A letter from Josh Heikkila in Ghana
During my very first visit to Niger this past November, a fellow PC(USA) traveler leaned over to me and commented, “There’s something about these villages that makes you feel like you’re in a Bible movie.” It was a very accurate remark. Perhaps it was the numerous donkey carts, the sandy arid land, the flowing gowns on both men and women or the mud brick houses made using centuries-old techniques — the list could go on and on. It was just very easy to imagine Jesus walking down some of these streets.
Niger is constantly ranked near the bottom of countries on the United Nations Human Development Index. In 2010, it was ranked 167 out of 169; only Zimbabwe and Congo were lower. But despite the deep and widespread poverty, there was something incredibly pleasant about the country, and I’ve been struggling to name what it is.
In all honesty, I don’t like it when I hear affluent Westerners use the description, “the people are poor, but they’re happy.” I think it’s a way for those of us who are rich to assuage our guilt. Yes, they have no electricity, no running water, no health care, no money for schooling … but they’re happy. By telling ourselves this, does it allow us to go back home and not feel so bad about the incredible (can one even call it sinful?) disparity in wealth and well-being?
The PC(USA) partner in Niger, the Eglise Evangelique de la Republique du Niger (EERN), is a small church, with only about 100 congregations and 10,000 members, in a country that is more than 95 percent Muslim. But I am told there is an openness in Niger to the gospel message of Jesus Christ. Over the past several years, the church has placed an emphasis on its schools, which allow for Christian evangelism and church growth as well as service to the larger society.
Since this was my first visit, see the photo album and let me tell some more about Niger in photos.