As many of you know, especially those who follow me on Facebook, I recently got back from a trip to Niger, Africa. This missions trip was twenty years in the making. It has taken me awhile to write about it because life has been crazy since I have been back. I also wanted to read what I wrote at church before I put it on my blog. And a very cool side note is our local newspaper did a feature on my trip.
Niger is in Western Africa. It is consistently ranked 176 out of 177 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index. Life expectancy at birth is 46 years. There is a 15% literacy rate and has the highest birth rate in the world. To say Niger is poor is an understatement. It is also 96% Muslim. Niger is a hard country. Nothing glamorous about it.
Nigeriens do not display much emotion. To cry is a sign of weakness. But they are an incredibly kind and generous people. And beautiful.
The whole time I was in Niger, I think I cried only once or twice. I honestly believe it was the grace of God. Those who know me, know I tear up. A lot. I say all of this to preface my journal entry from the trip home. This is what I wrote on the plane ride home:
We are in the middle of our 32 hour trip home. The flight from Niamey to Istanbul was great. I had no one in my row once we left Mali and I was able to get some sleep. It pays to be short on an airplane 🙂 I am sitting on our 12 hour flight from Istanbul to Dulles. As soon as I sat down in my seat, I started bawling. I have not cried the whole time in Niger – I have no idea why I am crying…are they happy tears? Sad tears? A release? I have no idea but it is so overwhelming , I can barely keep it together.
Yesterday before we left, we stopped at a market to get gifts. I hate bartering. I’m not good at it.
We stopped at Zachary’s house on the way back to Cure. Zachary is a young man who converted from Islam to Christianity. Pastor Ali has been discipling him and he was with us for our whole trip, driving and watching over us. His whole family disowned him due to this decision. Last time Scott came, he stopped over Zachary’s Gran Family’s house and helped start the process of reconciliation. This time they brought the whole family together and asked Scott to preach the Gospel to them. They have seen the transformation in Zachary’s life. Each man of the family sat in a chair and received prayer. It was so incredibly powerful. It amazes me that our presence brings influence. Simply showing up changes lives. The same thing happened at David’s house during our first few days here in Niger.
We went back to Cure and thanked our Nigerien part of the team. We then went and rode camels on a sand dune in the sub Sahara. I still don’t know where Pastor Ali and Scott found 18 camels. There is nothing touristy about Niger. It was a neat experience though I had never even ridden a horse before. The Camel scared me and the fact I could not communicate with my helper did not help matters. But I survived.
When we got back to Cure to shower and get ready to head to the airport, our Nigerien brothers presented us with personalized necklaces of Niger with our names on them. It so touched me, knowing the hardship and poverty they face and they presented us with a gift. And I am headed back to a life of leisure.
Even as I write this I am bawling.
Crying over all I have seen and how inadequate and ineffective I feel and selfish. I want to see many come to Christ and see lives transformed but haven’t been holding up my end of the bargain with prayer.
I want to spend my life for you, Jesus. I just don’t know what that looks like for me. I know I am doing some good things for the Kingdom of God but I want to do more. I need you to speak to me, Lord.
I am crying again. We ate dinner just a little bit ago on the plane and I went to sleep afterwards with worship music playing in my ear. When I woke up, the Lord showed me a picture of me sitting at His feet, my head on His lap. And He asked me, “Heidi, tell me what you saw in Niger.”
(This is what I read Sunday in Church.)
I saw extreme poverty. I saw an oppression so strong you could physically feel it. I saw a hard way of life. I saw a people living in filth. I saw children malnourished. I saw a nation not able to read or write. I saw a nation of women who have no value. I saw a nation with very few older men and women. I saw a land so hard, the people reflect it. I saw very little emotion. I saw how Islam is crushing people, giving them very little choice on how to live. I saw demonic oppression. I saw the reality of Heaven and Hell.
But I also saw hope. And Jesus moving in real and powerful ways. I saw a people who are incredibly kind. I saw a neighborhood opened to the Gospel simply because of our presence.
I saw a Muslim family ask for the Gospel to be preached. I saw God open the door for Scott to preach the Gospel on national television in Niger. I saw a generosity in a multitude of people giving out of nothing.
I saw hope and glimpses of joy. I saw passion and drive. I saw every person’s name being taken for follow-up. I saw demons cast out. I saw the Gospel on the move.
I saw a people willing to die for a cause bigger than themselves.
I saw a group of 18 people who would have never met in America — from all generations, genders and walks of life come together for the cause of Christ. I saw them putting themselves in hardship and others before themselves — all for the Gospel. I saw people taking smaller portions to ensure everyone had enough to eat. I saw a well fixed and a neighborhood blessed and children ecstatic for clean drinking water.
I saw a civility and genuine kindness during a car accident. I saw an incredibly unselfish culture.
I saw a man in a tree church healed of a scorpion bite. I saw a blind man receive his sight.
I saw a little girl who never walked before, walk.
I saw that Jesus is working all around the world.
I saw Jesus is still calling people from every tongue and tribe and nation to go into all the world. And we are still our brother’s keepers.
I saw Jesus is not confined to American borders. And that fear has no place in answering the call to follow Jesus.
Love Really Does Win!
What do I do with all of this? How do I respond, Jesus?
Tell people what you saw, what I am doing and I want to do it in their lives as well. Tell others. Don’t be ashamed or afraid about what I can do.
I know I am not done in Niger. The country and people are such a part of my heart. There is a lot of work to be done. Practical ways in which to show the love of Christ. Ways in which we can partner with them to bring a Gospel that is good news to the body, soul, and spirit. A dear friend and mentor of mine says ” you cannot say something is life changing until after 6 months have passed.” And she is correct. We say a lot of things in the heat of the moment. But hopefully on May 15th, 2016 my actions will show my life has been forever changed by my time in Niger. I really want to be a part of God’s dream for Niger.