Trauma Leads to Interfaith Solidarity

A letter from Josh Heikkila serving as Regional Liaison for West Africa, based in Ghana

October 2016

Write to Josh Heikkila

Individuals: Give online to E200353 for Josh Heikkila’s sending and support

Congregations: Give to D507520 for Josh Heikkila’s sending and support

Churches are asked to send donations through your congregation’s normal receiving site (this is usually your presbytery).

 Early in 2015, our partner in Niger, the Evangelical Church (known by its French acronym EERN), faced what seemed to be an existential crisis. As the country became embroiled in some political troubles, extremist elements saw it as an opportunity to express hatred to the very small Nigerien Christian community. Over the course of a weekend, in the cities of Niamey and Zinder, more than 50 churches were burned, including 5 belonging to the EERN.

During that weekend, it seemed as if the government was unable to ensure the safety of its Christian citizens. As a result, once things had settled down, some in the Christian community began wondering if there was even a future for them in Niger.

In the aftermath of these traumatic events, though, the church noticed something interesting. Most churches sat on walled compounds that included church buildings, schools, and health clinics. In instances where churches were burned, schools and health clinics were always left untouched. While the general population knew for sure the benefit of these schools and clinics and was therefore willing to defend them, perhaps the value of churches was less clear.

There were also several accounts of extremist young men who came to burn church buildings themselves, but the local Muslim community quickly arrived to protect the worship space of their Christian brothers and sisters. They gave testimony to the good relations the Christians had with the larger Muslim community. These were some small but very hopeful signs of solidarity.

You often hear people in West Africa say, God is able to make a way forward where there seems to be no way. Although at first it might have seemed like an existential crisis, it became clearer over time that it was really more a matter of good public relations, so to speak. The church came to see these traumatic events as a reason for them to more fully live out the call of Jesus to love and serve our neighbors, therefore making Christ’s love known to all.

If the church could demonstrate that it was feeding the hungry, giving water to those who are thirsty, showing compassion, bringing health, education, and development, then people would know for certain that it was an invaluable member of the community, which needed to be welcomed and protected. This became a call to action for the EERN.

During the past year, with help from funds provided by the Presbyterian Church (USA), the EERN has dug wells to provide water to communities surrounding some of their churches. They have purchased mechanical grinders that take grain and turn it into flour, and they have made these grinders available to the public. In a country where more than 70% of people are involved in agriculture, and where the most common way of making flour is by hand with a stone, these grinders are a very welcome asset in the community.

In the past, the EERN had a project whereby its pastors and evangelists were provided with goats, and then offspring were shared with other pastors and evangelists. This project has added to their income, improving the economic well-being of Christian families. The EERN is now sharing goats with needy community members, including those among the Muslim majority, so more and more people become beneficiaries of this goat-rearing project.

There’s also one more project the church has in mind, which it hopes to launch in the near future. Many students in rural farming communities have a difficult time moving from primary to secondary school, because of a lack of secondary schools in rural settings and the high cost of lodging in the towns and cities. The EERN has plans to establish student hostel facilities, helping these students from rural communities to continue their education.

While these hostels were first envisioned for Christian students, the church now plans to host Muslim students in them, as well. Doing this will not only be a tangible way of serving the larger community, it will also allow for Christians and Muslims to live together as students and therefore get to know each other better as friends.

While Christians and Muslims in Niger have typically lived together in peace, last year’s events called that peace into question. But rather than responding in fear, the EERN has responded with the love of Jesus Christ. It’s a wonderful example of the saying in practice – they will know we are Christians by our love.

Thank you again for the support you give, which enables me to work in West Africa and engage with our partners here. I pray that your support allows me to be a bridge between the PC(USA) and our partners. If you haven’t yet, please consider committing to prayer and financial support of God’s mission in West Africa for 2017. As we share with each other from the resources and spiritual gifts God has given us, may we also learn so much in return. And in all of it, may we become better disciples of Jesus Christ.

Josh

Please read below for an important note from Hunter Farrell:

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
(Isaiah 43:1b-2, NRSV)

Dear Friend of World Mission:

Thank you for your prayers and for your financial support of Josh Heikkila this year, and any previous year. I know from my 15 years as a Presbyterian mission co-worker that your prayerful financial support has meant the world to him.

Even as I thank you, I want to let you know that this is a critical time for churches and individuals to commit themselves to support Josh. Our global church partners greatly value hisr service and you well know how important this ministry is in building connections between the body of Christ in the U.S. and Ghana and West Africa.

We have historically relied on endowment interest and the general offering from churches to sustain the vital work of all of our mission workers. Those sources of funding have greatly diminished, and it is only through the over-and-above gifts of individuals and congregations that we are able to keep Josh doing the life-giving work God called him to do. A year ago, in May of 2015, for the first time in recent history, we had to recall some mission workers due to a lack of funding. We communicated the challenge to you and you responded decisively and generously. Through your response, we heard the Spirit remind us, “Fear not!”.

Today, I’m asking you to consider an additional gift for this year, and to increase the gift you may consider for 2017. Sending and support costs include not only salary but also health insurance and retirement contributions, orientation, language training, housing, travel to the country of service, children’s education, emergency evacuation costs, and visa/passport costs.

My heartfelt thanks for your prayers and support of our Presbyterian mission co-workers. In the coming season, we will celebrate God’s sending of the Christ child, the source of the good news we share. May you experience anew the hope, peace, joy, and love that are ours because “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).

Thank you for saying “yes” to love.

With you in Christ,
Hunter Farrell
Director, World Mission, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)


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