Over the years we have heard statements along these lines…”I’m sure glad God didn’t call me to Africa.” Or, “I don’t know how you do it.” Or even, “I feel sorry for you having to live the way you do.” My response? “We GET to do this.” I think most people that realize that God has a call and purpose for their lives have a desire to fulfill said call/purpose. I guess what I’m saying is that I feel privileged that my call is to take the Gospel to those who have never heard. Statistically speaking, not many people get to do that first hand. More should be – but more on that another time.
Right now, as I write, we have a ministry team of 10 here from Praise Tabernacle in Richlands, NC. Pastor’s Wendall & Karen Ward have equipped and trained this team, and it is the maiden voyage mission trip for the church. What a time we have been having! Our first week was spent in Niamey, ministering in our surrounding village churches. A highlight for me was the water baptism in Lulugi, where 63 new Gourmantche believers buried their old man and were raised up as new men/women. In Niger, baptism is a very public declaration of faith in Christ. Many in the village gather to watch as the believers testify that Jesus is now their Lord. In the villages, baptisms are done by digging a ‘grave’, lining it with plastic and filling it with water from the well. In this particular village, the water source was far away, so it was no small work to get the grave filled. And I use the word ‘filled’ lightly. Because it’s so hot and dry, water was evaporating, as well as seeping through holes in the plastic. We began having to turn the candidates around in the water to get them fully immersed. What a day of rejoicing!
Right now we are in Maradi. We arrived on Saturday and have a week of ministry in the Bible school and villages set up. Last night was amazing. We traveled to the village of Dan Keraou for a nightime evangelistic meeting. I specify night time, because none of the villages have electricity, so we bring a generator. We bring instruments and speakers and lights. And we brought the team of 10 from Praise Tabernacle. Dan Keraou is not just a hop, skip and jump away. First, you drive down the paved road for awhile. The you go off-road – on a laterite washboard type road for ‘awhile’. Then you go off – OFF road for another while. Into the bush. Where you wonder if people really live out there. I’ve lived in Niger for almost 12 years and sometimes I still wonder. We were 3 vehicles zigging and zagging through the bush. In my car we had a discussion of why it is actually called ‘bush’, when there were very few bushes but instead lots and lots of sand. It should be called ‘the sand’ instead. Deep sand. And the 4WD on our vehicle is not working. I had already learned that if I’m going to make it through, I can’t stop. I was following Pastor Rich and the trick was to follow close enough so as to not get lost (something very easily done for me), but not too close so as to give me enough room to ‘gun it’ when necessary, so I don’t sink in the sand, straight down to the axle. In my car I felt fortunate to have 2 of the younger guys on the team – Caleb and Timmy – who seemed to thoroughly enjoy the 4-Wheelin’ experience. I think it was Timmy that called it an extended roller coaster. Brian and Rick – they were good sports about it all too.
After about 90 minutes of being tossed around, we arrived at Dan Keraou. While the set up was being done for the meeting, Rich and I and some of our pastors walked around the village with the team. First stop was to pound millet. Looks easy, but it’s not. Next stop, wedding. It was a bonus for the team to be there on that day, to see part of a traditional wedding. And I’m sure it will be a wedding that will be talked about for a long time to come. The wedding where an entourage of Americans came and crashed the party. We went inside the compound where several men were beating drums and singing traditional songs. I could hear some of what they were saying, and it sounded like they were making it up as they went – kind of telling a story. I guess you could call it ‘village rap’. In a typical Muslim wedding, it is the parents that are more involved than the bride and groom. I have even heard that sometimes the bride and groom are not even present. I looked around to see if anyone looked like they fit the part of the bride. When I saw no one, I inquired. I was taken to the brides ‘daki’, or mud house. We weaved our way through the people and the compound and inside the square mud room (about 6×6) was a bed that was covered with some beautiful covers. The mud walls were covered with lacy curtains, and there were stacks of painted bowls lining the 2 walls the bed didn’t cover. But still no bride. So I asked again. Shortly, 2 people walked into the mud room. And old lady, and a young girl. So I asked the old lady where the bride was. She pointed to the young girl, and said ‘This is her.’ Wow. She looked about 13. Maybe. And she looked terrified. I began talking with her and thankfully the old lady left. I got her name – which she barely whispered to me – Fapissa, as best I could understand. She didn’t know how old she was, but I suspect she was a baby when I arrived in Niger. Some of team members came in and together with Pastor Rich, we prayed for her. I explained to her that there was a church in this village and she should try and visit it. Then I told her that if she remembered nothing else, that she should remember that Jesus loves her and has a great plan for her life. I even got a smile from her. And she had a beautiful smile. These young, pre-pubescent brides are one of the things I get angry about in this culture. It’s only the Gospel that can change it. As we were leaving, the drummers followed us out of the compound for a ways singing about helping them – giving them a gift ($), which we did.
