In the Sahel, effective gospel sharing comes when local people are trained to disciple those whom they share a culture with. And that is just what Aziz and Alia are finding new ways of doing.
Just like the arid Sahara Desert to the north, the Sahel region is parched and desperately thirsts for the gospel. Stretching across Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Senegal and Sudan, each country possesses its own uniquely beautiful culture. Yet something is missing.
Of the ten countries that make up the Sahel, seven are majority Islamic and eight have an evangelical population under five per cent*. The statistics tell of a region without the hope of Jesus Christ, yet the one per cent know that He is at work.
Husband and wife Aziz** and Alia** work alongside OM in the Sahel to engage communities and train local believers to teach and share their faith with others. As they have worked over the past two years in the area, the couple has seen the great need for discipleship among Jesus followers.
Alia explains that because there was previously no discipleship for new believers, new churches were founded on the customs and values of Islam. As church leaders were not discipled, the congregation was also not discipled, creating a domino effect as children born into the church and new believers were also not discipled and unable to effectively share their faith with others or explain why they believed in Jesus. Believers also did not engage with their communities because of a lack of contextualised ministries addressing the region’s specific needs.
But things are changing.
Alia and Aziz speak with excitement when explaining the impact Christ is having on this region. Training and community outreach are now priorities. Ministries seeking to address the area’s specific needs are being developed to uplift, train and disciple the people groups across the Sahel that would otherwise not interact with the gospel.
“God wanted people to know His Word directly,” Aziz explains, referencing Luke 1-10. “So I started creating an environment where I can meet people where they are, and we discuss the Word of God, and I began to see people opening, and the work started multiplying.”
Discipleship takes several forms. Sometimes, it’s through Discovery Bible Study which engages believers and seekers to delve deeper into the Word. At these Bible studies, participants don’t simply look at what Jesus said, but they ask why He said it and how His ordinances are to be followed. Aziz also mentioned the development of a mobile church that will allow for discipleship to be brought to those without the ability to travel.
Aziz and Alia understand the importance of new believers learning Scripture before anything else. Only after they have a solid biblical foundation are the disciples sent out to neighbouring villages to continue sharing the good news of Christ. But Alia and Aziz also realise that it isn’t enough for the Bible to be taught by just anyone. For the Sahel, a region that is so collective and communal, effective gospel sharing comes when local people are trained to disciple those with whom they share a culture.
Locals learning from locals
A trainer himself, Aziz has seen first-hand how God can use one person to impact their whole community in the story of Omer**. Previously a staunch unbeliever, Omer was invited to a training session led by Aziz, grew curious about the Bible and eventually became a follower of Jesus. Though Aziz could not continue to disciple Omer as his village was 1,000 km [621 mi] away, the Lord provided a Christ follower from the same village to come alongside Omer in his new faith. This led to his wife and children being introduced to Christ, and soon, the entire family decided to follow Jesus.
But Omer was not content to stop here. Awakened to the saving power of the gospel, he reached out to his relatives 200 km [124 mi] away. Omer’s family then took the gospel to their chief, who also gave his life to Christ. “Now,” Aziz said, “an ethnic group where you could count the believers five years ago with your fingers, now people are coming to the Lord by the 100s.”
This is the power of training local believers that Alia and Aziz are so passionate about — not simply planting churches but reaching out to communities and sharing the gospel in a way that is understandable, relatable and replicable for every man, woman and child.
In 2021, children’s ministry — which focuses on meeting young people wherever they are and introducing them to Christ — began. Women’s ministry has also started to grow as groups of women meet around the wells they go to to draw water, discuss the Bible and share questions and concerns. House churches have also been established that allow more opportunities for women to congregate and learn about Jesus. In the second half of 2023, women from across the Sahel will travel to where Alia and Aziz are based to be trained to disciple others and learn some basic skills like sewing and agriculture. Because of strong traditions and culture that separate men and women, Alia explains, “Women in the Sahel reach women…so it’s very important to equip women.”
An area of outreach that Alia and Aziz particularly long to see grow is agricultural ministry, as many people in the area are farmers. It is often difficult for believers to build relationships in the farming community as many people are sceptical of those whom they do not know. Recently, the team acquired a plot of land that will allow them to train and build relationships with local farmers. With this land and through agricultural outreach, Alia and Aziz believe that God will deeply touch people's hearts across the Sahel.
The Sahel region is desperate for the gospel. Even in an environment that seems so lost, God is working in mighty ways. “In two years, God has enabled us to touch the region of the Sahel,” Alia expressed. Through relationship building, new ministry development and prayer, the OM team is excited to see what God will do next.
Please pray for the work being done in the Sahel, specifically for more training resources to be available so that Aziz can teach and disciple new believers. Pray for the children’s, women’s and agricultural ministries; that these may grow and that, through them, relationship building would take place. Pray that the money needed for the agricultural ministry would be provided. Pray that many more Jesus followers across the Sahel would catch the vision for missions.