The old gentleman was insistent as we walked through the craft market. In fact he followed Dave and Jennifer Wright and myself for quite a while trying to persuade us to purchase his product – in this case a particular kind of ‘spiritual’ medicine. He had a small plastic bag with little black beads in it. Since my language and his language weren’t connecting he tried to demonstrate his product for me. He pulled out a piece of paper with writing on it that I recognized as Arabic — a bit unusual since Arabic is not an official language in Niger. He proceeded to show me that this was a page from the Quran, the Muslim holy book. He had copied a similar page in ink, then had painstakingly scraped the dried ink off the page and rolled the residue up into tiny little black beads that were to be ingested orally. This was the ‘medicine’ he was offering me. While I hesitated to make my purchase, others around me were definitely interested.
This little episode gives a glimpse into the cultural context of ministry in Niamey, Niger where the Wrights are settling into their church planting assignment. Although most Nigeriens would claim to be Muslims, this kind of ‘folk Islam’ as practiced by my ‘medicine man’ would be more typical of many in Niger. In this setting, where there are very few Christians, the work that David and Jennifer and their boys have to do, is really to just begin developing friendships with their neighbours.
In this city of almost 1 million people, the Wrights have moved into a newly developing neighbourhood near the north edge of the city. In Niamey there are few Christian churches and most have 40-60 people that worship together. There are no gatherings of Christians in the district (quartier) of the city where the Wrights live. During my time with the Wrights in December, we discussed the challenges of ‘starting from scratch’ to develop a gathering of new Jesus-followers.
In a recent posting on their blog [www.niameywrights.blogspot.com], Jennifer wrote: “One of the things that came out of that discussion falls under the acronym BELLS, which stands for Blessing, Eating, Listening, Learning and Sending. This is part of our weekly tasks, so for the “blessing” we are to find a way to bless one person within the church and one that is outside of the church each week; “eating” is similar, we are to eat a meal with a believer and a non-believer. With “listening” we are to spend a solid hour of time each week in listening/meditative prayer where the goal is to hear from God. “Learning” refers to an hour a week where you study God’s word with a small group or in a discipling relationship.
“Sending” isn’t quite what it sounds, but refers to the fact that when God sends us to do His work, He not only prepares us, but He goes before us. So by “sending”, we are to spend time journal writing each day in order to record where we have been seeing God at work. All of these become interrelated, so that our blessing, eating and learning are all directed by what we see God doing and what we are hearing him say to us. So you can be praying for us as we start to try to put some of these new disciplines in place in our lives and maybe you could try to put these disciplines in place in your lives and ministries too!”