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God at Work in West Africa

April 4, 2022

God at Work in West Africa

April 4, 2022

Group of smiling people outside a church in West AfricaIt’s Sunday morning and over 300 men, women and children have gathered to sing and worship the Lord. The church is filled with smiling faces, while children and youth are outside huddled in groups underneath trees. The church meets in a traditional mud-brick building among scattered small clusters of homes in a rural part of West Africa—many miles from a main road. Few people know of its existence, but God is at work here using a clean water well, basic health training and digital media to enable church-planting efforts.

Just seven years ago, there was not a single believer in this community or the surrounding area. They are part of a large unreached people group that embraced Islam many centuries ago—a people group who had been very resistant to the Gospel. “We had felt God calling us to reach out to people in this area,” explains Henri*—Reach Beyond’s local indigenous partner, “But it was not easy.”

CALLED TO MINISTRY

Henri studied electronics at the university and began volunteering at a Christian radio station where Reach Beyond had helped provide equipment. After graduation, Henri started his own electronics repair business and continued to volunteer at the station. Three years later, he was recruited by missionary broadcaster Trans World Radio (TWR) to become a senior technician.

During one of Henri’s trips with TWR to the U.S., Henri’s host made a detour to go to their church’s missions conference. Henri recalls, "This church supports 105 missionaries all over the world. I heard reports by missionaries who had gone to where there was no church, and now they've planted like three to five churches there, and there is a great revival. I heard missionaries who had lost their wife because of malaria, or lost one of their children. I heard all of these messages. And that’s when I heard God’s voice saying, ‘that's what you have to do for me, I want you to go all over the world to tell people about my love.’”

Henri would spend the next four years fighting with God about this calling. “Electronics had been my whole life. I thought the call meant I needed to leave electronics and resign from my job. And that was very, very difficult. I realized that I couldn't continue to fight with God. I shared the burden with my wife. We said, ‘Okay, let's fast and pray for three days. We’ll ask God if He really wants us to leave everything for this.’ By the end we received confirmation that God will take care of everything. So, we said, ‘OK, here we are God. What's next?’”

NEW BEGINNINGS

In 2013, Henri and his wife began a ministry called Shining Light*. Still unsure of what God wanted, Henri looked to utilize the skills he had, ”I said, OK, let's build a small studio. We’ll start doing some radio programs and so we began recording pastors. We started looking for radio stations to air our programs, but we didn't have money to pay them. So, I went to a radio station and met with the director. I said, ‘OK I have a special contract for you.’ He said, ‘Why is it special?’ And I said, ‘Because you are going to air my program for free.’ And his response was like ‘Say what?’ I said, ‘Yes, but wait. Any time you have technical issues, you can call me, and I will come and fix it for free.’” Using this approach, Shining Light’s programs were soon being aired on 24 stations—and now over 100 in the region.

Henri wanted to connect with other Christian radio ministries, so he traveled to Ghana in 2013 for a conference hosted by Theovision—a Reach Beyond partner ministry. It was there that Henri first met Alex, a Reach Beyond missionary.

One day, Henri and his wife were reading Acts 18 where it talked about Paul making tents to support his ministry. Henri was intrigued at how Paul integrated work with ministry. He decided to visit all the churches in the area to help them with their sound systems, teach them to mix audio well, and share about their ministry.

Man sitting by a straw roof home in West AfricaAt the same time, Henri was looking for ways to reach rural communities. Attempting to openly share the Gospel is risky in areas where cultural and religious identity are very strong. Henri needed a way to gain access. “I said to my wife, 'You are a veterinarian, let’s start using that in rural communities.'”

GOD POINTS THE WAY

Beginning a work in a new village requires a lot of wisdom and prayer. It often starts by finding a “man of peace” who offers hospitality. Henri recalled the first time they entered the village where Reach Beyond would eventually help put several wells. “We just had the name of the village we wanted to visit. Since we didn’t have a guide, we asked for directions. And then we got to a fork. Should we go right or left? So, we chose one. When we reached the next village, we asked for directions, and they said, ‘Oh, that village is over that way. But we are also from that village. Who are you looking for? The sun is hot. Come and sit down under a tree.’ They welcomed us so kindly. They gave us cow milk to drink. They were willing to take us to where we wanted to go. We looked at each other and said, ‘Maybe we should end our journey here.’” They had found a “man of peace.”

