By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
When the ten-member mission team was shuffled into the small African meeting area, they didn’t know what to expect. Several people were crowded in the big room, and their team leader and interpreter were brought to the front.
“There was no introduction, and the people started interrogating us,” recounted Dan Sheffield, who was leading his third trip to the region. Since everyone mostly was speaking in French, he felt helpless to respond.
The interchange got louder, and suddenly a young man in the audience got up and headed directly out the door.
The team’s apprehension mounted as they were escorted out the door and allowed to continue toward the mountainous village.
Later, they someone asked if any of the representatives in the crowd recognized the team members.
An older gentleman affirmed that they were the group responsible for building a well in his village, and that they were very kind to his people.
And the young man had left quickly to “warn the village that the group was coming.”
When the team from Susquehanna Association with members from The Church at Riverside in Bel Camp, Md.; Vision Korean Church in Bel Air; and New Hope Community Church in Baltimore finally arrived, many were there to greet them.
“By all appearances, they were excited to see us arrive,” shared Sheffield, director of missions for the Susquehanna Association. “Right away, they shared how the well was not working.”
The young man explained that part of the well had caved in and they weren’t able to get any water from it.
It appeared that he was being groomed to be the next village chief.
During their stay, the team and a well-digger were able to fix the well, and the young man was given the authority for its upkeep so it wouldn’t break again, Sheffield said.
Then he said something that completely overwhelmed Sheffield.
Speaking in Pular, he expressed thanksgiving for the “books” (the first five books of the Old Testament written in Pular) that the team had given to the village a year ago.
“These books helped explain so much that the Koran doesn’t explain,” he said.
Sheffield excitedly waited to hear how he responded to the New Testament that last year’s team had also provided. Unfortunately, he learned, the young man was unable to read the book. Though it was written in Pular, it was written in English script. The Old Testament books had been written in Arabic script.
“How could we have known that?” Sheffield shared.
But this year, the team brought something even better. Together, they purchased 20 Megavoices, solar-powered devices that tell the entire story of the Bible, from Creation to Revelation, in the Pular language.
“Nothing major is left out,” shared Sheffield. “The entire story challenges one to have a relationship with God.”
The young man and two others were the first to receive the devices.
One of the villagers was on his deathbed, shared Sheffield, highlighting his prayer that the good man would understand Jesus’ love for him, before it was too late.
With an obvious great interest in the Bible stories, the doctor asked if he could read the book of Matthew to the village leaders. They listened intently, asking questions and getting into deep discussions of what the scriptures meant.
“Our interpreters got so wrapped up in talking to the villagers about the scriptures that they couldn’t interpret for us,” Sheffield shared. “I kept thinking, ‘What in the world is God doing here?’ It seems that every door is wide open!”
There was some resistance, but others kept asking questions. The young man was soaking in everything.
The doctor was astounded at the response.
Sheffield shared that the man (unnamed for security purposes) had served in another village for five years, day in and day out, and he had not yet seen this kind of impact.
“He felt very good about it all,” Sheffield related, sharing that the doctor said it was one of his best weeks in Africa.
Even so, the doctor was perplexed about the people group.
Though the villagers spoke in Pular, they did not recognize the same name as the group with whom the doctor lived.
“The more we learned, the more confused we were,” shared Sheffield, who during the week traveled to 14 distinct villages that all fell under the leadership of this young man and his grandfather. Could it be that they had stumbled upon an unidentified people group?
“We thought this was the right people group, but they didn’t seem to recognize that name,” he explained.
“It will be incredible to see what will happen with all of this,” he said, explaining that it seemed that God has risen up this young man, who as the new leader was very progressive in his thinking—and very open to learning about the Gospel.
“Every time we go, I feel totally inadequate and incompetent, but these last two times, especially, it’s as if God has said, ‘It doesn’t matter, just stand there and get out of my way. I will do it!’”
Sheffield looks forward to future trips, possibly in the December 2009 and March 2010. As his Association continues to adopt this people group, he anticipates that God will do great things.