Imagine that you live in a completely Muslim village. Now imagine that you just became a Christian. You are the only Christian in your village, and there are only a few other fellow-Christians in the surrounding villages because Christianity is a relatively new thing within your vast tribe. Who do you go to when you have faith questions? What support and encouragement do you have in your faith walk? How do you respond to those in your village who realize that you no longer go to the mosque or participate in the prayers? Where and with whom do you gather to study the word, worship, and be held accountable?.
That picture is reality for many Christians living among the Fulani people in Mali. The Fulani are a traditionally nomadic people group, living in many parts of West Africa, who typically make their living herding livestock. They are a very unreached people group with only a small percentage of Christians. CRWM (Christian Reformed World Missions) missionaries have been living and working among them for over 30 years, sharing the gospel, and they are now seeing the fruit of their labour.
Unfortunately, many Fulani people live in sections of Mali that, since the coup in 2012, are now too dangerous for missionaries to live in. As a result, CRWM has been forced to work in the Southern "safe zone," which has, for some, limited their contact and connection with the Fulani people. It is therefore wonderful that CRWM organizes gatherings, as these gatherings provide not only an opportunity for Fulani Christians to meet together, and be encouraged and supported in their faith, but also an opportunity for the CRWM missionaires to spend some time with these people as they sing, pray, and study the Word.
One of these gatherings was held this past weekend, and we had the opportunity to travel to the house where CRWM Mali was holding one of these gatherings of Fulani Christians from all over the country.
We arrived late Thursday afternoon after about a 3 hour drive and set up our tents on the roof of the house with a beautiful view of the Niger River and a refreshing breeze blowing off the water.
We were a little bit apprehensive about being there because everything was being done in Fufule, the language of the Fulani people. However, of the approximately 30 people who were there, we were relieved to find a few people who spoke French and also a few missionaries from Nigeria who spoke English. This allowed us to better integrate ourselves into the group and learn about the culture.
The Fulani people are in some ways conservative, and culturally, men and women are almost always separate. (Separate eating, separate sleeping, separate socializing, etc.). While this separation is still strong among the Fulani Christians (just to give you an idea, there were couples at the gathering that we never saw together, and had absolutely no idea they were married), the Christian women and men were together during times of worship, discussion, and prayer. While normally the women and men would be in separate places most of the time, the CRWM missionaries are happy to see how these Christian men are so inclusive of the women during worship, and encourage their participation.
It was also interesting to see the Fulani people worship in their own unique way, staying true to their culture. This is something that CRWM places a strong emphasis on, allowing the people group to manifest their faith in a way that stays true to, fits into, and expresses their culture, while also allowing the people to find for themselves aspects of their culture which may need to be challenged and changed on a biblical basis. So, for the Fulani, this manifested itself in some unique ways. For example, each day we would have a few sessions of worship and bible study which took place in one room with large mats laid out around the perimeter of the room. The Fulani people, as far as we know, use these mats for eating, gathering, and socializing, so that is what they used during worship as well. As everyone sat in a circle around the perimeter of the room, the men and women were separated, each making up one half of the circle, but were still in the same room, something that is not at all typical of Fulani culture. The sessions started out with some call-and-response type singing which was done while still sitting on the mats. We then delved into the Word with someone leading a discussion on various passages. The passages were all from the New Testament, or from one of a select few Old Testament books (including Genesis, Exodus, Habakkuk, and 1 Samuel), since the rest of the Bible is still in the process of being translated into Fulfule (one of the women working on this translation project was actually there at the conference with us). This was also a time where people could bring up questions and concerns, asking their fellow Christians for advice on how to manage specific situations they came across (can you imagine not having any, or having very few, fellow Christians around of whom you can ask advice?!) This was a great opportunity for those gathered to question, discuss, give opinions, and problem solve from a biblical perspective. Each session always ended with prayer.
Overall, it was a wonderful weekend. We were able to see the fruit of some the World Missions team’s work, and it was amazing to experience a bit of the Fulani culture as we talked, ate, danced, and lived among these warm and welcoming people! Join us in praying for these Fulani christians, that they would be continually strengthened in their faith, supported in their difficult journey as a very small minority religious group, and emboldened to share their faith with those around them.