The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Matthew 23:11-12
If all went as planned, his plane just took off from Dulles and will be in the air for about 7 hours, so I can talk about him freely, without the fear that he will know about it. I’m uncomfortable both giving and receiving compliments, so I purposely held this post until I knew he would be unable to respond. Maybe he will never see it. My guess is that he would be embarrassed to read it. It’s the perfect time! I can talk about him behind his back and he won’t know a thing about it.
I witnessed true greatness for ten days back in January, as I walked among the Bayot and Essing people of southern Senegal with Bart Barber. Bart and his church have been traveling there two or three times a year for the past several years to bring the gospel to an unreached people group called the Bayot, west of Ziguinchor along the Casamance River. On one of his trips, he discovered an adjoining group, calling the Essing people, who are a UUPG (unreached, unengaged people group) and asked if anyone wanted to get involved. I volunteered.
So, I traveled with Bart from January 8-18, to do storytelling evangelism among the Bayots and to attempt to make some contacts among the Essing, with the hope that my church might adopt that people group. I watch Bart minister among the Bayot. I watched him teach Bible studies, participate in the first baptism among the Bayot people, engage with people as we walked through the villages, and display his heart for these people.
You folks know Bart. He is one of the smartest men I know. Sometimes I really hate him. I remember once when he committed the unpardonable sin of disagreeing with me and I had an idea that I thought would stump him. I typed in my brilliant comment eagerly and hit send with glee, knowing that he would simply have to admit that I was right and yield to my wisdom. Not long thereafter, Bart wrote a brief (no more than 7 or 8 words) comment that completely nullified my wisdom! Sometimes, I hate that guy.
When I was elected 2nd VP of the SBC in New Orleans, Bart thought he had to one-up me by being elected FIRST VP the next year! C’mon, Bart. What was that?
But seriously, he is well thought of in almost all circles of Baptist life and his name comes up in discussions of many jobs – big, important jobs – in SBC life. The simple fact is that if that was Bart’s desire, he could sit in a big office with a big paycheck somewhere in the SBC kingdom.
Bart is an up-and-comer, a bright young star in the SBC galaxy. He is well-known, well-liked and respected by almost everyone.
Now, let me tell you about the Bayot region. It is a collection of 7 villages that no one ever heard of unless you grew up in that area. Electricity is just coming to the region. Running water is a rarity. To the best of my knowledge, no one famous, important, or significant ever came from that region. There can’t be more than a couple of thousand Bayot in total. No movers or shakers among them.
In the USA, among the SBC, Bart is a prominent man. In the Bayot region he is Asagen Sagne (his local name), and he ministers there among the Bayot with passion and joy. No one there knows (or cares) that he’s got the potential to be a big deal here.
Let me tell you a couple of things Bart told me while we were in Nyassia (chief village of the Bayot region). I don’t have his permission to share these things, but I owe Bart – if he happens to read this, he knows what I’m talking about. We are even, Bart!
1) We were talking about SBC president and Bart explained to me what an SBC president should be doing. The most important duty of an SBC president is the appointment of his committee on committees. His appointments affect the SBC for a decade! The wise president puts far more into his appointments than he does into any task force, study group or other emphasis.
I was inspired by Bart’s words and said that we had to get him nominated president one of these days. Without even a hint of false humility he said,
No way! If I was president of the SBC, I wouldn’t have time to come here. There is no way I’d give up coming to the Bayot to be president of the SBC.
You could have floored me. Most SBC preachers would see being elected president of the SBC as the pinnacle of their ministry. Bart wouldn’t even consider it because he’d have to give up going to small, backward villages in southern Senegal a couple of times a year to tell those people about Jesus.
2) We were walking the paths one day (I was probably worn out and out of breath!) and Bart said,
I wish I could just come here and spend two or three months sometime, to really invest time in this ministry.
I have to admit, I longed to get home. the place lacked any creature comfort and the work was hard. But Bart reveled in the opportunity to build that ministry from the ground up, to see this people group won to Christ. This is a passion deep in his heart. Bart “Asagen Sagne” Barber will be in his element this week, walking from Nyassia to the other Bayot villages, sitting on stumps outside of homes we’d be horrified to live in, telling stories to villagers and doing Bible studies with anyone who will sit and listen.
He loves his ministry here in the US, but he’d just as soon be walking along dusty paths in Western Africa.
I’m struggling to get things going here in my church. The church is supportive of the ministry, but so far no one wants to go with me to minister to the Essing people. It’s hard work (hardest I’ve ever done). I’ve been on mission trips that were a lot of fun. Some of them have been described as “gospel tourism.” There’s nothing fun about Bart’s ministry in the Bayot (or what I’d do among the Essing) regions. No AC. Internet? What’s that? You get up in the morning and get some food and you walk from village to village telling people stories from the Bible until you break for lunch. Then you go walking the paths again storying until supper. Then, you get a shower, hit the rack and get ready for another day. But it is rewarding work.
And I saw a great man doing that work. I saw someone who embodied the biblical definition of greatness, the one Jesus gave.
Please don’t tell him I said that!