Henri began asking local people about how many cows, goats and animals they had so they could return with enough vaccines. “When we asked the chief how many cows he had, he became upset, and he took out his weapon and wanted to cut us in pieces. He was enraged and said, ‘How can you ask me how many cows do I own? Can I ask you how much money you have in your bank account?’ And we apologized and we did everything we could, but he wouldn’t tell us how many cows he had.”

Henri and the team from Shining Light returned one week later to vaccinate the animals. Henri recalled, “And when we finally arrived to the chief, we were only able to vaccinate around 20 of his cows before we ran out. He became angry again. He said, ‘I am the chief of the village, and now you don't have enough vaccines for my cows?’” Henri again tried to apologize, “Oh, chief. That's why last week we were asking for numbers. You became angry. You didn't give us the numbers. So sorry, we'll come back just for you to finish vaccinating your cows.” Henri and Shining Light learned some valuable lessons. It would take time to understand what is acceptable in this people group’s culture.

Woman and child carrying a jug of waterIt was during these trips that Henri and his wife saw the need for clean water. “When we start entering rural communities, we discovered a need of water. People were walking several miles a day to get water from a stream—water that is unclean, that brought diseases, made them sick and even killed their children.”

PARTNERSHIP BEGINS

Henri mentioned the need for clean water in his monthly newsletter. When Reach Beyond missionary Alex saw the email, he forwarded it to Andrew and Laura, who were leading Reach Beyond’s community development work in the region at that time.

Reach Beyond was looking for ways to help media partners use clean water to expand their ministry, so they contacted Henri and began conversations with him. They traveled to meet with Henri and Shining Light, and visit some of the communities. They started working together on a well design that would meet local needs. Reach Beyond committed funds for three wells, but Shining Light would need to determine where to put them.

INVOLVING THE LOCAL CHURCH

By 2015, Henri’s ministry had a long list of villages where they had already done some sort of outreach and which most needed water. But Henri had another list—the churches he had helped with their sound systems. It was time to get them involved. Henri explained, "So we said, 'Hey, pastors. We have an opportunity for you. One of our partners is ready to give us three wells. This is a list of the communities. If someone is ready to go to this village and start a new church, we are ready to put a well there.' And they rushed to our office. We were being visited by pastors every day saying things like, ‘Oh this village, we tried something there three years ago. If we can bring a well there, this would be an open door for us, we want to do it.’”

Involving a local church from the beginning is critical to Shining Light’s ministry. In fact, they will not even begin a new project until a local church commits to long-term responsibility.

Members of a village stand proudly next to their new wellTHE FIRST WELL/THE FIRST BELIEVER

The first well to go in was at the village where God had led them to the “man of peace.” Putting a well in a community requires a lot of visits. The villagers are tasked with providing much of the materials, including gravel and sand. On one of these trips, Henri gave out some MP3 players containing Christian music that had been recorded in that tribe’s language by SIM.

Not long afterwards, Henri was visiting the village when the "man of peace" came up to them. “He said, ‘Oh my friend. Come, come. I am looking for you.’ I replied, ‘Is everything OK?’ He said, ‘No, no, no. It is not OK. I’ve been listening to your music, and I heard it say that Jesus is the only way to go to heaven.’ We replied, ‘Oh, you listened to that. That's good!’ he said, ‘No, no, no, no. It’s not good.’ We replied, ‘Why is it not good?’ He said, ‘If it is good, that means that I am on the wrong way.’ And I said, ‘Oh, you also discovered that, that's fantastic.’ He said, ‘No, it isn't. What shall I do now? You are causing me trouble. I have to choose.’ We replied, ‘Yes, life is a matter of choice. You have the information. Now you need to choose.’” Henri continued, “We started working with him. And he gave his life to Jesus."

