A letter from Michael and Rachel Ludwig serving in Niger
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Have you ever bought bananas that were too green, only to find they’re so grainy and chalky you don’t try to eat them until they’ve already gone bad? This isn’t a problem people experience much in Niger. We’ve watched over and over as kids from our neighborhood try to pick the unripe fruit off the trees in our yard. Even if we’re standing right there telling them the fruit isn’t ready yet and needs to grow longer, they still ask and physically pretend to make the motions of picking it every day. A taste of unripe fruit is special enough that there’s no need to wait around for fruit to turn yellow and juicy.
This desperate mentality of continually settling for unripe fruit is something that gives us insight into the people with whom we serve and connect. It has brought us to see how this culture is saturated by the urgency to use what you have now, fearing you may not have the chance again. But it’s also a valuable lesson for survival because access to so many things can frequently disappear without warning. We’ve come to understand how it’s really only prudent that if you have access to water now, you’d better use it and not put off cleaning, flushing the toilet, or running it through the drinking filter until later. But this also helps us to realize the very real struggle of faith and life in an atmosphere of scarcity. Settling for the rushed relief of what is available before its full potential arrives can quickly supersede our attention to trusting in God’s love and care for us that is working overtime to bring about the benefits of ripeness and maturity.
To be honest, wanting to hurry and pick fruit early is a human tendency that manifests itself in all of us across cultures—although we as Christians hope that long-term thinking, delayed gratification, good theology, and experiencing Christ’s loving provision can guide us to overcome it. Still our family is tempted to want to skip the ripening stage of gospel “fruit” in our lives all the time. Language learning has been unsurprisingly slow, but we wish we could skip the birth pangs of listening, stuttering, and internalizing all the information that toddlers do so naturally in their mother tongue. While the impetus to share knowledge is strong, we wait on the right process for gaining credibility to teach and relate in the native language, rather than just focusing on the more removed work and relationships we could push ahead with in English.
It’s also easy to wish things were happening faster with the projects we’ve been working on with our church partners. As we’re working together on grant proposals for a rickshaw taxi and evangelism project, we’ve watched the rickshaw taxi market balloon and come to dominate our city’s transportation market. It has felt urgent to help the church get an opening in this market before the chance passes. But we must keep remembering not to get sucked into picking unripe fruit, as long-term sustainability comes through working at the speed of our partners and hopefully through the careful deliberation of funding cycles. Likewise, the Theological Education and Mission Consultation planned for May was not quite ripe that early. The planning team pushed hard but was not satisfied with the speakers available or rushed invitations for participants. So we decided the consultation needed more time on the tree (until September) to meet the big goals we have for buy-in and innovation from the diverse participants.
Against the backdrop of settling for unripe fruit, we’re glad to be supported by the PC(USA) congregations and individuals who partner with Presbyterian World Mission. We appreciate being integrated into World Mission’s strategy to be intentionally in it for the long haul—making deep connections through personal relationships—and being strategic with its global initiatives. We have hope even though we’re saddened that the new realities in funding are threatening to force World Mission to withdraw mission co-workers from their countries of service in significant numbers (press release at www.pcusa.org/news/2015/4/15/presbyterian-world-mission-faces-potential-funding/). We hope that congregations and individuals like you investing deeply in the connections that mission co-workers are making will help to turn the situation for lasting impact through the connected Body of Christ. So we invite you to renewed commitment to supporting the work in Niger for the long haul, and considering coming into a supportive relationship with other mission co-workers who are also focused on World Mission’s three critical global initiatives: addressing the root causes of poverty, evangelism, and reconciliation.
We’re also greatly encouraged that our partners in the Evangelical Church in the Republic of Niger (EERN) are on the same page, forming a strategic vision for how to reach their culture and country. Rather than being satisfied with the low-hanging fruit of how they’ve always done things, the EERN is now formulating answers to two big questions: What forms of service can Christians champion to make a distinctive difference in their culture? And, in what areas of the country can they make the biggest impact with the gospel? We’re very excited about some of the EERN’s answers, like the rickshaw operation that can provide ongoing employment for youth and income to buy property where new evangelists can be established. The long-term vision is for the fruits of this labor to provide pastors with grants to start businesses that will sustain the work and make them positive elements in their communities with resources that can open doors to sharing. The EERN is also working on inviting people to sponsor new pastors for strategic cities in the 52 counties where they have no church presence. These are cities that have political centers and education opportunities, so the pastors can then host Christian students from villages who wouldn’t have the opportunity for further education. In addition they’ll host a Muslim neighbor of each village student to spread the blessings and live out the gospel message among this demographic that’s most likely to be influenced by radicalizing doctrine if left without education and opportunity.
While our family continues to live and learn in this exciting time, we’re grateful for your sharing with us in the hope of the coming fruit of the gospel in Niger and in each of our lives!
Michael & Rachel Ludwig
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 133
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