A letter from Michael and Rachel Ludwig, serving in Niger
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Do you know what it means to see the “eyes” bulging on the “ears” of millet? It means the excitement level for the harvest is quickly approaching in Niger. The rains around our city have been very good, meaning that in fields with good soil and drainage the staple crop of millet is over everyone’s head and getting full “ears” on its “cat-tail” like ends. As we watch the farmers coming and going along dusty roads with long-handled hoes that look part sickle, it’s easy for us to think in the rich realm of farming imagery. You’ve heard the story about the sower who went out to sow the seeds of the Good News in different types of soil, haven’t you? It feels like we’re in the middle of that story in this season of our work in Niger.
For more than a year we’ve been planting the seeds of Community Health Evangelism (CHE) in Niger with our partner church, the EERN (Eglise Evangelique de la Republique du Niger). We’ve cast seeds widely through vision presentations, detailed national plans and on-the-ground training. Now that we have four CHE evangelists using this method in their villages, I have come to see clearly that each community is like a different ecosystem or soil for the CHE practices to grow in. The soil in each community ranges from an ecosystem that initiates successful community projects using CHE principles, to thorny soil that allows little receptivity to the ideas or people to carry them forward. The range also includes places with some community involvement but an ecosystem that encourages more spiritual fruit and soil that provides good engagement but has rocky interruptions of migration and or previous unhealthy development projects. I’d like to share with you the short stories of the people working in these four different soils.
Attahiru leads a church that already has 100 members, local youth are always gathering at his house, and he is diligent with following what he learned at our CHE training. He started by sharing the beginning CHE lessons, which are basically stories that get people talking about their needs and healthy ways of dealing with them. The men of the church decided that clean water was the biggest struggle, and that they could do something about it themselves. So, they dug out the poorly-functioning existing well that was filled in with three meters of sand. Now they have the most water they’ve ever had from the well.
With that “seed project” done, Attahiru was not sure what else people were willing to do. Consequently, the CHE trainer came to visit him with the other CHE evangelists to help clarify some next steps. They met in groups separately with the village men, women, youth — all of whom were intrigued to meet an outsider. The CHE trainer helped tell two main CHE stories about finding solutions for their problems at the size the village can tackle itself. People started really discussing and debating the meaning of the stories. The fact that someone was genuinely seeking their opinion about the stories shocked the women at first, but then they became very emboldened. At the end, everyone was excited to learn more through CHE. The soil in this village is clearly made up of those willing to learn more and do more.
Haruna lives in a small village where the chief has taken him under his wing. He’s involved in village youth activities, and he’s the secretary of the women’s group (because he’s one of the few with the skills attained through completing an elementary school education). Haruna told CHE stories to the youth he plays soccer with. They got motivated to fix the road into the village that had been washed out for a while. But now almost all of them have gone up into the desert with the hopes of making money in the artisanal gold mining starting there. Another solid barrier he faces is that the women’s group in the village has recently done some simple community projects, but they were all initiated by an outside NGO that gave them gifts for completing them. Dependency on handouts is exactly the type of ineffective aid that the CHE method tries to undo, so this leaves Haruna wondering how many times he’ll have to go over this same rocky soil.
Spiritually Fruitful Ecosystem
Himma’s large-sized village had already asked him to help with their development needs a few years ago. Since our training, they’ve been quick to see him as a resource, and he’s been asked for a lot of advice. The idea that really clicked for Himma was the multiplication concept of CHE, that the learning should be practiced and shared (multiplied) with others. Multiplication is cultivated when group lessons have clear action steps and then follow up the next week with sharing how the steps went. So, he’s gotten three groups to meet weekly to tell the CHE stories and Jesus’ parables with continued follow up. The people have mostly been interested in discussing the spiritual stories but are also thinking about a starter “seed project” they can do in the area of agriculture. It’s interesting that this “ecosystem” has latched onto the Bible stories more than the development ideas so far, but the experience of CHE practitioners shows that the physical usually goes better when the spiritual is already in mind.
The more distinguished Pastor Haruna lives in the last decent-sized town in his region near where the pure desert starts. He’s found lots of needs, but the “soil ecosystem” has not been receptive to the Gospel message before because of the dominance of some conservative religious sects. Pastor Haruna has groups in three different neighborhoods of the town that he’s working with. They have generally been interested in the health and hygiene aspect of CHE, so he’s done some teaching on that subject, but the participants haven’t been motivated to do much yet. He’s still looking for “people of peace” or potential “champions” of the CHE method for development who are willing to go deeper. One of the groups has a Muslim religious leader in it, which has the potential for bringing richer dialogue and legitimacy to the group. Unfortunately, more thorns are poking out as this leader has also shown some signs of trying to co-opt the group into a time for his own teachings that don’t have the holistic emphasis of CHE or fail to leave any room for the Gospel connections.
We’re thankful to God for the beauty in all these unique “soil ecosystems” and the chance to work with these talented and dedicated people. As the CHE workers carefully plant the seeds and cultivate the holistic fruit of the CHE teachings, it’s clear to us that all these soils will require lots of time and effort. Some may go faster, some may have more obstacles, but we know we can pray to the Lord of the Harvest to help them on their own roads to developing a healthy and whole community the way our loving God desires.
In light of this, we invite you to continue praying for the work of our partners in the EERN, and these CHE evangelists specifically. And we invite you to continue to pray for our family for the energy and grace to continue in this ministry, even as we’re signing on for an additional two years of appointment here by the PC(USA). Please know we appreciate your financial support and the points of contact you make for sharing and learning with us about God’s mission in Niger! We also want to add that you can now sign-up to receive these quarterly letters by email at our PC(USA) page – pcusa.org/ludwig-michael-and-rachel. If you’d like to be dropped from our “snail mail” list because you’ve signed up for the “e” version (email/ecofriendly), please send us a request by email.
Michael and Rachel Ludwig
Please read this important message from Jose Luis Casal, Director, Presbyterian World Mission
Dear Friend of Presbyterian Mission,
What a joy to send this letter! As Presbyterian World Mission’s new director, I thank God for your faithful support of our mission co-workers. The enclosed newsletter celebrates the work you made possible by your prayers, engagement, and generous financial gifts. We can’t thank you enough.
After I began in April, I met with mission co-workers and global partners and was blessed to see firsthand the mighty ways God is working through them! Our global partners are asking us to help them move forward with life-changing ministries. Because of your support, we can say “yes” to these creative and exciting initiatives.
I write to invite you to make an even deeper commitment to this work. First, would you make a year-end gift for the sending and support of our mission co-workers? We need your gifts to end the year strong. With your help, we filled two new mission co-worker positions and plan to recruit for others. The needs in the world are great, and World Mission is poised to answer the call to serve.
Second, would you ask your session to add our mission co-workers to your congregation’s mission budget for 2018 and beyond? Our mission co-workers serve three-year or four-year terms. Your multi-year commitment will encourage them greatly.
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In faith, our mission co-workers accepted a call to mission service. In faith, World Mission sent them to work with our global partners. In faith, will you also commit to support this work with your prayers and financial gifts?
Jose Luis Casal, Director
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