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OVERSEAS MISSIONS (FIRST-PERSON): How an adopted people group becomes family

DAKAR, Senegal (BP)–I am typing this from an International Mission Board guesthouse in Senegal as my group prepares to return home after our church’s sixth trip to Senegal in less than two years. Colony Baptist Church in Missouri City, Texas, where I pastor, along with a partnering church from another state — Bethel Baptist Church in York, S.C. — have “adopted” the Mankanya people. The two churches didn’t know each other before, but God placed us together for a higher purpose.

The highlight of every trip to Senegal has been seeing God at work. He always has surprises in store for us to remind us that this is His work.


On our first trip, we went to five Mankanya villages outside of Ziguinchor to introduce ourselves to leaders. One leader questioned us intensely: “Since your forefathers took us as slaves, why can we trust you?”

We responded, “We will just have to earn your trust.” Our worship leader pulled out his guitar and began to play — the village broke out into dance.

Some villagers asked, “When will you come back?”

“November,” we said.

“That is too long. You need to come back every five days,” they replied.

We shared the Creation to Christ presentation of the Gospel, and two villagers prayed to receive Christ.


Because of the response to our first visit, we decided to return to Senegal earlier than planned. As we revisited villages, we were told, “You have to come back. Now we can trust you.” On this, our second visit, they took us deeper into the villages and into their lives. We went to work in the fields with them.

We reconnected with one of the villagers who had received Christ. He was reading the French-language Bible we had given him. He was praying. Even though life was difficult, he was trusting God.

We found out that Wycliffe Bible Translators and SIL International already had literature available for the Mankanya people. A representative told us they prepared these materials by faith that God would call people to share the Gospel with this people group.

God’s timing is perfect.


On our next trip to Senegal, a group from Bethel Baptist Church came with us. We were warmly greeted by villagers. Gone was the initial wariness. “You do not have to ask permission to pray for us every time you come,” they told us.

A worker with SIL International introduced us to a handful of believers from our people group. These believers wanted equipment and resources to minister to their own people. We prayed for guidance because we wanted to help, but we didn’t want to introduce unsustainable dependencies. Reproducibility is often better in the long run — working with what’s available so that it’s possible for the ministry to be self-sustaining and reproducible locally.


Our fourth trip was the second joint venture with Bethel. This time when we arrived in a village, people ran to greet us.

We did a three-day version of the Creation to Christ presentation, resulting in 20 villagers expressing their desire to follow Jesus. We got to know them better by taking walks together. We always prayed with them before parting ways. They told us how God answered prayer.

We particularly prayed with a pregnant young woman who shared with us how her husband was cruel to her and left her.


On our next trip, we took a larger team of nine, including six women. Two translators came with us so we could divide into two teams — women and men. We had noticed that women in the villages weren’t coming out to meet us men. They were busy working in their homes or in the fields. They think “religion is for men.”

The women from our church participated in the daily life of our people group — cooking and working in the fields. They told Bible stories as they taught the village women how to sew.

Through one-on-one sharing of the Gospel, 10 women and two men prayed to receive Christ.

I had a couple copies of the JESUS film in our people group’s language. I gave the DVD to our host, hoping he could find someone with a DVD player. “I have one,” he said.

It amazed me. He did not have lights, but he had a DVD player. For the next three nights, he carried his DVD player outside where 30 to 40 different people a night watched the film. They could not believe they were hearing God speak to them in their heart language.


During our trip this January, we returned to the village where we had met the abandoned pregnant woman. She was holding her newborn, her husband was back, and he was treating her well. We thanked God. In each place, villagers were seeing God answer prayer.

SIL International helped us find a Mankanya pastor ministering in another country. We arranged for him to work with us. Now we had someone who speaks our peoples’ heart language.

Several villagers commented what a joy it was to hear truth in their heart language. Hearing the Gospel in their heart language changed some of the villagers’ receptivity to it, especially the women. Connecting with them in their heart language, plus the relationship building our church’s women did on the previous trip, helped us turn a corner. In some villages, we were greeted with hugs — from women, men and even a chief.

Building on the Creation to Christ presentations, we crafted a follow-up overview. It starts with the resurrection, then Christ’s appearances, the Great Commission, the ascension, Pentecost, the character of the church, Philip and the Eunuch, Paul in Philippi and 1 Thessalonians.

This introduces the doctrines we want to include in discipleship — assurance, the purpose of the church, baptism, power and authority through the Holy Spirit (that is greater than the spirits of ancestors), missions, persecution and the second coming of Christ.

We shared this story set in 15 minutes, 30 minutes using the translator. Our translator shared his testimony and extended an invitation. In one village, 25 people prayed and came forward to write their name in a book — indicating they were following Jesus as Lord. In another village, 17 accepted Christ. In another, 15 came forward.

Now Bethel Baptist is embarking on a mission trip there to help disciple the new believers.


Through our missions journey of six trips in two years, we have seen demeanors change, words change, friendship expressed and tears from both the people and us as we leave.

This has confirmed to us to speak the truth from the heart. To pray and follow God’s lead. To realize that God is calling people — entire people groups — to Himself. That He loves them more than you do. That you are just one piece of how He is calling out to them.

You start out referring to them as the people group God wants to reach. Somewhere along the line, they become “my people group,” “my people.” God is calling my people group, my people — the Mankanya of Senegal — to Himself. And I am a part of that.

Our people, the Mankanya, remind us, “You have come back many times.” This shows us they value and appreciate every trip. I believe they have met other religious workers before, but because we have kept coming back, we have developed a deeper, growing relationship with the people. We have been told that we are family, and their home is our home.
Mark Dean is pastor of Colony Baptist Church in Missouri City, Texas.

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  • Mark Dean