EDITORS’ NOTE: This year’s Week of Prayer for International Missions, Dec. 3-10, focuses on missionaries who serve in West Africa as well as churches partnering with them, exemplifying the global outreach supported by Southern Baptists’ gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Several of the missionaries are featured today in Baptist Press; other stories will follow during the rest of this week.
NIGERIA, West Africa (BP)–The Fulani herder grabs a large bull by its sharply pointed horns, then, slipping one thumb in the animal’s mouth, firmly rotates its head to the side and holds it. The sleek, white animal is hobbled, his tail twitching. Yero* (YEH-row) passes a syringe to veterinarian Mike Houser, who makes the injection, then quickly pops the animal on the rump. The owner adds a red mark to its hide and they move on.
Houser, a missionary with the International Mission Board, and his ministry partner, Yero, treat animals in Nigeria’s Kaduna state. This day, they started at 8 a.m. with Yero’s quiet prayer of blessing for the owners and their herds. Before noon they will be finished.
The Fulani are pastoral nomads, much like the Old Testament patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
It is not unusual to see a white herd crossing a Nigerian road or rambling through a large pasture –- followed by family members, including tall, elegant women balancing cooking pots and bowls on their heads –- and one or two animals saddled with small tents.
“My grandfather used to say that the man without cows is a man without clothes,” Yero says. “For the Fulani, his cattle are his gold.”
At 18 million, the Fulani are the largest nomadic group in the world. Centuries ago, they converted to Islam. At the Fulani empire’s height through the 1800s, they spread Islam throughout West Africa.
The reverse could happen. When the Fulani catch something, they hold on to it. Houser has prayerfully considered what might alter the spiritual course of the Fulani people.
He heard God say one day: “You get Nigerian Baptists to pray for the Fulani, and I will take care of the rest.” For three years, Houser has helped Nigerian Baptists intercede for the Fulani during a special month of prayer.
Mike Stonecypher, IMB liaison with the Nigerian Baptist Convention, calls this prayer emphasis “one of the most exciting things that I have seen happen in the convention.” What began with a ripple of awareness has spread as Nigerians began to “think beyond their tribal boundaries,” observes Larry Taylor, IMB business facilitator in Nigeria. “Mike just ripped the covers off and said, ‘Look, these are people who need Jesus. Go. Give. Do whatever it takes to reach the Fulani.’”
Yero himself was a Fulani cattleman who picked up a Christian tract along the roadside. When he converted from Islam to Christianity in 1984, he was forced to leave his family. A missionary discipled Yero. Today, he is pastor of a church. He trains others and privately disciples new converts not ready to make public decisions. Assisting Houser, they produce radio broadcasts to reach the Fulani for Christ.
Through his veterinary work with the Fulani, Houser builds a base of friendship and trust. His wife Jennie focuses on educating four daughters and assists in operating a farm-home in the West African bush.
Just three years ago, the IMB dug a well for the Housers. Before that, they used rainwater from their home’s roof funneled into a cistern. To conserve, the family of six shared the same bath water. Then, that water was collected from the tub to flush the toilet.
When Houser returns from vaccinating cattle, his two younger daughters run to greet him. Deborah, 11, opens the gate. Ruthie, 9, jumps on the running board of their white pickup and rides to the house.
Deborah jogs, plays violin and sings alto in their family ensemble. Rebekah, 14, enjoys art and envisions herself as a future teacher. Elizabeth, 15, is a clever writer with an interest in pediatric nursing.
A few years ago, the Housers posed the question -– “Who will pray for us?” -– to Nigerian Baptists in the month of prayer focus on the Fulani. Later, through 200,000 prayer guides in England and the Hausa and Yoruba languages, along with 20,000 posters, they kept the need before Nigerian Christians. Then Houser took the idea to the Nigerian Baptist Convention with its 10,000 churches and 1 million members.
“Godly people are Nigeria’s biggest resource,” Houser says. “They’re audacious, creative, driven. They are people of remarkable faith…. God is getting them ready. He has them sitting on ‘go.’”