A Dangerous Church

A Letter from Michael and Rachel Ludwig, serving in Niger

October 2019

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We’re part of a dangerous church. How do we define a “dangerous church?” One that sends people in mission across cultures, languages and distances. That gives of itself to build churches and places of compassion for others. A church that is looking beyond just the people they can see in their fellowship or their immediate influence. A church like this is in danger of making waves, of being noticed, of spreading a lot of blessings in the face of the suffering around it. This is the type of church we see rising up in places around Niger. And it’s happening as our partners in the EERN (Église Évangélique de la République du Niger) lead with maturity, and as individual churches in their fellowship realize their capacity.

Sending and Living in Mission

During a recent church service we heard the story of one pastor who is being sent to the farthest outpost of the desert to be a witness to Jesus’ love. On the bus to his new place he said to his supervisor, “I’ve sung hymn #213 all my life a little too lightly (it’s about following Jesus anywhere, even to Calvary). But now we’re on the road to the middle of the desert where I’m hours from any other Christians, and I don’t know how I’ll be received. Now I’m actually in the middle of living that song!” For the past five years the EERN has worked on its vision to plant worshiping communities in the 52 (out of 71 total) sub-regional capitals where there are no churches. These places are growing rapidly because of an increase in government infrastructure and small-scale urbanization and ultimately will be the places of influence and culture-making in the future.

This year the church turned its attention to five cities in the far north region of the country. But this is a desert region with population only in a few communities along far-flung trading routes. Not much news comes out of these places, except whisperings about human trafficking that brings slaves to Libya or immigrants to Europe. The nomadic people of these places have a different language and a predominately different culture. Despite all this, the EERN knows they are called to go across these differences and difficulties to be a reflection of God’s reconciliation and lack of partiality to work in places of great need.

Fight for Your Right to Give Sacrificially

It’s exciting that it’s not just the national leaders that are engaged in this kind of vision. The neighborhood church where we worship has recently stretched itself by accepting the call to build a new church in a neighboring city where some of our members have moved. We’re amazed at the sacrificial giving of the church members to raise thousands of dollars to build a church for other people to use, especially when we know that the best educated of these middle-class workers have annual salaries under $10,000. Usually the church could only wait for some outside NGO to come up with funds for this type of undertaking.

But when it came time to put the roof on the new church, they brought the need into the worship service again. They took another offering, joyfully singing about how “we are building a church, yes we are going to build a church!” Have you ever seen people gathered ecstatically singing the fight song of their university or soccer club? That’s what this was like in our 150-person church. Everyone was on their feet clapping, dancing, celebrating the determination that “we ARE going to build a church!” This IS going to mean good news for people. This IS going to mean help and light in a new community! We ARE going to persevere over every obstacle and do what God is calling us to do!

Good and Bad Kinds of Dangerous

That’s the good kind of dangerous we are blessed to see in our partners. But overall, this kind of danger seems pretty rare in our experience of going between both Niger and the US. Most of the time we’re all looking to our own needs and what is most visible around us. This can lead to the bad kind of related danger, which is the danger of things ceasing to develop, of things dying in place because there’s no impetus to go forward. Because we live in Niger, ranked the least developed country in the world by the United Nations, we’re always thinking about how this happens. Since we work with CHE (Community Health Evangelism), which is a strategy focused on self-development, we’re always looking for signs of a development mindset, rather than a relief mindset.

As we talked recently with another mission co-worker who works in South Sudan, we struggled together with the question, “What is it that puts the development of Niger behind South Sudan, the latter a country which has been notoriously ravaged by civil war for 30 years?” There are factors from natural resources, colonialism and climate to be sure. But our experience suggests that some of the root problems for Niger come from the rarity of a development mindset and the abundance of a relief mindset. These mindsets in a society, a church or our own lives could be labeled as a “what do I need to do to thrive?” mindset (development) versus a “please help me not die” mindset (relief).

Thrive Don’t Survive

What about us? Are we living in a “thrive mindset” or simply a “don’t die mindset?” We hope a small but dangerous church that is less than 1% of the country’s population can inspire us to look beyond our immediate concerns that are related to “not dying.” Real health is more than just not dying; it’s integrated physical, spiritual, mental and relational health. Central to CHE development teaching is the idea that real integrated health is brought about in our connection to Jesus. But it’s fully realized through living out the right balance in our relationships, and in how we use our gifts. Part of the balance of these relationships is the stewardship and multiplication of what we have for passing it on to others. Thriving and passing things on means things like being involved with diverse peoples so we can sit together in the light for the nations. Or being in places where we can share in relationship with the least of these, as a Matthew 25-centered church needs to be. A “dangerous church” needs a large enough focus and relational methods to pass things on as witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Thriving in an integrated way is a struggle for us all. We thank God for your support and prayers that help us continue to go beyond surviving here in the place God has put us. Please continue to give and pray and share with others about Niger! You’ve been an encouragement not only in our ministry situations, but also in our home schooling, where we’re striving to pass on this same mindset of development to our children. We see it when they’re able to do afterschool building projects, daily language learning or other little things that take them outside themselves for a bit. These are the same types of exercises that push us all toward thriving. So we pray for us all, that God would continue to stretch us to take on further the “dangerous mission” that Jesus has led to spread his love and healing throughout the earth!

Michael and Rachel Ludwig

Please read this important message from Sara Lisherness, interim director of Presbyterian World Mission

Dear friend of Presbyterian Mission,

Greetings in Christ! As the interim director of Presbyterian World Mission, I am grateful to have the opportunity to thank you for your continued support of PC(USA) mission co-workers.

The enclosed newsletter bears witness to some of the many ways in which God is at work in the world through long-standing relationships between global partners and the PC(USA). These partnerships are nurtured and strengthened by the presence of mission co-workers in over 40 countries; you are an important part of this partnership too, as you learn about and share how our church is involved in global ministry; as you pray for our partners and mission co-workers; and as you take action to work with others for God’s justice, peace and healing.

I write to invite you to continue joining us in partnership in three ways. First, your prayers are always needed. Please pray that God will continue guiding the shared work of the PC(USA) and global partners as we engage together in service around the world. Pray, too, for mission co-workers, that they may feel encouraged in the work they are doing under the leadership of global partners.

Second, please consider making a year-end gift for the sending and support of at least one mission co-worker. There is a remittance form at the end of this letter and an enclosed envelope so that you can send in a special year-end gift.

Finally, I encourage you to ask your session to include one or more mission co-workers in your congregation’s mission budget for 2020 and beyond. PC(USA) mission co-workers’ sending and support costs are funded by the designated gifts of individuals and congregations like yours; your gifts allow Presbyterian World Mission to fulfill global partners’ requests for mission personnel.

Faithfully in Christ,

Sara Pottschmidt Lisherness
Director, Compassion, Peace and Justice Ministry
Interim Director, Presbyterian World Mission

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