Bible School Broken Down

A Letter from Michael and Rachel Ludwig, serving in Niger

April 2020

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I distinctly remember the shock I felt when I looked into the tiny dark room opening off the back of a small and crumbling mud-brick housing block. As I looked into the little room, the president of the national church told me that this was the room that he had lived in 25 years ago. Even recently, this little room served as living quarters for students at the Bible School.

Serving in Niger, we see many ways that our partners confront overwhelming barriers to bring about change. But we want to share a story of struggle and transformation of this unlikely place: the old, broken down Bible school at Guesheme. Our partners in the Evangelical Church of Niger (EERN) had run this school for over 40 years, and most of the rough mud, brick, and wood buildings were as old as the school itself. Students at the school lived in a crumbling dormitory block of eight rooms. Fifty years ago, the school sat in the middle of farmland. A small cemetery was located near it. Unfortunately, neighboring houses surrounded the school, and the cemetery had expanded. The students could no longer farm the land for food.

On the upside, the headmaster was one of the most respected pastors in the denomination because of his wisdom and welcoming heart. He continued to lead the school even though his age and leprosy hampered him from being as effective as he had been when the school started. To make matters worse, the school was way off the beaten path, in a corner of the country, making it hard to get to and giving the impression that the school only wanted to serve students from its small area.

Unsurprisingly, we didn’t think it was possible for anything to really change even when the national church had a great idea of moving this lowest level Bible school. First, there was a lot of history at this school, and people are always resistant to change! But also, it was among the most dilapidated Bible Schools that we had ever seen. It had almost nothing going for it, and 90% of students who attended had to spend the majority of their time simply learning how to read and write.

We were sure it would take a big gift from some distant church partner to set up the infrastructure needed to get this school going in another place. It was clearly a good plan to try to move the school somewhere more accessible, where there would be enough fields to live off of for the students and faculty. But it was unlikely that it would happen during our time in Niger.

Then at the beginning of this year, we heard the surprising good news. The Bible school had moved a few hours north to the village of Mailo, and classes had already started with double the number of students! One of the amazing parts was that the school had decided to do what they could on their own instead of waiting until someone else donated everything. Now we see how God was at work for a while to bring about a new vision for this school’s transformation.

Not long ago, the old headmaster retired, and a pastor we’ve been working with in Community Health Evangelism (CHE) became the new headmaster. With his guidance to focus on using what they have, the students made a start by squeezing onto rough benches in two classrooms made out of millet thatching. Their new start is in one of the few villages in Niger that’s over 50% Christian, so they had the contacts needed to acquire enough fields for the school’s use. In fact, the leadership was approached by someone from a split-off church, who said he had been saving a large parcel of land for his church to use but had never found an opportunity. So, he wanted the EERN Bible school to take it at a very reduced price!

The new school is humble in its beginnings, but it’s right on the main road that goes across the country, so there are lots of possibilities for the national church to utilize it better. There are also great possibilities for CHE training to be integrated into the curriculum because of the headmaster’s experience, and now the regional trainer in that area can easily come and help.

Being in this village, where 50% of the people are Christians, has also brought the benefit of giving more women the opportunity for theological education. Now ten of the 15 students are women. Most are from the village itself so they can take a few hours away from home to take classes. But you can see how this setting can encourage more involvement from women outside of those who simply go with their family to live at a school. Hopefully, this new location will open more access to the basic Bible school education for many more people across the country.

In this post-Easter time, Jesus’ resurrection reminds us that we believe in a God who’s able to make a way when it seems like there’s no way! It’s a great privilege to be able to see that again and again in the ministries of our partners in the EERN. We thank you for the way you have been taking part in these ministries through your prayer and financial support! Please continue to keep the Bible schools and us in your prayers as we all go through transitions in these uncertain times. We also invite you to think of ways that you could help the EERN increase the capacity of this new Bible school in Mailo and build on the great vision into which they’ve started moving.

Michael and Rachel

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