Feature

Walking and Talking with the Poor

By

She pounds her chest and then claps as a smile breaks across her face. “Jesus the Savior, oh, how sweet is His name,” she whispers, recognizing the depth of His love for her. As I sit on a patterned mat under a blanket of stars, my vision blurs from tears filling my eyes. After years of sowing into dry soil, I see glimpses of heaven breaking through and seeds of faith sprouting.

These children attend a weekend school because they do not have a government school in their area. Kristi and Megan are completing the paperwork to apply for a government school and hope that this will become a reality for these eager kids next year. (Photo by Mark Reuber)

Hope* is one of several in this village who has listened to the stories of redemption and responded with joy and attentiveness. After years of Alliance workers building into this community with service, prayer, and perseverance, I’m seeing hints of fruit as hearts open to the good news.

Consistently ranking among the least-developed nations according to the UN Human Development Index, Niger’s desolate climate and frequent famines compound and exacerbate existing challenges. These difficulties include “limited arable land, widespread illiteracy, and agricultural vulnerability.” With these kinds of obstacles facing the country, it’s not surprising that two-thirds of the population live on less than a dollar a day and struggle to meet their basic needs, according to borgenproject.org.

Daily life here is many things. Some days pass by slowly as my Canadian colleague, Kristi, and I spend hours sitting cross-legged on the floor of a thatched hut to comfort and bestow blessing upon hurting friends. The laughter of children pierces through thin walls as life continues amidst the all too familiar death of a parent or sibling. The sound of goats bleating and chickens squabbling punctuates the formal conversation, reminding those inside the hut of the daily demands of subsistence farming.

Sometimes life in this place smells like the stench of crowds of people waiting at an understaffed clinic to receive a diagnosis for a condition that may be untreatable due to limited resources, medical expertise, and equipment.

Life here often tastes of steaming clumps of sauce-laden rice gathered from a common plate while celebrating a birth or a marriage.

Outwardly, life here feels like dust in every crevice and calloused feet. But inwardly it feels like mounting frustration at the pervasive ignorance and poverty that entangle so many in a web of limited options and dead ends. In this place, fatalism is the most practical friend.

Tangible Love

CAMA’s presence in this part of the Sahel, the semi-arid band that stretches across western and north-central Africa, aims to join God at work to see these lives transformed by His Spirit. We are agents of holistic transformation. This development work seeks “to see material, social, and spiritual transformation,” as proposed by Bryant Myers in his book, Walking with the Poor.

Megan (left) and Kristi (right) teach a Village Savings and Loans (VSL) group. (Photo by Joel Witwer)

Poverty is often the result of broken relationships that disempower and oppress. As I relationally build into this community, I invite people to also sit at the table and enter a relationship with the One who reconciles, restores, and renews. Without extending arms practically into the community to model this kind of love, my words are merely clashing cymbals. God’s love tangibly displayed softens hearts toward the message.

The priorities of this development work grew out of the felt needs and assets of this rural community based on an initial baseline survey. The community identified five target areas to focus upon: health, education, agriculture and animal husbandry, water and sanitation, and community morals. The idea of community morals was embraced by the village, and the chief affirmed it as he welcomed Kristi’s teaching to address both physical and spiritual health. Since joining her, I have learned from her example of pouring into local leaders who can then educate and equip others.

Real Hope

Four years ago, Kristi began facilitating Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) among the women in the area; this provides them with an organized means to save and loan money to one another. Within this gathering, the women accumulate and share funds to invest into their families and small businesses. These associations provide opportunities for women who are otherwise unlikely to ever step inside a bank.

Odina received a $10 loan and began a small corn flour business. (Photo by Megan Reuber)

After Kristi trained the chief’s son in the program, more than 200 women participated in VSLAs this year. Now these women can make investments that strengthen their livelihoods by saving for their families’ futures. And more importantly, we are building trust and dreaming together as hope becomes real.

Odina* is one of several women whose life has been impacted by the VSLA. After taking out a $10 loan, she began a small corn flour business. She invested her loan into a 50-kilo sack of corn and took it to the mill to grind into flour to sell in her neighborhood. Women like Odina now have extra money to purchase medicine for sick family members and feed for animals as well as send money to relatives.

Each year, the savings association ends with dancing and celebrating. These women now have a simple way to care for and support their families as they bestow dignity upon one another.

This year I raised funds to invest in a flour mill project that will strengthen and give back to one of the more isolated areas of the village. After saving for more than a year, the community of roughly 50 men, women, and children contributed $200 toward a new flour mill we purchased in the market. A local mechanic installed it near one of the family’s huts. It is for anyone to use and should serve more than 200 people in the surrounding area.

This flour mill will provide this extended family and their neighbors with a source of income and a way to lighten the physical burden of pounding their food. In turn, they’ll have extra income and energy for other activities.

Inside Out

CAMA’s work in this region is bringing the deeper work of transformation among those impacted by our projects and the good news. The projects validate the truth of the message of change we bring. The community development work serves the village and tells its people, “We are with you in your suffering. We see you because God sees you.” And because of this, they have been drawn to the Person that motivates the work.

Kristi hired the village cheif's son, who is a teacher in the city, to teach 50-plus kids in this building on the weekends. (Photo by Mark Reuber)

Over the years, some community members have observed that this voice is worth listening to—and they are asking to hear more.

“You have always brought us truth through your work,” Moise* said as he heard about the Savior, Jesus. He continued, “Then this must also be truth.”

Moise was the first in his family to follow Jesus after coming to hear God’s Word. When Kristi and I stay overnight in the village, a small group comes to our house regularly to listen to Bible stories in the evenings. I have also used henna to visually share God’s Word with women.

Through years of development work and through sharing God’s Word, we proclaim the fullness of God’s will—Christ! He brings the kind of abundant life that changes the community from the inside out. And hearts are responding.

The needs are limitless. Thankfully, we are not the Savior of the story. God is writing His story. And our role is simply to add a few more lines to the page.

*Names changed

Team Timeline

2001

The Canadian C&MA brings Christ’s presence to Niger through their relief and development work focused on unreached, nomadic people groups.

2008

A chief’s son asks for relief aid when many villagers suddenly lose their homes due to new government regulations. The mission extends into his community and begins development work in the areas of education, water and sanitation, health, agriculture and animal husbandry, and microenterprise alongside sharing God’s Word.

2016

A new partnership starts between CAMA and the Canadian Alliance to further this work together.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Past Alliance Life Issues


Share

Get Involved...

Pray.

We cannot “Live the Call Together” unless prayer is central to all we do.
Pray with us »

Serve.

Is God calling you to service? We’re here to help you connect your passion with God’s purpose.
Serve with The Alliance »

Give.

Help build Christ’s Church by supporting the ministry and workers of The Alliance.
Give today »