From Famine to Flood:The Niger River

We live in the desert.  In Niger.  Where drought is a way of life.  I’ve heard it referred to as ‘the forgotten famine’.  We’ve heard it said that every year is a famine year in Niger, it’s just that some years are worse than others.  Like this year.  Here’s just a snippet of an article I came across:

In markets all over Niger, hungry people are selling hungry animals for half their normal value, giving up on the milk and money of tomorrow so that their children can eat today. Their plight is a sign of how far the economy of the desert has broken down, leaving its people unable to feed themselves in drought after drought. abcnews.go.com

Niger has received quite a bit of press this year because of the drought. But we are in the news once again  – but not because of drought.  Because of flood.  Yep.  Flooding in the desert.

It seems that the Niger river is the highest it’s been in recorded history.  We are in rainy season, so the river is expected to grow.  But when it grows from this:

to this:

…in a very short period of time, well, that’s just too much water.  That, and the fact that the dikes around here have broken…

Rivers are sources of life.  Cities, towns and villages are built around rivers because of all they offer. They provide some industry.  They’re beautiful.  It’s cooler on the river.   In fact I can’t count the number of times Neal has told me how much he’d love to build a house on the river.  Almost every time he looks at it I’d bet.   And he says it like he’s saying it for the first time.  But then there’s that pesky  flooding issue.  I know some places are expected to flood regularly and life has prepared for that.  But here in the desert, one does not expect serious flooding to be the norm.  However, this year, the Niger River here in Niamey has burst the dikes and burst its banks.  According to reports, 65 people have been killed and over 125,000 are homeless.  And I’m sure those numbers  have increased.  There’s nothing pesky about that.

It doesn’t matter if you possess a little or a lot.  Losing everything is everything.  And I would daresay that if what you lost was ‘little’, replacing that may be more difficult than if you had ‘a lot’.  That’s just my analysis.

I didn’t take any of these flood pictures.  But they were all taken in Niamey by my Facebook friends.  (Hope you guys don’t mind me using them here -Lisa Rohrick, Nancy DeValve, if I missed you, let me know and I’ll add your name).  But most of these are just the areas near the bridge.  Down or Up river there are neighborhoods that were wiped out.

Could you carry your bed in a flood?

Here, the bank of the river is ‘normally’ on the right side of the boat.

The flooding has not only affected the people in Niger that we are here to serve.  It has also affected those that are here to serve.   Though there were many affected and I’m sure I don’t know the half of it, those I’m referring to here are the missionaries and Nigerienes who are Sahel Academy.   S.A. is where our kids have attended school since we have lived in Niamey.  Trae and Tanika have both graduated from there.  Tobi has been a student there since 1st grade.  It’s a beautiful school with wonderful and godly people that teach and serve our children.  The school has provided many memories for our kids and for us as well.  Here are some of the things that have taken place over our years associated with Sahel Academy.

Tobi with his friends at a banquet.

Tanika with John at a banquet.

More banquet…

The famous Casa del Burrito  – senior fundraiser and best (and only) Mexican Restaurant in town!

Open for business.  More chips anyone?

Then there was the Medieval Festival.  Tobi and Micah have grown a bit since then.

Mr. Ben  teaching Tobi the ins and outs of bow-hunting.

Then there are graduations.

Trae’s class. 2009

Ms. James giving Trae his diploma on The Green.

Tanika sang at Trae’s graduation.

And Tanika’s class – 2011.  Same place.  Different year.

Trae sang at Tanika’s graduation with Chantelle and Joy.

Tanika sang at her  grad too – with Julie and Eli.  I know, it’s all rather confusing.  But it’s fun!

Even those in our ministry were a part of Sahel events.

And of course I can’t leave out all the NUTS Softball tournaments that Neal and Trae played in together – and Neal continues to play.

I’m showing all these pictures not just for the sake of all the memories that have been made on this campus, but also to show what Sahel looked like before the Niger River decided to join it.  The following pictures were taken in the last few weeks, after the river swelled and the dike broke.

This is Sahel Academy today.  Again, these are not my pictures. I really had no desire to go and see the flooding.  Pictures were enough.  I know it’s real, but I’d rather not see it ‘in person’ at the moment.

Entrance

Brian & Kathy Bliss, the school directors, canoeing to get around campus.  Their home, along with lots of other missionaries, are here as well.  To be exact, 53 people from the mission community were displaced.  Proud to know them and their smiles.

An elementary classroom.

Classroom buildings.

