For Kerra Jayne, Africa feels more like home than Alabama does these days. She knows it’s where she’s supposed to be — in fact, she’s known it for a long time.
That’s why it was extra hard to leave the west African country of Niger on an evacuation flight Aug. 1 with no idea of when or if she might get to go back.
“It’s been a hard time and still so much to process, and this story is still unfolding in Niger,” she said. “But God has been so faithful, and He’s sovereign. He’s not surprised by any of this.”
For the past two years, Kerra has served in Niger, first as a kindergarten teacher at Sahel Academy, then as operations director for AXIS Ministries. But on July 26, while she and other team members with AXIS Ministries hosted a missions team from Texas, a junta led a successful coup and overthrew Niger’s president.
The team from Harmony Hill Baptist Church in Lufkin, Texas, “was wonderful; they were doing Vacation Bible School and leading soccer tournaments,” Kerra said, noting that they were “just a cool group of kids and young adults” who had arrived July 22 to serve.
But several days after they arrived, they along with Kerra and her colleagues were sheltering in place on the missions compound where they lived. With the political uncertainty, they were all advised to stay where they were. Overall it was a peaceful situation, Kerra said — they played games, studied the Bible together and got to be close friends.
“Day to day it’s very safe there,” she said. “Nothing is crazy in the streets or anything.”
But the borders were closed, and the Texas’ team’s leaders worked on a plan to get home. Many of the students were supposed to start high school or college the next week.
“That was one of the number one priorities, to get this team out of Niger,” Kerra said. “We knew we’re getting the team out first; that’s our first goal, to get these kids back home to their families.”
She said she knew her own future there was also uncertain, but she didn’t expect to be faced with evacuation as quickly as the Texas team. But when her AXIS team leaders found out that Italy had room for both the Texas team and her on an evacuation flight, they told Kerra they thought she should go too.
“I was not planning to leave with them (the team from Texas),” Kerra said. “I knew if all of AXIS left, I would leave. But Niger is my home. I left a whole house of stuff, my church family and my best friend there.”
She also left behind four young boys “whom our church has been discipling and pouring into.”
“They would come to my house once a month, and we would hang out very often. They called me their Auntie KK,” Kerra said. “I just had to leave them; I didn’t even get to say goodbye.”
But she said she can see how God’s kindness has been on display the whole time.
“The Lord just worked everything out,” she said.
She said the Italian embassy “handled everything with such grace.”
“We were smiling and able to call our families,” Kerra said. “And we never ran out of internet one time, which was a blessing so the teens could stay in touch with their families.”
During their sheltering in place, Kerra started studying Philippians with one of the Texas team members, then the whole team joined them. Once they got to Rome, they were able to visit the jail cell where Paul wrote the book.
“God is a God of detail, and He cares about us,” Kerra said.
She said the generosity of Harmony Hill Baptist and others as she’s returned home has been “mind blowing.”
“Through His spirit, He brings people into your life who are so kind and generous,” Kerra said.
Since she’s been back in Alabama, Hargis Christian Camp gave her space to process the loss and uncertainty she’s faced, and other people have also opened their doors for her to stay.
Kerra asked for prayer for the country of Niger, a place she feels like God has led her toward since she was 14 and first heard Him speaking to her about while at a spa with her grandmother.
“I was praying that day, and I was like, ‘Lord, what is the purpose for my life?’ It’s really the first time I kind of heard the Lord’s voice, and I just thought He said, ‘Well, what do you like to do?’ and immediately I was like, ‘Travel,’” Kerra said.
She had recently been to Disney World for the first time, and the countries depicted at Epcot were fresh in her mind.
“The Lord just said, ‘How can you use traveling for My glory?’ And missions popped into my head,” she said. “I did not know a missionary; I thought Lottie Moon was a cookie when I was growing up. I had no idea about anything.”
Over the years, God sharpened that call as she took trips to Africa and other places. Now Niger is woven into her heart, and she’s waiting to see if she will get to go back home.
“We’re in a waiting game of democracy being restored and the military deciding what they want to do,” Kerra said. “Please pray for the leaders there to do what is right. And please pray for the remnant of believers that is there, that they will be protected by God’s hand and that they will not live in fear.”
For more information about Kerra’s work, soarworldwide.org/projects/kerra-jayne.