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Learning Faithful Faith from the Church in Niger

“And when [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convince the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment.” (John 16:8)

The Holy Spirit creates an amazing contrast for the world. He brings the dead back to life, and He replaces a sinful nature with the divine nature of Jesus Christ. Because of His presence in a believer’s life, righteousness is available–a righteousness that makes little sense to the world (John 16:9-11).

When Islamist radicals burned down nearly 50 Christian-affiliated buildings and numerous homes in Niger, faithful Christ-followers responded by lovingly caring for the same communities that had just destroyed their homes. Believers brought food and provisions to hospitals and prisons, faithfully serving the Lord despite the difficulties they faced at now charred homes.

What an amazing contrast. What a powerful demonstration of the Holy Spirit.

It’s been over six years since that rash of violence towards Christians in January 2015, but Nigerien[1] Christians haven’t forgotten the lessons they learned that day. God’s love and grace remain the primary fixtures of their rebuilt homes.

His enduring promises and faithful Spirit inspire them to stand for Christ, fearless and joyful.

Here’s a short story from a believer in Niger.

“We talked with a man who fell in love with who Jesus is, and as he was deciding to be baptized, we warned that there can be difficulties following Christ. He said, ‘God is on my side now, whom do I have to fear?’ He and his wife continue to remain faithful and share the Gospel with many around them.”

As Jesus promised in Acts 1:8, when the Holy Spirit descends upon believers, the world will hear about Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit continues His work today, and the Nigerien church continues to humbly serve, responding faithfully to the Spirit’s call.

Niger, not to be confused with Nigeria, is a majority Muslim nation located near the middle of Africa’s northern half. Its traditional animistic roots have blended with folk Islam to create a culture that is steeped in charm use and rigid conformity to Islamic beliefs. For most of the country, Islam is the only belief system; nothing else makes sense.

As such, Christians are socially ostracized.

Physical persecution isn’t normal, but as the riots in 2015 showed, there is an innate disdain for Christian culture and beliefs. Christianity is perceived as a threat and a lesser lifestyle. While physical persecution might not be rampant, the burden of being a social outcast can weigh extremely heavily on Christian families. Nigeriens are fiercely community driven and based. So, standing for Christ in a community of Muslims means risking access to basic life necessities.

Many converts revert back to Islam because societal pressures are so stringent. The missionary interviewed for this article suggested that children are likely taught to look down on Christians. So, as societal pressures mount, more and more events like the 2015 riots might be brimming on the surface. The traditional culture instills a deep fear and distrust of anything outside societal norms. And a vocal and resilient Christian culture presents a growing target for fearful Muslims.

On the back of six years fraught with tension and the cusp of growing resentment, Nigerien Christians meditate on Scripture and seek to prepare future generations for the difficulties to come.

The missionary relayed the story of a local pastor who’d been in the midst of the 2015 riots.

The church’s building had been attacked, and the pastor’s phone and computer had been burned. His wife and children had no way to contact him and were understandably worried. When the family was finally reunited, the pastor sat his children down saying, “I’m okay. Everything’s fine. But I want you to know that someday I might not come home, and it will be okay, too. As Christians, someday something might happen to us, but it will be okay. We suffer for His name.”

The missionary had this to say: “It struck a chord with us as we rarely think to prepare our children for a situation that might be difficult like that regarding our lives as Christians. To me, it showed the difference in perspective that we have.”

It is an important conversation, one many of us have likely not had. In a world fractured by sin, disease and death have cut more than a few lives short, often leading remaining family members to ask questions like: “Why would God allow this to happen?”

One Nigerien pastor references Jeremiah 33:3:

“Ask me and I will tell you some remarkable secrets about what is going to happen here.”

The pastor takes courage from this verse in knowing that we often have no idea why things are happening, but we know that “God is doing great and mighty things.”

But without a genuine faith, these passages can fall on deaf ears.

The truth is that Christians need to prepare their children for a life dependent on Christ, not parents. A parent’s faith cannot save the child; it can inspire and cultivate, but ultimately it boils down to an individual’s relationship with Jesus. If the expectation of the Christian faith is that the world will hate Jesus and His followers, then believers need to be prepared to suffer and die at any time. This means that if a parent has work to do, it’s best to do it now.

