Dear family and friends,
Thank you to all of you who supported my recent mission trip! Whether you gave money or time in prayer (or both!), you were an encouragement to me and my team and were an essential part of getting the gospel to the nations. I want to spend the rest of the letter giving you a sense of ministry that was accomplished, so that you can join me in praising God for all that happened.
This trip was my third to this region of West Africa. Each time I’ve gone with a team from my church. This time I went with three other men: Dave, Jason, and Micah (a dad and his two sons). In the past, I have been able to be more specific with details of where we went, but now the situation has changed a little. Our people group we work with—the Tamashek (aka, Tuareg) People—has been assigned to a different global region by our missions agency. This new region requires tight security because of the militant groups in the area. More on this later, but for this letter it means that people and place names will be abbreviated. As I explained in my previous letter, the purpose of our trip was three-fold: encourage our missionaries, encourage the Tamashek Christians, and evangelize the unreached Tamashek.
Encouraging missionaries was easy for me because we’ve been working with them for seven years. It was great to fellowship with them and help them—even in small ways—with their ministry. From their own testimony, simply having volunteers on the field with them is an encouragement and we were glad to oblige.
We actually began our third goal of evangelism as soon as we landed in the capital city. The missionaries we were working with had been on vacation visiting family and we arrived a couple days before them. This meant using a local man to help us get from the airport to the guesthouse we stayed at in the capital. This man, A, was someone I had met before and someone the missionaries have witnessed to, though he has not professed Christ. Spending time with A the first couple days allowed the other team members to get used to the culture of the country, as well as continue to build relational bridges between him and the gospel. In fact, while we were visiting with him at his house over tea, we twice worked into the conversation, stories from the Bible.
When the missionaries arrived, they came with a six month volunteer. All of us went up with them to where they live in T-town, a city northeast from the capital. One of our team members, went up with the missionary wife and the volunteer on the bus. The rest of us went up with the husband in their truck. The drive took about six hours. We weren’t long in T-town before we made our way little farther northeast to A-town for the bulk of our ministry.
The security issue was most prominent when we travelled to A-town. One of the local Tamashek Christians, M, met us outside of town and led us through back roads to our host home. He explained that there were Arab people there who were sympathetic with terrorists groups. Though they were few in number, we were careful to avoid their homes so those other groups would not be alerted to our presence in the town. The only time we left our host’s compound (the walled area around his house) was once at night. These kinds of precautions were sobering and made us more aware of the dangers for locals who make public professions of faith in Christ.
While in A-town, we stayed with a local Tamashek man. Although he is very interested in Christ and may even be a believer, he has yet to step forward for baptism. He is worried that his wife will leave him and take their children. This man has an extra room on the side of his small house and allowed us to stay there, serving us breakfast and dinner each day. The room was approximately 10 x 12 feet, made of mud-brick walls. Our four-man team and the missionary husband slept in there each night, while we ventured out to nearby villages for teaching during the day. Though the ground was uneven, we appreciated the room because the mud walls kept our the heat in. this was their winter season, which means daytime temperatures around 80° with nighttime temperature in the low 50’s. A-town and the surrounding villages is where most of our disciple-making ministry took place. Throughout our time there, Micah used his guitar-playing to attract visitors and help build relational bridges the missionaries could use for long-term ministry.
In almost every village we travelled to, there were a handful of people who had either professed faith in Christ or who were interested in hearing teaching from the Bible. After a brief meal of some kind (usually rice with a little bit of meat), everyone would settle in for tea and the teaching. Although I had been asked to prepare some messages on Christian suffering, I brought another on the blessings of salvation. It was clearly an act of providence as that talked wound up being the main talk I gave wherever we went. This sermon began with a short explanation of why we need salvation. I laid out the basics of Genesis 1-3, showing the damaging effects of sin into God’s good creation. Then, I moved to Romans 3 showing how everyone is now born with a sinful nature and exists under the just condemnation of God. From there, I showed how Christ came to save us from our sin and bring us to God. Illustrating sections from Paul’s letters with stories from the Old Testament and Gospels, I showed how in Christ sinners receive new life, forgiveness, justification, reconciliation, adoption, and sanctifying grace until they are glorified in the culmination of salvation. Each time, M would translate what I said, phrase-by-phrase bringing God’s word to his people in their language. As with any group, the responses varied. But there was always one or two who were locked-in, soaking up every precious word of teaching. Each time I taught, we were encouraging believers and evangelizing the lost.
