Ken and I had the opportunity to leave the capital city and travel to a remote village close to the Nigerian border at the end of March.
The thump, thump, thumping sound of women pounding millet with huge pestles and mortars, the small children standing just out of reach to stare at us, the grown men walking down the well-worn village path from the fields, holding hands with their little ones – all of this was fascinating to me.
When I told my friend that I wished the children weren’t afraid of me, she called to them and encouraged them to come close. Some of them got a daring look in their eyes and came forward. As she asked them their names, they answered shyly, “Titus,” Timothee,” “Lydia,” “Barnabas.” She looked at me in wonder – all of these Christian names!
I explained that the man who had invited us to the village had told me that more than 80% of the people are Christian – one of only three villages that I know of in Niger that has such a majority of Christians in a 98% Muslim country.
And, when someone asked me recently what makes me nervous, I thought of those kids. In Burkina Faso over the last six years, jihadists and other bad actors have stopped people on the roads and demanded to see their papers. Those with Christian names have been killed on the spot. Even having the job title “Enseignant” (meaning teacher) is enough to get a person killed. Being a teacher who educates people makes one a danger these days.
From what I know about West Africa, what happens in Burkina Faso tends to travel east into Niger. I think about the risk these parents have taken in giving their children Christian names. I know from experience that if I am having these thoughts, our friends have already considered the consequences. They have decided not to bow to the pressure to choose a name that will be “safe,” instead choosing names that reflect their love for God and their belief on Jesus.
Foolish? Brave? What is your reaction? Thinking through the idea of baby naming, I realize I shouldn’t be nervous. Those who live with the consequences are full of hope. They see an opportunity to love others well through their faith. The reason we were visiting was to learn more about their dry-season planting program so that people in other villages can benefit from their model. Evangelists across Niger want to bring spiritual and physical life. And, if we can connect those who are pressing forward with those who have just begun, we are excited to see hope replace apathy and love replace suspicion.
I decided to look up the names of a few of our new young friends to see what their parents were thinking.
Barnabas – son of consolation or comfort
Lydia – noble one
Timothee – God’s honor
Titus – pleasing
A few of these kids decided to join us in examining the fields, the solar panels, and the well. I keep looking at this picture and asking God to give us another 1,000 experiences like this.