Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Road to Gaya

After the incredible week of NLTS, we turned our attention to a new area of ministry.  According to the Joshua Project’s research, there is a pocket of Songhai people to the South of Niamey and towards/along the border of Benin.  This area basically consists of two 90+km (55 mile) roads with several market towns on each.

So the team from Living Hope, Randy, Cephas, Ibrahim (from Ayorou), and myself loaded up into a bush taxi early Saturday morning and set out on a seed-sowing adventure.  From talking to other organizations, I was pretty sure the Gospel had never been to this area so we set out knowing this would largely be peoples' first encounter with the message of Christ.  Earlier in the week I had shared with the team our Songhai team’s ministry theme this year: sow with hope, reap with humility (taken from John 4). 

We turned off the paved road and headed down our first dusty road.  While only 65 miles from the capital city of Niamey, in the first village we stopped at we found out our initial thoughts were true.  No one had ever brought the name of Jesus here. We were truly the first people to carry the name of Jesus to this area. 

Now, just stop and try to imagine that.  Imagine driving from Bowling Green to Louisville and stopping at every exit along the way only to find that no one in this entire area had ever heard the Good News! 

We knew we were in for quite a day as we pulled out of the first village.  The name of the village meant “Salvation” and there was an openness we’ve rarely found in Songhai villages. In just an hour in the village we identified several men of peace (a process that sometimes takes months) and loaded back into the bush taxi.

From here, a blog simply can’t describe the rest of our trip.  I need a cup of coffee and a couple hours to sit down and try to describe for you how God moved in those next 36 hours.  I will simply try to give some of the highlights here but for those of you at Living Hope, I challenge you to give Travis, Bill, or Kasey a call and take them out to lunch to hear what happened.

Names of villages:
As I’ve already stated, the first village name meant “salvation.”  The Gospel-centered named of villages didn’t stop there.  We would later find villages named “Debt Paid,” “Surrender,” “People of the Fruit,” and “Clearing the Way.”  It was if God had been preparing these people for His Good News since centuries ago when their villages were named.

At the second village two men confessed Christ!  There are missionaries who go entire terms (& even careers) who don’t see the fruit we saw half a day into our trip!  Fruit here usually takes time and while we truly were trying to sow in hope, I thought (if I’m totally honest) that this would simply be a foundation laying trip of sowing the initial seeds. 

Every village we went into we immediately found men of peace or had people actually confess Christ!  Every village we entered we also heard the same thing: “we’ve never heard this message,” or “we’ve never heard of Jesus.”  One man, after we asked if we could pray for him said “I don’t know what you mean by ‘prayer,’ I’ve never seen a Christian much less seen one pray.”  After explaining to him what prayer was for a Christian, he eagerly wanted us to pray for him and his village.

By the time we reached our final destination, 15 men (mostly in their 20’s or 30’s) had confessed Christ with 10 actually following through with baptism!

Amazing things:
Here’s where it gets hard to capture the whole trip so I’ll just share 2 stories.

In the first village where someone believed, one of the believers was a reader (pretty rare out in the bush) so we gave him a Bible.  So here is this brand new believer, he’s heard and responded.  He now has God’s Word.  That’s really all the time we had with him before we had to move on.  Yet, without any prompting from us, he immediately walks straight to a group of the village elders and begins reading the Bible to them! 

In the last village on the first day we saw our ministry philosophy (His sheep hear His voice) in action.  As Cephas shared with a group of men several were obviously uninterested, a few wanted to debate, but there was one who was captivated by the words he was hearing.  He grabbed us to talk more about this Good News.  He not only believed but wanted to be baptized.

At the river he takes out a pack of cigarettes and says “I don’t need these anymore.”  Then he takes out his Muslim prayer beads and says “I don’t need these anymore.”  Then he takes out two amulets and says “I don’t need these anymore.”  In a matter of minutes he was laying down every idol he owned, breaking free from his previous generation's false gods, and acknowledging Christ was all he needed.

As we prepared to leave we asked what he wanted us to pray for him.  Here were his two requests: 1) that I’ll show grace to those who curse and persecute me and 2) more in my village will believe. 

Well God answered his prayer and in a matter of minutes there were now 9 more who believed and were ready to be baptized!  We also learned how great the sacrifice of his amulets was.  This was a man known in the village to be possessed by a demon.  A fierce demon who would take him and throw him to the ground.  His only protection from this demon were these 2 amulets.  These weren’t some good luck charm, they represented salvation for him.  And yet, he understood he didn’t need them any longer, he had a better salvation!
These stories only scratch the surface of a truly unforgettable weekend.  The fruit we were able to see was not because of our clever strategy or great ability but because we simply went and shared the name of Jesus with those who’d never heard and God’s sheep heard His voice.

We were all challenged and, quite frankly embarrassed, by the deep faith these new believers showed.  Do we so quickly part with our idols?  Do we pray for grace to those who hate us?  Do we go share to those who have the power to hurt us?  We may have our systematic theologies all neatly lined up in our heads but these young believers understand something far too many of us sadly miss out on.  

1 comment:

  1. How great is our God! My heart is touched, challenged, grateful...