For centuries the Songhai have traveled up and down the mighty Niger River in their small wooden boats. But this river provides more than a means of transportation; it is the lifeblood of the 3 and ˝ million Songhai people who live along its banks from Mopti, Mali to Niamey, Niger.
The clear streams and waterfalls in the lush green mountains of Guinea are the beginning of this 2600-mile long waterway. It flows northeast past Bamako, Mali and then through Timbuktu. Turning southeast, it crosses into the country of Niger and past the city of Niamey and eventually completes its journey through Nigeria to the Atlantic Ocean.
The great bend of the river is where the powerful, medieval Songhai kingdom once ruled over what is now the inland delta of Islamic Timbuktu and the animistic, Saharan dunes of Gao as well as the parched savannah of Niger’s southwestern corner. But today the Songhai kingdom is no more; instead the people struggle to survive along the banks of only a small portion of the river.
Only one bridge spans this river as it makes its way through the landlocked country of Niger. It is here in Niamey, the capital city of Niger. Most of those who cross this bridge do so to get to the other side. When one considers the journey, just getting to the other side seems insignificant. … This is a journey through time and through culture. Walking the path on the bridge that crosses the Niger River, one can see the present, the past, and the future-- all in one place and at one time! The rich, the poor, the educated, and the uneducated are all part of this short journey from one side to the other. One can traverse the bridge by donkey cart, on foot, in cars, buses, and taxis, on camels and motorcycles. On this bridge there are those who seek a better life and those who seek only to survive.
A vendor carefully arranges fresh, boiled potatoes, neatly cut in half and a young man washes out laundry. The bridge embankment is used by many for drying their clothing. As one nears the end of the bridge large, intricately painted boats come into view. These ancient-looking vessels have a cargo of pumpkin-squash. One by one they are unloaded and set out on the riverbank for distribution throughout the city.
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Looking back across the river, the skyline of Niamey appears clean and inviting to the traveler, but a closer look reveals a much different picture. Vehicles, people, and animals share the few paved roads of the capital city. The majority of roads in residential areas are not paved. In most places the muddy, dirt roads not only serve as a traffic way, but they are garbage dumps and places where animals scavenge for food as they roam the neighborhoods.
The few high-rise buildings are flanked with market places that seem to be in the wrong part of town. It is in these markets where most people shop for food, clothing, and other supplies. … In addition, in shadowed stalls, one can also purchase traditional herbs, bat wings, bird feathers, snake skins, animal skulls, and a large assortment of other ingredients for making magic potions to ward off evil spirits, heal ailments, avenge wrongs, and protect against enemies.
There are also other kinds of bridges in Niamey. The population of Niger is extremely diverse with numerous ethnic groups; the Hausa, Kanuri, Songhai- Zerma, Fulani, and Tuareg are some of the larger people groups. One must be able to daily cross the many bridges of diversity among language, economic status, life-style, dress, and customs. Despite the differences, one common characteristic uniting all people groups of the country of Niger is their steadfast devotion to Islam and to traditional beliefs.
Mosques are located in most every village, town and city. The faithful cling to their prayer beads as they count off the 99 names of God. It is said that over 99% of the people in Niger are followers of the Prophet Mohammad. … The central mosque in Niamey appears as a fortress blocking the way of those who seek to tell about Jesus. The strength of Islam, the rituals, the sanctions to those who stray from the faith, centuries of indoctrination in the Qu’ranic teachings, and fear of animistic gods make it extremely difficult to cross this bridge of faith.
Walking among the Songhai are a few who show the way to this bridge of faith — the bridge from the Songhai to God. This is not an easy task for the messengers, nor the seekers, nor for those who choose to journey across This Bridge. It is a difficult journey for the Songhai to cross over mighty currents of traditional beliefs and Islamic faith to reach an eternal life with Christ; it is a narrow, unknown, shadowed, inconceivable path through culture and family to finding forgiveness and belief in Jesus. It is frightening for seekers to contemplate the cost of crossing this bridge, and it is even more terrifying to take the first step onto the bridge. Just like the bridge at Niamey, it is the only bridge to Eternal Life. It is by crossing This Bridge that they can pass from one side to the other—from death to life.
How will they find the only bridge to eternal life with Christ?
Are you willing to help us show them the way?
Will you tell the Songhai about Jesus?
Jesus said, “I am The Way, The Truth, and The Life;
no one comes to the Father but by me.”
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