On the edge of the Sahara Desert, church growth and discipleship strategies come down to one simple command: Stay alive.
The sub-Saharan African country of Niger is one of the poorest in the world. And with Christians making up less than 1 percent of the population, the survival of each congregation is a constant concern. Unpredictable rain patterns threaten what meager crops are grown. For Nigerien church leaders, "Give us this day our daily bread" is not just a metaphor.
"You find, even within church leadership, the statement, 'Yes, God has called us. We are ministering for God. But how do we survive?'?" said Gaston Slanwa, a Cameroonian who trains church leaders in Niger. "That is the question that comes up most often."
"We have a proverb in our language: 'If somebody promises to give you a shirt, look what he is wearing,'?" said Nouhou Abdou Magawata, a local Christian who works with a Summer Institute of Linguistics program in Niamey, Niger's capital. "If what he is wearing is good, then you think of him as being able to give you a shirt. If he is in rags, you won't believe him. That is the situation we face. If you are preaching a God of love, but your God does not love you enough to give you enough to eat, what do you tell people?"
How can Christians preach a God of love in a country in which one of every five children dies before his first birthday and citizens routinely face deadly food shortages? Niger's Christian leaders invest much hope and effort into what they call a "two-handed" approach, fulfilling material needs with one hand and sharing the gospel with the other.
"We don't want to just throw food ...