A year ago I went for the first time to Senegal with Bart, to start working with the Unengaged, Unreached People Group (UUPG) known as the Essing. They are cousins to the people group Bart has been working with, the Bayot. He and his church are doing an amazing work west of Zinguinchor among the Bayot – after about four years things are coming together beautifully and they are beginning to see real fruit from their work. At some point they uncovered the existence of this group, the Essing, who live just a few kilometers away on the next peninsula along the Casamance. Bart mentioned on a blog post that he was looking for someone to go and engage these people and lo and behold, I ended up going. I went back this year and I think my church is ready to undertake the process of trying to missionaries to this UUPG.
I had a revelation, though, as I walked through the villages a couple of weeks ago. I’m not sure that I am Paul the Apostle for the Essing people. I may be more of the Barnabas in this mission endeavor.
I am 58 years old and though I’ve lost a significant amount of weight since I last went, I found things to be harder this year. This is a “long haul” ministry, not a short term thing. Well, in 5 years I’m going to be getting up in the CB Scott, “older than dirt” territory. Frankly, I don’t know how long I’m going to be able to do this. I’m getting into the “no spring chicken” category pretty quickly.
Beyond that, my church doesn’t have either the financial resources or manpower to do in the Essing territory all that needs to be done. It’s a big job.
So, I’m looking for a partner church, a pastor to work with. I’m looking for Saul of Tarsus – that’s my vision anyway. At first, if you read Acts 13 and 14, it was Barnabas and Saul – ol’ Barny was the leader and Saul was the sitting in the second chair. But before too long it was Paul and Barnabas. God raised up Paul as his greatest missionary, the key leader in the early church. Let’s forget the part about them fighting and going their separate ways – we’ll skip that! But what I’m hoping to find is someone who will come along with me and work with me in the Essing territory. Eventually, as that person learns the ministry, we’ll work together and then he will lead out more and more. I’m willing, as God leads, to go from leader to coworker to support.
Let me give some of the realities of this ministry among the Essings, in case you are thinking about this ministry.
- This is not gospel tourism. It’s not much fun. You get up in the morning. You go from house to house and village to village telling stories from God’s word and engaging Essing people in conversations about Jesus. Then you go to bed, get up, and do it again the next day. It’s good fellowship. It’s eternally significant. It’s ministry – usually 5 or 6 days straight of hard work in the villages before we head back home.
- You have to be in this for the long haul. This is not a go-once or go-twice and move on. You go back, then again, then again. This is going to be a five, ten year (longer?) project until sound, stable, reproducing churches are established in a place where to the best of my knowledge there is not a single believer now.
- This is rugged. You are not going to sleep in luxury. You will stink. Lots. Bart taught me a Greek word last week (from ancient, but not biblical Greek) – tragamaskalos. It means “having armpits smelling like a goat’s.” You will know the meaning of the word tragamaskalos when you minister in the Essing villages. I wasn’t sure whether to launder my clothes when I got home, burn them, or cast demons out of them!
- You have to play by the rules on It’s not about you. These people have certain ways of doing things and we have to fit in with them. We are there to tell them about Christ, but we must be sensitive to their ways and to their culture. A culturally insensitive act can undo a lot of ministry. You have to go there to serve Christ and the Essing people, not your own ego. If you are a lout you can do more harm than good.
- This is REAL ministry. Think about it. There is a group of people in southern Senegal and NO ONE is telling them about Jesus and his saving grace. Well, there is a guy who works with Samaritan’s Purse who’s gone there a time or two, but nothing ongoing. The reality is there are NO saved people there from what I can tell. They are animists with a veneer of religion who do not understand the gospel. Someone needs to tell them about Jesus.
I want to do that. My church is behind me, I think but we need some help. It’s got to be the right kind of help. If you want to do something big, flashy, with cameras rolling as a photo-op, then no! This is not for you. But if you want to engage a people group no one else is engaging, if you want to sit with people who have never heard the true gospel and try to explain the saving message of Christ – maybe God will lay this on your heart!
Barnabas is searching for Saul.