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West Africa is brimming with opportunities for cross-cultural church planting in a myriad of unreached people groups. And Pioneers-Africa is recruiting and sending a new generation of workers into the harvest. 

Witness the exuberance and creativity of our brothers and sisters in the Pioneers-Africa movement—their unique challenges, context, and perseverance. You'll be inspired by how they introduce people to fellowship with Jesus in this land where Joy Springs

 

Photo Essay — Joy Springs #4
Photo Essay — Joy Springs #4
The single largest church planted by Pioneers was started by the first Pioneers worker from Benin. And from the moment it formed, its members began planting other churches. Just a 20-minute drive away is a daughter church that started in a mud house. And it has outgrown the structure. So they began building a new structure around it—with the original still present inside. The new and the old grow together with the same heart. They see struggle and growth... lack and resource... hardship and beauty. This is the setting for the stories of what God is doing in West Africa.

This is the fourth photo essay in our Joy Springs series from West Africa. Take a look at #1, #2 and #3.
Can I Tell You a Story?
Can I Tell You a Story?

Pioneers around the world long to see disciple-making movements, with churches built on the foundation of believers embracing, obeying, and sharing Scripture. Julie*, a Pioneer in Africa, paints a picture of the how the process may begin.

 

It’s pretty simple, in a way. “When I’m working one on one with a woman, I try to identify stories from God’s Word that speak to where she is, and then teach her those stories and study them together to the point that she can tell them to someone else.”

 

But this takes a different kind of preparation than other approaches to making disciples. “When I teach a story, I memorize it,” says Julie. She makes sure she knows the story well, herself. When she meets with the woman she’s discipling, she’s ready to tell her the story and explore it with her.

 

“I’ll tell the story, slowly, once. I’ll tell it again. Then I’ll say, ‘Let’s go through the story again together. So Jesus was with his disciples… And what happened? Where’d they go? What happened next? Was there something that happened on that road as they were going along? Did somebody say something to Jesus? What did he say?’ I give them prompts.”

 

“And then I’ll say, ‘Okay, now you tell me the story.’” By that time the woman will have heard the story anywhere from four to six times. It’s sinking in—for both of them. Julie sees the scriptures come alive before her eyes and the eyes of her African friend. And she knows no greater joy than when one of her friends “gets” the story and sees something in it for herself.

 

But the process doesn’t stop there.

 

Julie asks what they learned and who else could benefit from it. She encourages her friends to tell others—her husband, if he’s open and her children, relatives or neighbors.

 

Sharing what they learn encourages a subtle shift of perspective. When a group of women gathered for a few days to learn about Bible storytelling, they looked at passages like Luke 10:2, where Jesus tells his followers the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few, instructing them to ask the Lord of the harvest to send laborers for the harvest. “The application that they came up with was ‘We need to pray for more missionaries and pastors,’” says Julie, a little disappointed.

 

As they grew more confident in their ability to learn and share scripture, they saw the story—and themselves—differently. They realized that gospel ministry wasn’t just for pastors and missionaries. They recognized that they could be the answer to that prayer. “Maybe somebody already prayed and I’m supposed to be one of the people that goes out into the harvest field.”

 

Please lift up men and women like in contexts like the one where Julie serves. May they be drawn to the Word of God, learning and sharing Bible stories in their communities?

 

» Learn more of Julie’s story in A Ministry of Presence and explore opportunities to share the gospel and make disciples in more than 100 countries where Pioneers works.

 

* Name has been changed. 

A Ministry of Presence
A Ministry of Presence

Who of us doesn’t agree that relationships really ought to come first in our lives? Yet all of us may struggle with this at times. We may prefer or simply feel we have no choice but to focus on other priorities.

 

Try adding cross-cultural dynamics to the mix by moving into a context where there’s a new language to learn and where people’s expectations or assumptions about friendship, neighborliness, and hospitality are like nothing you’ve ever experienced. Pioneers worldwide navigate these tensions, feeling both the pain of adjustment and the joy of connecting with those to whom God has sent them.

 

Julie* has noticed that in the context where she serves, just being present in the daily lives of her African friends, and especially at key events, speaks volumes. “There is nothing that makes a [West Africa] woman happier than people coming by to visit,” Julie says.

 

She spends a lot of time socializing, whether chatting around the rice bowl and drinking tea, dancing at her friends’ parties, or showing up for events where she may just feel like part of the crowd. Julie’s presence, though, is noted.

 

“When a woman in this culture is introducing you to another woman, they will say, ‘This is So-and-so, and when my father died she came for two days, and when my daughter was married, she was there. When I was sick she came to the hospital with fruit.’ They give a resume of how you showed up in their life as a way of introduction.”

