A Reflection for Easter of 2019
The West African nation of Niger is a somewhat out-of-the-way place. It is one of the poorest of nations, and, sandwiched between the African powerhouse of Nigeria, and the sparsely populated Sahara desert, it is easily ignored. Yet it is still home to a variety of different tribal peoples, all struggling to make a living in an under-resourced place.
Some friends of mine have supervised a project over more than a decade that supports Nigeri pastor-evangelists, to establish mission points for the church in remote villages where the name of Jesus Christ is often unheard. The Ekibala project team recently hosted a pastors’ conference in Niamey the capital city. 45 pastors who are supported and mentored through the project came together for several days of worship, prayer and teaching. By now they will have returned to their villages to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, that pivotal event in human history which makes the good news of Jesus make sense. In some of the villages the church has provided the only well, the only source of clean water for the community. In others they have provided opportunities for literacy, and in others food assistance during hard times.
An initiative in Niger is testimony to the importance of investing, prayerfully and then practically into the ministry of preaching good news through word and deed to men and women everywhere. It serves to advance the Kingdom of God in one of the world’s remoter places; it serves as testimony to the enduring message of the Cross of Christ.
Over a century ago French missionaries were the foremost missionary presence in Niger, an area that was part of the French Empire in West Africa. But the church in France has gone through a transition over the last century. Many faithful and elderly saints in that nation will have wondered why there has been such a decline in attendance at the Catholic Mass; why so many now identify as Catholic atheists. At the same time there has been renewal in some traditional church communities, and the evangelical presence in France has grown.
Some of the same discouraged may well have been deeply saddened to see the Cathedral of Notre Dame burning last Monday night. Yet, somewhat spontaneously, hymns were being sung in the streets of the capital. Across the nation, the hearts of people who never normally gave a thought to religion, were turned at the thought of losing a symbol of French history, a building that has stood witness to momentous events from the hundred years war through the World Wars of the twentieth century until the recent street protests by the gilets jaunes. Some, I am sure were reminded of the enduring presence of the church, with all its mysteries, in the heart of the French nation. On Tuesday morning, interviewed on American television, Archbishop Timothy Dolan said: I am already praying for revival in France!
And then, emerging from the aftermath of the fire, images of the nave toward the high altar of the church. There for all to see, the cross of Christ, central to everything, enduring and lacking little of its golden lustre despite the smoke blackened and fallen timbers all around.
Throughout two millenia of human history, the Cross of Christ has been a dominant feature of our horizons. Christ continues to gently intrude into the life of a world that wants to ignore and reject him. May all who know and love Him continue to pray for the birth of the church in places where it is not yet physically present. Let us pray that the cross be held up high, and the resurrection power of Jesus, the conqueror of sin and death, be known among all peoples…. until He comes!