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10 baptisms mark breakthrough in Africa

EDITOR’S NOTE: The International Mission Board recently released its 2007 Annual Statistical Report, which provides information on how God continues to move around the world. This story is the second in a three-week series in November. These articles will take a closer look behind the numbers at the lives changed by the work of Southern Baptist missionaries and their overseas Baptist partners.

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–The waves crashing onto the Senegal shore that day were rough -– almost too rough for one of the women waiting to be baptized.

She had never seen the ocean before and admitted she was frightened. That’s when Jerry and Monica Grift -– both International Mission Board missionaries -– began to pray that the rough waters would subside.

“When we were done and ready for the baptism, I turned around and these huge waves had calmed and were just rolling in,” Grift recalled. “[The woman] just said, ‘God is good.'”

She was one of two Sereer-Safen baptized that day. They were the first known believers to be baptized among this West African people group of approximately 117,000. Since then, eight more people have been baptized.

“We’re truly excited to see how [the Gospel] has moved,” said Grift, who has worked among the Sereer people for more than five years. “It’s been a long time coming.”

This is only one example of how the Gospel continues to penetrate new territory around the globe. According to the IMB’s 2007 Annual Statistical Report, 609,968 baptisms and 25,497 new churches were reported last year.

For the Grifts and other missionaries throughout the world, finding that first believer can be one of the most frustrating parts of mission work.

“When you first get to the field you’re thinking, ‘How are we going to reach them? How are we going to do it?'” Grift said. “It’s all [about] ‘we.’ [But] the closer we are to Christ in our daily walk, I think that’s when we can truly see where Christ is working.”

It took the Grifts years of “Bible storying” before any Sereer-Safen made a decision for Christ. This popular Scripture-teaching method involves sharing Bible stories conversationally in cultures where people are less likely to communicate through the written word.

Most of the Sereer believe in a mix of Catholicism, Islam and spirit worship. The Sereer-Safen is one of six subgroups among the Sereer, numbering 1.4 million people.

One of the first believers among the Sereer-Safen to be baptized has taken on a leadership role among his people. Grift continues to train and teach him how to share his faith throughout the area.

“He is a crucial part of our team … an answered prayer,” Grift said.

Grift also has found success in sharing the Gospel among Muslims, which he acknowledges is the biggest challenge among the Sereer-Safen.

“This, along with their traditional religions of old, holds them in Satan’s misleading grip,” he said. “Many also would never dishonor their parents in changing their beliefs as they live within an ‘honor and shame’ type culture.”

Grift doesn’t shy away from talking with Muslims about their Islamic beliefs and the Koran. As he engages them in conversation, invariably the discussion always shifts toward Jesus.

“When they ask me, ‘Why do you follow Jesus?’ it opens up an amazing witness opportunity to be able to share why we follow Christ,” Grift said.

“All we do is elevate Jesus, and we say nothing negative about Muhammad.”

Not all have been receptive to the life-changing events among the Sereer-Safen. One day, a Catholic priest challenged some of the new Safen believers about what they were teaching.

“What was exciting about it is that the new believers stood up and said what [we] were teaching is directly from the Bible,” Grift said.

One of them said, “If it wasn’t for them coming in and teaching us, we wouldn’t know God’s Word to the extent that we know it now.”

Grift said his main prayer is that God would continue to provide leaders and “change hearts and create more openness to God’s truth.” He also hopes the small group of believers continues to meet and multiply into more gatherings of believers.

“We’re still trying to model what church is for them,” he said. “They’re learning.”
Shawn Hendricks is a writer for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. For more information on becoming involved in international missions, go to www.imb.org. To see other stories of what God is doing around the world, go to www.commissionstories.com.

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  • Shawn Hendricks