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The ‘free cattlemen’ of West Africa

SENEGAL, West Africa (BP)–After a meal with visiting friends, Amidou waxes philosophical over steaming cups of tea.

“God is patient. He controls yesterday, today and tomorrow,” the Fulbe man observes. “He knows that in my heart, I want sheep, cows, understanding and knowledge.”

But Amadou would gladly settle for cows.

In West Africa, a traditional Fulbe defines his worth, materially and otherwise, by the cattle he herds. He may own 10 cows, 100 or 1,000. Not to follow a herd at all, however, is to cease to be fully Fulbe. Proud, tough, independent -– the Fulbe ideal finds its essence in the ancient meaning of the word “Fulbe” itself: “free cattleman.”

But drought, the encroaching desert and social changes have forced many wandering Fulbe herders –- including Amidou and his brothers -– to become farmers or settle in dusty towns. Those who still wander must travel farther and farther to find grasslands and water for their herds.

“Their No. 1 physical need is always water,” missionary Tom Smith says. “They also need education for their children and access to medical care, but water is the main issue for themselves and for their animals.”

Their No. 1 spiritual need, however, is Living Water. The Fulbe have been Muslims for many centuries, but orthodox Islam never fully succeeded in following them through the grasslands and deserts of West Africa. They adhere to a folk Islam mixed with animistic beliefs, magic and superstition. They’ve had little or no contact with Christians through the ages -– until the last 15 years.

To reach the Fulbe, the Gospel must be carried by Fulbe believers from herd to herd, clan to clan, village to village, town to town. Smith and his wife Shirley dream of a lay-led, reproducing church within reach of every Fulbe.

“Our vision is not of a small number of churches scattered among the vast numbers of Fulbe who are themselves scattered over vast areas of Africa,” Smith says. “Instead, we have a vision of hundreds of churches composed of vibrant, Spirit-filled Fulbe who are at the forefront of a mighty movement of God in West Africa.”

If that vision becomes a reality, the “free cattlemen” will be free indeed.

“God is accomplishing His purpose to bring all of the peoples of the world to Himself –- and He is doing it through your prayers,” Smith tells intercessors for the Futa Toro. “Prayer is the key to starting churches among these people. Please join with us in praying for an outpouring of God’s Spirit until this vision is a reality.”
To learn more about praying for the peoples of West Africa and reaching them with the Gospel, visit GoWestAfrica.org. To talk to someone about mission opportunities, call 1-800-999-3113, ext. 1427.

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