The highlight of this disciple-making ministry came on our last day in A-town. On our way back to our missionaries’ home in T-town, we stopped at an off-the-road town. By off the road, I literally mean we turned off the road and drove across the dessert for about thirty minutes. Then, we drove another fifteen minutes from the town to arrive at a small village. We were greeted by the chief of the southern shepherds. He led us into a town where it was evident that we were probably the first white people most of had ever seen. We were invited into a typical visiting area and given generous amounts of food—cooked goat meat with seasoned rice. Unlike other villages, there were no spoons, which meant we were eating with our hands. After a half hour or so, our translator, M,—who had been off talking with people since we arrived—came around. He said the chief of the village and the chief of the shepherds agreed to listen to us but we had to leave the village and speak to only them. If we they liked what we said, we would be welcome to speak to everyone. This was different then we usually did things, but I thought that was just because our missionaries had never been there before. So, the missionary, my translator, and I took the chiefs out of the village. At the direction of the missionary, I gave the talk I mentioned earlier about the salvation we have in Christ. At the end, the chiefs said that they were glad we came to teach them and received our message “with two hands”—meaning, they fully embraced it. After a few more words, we packed up back into the truck and drove back into town. We didn’t stay long after we picked up the rest of the team and began driving back to T-town. It was on the way out of town that I began to put things together. I asked M to be sure, and he confirmed that I was thinking: this was the first time the gospel had ever been shared at that village. I was overwhelmed. God had allowed me to be the person who first brought the saving message of Christ to the people of this village! It was an amazing privilege that I will never forget. For me, the entire cost of the trip and all the security concerns were worth those three hours.
After arriving in T-town, we unpacked and washed up. It’s easy to forget the simple convenience of a shower! We also got to do some last-minute ministry, visiting another family to teach and helping build some bridges with the missionaries’ new guard and his family. The missionaries employ a man to watch over their house at night and while they are away. He and his family live inside the missionaries compound, essentially on their front lawn. This not only benefits the missionaries, but also several families who are support through their pay to their guard. Our final hours were spent resting up and debriefing with our missionaries at their home.
Our journey home began with an eight hour bus ride back to the capitol city. This in itself was an interesting experience! Packed into a Greyhound-style bus where almost every seat was taken, only the other people on the team spoke a language I could understand. We made two big stops where we could get off and buy food or use the ‘restroom.’ I took these opportunities to stretch my legs and walk around the bus. But I was definitely the sideshow at these stops! From the look on everyone’s face, ‘What’s the white man doing?’ seemed to be the question they were thinking. After arriving back in the capital, we met our guide from the first few days, A, who helped get taxis to the airport. Twice, my taxi almost crashed. But that’s pretty standard for taxi rides there as evidenced by the impact-cracks on the front windshield of most taxis. From there, we had about forty hours of travel to get back home.
As I end this post, I want to thank you again for your involvement in this trip. Everything that you did—especially praying—was much appreciated. I also want to ask you to continue to pray for the Tamashek people. Our trip is done, but we have missionaries who remain on the field and the Tamashek still remain an “unreached people.” Though there are individual believers, they are few in number and there exists no strong churches. They do not have the Scriptures in their language and cannot sustain the Christian faith on their own. Pray for the gospel to continue to take root so that the kingdom of Christ can grow in the midst of spiritual darkness.