It was the second-to-last day of our scouting trip in West Africa. And there we stood in the neighborhood of Kiowa Tawo, Niamey, Niger.
This area is specifically known for its crime, gangs, and poverty. It is also almost completely Islamic. If you looked around, you would have no idea you were in the biggest city in the country. It feels like you are in a vast desert village. Flat-roofed huts made of mud or palm branches are scattered about over a flat plain of orange sand. People pass either on rickety motorcycles or camels, and groups of teenagers sit around looking for something to do.
Now, we had come to this neighborhood to pray. Tiowa, our team leader and head of Young Life Mali, was convinced that if anywhere in the city, Kiowa Tawo was a place that needed Young Life.
“As we walked past groups of teenagers sitting idly in the sand she said, “These kids need Young Life.” It could give them something to do. It could save them from a lot of trouble. It could change the whole community.”
We split up, Tiowa and our guide, Tazi, went one way while Mary and I went the other. The sun was setting and the Muslim call to prayer echoed in the background. Since we were warned to keep a low profile, we walked silently through the sand and prayed for the people of the neighborhood, most all Muslim, to find a friend in Jesus.
Mary used to be Muslim too. She grew up in a Muslim family in Bamako, Mali. Sadly, she was cut off from her family as a teenager when they learned she was pregnant, and she was forced to live on her own. One day, as a young single mother, Mary found her way into a church where she was touched by God’s word and transformed. Now, she is an enthusiastic Young Life leader with a contagious laugh and a burning heart to reach Muslim girls and everybody else.
“Young Life is a great way to show them to Christ,” she said, “Because it’s about friendship. These children won’t listen if the gospel is just preached to them, but over time, Young Life leaders can earn their trust, and the respect of their families too.”
As we walked past groups of teenagers sitting idly in the sand she said, “These kids need Young Life.” It could give them something to do. It could save them from a lot of trouble. It could change the whole community.
Our walk was almost over, and as I looked behind me a small crowd of kids were there, watching us attentively.
“See?” Mary said, “They’re already following.”