 

Pursuing a ministry of presence can be a challenge for those who come to the field from a fast-paced American life. “Ministry here is not like placing your order and going through the drive-through. You’re going to put in years, sometimes,” Julie explains. Though there are seasons of acceleration when God works quickly, from the missionary’s perspective it can seem so slow, just making their rounds and showing up in someone’s life week after week. “And then one day, the door opens, and you don’t know when it will happen. Who knows if it’s going to be your next visit? What if you decided ‘this is enough!’ and the next visit would have been the one?”

 

In any culture where keeping peace and saving face are high values, building trust takes time. Broken trust can be almost impossible to repair. As a result, the people tend to wear masks. They don’t open themselves to others and share their thoughts and struggles very easily. These dynamics play out in relationship-building, evangelism and discipleship; they may also characterize a fragile newly planted church. How do you build a church of people who do not trust one another?

 

Julie had been visiting one woman for years before one day, when the family dispersed for afternoon naps, the woman started to talk about the struggles she has. “Finally, something broke, and I put in the right amount of time of just being present with her that she felt she could open up.” Julie, who was wondering if it was time to give up, now counts it her most significant friendship. This is the woman in whom she’s seen the most spiritual growth.

 

When Julie asked Christian women of a Muslim background what they wanted new missionaries to know, they repeated again and again, “No one is argued into the kingdom. Love us and spend time with us. We will see the love of Christ through that.”

 

» Learn more of Julie’s story in Can I Tell You a Story?

 

» Explore opportunities to share the gospel and make disciples in more than 100 countries where Pioneers works.

 

* Name has been changed.

Global Glimpse: West Africa
Global Glimpse: West Africa
A father and son who work as Pioneers in West Africa have learned how to present themselves to the locals in a different way in order to be recognized as spiritual people instead of humanitarian aid workers.
Photo Essay — Joy Springs #3
Photo Essay — Joy Springs #3

As with all cross-cultural work, it’s important to spend time getting to know the culture, landscape, geography, language, lifestyle and history of a place. When representatives from Pioneers-USA and CommNet Media visited teams on the field to capture photos, videos and stories of what God is doing in West Africa, they did much of the same legwork it takes for new-arrivals. They spent time observing life and asking questions of the long-term workers and local people. Here is another glimpse of what they saw and learned during their visit.

For stories, videos and job opportunities from West Africa, visit our Joy Springs page. See more photos of West Africa in our first and second photo essays. 

The Cost of Conversion
The Cost of Conversion

First they lose their housing; family members kick them out. Any money they get from their families is gone. Young men may be beaten. Women may be harassed, neglected, or abandoned. Any of them may lose their jobs, or if they’re not employed, their opportunities to find jobs. When someone comes to Christ in a West African culture committed to another religion, like the one Julie*, a Pioneer, now calls home, word spreads fast.

 

“They lose community. They lose relationships. They are ostracized in a culture where relationships are everything. The [local] motto or core value translates, ‘peace is everything,’ and so you maintain peace in all your relationships. That’s the most important thing. And so [following Jesus] is like the worst thing you could do in a relationship. It shatters peace and usually the people have to leave town,” Julie explains.

 

"Especially at the beginning, it’s like being shunned. People don’t sell them things in the market. Taxis won’t pick them up. If a public transport driver knows they’ve come to Christ, they won’t let them on the bus," says Julie. “We’re seeing this last anywhere from five to seven years.”

 

If, however, someone is faithfully following Jesus through that time, the story may take a more positive turn. Their family begins to see that they are sincere and that their lives are actually changed for the better. Little by little, the family may allow them back in, even if a wall of separation remains. Some new believers cannot stand the pressure and isolation long enough, but Julie has seen persecution fortify the faith of others, who cling to Jesus all the more.

 

Where following Christ comes at such a cost, Julie is thankful to be working alongside local believers who have walked the road. Believers like Sana* who was rejected by his family but made a point of moving back to the neighborhood, setting up a home just a few minutes’ walk from where his family lived.

 

“For the longest time they wouldn’t come to his house. They had to walk by it to get out of the neighborhood, but they wouldn’t stop. They let him visit, though. And little by little through the years they watched and saw that he was sincere. He became a respected member of the community again, and the family took him back. When his father passed away, of all the children Sana was chosen to be the one to divide the inheritance and make the arrangements because he was the one who was most just.”

 

As someone who grew up in another culture, Julie has come to recognize the limits of her ability to relate to the experience of persecuted West African believers. This helps her appreciate her partnership with local Christians like Sana. “I can show them from God’s Word what He says to be true, but I’ve never been a Muslim. I’ve never been rejected by my family. All these things we’re talking about, I have not experienced them firsthand,” she explains, “but I have experienced the life transformation of Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection, and that’s what I can share.”

