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The Nanerige Project Two Years Later: Let your light shine…
When we left Burkina in 2019, these were the big questions:
- Would the Nanerige scriptures we’d translated ever be read? Jula scripture was being pushed by the EEMBF.
- What would happen to the fledgling Nanerige churches?
- How would Madou and the four new pastors do?
- What about our house and the other stuff that we left behind in N’Dorola?
- How would the Nanerige people, in general, see the work of the Mennonites – now that the era of expat missionaries was over?
I just completed a two-week trip to find the answers to these questions – visiting villages and cities to speak to Christian and non-Christian leaders. What I found was astonishing!
1. The Bible Translation
Swiss missionary in Burkina Urs Niggli developed an app for people’s smartphones so that they can read Scriptures in two languages on a split-screen. As you scroll through the Nanerige text, you see the same verses in French underneath. Now, educated Nanerige people are teaching themselves how to read their Bible story in Nanerige and French. In the last few months since the app went up, well over a thousand people have downloaded it. I’m told that the actual number of copies on people’s phone is likely much higher since many folks just swap files with friends, Today, the greatest distribution of Nanerige text in history is taking place, by word of mouth. As a result, the vast majority of Nanerige people who will see their own language in print for the first time will start reading “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…”
It give me chills!
I talked with Maliki – the Bible translator we worked with. I thought he was retired. But no! His report: he and some other educated Nanerige people decided to just take what was left of the New Testament, split it up between themselves, work as a team, and get it done. So, they did. The entire New Testament in Nanerige, in rough draft form, is almost here! Great googly-moogly!
2. The Nanerige Church
There are now almost 400 baptized people in the Nanerige Mennonite churches, 27 baptized in April alone! A new church has begun in a new village – Kalifara. The community leaders there are no longer resisting the coming of Christianity. In fact, they donated a large tract of land to the new Christians! Praise God!
3. Madou and the four, no wait, FIVE new pastors
As we’ve described, our partner Madou has led the way in holistic ministry that “transforms communities among the least reached.” Thousands of acres of failed agriculture production changed into a breadbasker (a story that needs its own book) when Madou grew rice. Now he is focused on expanding the development work to the hillsides. Several acres of rocky “useless” land was given him by the Bolon people – thr Nanerige’s neighbors. A year of back-breaking work later, fiels were cleared of tons and tons of stones, plowed, planted and about a ton and half of corn was harvested. Now he wants to introduce cashew farming to the area, using the rocky hillsides. If this goes, it would not just provide a new cash crop, but it could be the start of the reforestation of the area. He is also doing artificial insemination of his cattle in an attempt to upgrade his heard and increase milk production. In every way, he is showing others how innovation and hard work can increase everyone’s standard of living. We stood together on the hillside and he said, “Now I’m ready to have others come see this and learn how to do this themselves.” That’s what is driving him – a desire ro help show others the way!
Also, Madou is well known as a bridge-builder to other denominations. From the beginning, he invited other pastors to our church events and we attended theirs. He was called in when churches in the religion had difficulties. Now he has been chosen as the official representative in the province for the national association of evangelical churches and mission agencies. With a new, fifth trained pastor on the team, Madou and his five new leaders are doing things differently, seeking unity rather than competition with others, and being blessed by God. In every way, he is living out the command to “let your light shine before men in such a way that they will see your good works, and glorify your father who is in heaven.” Madou’s life exemplifies what can happen when mature Christians go to work in a new community where the Church has never been before.
4. Our Old Junk
Even our stuff is doing ministry work! When we left, we didn’t try to sell our things. We turned them over to the church. My precious tools will help launch a young automotive mechanic into a business of his own, my beloved motorcycle has now logged over 11,000 miles of ministry travel, and our well-built house has become the most popular guesthouse in the area. Income from it has been wisely managed – providing the funds to build another guestroom, two outdoor bathrooms, and a parsonage for a local pastor! Through using this resource together, the N’Dorola church people are learning to keep “open books” and to see how transparency in business leads to success as every dollar in accounted for. As the church asks only about 1/3 of the market rate for a stay there, and keeps up with the cleaning and the repairs, it is also saying “we care” to the important people who come to stay. Another example of how things are going better than we ever imagined.
