Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Visit to Niger, May/June, 2012

Eglise Evangelical de la Republique du Niger
 - the Evangelical Church in the Republic of Niger

In this post, I want to show some pictures from a trip Debbie Braaksma and I made to Niger at the end of May, 2012, to visit the PCUSA partner there, the Evangelical Church in the Republic of Niger.  Christians in Niger are only 1% of the population, so they are a tiny minority in an overwhelmingly Muslim nation.  But the EERN is a vibrant church and joyful church, despite this minority status. 

Currently, there are two congregations in the city of Niamey, which is far away from the heartland of the church in Maradi, Niger, some 400 miles to the east. One congregation is more established, comprised of professionals working in the city and their children. The other sits on the edge of the university campus and is made up primarily of students. 

Our first Sunday in Niamey, we worshipped with the university students, who were celebrating a special Sunday, lifting up the gift of women.  The entire service -- preaching, praying, singing, was led by the women of the church. This was a bit unusual for the EERN, a church which still restricts ordained ministry to men. 

The young women's choir.
After worship, the congregation processed to the nearby Niger River, where five youth were baptized into church membership.  The river was quite busy that day -- cattle were drinking, women were washing clothes, children were swimming, and in the distance you could spot a pair of hippos.  All of this while the baptisms were taking place. 

Over the past ten years, the PCUSA has helped the EERN develop its schools.  Through the Presbyterian Hunger Program, wells have been built in underdeveloped rural villages.  Currently, we exploring the possibility of helping the church with literacy programs.  In a country were the literacy rate is approximately 30%, there is a great need for literacy education. 

In some villages, the church's pastors and evangelists are the only people who have received a formal education.  Many residents seek them out, asking for literacy instruction.  It's a prime opportunity for the church to reach out,

A typical village school, run by the government of Niger. 
Some buildings are made of mud brick, like the one above.
Others from millet stalks, like the two 'buildings' in the distance below.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Konkomba Market Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Agblogboshie, Accra, Ghana

Konkomba Church Fire

Some pictures of the congregation before the fire.  Left:  the entrance to the shed, which served as the chapel.  Center: Rev. Patience Akator, Lartebiokoshie District Pastor, at the communion table.  Right: Mr. Geoffrey Wuaku, the congregation's catechist (in blue suit) standing in front of the yam trucks, which back up to the chapel entrance.  

Over the course of the past year, I've been helping the Lartebiokoshie District of the E.P. Church with its Konkomba Market congregation. Konkomba Market is comprised mostly of young women and men under age 25 from the Konkomba ethnic group. The Konkombas find their home in the eastern Northern Region of Ghana, in towns like Saboba and Tatale and the area around Yendi, and in the northern Volta Region, in towns like Kpassa and Damanko. The E.P. Church has had a presence in this area for more than 50 years.  

The Konkombas are known throughout Ghana for their yams. In fact, the main yam market in Accra is also called the Konkomba Market.  This market is where the congregation is located.  Many of the young men and women have moved from the north to Accra to find work. Some of the them work in the yam market, together with their families, who grow the yams in the north and then ship them to Accra to be sold.  The E.P. Church congregation has become a second home for the ones who have come south.

Yams on the roadside, outside of Yendi, waiting for a passing truck to stop and buy them. The trucks will then take the yams to Accra, and to other cities in the south of Ghana. 
The yam market on a Sunday. The trucks in the background are full of yams waiting to be unloaded.
Some sellers sit by their produce, waiting for the market to open again on Monday morning. 

The Agblogboshie neighborhood of Accra is a world apart from the north. In recent years, it has received some notoriety for its garbage dumps. A 2010 article in the New York times called it a "Global Graveyard for Dead Computers in Ghana."

A photographer named Andrew McConnell has put together this photo gallery called "Rubbish Dump 2.0."

Be sure to check out these links, because the photos are quite striking!

On May 31, 2012, a fire moved through the area where the Konkomba Market Church chapel was located, burning the building to the ground. Fires seem to be common in the area, as many of the houses are made of wood and without electricity, forcing the occupants to use candles and kerosene lanterns. It's a dangerous mixture.

Although the fire burned the chapel on a Thursday, the young men and women gathered on Friday and Saturday to clean the plot and erect a temporary shelter. On Sunday, they still gathered for church, although their numbers were much reduced.

The membership of the Konkomba Market congregation continues to grow, and it's now more than 100 strong. Next year, they will celebrate their 10th anniversary. The church hopes to erect a permanent concrete block building by that time which will be resistant to fire and will better suit them as they move forward.

Below, you will see some pictures of the work that was done after the fire, to get the church ready for Sunday morning worship. Thanks to Mr. Solomon Bagmae for these photos.