Batafadoua is a small village about an hour’s drive outside of Maradi in Niger. It’s not what I would call an impressive place. Like so many other rural villages, you wouldn’t notice it if you didn’t know where to look. Just a few mud brick houses amid the seemingly endless fields of millet that grow in the hot rainy season of the Sahel of West Africa.
I stopped there on a morning late in August with friends from our church partner, the Eglise Evangélique de la République du Niger (EERN), to visit Mantau Abara, an evangelist who lives there with his family. They have a few goats, an ox and some chickens. They live in a mud brick house they built themselves, a house whose walls become thinner every time it rains. Alongside others in his community, Manau Abara works the millet fields with his hands to raise crops to feed his family. There’s no running water. His daughter told us she walks an hour each day to fill plastic canisters with water and another hour to haul them back to the family house on a cart so the family can drink, cook and wash. Everybody there does the same thing. It takes grit and determination to live in a place like this.
What’s impressive about this place is the joy on the faces of the believers we met. And the fact that they have chosen to remain there as a significant minority in this largely Muslim area. Five families gather regularly for worship and fellowship in a one-room, cinder block building covered with mud where they sit on rough-cut benches without back supports. A rusty car wheel hanging in a tree with a stone sitting inside the rim serves as a church bell to call people to worship.
My initial response was to feel underwhelmed. One is tempted to pass over somewhere like this as a place of little or no significance. And then I remembered what the prophet Zechariah wrote when he asked, “Does anyone dare despise this day of small beginnings? They’ll change their tune when they see Zerubbabel setting the last stone in place!” (Zechariah 4:10, The Message). At a time when people are migrating to cities, where churches often grow more rapidly and flourish, followers of Jesus in Niger are not abandoning the rural areas. They remember their Shepherd who will leave the 99 sheep and go out in search of one lost sheep (Luke 15:1–7). People everywhere matter.
We visited a larger town where there is no congregation, but where one Christian family lives and will soon begin a new work. EERN purchased a piece of land on the outskirts of town for the construction of a building. The square plot was marked out by four car tires halfway buried in a millet field with the letters “EERN” painted on them.
A small congregation in rural Virginia is partnering with EERN to help with some of the expenses for the evangelist who will lead this future church. And EERN will continue to send out evangelists to more villages to share the Good News in other places around the country. Because Good News needs to be shared. With God’s help, our Nigerien friends have set in motion a plan to plant 52 new churches by the year 2020 in their nation where less than one percent of its people follow Jesus.
Is God calling you to join with them to help make this bold plan a reality? Look for Frontier Fellowship’s upcoming Christmas Gift Catalog for ways to support this emerging work in Niger.
—Donald Marsden, Associate Director