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Giving a lifeline: Local pastors spark season of giving after trip to world’s poorest country

Between donations from parishioners, friends and family, enough money has been raised to purchase 187 milk goats for new mothers and their malnourished infants half-way around the globe.

Trio of pastors
Pastor John Nau (left) and Pastor Scott Peterson (right) join Rev. Yacouba Seydou and his wife, Renata, for a photo.
Special to The Globe
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WORTHINGTON — When pastors Scott Peterson and John Nau embarked on a 9-day journey to the French-speaking country of Niger, Africa, last month, they expected the mission trip to the world’s poorest country would change them somehow.

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What they didn’t expect was how it would impact their congregations at Solid Rock churches in Worthington and Fulda.

Between donations from parishioners, friends and family, enough money has been raised to purchase 187 milk goats for new mothers and their malnourished infants half-way around the globe. Nau’s goal is to purchase 250 goats, at $50 each, by Christmas.

“People love to get on board with things like that — helping and being a blessing,” said Peterson of what he dubbed a goat outreach.

In addition to purchasing goats, the pastors have set a goal to raise $5,000 in a special offering this Sunday. The money will be divided between two causes — $3,000 to fund a gathering for Christian leaders in Niger, and $2,000 to purchase a month’s supply of baby formula for the many malnourished infants in the region.

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The Goat Meter

A poster depicting a goat is now on display at Solid Rock, to be colored in as the money is raised. Nau is rather excited about the whole idea.

Goat Meter
A drawing of a milk goat was created to measure the success of fundraising to purchase goats, at $50 each, for new mothers and their infants in Niger, Africa.
Special to The Globe

“It’s pretty ingenious, really,” he said. “I’ve heard of other ministries … where you can purchase farm animals to help families who need more sustainable resources. This is more than giving a resource — it’s giving a lifeline.”

Many new mothers in Niger are so malnourished they can’t provide milk for their infant. Goat milk is considered closest to human milk, Nau said.

“They send the mothers home with a goat to produce milk and give it to the infant so they have food they can digest and antibodies,” he shared.

The goats can also be used for breeding, with the male goats sold at market as a way to earn money, while females may be given to other families as an eventual source for milk.

“For $50, we can literally save a child’s life,” Nau said. “We saw it as a real practical way for us to do something.”

Young goats
Young goats, called kids, were frequently seen wandering the sand-like streets in the small villages near the capital city of Niger.
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Nau, whose family has a pair of pet goats on their own farm, said it was a cause he thought would resonate with people.

“I think far too often people of faith can do a lot of talking, but not have action,” he said. “When there’s tangible action that can take place, it’s good of us to do so.”

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Nau said he sent a text out to about 50 people while he and Peterson were still in Niger, and before they left to return home, enough money had been received to purchase 100 goats.

Igniting an idea

Peterson and Nau — along with a group of local men — attended Man Day Kansas in March 2021, where they learned about the needs in Niger. Man Day Kansas began in 2006 as a fundraiser to dig wells in Niger and provide drinking water for the people. Each well costs approximately $3,500 from start to running water.

The 2021 event raised more than $100,000, said Peterson, and all of the money went to the ministry, Hosanna Institute of the Sahel, serving the ecoregion between the Sahara and the Sudanian savanna.

Hauling supplies
Mattresses and other supplies are being hauled through a village in Niger, Africa.
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Hearing about the mission trips to Niger and the need for people to dig wells, the pastors decided after Man Day Kansas to lead a small group to Niger in November 2021. They had a few people interested, but the trip was ultimately rescheduled to February because of lingering COVID-19 issues in Africa.

When the February trip was rescheduled for the same reason, it was just Peterson and Nau who could commit to a nine-day journey in mid-November.

“The thought is to be able to go sometime in the future and bring a group of individuals,” Peterson said, noting the many areas of outreach available — from water and agriculture to schools, media and healthcare.

For this initial journey, Peterson said they wanted to get an overview of all of the areas of outreach. Seeing where the needs are, they hope to find people with specific skills here at home who might be interested in joining a mission trip.

Needs are many

On the day they arrived in Niamey, the capital city of Niger, Peterson said a shipping container filled with food had just come in. Volunteers were needed to move the food onto trucks to deliver to locations within Niamey and outer villages.

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“We had the opportunity to go to an orphanage, school or other places where they did food distribution and be a part of that ministry,” Peterson said, adding that they also visited a medical facility and saw some of the water wells dug during previous missions.

It was while at the medical facility — where Peterson was invited to be in a delivery room during a C-section and emergency appendectomy — that he and Nau witnessed firsthand the effects of malnourishment on new mothers and their infants.

