When field leader Albert Strydhorst in Nigeria picked “Crossing Borders” as the name for Christian Reformed World Missions’ first summer mission program (SMP) in Niger, he may not have realized how apt that name would be.
The young women who participated in the program crossed national borders to get into Niger, but they crossed other kinds of borders as well.
Melinda Vander Ploeg of Cambridge, Ontario, and Justina Okaracha of Abuja, Nigeria, worked with young women vulnerable to prostitution at Centre Misericord.
This center has faced a lot of opposition over the years, including threats from families of prostitutes who depended on the income to live. People threatened legal action to close down the small center, but God in his mercy always intervened and it is still open today.
It’s not easy for Christians to develop relationships with young Muslim women. But this border was crossed as Okaracha and Vander Ploeg taught the girls about sewing and computers and, in a low-key manner, shared the gospel with those who expressed an interest.
On the last day of the program, one of the girls asked how she could become a Christian. In Niger, crossing this spiritual border isn’t easy. The center’s directors advised that the girl not make a public profession of Christ because other girls might inform on her, leading to persecution.
Crystal Bootsma of Ancaster, Ontario, and Felecia of Jos, Nigeria, together with Nigerien colleague Boubakir, also crossed borders. They had the daunting assignment of researching the situation of children in difficulty in Niamey.
The team went about its work courageously, interviewing over 40 non-governmental organizations and associations working with children in Niger. They also interviewed 17 street children and reported that many of them were on the streets because they are forced to beg. One child said, “I want to learn a trade, but my family likes what they get from my begging.”