5. How the non-Christian leaders in N’Dorola view the Mennonite Church
I spoke with village elders. They reported that they couldn’t be happier with the example that Madou is setting. He isn’t just a good neighbour, but an asset to the community. As Petersens did before us, we sought the criticism and advice of the non-Christians on the receiving end of our work. Madou and the new pastors have lived that pattern out fully. This is why each of the churches that have been planted, including the latest one in Kalifara,have been given land to establish their churches by the traditional leaders of these communities. That alone speaks volumes. Adou, and those uder his tutelage, are setting a real “gold standard” for how to show respect and love for others.
Everything we cared about and worked to build is flourishing after it has passed into other people’s hands. This is wonderful beyond our wildest dreams! Thank you, God.
Madou’s Message to Us:
As we spent several days together sharing, Madou gave me advice to take home and give to all of you. Here’s my summary of what we looked at together:
As children of our Heavenly Father, we enjoy some wonderful things. The status we have with Him, the freedom that we have from fear in the face of death, suffering and spiritual warfare, the power that God adds to the work we do in His name, when people see these things, they know they are real, and can feel jealous. We need to be careful.
Think of this example: there are some children of successful parents who live privileged lives. Where others ride bicycles, they may have a car. Those rich kids, sometimes, when they see a person riding along in the bush on their bicycle, don’t slow at all. As they pass in their car, they leave the others behind in a choking cloud out dust – and enjoy doing it. They are hated for that. They act like the car is something they earned and use it to act superior to others who are suffering. We need to remember that as Christians, we are really no better than anyone else. We just know where to go for help. The gifts we enjoy are not just for us, but for everyone. All we did to get them is confess our sin, receive the gift of the Spirit, listen carefully to the council of Christ, and ask God for help as we go out and work in His name. Our freedom and power is never to be something that we hold over other people – blaming them for not having what we have. If we do that, God won’t empower us, and we will be hated for good reason.
But be sure of this, that kind of sin won’t go on for long. God will send suffering as part of His plan. To explain: when God is going to show Himself to the World, He often places His people in a position right alongside, working shoulder-to-shoulder, with those who need to be saved – like Jesus did. The unsaved see God’s people and what good shape they are in as they are focused not on themselves but on others. Then God begins stirpping His servants of everything that gives them confidence – except for His grace. The community watches. If God’s people reach the limits of what they can endure, and instead of giving up and going back ordinary, self-centered living, they reach up to God and hang on, if they trust in the way of Christ, if they don’t hide from their own sins and weakness but display them, then something wonderful can happen. As the receiving community watches God provide what His servants need to do what God wants them to do – care for others more than they care for themselves – the community sees the very power of God in action. At that point, the unsaved can make a realistic decision to choose to glorify God (whether they become Christian or not), and some will join in the work they have watched being done. When Christian hearts break for others, the world can see anew why Jesus wept – and know that it’s loved.
Jesus directed us to “let your light shine” in such a way that people will see it, and…here’s the thing…not glorify us, but glorify our Father in Heaven. That may be heard to understand at first. Here’s how it works: when we stay on track, even when we are in over our heads, challenged beyond our abilities, then people can see God in us when He helps us. Suffering, and receiving God’s help, in public, is at the centre of what the mission of the Church is all about. It’s often ignored, but inescapably true. THe suffering of His servants is what God empowers. This is how God is glorified through us.
There are things we can do that drive people away from the very grace of God that we want to share with them. Let’s stop doing that stuff! Remember: our own sinfulness, our own failures, our own weaknesses, our frustrated goals, our reasonable humility, and our blessings, are all part of The Plan as we live shoulder-to-shoulder with people God is calling to be His children too.
The work in Burkina has been done over many years of struggle. The fruit we see today came as God’s suffering servants worked at the tasks they were given, endured, asked God for what He alone gives, and waited for Him to give it. The wider community saw this all happen in real time, in flesh and blood, dirt and harvests – and some have joined in. Now the Church is planted among the Nanerigem and it’s doing fine – suffering with a purpose, being blessed as God sees fit to bless it.
“Let your light shine before men…” It’s not all about our own strength. It’s also about showing people this truth: when we’re weak in the face of the work entrusted to us, God helps us, and then we’re strong. When we “do all things” so that “we may win some,” let’s not forget good old fashioned hard work, sticking with God’s advice, waiting on Him, suffering for others until they have what we have. Some old ways of doing things still work pretty well.
Thanks Pastor Madou for your encouraging example.
All the best, Phil and Carol