CAMEROON, Africa (BP)–Jesus taught His followers to store up treasures in heaven, and modern-day missionaries reap heavenly rewards for their work among indigenous people groups around the world. But professors and students from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary got some unusual earthly rewards on a recent, short-term, seminary mission trip to Cameroon, Africa: Their first Sunday in the West African country garnered not only 26 professions of faith, but also several live chickens and even a goat.
“We definitely ate well for the next couple of weeks,” said Keith Eitel, professor of missions and the group’s team leader.
From Dec. 27-Jan. 14, a team of 23 Southwestern Seminary faculty members and students ministered among the Hausa and Gewe people of Garoua — the capital city of the North Province of Cameroon — and the surrounding villages. Connecting with International Mission Board missionaries Larry and Trish Davis, the team was tasked with not only sharing the Gospel but also helping organize several house groups to lead Bible studies.
“We saw a total of 52 professions of faith and two households each in the Hausa and Gewe areas that opened their homes for Bible study,” Eitel said. “One of the neatest things to me happened in the first Gewe family we saw come to faith. The father said, ‘Ever since you came, my heart has been changed.’ That phrase just stuck with me. Even though he didn’t yet understand all of the ramifications of what he had done, he knew something had changed.”
The man later invited several guests to his home to hear the Gospel presentation, and they also made professions of faith.
“I really think that family will be a key household for Christ in that village,” said Art Savage, a team member and the associate director of Southwestern’s World Mission Center.
IMB research, Eitel said, shows that the 20 Gewe people that made professions of faith are the first known believers of that people group.
“Revelation 5 says that people of every tribe, tongue and nation will be represented, so we had a part in seeing the first Gewe get their reserve seating around the Throne,” Eitel said.
The Gewe, as well as the Hausa, are considered folk Muslims. They generally mix Islamic beliefs with tribal beliefs and practices as well as secularism and syncretism.
“Very few of the people could cite the Koran in Arabic,” Eitel said. “And even then, it was only rote memorization. Most of the people would admit they didn’t know what they were saying. One of the things we tried to communicate to the people was that the God of the Bible, who loves them very much, saw to it that His word was in their language, and the god of the Koran had not.”
The churches where the team members preached generally are not composed of former Muslims, Eitel said. Those with Christian backgrounds, living and working in the area, have established the churches and are ministering to their own people.
One cultural event attended by the team provided an opportunity to be silent witnesses to the most influential person in Garoua.
“We were invited to this big event with the Lamido -— the Emir, or spiritual authority -— for northern Cameroon among Muslims,” Eitel said. “We were there when Muslims celebrate the Feast of the Ram. During this time, local tribal warriors take the opportunity to affirm their loyalty to the Lamido.”
Because they were special guests at the event, Southwestern team members sat behind the Lamido in a traditionally prominent place and watched as horse-mounted warriors rode their horses up to the Lamido, stopped right in front of him, and shook their swords at him.
“In return, the Lamido would take his sword and just motion back at them to show his affinity for what they were saying,” Eitel said.
After the event, the team was invited back to the palace to talk to the Lamido.
“To have that experience was quite an honor,” Savage said. “God just gave us the right time to be there. He gave us his blessing more or less to be there, talk to the people and understand the culture, which also included religion.”
One particular experience that left an intense impact on the team involved a five-year-old boy and a near-death experience. According to Eitel, missionary friends of the Davises were involved in a car accident in which a local boy ran out in front of their vehicle and was hit.
“From all visible signs, (the boy) looked dead. But the missionaries scooped him up and headed to the nearest hospital, which was about 30 minutes away,” Eitel said.
Amazingly, the Southwestern team included a doctor and a nurse. Both went to the hospital and were critical to the boy’s survival.
Team member Paul Stoltje is an M.Div. student at Southwestern and a trained pediatric endocrinologist.
“I really debated with God for awhile about this trip, but I had a sense of needing to investigate it further,” Stoltje said. “So, I followed up with Dr. Eitel, I did a lot of praying, I talked with my wife (Susan) and a few days later decided to go. It was very sudden and unexpected.”
On the team’s first day in Garoua, Stoltje was called upon to do something God already knew he would have the training and ability to do. Along with Glenda Eitel, who is a registered nurse and Keith Eitel’s wife, Stoltje assessed the boy’s condition, which included a severe head injury.
“This boy was hit by a Land Rover going 65 mph,” Stoltje said. “For all intents and purposes, he should have been killed. Nobody would have or even could have done anything for him in his village, and most Cameroonians would have left him there to die.”
Stoltje and Glenda Eitel temporarily took responsibility not only for the boy’s medical care, but also for prescribing the right medicines needed to bring down the swelling in the boy’s head.
“The hospital did not supply anything for the patients, so it was up to family members to provide everything, including medications,” Stoltje said. “So, we got him what he needed and instructed the hospital staff on how and when to administer the medications.”
God’s providence was demonstrated to the entire village when the boy recovered. In less than a week, he was well enough to be discharged from the medical clinic.
“Glenda, who used to work in an emergency room, thought that the boy probably wouldn’t survive,” Eitel said. “But she and Paul prayed for him; four days later the boy was sitting up and playing, and on the fifth day he was able to go home.”
“The neat thing is that on all of these types of trips, God assembles a team just how He needs it to be in place,” Savage said. “We couldn’t have asked for a better team.”
In 2008, Southwestern will be sending students back to West Africa as a part of the M.Div. in International Church Planting program.
“We wanted to strategically plan trips like this one so that we could engage the regions where future deployments for the M.Div. in International Church Planting program are going to be,” Eitel said. “Next January we are planning a trip to India. This will give students the opportunity to be exposed to the setting where deployments with the IMB of two or three years will take place.”