The Republic of Niger takes its name from the Niger River that flows close to its south-western boundary. Niger is a large land-locked country in the centre of the Sahara Desert in north Africa. Large numbers of people once lived here after Noah’s Flood when the Sahara was much wetter than it is today. In recorded history it’s infrequent waterholes provided stopover points in the north-south trade between Berber and Arab peoples to the north and the African Negroid peoples to the south of the desert for thousands of years. This trade eventually brought Islam to regions south of the Sahara.
In the 7th century, Songhai tribes settled down north of modern-day Niamey, which is now the capital of Niger and from then until the 17th Century the southern parts of Niger were dominated by the powerful Songhai Empire. The Songhai Empire prospered greatly and managed to maintain peace with its neighbouring empires including the Mali Empire. From the middle of the 15th to the late 16th Century, Songhai was one of the largest Islamic empires in history. In time it gave way to the Hausa kingdom and they remains the largest ethnic group in Niger today.
Various kingdoms came and went after these glory years until the French took control around 1900 as part of its West African possessions. French rule was brutal and interest in human development was minimal in comparison to British rules parts of Africa. It was during this era that Niger went from being half Muslim and half Animist to becoming almost all Muslim. True Christianity was not allowed to take root during this time due to French political policy. This, by the way, is why all former French West African colonies lag the rest of Africa so badly in Christian numbers today. It was an historic opportunity lost that Islam filled.
Independence for Niger came in stages between 1958 and 1960, and the new country was a stitching together several diverse ethnic groups into one country based on French notions of geographical boundaries. Because of this, the first two decades of the new country inevitably saw several military coups come and go, but the last ten years has seen a stable democracy take root.
The country is arguably the world’s poorest with 40% of the national budget needing to be propped up via foreign aid. Literacy is a mere 30% and that figure includes a majority of males over females. Life expectancy is just 50 years and most people are subsistence herdsmen or farmers in the Savannah of the extreme south where rainfall is higher. Frequent droughts and creeping desertification play havoc with most people’s lives on a regular basis. Famine is a regular visitor to most people. Outside the capital, Niger basically still lives in medieval times.
3. True Christianity
Thankfully Niger is a non-sectarian Muslim state with relative freedom of religion at the government level. Socially, however, it is very hard for Muslim people to convert to Christianity as they will face ostracism from the key social unit, their family. Adding a layer of complexity to traditional Christian outreach via mercy ministries is the deeply-rooted occult/voodoo superstition and demonic possession that sits below the official adherence to Islam.
The number of true believers in the country is miniscule, at just 0.1% or some 23,000. Most of these are in urban areas that have been exposed to foreign missionary work. Growth is just keeping up with the rapid population growth, which is one of the highest rates in the world. Most believers are in small clusters, they feel isolated, and many are illiterate. Many who do convert then turn back to Islam due to pressure. Even though the church is small, this has not stopped several splits already forming. To compound matters, militant Islamists such as Boko Haram are now killing and driving out known Christians from certain areas of the country that border Nigeria and Chad.
A ray of hope comes from an increasing missions vision for Niger from the large and influential Nigerian church to the south (50 million believers and counting!). They are being aided by missionaries from Brazil.
4. Prayer Points
Satan has Niger firmly in his grip. Demonic powers control the people and we must break the strongholds before growth will be unleashed:
Pray for the tiny trickle of new believers to become a flood
Pray for Niger’s Christian schools to have an oversized impact on future leaders
Pray for the breaking of demonic chains
Pray for aid ministries to also have an impact on peoples spiritual destinies
Pray for a move of God among women, they control family culture
Pray for the Kanuri peoples, they have a1,000 year history of Islam and are resistant to Jesus
Pray for the Sahara nomads. Who is going to reach them?
Pray for young people, they are the most open to the gospel
Pray for the 10% who are Arab/Berber. We need workers to reach them
Pray for the salvation of thousands of prostitutes in the Capital city
Pray for Christian radio, probably the best way of reaching the most people
PRAY FOR AN INDIGENOUS CHURCH PLANTING MOVEMENT TO EMERGE THAT IS TRULY LOCAL AND LED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.