist and his family have moved to a village outside of Maradi, Niger, to plant the first church.  For now, the structure is made out of millet stalks.  It can accommodate about 20 people inside.  Offering literacy programs to village residents has become an important means of evangelism and church growth for the Evangelical Church in the Republic of Niger.  
This village field in Niger, already plowed by hand with the help of a donkey, will soon be planted with millet.  In the dry season, the land appears to be nothing more than vast expanses of sand.  But in the short rainy season, from June to August, enough crops are grown to sustain a family through the year.  

video
A video showing the literacy training in progress.  

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