DAKAR, Senegal (Mennonite Mission Network) -- Mustard seeds of faith sown over the past decade have multiplied into more than five tons of seed peanuts in northern Senegal, where a severe drought has provoked food shortages.
In July, seven villages that had poor harvests last year were able to plant community fields with peanuts distributed by local followers of Jesus and mission workers.
Ibu*, the regional leader of the talibé Insa (followers of Jesus), said one of the village chiefs fought back tears when he witnessed the delivery of the seed peanuts and expressed his desire to be more involved with “the group who is following Christ.”
After planting the fields, Ibu and mission workers shared with the villagers about how God had provided the seed peanuts through the love of Christians in North America. Ibu also requested that the villagers not use occult methods to insure a plentiful harvest but instead ask God for rain. Some of the chiefs are planning to travel with Ibu to each other’s villages to pray for prosperous growth in the fields of their neighbors.
“It is great to see the chiefs taking ownership of this project,” said Margaret De Jong, who serves in Senegal with Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Mennonite Mission Network.
The August Friends of the Wolof newsletter reported three days of rain that encouraged the growth of the newly planted peanuts, calling it “the biggest rain in five years.”
Friends of the Wolof – a group of congregations, businesses and individuals established by LifeSpring Community Church in Goshen, Ind. - has engaged in ministry in Senegal since 1999 through a partnership with Mennonite Mission Network. During the first years, small business ventures and experimental agriculture helped to build friendships and trust among the Wolof people, 99.9 percent of whom are Muslim.
The seven villages were selected to receive seed peanuts on the basis of relationships that had been cultivated with FOW personnel over the years. There are new followers of Jesus in most of the villages, though many of them still keep this identity secret for fear of persecution.
In two of the villages, Carol and Irene Bornman have been sharing the good news of Jesus for the past four years through chronological Bible storying. This method of telling about God’s love breaking into human history begins with portions of the sacred scriptures shared by Islam and the Christian faith.
In the third village, Jim and Paula Hanes, with their two children, experimented with innovative agriculture and telling biblical stories.
The four remaining locations welcomed a village-to-village team of North American supporters in 2006. This team, led by Charles Buller, a leader at LifeSpring Community Church, formed friendships that have been nourished by Senegalese followers of Jesus and subsequent FOW visits. Buller will lead a second village-to-village team to Senegal in November 2008 to further support the ministry of local believers.
Ibu, who had been a clandestine follower of Jesus before the arrival of FOW workers, has assumed leadership of the growing group of believers, working through Mission Inter Senegal, a partner agency with Mennonite Mission Network.
The FOW team serving in Senegal consists of six adults and five children: Carol and Jonathan Bornman with their three children; Irene Bornman – Jonathan’s mother; Margaret De Jong; and Jim and Paula Hanes with their two children. This team works with local leaders, Ibu and Yacine with their seven children, and Pioneers, another mission agency.
The Hanes family is on study leave at Wheaton (Ill.) College and the two generations of Bornmans will be returning to North America in 2009.
“When we began this ministry, we wanted the gospel for the Wolof people to be incarnated into Wolof flesh,” Jonathan Bornman said. “I see only one way this has a chance of happening, that is when we, missionaries step out of the limelight and move to positions of encouraging what God is already doing among the Wolof.”
*Wolof names have been changed to protect identity