I was recently able to enjoy some time in one of Niger’s national parks. It was filled with beauty. Sitting on my cabin’s porch overlooking the river winding by, exotic birds singing in the trees, and far off elephants calling to each other, I breathed in the beauty of God’s creation.
On the way back home, my eyes fluttered past quite a different scene of Niger. Dust so thick you can’t see the hot sun rolled across barren plains, dotted with crumbling mud-brick villages, withering plants, animals, and people. The contrast was stark: lithe gazelles and scrawny cattle, proud warthogs and spotted goats, majestic elephants and burdened camels, varnished wood cabins and tattered tents.
The particularly poignant moment was when my sleepy eyes met eyes of a young girl asking for coins. The contrast between my childhood memories and her reality haunted my mind as I slipped in and out of restless naps along the road back to Niamey. Disney princesses and young girls having babies, play dates and forced marriage, dress up in my mom’s high heels and wedding dresses too big for a girl, finger painted drawings and hand pound millet, comfort in my mother’s arms and deadly uncertainty of tomorrow.
As we passed more people, I wondered what their lives were like. Do children have the ability to dream and hope? How do hopes, loves, and dreams survive in this weary land? Where is God’s beauty now?
I know the statistics that put the tragedy around me into numbers—the ones that say 76 percent of Nigerien girls are married by the time they are 18. Instead of having crushes on boys, 13-year-old Nigerien girls are married to 30-year-old men. On average, girls here can expect to be pregnant around 14 times, with only seven of their babies surviving. What voice do rural women have to tell these stories when only 9 percent are literate? Has the rest of the world, and God, forgotten these muted voices in such chaotic crises?
In one of the local languages of Niger, “kano” means good news. Kano is also a 75-year-old Nigerien lady I’ve met during my time here. One afternoon, she answered some of my questions as she told her story. The beginning threads of Kano’s story seem to be lost in the thousands of others just like hers. Her mother had lost many children before her. She was a prized hope for her parents. Poverty and social norms forced her father to wed her to an elderly man in the village when she was 13 without her consent. She ran away, but her family forced her back.
But there is a thread that sticks out from the rest. Kano’s grandmother took her in and sheltered her. With her grandmother’s help, Kano pursued justice in the courts. The judge ruled in favor of Kano, and the marriage was annulled. Kano pursued mercy and forgiveness with her family. Love was restored!
Throughout her life, Kano faced many other difficult challenges, from abandonment to abuse and exploitation. Yet she continues to show grace, forgiveness, mercy, and love to those who hurt her. Kano gives all glory to God. He hasn’t forgotten her. He hasn’t forgotten any of the children He so lovingly created.
It’s beautiful to witness grace and mercy win. It’s beautiful to hear steadfast hope in the hearts of women and children. It’s beautiful to know God’s love is forever deeper and stronger for the people of Niger than anything I can understand. While I have witnessed many hardships and troubles during my time in Niger, God has known these all along.
It’s an incredible privilege to be invited to see and experience God’s heart for the people here. God is here, and He mightily loves the people here and around the world. Kano, my colleagues, the Nigerien churches, and I have a wonderful opportunity to share this love, through our words and deeds, as we seek to meet people’s physical and spiritual needs.
The Samaritan’s Purse internship program is an opportunity for college students and recent graduates to use their skills to impact the world in a tangible way. Find out more here.