A letter from Michael and Rachel Ludwig serving in Niger
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We came to Niger hoping to see transformation. Although everything is not suddenly wonderful here, we have been seeing astounding transformation lately as we serve with the Evangelical Church in the Republic of Niger (EERN). The first transformation was a sudden two-day situation in January when it felt like all Christians in Niger were under attack. A mob mentality swept through Niger’s two biggest cities as some political parties and extremists stirred up youth to burn down symbols of French power and Christian presence. But the following weeks of uncertainty, troubling rumors, and re-evaluation was the time when we saw an even bigger transformation.
Christians went from being victims to offering forgiveness. We saw church members rise from fear to this new role with strong leadership from pastors like the former president of the EERN, Rev. Sani Nomaou, who proclaimed, “I call on every single believer in Niger to forgive and forget, to love Muslims with all their hearts, to keep up the faith, to love Christ like never before… We must love our persecutors. We must welcome them into our houses, give them food when they are hungry, give them a drink when they are thirsty… Muslims in Niger, we love you with the love of Jesus Christ.”
It’s so powerful and wonderful to see the love of Jesus Christ bring transformation, even in small ways and on a conversation-by-conversation basis. In a neighboring city we heard stories of the change in atmosphere prompting people to return things they stole from Christian houses and coming back to ask Christians for forgiveness. In our own city we heard that political leaders who met with Christians after the attacks said of them, “Who has ever met people like this before who are so willing to forgive?” A few weeks after these events, despite the recent repercussions against Christians, a young man came to our church on Sunday morning and stood up during introductions to ask how he could become a Christian.
Muslim leaders have played their part as well in how the situation has been transformed by encouraging their followers to respond to Christians in a like manner. Partly because of the awareness raised by attacks on Christians and the fear that outside terrorist groups could wreak the same havoc on the rest of the population, people across the country came out in mass marches in February rallying against religious and political extremism. At the largest march in the capital the president recognized Christians as a valuable part of the community and asked a pastor to offer one of the prayers.
Niger has a history of good relations between Muslims and Christians, but it seems that lately many of these relations were just on a small scale. It’s astonishing to see how these attacks and the response of forgiveness has opened up more widespread recognition of Christians. Now the church is sensing that they have more national attention and want to use this opportunity while it’s available to make an even greater impact on the country through sharing the love of Jesus. If you’d like to be a part of the recovery efforts for churches and homes and the increased efforts at spreading the message of God’s forgiveness and love for the people of Niger, you can donate to the EERN response fund by sending a check to the PC(USA) marked “E051746” or go online at https://www.presbyterianmission.org/donate/E051746/.
The EERN is feeling the urgency now more than ever for training leaders to work in their specific Muslim context for the purpose of bringing about transformation in their communities as they seek to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ. Presbyterian World Mission has committed to come alongside our partner, the EERN, to help train leaders for community transformation, a focus for our ministry here in Niger. So we’re very excited about the possibilities on the horizon of transformation in the way that leaders are trained here. We’re part of planning a large six-day consultation in the EERN on theological education, mission and evangelism that is set to happen in May. This consultation will bring together stakeholders from around the country to hear from leaders in the field. They will lay out the issues and needs for theological training in Muslim contexts like Niger, suggesting a range of methods for reaching out to communities in this context. The consultation will also feature workshops for discussing specific ideas and forming plans to implement them through the EERN’s Bible schools. It’s a great opportunity for the EERN to learn about and introduce training programs that use literacy as outreach or the Community Health Evangelism (CHE) model, programs that Michael is working to facilitate.
On the family side of things, we continue to feel the slow transformation from finding a culture strange and confusing to feeling a new normal and new comforts of being at “home.” It’s getting more natural to stop for a thorough greeting anytime we see a familiar face. Eating sorghum kernels in our porridge, bread, and under sauces is now expected. Everyone is getting the hang of scooping water out of a bucket to wash our hands when the tap is empty. Our kids are becoming less shy with the language and more excited to engage in learning to speak it (although they still don’t like to be the center of uncomfortable attention everyday)!
In all of this we keep our eyes on being brought more into line with the transformative love and forgiveness offered by our Lord, which we feel very fortunate to see offered by our brothers and sisters here. We give thanks as well for the help and partnership of our supporters like you all, who continue to give us hope for more transformation as we share together the joys and struggles of being connected as the body of Christ in cultures around the world. We’d still love for you to send us a note or question, set up a time to talk, read more stories on our blog, or financially support our work this year! So please find our contact info, email addresses, and donation information at the bottom of this letter. We pray that God will lift your spirits, giving you the grace for what you take on in this season, even as we ask you to keep praying for the health of our family, our language learning, and the strength of our partner church to follow Christ’s way in transformation.
Peace be with you,
Michael and Rachel Ludwig
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 133
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