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Trailblazers carry their faith to the Hausa of Nigeria

NIGERIA, West Africa (BP)–David* is intrigued by big ideas and how to make them work. Until his junior year in college, studying to become an astronaut, his plan was to explore a moonscape or two.

But as things sometimes happen, across that career path walked a guy with Campus Crusade for Christ. As the two discussed what God might have in store for David’s life, the Crusade staffer suggested the engineering degree also could be put to good use on a remote part of this planet. It was an idea that interested David.

“A year later, I was seriously considering it,” he recounts.

As he broached the idea with Rachel*, the young nursing student in his life, she agreed -– and they began to explore the possibility of serving in a faraway place, perhaps Indonesia or Africa.

“My call to missions was at age 11 or 12 at Girls in Action camp,” she says. “When I learned there were people in the world who did not know Jesus, I told God, ‘I am willing to go where You ask me to go and be whatever You want me to be.’”

Separately, God began nudging David and Rachel toward Africa.

As recent graduates and newlyweds, they answered the call to Nairobi, Kenya. Headquartered there in the mid-1980s, David traveled extensively for Campus Crusade to provide computer systems and training for nationals and missionaries.

Together, they helped start a church and David discipled a group of young men who are now pastors or Bible study leaders.

They saw how fast the Gospel could spread. Instead of growing by simple addition, the increase through church planting/disciple-making could be exponential. Since Campus Crusade was not starting churches, the couple began to look for opportunities through the International Mission Board.

Today, David is picking up his fourth language, Hausa, as the couple settles down in their newest assignment in a fast-growing community in Nigeria.

“I admire them because they are trailblazers,” says Mike Stonecypher, IMB liaison with the Nigerian Baptist Convention.

At nearly 30 million, the Hausa people live in 16 different African countries. About 18 million to 20 million are in Nigeria. The Hausa constitute the largest unreached people group in West Africa, with one tenth of 1 percent of the Hausa population being Christian. They also represent one of the largest blocs of Islam in Africa and the world.

Because of their population size, coupled with strong trade, business and relational skills, they exercise both political and religious clout throughout Africa.

Hausa Muslims have aggressively moved into this region to convert those within the local ethnic groups. As this happens, the indigenous people often are absorbed, losing their traditional religion, cultural identity and language.

While traditional Hausa religion is oriented around good and bad spirits and sacrificial offerings to them, Islam was introduced among the Hausa as early as the 1500s. But it did not become predominant among the Hausa until they were indoctrinated during Jihad holy wars led by West Africa’s Fulani people in the early 1800s.

Hausa, which borrows heavily from Arabic, is now the second language for many in the northern half of Nigeria, Chad, Benin and Ghana.

“If you look at a map of Africa, and wanted to color it black where there is no knowledge of the Gospel, what stares at you from the middle of West Africa is a big hole,” David says. “Missionaries have had some impact. But entering this community as business professionals, we should find another level of acceptance.”

The couple work as entrepreneurs while they experiment with some big ideas for church starting and discipleship in urban areas among the influential Hausa.

With multiplication in mind, David’s goal is to disciple 12 men in a year. These men will then work, two by two, to plant six new churches. Rachel’s plan is to befriend Hausa women who often are secluded during child-bearing years. Plans are for the team to disciple each new believer immediately and prepare him/her to become a trainer or equipper of other new Christians.

They will start small churches, with the plan for each church to remain small (fewer than 20 adults). Men will instruct men; women will instruct women. Built around family groups, these small churches should benefit from low start-up costs, intimacy in fellowship and security in a world where that’s a necessity. If the situation is secure, at times the small churches will gather for fellowship and a meal.

“In some cases, there has been intense persecution here,” David says. “But we have also seen that the church can remain firm, drawing strength from its community of believers.”

Their plan involves providing urban areas with multiple opportunities to learn about Jesus Christ through the distribution of free Bibles, chronological Bible story cassettes, radio, and by airing videos such as “The HOPE,” the “JESUS” film and “God’s Story.”

“We want to sow bountifully in order to reap bountifully,” David says. “We want to make the name of Jesus an issue on the streets.”

A global prayer network will undergird all these efforts.

“We recognize our total dependence on God,” he says. “As a team, we will seek to bathe every effort in prayer in every time zone. We will model this passion for prayer as we minister to local believers.”

The Hausa team started in 2004 with 24 partners praying for 30 minutes. They hope to have 67 praying by next year, and 1,488 by 2013.

Like Christ’s plan for choosing and training 12 disciples to win the world, this plan is subtle at first glance but has all the power to change not only the Hausa people, but Africa as well.

“If the Fulani [another large people group] and the Hausa were reached in Nigeria, that would be all she wrote,” Stonecypher says.
*Names changed for security reasons.

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  • Celeste Pennington