Southern Baptist missionaries David and Tami Wood rumble down a deserted dirt road somewhere in the southwestern corner of Burkina Faso. All they can see from their truck are hills and high grass.
With a map and Global Positioning System (GPS) device in hand, they're searching for the Senufo people group. Right now, any signs of life would be good. In this part of West Africa, a good sense of direction and four-wheel drive take them only so far.
But with a different language and culture around nearly every mud hut, there is one thing that links most of the people they encounter — a need for faith in Jesus Christ.
"Some groups live every day in fear of spirits and forces that are beyond their control," says David Wood, who has served with his wife in West Africa for more than twelve years. "They sacrifice chickens and goats, and they (waste) the little bit of money they've got … on charlatans."
Researching Eighty-one Different People Groups
As members of the "engagement team," the Woods are researching eighty-one different people groups throughout Burkina Faso and several other West African countries. They, and other Southern Baptist missionaries in West Africa, determine which ones have the greatest need for evangelical work. The plan is for Baptist churches in the United States to adopt groups with populations less than one hundred thousand and take the Gospel to them.
On this journey, the Woods compile every scrap of information they can about the Senufo to determine if they already have an evangelical presence in the area. Of all eighty-one peoples the Woods are studying, five of them fall under the Senufo grouping.
The Senufo divide into fifteen smaller groups that scatter across Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Niger, and Mali. Five of the smaller groups are found in Burkina Faso alone.
Some of these Senufo groups have significant evangelical work among them. Others have no pastors, no churches, no believers, and no Bibles in their language. Most of them also vary in language, history, and culture, making a cohesive approach unlikely.
"Saying you are Senufo is like saying you are from America," says Wood.
"You go from one extreme to the other. … The same thing holds for all the people groups — all thousand plus in West Africa."
The Western Karaboro Need the Gospel
One of the Senufo groups in Burkina Faso with the greatest need for the Gospel is the Western Karaboro — a people of about sixteen thousand. The Woods hope churches will become burdened and begin a committed effort to take the Gospel to them.
"There are no churches," Wood says. "There's little evangelical presence, and that's where we suggest a church gets plugged in now … so they can know about Jesus Christ."
But Wood says it could be months, even years, before the Gospel reaches the Western Karaboro.
"I don't know that some of these villages will ever have a Christian presence," Wood says. "I hope we'll see Christians respond to the need and get into these areas. We know it will take committed people to bring the Gospel to them."
Volunteers are Vital
Wood emphasizes that volunteers are vital to the task — key to reaching those people who have little to no access to the Gospel.
"A church would have to look at the evangelical resources already available," he said. "You wouldn't want to bring a new person on the field to say, 'Look, you're going to do church-planting work … without at least touching base with those evangelical groups already working.'"
Putting Together a Puzzle
Wood describes his work as putting together a puzzle. To research one people group, they often talk to dozens of people, navigate around dilapidated bridges, hike through millet and cotton fields, camp in tents, grab food from roadside stands, or wherever they can along the way.
"You drive for three or four hours, and you find one person who has a little piece of the information," he says. "You get those couple of pieces from him. … And the next day or two you go to those places and get more pieces of the puzzle until you fit it all in and have a good picture of a people group."
A "clear picture," however, is rarely as clear as the Woods would like. Though some Senufo groups have an evangelical church near their villages, often few show up. One church of twelve members meets in an area with four hundred people, but only a couple of Senufo attend.
"The problem is that most of these people who attend these churches are outsiders," Tami Wood says. "They are business people in the area or people there for some other reason."
Many Senufo are afraid their friends and family will abandon them if they turn their lives over to Christ. Others are too afraid to put all their faith in something other than spirits and sacrifices. Some Muslims fear no one will bury them if they convert to Christianity.
But there are signs of life among the Senufo.
Albert Finds Christ
Albert,* one Senufo, shared how his relationship with Christ helped him turn away from worshipping spirits. His family eventually embraced Christ, too.
For Albert, there's only one true God.
"I've given myself to God," Albert says. "I will not do (sacrifices). I have a living desire to worship God. … Because I trust Him, I want to serve Him."
More lives in Burkina Faso — and throughout West Africa — can turn to Christ, but they will need help from Southern Baptists, Wood says.
"Why should a church do this?" he asks. "It's because the Bible says before God's throne there will be people from every language and every nation before Him; that certainly includes (the Senufo)."
* Name changed to protect identity.
Lottie Moon Fast Facts
Born Charlotte Diggs Moon December 12, 1840, in Albemarle County, Virginia.
Lottie rebelled against Christianity until she was in college. In December 1858, she dedicated her life to Christ and was baptized at First Baptist of Charlottesville, Virginia.
Lottie attended Albemarle Female Institute, female counterpart to the University of Virginia. In 1861, she was one of the first women in the South to receive a master's degree.
Lottie stayed close to home during the Civil War but eventually taught school in Kentucky, Georgia, and Virginia.
Edmonia Moon, Lottie's sister, was appointed to Tengchow, China, in 1872. The following year, Lottie was appointed and joined her sister.
Lottie served thirty-nine years as a missionary, mostly in China's Shantung province. She taught in a girls' school and often made trips into China's interior to share the Good News with women and girls.
Lottie died aboard a ship in the Japanese harbor of Köbe on December 24, 1912. She was 72 years old.
Lottie Moon Christmas Offering
In 1918, Woman's Missionary Union named the annual Christmas offering for international missions after the woman who had urged them to start it. This year's goal is $150,000,000.