[Note: Ask three people to participate in this program, as narrator, Mariama, and Mustapha.]
Narrator: How do you reach a country for Christ when almost no one in that country is a Christian and it is not legal to tell someone about Jesus? That is when Christians must seek ways to find spiritually hungry people. Sometimes the church has been able to enter such countries through medical work, or schools, or through the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA). Even governments that want nothing to do with Christianity welcome ADRA projects.
Niger [Nee-JAIR] is a nation of about 9 million people. The majority are Muslims. It is not legal to talk about Jesus or try to convert Muslims to Christianity. When people have tried, they have been put in jail, threatened with death, or ordered to leave the country.
But God has ways. Let’s visit an ADRA-sponsored school in Niger and talk with some young people who have found that Christ can make a difference in their lives.
As we enter the school we notice that the children are all older than 10. Many families do not send their older children to school, but keep them home to help the family earn money. So children who have not gone to school before their tenth birthday seldom learn to read or write. But at the ADRA school the emphasis is on teaching older children, and even parents how to read and write.
We see girls in this school. Many parents do not feel it is important for girls to learn to read. But at the ADRA school, girls are welcomed, and both they and the boys eagerly learn to read and write. They also learn good health habits and how to plan a proper diet. And they learn about Jesus.
Let’s meet one of these students. Her name is Mariama.* She is 14 years old.
Mariama: I’m so happy to attend the ADRA school! When I was 10 years old my mother arranged for me to marry a boy a few years older than I. I didn’t want to marry, and I told her so. She became very angry. If I married this boy my mother would receive money and gifts from the boy’s family. But my father understood and allowed me to refuse the marriage. He also supported me when I wanted to attend school. If it hadn’t been for my father and the ADRA school, I might never have had the chance to get an education.
Every week we listen to stories about Jesus. The teachers tell us that Jesus loves us and wants the best for us. They teach us songs and read stories about Jesus. I began attending Sabbath School so I could learn more. But when I told my family about Jesus, they weren’t happy! Sometimes I’ve been beaten because I want to be a Christian. Sometimes my mother makes me go to bed hungry to convince me to remain in our family’s religion. But I want to be faithful to Jesus. I still attend school and church, and I still try to tell my family that Jesus loves them too.
Mustapha: I am Mustapha [Mu-STAH-fa]. I am a 12-year-old boy. I too wanted to attend the ADRA school, but my father wouldn’t allow it. I wanted to learn so much that I began sneaking off to school. I stood outside the doors and listened.
One day the teacher discovered that I was coming to school against my father’s wishes. He talked with me for a long time, and I told him of my desire to learn. He decided to urge my father to permit me to enroll in this school. But my father, who is a strict Muslim, refused. Then a welfare worker convinced my father to allow me to enroll in the ADRA school. I was so happy! Now I can be in class without fearing that my father will be angry.
For several months I listened to the Bible stories and attended the special Sabbath services. Then one day the Bible teacher invited any student who wanted to become a Christian to stand up. I stood up. I wanted to be a Christian, just like my teacher!
Narrator: The teachers at the school that Mariama and Mustapha attend want every child to have a chance to learn. They want to teach the whole person—mentally. physically and spiritually—and to show the children and their families the love of God. They do this in an atmosphere that permits them to maintain their Islamic beliefs if they so choose.
Last year the Niger government gave the Adventist school an excellent piece of property so we can build a school for kindergarten and primary children. The land was given just weeks before the beginning of the school year, so only temporary classrooms were built, using native straw-thatched roofs. When school opened, 200 children registered!
By this school year two permanent brick buildings were ready, and 320 students enrolled. In addition, the school teaches older students, ages 10 to 20, to read.
The ADRA staff organized weekly afternoon programs for the older students. They include singing, handicrafts, and other projects, plus prayer and some religious instruction. At first some students resisted the religious exercises and prayer, but soon they asked their teachers to include prayer in their morning classes as well.
God is working quietly in the hearts of people in this Muslim country. Please pray for our workers and new believers and their families.
*Mariama and Mustapha are real people, but their names have been changed to protect them and our school. Riccardo Orsucci was the ADRA director and president of the Niger Mission Station at the time of this writing. Edwin Eisele worked in the Sahel Union Mission, located in Lome, Togo.