“One day, the 'man of peace' called us and said, ‘I want to see you.’ And so we went to the village. He said, ‘You know in about two weeks it is Ramadan. I want to announce to everyone that I am no longer Muslim, so I am not going to celebrate Ramadan.’ And we said among ourselves, ‘Oh, no, this man will face persecution. How are we going to take care of him through this?’”

Henri continued, “I said, ‘Are you sure that you are ready for this?’ He said, ‘Yes, even if they kill me. No problem.’ We said, ‘OK. What about the chief? You are a member of the village committee!’ He replied, ‘You can tell the chief. I’m not worried.’” Henri thought about it and said, “OK, maybe the best thing would be to go tell the chief before he discovers it for himself.”

Henri explained, “Remember, this is the same chief who wanted to kill us when we asked how many cows he owned. So, we went to the chief. We all sat in a position so that if he took out his weapon again, we would all be able to run away. We said, ‘OK chief, we want to inform you of a situation.’ He said, ‘Oh, is it bad?’ I said, ‘No, no, no, but we want to talk to you about it so it will not become bad.’ He said, ‘OK, I'm listening.’ I said, ’You know that the first day we came here, we said that we are a Christian organization.’ He said, ‘Yes, yes, I remember, that's not a problem for me. You are helping my people.’ I said, ‘OK. And, do you know this man?’ He said, ‘Yes, of course.’ We said, ‘OK, we gave him one of our MP3 players.’ He said, ‘Yes, I also received one.’ Then we replied, ‘Yes. But he listened to music. That started some conversations with us and now he has decided to become a Christian. Are you OK with that?’

The chief just stayed silent for like ten seconds. It seemed like an eternity as we were looking for his first reaction to know if we needed to start running away. The chief just stayed that way. Then he said, ‘No problem.’ I said, ‘What? Did you say no problem?’ He replied, ‘Yes, no problem. When we get to heaven, if he is right, we’ll know. If I was wrong, we’ll know. No problem. It is his choice.’ And that's how God saved us, because if this guy would have faced the kind of persecution that often happens, we would not have had the resources to really take care of him, or even the ability to teach him the Word and be strong in faith.”

Henri added, “God has brought us through many, many things, situations and experiences. And each step is a confirmation that we are where God wants us to be.

Inauguration of a new well in West AfricaVOICE AND HANDS TOGETHER

Reach Beyond has been providing funding for three new clean wells each year. Wells provide Shining Light with open access to villages. Reach Beyond has also equipped Shining Light staff to teach communities basic health, hygiene and sanitation practices using materials that integrate physical and spiritual cleanliness.

Shining Light recently began broadcasting audio programs in local villages using a simple MP3 player connected to a very low power FM transmitter with a range of around 1500 feet. Each month, Shining Light updates the 20 hours of programing on the MP3 players based on the spiritual openness of the community. Virtually all cell phones in Africa have a built-in FM receiver, so for less than $300, these micro stations can reach an entire small rural village with the Gospel.

These voice and hands strategies start spiritual conversations which lead to small private Bible studies. Once there are several families in a village who are believers, a pastor/church planter from the responsible church will begin attending the Bible studies, and in time, assume full leadership. Once a house church has grown large enough, they will begin meeting in public. This shared church-planting model allows Shining Light to focus its efforts on evangelism while maintaining the Biblical responsibility of the local church.

GOD MAKES IT GROW

Since 2015, Reach Beyond has partnered with Shining Light to dig over two dozen wells in the country. Reach Beyond is helping prepare the soil for those who will plant seeds and for those who will water them. But it is God who makes them grow.

women smile at the camera in West AfricaThe village that received the first well has been radically transformed, both physically and spiritually. When the project began, there were no believers in that area. Now there are four wells, six churches, and another 24 Bible studies. One of the first twenty believers is preparing to become a pastor and is in his final year of Bible school. Over one-third of the people in that community have already chosen to follow Jesus.

Even though this unreached people group has long been resistant to the Gospel, there are now over 600 churches/house churches among them in the country. And God is not done yet. He is continuing to use many different ministries, working together in partnership with local believers and the local church to grow His kingdom in truly amazing ways.