Improving infants
Dr. Abdallah and a new mother are shown with a pair of infants who will benefit from the baby formula and milk goat that will be sent home with their family.
Special to The Globe

“They deliver six to 11 babies a day with two maternity rooms,” Peterson shared. “They are overwhelmed … the children, for the most part, are very malnourished.”

All infants are started on baby formula to help correct the nutritional deficiencies in their system, and a milk goat adds to the mother’s resources for feeding her newborn.

Hosanna Institute of the Sahel is currently working with some Romanian churches to expand the hospital the pastors visited, with plans to build a wing specifically for obstetrics and gynecology.

The institute is working with many other organizations and people as well, on a variety of projects and programs to help children and adults.

Living to survive

Niamey boasts a population of more than 1 million people, with an average daily wage of $3 to $5, Peterson said. Those who are lucky enough to have a little plot of land are able to grow some crops, but most are living to survive.

The Hosanna Institute of the Sahel has a long-term goal to open a trade school and teach the people working skills and growing enough food to be able to market what they don’t need for their own families.

Orphanage
An orphanage in one of the villages has many children who are cared for and taught by women. Children are often left at the entrance to an orphanage if the mother is unable to care for them.
Special to The Globe

“There are not a lot of natural resources,” Peterson said of the region, where the religions practiced are about 99% Islam and 1% Christianity. “They’re open to Christians coming in because they are helping to meet a need that they have.”

Rev. Yacouba Seydou, who oversees the Christian churches in Niger and leads The Hosanna Institute of the Sahel, hosted the local pastors at his guest house. Seydou and his wife, Renata, have space for 16 guests, and the space is usually filled with Christians who volunteer their time and talents to help where they are needed.

Seydou, who lived the American dream for a short time, returned to his home country after what he said was a vision of Jesus appearing before him. In that vision, Jesus requested Seydou — then a Muslim — to follow him.

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At the time, Seydou didn’t know who the man in his vision was. When he was later invited to attend a Christian church in America and saw the man in his vision — Jesus — he converted to Christianity.

“He was moved to create a ministry of compassion in his home country,” Peterson said.

Today, because of Seydou’s outreach, they receive help from around the world. One U.S. woman started a 501c3 with funds raised dedicated to building schools in Niger. They have volunteers who came in and established a sewing ministry in villages, teaching the women how to sew so they can sell items and earn some income. Other volunteers have taught women — most who live in lean-tos or little huts with dirt floors, how to clean guest houses so they can get a job cleaning for a government official.

Finding the good; being the good

Peterson said despite the living conditions they witnessed — garbage piled up in the streets and rooted through by foraging goats, excrement in the open due to no sewer systems — he still found people, children, with smiles on their faces.

“We went to a school where kids were either mentally or physically disabled,” Peterson said. “These kids have big smiles on their faces, and you see the compassion of the workers.”

But witnessing the birth of a baby was perhaps the most inspiring event of Peterson’s journey to Niger.

“You’re affected at different times and different ways based on what you are seeing and being a part of,” he said. “Observing a C-section — seeing the baby born and thinking God has a unique and special plan for that baby, over here in the outer village of Niger, just as much as he does for anybody else.

“How precious that life is,” he added. “As Christians, it gave me more of a renewed sense of the responsibility we have to live a Christ-like life in the gospel.”

Goats in garbage
Goats were frequently found foraging through or resting in garbage, which is piled up in city streets in villages because there is nowhere else to go with it.
Special to The Globe

The experiences witnessed in Niger have made Peterson thankful and blessed, but have also prompted questions of whether he’s using his resources and blessings to the best of his ability.

Nau, meanwhile, said he’s been fortunate to go on several trips and see the world.

“You either walk away feeling guilty and almost ashamed of what you have; or (thinking) I’ve been blessed and given many opportunities and what am I going to do with it?” Nau shared. “It shouldn’t leave us — when we know there are needs — with this feeling of guilt and shame.”

Instead, Nau said he looks at it as a challenge — what can he do to help someone less fortunate.

And that’s why he sent out that initial text asking his friends and family to buy a goat for a new mother and her infant in Niger.

“If anybody has a chance to experience other parts of the world, go with the mindset of what can I learn, not what can I teach,” Nau said. “It’s just a valuable thing.”

Some day, Nau and Peterson hope to return to Niger with a small group of volunteers. Whether they go to dig wells or find another project to assist with isn’t yet known. Peterson said they may plan a trip later next year or in 2024, depending on what works best for the missionary.

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Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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