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Medical missions opens door for ‘Last Frontier’ baptisms

GBANGU, Ghana (BP)–The baptism of 21 new believers in a village of northern Ghana marked a strategic breakthrough for the gospel in a Last Frontier people group. And when God answered these social outcasts’ prayer for badly needed rain, villages throughout the area pondered the faith of the new congregation.
Attendance at “Mi Yetti Allah” (I Thank God”) Baptist Church in Gbangu, Ghana, is averaging 45, according to Paul and Faye Burkwall, Southern Baptist International Mission Board missionaries in Nalerigu, Ghana.
The congregation is the first in Ghana among the Fulani, the world’s largest nomadic people group with nearly 20 million people scattered across 20 countries in western and central Africa. Whereas in some countries the Fulani are wealthy religious and political leaders, in Ghana they are refugees from Burkina Faso and Mali who work as herdsmen for indigenous tribes.
The first Fulani believer baptized in Ghana was Umaru, a 60-year-old man who is the principal elder among the Fulani of Gbangu. Umaru, his wife and several of their children, nieces and nephews came to Christ through the witness of Fran Greenway, a Southern Baptist missionary physician who served at the Baptist Medical Centre in Nalerigu before her retirement in 1993.
More than 10 years ago, a measles outbreak in Ghana began killing large numbers of Fulani children. The epidemic forced the outcast Fulanis to break social taboos and come to the Nalerigu hospital for treatment.
As Greenway met the Fulani families, she became burdened for this neglected people group and began looking for ways to minister to them. She and Alex Husseini, a Fulani who now is pastor of the Mi Yetti Allah congregation, began visiting Fulani settlements and sharing the gospel.
In 1997, the Burkwalls transferred to Ghana from Nigeria, where they had been instrumental in starting the Fulani church in that country. They visited Fulani settlements near Nalerigu and found people still responsive to the gospel because of Greenway’s ministry.
The Fulani at Gbangu wanted a church started in their village. After nine months of Bible study and literacy classes, they erected a building on a corner of Umaru’s compound.
Because Umaru is the senior elder among Gbangu’s Fulani, most of the new believers have not been persecuted for their decisions to follow Jesus. But even members of the dominant tribe in northern Ghana have been more accepting of the new congregation after God answered their petition for badly needed rain in the area, Burkwall said.
On a recent Sunday, the morning worship service was interrupted by a delegation from the village chief, who was concerned that drought was threatening the crops the village depends on for survival.
When church members and the Burkwalls visited the chief after the service, he told them he had asked local Muslims to pray for rain but after five days they still were unsuccessful. Now he was seeking help from the Fulanis, even though they were Christians and an outcast tribe.
Despite the barriers that kept them isolated on the outskirts of the village, the Fulani were eager to pray for rain, Burkwall said.
The following day, rain fell in abundance. To show his appreciation, the chief visited the church to thank the members for praying.
“Medical missions remains a wonderful tool for evangelism,” said Burkwall. “What began as a disastrous measles epidemic prompted a radical change among a disadvantaged people group and their access to health care.
“This developed into a burden for an outcast tribe. Later, another medical crisis provided an open door into the home of a prominent family.
“Today, we see baptized believers among the Fulani people meeting in three villages surrounding the Baptist Medical Centre.”

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  • Mona Hewitt