Bagirmi

When Sonya and I were in Colorado in May for our four weeks of Mission Training we met people from all over the United States, going to all over the world. It really was very cool.

One woman we met there was on her way to Chad, to minister among the Bagirmi people. The Bagirmi are found in Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR); there are over 260,000 of them, and they are classified as an unreached people group.

As we talked about them we noticed some similarities between them and the Fulbe people that Sonya and I will be working among. The Bagirmi are traditionally nomadic, they are cattle herders, they live in the Sahel (that belt of land below the Sahara Desert), and so on.

Now I discover thBagirmi 1at the Bagirmi and the Fulbe do indeed belong to the same people group. The Fulbe are spread out in about fourteen countries across the Sahel, and because of that they are known by very many names – Fulbe, Fulani, Pula, Pular, Fular, Bilkiri, Bororo, Fouta Tooro, and more. In each place they are known to be difficult to reach for Christ, but it is exciting, nevertheless, to know that others like our friend are working with us in the same part of God’s wide field.

For more information about the Bagirmi/Fulbe you can click here.

 

Unreachable?

When I was in Buffalo, New York, the pastor I was staying with was a real go-getter, fun to be around, and a bit of a mischievous guy to boot. He took me to play basketball (gasping away the heart attack after the first game, but getting my wind by the time the third came along), and then out to supper with the family – a truly delightful bunch.

As we were driving to his home he told me he had a special surprise in store for me. When we got there I discovered, to my great pleasure, that his family had adopted a 20 year old Nigerian from Abuja for a few months, and we got to spend a good amount of time together.Fulbe 1

My new friend was proud and enthusiastic to be from Africa, and Nigeria in particular. He said when people asked him where he was from (his accent made it clear he was not American), he would pull his shirt over his shoulders to show a tattoo on his back with the outline of Africa on the left side, and that of Nigeria on the right.

What truly surprised me about this young man, however, was his shock at hearing that I knew of, worked with, and was friends with, members of the Fulani tribe (that is the normal, anglicized, version of the name the Fulbe go by in Nigeria). “You can’t be working with them!” he exclaimed. “That is impossible – no one works with the Fulani!”

Fulbe 4He was truly incredulous. He had never heard of Fulbe being Christians, never heard of anyone getting to know any Fulanis or being able to work with them. All he had heard, apparently, were the stories of their tendencies toward violence, their intractability, and imperviousness to the good news of Jesus Christ.

I was able to share with him some of my own experiences. The Fulbe that I know are both Christian and Muslim, but most of them are hospitable, kind, generous, and good-humoured. I love them and enjoy them. They may be an unreached people group (according to the Joshua Project website), but, by the grace of God, they are not unreachable.

The Wonder of Children

Often when I am sharing about the Fulbe ministry in churches the pastors will direct that the children stay in the service (quite often they retire to go to a more child-conducive setting), and, if I am paying attention enough, I try to gear my presentation more towards the younger set. I have found that when you aim at the children, the parents will often get more out of it.

In Gladwin, Michigan, this happened, and I am so glad it did. As I often do at the end of my talk, I showed a picture of seven Fulbe children in a row, standing in front of the Wakili’s parlour in our small hamlet, where Aminu is behind (reading my thesis from school).077 Lamizanatu, Farida, Jamilatu, Maryam, Shuayba, Jama'atu, Sardauna

The Fulbe children were a delight and a wonder. They liked to follow me around as an informal posse. On occasion I have prayed for one or two of them for healing of one sort or another, so we have a special bond that way. One of them, Shuayba, was just about four years old when I first visited the hamlet; she welcomed me by climbing onto my lap and adopting me that first time out (in the picture she is on my son Robert’s lap). For a fellow who loves kids, it was a wonderful introduction to this new people group.IMG_0038

While in the churches I share what God is doing in and among the Fulbe people –some of the stories are amazing, others are heartwarming. I am trusting that all of them glorify God.

As I show the picture in church, I tell the young people to pay special attention, because I have a $10 bill in my wallet, and if they can recite the names of the kids after the service, the $10 is theirs.

I say the names as clearly and slowly as I can: starting from the left, Lamizanatu, Farida, Jamilatu, Maryam, Shuayba, Jama’atu, and Sardauna. I have never been too much in fear of losing my money; the names are hard to say, and no doubt harder for a young person to remember. In fact, no one had ever even tried to claim the money before. Not until Gladwin.

That Sunday morning the first little fellow, maybe five years old, came shyly up to me, his mother coming behind and urging him on, with a fistful of coins. Twenty cents worth. His fortune, no doubt, but now being given, with intense seriousness and quiet joy, for the benefit of people he had only just heard of, but had never met. He felt the need inside of himself, somehow had a sense of his own riches, and gave out of the fullness of God. I was humbled and overcome; I wished I could hug him and talk to him about the big thing he has just done, but he hastened back to his mother.

A second child came up, this one an older girl, and a real delight. She also needed urging from her mother, though she was a little more confident. She had memorized the names, her mother said, and was there to recite them to me to collect the reward. I was very pleased and asked her to repeat them back to me. The first ones were pretty much a wash, but “Sardauna” came out loud and clear – my friend, the Wakili’s son, had made the connection. For his sake I gladly handed over the treasure.10 DOLLARS

Truth is, I would have given it over in any case – just for the pleasure of having a child finally come up and try those really hard names out. The wonder of children. Making friends, one hard name at a time.

Tom, Matt, and Me

There are a couple of films that exemplify for me the fact that for one person to go from ‘here to there’ successfully usually requires a group of people helping them out on their journey.

Tom Hanks shows this in Apollo 13 (a film based on a true story), an account of a shuttle he and two others are flying, which suffers an explosion en route to the moon. Because of the explosion they are forced to return to the earth without accomplishing their mission. The mission of thousands of other people then becomes getting the three of them home safely.Apollo 13

In The Martian, Matt Damon is accidentally left behind on Mars, and many others are also called upon to sacrifice in order to bring him home safely.

My own ‘voyage’ saw me flying to Winnipeg, Manitoba, in order to visit several churches there, and in Minitonas and Morris, and from there flying to Toronto, Ontario; renting a car and driving to Spittsville, Smith Falls, then into Medina and Getzville, New York, across Ontario again to go to St. Claire Shores, Mason, Gladwin, and Auburn, Michigan, before driving to Romulus (nice imagery there), where the airport is and flying home to

The Martian

Edmonton, Alberta (arriving safely two days ago).

While waiting for standby flights, white knuckling it over the many bridges between Ontario, New York, and Michigan, driving to hosts’ homes, and speaking in various churches, I too was cognizant of relying upon many others to get me to where I needed to go, and to receive me when I finally got there.

Sonya and Cari, June 2017Sonya and my daughter, Cari, were the flight directors on the home front. After them were the many pastors who received into their churches and homes; others who hosted me so well; many people who came and listened to the vision and need regarding our Fulbe mission to Cameroon and Nigeria; those who gave words of encouragement and blessing; and the hundreds who were praying for the success of the trip. If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes the equivalent of an extended village to send a guy on a journey half way across the country to exotic places he has never been before.

By the grace of God, and thanks to all of these folks, the trip was indeed a success. The message was shared with a good number of folks, and there was a positive response to it.

Of course, there is still a long way to go in our journey to get to Cameroon and Nigeria, so we urge you to continue praying, reading, learning, along with us as we go. Thanks so much.