ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network) – Margaret De Jong went to Haiti as a community health educator and family nurse practitioner. During her 11 years of worshipping with Haitian Christians, De Jong’s focus changed.
Her location also changed, as her Haitian church commissioned her to go to Senegal.
“It became clear to me that I no longer wanted my primary ministry to be healthcare, even though this is a much-needed ministry,” said De Jong, who grew up in New Brunswick, Canada. “My passion has now moved to encouraging people to follow Jesus. I get lots of joy in visiting others, praying with them and reading scripture with them.”
Opening the eyes of the heart
In 2006, a severe headache hit Margaret De Jong a few weeks after she arrived in the Senegalese city where she was to begin ministry. She was sweating profusely as she scrubbed the mildew from the bathroom walls of her soon-to-be home.
“I thought I was dehydrated from the heat and humidity,” De Jong said.
She tried to get a drink and was surprised by her own clumsy movements. She managed to call her team leader before her right side became totally paralyzed. Friends of the Wolof teammates activated a prayer chain that began in Senegal and spanned continents.
During the bumpy, three-hour trip to a hospital in the national capital, De Jong noticed the return of slight movement on her right side. She was evacuated to Paris, France where she regained mobility with astonishing speed.
“I use my stroke story so often to illustrate the power of prayer,” De Jong said.
Ami*, a follower of Jesus, was one the people who heard De Jong’s story. Ami couldn’t see well. She believed that Jesus, who healed De Jong would also heal her. She prayed.
A few days later, Ami was shopping when a man approached her and asked, “You have problems with your eyes, don’t you?”
When Ami affirmed the man’s observation, he said, “I’m an eye doctor. I can help you.”
He removed the cataracts that clouded Ami’s vision. The eyes of Ami’s heart were opened too and her faith continues to increase.
In 1991, De Jong accepted an assignment with Mennonite Central Committee
in Haiti, where she served in rural clinics and through a project to eradicate filariasis, a mosquito-borne disease that causes swelling of the extremities. In this capacity, one of De Jong’s proudest accomplishments was helping a mother deliver triplets by the side of a country road in the middle of the night.
However, even as she worked at health education and curative medicine, De Jong was being trained by the Haitian church. She accompanied members of her congregation when they trekked hours over mountain trails to pray for a sick person or used their vacation time to travel to other areas of the country on mission trips.
“They taught me about the importance of going far to pray. Spending so much time with the Lord grew my faith,” De Jong said. “On these trips, I always learned much about spiritual warfare, perseverance and God’s miraculous powers to save and to heal.”
De Jong delighted in fellowship with Haitian believers, but she began to sense that this was an apprenticeship preparing her to work where the church wasn’t as strong.
“Through various special services, I was blessed by having my Haitian brothers and sisters commission me to continue serving God elsewhere in the world,” De Jong said.
In 2006, De Jong traveled to Senegal, taking with her the new ways of proclaiming freedom in Jesus that she had experienced in Haiti, the first country in the Americas to abolish slavery. Her journey reversed the route of her Haitian mentors, brought to the Caribbean islands from West Africa.
De Jong joined the team that had been working in northwestern Senegal since 1996 through Friends of the Wolof, a partnership between Mennonite Mission Network and LifeSpring Community Church
in Goshen, Ind.
After more than a decade of small business ventures, experimental agriculture, telling Bible stories and engaging in the daily life of a community that is 99.9 percent Muslim; FOW is entering a new phase in ministry.
The church is growing and Wolof leaders are emerging. Ibu*, who had been a quiet taalibé Isa (follower of Jesus) before the arrival of FOW workers, is now boldly sharing his faith as a worker supported by Mission Inter Senegal, a Mennonite Mission Network partner agency.
After January, De Jong will be the only North American FOW member living in Senegal. She walks alongside the believers as they together listen to what God has to say when speaking Wolof and learn how Jesus desires to fulfill what is truly good about Wolof culture.