The Christian faith is built on intentionality.

A believer chooses to follow Jesus daily (Luke 9:23). A good parent doesn’t take a day off from being a parent. A Christian doesn’t take a day off from being a Christian, so a Christian parent shouldn’t take a day off from being a Christian parent.

The wonderful part of serving Jesus Christ is that He is inexorably faithful. God pursues each child with the same jealous love that allowed Jesus to die for humanity’s sins. God so loved. God so loves. Each child is fearfully and wonderfully made, dearly loved by God Almighty. He is faithful to His children. The onus of salvation is not on a parent. God has already carried the burden, but He has entrusted parents to train up a child in the way that he/she should go (Prov. 22:6). It is an important task, one that no one should put off.

Does your child know that you love Jesus enough to die for Him?

Does your child know why you love Jesus enough to die for Him?

There are a couple practical insights the missionary shared which helps with this thought. And, of course, they carry over to any new believers.

Firstly, the missionary said that they don’t push new believers into “church.”

They encourage believers to study Scripture with friends and family. For Nigeriens this mitigates some of the social dangers. But it also brings to mind the idea that a parent or “spiritual parent” is a primary source of teaching.

In our church experience, many children get dropped off at youth groups and VBS to learn what they need to know about Jesus. But God might remain simply a dinner time topic or bedtime routine at home. The intentional work and insight of close friends and family can’t go understated. Praise God that He provided the church to supplement that growth when families and friends fall short, but the earnest instruction of parents is important to God and should be honored (Deut. 6:4-9).

Secondly, the missionary said they answer questions and encourage believers with specific Scriptures.

After all, “the grass withers and the flowers fade, but the Word of our God stands forever” (Is. 40:8).

Long after our witty phrases and clever comments have receded into distant memory, God’s Word will remain. If Christians could impart one element of wisdom, shouldn’t it be the Word of God? What else has the power to teach us who we are and what we should do (Heb. 4:12, 2 Tim. 3:16)? Faith isn’t about family mottos; it’s about relying on the Word of God.

For a final look at our Nigerien brethren, I want to revisit the 2015 riots and a teaching that seems to be reiterated with every conversation I have with global believers: the expectation of suffering.

The missionary told this story about the Nigerien church: “As the Christians met the Sunday after the attack in someone’s home, the pastor was ‘rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name’ (Acts. 5:41). He said, ‘We can be thankful. Jesus told us this would happen. They didn’t attack us because we are thieves or did something wrong. They attacked us because we are Christians, because of Jesus, and Jesus told us this would happen.’ It was wonderful to see such a biblical response and to see him encouraging the believers to take heart.”

In a not-so-coincidental conclusion, look at the encouragement in 1 Peter 4:12-19 for believers who suffer fiery trials:

“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad–because these trials will make you partners with Christ in his suffering, and afterward you will have the wonderful joy of sharing his glory when it is displayed to all the world. Be happy if you are insulted for being a Christian, for then the glorious Spirit of God will come upon you. If you suffer, however, it must not be for murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs. But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his wonderful name! For the time has come for judgement, and it must begin first among God’s own children. And if even we Christians must be judged, what terrible fate awaits those who have never believed God’s Good News. And ‘If the righteous are barely saved, what chance will the godless and sinners have?’ So if you are suffering according to God’s will, keep on doing what is right, and trust yourself to the God who made you, for he will never fail you.”

A concluding thought from our brothers and sisters in Christ in Niger: “If we don’t have persecution it is difficult to grow in our faith. Persecution contributes in a big way to our spiritual growth. Just like metals have to be put into the fire, our faith is refined by fire.”

Should the moments come that we need to suffer dishonor for Jesus Christ, may we be ready to rejoice in the Lord. May the Holy Spirit fill us with His love as He convinces the world of its sin and God’s righteousness. May we rely on God and diligently prepare others for the final day when they stand before Jesus Christ. Glory to God.

Just like metals have to be put into the fire, our faith is refined by fire.

[1] Nigerien refers to Niger, whereas Nigerian refers to Nigeria. 

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