When journeyman Danielle Koepke spent her first night in a Fulani village in Niger, West Africa, she wondered if she was ready for the experience. Surrounded by an older Fulani woman and several members of her extended family, Koepke suddenly realized how little these Fulani people understood her.
"I was just struck with the fact that she had family all around," she says, "and being in a group like that, alone, being the only person that understands myself, I got really lonely."
Despite her loneliness, Koepke says she remembered Bible passages about being courageous and knew she was where she needed to be.
"The Bible talks a lot about being strong and having courage, so I was like, 'OK, I'm going to stay and stick it out and take up God's strength,' and it was great," she says. "The rest of the night, I didn't feel lonely."
At 24, Koepke is the first missionary to bring the Gospel to the Sokoto Fulani people of West Africa, where fewer than 2 percent profess Christianity.
"There are difficulties being the pioneer," she says.
It's true: Koepke faces the ongoing challenge of being a single female in a male-dominated, Muslim society. However, Fulani team strategy coordinator Kris Riggs hopes Koepke will gain a better understanding of Sokoto Fulani culture and build relationships with the people.
"Right now, nobody is focusing on the Sokoto Fulani, so we really have no ongoing witness," Riggs says. "For now, a big part of our strategy is just getting people out there to build relationships and begin getting the Word out."
Recognizing the need to reach the Sokoto Fulani with the Gospel and sensing God's call to work among this people, Koepke says she immediately responded.
"I read this job request and it said, 'Go out there, live among them, and love the people," she says. "I immediately knew this job was for me."
An Answer to Prayer
When Koepke decided to reach the Sokoto Fulani, she had no idea her obedience to God's call had answered the prayers of Wickland Baptist Church, a small congregation in Bardstown, Kentucky.
After thirty days of prayer for lost people groups of the world, the Wickland members decided to participate in the International Mission Board's PrayerPlus program, a partnership allowing churches to adopt a people group of the world through prayer, plus whatever else God leads them to do.
When the congregation received the names of three unreached people groups from which to choose, they immediately began praying for guidance. After more than a month of prayer, the congregation voted to adopt the Sokoto Fulani.
"They don't have the Bible in their native language," says Joe Taylor, who served as Wickland's pastor at the time the prayer initiative began. "And so we began praying for that, praying that God would send missionaries to open up a dark part of the world, and that Christ would be seen through some kind of visible testimony. We can't be there ourselves, so we pray that God would raise up some individuals to do that."
The church's missions director, Patricia Stone, says she was surprised by the congregation's interest and commitment to pray for a missionary to the Sokoto Fulani.
"We prayed fervently every week on Wednesday evenings," Stone says. "And then many of us spent a lot of time in our homes praying about this – praying God would send workers into that harvest field."
Wickland members were amazed at how quickly God answered their prayers.
"People saw firsthand God does answer prayer, and He doesn't do it on our time schedule," Taylor says. "We had every concept that it would be later, but God chose to work immediately."
Taylor says the immediate answer to prayer fueled the prayers of the congregation even further.
"They've been going out of their way to encourage me and pray for me," Koepke says. "We've kept in touch through e-mail since I've been here."
While Koepke has appreciated the church's prayers and encouragement, members have equally appreciated Koepke's willingness to serve.
"We're very impressed with Danielle," Stone says. "And although she is so many miles away, she's a great inspiration to us."
While Wickland church members have been encouraged by Koepke's decision to serve among the Sokoto Fulani, Koepke says she's blessed to serve.
"I think it's an incredible honor," she says. "It's a really big job, but God's told me over and over that I'm not the one who has to do it, and that's a good thing."
A Mission to Accomplish
Koepke realizes the enormity of the task ahead of her, but says she believes God was preparing the hearts of the Sokoto Fulani long before she arrived in West Africa.
"I just have faith that God's been working on these people for a long time, and it's not that I'm there to save them all, but I'm just there to be obedient and watch what God's doing among the Sokoto Fulani," she says.
Riggs also realizes the challenges Koepke will face as she continues to engage a people group with no prior access to the Gospel. He says it's difficult opening doors to villages and getting to know who's open and receptive to the Gospel.
But as the first missionary to engage the Sokoto Fulani of West Africa, Koepke says she's seen God's provision in a new light. She has been open to a whole new dimension of God's sustenance and how much He provides for her. She also has experienced a deep sense of satisfaction in her work.
"God's given me a desire for learning cultures and loving people," Koepke says. "I can't get over how satisfied I am when I get to sit and talk to people and share God's love with them."
To learn how your church can pray for a specific people group, contact the International Mission Board at (800) 999-3113.