A letter from Josh Heikkila serving as Regional Liaison for West Africa, based in Ghana
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Back in the spring of 2011 I spent three weeks with our church partner in Niger, the Evangelical Church in the Republic of Niger (EERN), exploring ways that we in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) might join together with them to support their ministry and mission. At the time I think I visited 25 of their 100 congregations, all four primary schools, and various other health and educational facilities. Most of these ministries were in rural areas, in the interior of the country, so the visit gave me good exposure to the church and to Niger.
Many (if not most) of the EERN’s congregations are located in isolated farming villages. They are far away from paved roads, and sometimes a sandy track is all that leads you to the community. A majority are without electricity and have water that comes from community wells. While a good number have an elementary school, they are frequently very rudimentary structures—a tree branch frame and woven-grass roof. From time to time you might see a government health clinic, but they are few and far between. In many of these places the church is comprised of only four or five Christian families in a majority Muslim village.
That month of 2011 was the hottest time of year, with temperatures routinely hitting 110 in the day and only getting down into the 80s in the night. When you took a shower, the “cold tap” in fact gave you hot water. When you first lay down to sleep at night, you could already feel the pillow and mattress giving off heat. Niger is not always an easy country to visit, but it’s definitely interesting!
During the course of my stay, two main areas were lifted up by the EERN. The church was looking for help with the training of pastors and evangelists. They wanted to think strategically, how to train leaders who might reach the people and communities of Niger with the Good News of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church also wanted to create, strengthen, and grow programs to reach youth and young adults. They wanted to do both from a holistic evangelism approach, making known the love of God in Jesus Christ in a way that also transforms lives and communities, bringing health, wholeness, and well-being.
Over the next three years, PC(USA) World Mission was able to shape these requests, to create new positions, and to advertise and recruit for them. In 2014 three new mission co-workers were hired and oriented, and in August of that year, they were sent to Niger. I was very excited that after three years of preparation, Claire Zuhosky and Michael and Rachel Ludwig were finally arriving to begin their time of service.
In May of this year I had the chance to visit Claire and Michael and Rachel to see the work they had started after only nine months in Niger. It was a great joy for me to be there! At one point I traveled around with Michael and one of the lay leaders of the church, visiting rural congregations and speaking to pastors and evangelists about their vision for the church. In fact, many of the places we visited this time around were the same places I visited back in 2011. It was wonderful to see the small but significant growth that had taken place in that period of time and to contemplate further ways that we might be able to support and encourage it.
I don’t have the opportunity to get to Niger all that often, probably twice in an average year. Although I have been able to make some good connections with leaders and members of the EERN, I am not a permanent presence on the ground. But I am happy to know that Claire and Michael and Rachel will be that presence, bringing us news of how the Holy Spirit is working in the EERN, and also sharing with them news about how the Spirit is moving in the PC(USA).
There’s a line of scripture from the Old Testament, Proverbs 25:25, which reads, “Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.” God knows that in a hot country like Niger, it’s necessary to carry a water bottle with you to keep you hydrated in the heat. A sip of cold water can be the refreshing boost you sometimes need in order to get you back on your feet. In the coming years I look forward to the work that our new mission co-workers will be doing together with the EERN, and I look forward to the good news that they will have to share.
As always, I ask for your continued prayers—for me, Claire, Michael and Rachel and their children, and for all our partner churches in West Africa. Know that likewise we continue to pray for you. I want to thank you, as well, for your financial support, which makes all of this work possible. As I write this letter I think I’ve raised only half of the $80,000 that keeps me in the field, so if you are able, please be generous in your support.
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 131
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