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A letter from Josh Heikkila, regional liaison for

West Africa, in Niger

May 2014

In villages throughout Niger pastors and evangelists tend to be some of the few educated and literate residents, so many of them have begun literacy classes, which attract both Christians and Muslims from the community. Classes often meet under structures made from tree branches and millet stalks, with walls painted black serving as chalkboards. In a country where only 30 percent of people know how to read and write, there is a great need for literacy programs.

Over the past four years, as I've travelled several times to Niger to meet with our partner there—the Evangelical Church in the Republic of Niger (a denomination known by its French acronym EERN), local church leaders have lifted up a number of areas in which they hope we in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) can work together more closely with them. Two of the areas very important to them are education and development programs geared towards youth and young adults, and evangelism with a focus on adult literacy.

I'm excited that this year Presbyterian World Mission will be sending three mission co-workers to Niger to work alongside the EERN, doing mission and ministry in these two areas.

Without a doubt, there is a great need for us to work side by side with our brothers and sisters in Niger.  Only about 30 percent of the population is literate, with about 17 percent of women and 43 percent of men knowing how to read and write. In addition, many young men and women lack the job skills that would help them find economic security for themselves and their families.  The United Nations ranks Niger at the very bottom of countries worldwide in human development, and this is reflected in the challenges Niger faces with education, health, and living standards.

Although the Christian population of the country is very small—1 or 2 percent at most—they are having a wonderfully positive impact. They are being the salt, light, and yeast Jesus Christ has called us to be.  The work of the church in Niger, in light of the Biblical parables of Jesus, makes you realize that something small can in fact have a great impact on the whole.  A little bit of salt flavors the soup, a small candle lights a room, and a pinch of yeast leavens the whole loaf of bread.  In the same way, Christians in Niger are bringing both hope and development to the people of their country.  And we in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are helping them do it! 

Throughout Niger there is a high degree of good will toward the church, even among the 98 percent of Niger's population who are not Christian, because of the work the church is doing to help people in the country.  The church has dreams of doing even more, but it is struggling to articulate them, and then struggling even more to implement them.  We pray that our new mission co-workers will be able to help the church with the process of articulating and implementing these dreams. 

The EERN currently has a library and computer training school, which they hope will serve as the basis for expanded skills training programs geared toward youth and youth adults.

Right now the EERN runs four primary schools in Niger, serving both Muslim and Christian children. These church-run schools have a reputation for academic excellence, and parents struggle to raise the tuition money to send their children to them. The church has plans to move ahead with the construction of more primary schools as resources become available.  The church sees youth and young adult education and development programs, together with evangelism and adult literacy work, as a natural outgrowth of this ministry with primary school children.

When I think of the EERN, words from the prophet Joel, repeated in Acts to describe the events at Pentecost, come to my mind:

And it shall come to pass, that I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Sons and daughters shall prophesy.  The old shall dream dreams, and the young shall see visions. I will pour out my Spirit upon everyone.

At this time I want to ask for your prayers and support for Claire Zuhosky, who will be working with the youth and young adult education and development programs, and for Michael and Rachel Ludwig and their two small children, who will be working with evangelism and adult literacy.  We expect Claire and the Ludwigs to arrive in Niger sometime in July.

As we continue to work in partnership with the EERN, I want to thank you for all the prayers and support you have given to me and to PC(USA) World Mission.  These prayers and this support have enabled us to work in partnership with the EERN, exploring ways that our denominations can help each other to live out our calling to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.  If you ever want to hear more about the mission and ministry in Niger, please feel free to get in touch at any time, and I will be happy to share. 

Josh

The 2014 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 122
Read more about Josh Heikkila's ministry
Write to Josh Heikkila
Individuals: Give online to E200353 for Josh Heikkila's sending and support
Congregations: Give to D507520 for Josh Heikkila's sending and support

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