A Place to Stay and to Study

A Letter from Michael and Rachel Ludwig, serving in Niger

February 2019

Write to Michael Ludwig
Write to Rachel Ludwig

Individuals: Give online to E200513 for Michael and Rachel Ludwig’s sending and support

Congregations: Give to D507575 for Michael and Rachel Ludwig’s sending and support

Churches are asked to send donations through your congregation’s normal receiving site (this is usually your presbytery).

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One day she was the top student in her middle school class, and the next she was being married to a man twice her age. It was a tragedy that made some big waves in her large village. This intelligent, likable girl of 15 had so much obvious potential, but her parents needed money to take care of their family and decided the bride price for this daughter was the best option for the here and now.

But hearing the news as he sat in his small, dusty government office, the Muslim mayor of this village couldn’t abide by this traditional custom that would normally be allowed to continue despite going against the nation’s law. He decided to stop the marriage on account of the girl’s potential, even though it would mean getting the national gendarmerie police involved and ruffling lots of feathers by taking the parents into temporary custody. The mayor shared this story as he participated in the ground-breaking ceremony of our partner church’s new student hosting center that was being built next to the woven grass lean-to that functions as the worship space for the small congregation in this village. He is pleased that the Église Évangélique de la République du Niger (EERN) is undertaking this initiative for students because there is nowhere for the girl to live to continue studying. She can’t safely go back to her parents’ home, so she’s at his house for now. He hopes to be able to send her to this church hosting center, where students are given a place to stay free of charge as long as they follow the community rules and provide their own food.

Unfortunately, the statistics for education in Niger show that there are many similar dire circumstances that prevent the youth across the country from getting a serious education. Boys average two years of schooling, and girls average nine months in school during their lives, according to UN statistics from 2015. In the past decade the government has made a big push to build primary schools in many villages, but middle schools and high schools are only in the equivalent of a “county seat” of a district. This means another big obstacle for education in Niger is the distance students have to walk to continue on in middle school. In the village school where the EERN built their first student hosting center, they found they had 37 Christians students alone who walked from five miles or more to go to school there each day.

An additional problem is that Christian students have fewer possible places to live because there aren’t many Christian homes in most villages. Non-Christian homes usually reject them once they find out they are Christian, or they are asked to convert to Islam and forced to do the five prayer times a day if they stay in a Muslim household.

While searching for how to deal with these problems, the EERN developed their student hosting center initiative and asked for help from the PC(USA) to start this top priority for outreach and education. From our experience working here with the EERN, it is easy for us to see the importance of this initiative and its potential for reaching out to communities and helping people view the church as a positive place to have in their community. As US congregations got involved with the help of PC(USA) World Mission, the EERN’s first two hosting centers were built in time for the new school year last fall. And we’ve seen the potential of this initiative working out in some of the first things that have happened at these hosting centers.

During the first semester, 16 students lived at the center in the village in the Dosso region. More than half are Muslims who spent the first few weeks feeling uneasy about what they’d have to do in this new setting. There are no forced conversions or beliefs, but everyone is expected to follow the community rules and attend morning devotions with the pastor’s family. Now after seeing what life there is like, these students are flourishing in the community, and most of them even stayed at the church over Christmas break instead of going back to their home villages. They said they had gotten to know the Christians and now they didn’t want to miss the church’s biggest celebration (sharing in neighbors’ celebrations are highly valued here).

The EERN’s main idea for these hosting centers is to help those students with no place to stay avoid having to walk long distances or pay lots of rent, or being forced to convert to another set of religious practices. Another major goal is to provide a place where Muslims and Christians can live together closely and build trust to strengthen their relationships across the country. The hosting centers provide Christian students the opportunity to share the love of Christ and the good news of his saving grace.

We’ve seen further blessings in the hosting centers because of the connections that US congregations have made to the EERN in this initiative. One group of visitors this year was able to bring solar lanterns for the students at the second EERN hosting center. The students’ faces brightened immediately as they responded that having people caring for them across the world is a huge encouragement. These lights will greatly increase their ability to study and get things done after the sun sets. In addition, another student hosting center is being built this spring in a village near us where the pastor is already hosting as many students as his house will hold. Also, a room for just female students is being built at another village church in our region through the support of US Presbyterians.

When the needs here in Niger seem to be so great, and the situations so full of layers of hopelessness, we are strengthened to continue on by your prayers and interest in the partnership we share with the EERN. Please do continue to lift up to our gracious Lord the needs of education for students and families in Niger. Please also pray for the work of physical and spiritual development that the CHE evangelists we’re training are undertaking in their villages. We appreciate prayers for our family, schooling, and our son’s displaced hips as well as citizenship issues. We see your support in so many ways and so also ask you to continue to be generous in your financial support of our work here with our partner church.

The girl at top of her class hasn’t yet come to live in the hosting center, but there is still hope. In the first month of the second school term, the EERN gathered the money to build a proper wall around the church property (which had previously been a collapsing, chest-high, mud-brick wall), providing the appropriate security that families wanted to see before they started sending girls to stay at the center. This wall is the sum of many faithful believers like you putting together their contributions to provide the support that will truly make a difference in the lives of many youth in Niger. Thank you!

Michael & Rachel Ludwig

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