As you read through this story, realize that this is not just a story but a testimony of God’s love for the nations and an example of what He desires to do, not only for this church but for yours as well!
In the spring of 1999, a church just like yours located in Northwest Indiana hosted a Harvest Connection Seminar. The end result of this conference was that the church and Fuel International decided to adopt a Priority People Group (PPG). We began to pray and ask God what group He wanted us to focus on. Through conversations, we were encouraged to choose a group in Tanzania. We began to research the 35+ PPG’s in Tanzania, and the Lord placed the Somalis on our hearts.
Our research revealed:
- Nearly 30,000 semi-nomadic Somalis live in northern Tanzania.
- Somalis are 99.9% Shafiite Muslims.
- They have a completed Bible in their language.
- They also have the Jesus Film in their language.
- There is audio recording of the Bible.
- AD 2000 has a person on the ground in Tanzania.
- Only 6 known Somali believers.
As we prayed and sought God, divine appointments confirmed our choice. Missionaries to Tanzania crossed our path. The only way to learn more was to take a trip to Tanzania.
Our First Trip
In the fall of 1999, we sent a team to pray and spy out the land. We did not know where to find the Somalis of Tanzania. We had an appointment to meet with the director of AD 2000 and a missionary contact willing to pick us up at the airport and help find lodging. Other than that, our group of eight was on their own.
When we met with the director of AD 2000, he told us that the Somalis were the most difficult PPG in Tanzania to reach. They were known for raping and pillaging villages. “Do you still want to reach them?” he asked. “Yes,” we replied, encouraged that God had chosen the most difficult to reach first.
During this trip, the team miraculously “stumbled upon” a new key contact each day that began to form a network of national churches and other organizations interested in reaching the PPG’s in Tanzania.
The director took us to a camp to meet some Somalis. Just outside of the camp, our team came across a little church and its pastor. When the pastor heard our story, he was ecstatic. He and his congregation had been trying to get into the Somali camp for more than seven years but had been denied entrance because of violence in the camp.
This pastor had been preparing a missionary pastor to enter the camp whose wife was ready to teach pre-school. God had been preparing a national to go to the Somalis for years. During our first visit, the Somalis were not quite sure what to think of our team of white people. The children were afraid when they saw us and ran away. However, some allowed us to pray for them. Fifty-percent were 15 years old or younger. The leader of the non-profit organization established by the government to run the camp shared with our team that she was a Christian. She gave FUEL an invitation to return to the camp to do humanitarian projects. The missionary pastor was also given access into the camp on a regular basis, and his wife began teaching pre-school in the camp. Now we had an ongoing visible presence.
Home again, we did more research and discovered:
- No one has ever tried to reach the Somalis.
- There is no viable church amongst the Somalis.
- This group has been completely unreached.
- These people are not known to be open to any religious change.
- There is a negative view of outsiders and Christianity.
- They are known to be a violent people.
We discovered some cultural influences that would help in reaching the Somalis of Tanzania.
- They major on relationships.
- They understand authority and authority structures.
- There are some redemptive analogies with authority and their understanding of the necessities of clean water.
We also learned:
- There is no government restriction on evangelism in Tanzania.
- These people are in a desperate need, and we can elevate their socio-economic conditions.
- Their greatest needs, other than receiving the Gospel, are clean water, medical attention, micro-enterprise, and credibility.
In March of 2002, we supplied a well for the Somalis. Now the people had clean water instead of muddy water. In the summer we sent a team to construct a water filtration system and teach them how to use and build their own. Each time we sent a team, the people seemed more friendly and receptive to us. The children would run to the bus and greet our team instead of running away in fear.
The Breakthrough Trip
The summer of 2003 was the first time that we were allowed to openly share Jesus with the Somalis. Up until this time there were only four known Christians in the camp of 99.9% Muslims.
We took a team of 45 members from several U.S. churches. One team member led a pastor’s conference for more than 100 Tanzanian pastors in a city about one and a half hours from the camp. The pastors learned how to begin reaching the other 35+ PPGs in Tanzania. During the conference, five of these groups were adopted by national churches.
The majority of the team worked in the refugee camp. FUEL also brought in thousands of dollars worth of medical and construction supplies, including a commercial plow used for clearing land and planting crops.
As our team caravanned into the camp with two large buses, a large truck, and a commercial tractor, Somalis from all over the camp ran to meet us. They clapped and hollered and waved at us as we drove by their mud homes. What a dramatic difference from our first visit in 1999! Ecstatic to see us, their hearts were ripe for harvest.
Over 60 Medical doctors and professionals, construction workers, and youth blitzed the camp. These teams were not made up of only U.S. peole but Tanzanians and Somalis too! The medical team saw more than 1,000 patients. Counselors and doctors were ready to pray with each patient. More than 100 patients willingly and openly received Jesus. The Childrens Ministry team saw a hand full of the more than 300 children come to the Lord, but the following years were a different story. FUEL purchased supplies to build ten new mud homes for those that could not build their own. These homes were built by Tanzanians, Somalis, and U.S. workers. The testimony of Christians laboring together in love was a strong witness to the Somalis working along with the team.
This trip was the breakthrough we’d been waiting for. After listening to a testimony from our construction team leader, the “governor” of the camp gave his life to Jesus along with 22 Somali construction workers . The “govenor” gave the refugees land for its first church. The Somalis formed a church government and began to hold services. This was the first known indigenous Somali church outside of Somalia anywhere in the world! We also found out that other Somalis had been “secretly” converting to Christ over the past few years but had been afraid to tell anyone due to the persecution they would receive.
We continued to send in short-term teams into the Somali Camp. Other ministries were given permission to enter into the camp. By the end of 2005, there were two known churches in the camp—a huge miracle considering there were only four known Christians in 1999. The indigenous Somali church, established in the summer of 2003, now has more than twenty adults and just as many children. They built a church building and a home for the pastor.
The church members began going hut to hut to share the love of Jesus. During the summer of 2005, the children’s ministry had more than two hundred children accept Jesus. The church eldership has become a missions-minded church and plans to send one of its members to plant another church either within its own people group or another people group in the near future.
Through short-term missions, the Somalis have realized that we care about them and that the Jesus we have to share with them is good and not evil. Because we provided humanitarian help, hardened hearts were softened. God’s love has broken down the walls and barriers amongst the most difficult people to reach in Tanzania.
As you read through this amazing story of how God used a church in northwest Indiana, a church just like yours, to get involved in the Great Commission and to make an impact in the nations, imagine you and your church doing the same thing!
Follow-up: A mid-term team was sent into Tanzania for three years in 2005. This team continued to train the pastors to adopt and reach the remaining 31 Priority People Groups. In April 2010, we received this report :
“Unanimously, they all (Tanzanian pastors) declared that they have taken ownership of the vision!! That means that there will be no more missionary intervention!! This is remarkable!! They are willing to train pastors in the vision, lay down denominational and tribal ties and work together to reach the priority one people groups in their communities!!! They are continuing in the work of planting churches and having conferences.”