Chief Channel for Tribal Evangelism
The old chief's thick glasses do more to magnify the filmy cataracts covering his eyes than aid his vision. But the joy and welcome in his smile shine.
"Lynn is like my daughter," he declares, clasping missionary Lynn Kennedy's hand between his. "Pray God will keep her here a long time - and me, too!"
Ever since Kennedy met Some (so-MAY) Emmanuel, a chief of great importance among Burkina Faso's Dagaari (Dah-GAH-rah) people, she's been accepted as a member of his family. When she requested his permission to share truth about God with the Dagaari, he agreed and lives began to change.
More than 500 Dagaari - half of them adult men - made public professions of faith recently as a result of newly established preaching points. And that would not have been possible without the prayers of 1,200-plus Christians who intercede every day for the Dagaari to come to Christ, Kennedy said.
A major answer to prayer was her relationship with Emmanuel's family.
Emmanuel is the "chef de terre" - regional chief - of the Bapla region, which means he's responsible for offering sacrifices to gain the approval and attention of Dagaari gods overseeing planting, cultivating, rainfall, and other weather changes. He influences twenty villages with anywhere from twenty to 200 people each.
When Kennedy first started sharing, the chief had not made a personal commitment to Christ but gathered his people in different villages and told them they must listen to this white woman who "speaks the truth." One year later, the chief made a profession of faith.
"I know Emmanuel will be the open door to the other big chefs de terre after we reach all the villages in his region," says Kennedy, the International Mission Board's strategy coordinator for evangelizing the Dagaari. "He really wants his people to hear the truth."
The truth is being proclaimed in nine areas where Christians have shared the gospel and seen people come to Christ, Kennedy said. Many people are responding to Christian radio broadcasts and new believers are being discipled. French-language Bibles have been placed in one hotel and production will begin soon on the Jesus film in the Dagaari language. About ten churches in the United States will send short-term volunteers to work among the Dagaari over the next eighteen months.
Fewer than 10 percent of the 245,600 Dagaari living in Burkina Faso have heard about Jesus. Yet each of the villages Kennedy has visited since her work began in February 1999 has a success story.
In one village, proof of God using Emmanuel to unlock doors came when a sub-chief told Kennedy: "Three different groups have come to speak about change, but nobody has come through the chef de terre. Others come, make noise and go, but they accept you."
Gaining acceptance among the Dagaari, a superstitious and private people, is tough for a stranger. They refer to themselves as "vitalistes," claiming transcendental synthesis between experience, intuition, mystical conscience, and the occult. They divide themselves into five categories:
"Fire people" are believed to possess the power to mediate between the village and ancestors. "Water people" are peacekeepers. "Earth people" empower and nurture others. "Mineral people" possess heightened memories, enabling them to be the guardians of Dagaari myths, genealogies, and creation stories. "Nature people" are the "witches," believed to possess the power to unlock a person's consciousness.
But because Kennedy went through the right channel, people listen to what she says. With Emmanuel's niece acting as translator, she regularly visits four mission points and contacts at least twenty villages.
At one spot, the village chief stands and testifies: "Since the last time you came and we asked for prayer about the sudden death of children, there have been no more deaths. I know you are bringing the truth to us."
He then asks a prayer for rain; the crops are dry and people are hungry. Three hours later the sky opens, and rain pours onto the dusty land all night. A visit to the same village the next day brings cheers from the people.
"We know you have brought us the truth now. You have to come back, and tell us more about this God," an elderly man tells Kennedy.
Kennedy often hears such pleas.
"I'm really finding in these villages there is a hunger," she says. "A brand-new convert says, 'You cannot leave us as infants; you must come back and teach us.' Now who gives that kind of wisdom outside the Holy Spirit?"
But one villager offers a caution:
"Thank you for dragging us out of the darkness. You must be patient, ... we are hardhearted in our traditions."
So Kennedy is patient and prays for the Spirit to pour down on dry souls - and clear their vision like He has cleared her friend Emmanuel's.
A Wave of New Believers and Churches
Thousands of people in Honduras lost their lives when Hurricane Mitch struck the country in October 1998. But thousands of others are finding life - eternal life - as Baptists have ministered and witnessed in the region. Missionaries report an unprecedented openness for the gospel. Seventy-eight Baptist churches have been organized across the country through relief efforts. In one Baptist association alone, more than 800 decisions for Christ have been recorded.
Filadelfo Pavón was bitter and suspicious. He was bitter that Hurricane Mitch ripped through Honduras and washed much of the countryside where he lived toward the Caribbean Sea.
His suspicion arose from weekly waves of Southern Baptist volunteers from North Carolina who arrived to help rebuild his house and more than 100 other houses for his neighbors. "What could they possibly want?" he wondered. "We've lost everything."
Pavón escaped death in late October 1998, when Hurricane Mitch leveled communities, crops, and lives as it ripped a path across Central America. Honduras took the greatest blow as Mitch's eye swooped inland.
His suspicion turned to realizing his need for Christ as he watched volunteers care for and play with his children. When construction was complete, he insisted the community gather at his property to dedicate his new house.
"Before we begin, I want to ask the people of this community for forgiveness," he started. "And I want everyone to know I have asked Jesus into my heart."
Within two weeks, Pavón's wife, 20-year-old daughter, and two other women followed his example and accepted Christ as well.
"There has been an openness for the gospel never before seen here in Honduras," said Max Furr, an International Mission Board missionary and disaster response coordinator for the board's relief efforts in Honduras. "Doors are open and people are asking us to come and preach in their communities and villages."
Seventy-eight Baptist churches have been organized across the country through the relief efforts. In the Lower Aguán Baptist Association alone, one of the hardest-hit areas, more than 800 decisions for Christ have been recorded.
The harvest of souls hasn't happened through happenstance. As God provided resources for ministry, Southern Baptist missionaries and Honduran Baptists developed a strategy.
"We decided from the very beginning that we were going to work through local churches to identify pockets of people who were not receiving help from any other organization," said Ken Cummins, the IMB missionary coordinating relief work in the northern coastal region. "Once we distributed food, we relocated people whose communities were lost. Money for the land and materials, and the labor, were provided by Southern Baptists."
Southern Baptists filled a total of eighty 40-foot shipping containers - more than 2 million pounds of food, blankets, and clothing - for relief efforts in Honduras. Baptist State conventions from North Carolina and Texas and a tri-state partnership between Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana Baptists are sending a seemingly endless stream of volunteer teams to assist in the recovery. More than 2,000 volunteers have worked through the IMB in hurricane-wrecked areas in Central America, sharing the gospel everywhere they went.
"We started Bible studies in areas where we built homes, in areas associated with flood relief and took the gospel directly into areas in an evangelism effort where we did not work," Cummins said. "We wanted to saturate the area."
"In dealing with the physical needs of the people, we also were able to deal with their spiritual needs," Furr said. "Many came to know Christ and have affiliated with new church starts or organized churches."
The Honduras National Baptist Convention recently began a five-year plan for missions outreach over the whole country and is hoping to soon send its first international missionaries. Lay training schools also will be established throughout the country to train the new leaders close to home.
Many Baptist leaders in Honduras see the decisions for Christ and the new churches as the possible beginning of a rapidly reproducing church-planting movement. They believe they still have opportunities to spiritually capitalize on what Hurricane Mitch began.