Through the Ashes: A photo-journey through the aftermath of the Charlie-Hebdoe burnings in Niger
I have been serving as a teacher in Niamey, Niger for the past seven months. Back in Canada for medical reasons, we were in Niger just long enough to experience the backlash to the Charlie-Hebdoe burnings in France. As many of you know, between January 17 and 18, at least 58 churches were burned in Niamey – as many as 72 throughout Niger.
We needed to relocate temporarily during the violence: after the dust settled, I was able to get out and take some pictures of the devastation. I invite you to walk with me through the ashes, as I catalogue the destruction wrought on our Christan brothers and sisters in the poorest country in the world.
If this journey motivates you to want to give, SIM (Serving in Mission) has set up a special relief fund for the rebuilding effort in Niger. Click here to donate.
My guide on this sad journey was pastor H – here standing before the burned and demolished remains of his pastor’s home behind his church.
« When they came in, the first thing they did was break off the water spigot. Then there was nothing we could do to stop the blaze! » Said pastor H, pointing to the newly installed water spigot.
« But how did they set fire to a building of steel and concrete? » I asked. He explained, « First they took all the instruments, the microphones, anything that was good. Then they piled up the song books and everything else in the middle. They poured gasoline on it and burned it. »
These crates were once filled with hymnals, educational materials, and other church property. Pastor H explained that replacing the song-books is a specially urgent concern. He added with a gleam in his eye, « Our songbooks were in French and Haussa. Now that we need to redo them, we are hoping to add Zarma as well! »
…warped many of the rafters…
and, most troublingly, caused the outer-layer of plaster to separate from the concrete. With the slightest pressure, the plaster fell away from the wall in huge chunks. « We’re going to have to strip all of this plaster off, and do it all over again. » Explained pastor H.
The late pastor’s widow lived in this meagre building with her six daughters: they escaped with only the clothes on their backs.
…and went so far as to unscrew individual jars of food, and dump them on the ground.
Cooking pots and utensils were warped and destroyed in the fire.
Another church, significantly larger and once well equipped with a large children’s and radio ministry, was completely destroyed as well.
Children played in the rubble, and rummaged for useable items like charred nails.
Cracked by the heat, all of the tile in this massive building is shattered and in need of replacement.
Drooping like withered daisies, the ceiling fans (a necessity, in this city on the edge of the Sahara) compromise a strong visual reminder of the monetary toll taken. Each fan costs around $80.00. Paid for one at a time, by devout African Christians who work (when they can find work) at an average wage of $1.00/hour…how much time, money and sacrifice does this tragedy represent?
Whatever was in this wall-box was once an integral part of the radio ministry which broadcasted this church’s teachings all over Niamey and Niger.
Normally reticent to take pictures of people (I do not even have good pictures of my dear friends – a fact that I now regret), these kids kept jumping in my way and « posing » while I tried to photograph the church. Were these children who would have been coming to this church, who were part of their large children’s program? Who are among the victims of this tragedy? I do not know. But they are a part, at any rate, of the story and the journey we are on.
And it is here that we come to the end of our journey. Not with pictures of buildings, but of people. Real people who have been harmed in this tragedy. But real people who are still there. Still coming back. Sweeping aside the ashes to worship God anew.
Because, as one African brother said, « They may have burned our building, but they did not burn our church! »