This past week has been difficult. Very difficult indeed. Last Saturday in about six hours, around 58 churches were burned in Niamey alone. Churches were burned in two other cities and attempts were made in some other places. John just told me that of the 12 churches in Niamey that we have visited this past year as part of his research, nine of them were burned on Saturday.
SIM has been working hard all week to set up a project to provide relief to those who lost their homes and to help rebuild the SIM-related churches. I know other missions and aid organizations are doing similar things. If you are from the USA and would like to help out please click here and mention "Niger Persecution Relief Project #97308". If you live outside the USA and would like to help, please click here for information on a SIM office in your country.
Rather than doing a separate blog about last Saturday's events, I'm going to show you some pictures I took at two different local churches/pastor's homes contrasted with my thankfulness picture. As I said last week, let's not take the little things for granted, but chose to be deliberately thankful!
Monday--This smoldering pile of ashes was once Bibles and books from a Pastor's Book Set. For those of us who can get books readily and often for a reasonable price, we tend to take books for granted. But religious books in French are hard to come by and with generous gifts from many, SIM Niger has been able to do several Pastor's Book Set projects in which pastors paid a minimal fee to get a full set of study books. Many of the pastors lost their libraries, as well as all the Bibles in the church. So today I want to remember to be thankful for books.
Obviously we have a lot of books for which to be thankful! There are more shelves in John's office/guest room.
Tuesday--This was once a church leader's home. Their belongings were stolen, vandalized, burnt. The wife and one of the children were gone from home. The husband had only minutes to put his other two children on his motorcycle to escape to safety.
Wednesday--So many Bibles were ripped up and burned.
I'm thankful for my Bible.
One thing that has come out of this is the way certain passages have deepened in meaning for me, and for that I'm thankful...I'm praying through the book of Philippians, for example.
Thursday...Qui est Jesus? Who is Jesus? I've thought a lot about Isaiah 61:1-4 this week:
"The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion--to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.
Who is Jesus? He answered that question in Luke 4:14-21. I'm so thankful that He's the one who gives beauty for ashes, gladness instead of mourning, praise instead of a spirit of despair. He is the one who is building His church and we don't need physical buildings to worship Him!
Friday...My husband, John, pictured here surveying the damage at one of the churches. 25 years he helped start one of the churches that burned. Our hearts are lives are in Niger and this has been a painful week in many ways. I'm so glad I've had him at my side this week. He feels this deeply, but I'm thankful for his heart of love and compassion for this country, for people of both religions.
As I hung clothes on the line on Saturday, I was reminded to be thankful that I have clothes. I'm also thankful for the way other Christians are donating clothes, kitchen equipment, bedding, and household items to those who lost everything.
Sunday-- Over 60 churches burned or damaged in some way. Somehow our church escaped. But today we had only a few lights at the front, a make-shift podium, a jembe and a guitar for music, no sound system, and no fans. We chose to worship simply out of respect for those who lost so much. I'm so thankful for the Church....the family of God.