SENEGAL (Mennonite Mission Network) — For Jim and Paula Hanes, working with Mennonite Mission Network and Friends of the Wolof in Senegal, a test agricultural plot in a field near the town where they live is a step toward holistic communication of God’s blessings.
Undertaking the call of God so that people can find life abundant, Jim Hanes makes it clear that the point is not for these villagers to get rich. But if the farmers thrive, they can give generously to their neighbors out of the abundance of their crops and their hearts.
Stories for all parts of life
A Wolof disciple of Jesus, Ibu* is working with Jim and Paula Hanes to bring teaching to a village in the form of a chronological rendition of the Bible. This “storying” is done in a distinctly Wolof style of oral communication with the addition of visual and audio aids to facilitate learning and feedback.
Beginning with Genesis, the tellers memorize stories chronologically, read a few verses from the text and then perform the narrative in Wolof style.
Last year, some formal teaching took place in the fields as farmers took their breaks.
“People believe that religion infiltrates all aspects of life here,” Jim Hanes said. “Throughout all the stories, we are looking for specific characteristics of God. We are also looking for comprehension of the stories so the hearers can tell another person the story they just heard.”
This year, formal teaching occurs each Monday afternoon in the Sarr family’s courtyard. Hanes said he is praying for the day when at least one member from each courtyard would listen to the Bible stories, so that the information would be presented simultaneously to the entire community. They are particularly excited about the project because Ibu is heading it and the North Americans are functioning in a supporting role.
Ibu’s knowledge of his own culture and God-given gift of communication has inspired many people to study the Bible and learn about Jesus.
Jim and Paula also have been praying that God would give them the opportunity to meet everyone in the village. Recently this prayer was answered as the Haneses were invited to go to each courtyard there. They greeted some 300 people.
The plot on a single hectare borrowed from the Sarr family in the village contains experimentations with manure, composting techniques and cover crops. Hanes does much of the work himself, traveling to the field on his horse cart, but receives help from two of the owner’s sons – men whom he has aided in harvesting their other fields for the past two years.
“There are just three of us, clearing the hectare by hand,” Hanes said. The main difference: he and the Sarr sons are clearing in December instead of the traditional June season. He may even plant early, after a seasonal rain, instead of waiting until most of his neighbors sow seed.
Any work that he cannot do, he hires out on a one-time job basis. Hanes said he does not want to cause the community to become dependant on his ability to employ some workers full-time.
The key to a successful farm project is creating methods that can be sustained in the dry land, Hanes said.
“I tell the family each time I see them that I am taking dominion over the land and that it will produce as Genesis records,” Hanes said. “Working the land was a curse on Adam. However, the curse can be broken and the land redeemed.”
Hanes pointed to Oklahoma’s panhandle by example.
“Part of the panhandle of Oklahoma only gets about 16 inches of rainfall each year and yet still produces a crop,” he said. “Last rainy season, we got 13 inches of rain.”
The philosophy behind the farming efforts borrows from “Two Ears of Corn,” a book by World Neighbors’ Roland Bunch which argues, among other things, that farming advances should provide rapid, identifiable gains for the farmers using a minimum of technologies and without creating dependency. Wolof farming methods now include wooden and metal hand tools and animal-drawn machinery.
Hanes’ methods do not add expensive technology, but seek to find ways of increasing efficiency with the equipment they have. Besides the farming project, Hanes also experiments with filtering wash water for irrigation, a process few of the Wolof expect to work.
“If we came in and we had machines and dug a well and had a normal project like you’d see in a large part of Africa, people would expect us to succeed … for a period of time,” he said. “People expect me to fail. Therefore, I have no pressure to succeed.”
Success, Hanes said, would shock the Wolof. But if they see a successful approach, they may find value in his methods.
As for specific farming techniques, Hanes consults with some friends, but soon his consultants will also become observers as he attempts to enact changes on the land – changes that could be considered radical to the people in the village.
Wolof farmers tend to approach the job communally, which Hanes said is not all that different from his experience in central Illinois.
“There, when it comes time to plant corn and beans, the farmers all gather around in the coffee shops and talk about when they’re going to plant,” he said. In Senegal, the farmers wait for one to plant, then the rest follow.
They also act stoically – you plant the field and see what you get. Hanes will take a more active approach by monitoring and adjusting soil pH balance and nutrients to improve crop yield.
The deviation from normal local methodology means local residents will be watching and commenting on his progress. Hanes intentionally has a low fence surrounding the plot so that neighbors and passersby can look over the top. He keeps no secrets, nor is this an attempt to tell the Wolof how they should farm.
“I tell them what I’m doing, but I take a descriptive role instead of a prescriptive role,” he said. “If they see something has value, they’ll adopt it. The Wolof people are very practical in that way.
“They must realize that anyone can do this.”
So he harvests his millet, sorghum and peanuts and plans to plant his “winter cover crop” of Moringa seeds and beans to keep the manure on his sandy soil so it won’t blow away during the harmattan winds of the dry season. Then he waits, patiently, for all of his crops to grow.
Mennonite Mission Network and Friends of the Wolof make up the Wolof Partnership with members on two continents. Friends of the Wolof – a network of congregations, businesses and individuals brought together by the LifeSpring Community, formerly Communion Fellowship, in Goshen, Ind. – initiated the partnership in 1998. Jim and Paula Hanes are members of Calvary Mennonite in Washington, Ill.