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One of the Perks of Doctoral Studies

One of the perks of John's doctoral studies is getting to know pastors as he does case studies at local churches that use the Zarma/Songhai language in their services. When he identifies a church where he would like to do a case study, he visits the pastor and explains his thesis to him and obtains permission to come to the church, take notes and photographs in the service, and interview different members of the congregation.

Last year at this time we did a case study in a Baptist church of about 50-60 members and we enjoyed meeting regularly with them. This time we are at a much smaller Assemblies of God church of about 12-15 members.

In just a few weeks we’ve really grown to admire and respect the pastor of this church.

Pastor A___ is a Songhai man who grew up in the Sorko clan. Not only are the Sorko fishermen, but they also have certain spirit-world powers. They can reportedly walk under water where they can breathe for long periods of time and perform magical arts. He is also, on his mother’s side, from the Sohanci clan, the clan that are sorcerers of “good magic” (their explanation, not mine!). They know many incantations, etc. but say they are good because they use them to counteract "bad magic" and not to curse. Like other Songhai, A___ also grew up in a Mus[]m belief system.

Several years ago A___ worked for World Vision and was in a vehicle one day with a Christian man who, it happens, had attended our church in the village. This Christian man had a Koran in the car and A___ asked why, as a Christian, he had a Koran. Our friend explained that he likes to know what the Koran teaches so he can talk to Muslims about Jesus. “For example,” he asked A___, “Which teacher do you think is more powerful, Mohammed or Jesus? Mohammed has been dead for a long time and people visit his grave. But even the Koran says that Jesus is alive. So who is more powerful, the teacher who is dead or the teacher who is alive?” This really struck A___ and he kept thinking about it. He really understood that Jesus was the better teacher and chose to follow Jesus. He explained last Sunday in his sermon that following Jesus means giving up completely your past life. He gave an example of how he was at another church and his daughter was eating a fish. A fish bone got stuck in her throat. He knew the incantation for removing a fishbone and he had to choose…..would he revert back to the power he knew to save his daughter or would he rely on Jesus? He knew he had to completely give up his past and told the other pastors to pray to Jesus to remove the fishbone from her throat. After praying, she coughed it up and was fine!

Pastor A___ is one of the best Nigerien teachers we've ever heard.
The Assemblies of God usually have Sunday School before church (most churches here in Niger don’t do Sunday School). They have a manual to follow, but we've never seen him use it. Instead, he chooses a relevant topic, starts the class by asking a very thought-provoking question, and teaches from there. He keeps the class moving, he involves everybody, he never belittles when a wrong answer is given or even says it is wrong but simply and quietly turns to the Bible to show what Scripture teaches, and somehow keeps people from following “rabbit trails”. The last two Sundays he has taught on two very relevant topics: sorcery and money. He’s done it in a way that is very culturally relevant, he gives ways to apply the lesson, and he ends with everybody memorizing a verse together. He’s also a good preacher, but he really excels at teaching! He studies extensively and I call his chair and study books at the front of the church his "holy place".
Pastor A___ is one of many Nigerien men who, along with their wives and children, lead churches while barely earning enough to keep themselves alive. Many of them, such as A___, are extremely gifted. Some specific requests for Nigerien pastors are below because, as he said in the lesson this morning, the best way to destroy the church is to corrupt the pastor.

1. Pray that A___ and other pastors would not be corrupted by money, power, or sex, or by a pull back into their past lives of sorcery or [s]am.
2. Pray that God will bless their faithfulness in teaching and preaching and living simply.
3. Pray that as John observes in this church he will get some good interviews and information.

1. Praise God for Pastor A___ and others who serve faithfully under difficult situations. Praise God for their wives and children who serve alongside them.
2. Praise God for putting us in touch with this church and for the encouragement it has been to us personally.
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