Most of this large western-Africa state is part of the Sahara Desert. Only the southwest region and a narrow strip along the Nigerian border in the south are savannah grasslands. In the 1980s the Sahel famine, the collapse of the uranium market, and Nigeria's closing of its common border with Niger devastated the economy. Niger ranks 177th--absolutely last--on the United Nations' human development index. Ninety percent of the population works in agriculture, which is plagued by frequent droughts. Spiritually, the country is also needy. Christians are an extreme minority of the population. The country is 80 percent Muslim, but there is religious freedom. Niger is a secular state that gained independence from France in 1960. Some political instability has resulted from the economic crisis and military coups.
In 1999 the RCA began a partnership with the Evangelical Church of Niger (EERN). The EERN was founded by the SIM mission agency, though they no longer have an official relationship. Most EERN members are converts from Islam and speak Hausa. EERN had no church partnerships and greatly appreciated the RCA's model of church-to-church partnerships in which RCA missionaries serve under the direction of the national church. The RCA likewise appreciated the EERN's vision for establishing a church in every village in the country while seeking to meet the needs of people who are poor. The church has done impressive community development work such as well drilling with assistance from two other RCA partners, Church World Service and Bread for the World. The RCA sponsors mission personnel who instruct pastors in community development at the EERN's Bible school. RCA mission personnel are also engaged in health services and agricultural development.
In partnership with Wycliffe Summer Institute of Linguistics, the RCA serves the counseling needs of missionaries serving all across Africa. RCA mission personnel counsel families experiencing not only the wide range of difficulties that North American families face, but also those unique to missionary service, such as working in locations where violence, political instability, and famine are widespread. As Africa becomes an increasingly dangerous place to minister in, a larger proportion of the counseling is directed at debriefing evacuees and counseling for post-traumatic stress syndrome. Many missionaries and national church personnel are able to continue to serve the church of Christ in Africa in the midst of personal or family trauma because of the professional counseling services the RCA supports.
African churches can be an inspiration to American churches. African Christians do not spend a lot of time theorizing about word and deed--they live it! Mainline African churches have a great commitment to integrate social justice and evangelism. The same churches that advocate for debt relief, struggle for racial justice in the aftermath of apartheid, initiate programs for peacemaking, and advocate for multi-party democracy also do amazing evangelism. African Christians have a commitment to the gospel, a sense of community, and an awareness of the gospel's call for justice that enriches the church everywhere. Samuel Odunaiki of the Nigerian Evangelical Fellowship suggests one contribution the African church can make: "If Europe gave the world modern missions and the United States gave the twentieth century the impetus for world evangelization, let Africa rise today and offer the world a model for the local church." Africa is a place where Christianity is on the march, where the church is growing faster than anywhere else in the world, and where the church of the future may look for inspiration and new direction.