Of Whales and Wildfires

The joys and challenges of growth in West Africa

Matt Green, Vice President of Communications at Pioneers-USA

“We are desperate. We are dying!”  A Nigerian church leader sent this heartfelt plea in a letter to Ted and Peggy Fletcher in late 1978, an impetus that led to the launch of Pioneers. Joshua Ekpikhe wasn’t looking for money. He needed administrative and leadership assistance in training and mobilizing the African church to fulfill the Great Commission.


Shortly after receiving the letter, Ted traveled to Nigeria to see how he could help Joshua and his ministry, Christian Witness Team. He returned inspired to start an organization that would send people to serve alongside Joshua and others around the world who were working on the front lines among the unreached. 


Nearly 40 years later, Pioneers’ work in Africa is composed of a growing community of 70-plus families working in 13 countries in West Africa. These African missionaries are served by a team based in Accra, Ghana, led by Pioneers-Africa director, Eugene Yakohene. “Africa is a melting pot of natural topography and oceans,” Eugene says, “and some of the most exuberant, lively people you could ever meet.”


The church in Africa has likewise become a center of growth and spiritual vitality while the influence of the Western church is receding. A 2013 study by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity estimates that Africa will be home to 630 million Christians by 2020. 


The diversity within Africa means that opportunities for cross-cultural missions within the continent are myriad, and Pioneers-Africa is working to recruit and send a new generation of church planters to take the gospel to unreached Muslim and animist people groups. 


Their strategy is one in which gospel proclamation and meeting physical needs naturally integrate. “Pioneers-Africa teams work among some of the most underprivileged people in the world,” Eugene explains. “Therefore, you cannot talk about the spiritual without addressing the physical.” One team in Benin packages and distributes clean water from a well they dug in partnership with churches in the US. In Guinea, teams have launched Bible clubs and after-school programs for children from Muslim homes.


“These holistic programs are not the end in themselves,” Eugene says. “We want people to give their lives to Jesus Christ and commit to a Christ-centered life that leads them to heaven.”


A key challenge for African church planters is that their passion for evangelism and discipleship often outpaces the resources they need to do the job. Many are bi-vocational, funding their ministry with a combination of business ventures and support from sending churches and partners around the world.


Church planters often travel between villages on motorcycles, bicycles and on foot, building relationships, looking for receptive people and leading Bible studies. Eugene and his team in Accra work hard to support their field workers with financial assistance, counseling and training.


“My heart cry is to raise the standard of living among these workers,” Eugene explains. “In spite of the little they are receiving, they are discipling people, and new disciples are joining the ranks of church planters.”


Eugene points to the largest church in Benin, planted by a Pioneers missionary nearly 20 years ago. It now has second- and third-generation congregations that were started soon after its inception.


“It’s hard to capture what God is doing,” he explains. “The best ministry work is being carried out by some of the most unlikely people. Sometimes highly skilled people tend to depend more on their skills, knowledge and abilities than on the word of God.”


The spiritual breakthroughs being experienced by the teams in West Africa are a sign that God is at work, and Eugene attributes it to the fervent prayers of the body of Christ.


“One of my mentors, Solomon Aryeetey [founder of Pioneers-Africa] said, ‘When a whale is giving birth, you can’t stop it—you just get out of the way,’” Eugene says, laughing.  “That’s the way it is with Pioneers-Africa. It’s spreading like wildfire, and yet we want to also bring quality to it.”

See a short story from Kobe, one of Pioneers-Africa's missionaries who walks up to 25 miles a day to share the gospel in surrounding villages. See our video and other stories from West Africa here.



We want to connect you with the unreached—through prayer, financial investment and even exploring how your gifts, talents and passions intersect with the expansion of the Kingdom of God among the nations.