After a decade spent working for the Christian Missionary Alliance in Niger, Invermere’s Lisa Rohrick says she’s seen how much spirituality matters in one of the most destitute countries on Earth.
Lisa, a David Thompson Secondary class of 1983 graduate, has been a development worker in Africa since 1999, and shared a taste of her experience with The Valley Echo after recently arriving home.
“It’s a sense of call and a sense of purpose – I believe that God wants me there,” she said. “In partnership with the physical stuff, there’s a spiritual element as well.”
Lisa is among a group of ten Canadians with the Christian Missionary Alliance. Among her peers are a doctor, an optometrist, an engineer, and a welder, who teaches the trade to locals. They offer several other educational programs which are practical for the region, as well as malaria prevention and basic hygiene lessons, she said.
Among prominent Muslim populations, Lisa finds those who are interested in Christianity. After working full-time in Benin from 1999 until 2004, she moved to Niger, where she’s called home ever since. According to the United Nations Human Development Report, Niger ranked 186 of 186 countries on the Human Development Index in the year 2012.
Despite the low living standards, Lisa said she feels a strong desire to be there, helping however she can.
“I’m not there preaching, but I am overtly a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ,” she said.
She said that it’s a common practice to teach through stories, as people in Niger generally prefer to learn through verbal lessons.
“Most of our teachings, no matter the subject, are done orally and through skit and story and proverb and getting people to learn that way,” she explained. “There’s certainly a group saying ‘Hey, enough of this, we want to find out what the Bible says’.”
One of her most memorable experiences happened through a Nigerien who she had nicknamed Beau, who had sought Lisa out to hear about Jesus.
“I tried, within a half an hour, to explain the story of the Bible,” she recalls. “I gave him that in an overview. He came back a couple of weeks later and said, ‘the seed that you planted was good, and it’s in good soil, and I believe this’.”
In a town nearby where he and Lisa reside, a group of children were playing near a 25 foot (7.6 metres) deep well, which held only about 6 inches of water. A young boy had fallen down the well and wasn’t showing any signs of consciousness.
“They lowered a man down in a rope, and he was overcome by the heat, passed out and was pulled up without the child,” she said. “The same thing happened again with five other men.”
After the many unsuccessful attempts, Beau and his friend noticed the crowd and became involved.
“It should be cool down in the well, not hot — that’s Satan’s work,” Lisa recalls him saying before he went into the well himself. He was able to tie the young boy up and have him raised to the surface.
“After they pulled the boy up by rope, they said they had to get him to the medical clinic which was 30 kilometres away,” she said. “Beau hollered up and said, ‘Not before I pray for him!’.”
Beau kneeled down beside the boy, put his hands on the boy’s chest, and “prayed up a storm,” said Lisa. “Somebody said Amen, another person called the child by name and he opened his eyes and was able to go home.”
Beau told Lisa that it was cool and fresh down in the well, and that the spiritual element was a factor in the rescue.
“It’s something we don’t talk about here a lot in North America; people generally don’t believe in demons here,” she said. But when she explains that to people in Niger, they “roar with laughter,” she said.
While Westerners can explain something like the biology of malaria to an African, they can accept the science, but believe a spiritual element caused infected mosquitos to make only certain people ill.
“Some demonic or spiritual force was the reason,” she said. “Everything has cause and effect in their view.”
Since arriving in Niger, Lisa observed a change in government, which happened one noisy afternoon in spring of 2010.
“There was a bunch of helicopters and banging and crashing as the artillery was doing its thing,” she said. “It was all over in three to four hours, it was a very polite coup d’etat. If you’re going to overthrow the government, that’s the way to do it.”
She said that funding from Western countries has been heavily donated to African for decades, but per capita, African countries as financially distraught today as they were in the 1960s.
“Money is not the answer,” she said. “What we think is helping can sometimes hurt, creating a dependancy that cements their poverty.”
After spending a busy year in travelling through Canada to speak at other churches, Lisa will be returning to Niger for another four years.