Last November I went to Senegal—one trip in a series by which our church is trying to take the gospel to an Unengaged, Unreached People Group. While living among our people group, we stay in tents that we pitch in the Community Center. This building houses the offices of the rural community’s President, Vice-President, and Secretary. A “rural community” in Senegal is something like a township in some US states, and they elect officers. God has blessed us with a good relationship with the President and the Vice-President of the rural community. The President is a believer, and on that very trip we had the opportunity to give a Bible to the Vice-President and to share the gospel with him.
One afternoon during that trip we were standing in front of the Community Center next to the highway preparing to walk off into the interior of the forest to share the gospel in the villages of our people group. As we stood there, a young man on a bicycle careened off of the highway into our midst and came to an abrupt stop. As it turned out, he knew Alioune, one of our translators, and had made a last-second decision to stop and greet his friend.
The two knew one another—this young man and Alioune—because they both were born-again believers in Jesus Christ. The young courier (for that was his business on the bicycle that day) no longer lived among his tribe, having moved to the city for work. In the city he found the job for which he was searching but also found something else he had not known that he needed: the gospel of Jesus Christ. In his own village there is no evangelical witness for Christ.
Alioune lives many miles away from our people group, so the young man naturally asked Alioune what he was doing with these white people in this village far away from his home. He explained to the young man who we were, what we were doing, and how he was helping us.
At that point, the young man shifted his attention away from Alioune and directly to me. Passionately he posed this question to me: “When will someone come to my tribe to tell my family about the gospel and plant churches there? I have tried to do so myself, but we need someone to come and help us.”
I was moved by the young man’s plea, but we came to our UUPG after a lengthy season of prayer and seeking the Lord. We are confident that we are working where God has sent us to work, and so I explained to this young man that we had taken our assignment from the Lord for our people group and that he should pray that God will send someone to his tribe just as God sent us where we were working.
He bade his farewells to Alioune, we prayed right there in front of the Community Center, he mounted his bike, and he was off. Shortly thereafter, we ourselves departed for our afternoon of evangelistic work.
The trip concluded and we came safely home. Another team returned in January of this year. As they reported about their trip, they shared with me that the Vice-President (whose name is Bertrand) wanted to ask me some questions about the Bible. He refused to allow anyone else to answer his questions, so determined was he to get answers from me.
I returned in May. It was the season of local elections in Senegal, and there had been a shift in party politics in the preceding presidential election. As is often the case in the USA, the state of national politics can have a significant influence upon local elections. The officers of the rural community expected that they would all be voted out of office. For this reason, we weren’t seeing much of them at the Community Center; they were out looking for jobs in order to safeguard their post-election futures. On our last day in the villages, however, I finally happened upon Bertrand.
“You had some questions for me, the last team said?”
“Yes, thank you for asking. …[proceeds to share his questions, which I proceed to answer]”
“Well, I’m glad that I could help you out. Do you have any other questions?”
“Oh, those questions weren’t for me?”
“Huh? They weren’t? Then why were you asking them?”
“Those are questions that have come up in my Bible study. I thought I had answered them correctly, but I wanted to be certain.”
“Whoa! Wait a minute! WHAT Bible study!?”
“Well, you gave me this Bible last November, and so I’ve been having my family and my neighbors into my house every week to study the Bible.”
“You have!? Bertrand, that’s WONDERFUL! But why didn’t we already know about this? Which village do you live in?”
“I live in [a village several miles up the highway].”
“Wait a minute. That village isn’t a part of this tribe; it’s up the road. Why do you live there?”
“Oh, I’m not [a member of our people group].”
“No! I’m [a member of the courier’s people group].”
And so, as things turned out, in that very trip last November, God answered that courier’s prayer by working things out so that we launched a Bible study in that young man’s people group. God did this without bothering to inform us at all about what we were doing. I was left awestruck, dumbfounded, praising a sovereign, omnipotent God.
This January I am returning with a pastor of another church. His church is considering whether they will take on the responsibility for the Bible study that Bertrand has launched and for the task of carrying the gospel to this second UUPG. I’ll let that pastor out himself if he wishes.
I kid you not, folks: My missionary strategy is pretty much no more than showing up clueless and seeing what God will do.
This story can tell you everything you need to know about my opinion regarding miracles:
- I believe that God works miracles today.
- Although some of those miracles are inexplicable, I think that most of the miraculous actions of God are things like this story that are in no way impossible according to the laws of physics or anything like that but are instead the occurrence of sequences of events that defy the odds of probability and reveal the guiding hand of Providence.
- Where God works miracles, I think He generally does so to accomplish things like this that matter for His Kingdom, rather than putting on a charismatic sideshow for the entertainment of the masses. I’m not convinced that God flexes his muscles to accomplish the pointless.
- Correspondingly, if you want to see the miraculous hand of God at work, get busy about His work. That’s where you’ll find it, if God so wills.
- I cannot define the relationship between prayer and the miraculous, but neither can I deny it. I’m entirely comfortable with that state of affairs.
I welcome your prayers for us this January.