A Letter from Michael and Rachel Ludwig, serving in Niger
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“We don’t have enough money for daily food, for school fees, for buying something we need while we’re staying here at school,” said Yahaya, a leader among the students. Is this a spiritual issue, a physical issue, or both?
The whole tangled relationship between the spiritual and physical, dependency and development in this question is a big concern of the unmarried students at the three Bible schools of our partner church in Niger (Église Évangélique de la République du Niger – EERN). These unmarried students are mostly first-generation Christians who haven’t been established with their own house or farmland prior to coming to the school. In the course of Community Health Evangelism (CHE) training that we’re doing with them, we’ve talked about how they could solve this problem besides waiting for someone else to supply them with money for these things. Having some kind of small business to provide income to support them in Bible school and in their future calls to villages across Niger was the clearest idea that came from our discussions. The international CHE training network already has a whole series of CHE lessons on micro-enterprise, covering all the planning, ingenuity, and moral character that need to go into a successful business. So, in the regular CHE class that I’ve been teaching with my counterpart from the EERN, Pastor Issa, we started a unit on microbusiness at one of the schools.
But even with the self-identified solution of starting microbusinesses and getting good training on how to do this successfully, many other problems still crop up. “Why are we taking so much time to study business at a Bible school? Aren’t we here to focus on spiritual things?” asked Sa’adou, a student who has demonstrated a common lack of initiative to try to take care of his own day-to-day living issues. This is another major question that still comes up for our students after the freshness of the idea has worn off and the daily grind of Bible school classes and farm work takes back over. In response to this mindset, it’s not hard to offer examples of economic problems hindering spiritual ministry or the successes of pastors who have seen much fruit in their families and ministries from operating businesses here. As we’ve shared in previous letters, we’ve encountered some giants of faith who have been able to continue in ministry by doing things like selling phone call-time credit. From this encouragement, most students recognize that this tool fits into the tool bags of pastors to sustain their families, build bigger networks for sharing, and gain bigger trust in a majority Muslim community. This then allows the pastors to reach out to their communities in a holistic way, becoming resource people whose integration of the physical and spiritual resources they share points to the rich and whole life that God desires for the community.
But beyond the theory and theology, another struggle is clearly on the students’ minds. Why do we want to risk our current way of life to carry out solutions like making a savings group? The students report they can see the benefit of starting a savings group — you get to use more money than you have available normally when you save it up, and you get to use the money of the others in the group who trust you through loans. But as is human nature, they would rather have someone immediately give them the money with no risk. The group of students fall silent with eyes fixed on the floor when asked how much they can realistically save per week. They have a hard time envisioning making ends meet in a week after giving up 50 cents at the weekly savings group. There are many worries. Is it really going to work, or am I just going to lose all this money? Can I add one more thing like a small business to my schedule, along with classes and scratching together food for my family?
In our most recent lesson, students shared stories of small business owners they knew, discussed supply and demand and then brainstormed ideas of what business there is a market for in their respective places. But some students suggested selling cars or airplanes and then laughed as if the whole thing was too wild for them. Other students were offended that they took it so lightly and reprimanded them for not realizing how starting small with something can really lead to amazing things in the future.
The problem of finding where to start when you have so little and have big goals is a daunting one. Another communal idea of how to help things get off the ground was to start with small loans of goods at a time when people have a clear way of paying them back with profit. So at planting time, the church’s National CHE Trainer gave the students loans of fertilizer to put on fields for tripling the yield or peanuts to plant to have a crop that brings in a lot of profit (funds the EERN would not have been able to generate without “seed” money from PC(USA) donors!). In this loan plan, the risk of a loan without earlier investment of the recipients is weighed against the clear experience and confidence of the recipients that they will succeed in their responsibility because it depends largely on their own skilled work in the fields. Then, at the harvest they will have extra money and can start saving and planning for a business to grow that money, again encouraging their hard work to keep what is now their money from being wasted. In this way, the key element of the savings group and microbusiness loan is local community ownership of the risks and importance of what is being done.
All these trainings and business plans revolve around hope and faithfulness. Hope and faithfulness are spiritual issues related to how followers of Jesus plan to sustain the work to which they are called. Through the CHE training, we are helping to make these necessary strides in the students’ formation as followers of Jesus. Business as a way of sustaining healthy living and witnessing must be done with integrity, self-control, perseverance, and relationship. The importance of these values that scripture helps us learn how to practice makes it clear that it is spiritual business we’re involved in. And so we appreciate your spiritual support. Prayers for the CHE training ventures are so appreciated, as well as for our ongoing family concerns for the US citizenship process of our two adopted boys that will play out over the next few years. Please pray also for correct healing and growth for our baby boy’s hip dysplasia through the brace he will wear for the next year.
We could not be part of training leaders for community transformation in Niger without your holistic support as well. So we further encourage you to continue in this partnership of hope and faithfulness with your financial gifts that produce dividends for the spiritual business of these Nigerien brothers and sisters!
Michael and Rachel Ludwig
Please read this important message from José Luis Casal, Director, Presbyterian World Mission
Dear partners in God’s mission,
We near the close of 2018 inspired by the hope of Christ. God is transforming the world, and you are helping to make it happen.
Thank you very much for your support of our mission co-workers. The prayers and financial gifts of people like you enable them to work alongside global partners to address poverty, hopelessness, violence and other pressing problems in the name of Jesus Christ.
Every day, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-workers are blessed to be able to walk alongside their brothers and sisters across the globe. Listening to each other in faith and in friendship, they learn from each other how to work towards a world in which everyone flourishes. Acting upon what they discover together, PC(USA) mission co-workers and our global partners strengthen the body of Christ.
Because you are an integral part of God’s mission, I invite you to become more deeply committed to Presbyterian World Mission. First, would you make a year-end gift for the sending and support of our mission co-workers? The needs in the world are great, and World Mission is poised to answer God’s call to serve others.
I also invite you to ask your session to add our mission co-workers to your congregation’s prayer list and mission budget for 2019 and beyond. Your multi-year commitment will make a great difference in our involvement with our partners. The majority of our mission co-workers’ funding comes from the special gifts of individuals and congregations like yours, for God’s mission is a responsibility of the whole church, not a particular area of the church. Now more than ever, we need your financial support!
In faith, our mission co-workers accept a call to mission service. In faith, World Mission, representing the whole church and you, sends them to work with our global partners. In faith, will you also commit to support this work with your prayers and financial gifts? With hope and faith, I await your positive response!
At God’s service and at your service!
José Luis Casal
P.S. Your gift will help meet critical needs of our global partners. Thank you!
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Tags: business, che, community, dependency, development, loans, microbusiness, ministry, poverty, savings
Tags: Michael and Rachel Ludwig
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