A letter from Josh Hekkila in Ghana
Christmas, December 2012
One of the things I most enjoy about being in West Africa is the chance to meet people and get to know them better as we work to strengthen ties between the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and our partners in the region. It’s always reassuring when you arrive in a place foreign to you but immediately you see a familiar face, confirming that you will be welcomed and cared for during your visit. Let me share with you some information about one of these "faces," a young man in the Evangelical Church in the Republic of Niger, Daniel Tsahirou, I met in 2010 on my first visit to the country. Daniel has an interesting story because his life and work reflects the positive impact the Evangelical Church is having on the people and country of Niger.
Daniel grew up in the village of Guecheme, less than a mile from the border with Nigeria, on the grounds of one of the church’s three Bible schools. Daniel’s father, Rev. Tsahirou, has been the principal of the Guecheme Bible School for the past 35 years. During this time hundreds of men and women have passed through the school, and they have gone on to become pastors, evangelists, lay leaders, and teachers, serving both the church and Niger.
In a country where only 30 percent of adults know how to read and write, the men and women educated at Guecheme have taken on literacy as a crucial component of their work and ministry. As they go out to serve village churches they are often the only literate adults in their rural communities. As a result, both Muslim and Christian residents come to them to learn to read and write. In the coming year the PC(USA) hopes to send a mission co-worker to Niger to support the Evangelical Church in the area of literacy training and education. Congregational support for this future mission worker is needed and welcome!
As an adult Daniel himself became a teacher. He went to work at the Tibiri elementary school, which is run by the Evangelical Church and located outside of Maradi, Niger’s second city. For several decades now the Evangelical Church has educated both Christian and Muslim youth at Tibiri. More than 300 students are currently enrolled at the school,
Although Niger has an overwhelmingly Muslim population, with more than 95 percent of people identifying as such, parents often strive to send their children to church-run schools because of the high quality of education they offer. In the coming years the Evangelical Church would like to establish primary schools in every town and city in Niger. The church sees these schools as a crucial component of its mission and ministry. There is plenty of opportunity for PC(USA) congregations to partner in the building of a school. In a country like Niger even $5,000 to $10,000 can build a school building.
On a visit to Niger this past fall I met Daniel in Niamey, Niger’s capital, where he is now attending university, studying for his master's degree in education. He has become part of Haroubanda congregation in Niamey, which is comprised of young men and women also attending the nearby university. It’s a real joy to worship at this congregation, packed full of university students, and see the hope they have for the future of their church and country.
This Advent season, as you hear the words of the prophet Isaiah read out loud in church, I ask you to remember the Evangelical Church and the country of Niger and keep them in your prayers. The Evangelical Church serves as an incredible witness to the way in which God can employ normal men and women, struggling to be disciples of Jesus Christ, and use them to do extraordinary things.
I also ask for your help in finding PC(USA) partners for the Evangelical Church. Niger can be a challenging country, with very low development and a very hot and arid climate. But I am confident that God will richly bless those in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who take on this challenge.
I would like to thank you for your interest and your generous gifts for this ministry. I know that you want it to continue, and I invite you now to come alongside me even closer as we journey together to answer God’s call to mission in West Africa. I invite your prayers, financial commitments and creative ideas for new partnerships in 2013.
Excerpts from Isaiah 35 (NRSV):
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.
Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.”
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.
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 84
The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 96