A Letter from Jim and Jodi McGill, serving in Niger and South Sudan
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Last week, I (Jodi) was able to travel east to Maradi, which is a journey of roughly 400 miles that takes about 10 hours to drive. Maradi houses the headquarters for our church, the Eglise Evangelique de la Republique du Niger (EERN) and is also home to mission co-workers Claire Zuhosky and the Ludwig family. The journey also allowed a bit of role-reversal from our norm where Jim travels and I stay with the children. So it was Jim’s turn to keep the house functioning, and since all four children were still accounted for when I got back, we both considered the trip a success.
Being away from the capital city of Niamey provided me with a glimpse of the lives of the subsistence farmers of Niger who account for more than 80% of the population. It also personalized the reasons the church asked Jim and me to partner with them on their outreach and holistic ministry. The vast Sahel between the desert to the north and savannah to the south is currently a very dry, brown, hot land, spotted with some brush and small herds of goats, sheep, and camels, with scattered trees and compounds. The land is imposing and harsh, and the people who live in these areas are resilient, resourceful, and simultaneously in such need of basic human rights like access to water, education, and health care.
Going to Maradi, I traveled by car with the president of the EERN and our PC(USA) regional liaison, Josh Heikkila. This meant we could stop and look at some of the ways the church is reaching out towards and assisting their neighbors who are primarily of the Muslim faith. Schools are scarce, resulting in an adult literacy rate of 19%. Students must walk such long distances from their homes that it is not possible to walk daily between school and home. Along with the distance, the climate in Niger is daunting. Students therefore seek any kind of housing near the school that they can. The conditions of the housing and the number of students residing in one room can be unsafe, intolerable, and certainly not conducive to any type of studying. Additionally, in a culture of open defecation, sanitation is poor and the students often acquire preventable illnesses.
To address these issues, the EERN with assistance from PC(USA) congregations has supported the building of two hostels, “Centers of Welcome” where there is both an EERN pastor/evangelist and a high school. Pastors were already housing several boys at each of their homes as a way to assist them, whether they were Christian or Muslim. These new buildings, basic as they are, provide safer and more comfortable housing than the students had before. Plus, there is a toilet and washing facility, and a room for studying. The place is also supervised, so if a student has a problem there is a caring adult nearby who can provide support, guidance, and the love of Christ.
While in Maradi, I was able to go with Michael Ludwig, who is involved with CHE (Community Health Evangelism), and his Nigerien colleague, Pastor Issa, to observe a training of two other evangelists on the local fabrication of wood-conserving stoves. The stoves are ecologically friendly because they use less fuel, which in turn reduces the workload of the women and children, as they need to hunt less often for fuel sources. The stoves are ergonomic for the cook due to the three levels, and they are safer to use. The hospitals often have as patients young girls whose clothing has caught on fire while they were cooking over the traditional open fires.
Pastor Issa works with EERN evangelists, training them in ways they can reach out to people in their area to promote health, healthy communities, and Christian messages. At the two sites I visited, there was a large crowd of interested children, plus a few more discreet adults peering into the compound to see what was happening inside. The evangelists’ families will use the stove both for themselves and as a way to encourage relationships with Muslim neighbors.
We try not to compare Malawi and Niger, but one significant difference between them that I was struck with on my journey was the lack of the presence of churches. During the trip to Maradi we passed village after village, some quite small and some larger market stops, without a church of any denomination or in any form. In Malawi, churches of various denominations are found nearly everywhere, and it is through them that information is disseminated and community awareness is raised, connections and introduction to village and community leaders are made, and trust is established. Yet here, that entrance to the communities is not readily available to us as Christians. Certainly governmental, Islamic, and nongovernmental resources are present, but it does add a level of difficulty to our work.
In addition to being able to see the work of the EERN, I was able to visit a Serving In Mission (SIM) hospital in Danja. SIM was the original mission from which the EERN came to exist. Danja is about 40 minutes outside of Maradi and was at first a leprosarium and then expanded to be a small hospital. There is also a newly established building used exclusively for the repair of vesicovaginal fistulas. To have a better idea of how to implement the nursing curriculum, I need to see how nurses work in Niger and to hear from them their experiences as students and nurses. By spending the day at the hospital, I saw how nurses fulfilled their duties, addressed shortages, and displayed Christ’s love. I found out the type of training that they thought would have benefited them as students and how the school could possibly support nurses with in-service training.
At the end of that day, as I walked into the Ludwigs’ home, I remarked to them how fortunate I am that what I love to do is also how I earn my living. Yes, certainly the work can be hard, sad, and overwhelming. And in times such as we are experiencing just now, the work can also be a bit frustrating as we continue to wait for government approval for the beginning of the school. But, overall, I am thankful to be able to walk alongside health care professionals, to be part of training nurses, and to provide compassionate care and health education to those who need it.
We thank you for your continued financial and prayer support.
Jodi and Jim
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Tags: Claire Zuhosky, compassion, culture, eern, fistulas, Frustration, health, hostels, housing, illness, Josh Heikkila, language, leadership, leprosarium, love, Maradi, Michael and Rachel Ludwig, Muslim, Niamey, nurses, nursing, sadness, Sahel, savannah, school, SIM, subsistence farmers, trust, wood-conserving stoves
Tags: Jim McGill
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