Brittany Breedlove is the program development officer in the Samaritan’s Purse Niger office.
In Niger, West Africa, there is a unique backdrop for outreach and ministry. Islam is the predominant religion. According to the Joshua Project, only 0.5 percent of the population is Christian and 0.14 percent is evangelical. Yet religious freedom and tolerance is widely respected, and the majority of the population is open and hospitable toward Christians. Many people in rural villages have never heard about Jesus and are often curious to know more.
In most rural settings, the population works hard all day conducting strenuous and labor-intensive work to try to provide for their families with the little resources that they have. There are few options for entertainment, technology, television (or even electricity), or leisure that would provide an opportunity to relax or have fun at the end of a long day. Thus Samaritan’s Purse decided to use various forms of entertainment through a traveling ministry group to share the Gospel in 20 rural villages in Niger.
The ministry group is composed of eight Christian actors and evangelists. The group typically spends three days in a given village visiting households and leaders during the day and showing Christian films and conducting short dramas after sunset. The group has established a total of 10 different dramas, each of which are approximately 15 minutes long and cover important social issues while sharing about the love of Jesus.
I recently had the privilege to witness the group in action as it performed three different dramas titled The Love of Money, The Delinquent, and Rural Migration. The Love of Money warned of pursuing worldly things and money at any cost and emphasized the eternal importance of spiritual wealth. The Delinquent was an adapted version of the story of the Prodigal Son from Luke chapter 15, and Rural Migration provided ideas for generating income within a village instead of young men migrating to larger towns and neighboring countries each year in search of money.
On average, more than 500 people have attended each film screening and drama performance, and many more watch and listen from within their homes. For the most part, the group has been well received, and communities have watched the performances with enthusiasm. After each performance, the group makes it a priority to follow-up with those who attended; they share the Gospel, pray with people, and and connect those who are interested with local Christians when possible.
As an answer to our prayers, a handful of new believers have emerged, and miraculous healings have happened through this project. After the drama performances that I was able to attend, a spectator named Ali* came forward. Ali introduced himself as a 24-year-old fisherman who is married with one child. He expressed his appreciation and admiration of the dramas and explained that he had been present for all three dramas that were performed that day.
“I really learned a lot through these dramas and have been exposed to a new way of thinking about certain things,” he said. “I learned many lessons that I can now teach other people about. What touched me the most was the change that the delinquent son experienced in his life when he came to know Jesus. This change really pleased me; if my son became a delinquent, I would want someone to impact and change his life in the same way.”
Later that day, Ali came to find the ministry group in the village. He said that he wanted to know more about Jesus. The group gave Ali a New Testament and led him through the essential components of faith: God’s love, sin/separation from God, Jesus’ death and resurrection, and repentance and faith. The group then prayed with Ali, invited him to come back the next day to study again, and introduced him to a nearby pastor.
While the group members have experienced many rewarding victories such as this one, their journey has not been without obstacles. Spiritual warfare is real in these settings and has been something that the group has had to fight and pray against every day. Although most people are open and receptive to the group’s message, there has been some opposition.
Despite village elders originally consenting to the ministry group’s activities, upon their arrival in a few villages, the group was forbidden from showing Christian films or performing dramas. In one instance, a gang of young men broke some of the group’s equipment and threw sand at them in an attempt to chase them from the village.
Opposition can be even more intense for those who have shown too much interest in Christianity or converted. New believers are almost never physically harmed or threatened, but they face fierce persecution in the form of being disowned by their family and peers. This is a serious consequence in a society where individuals are dependent on the entire family and community for survival.
All of these issues linger in the ministry group’s minds, but they have continued to press forward. What has moved me the most about the members of this group is their courage, determination, fearlessness, and, especially, their faith. These are men who have willingly chosen to leave behind comfortable lives to travel from one rural village to another sharing the love of Jesus with their fellow citizens. They are respected men (pastors, church leaders, educators, fathers, husbands, etc.) who have humbled themselves and become vulnerable before complete strangers.
Sometimes people don’t show up for the drama performances, sometimes people laugh at them, and sometimes people insult them. None of this has stopped the ministry group from continuing their mission or from losing their joy. Even if just a handful of small children gathers for a drama performance, these men will still put on their costumes, sing praise and worship songs, and share the Gospel with the best attitudes.
It has taught me a valuable lesson about not growing discouraged in difficult situations but rather focusing on the calling that we have received from God and continuing with the right attitude. God will take care of all of the rest and claim His victory in the end, just as He is doing through this project.
*Name changed for security