 

* Names changed. 

See more stories from West Africa at Pioneers.org/JoySprings
Confronting African Stereotypes
Confronting African Stereotypes

The victim. The warlord. The noble savage. The witchdoctor. These and other negative stereotypes about Africans abound. Our news and entertainment sources may calcify these impressions. We hear about Apartheid, famine, AIDS, and Ebola. We think of the 276 girls kidnapped in Nigeria by Boko Haram, or Joseph Kony, the Ugandan guerilla leader. We picture scenes from Hotel Rwanda, or the Somali pirate attack in Captain Phillips and the civil war crisis in Black Hawk Down. We remember Out of Africa or The Gods Must Be Crazy.

 

Yet these images deny the complexity and diversity of Africa and label an entire continent and its people as violent, helpless, corrupt or backward.

 

The truth is far different. Much of Africa is peace-loving, progressive, empowered, educated and upright. And it’s not homogenous. Africa is made up of 54 nations, more than 800 ethnic groups and nearly 1000 languages. It’s about three times the size of the United States. That alone ought to be enough to challenge the power of these stereotypes.

 

The world of missions and evangelism has its own negative stereotypes, both in Africa and beyond. We may think of shallow evangelistic campaigns in which large numbers of people respond to the gospel but are never discipled or plugged into churches. We may picture missionary compounds where Westerners led the work and imported their own cultures instead of living among the people, contextualizing the message, and raising up local leadership. But missions history is more diverse than that, and today we see encouraging changes—especially in places like West Africa.

 

Take Yinka. He is a Nigerian Christian living in Ghana—a country of more than 27 million. A member of Pioneers-Africa, he is passionate about seeing the Good News spread in all of Africa. Like all Pioneers missionaries, he raises financial support for his ministry, but the economy makes this task difficult. So Yinka created a small business to supplement his fundraising and provide for his family. Over the last five years, Yinka has organized church-planting training events in multiple African countries, teaching Africans to lead Bible studies and plant churches. He emphasizes modeling and training new leaders long-term who can mentor other leaders. Hundreds of workers have taken these courses. Thousands have come to faith as a result.

 

Some Pioneers teams in Africa are all African, with members from one country or several. They may work directly with lay-ministry partners in their context. Other teams include members from all over the world working alongside African Pioneers. Julie*, who is American, is on one such team. Speaking of her African leaders, she says, “I want to work with them and under them. They know better than I do what the church should look like. We’re not there to plant an American church.”

 

Pioneers operates according to an agreed-upon list of Core Values. One of these is the local church. We strive to partner not only with churches that send their people to serve cross-culturally, but also with indigenous and emerging churches on the field.

 

From our perspective, stereotypes about Africa and Africans hinder partnership with the African church and its leaders. They don’t help us understand the people or encourage cultural awareness and respect.

 

Pray for our teams working in Africa. Ask God to help these diverse teams work in unity as they seek plant thriving, gospel-centered churches.


See videos, photo essays, stories and job opportunities at www.Pioneers.org/JoySprings.


*Name has been changed.

Share Stories in the African Desert
Are you in love with Jesus and led to come alongside those who still live in isolation from Him? Able to persevere and thrive independently in a challenging context, yet work in harmony with others? Join a small but experienced team in West Africa working to see a reproducing church planted among West African Muslims. This team uses Bible storytelling to introduce the Word of God to local families as they develop relationships and serve their community.
Creation Care in Nigeria
You could work alongside Africans to care for God’s creation and steward natural resources. Join a team that works with and under the guidance of the Nigerian church in a faith-based, non-profit conservation organization helping communities protect biodiversity through scientific research and educational programs. This ministry mobilizes communities and churches to respond to local environmental challenges. They raise awareness and understanding of environmental issues and equip vulnerable rural communities to pursue livelihoods that meet their own long-term needs in sustainable ways. Current efforts include a wetlands project and a forest conservation project. The team is seeking conservationists, agriculturalists, aquaculturalists, and development specialists to help protect these threatened environments while sharing the love of Christ.
Photo Essay — Joy Springs #2
Photo Essay — Joy Springs #2
"What God is doing in Africa defies anybody being able to characterize it in words, in pictures or in video," says Eugene Yakohene, director of Pioneers-Africa. That may be right. But what we can do is show you a bit of the lifestyle and geography of this place where God is working in exciting ways, using His people to plant churches among the unreached people groups living in this remarkable area. Get a glimpse of life in West Africa. See the elements of the work of fishermen, body modification, Christian worship, market scenes and rural cooking. Click the arrows in the picture box for a full view.

See more photos from our first Joy Springs photo essay or watch the video.