What a hard, desolate and desperate place Niger is! It is terribly hot and dry and dusty. It is dirty and poor in ways you can't describe or even believe is possible until you see it firsthand. It is hard to imagine why anyone would come here for a day or a week, let alone do what the amazing missionaries here do and pick up their families and live and work here with the Songhai people in an effort to bring Jesus to this lost part of the world.
Yet just when you think your heart is going to break with sadness over the conditions and poverty of this place - a face will pop up next to the bush taxi window and a beautiful, but oh-so-dirty child with a glorious smile will beam at you just because you are here and you look different. Then a walk down a dirt path in a village that hasn't changed in hundreds of years will find a woman working away in the blistering sun drying okra - tossing it in charcoal dust to darken it. Stop at her house and her wonderful tradition of hospitality and graciousness will cause her to stop what she is doing to exchange greetings and offer you the best and only seat in her one-room mud hut with dirt floors and no water or electricity. Her kitchen is a fire outside and the bathroom is a hole in the ground at best but most often it is a nearby field.
But what is more wrenching is the absolute spiritual poverty of entire communities.That is when you realize that the only true and lasting thing you can do while you are here is to give them hope in a Savior who loves them and who longs for them to call on Him and cast all their cares on Him.
"It is difficult not to allow the immediate needs of such an impoverished people to overshadow the God-created spiritual need for Him within each of us, " wrote team member Marti C. " It has become even more important to me that the saving grace I have received be offered to His beloved people everywhere."
This week a team of five from Living Hope Baptist Church spent the week sharing from the book of Mark. There were two men - Todd C, the team leader, and Josh G. Their mission was to meet with believing men and pour into them all they could from the Scriptures in five days. The men they met with were illiterate believers so the only way they could have knowledge of the Bible was to literally repeat it over and over again, picking the verses apart piece by piece until they knew the stories by heart but more importantly, understood the concepts and applications behind the Scriptures. This was made all the more challenging because everything had to be interpreted through the wonderful translating of Cephas who diligently translated the words from English to Zarma and back again.
The women on the team - Peggy P, Marti and Donna S - were to do something similar by discipling some women who had recently accepted Christ as their Savior. But while the men were able to stay in one place most days and teach, the women went out into the villages on the Road to Karma. The missionaries in Boubon worked hard to set up times for them to meet with these believers. Sometimes it worked out but many times the schedule had would change and then change again. But each day the team was able to meet with a few village women; some new believers but also with many who knew nothing of Jesus. They shared stories of Christ's baptism, the healing of the lame man and the feeding of the 5000. As they talked other women would come see what was going on. Some would sit for a bit, others would just say hello and move on.
And always the children would come. They came to listen to stories of Jesus Walking on the Water or Jonah and the Whale or Noah's Ark. It did not matter what story it was, they would sit for hours patiently waiting while the women told stories in English that would be translated to Zarma by the amazing Beba. They loved the pictures in the Children's Bible and would gather around excitedly to have a peek.
One time the women were sharing with a precious little mama of four who lived about a mile outside of the village. She spoke a different dialect than most which meant that she and her children would listen while Peggy, Marti or Donna tell a story, then Beba would translate to Zarma and then her son would translate it into her dialect. The process was slow but in Africa no one is in a hurry so it worked.
"To see the children's eyes light up at the sound of Bible stories is unforgettable," Peggy said.
Going into the villages meant seeing firsthand how hard the lives of the village women and children are. The women work hard from before the sun comes up to way into the night to preparing food, hauling water, drying vegetables for later and much more. The children are left to the village to be cared for and often tiny naked toddlers wander the streets unattended. There is little time for love or a soft touch or a tickle. That is why the children were so drawn to Peggy, Donna & Marti. They hugged them, sang songs with them, rocked babies and prayed over so many sick, sick children.
"They have no idea what love is which is why it is so important that we share Jesus with them. It is the only way they can know true love," explained missionary Susan S.
The highlight of the week was when one woman accepted Christ as her Savior on Saturday. Sydney* had heard the Gospel from previous teams but it was this team that got to hear her make to be the decision to follow Jesus.
"To hear that young woman pray the sinner's prayer" was such a privilege, Peggy said. "I am forever changed."
"This has been a hard week - there were times when I was just overwhelmed and moved to tears because nothing I could physically do would make a difference in the lives of these women and children, " wrote Donna. "Then I would be reminded that I am sharing an eternal hope and offering them a chance to know the Great Physician and the One True Comforter and that is enough."
And while the women of the team were ministering to different women and children each day, the men had the opportunity to really disciple a group of about five believing men. They taught on the authority, power, the calling, the passion and servant hood of Christ. For the first time taught on what it means to be a Godly husband. This was radical new ground as the Muslim influence in the area has caused many men to believe their wives are not capable of understanding something as deep as Scripture and have no interest in sharing even if they did.
"We taught what it really means to love their wives as themselves. To care for her and put her needs before their own," explained Todd.
Josh and Todd spent many hours around a tea pot over scorching hot coals that Songhai men use to brew their bitter tea sharing over and over what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. They also witnessed to a man who wanted to be saved but was too afraid of the consequences.
"We witnessed to a man and had him read John 10:27 himself. We then asked him if he heard His (Christ's) voice and he said 'yes.' However out of fear of persecution he is not willing to make a profession of faith."
But most of the men Josh and Todd shared with were eager to hear and learn. They had many questions and would ask the team members to repeat things over and over until they got it right. Every day it was a new study and every day something new was discovered.
"My mission experience in Niger can be summed up in one statement," Josh wrote. "Look beyond what your eyes can see. If you can remove all the things that your eyes are distracting your mind from, you will begin to see God at work, and if you are prepared, God will allow you to be part of His work."
The overwhelming sentiment of the team is that this week has been a challenging privilege. It has been an honor to share the name of Jesus with some who have never heard it before. It has been joyous and heartbreaking but mostly it has been transformative in ways that are yet to be realized.
"I will never be the same; my life is changed from the experience of this week, Marti wrote at the end of the week. "By the Holy Spirit's power may this also be true of those whose lives have touched mine."
Our Visit to Sheltering Wings
11 months ago