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Churches ‘engage’ W. Africa, more needed

NIXA, Mo. (BP)–A village chief’s son, Sylvain*, is spreading the Gospel among the Fulanke people somewhere in Mali.

A mission team from Stonebridge Church in Nixa, Mo., brought the “JESUS” film and Bible stories to Sylvain’s West Africa village in March. They also gave him a Bible.

Sylvain was one of 23 villagers who accepted Christ into his life that week.

Because of “engaging” churches like Stonebridge, this Fulanke village and others don’t have to wait any longer to hear about Jesus Christ. In this role, which is sometimes referred to as a “strategy coordinator church,” congregations are responsible for sending mission teams and coordinating a strategy to start churches among the 350 unreached “micro” people groups in the West Africa region. These peoples have populations of less than 100,000 and no missionary work among them.

Stonebridge is one of 20 congregations that committed to becoming an engaging church last year during the International Mission Board’s yearlong West Africa emphasis.

“We’re a new church plant, about five years old,” the church’s mission pastor, Randy Copeland, says. “One of the things we wanted in our DNA, was to be a global church, focused on the unreached and least reached people groups of our world.”

More than a year ago, Stonebridge already had begun working with a missionary among the Kagoro people in Mali. But during the West Africa emphasis, Copeland felt called to help people groups like the Fulanke.

“I took [the challenge] very seriously, and we rallied around the issue of taking on these smaller people groups,” says Copeland, who has led six volunteer teams to Mali.

This spring, the church sent its first team to the Fulanke. With a population of about 61,900, most call themselves Muslims, but they also worship spirits and believe in various superstitions.

More engaging churches like Stonebridge are needed to reach these people groups, says Randy Arnett, the International Mission Board’s regional leader for West Africa.

“We’ve realized that our missionaries will never get to all of the people groups in the region -– it’s not possible,” he says.

“One of the primary things we are working with is the engaging church.”

And churches of all sizes are making an impact.

“The size is less important than the spirit, the commitment,” Arnett says. “Some of the most effective churches … are small churches. Churches that run 100, 200 or 300 are out there in the bushes.

“The challenge is there,” he adds. “The opportunity is there if churches would only seize it.”
*Name changed for security reasons. For more information on how a congregation can become an engaging church, call the International Mission Board at 1-800-999-3113.

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  • Shawn Hendricks