Today was the first day of Bible School. This school is the strength of our ministry. Discipling new believers and training local pastors. Neal has been working like crazy to get everything ready. He’s been very focused on getting the Zarma Bible school here in Niamey developed to another level. That started with getting the building finished. As always with building, there are countless unforeseen things that come up, making the budget, well, a little off. But I can tell you now, it was worth it. God provided. The building is wonderful. There is a discipleship classroom, leadership classroom, office, men’s dorm, women’s dorm, 2 extra guest rooms, 2 ‘toilets’, a bathroom for guests with a genuine flush toilet and sink with running water. “If you build it, they will come”. And come they did. We have record enrollment this year, with students coming in from surrounding villages – some of our older churches and some new. That means some of the students are ‘newborns’. This is also our first year to have a leadership school in this region, where we are training 3 pastors.
I really enjoyed the orientation. Neal had each teacher introduce himself (herself, in my case!). I’ve always known that our national leaders are great guys. But hearing their testimonies again, and how they have given their lives to Christ in the midst of persecution was actually quite humbling. I was assigned today to teach on faithfulness. But I began to feel that I was a bit out of my league in that department. These men have proven their faithfulness in ways that most of us have never had to, and likely won’t need to.
They were all great, but my favorite student testimony had to be Ben. Or ‘Ton-ton Ben’ (Uncle) as he is called. He has finished discipleship school and is now in the leadership class. He was in the military. He was a drunk, and he sold beer. He was sent to Diffa. That’s where we met him. In the bar in Diffa (aka ‘The Ends of the Earth’). He said his family was so concerned about his drinking that when one of his relatives went to Mecca, they brought back ‘holy’ water for him all the way from Saudi Arabia! They believed that if he drank this water, it would stop his drinking. According to Ben, “I drank it, but it only made drinking beer sweeter”. He remembers when Pastor Abdu found him in the bar and invited him to come to church. He would come drunk. He continued coming and hearing the Gospel. He finally responded. But he still hadn’t been able to give up drinking altogether. We hired him to work as our guard – mostly to help him out. Today he told us about the time he came to work drunk and Neal told him that whenever he was tempted to drink to lift up his hands and ask Jesus for help. Today he is sober. Today, he is a pastor. We just placed him in a new church plant in a village in the Niamey region – he speaks Hausa and Zarma. You think that’s a great testimony? Here’s the best part. His new church has been in existence for less than 3 months. There were 2 discipleship students in the school today that came from his new church. These student’s testimonies made Ben sound like Jesus when he was calling His disciples. One of them said,
“I was walking down the street and Pastor Ben saw me. He asked me what I was doing? I told him ‘nothing.’ Why don’t you follow me to church? (Sound familiar?) I’ll tell you about Jesus and you can be a Christian. I told him I couldn’t be a Christian because I was a Muslim. But Pastor Ben kept inviting me to church. I finally came because I had questions. He talked to me about Jesus and I wanted to become a Christian. Now I’m here in school.” The 2nd man’s testimony was very similar.
I may be stepping on some toes, but why is it so hard for we Americans, in the permissive and ‘accept everyone and everything’ culture in which we live, to just boldly preach the Gospel wherever we go? I don’t personally know of anyone living in America that has faced any type of real persecution for witnessing. But the sold out to Jesus people you meet here will boldly proclaim the Gospel – knowing there is a real possibility of negative consequences. But they are so sure of what they know, that they can see beyond those consequences.
Yet another lesson learned from people living in the most uneducated country in the world. Education is important, but it’s not everything.