Dining Hall and High School Building.

This is the new administration building on campus.  Many of us have canoed on the Niger River, but never this close to the school!

Inside the administration building.

There’s more than one way to go canoeing.

Toilet paper commercial?

This is Centre Biblique, an SIM compound right next to Sahel Academy.  It was also flooded and many displaced.

Music room.

Enter the community.  Quite an amazing community.  Every Sunday evening here in Niamey there is a NEWS service.  No – not the communication of newly received information variety – but NEWS: Niamey English Worship Service.  Sunday, August 26th, a ‘town hall’ meeting preceded the regularly scheduled NEWS.  It’s location had to be changed though, because the services are usually held at Sahel Academy, which we know is now part of the Niger River.   The discussion was about what has happened, and what to do from here.

Because a large percentage of NEWS attendees are in some way involved with or touched by Sahel Academy and Centre Biblique, one might have expected a sober atmosphere.  But what we found when we got there was a spirit of ‘rallying’.  In spite of the fact that life as we know it for many has dramatically changed, there was a ‘with God,  we will pull up our boot straps, work hard, and see what He’s going to do for us’ attitude.  And the evening’s discussion didn’t only include talking about what we need to do to find homes for our missionaries and a location or locations to start school, there was a big emphasis on what needed to be done for the nationals involved in the school as well as the help that needed to be provided for the many Nigerienes who had lost their homes.

To be honest, what has happened has not affected me directly.  Indirectly, yes, but not directly.  In fact this year we are even homeschooling Tobi.  That decision was made almost 2 years ago so has nothing to do with these events.  So the flooding of the school isn’t affecting the education of our child.  And I haven’t lost anything in the flood.  Not one thing.  I haven’t heard of any of our church members that have lost homes either.

But I can relate on some level to what has happened.  No, I’ve never lost my home in a flood.  But I have been a part of pouring my whole heart into something and seeing it destroyed.  I’m thinking specifically of when our church and bible school compound in Maradi was burned.   Almost completely destroyed.  We had only been in the country for 2 1/2 years before dedicating the new church God helped us build.  And in one day, one hour really,  it was gone.  That’s a whole long, victorious story by itself.  But it was painful in the beginning.

We were reminded once again that when you are doing what God calls you to do, there will be opposition.  Many are the afflictions of the righteous.  So often we think when challenges and problems occur, it’s God ‘closing a door’.  I beg to differ.  There is an enemy out there that is working overtime to stop us from fulfilling God’s call on our lives.  In our case it is to plant churches among the unreached and disciple the new believers.  But that verse in Psalms doesn’t stop there.  It goes on to say ‘but the Lord delivers him out of them all’.  ALL.  The attack on our church that day felt personal.  We’d come to a foreign land and poured our heart and soul into the people.  And for that we get attacked and burned out?  But through the pain of that, one of my very first thoughts was ‘the enemy is going to so regret what he’s done here today…’.  And so he has.  That attack provided us lots of free advertising and raised our ministry to a new level.  The opportunities to witness were everywhere.   People were coming to us.  When stopped at checkpoints while traveling through the country, we would be asked if we had any tracts on what we believed.  Someone once stopped Neal in the market saying that he saw him on TV, saw what happened and wanted to know why he was smiling while smoke was going up all around him.  And – God not only provided enough for the church and compound to be built back, but to be built bigger and better!  I’d say God delivered us.  Press on.

So while we’re looking at a tragedy, God is working and will deliver.  Just as our church not only recovered but grew, God will do some amazing things through this event.  If we trust him.  The missionary community has already shown great trust in the Lord by the way they have responded.  Our churches and pastors have visited some of the schools where the displaced people are staying.  We are giving out food and clothes along with the preaching of the Gospel.  Before giving out boxes of food, our Pastor Zabeyrou preached about the love of God.  It wasn’t without chaos, but still, the Word of God was preached.

I remember that outdoor Sunday night NEWS service 2 weeks ago.  We stood and sang Great is Thy Faithfulness and I’m sure some were shedding tears as we looked at the beautiful, flooded river peacefully flowing by.

Great is thy faithfulness                  

Oh God my Father

There is no shadow of turning with Thee

Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not

As thou has been thou forever wilt be.

Press on.  Your deliverance draweth nigh!!!

5 thoughts on “From Famine to Flood:The Niger River

  1. Horrible! We certainly pray for y’all and Niger and will continue to do so. These pictures speak thousands of words.
    Love y’all,
    Joe and Lenoir

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