The year was 1992 when we first moved to the town we called home for the next 16 years. We were there to do church planting among the Songhai people. A year or so into our time there, missionaries in the capital city told us about some young men who were from a village near where we lived who had come to Niamey and who had become believers. They asked if there was any way we could follow up on them.
We did hesitate a bit and prayed about it because our focus was the Songhai people and these men were Gourma. But when God opens a door of opportunity, even if it isn't a door you were knocking on, you need to walk through it. It almost sounds silly now, because the goal is to win those who are living and dying without having heard the good news of Jesus Christ, no matter what their ethnic group! And it turned out, they spoke Songhai amongst themselves as much as Gourmantchema, so it never involved us learning yet another language.
So every week until the time we left, John headed down the road to the next village to have a Bible study with the men who had become believers and with others who soon joined them. It's not a large village and the group has always been small, but they have been faithful. We also went for quite awhile on Sunday mornings until a church started in the town where we lived. We spent Christmas and Easters in with the believers in this little village and later we would bring them into our town for a joint celebration.
They erected their own church building and we helped them in only minor ways with that. At one point the church roof collapsed and we brought an outreach team from Sahel Academy to help them repair it. Now one of the walls has fallen in and it's not safe to use any more.
When we moved to Niamey, we asked our church in Niamey if they could help follow up with the church in this town. They joined that denomination and our church had a pastor who went up every weekend for three years. In the meantime, they trained another young man and a few weeks ago we got to go up with others from our church for his installation as pastor. (I apologize for the quality of some of these pictures, but we were looking into the sun.)
We had some introductory remarks by our missions pastor and then our pastor. The tall young man who is translating in many of these pictures is somebody John really dsicipled and mentored, truly a spiritual son.)
The church members sang in Gourma. The Gourmas really know how to sing!
John preached in Songhai on being a shepherd.
The pastor who came up every weekend for three years gave some remarks to the new pastor and his wife.
The new pastor and his wife came to the front and were given their charge as pastor and then prayed over.
He was given a pastoral Bible in Zarma. Even though the church members are all Gourma they use the Bible in Zarma, a close dialect of Songhai.
The mayor came up and gave some remarks. He said that even though he's not a Christian, he appreciates the work that Christians and churches do in Niger and gave some examples.
And then we had food together. Our church had brought drinks and sandwiches, and the church in the village had made a big meal of rice with a meat sauce.
And, of course, wherever there are a group of people, especially if there is food, the children gather!
John poured so much of his time and his life into this group of believers. Growing a church is so much like growing your family. There are times when you are so frustrated with their slow growth. He literally cried tears and poured buckets of sweat on their behalf. There was probably some blood shed, too, though not his ... just midnight "ambulance" runs. And then there are times when he would look at them with parental pride, realizing that they were getting it. This dedication was one of those times. All these years later, and even though they struggle still, they are standing firm. While we didn't personally disciple this pastor, it good to see the group going forward.
Please pray for the pastor. (If you want to know his name, let me know in an email message.) He is still young and inexperienced. He won't earn much salary, if any. The church members are related and inter-related in complicated ways that have to be considered in inter-personal relationships. Pray for him to have a vision for the area around their village and to really reach out in evangelistic ways. Pray that God will use this group to reach the Songhai and other people groups in the area in ways that we never could.