Chris Lange, FISM News
A Texas Baptist mission team serving in Niger thanked Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and others who helped them secure a flight out of the country after a junta toppled the Western African nation’s government on July 26.
The group of nine students and three adults, who attend Harmony Hill Baptist Church in Lufkin, Texas, had been ministering to the Fulani in Niger’s capital city of Niamey since July 21. They originally planned to leave on July 30 but found themselves trapped after coup leaders closed the country’s borders and airspace and imposed a curfew.
The group had little choice but to shelter in place, pray, and wait. Meanwhile, Cruz and other officials in the U.S. and abroad began working on a plan to bring them home.
Eleven days later, as the governments of several European nations began evacuating their citizens from Niger, the nine learned that Italian representatives agreed to make room for them on one of the flights.
“Last night the Lord answered our prayers to make a way for our team to start their trip home,” the church said Wednesday in a statement to the Baptist Press. Harmony Hill specifically thanked Sen. Cruz, Texas Congressman Pete Sessions, and Lufkin Mayor Mark Hicks for “working hard to get our team out.” They also expressed gratitude to “the representatives from Italy who made room on a flight for our team last night.”
“Heidi and I thank God that students from Harmony Hill Baptist Church who had been traveling and trapped in Niger are now on their way home,” Cruz said in a statement. “I want to express my deep appreciation to officials and staffers at the U.S. State Department, who ensured the safety and eventual evacuation of these young Texans.”
Harmony Hill “adopted” the Western Fulani, an unreached Muslim people group in West Africa that is largely nomadic, according to the church’s website. Among approximately 700,000 Fulani nationals, fewer than 50 have accepted Christ.
The church explained that hot and underdeveloped conditions in Niger present significant challenges to volunteers.
“Fulani believers are often isolated and suffer discouragement, persecution, and lack of training—making our ongoing relationship with them critical,” the church explained.
US EVACUATES NON-EMERGENCY EMBASSY PERSONNEL
The U.S. on Thursday ordered a partial evacuation of the American embassy in Niamey, a day after several European governments launched evacuation efforts for their citizens.
The State Department ordered all non-emergency U.S. government personnel and their families to evacuate the embassy but said that the embassy would remain open to provide emergency services to American citizens, if needed.
“The U.S. is committed to our relationship with the people of Niger,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote on the X platform formerly known as Twitter. He added that U.S. officials “are diplomatically engaged at the highest levels.”
The State Department said separately in a press statement Wednesday that “[t]he United States rejects all efforts to overturn Niger’s constitutional order, and stands with the people of Niger, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union, and other international partners in support of democratic governance and respect for the rule of law and human rights.”
WESTERN POWERS CONDEMN TAKEOVER
President Mohamed Bazoum’s ousting and detainment by the junta led by Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani came as a major blow to the U.S. and other Western nations that see him as a key ally in the fight against Islamist terrorists. According to the Associated Press, Bazoum was elected in 2021 in Niger’s first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since the country gained its independence from France in 1960.
Foreign powers have condemned the takeover, which the Biden administration has thus far refrained from calling a “coup.”
According to The Hill, the U.S. has injected Niger with some $200 million in humanitarian and economic assistance.
BIDEN CALLS FOR BAZOUM’S ‘IMMEDIATE RELEASE’
The president reaffirmed that the U.S. “stands with the people of Niger” as the country faces a “grave challenge to its democracy.”
“The Nigerien people have the right to choose their leaders. They have expressed their will through free and fair elections – and that must be respected,” Biden said.
The U.S. has suspended military cooperation with Nigerien forces but has not announced any plans to evacuate some 1,100 U.S. counterterrorism and intelligence-gathering troops that remain in the country.
In addition to the U.S., the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, the United Nations, and the European Union are among those who have demanded Bazoum’s release and called for his reinstatement.
The new junta is supported by Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Mali.