WEST AFRICA (BP)–Daniel Ruiz, 21, wanted a challenge, so he thought he’d try the Sahara Desert.
Despite the heat and harsh climate, he immersed himself in learning the Fulani culture and language so he could share the love of Jesus overseas for two months.
“I never imagined that God was going to teach me and bless me like He has on this trip,” Ruiz said. “I have definitely witnessed the great power of prayer and learned to pray big prayers in faith that God can and will make it happen.”
With short-term missions volunteers like Ruiz needed to reach the unreached people groups of West Africa, a new International Mission Board initiative named “Hands On” will equip 18- to 29-year-olds to be effective in spreading the Gospel and encourage them to consider a long-term commitment to missions by spending a semester overseas.
West Africa is one of the pilot regions on the continent of Africa for Hands On projects in 2008. The IMB plans to offer Hands On projects in various other parts of the world in 2009.
“I’ve seen short-term missionaries bring a passion that really makes an impact on the field,” said Greg Sharpe, West Africa coordinator for Hands On. “They share their faith with boldness, and they pour all of their energy into what they have come to do.”
Students, young couples without children and those just out of college looking for something more than a desk job can find an adventure in West Africa, Sharpe said. Hands On volunteers in the region will be paired in groups of four to work for four to five months on projects ranging from human needs, community outreach, evangelism, media, ethnographic research, sports and university ministry.
‘HANDS ON’ EXPERIENCES
Graduate student Betsy Childs didn’t think God could use her.
“I have never felt as unworthy to do anything as I did when I stepped foot onto the first plane to take me to Niger,” Childs recalled.
But she saw God change the hearts of the people around her, and her own heart changed while she was a short-term missions volunteer.
“He set me free from bondage that had kept me from surrendering my all to Him,” Childs said. “And I got to see His truth at work more than ever before.”
Now, Childs can’t wait to return.
Dusty Allen, 22, realized his dream of teaching could be used on the mission field while serving as a short-term missions volunteer in West Africa. In the mornings this summer after rising from his bed -– a foam mat on the concrete floor –- he used a bucket of cold water to bathe, then put on flip-flops and hiked through thick sand to visit the homes of young believers in a West African village.
Although Allen did not speak the Wolof language fluently, he used teaching skills he learned in college to disciple new believers.
“I just took a dictionary and looked up very basic words,” Allen said. “They read the Scripture along with me in their Wolof Bibles. It’s so refreshing to teach people hungry to learn, and I can feel the Holy Spirit working through me.
“I could really see myself doing this long-term.”
Hands On volunteers, after completing a two-week orientation in West African culture and mission philosophy, will take a three-week language course to gain confidence in their ability to share about Jesus in West Africa. The next step will be to use their new language skills to boldly look for opportunities to tell the stories of the Bible.
“Hands On is designed to be a conduit for this generation to go to the edge with the Gospel and to bring it into places where Jesus is not known,” Sharpe said. “Some people may just find out it’s where God wanted them to be all along.”
There are 60 openings for Hands On volunteers beginning in January and a need for 100 volunteers for the fall of 2008. Applications for the January group are due Oct. 20, 2007.
Jesse Lyautey is a writer with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. Emily Peters of the IMB contributed to this story. Information about Hands On ministry opportunities can be accessed at www.hands-on-africa.com or via e-mail to email@example.com.