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Working together to be the Church in Niger

God is at work across boundaries of space and culture

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

Fertilizer can make a big difference in Niger’s dusty farmland. (Photo by Michael Ludwig)

LOUISVILLE — Although mission co-workers Rachel and Michael Ludwig were pained to leave Niger when the State Department ordered citizens to return to the U.S., they believe they are still having a lasting impact through partnership bridges they have built since they answered the call to serve there in 2014.

“Being away from Niger has been difficult. We want to be there with our friends and colleagues in the Evangelical Church in the Republic of Niger (EERN), Michael Ludwig said. “Still, we have been finding ways to stay involved in the work and continue to be an encouraging presence for the church leaders, even at a distance. I continue to support my colleague, Pastor Issa, the national Community Health Evangelism (CHE) trainer, to develop individualized training during COVID-19 restrictions. And we’re using this time to intensively translate our CHE lessons into the native Hausa language so that local evangelists can better use the lesson plans themselves.”

While being away has been difficult, he said the time away has helped them see clearly the blessings that have developed through the partnership between EERN and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). “It’s a beautiful part of our life as mission co-workers,” he said, “to see God at work in the way they share across boundaries of space and culture.

“I think of a farmer who came to visit us and is now helping an EERN Bible school give out fertilizer loans for the students to increase their harvest,” he said. “The resilience of the people amid the massive but familiar problem of soil degradation inspired him. I also think of a former Peace Corps educator in West Africa who has now partnered to build several student hosting centers.”

Ludwig said another of their supporting churches heard about their Community Health Evangelism (CHE) work to employ young people as taxi drivers. They planned a social event to raise funds to support the taxi program, which in turn is supporting the national CHE trainer’s travel to mentor others. There are others, including a Presbyterian Women group helping with hygiene kits for middle school girls, an infectious disease professor rallying around the EERN nursing school, and a Presbytery in Michigan working to form a focused partnership with EERN national church leaders.

But the support goes far beyond financial, he said.

“I want to highlight the power of prayer, and networking with like-minded people. Several PC(USA) congregations and individual members have come together to form the Niger Mission Network (NMN) to coordinate and encourage deeper involvement in this partnership,” he said. “This has been key in distributing prayer requests for the EERN monthly. Consequently, several of the NMN participants to Niger in 2019 have taken up constant prayer for our siblings in the EERN and their specific efforts. Providing that kind of covering in prayer is a great gift to the church, and we trust it makes a difference in people’s lives with the amazing ways God can use prayer.”

Ludwig said it is not just U.S. Christians that fuel the partnership, but also Nigerian Christians who seek faithful ways to be the Church.

U.S. and Niger partners working together. (Photo by Michael Ludwig)

“They are a witness of faith amidst struggle to people like us who enjoy the benefits of coming from a religious majority and an economically powerful context. Despite all they have had to overcome, it’s been encouraging to witness our partners in the EERN who have been inspired to do new things through interactions with members from the PC(USA). I immediately think of the pastors who wouldn’t have thought it possible to establish groups to loan each other seeds, fertilizer and business money,” he said. “Or the ones who can now provide the blessing of transportation for neighbors as a result of the benefits they’ve found in our partnership programs. Neither would many of the church leaders have predicted their denomination could operate car and motorcycle taxis or rent homes to fund their outreach until there was sustainable business support from this partnership.”

Community Health Evangelism, in which the Ludwigs work, is a model that helps communities identify and respond to their greatest needs with their own resources. The CHE method offers a strategy for empowering pastors and evangelists, who then play a vital role in bringing about transformation in communities. Michael Ludwig also trains future pastors and evangelists at two of the EERN’s Bible schools. Another of his roles is to help the EERN build capacity for implementing a literacy and evangelism training program for their pastors. Rachel Ludwig focuses on homeschooling the couple’s children and developing relationships in their neighborhood and church community.

Niger is one of the Africa’s most impoverished countries and is at the bottom of the United Nations’ Human Development Index. Only about 30 percent of the population is literate, and less than 50 percent of children are enrolled in school.

Although 95 percent of Nigeriens are Muslim, the government is secular, and there is openness to the gospel. Church leaders are often some of the only educated residents in their communities. The EERN is the largest Protestant church in the country and is a member of the World Communion of Reformed Churches.

The Rev. Michael and Rachel Ludwig serve as mission co-workers serving in Niger. (Contributed photo)

The Ludwigs have four children. Michael, a native of Holland, Michigan and a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, was an associate pastor at Overbrook Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Ohio, for four years prior to entering mission service. He is a member of the Presbytery of Scioto Valley.

Rachel grew up in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania, and has spent most of her professional life as a middle school math and science teacher. She taught in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati public schools. She served one year as a PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteer in Guatemala and one year as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Cincinnati and is a member of Overbrook Presbyterian Church.

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