Grinding Progress

A letter from Michael Ludwig serving in Niger

March 2017

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Write to Rachel Ludwig

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I knew it was a good sign when I saw the open door of an old building at the edge of the Bible school fence. I was visiting the school with a group of mission partners from the U.S., and they asked what was happening in the building. We heard that the building formerly housed a machine for grinding grains into flour for daily staple meals. but it hadn’t been working for a number of years and I had never even heard about it before. Just a few weeks ago the Bible school collected a little money to replace a few parts on the grinder, got it back in working order, and re-instituted the system for students to pay a small fee (the same we pay in our neighborhood) to grind their grains. Now the women don’t have to spend hours pounding it into flour and people from the few “homesteads” surrounding this rural Bible school can also come to receive the benefit. It was a great chance to see something new in this Bible school of our partner church (the Evangelical Church in the Republic of Niger—EERN) that we might not have had without the special attention of a group visiting.

As I have taught at two of the EERN’s Bible schools for the past three years, I have heard people talk about their needs, and I have seen a lot about how they operate. But on this visit with partners I was struck by the optimistic outlook there is now. The last six months has been a gradual period of change, especially at Dogon Gao, the closer school, which I’ve been able to observe longer. A new director has come in who is more active and has gotten the students and instructors to take more pride in keeping up the grounds of the Bible school. They’ve made a new entrance path to the school lined with red-and-white cement markers, put new paint on things, gotten the pump for their well working again, and cleaned up the area around the well where they did small-scale irrigation for gardens. This contrasts with what the first two years of my visits there were like with a director who didn’t even want to live on campus—complaints about many things and very few plans for how to change anything. It makes the future for this school look pretty bright now. I think it will also help that the national church has some plans for how to use the fields a little better to generate more income for the school. But now that they’re doing a lot of the little things to help their school, it’s a place where it’s much more interesting to work on projects for long-term development. I think this change shows the Bible schools are starting to get a bigger vision of what they can do and we’re starting to see some fruit from the national leadership’s efforts to cultivate new ways of doing things.

The reality of the situation is that the list of needs for both of the two Bible schools in our area is still long. They need to find ways to reverse the trend of getting less and less yield from the big agricultural fields around the schools. They want to introduce irrigation and more efficient management of fields. They would like to start a program for teaching a trade skill, like carpentry or welding or tailoring, which pastors and evangelists could use to support themselves in communities where the church is still very small or nonexistent. Many of the students’ dorm rooms are falling in, making it hard to live or attract new students. One dorm block gets flooded to knee height during the rainy season because of new drainage for the main road 100 yards away. Most of the students don’t have a church large enough to help them with school fees. Every term they buy a few small paperback books for their courses, but they don’t have any kind of library of resource books to further their knowledge or studies in any subject. Even though those are a lot of challenges ahead, I get excited to see the little changes being worked on that make it more likely that these big ideas are attainable.

We are humbled to be a part of these expanding little changes at the Bible school at Aguie as well. I heard that they used to just rely on a missionary who lived there who ended up buying all the food for the students, paying many of the school fees, and directing any improvements to the facilities. After that missionary left, there were a few years of decline and treading water, but now there seems to be new energy to improve things and more students are enrolling again. I’m encouraged that one part of this is how we’ve started teaching the concepts of community development through Community Health Evangelism (CHE) at the school. As we’ve done this the instructors and students have pointed out more and more things that they already started doing for themselves or soon hope to do. Just one example is their efforts to increase health by making and using their own soap from the ash of leftover millet stalks. We hope CHE will continue to be a catalyst for helping the students and staff of the Bible schools grab hold of the vision for a future that includes how much they can do with the resources God has already given them.

The steady “grinding” progress and the fruit that we’re beginning to see is a real encouragement to our whole family. We also praise God that everyone, including our adopted son, has settled well into family routines of school, church, and work responsibilities in our current cold season. We continue to ask for your prayers for the vibrant leadership of the EERN, for our discernment as we pursue another adoption, and also for discernment about the continuation of this work as we come up to the end of our first term of service later this year. We are so thankful for your interest in and support of what God is doing in Niger and encourage you to send us a message to let us know how you are doing. May God also give you the blessings of encouragement that add more life-giving “grist” to the mills in your life.

Michael and Rachel Ludwig

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