THIES, Senegal (BP) — Ahmad Faraj* was 16 when he overheard his parents plotting to kill him because of his Christian faith.
“We have to kill him,” he heard his mom say. “We can’t have a Christian here.”
The minute Faraj told people in his Senegal village that he’d decided to follow Jesus Christ, he was beaten and sent home to his parents. They then locked him in his room and began to plan how to finish him off.
Faraj kept his ear to the door late into the evening. When the house went silent, he slipped out the window and ran to a house where the door was always open for him — Jorge Reina’s house.
Jorge Reina, a burly Venezuelan man, moved to Senegal a year ago to take in young boys who needed a place to go — boys like Faraj. In the sandy West African country, it’s normal for villagers to turn their children over to leaders of the local religion who promise to give them care and education.
More often than not, the kids end up begging on the street.
But Reina is different.
He has taken in as many young boys as he can, with plans to provide a home for more of them. Many of those who have come to Reina’s door have roamed the streets barefoot, begging with dirty bowls. He invited them in, fed them and showed them what Christ’s love looks like.
“Many of them have no love at home because their parents think that the more they mistreat them, the better men they will become,” Reina said.
Reina knows personally what many of these boys have gone through. He himself — once drug-addicted and desperate — walked off the streets and into the arms of people who loved him like Christ.
“At the age of 16, I started doing drugs — all kinds of drugs,” he said. “Twenty years went by, and I went through some very difficult times.”
He was living on the streets. Smuggling drugs. Dabbling in witchcraft. Engaging in sexual sin.
“I wanted to die … I decided to hang myself,” Reina recalled. But the belt he planned to hang himself with broke. “I felt my feet hit the ground and I gasped for air. I said to the Lord, ‘If You exist, help me. If you really exist, help me.'”
The next day, God led Reina to the house of a Baptist pastor, who led him to Jesus Christ.
“The Lord saved my soul, my life, and I accepted Jesus Christ, and I actually started serving Him,” Reina said. “I said, ‘Come into my heart, be my Owner, be my Savior. I am yours. I have nothing to pay You with; I can only offer You my life and my hands and whatever You want.’ And that day I started experiencing the power of God in my life.”
And it wasn’t long before God began to show Reina that He wanted to redeem his past and allow Reina to make good on his offer.
From drug smuggler to missionary
One day, Reina heard a story about men “from all over Latin America” who were serving God in parts of Central Asia where the Gospel is often met with deadly persecution.
“And that was the first time that I felt the desire to leave my country to do something for the Lord’s ministry,” he said.
Reina began to ask questions about missions. He enlisted at Venezuelan Baptists’ cross-cultural missionary training center, where Christian workers Matthew and Monica Starr* took him under their wing and began to disciple him.
And then one day Reina met Jesús Guillén, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Redención, a Hispanic church in Houston, Texas.
The two bumped into each other at a conference in southern Venezuela, and “Pastor Guillén showed me a different spectrum, a different dimension of what missions in Africa were like,” Reina said.
And Guillén asked Reina his profession. The question embarrassed him as he stood among doctors and lawyers.
“I only know how to make bread,” Reina told him. “That’s what I do.”
Pastor Guillén appeared excited by Reina’s response. He asked Reina if he’d like to know more about Senegal.
“You could serve the Lord there,” he told him, “and we need someone over there [who] can make bread.”
The pastor said there were many mouths to feed.
Reina went home to pray about the decision.
When Guillén called him to ask again, Reina said “yes.”
Reina packed his bags for Africa, headed to meet a team of other Latinos, a house full of boys — and a large commercial bread machine.
From darkness to light
Reina quickly met Faraj, the boy whose parents had plotted to kill him.
Faraj “was the first person I felt in my heart I should disciple,” Reina said.
Reina taught Faraj how to make bread and began to encourage the young man in his faith, “spending all day with him over here, over there, wherever I went … praying.”
“When one of those brave men gets up and says, ‘I am convinced that Jesus Christ is the way,’ and accepts Him, that’s a great joy. It’s wonderful,” Reina said.
“I didn’t come to make bread,” Reina said. “I came to show [the boys] that a man who lives in darkness can only be brought to light by Jesus Christ. When those guys decide to move toward the light, I say, ‘Thank you, Lord,’ because that’s what I came for.”
— Pray for Venezuelan missionary Jorge Reina and other Hispanic missionaries serving in Senegal. Ask God to give them strength and wisdom to disciple and teach children and teenagers living in their homes.
— Pray that Senegal’s street boys will come to know the love of Christ.
— Pray for God to call out new missionaries to reach the people of West Africa.
To learn about opportunities for Hispanics to serve in global missions, go to hispanos.imb.org. To read more about this ministry, click here.
*Name changed. Ava Thomas is a writer/editor based in Europe. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).