by Shawn Hendricks
Famine is nothing new to Niger-or to missionary Mike Loftice.
In recent months, drought and an invasion of locusts have made the situation even worse, threatening millions with starvation in the West African nation. Loftice, a Southern Baptist missionary who has lived and worked in the hard-hit Maradi region of Niger since 1997, recently coordinated a $75,000 relief project in six villages. The effort supplied more than 8,000 people with tons of millet and beans-and a second chance at life.
"There is no doubt that hundreds of lives were saved," Loftice reported. "In every village where we distributed food, literally hundreds of people from other villages came to us searching for food. We gave to as many as possible, but unfortunately our resources were not enough."
In a country with 11 million people, more than 3 million face starvation, according to recent estimates. More than 800,000 of the suffering are children, and thousands of them are dying.
"Death is a huge part of everyday life in Niger," Loftice said. "Over 50 percent of all children die by the time they reach 5 years of age."
More than 90 percent of the Hausa people who live in the Maradi area are subsistence farmers, Loftice said. They struggle to survive on an average of about seven inches of rain per year. Even in a "good year," the people grow only enough food-millet, beans, and peanuts-to sustain them for about six months.
Many have left their villages to seek aid, but others are too weak to move. Thousands of people sat outside the Loftice home for more than three weeks, hoping to receive a small handful of food.
"People are scared, desperate, and lack any sense of hope in their villages," he added. "My average-sized 13-year-old [son] is literally 100 pounds heavier and 1.5 to 2 feet taller than the same-age Hausa child in our area. Many 2-year-olds look like newborns."
Physical starvation may be part of life in famine-ravaged Maradi, but what the people truly hunger for is hope, Loftice said-because spiritual famine also stalks the land.
Most of the 3.6 million Hausa people who live in Niger embrace Islamic teachings and reject Christ. A handful of Christians who live in these villages deal not only with hunger but with daily rejection and isolation. Some shop owners refuse to give Christian villagers the same service they give Muslims.
"The Muslim people of this area need a Christian witness of love and compassion," Loftice said. "The greatest need of any people is to know Jesus as Lord and Savior."
Missionaries should be careful not to nurture a movement of "rice bowl" Christians, he added, but to express genuine concern for all the needs of Hausa people-physical and spiritual. "Food is never enough," Loftice stressed. "Money is never enough. Resources are never enough. Only our all powerful and all-loving God can cure what ails Niger."
For more information or to contribute to hunger and relief efforts in Niger, contact the Southern Baptist International Mission Board's World Hunger & Relief Ministries at (800) 999-3113, ext. 1736. Checks can be sent to the International Mission Board, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, Va., 23230.