In 2010 a Training in Ministry Outreach (TIMO) team was sent to the Alagwa, an unreached people group whose heart language is as yet unwritten, and who adhere to a form of Islam mixed with traditional African religious practices.
When the vision for this team was developed, AIM and the Africa Inland Church agreed to extend the length of the TIMO team to three years. This meant the team could learn language, build friendships and then address how to explain the gospel clearly and consistently.
Pray for Rashidi
“I know that Jesus is the way to God but how can I be different to my family?” Rashidi said after listening to the first set of Bible stories. He listened to the stories again and again. Then the team added in the story about Cornelius (Acts 10…). “Ok, I must call my family together”, was Rashidi’s response.
As a grandfather with family links stretching across multiple Alagwa villages it would be a powerful witness if Rashidi were to give his life to Christ. But his eldest son refused to attend the family meeting to discuss the stories about Jesus. And Rashidi’s second eldest son is an Islamic teacher. So Rashidi has been listening but he won’t commit.
Not long ago Rashidi was seriously ill and needed professional care. The family gathered to decide on the best course of action, and how they could pay for treatment. Rashidi went to hospital but his eldest son stayed in the village. He went past a believer’s house who was playing the Alagwa stories on a solar-charged audio player. He went in and listened for two hours!
Now Rashidi has recovered, but he’s very elderly and increasingly infirm. Will he lead his family in making the decision to follow Christ? “The evil spirits will strangle me…” is his latest response. Perhaps as a result of his witchdoctor work, he physically feels the forces of good and evil. Will he ever be brave enough to trust that Jesus did enough in ‘eating the curse’ for him?
The plan was to use the One Story method of sharing the gospel. This programme is designed to reflect and embrace the communication culture of a people group, yet accurately retains the message of Scripture. As they began their initial training in 2012 the team looked at the felt needs and issues in the culture, as well as Alagwaisa storytelling methods and devices. With those thoughts in mind, the team picked ‘Jesus is the Deliverer’ as the central theme for the story set, as they sought to address problems of fear and jealousy among the Alagwa. One of the main reasons for their fear is their understanding of the power of ‘majini’ and other evil spirits, but their inability to control or get rid of these in any permanent way.
Initially the team put together a number of Bible stories that covered the major tenets of the Bible chronologically. They covered creation, Jesus’ death and resurrection, and then moved on to baptism and stories from the Acts of the Apostles. Then the team chose extra stories which either people could easily relate to, or that illustrated their theme.
They also used stories to challenge Alagwaisa ideas. In searching for an Alagwa translation for the word ‘covenant’, one of the team came across the phrase ‘eat the curse’, which is the name of a specific covenant in Alagwa culture. This deep relationship bond is for them, their families, and across generations. If you break the covenant, then you ‘eat the curse’ – you die.
‘Eaten the curse’
When one Alagwa man heard the story of God making a covenant with Abraham he asked, gripped, “do we have to do this [kill animals] to make our relationship right with God?” The team reminded him of the death of Jesus, and told him that Jesus described his death as the new ‘eat the curse’ [i.e. the new covenant]. The man couldn’t contain his excitement and sudden understanding that God had ‘eaten the curse’ for him.
Now more and more Alagwa people are hearing the word of God in their language for the first time. They hear issues that they understand and struggle with being addressed by the God who loves and made them. And slowly, people are turning to him.