Long Distance Impact

A Letter from Michael and Rachel Ludwig, serving in Niger

July 2020

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Write to Rachel Ludwig

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“Leaving during a sudden crisis is painful because you know that our place will have changed so much by the time we return. So many people die suddenly or have to relocate in a fluid situation around here.” Those were Rachel’s reflections on needing to come back to the U.S. as COVID-19 started to close down Niger and much of the world in April 2020. Being away from Niger for this time has been difficult. We want to be there with our friends and colleagues in the Evangelical Church in the Republic of Niger (EERN). Still, we have been finding ways to stay involved in the work and continue to be an encouraging presence for the church leaders, even at a distance. I, Michael, continue to support my colleague, Pastor Issa, the National Community Health Evangelism (CHE) Trainer, to develop individualized training during COVID-19 restrictions. And we’re using this time to intensively translate our CHE lessons into the native Hausa language so that local evangelists can better use the lesson plans themselves.

This time apart has also helped us reflect more on the blessings that many people have seen through the partnership between the EERN and the PC(USA). It’s a great encouragement to think about all the amazing people who have impacted Niger, even over long distances, through the partnership bridges we are helping build. It’s a beautiful part of our life as mission co-workers that we get to see God working in people and then how they share that across boundaries of space and culture.

There are many examples of people in U.S. congregations who have followed their God-given passions, and a new interest in Niger, to give of themselves in some helping way. I think of a farmer who came to visit us and is now helping an EERN Bible school give out fertilizer loans for the students to increase their harvest. The resilience of the people amid the massive but familiar problem of soil degradation inspired him. I also think of a former Peace Corps educator in West Africa who has now partnered to build several student hosting centers. He saw the EERN’s vision for helping children across the educational divide. These safe and free rooms for middle school children are now making it possible for Muslim and Christian boys and girls to stay with pastors in big towns with government schools.

Another of our supporting churches heard about supporting our CHE work by employing youth as taxi drivers. They don’t have taxi experience, but they do like gathering for meals. So they had a social event to raise funds, which through the taxi business are now supporting the National CHE Trainer and his travel to continue to mentor others. I could go on with the list of things, like Presbyterian Women groups helping with hygiene kits for middle school girls, an infectious disease professor rallying around the EERN nursing school, and a Presbytery in Michigan working to form a focused partnership with the EERN national church leaders.

But I’d like to spotlight two more things that are a huge support — the power of prayer, and networking with like-minded people. Several PC(USA) congregations and individual members have come together to form the Niger Mission Network (NMN) to coordinate and encourage deeper involvement in this partnership (now meeting virtually at the end of July. If you’d like to attend please email us for details). This has been key in distributing prayer requests for the EERN monthly. Consequently, several of the NMN participants to Niger in 2019 have taken up constant prayer for our siblings in the EERN and their specific efforts. Providing that kind of covering in prayer is a great gift to the church, and we trust it makes a difference in people’s lives with the amazing ways God can use prayer.

But let’s not think that U.S. partners are the main actors in this partnership! The Nigerien Christians continue to add fuel to this partnership as they seek more faithful ways to be the church in their own context. They are a witness of faith amidst struggle to people like us who enjoy the benefits of coming from a religious majority and an economically powerful context. Despite all they have to overcome, it’s still been encouraging to witness our partners in the EERN who have been inspired to do new things through interactions with members from the PC(USA). I immediately think of the pastors who wouldn’t have thought it possible to establish groups to loan each other seeds, fertilizer, and business money. Or the ones who can now provide the blessing of transportation for neighbors as a result of the benefits they’ve found in the programs in which we’ve been partnering. Neither would many of the church leaders have predicted their denomination could operate car and motorcycle taxis or rent homes to fund their vision for outreach before a catalyst for sustainable business support came out of our partnership.

As always, we’re so thankful to you for being part of the great sharing and inspiration across this partnership. Your prayers, gifts, and interest in making a difference in Niger and congregations across the PC(USA) are most welcome. Please continue to lift up our EERN siblings and consider what you can share that God can use in wonderful ways across our partnership!

Michael and Rachel Ludwig

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