A letter from Michael Ludwig serving in Niger
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The meeting room felt like an oasis of shade compared to the bright sunlight coming off the hot sand outside the open windows. While the ceiling fans whirred as fast as they could overhead, a group of 30 church leaders gathered around tables with me, trying to figure out why we had broken up into small groups to play with seeds and pie charts and talk about the problems of a fictitious village. Despite the heat and sweat pouring down my back I was bursting with excitement because we were now getting to a key part of our presence for the past year with our partners, the Evangelical Church in the Republic of Niger (EERN). After months of preparation, now I had the chance to share with them the foundational principles and techniques of the Community Health Evangelism (CHE) strategy and how it has helped our partners in other places. Once they saw the data we collected from the simple process of their voting with seeds and how we used that to identify other problems and resources we had for solutions in this example village, they were quickly able to see how it could be part of their church’s plan to build up communities with the Good News of Jesus Christ. When our family looks back at our first year of being in Niger, we see how our work was typified in a few big events like this one.
Accompanying the Church
So much of our life this year has centered around being together with church members, worshiping, studying, attending celebrations, working with new national leaders, and encouraging evangelists. One week we had the chance to go on an extended trip to visit evangelists in two nearby districts. The evangelist in the first village we visited was so happy because just by coming to see him we showed that someone cares about the work he is doing in a hard place. Another evangelist was encouraged by the experience I could share from the PC(USA)’s history of doing literacy ministry in Egypt. Then we received great encouragement about the possibilities of sharing from another evangelist who explained how he has built credibility in his community by holding public conversations with the local imam about Jesus in the Koran.
A major part of our work this year has been helping to organize and prepare a weeklong national consultation on theological education and mission. This was a key step for the EERN in re-evaluating how they train leaders for ministry in their context, which the PC(USA) has come alongside through our evangelism focus on helping to train leaders for community transformation. As one participant shared, he’s dreamed about this type of meeting for several years while the Bible schools had almost come to a standstill, and so now he was thrilled that it had become a reality. Many of the pastors were excited to learn about the CHE strategy I shared and were quickly able to see how this strategy is much more sustainable, interesting to non-Christians in unreached communities, and important for shaping the way new evangelists think and relate to their communities. It also changed the atmosphere of the rest of the consultation as it helped to focus the group on what issues they have the most control over and how they can identify solutions that are within their reach. This strategy may also help guide the EERN for how they can make literacy training available in needy communities as well.
We’d only been in our house a few weeks when Rachel heard Mary, our guard’s wife, burst into our yard wailing. She called out Rachel’s name and then fell into her open arms before staggering into her room with a few neighbor ladies. As she continued to wail, Rachel came to understand that our guard had been killed in a car accident during the night, leaving behind two wives and a dozen children. It was heart-wrenching to see this tragedy up close and all the cultural customs and barriers that there were before this young widow (who was even pregnant at the time!). But God also used the aftermath of the tragedy to pull us closer into community with Mary and our neighbors. Through helping to care for her during the three months of mourning, when she could hardly leave her house, and through expressing the prayers and concerns of our supporting churches in the U.S., we formed a close bond with her and gained more credibility with our neighbors. Now Rachel goes to visit Mary almost daily at her uncle’s house nearby, and that has opened up other relationships. In many situations like this where we’ve been able to lend support, we’ve felt accepted into the community as neighbors who can give and receive freely (with maybe a little extra patience given on our neighbors’ part in the communication process).
We are grateful for this opportunity to learn and grow with our partners. Through the many struggles we have experienced a shared joy in our common goal of making known the love of God through Jesus Christ. We give great thanks to God for carrying us through the times when we couldn’t see the way, and many thanks to our supporters for playing their key part in encouragement, participation, and sending us. Please continue to support this ministry financially and to pray for us! We’d appreciate your prayers for increased language proficiency, our children’s adjustment to culture and community, and the effectiveness of our work with church partners for the spread of the gospel.
Michael & Rachel Ludwig
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 133
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