Niamey, Niger. Hands down the hottest place I have ever been in my life. The heat was absolutely swealtering, as if the sunshine is actually quite a bit closer to the earth here. But the people respond with their own warmth - all smiles and hugs, welcoming us with open arms.
We have one church in Niger, because the country is a little over 99% Muslim and so evangelism is strained. We drove past three mosques to get to the building that serves both as the church and the pastor's home. I have an overwhelming respect for these believers, who must feel completely isolated in their faith, tucked away in this crowded city of Islamic stronghold.
We were as delighted to see the church members as they were to see us. They knew that we were coming to fellowship with them, to worship and teach and read Scripture. But what they did not know is that we came bearing 200,000 CFA - $400. Ken had told me that the church needed a new piano badly - not only because theirs was extremely old, but also because they were planning to finally, finally build a second church and would need two pianos. So I decided that would be my project: a new keyboard for these people who had won my heart in an instant.
We had evening services on Friday and Saturday evening. Sunday morning dawned especially hot and promising to get worse. We were sweating by the time we got to the church building, after our white-knuckled ride across the city. But church was beautiful! Worship to praise to worship, dance, music, and at some point the power cut out, nixing the fans and the sound alike, but no one slowed down or even seemed to notice.
Ken stood up and began to talk about the church in the book of Acts, who had neither drums nor piano nor sound system. This Niger church, he said, was doing a great job with whay they have, but their piano was fatigué - tired - and they needed a new one. They he raised his hand and showed a wad of carfully folded West African bills, and said, J'ai de l'argent pour un nouveau piano - I have the money for a new piano.
If anything was said after that, I didn't hear a word of it, for the church absolutely exploded into worship. I expected them to be happy, but I didn't expect the response to be of this magnitude. At first I thought it was cheers, but I looked around and realized that it was not. It was worship to the Provider-God. Because what I did not know was that this church had been praying for a new piano. They had saved as much money as they could - 60 CFA (a very impressive amount, in fact, for Niger is the poorest country in the world), but knew that a miracle of God was needed for the new piano. So they had been praying for quite a while. And God, in his great wisdom, had provided for them in allowing me to be the answer to their prayers. Wow.
The worship got louder and louder and the smiles bigger until it turned into a dance of rejoicing. The women left their seats and streamed up to the front, dancing and clapping and circling the front of the church. If I thought I could stay outside of it I was mistaken, for a woman about my mother's age sporting a colorful headwrap pulled me in and squeezed me between two dancers. As she did, I glimpsed the piano player. He had been rather quiet and gentle all weekend, but now he was worshipping openly - bent at the waist, dancing in a circle, arms raised to heaven, and a smile so big I could see nothing but his teeth.
The suddenly it was too much for me to keep in. Something inside of me erupted and I began to cry and laugh at the same time, following these women in a dance of rejoicing. I looked around at this room so full of worship and I realized, I was made for this moment. Nothing that I possess, no paycheck that I have ever received, was worth more than that ten minutes of rejoicing.
When things calmed down, the pastor began to speak to the church in French, reminding them that God had heard their prayer, had answered their prayer. Then he turned and said they were going to pray for the missionaries in thanks for bringing this gift. But Ken and Gin shook their heads and pointed at me. The pastor's eyes got big with understanding and he said, "Eh!" and turned to explain to the church that the gift, in fact, was from the young missionary, Mademoiselle Donna. They all turned to me, raised their hands to heaven, and began to pray that God would bless me, that he would keep his hand on me, that he would give back to me what I had given to them. I tried to pray with them, but all I could do was weep. That prayer was the best gift that I could have received. What they gave me was much greater than what I had given them. What is $400? Not much. What is a room full of Spirit-filled Africans praying a blessing over you? Priceless.