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Farmer in West Africa draws encouragement from collegians

SENEGAL, West Africa (BP)–Passersby called out every few minutes, wishing a good day to the American college students working in the West African field.

Sometimes the people stopped to help. Knowing the work needed to be completed before the rains came, they took the hoes from the American volunteers and weeded the rest of the row.

“It is very humbling how dependent they are on the land,” said Brian Matlock, director of the Baptist Student Ministry at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith. “We never have had to be dependent on the rain -– we always have food at the grocery store.”

After seven days of weeding peanut and cotton fields with hand-held hoes, five collegians from Arkansas had sore muscles and large raw blisters on their hands. But the fields were ready for rainy season. The farmer, John Pierre, was able to fertilize his plants before the heavy rains came.

Pierre is the first believer in his village. This group from Arkansas Student Ministries (ASM) is the third team to come and disciple Pierre in his new faith and to encourage him to share with his neighbors.

ASM adopted the Konyagui people in 2005, and Matlock took the first vision trip last January to meet the people and plan future trips.

It was during that first visit that Pierre became a believer in Christ.

The Arkansas team returned to Senegal to model their walk with Jesus and to disciple Pierre. They spent each morning working in the fields and the afternoon rest time talking about the Bible with Pierre, his family and friends.

One afternoon the team took out a storying cloth, which uses pictures to demonstrate Bible stories from creation through Jesus’ resurrection. The group took turns telling stories to Pierre and his family, with an interpreter translating English into French.

Pierre’s wife and daughters, who do not speak French, later asked him if the beautiful cloth was a head wrap. “No,” he said, “it is the story of Jesus” and began telling them the stories in Konyagui.

That evening, Pierre also shared his faith with a Muslim friend, who asked, “How can you share religious things since you are not a priest?”

Pierre answered, “These things are in the Bible and anyone can have knowledge about Jesus and tell others.” He went on to tell the story in Acts of the 3,000 people coming to faith, being baptized and selling their possessions to help others.

“There are many stories in the Bible, and anyone can read the Bible,” Pierre said, giving his Bible to the Muslim man to read.

The student volunteers now see the need among the Konyagui people for more workers to come and share their faith.

“It has given me a whole new view on the vast number of people who need to be reached with the Gospel,” Bailey Rahourn, a student at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith, said. “In America, every corner you turn there is a church. Here, every corner you turn [there] is a mosque.”

Tim McKelvy, a student at the University of Central Arkansas, saw Pierre soak up the words and knowledge of the Bible.

Now, Pierre says, he is ready to follow the Americans’ example and share his faith. He even talked about working in his neighbors’ fields, so that when they ask why he is helping he can tell them about Jesus.

“I desire to be like the people who share their faith; we must share what we have with one another,” Pierre said to the volunteers, who came not knowing the language but learning phrases to help share their faith. “This compels me to go forward; it removes my fear of sharing.”

“When you live out here, you see the Bible come alive. More than that, you get the chance to live out God’s Word,” said International Mission Board missionary Aaron Mills, who helped the volunteers. “When the students worked in the fields, the Konyagui equated that back to the Acts church. Just as the Acts believers sold their possessions to help out others, so the students gave up their time and traveled a great distance to help in the fields.”

Pierre’s oldest son, Kristoph, worked and talked with the Arkansas group throughout their visit. One afternoon he brought out his Bible and said, “We see these things in you,” referring to Scripture he had learned.

“It was evident that the love of Christ was shining through the students for the Konyagui to see,” Mills said.

    About the Author

  • Jesse Lyautey