RICHMOND, Va. (BP) — They were running out of options.
The team of IMB missionaries, national believers and partnering U.S. churches seeking to reach the Songhai people of West Africa with the Gospel kept encountering travel restrictions in many locations where the Songhai live.
Team members petitioned God to show them how to continue reaching the majority Muslim and animistic people group, of which less than 1 percent are Christian.
“Almost instantly doors began opening,” said John Smythe*, an IMB missionary and Songhai team member.
School of Prayer
The story of the Songhai team demonstrates that in ministry as well as daily life, “prayer is not just important — it’s essential,” said Gordon Fort, senior vice president for prayer mobilization and training with the International Mission Board.
Fort is leading the IMB’s new School of Prayer for All Nations (SPAN). The initiative features weeklong “schools of prayer” workshops at the International Learning Center in Rockville, Va., in which about 20 members/leaders of Southern Baptist churches practice the principles of prayer. The goal is for participants to replicate this focus on prayer within their homes, congregations and communities.
“There are things which God chooses not to do except in answer to your prayer,” Fort said. “… God is calling on us to cooperate with Him in His work.”
Led to the Songhai
The Songhai team prayed fervently for access to their people group, sending out prayer requests to their prayer partners and through the IMB’s prayer resources imb.org/praywebsite.
Through research, the team found unengaged areas of Songhai lands that are accessible. What’s more, after visiting the areas, the team learned that no one had ever taken the Gospel there.
“In each and every village, the story was the same: ‘We’ve never heard of Jesus. We’ve never met a Christian,'” Smythe recounted. “… Through the prayers of countless individuals — most of whom we have never met and will never meet — God led us to new areas where He had prepared people for the Gospel.”
The group helped 15 Songhai embrace Christ as their Lord and Savior, and 10 were baptized. These 15 are the first people in their villages to profess belief in Jesus.
“Prayer is not simply a part of our ministry, it is the fuel of our ministry,” Smythe said. “Prayer is such an important avenue for people to be directly involved in what God is doing on a global scale.”
Fort believes that through the School of Prayer, participants will realize how their home, community, church, state, nation and world can be impacted through prayer, and that they will call out to God to send laborers and resources into the missions “harvest field.” He noted that “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” as noted in James 5:16 (NKJV).
“[W]e live in the day of the greatest advance of the Kingdom in Christian history,” Fort said, noting that churches around the globe spontaneously are awakening to the need to spread the Gospel — it’s “unprecedented.”
“We are just scratching the surface” of the potential impact Southern Baptists could have on this global movement, Fort said.
“What we’re doing is to pray in order to get the mind of God and pray according to the will of God so that the work of God can advance,” Fort said.
The first School of Prayer is scheduled for July 29-Aug. 2 at the International Learning Center in Rockville, Va. Additional 2013 schools at the ILC are scheduled for Sept. 2-6, Oct. 28-Nov. 1 and Dec. 2-6. Dates for 2014 are listed at imb.org/span, with online registration at regonline.com/span. Contact [email protected] for more information.
*Name changed. Laura Fielding writes for the International Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).