Back at the meeting site, things were almost ready. Tons of children followed us back to join our party. There was excitement and anticipation in the dusty air as Ibrahim began on the keyboard. I suspect that the majority of the children (and there were lots of them), and adults as well, had never heard that kind of live music. They seemed to be loving it. The crowd gathered in a circle and we started the service. Ibrahim started off on the keyboard then I took over so he was more free to lead the praise. The kids LOVED it! They learned the first song, and even when we changed songs they didn’t notice and kept right on singing the first one. In this setting, there is always a lot of chatter going on in the crowd, but it’s not always easy to pinpoint where it’s coming from. But when the team started their dramas, you could hear a pin drop. And that’s quiet – since a pin dropping in sand makes no noise at all! They were mesmerized as the team portrayed the Gospel message in several different ways. Caleb brought a powerful message on Jer. 29:11 and many responded to the invitation to follow Jesus. The salvation prayer was prayed as I looked on and thought about what a privilege it was to be a part of this. How many people really get to see this kind of stuff!!?? After the prayer the team invited anyone who was sick and needed prayer to come forward. What a response! I was sitting towards the back and I saw ladies grab babies and rush them forward. Someone was offering them hope! I believe many found that hope last night. While sitting there pondering, suddenly a small baby appears in my arms. A small, sick baby. His grandmother just said the word ‘prayer’. I brought the baby forward and we began praying for him. Though he was 9 months old, he was skinny and lethargic. I asked for her to bring the mother. We prayed for the baby, and I told her that she needed to begin attending the church in that village to hear more about Jesus, and to grow her faith. Then another baby was dropped in my arms. It went on like that for some time. Babies, children, then even youth came – wanting to experience the love they were sensing. I had 2 young ladies come to me to say they had a headache and wanted prayer. They may have – but I believe more than that, they wanted to be loved. The team was all busy praying for various people, and God was moving among them. I had a chance to talk to the pastor and told him that this has been a great encouragement for his church, but now the real work begins. And it’s not just his work, it’s also the responsibility of the members of this church. They have to nurture the fruit that has started to grow, so it doesn’t die.
The meeting didn’t really end – we just had to stop. We began to take everything down and pack up the cars. Challenging since we had to pack up the generator and lights – but they were what was giving us light to see what we were packing. Unless experienced, one can’t really imagine how dark a village is that far out in the bush (sand). The trip back was an adventure. It was the trip there, times 10. I was doing my best to maintain a speed fast enough not to sink, but not to fast to spin the car around when we hit a rut (which I did once on the way there). We were fishtailing most of the way. What compounded it all was the fact that we got lost. And we were with the pastor of the village. But he doesn’t make it a habit to go from one village to another at night in inky darkness. Getting to his village from Dan Keraou should take about 15 or 20 minutes. It took us an hour. And to top it off, we didn’t know we were lost until we got to said village and saw that that’s as only as far as we had traveled. I was thinking it would have been interesting to view us aerially – I’m not sure that we weren’t driving in circles. I had to keep both hands tightly on the wheel, which was a problem when I needed to shift. Which was often. Slam in clutch, downshift, throw hand back to steering wheel. At one point we had to turn around, which meant I had to stop. Not good. Once stopped, I sunk into the sand. Neal was driving behind me but knew what happened so he stopped and jumped out, as well as the strapping men in my car. They pushed, got me out, but I had to keep going or risk getting stuck again. Which meant they had to run, catch up, and jump into a moving car. They did all of the above with surprising ease (I say this because I cannot effectively communicate here the grunts and groans coming from the back seat). It was amazing how welcome the first ‘off-road’ road was when we finally came to it. And the paved road, well my goodness that road was fit for a king. It’s all about perspective.
On our way home I was thinking about the challenges faced, the resources spent and the work required to do something like this. And I didn’t mention it, but we are smack dab in hot season and when we started on our journey it was 114 degrees. But I can say, seriously, that it’s ‘all in a day’s work.’ Once again – perspective. This was an 8 hour experience. It was tough. It was hot. It was downright intense. But it was for eternal purposes. What is 8 hours of sweat and sand when someones life (and in this case many lives) is changed for eternity?
Brian commented on how good I would sleep when we got home. I agreed. But we were both wrong. Though physically exhausted, I couldn’t stop thinking about and praying for those precious babies that were dropped into my arms.
All for the sake of the call. What a privilege.