Feature

The Woman at the Well

One church’s journey into praying, giving, going and sending

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I stood beside a well on the island of Kaback, off the coast of the West African nation of Guinea. Villagers gathered around as several interpreters explained that my companions and I were from the church that had given money for the well, which had brought safe, clean drinking water to this community. In the eight months since the well was dug, not one person in the village had gotten sick, whereas babies and young children had died after drinking water from the old one.

A Muslim Susu woman emerged from the crowd and stood before us. “This well has been a blessing to this village,” she said passionately, waving her arms. “Every morning I pray that God would bless us again like He did with this well.”

A Bigger Heart

Eight years ago, the congregation I pastor, Canby Alliance Church (Canby, Ore.), made the first steps toward sharing God’s promise of hope with the Susu people group of West Africa. Giving money for the clean-water project is just one of the ways we have acted on our commitment to the Great Commission, even though most of our church members may never have the opportunity to serve on a mission field.

The partnership between Canby Alliance and missionaries ministering to the Susu people began in February 1999. Canadian Alliance missionary Jack Campbell and a Guinean national named Aboubacar shared with the congregation how God was working among the Susu, an unreached group of more than 1 million Muslims. As we listened, God began to give us a vision to become involved in reaching the Susu with the hope of new life in Christ.

Four months later, God led the church to send money to Guinea to purchase a building in the Hafia neighborhood of Conakry, Guinea’s capital, for a Susu church. The property was bought, and renovations were made. The Susu now had a place to meet, and God was enlarging our hearts with Susu vision.

In March 2000 we sent four people from Canby Alliance to Africa to determine specific ways our church could partner with the Susu work. The team spent much time simply listening to the needs expressed by Jon and Jesse Ritchey, U.S. Alliance missionaries who had taken over the work from the Campbells.

After the team reported back to our church leadership, we talked and prayed as we sought God’s will. Four areas of participation emerged. We wanted the members of Canby Alliance to: 1) become informed about the Susu people, 2) systematically pray for their salvation and the growth of Christ’s Church among them, 3) support their evangelization with regular giving to the Great Commission Fund and other approved projects and 4) send workers to assist those seeking to bring Christ to the Susu people.

On May 7, 2000, the members of Canby Alliance made a “covenant with the Lord and one another to welcome into our hearts and lives the Susu people of Guinea and Sierra Leone for the purpose of helping to establish God’s Kingdom among this people group.” We committed ourselves to the four areas of involvement stated above “until such time as a healthy, mature and self-supporting national church is established among the Susu people.”

Talk to Me

We have learned that the key to our partnership with the Susu people is communication. Church leaders are in frequent contact with Phil and Kristin Stombaugh, our Susu missionaries in Conakry. Next, communication with our congregation is important—we must share prayer requests, ministry updates and plans for short-term missions trips.

Over the years, communication with the Susu people themselves has developed as our participation has increased. Through missionaries on the field, we are able to send and receive messages from the Susu church. Relationships have grown.

And above all, prayer communication with our Father is a necessity. We must always seek His hand of guidance over the partnership, financial provision, strength for our missionaries, encouragement for Susu believers and breakthroughs among the Susu people.

Almost two years ago our church caught fire, and we lost more than half of our facilities. We were thrown into a crisis situation. But even though we are trying to raise more than $1 million dollars for new construction, we continued giving to the Great Commission Fund and sending money to Guinea for outreach to the Susu people and support of our missionaries. Not even a church fire could hamper our commitment to the Susu!

Water of Life

Last October our church leadership felt strongly that money should be spent to send me to Guinea and Sierra Leone. I traveled with Harry Lee Kwai, a member of the 2000 exploratory team, to evaluate our six-and-a-half-year partnership with the Susu. The “Susu Team” currently working among the people group comprises missionaries from The Alliance (the Stombaughs), the Southern Baptist Convention and Pioneer Bible Translators. This team not only “likes” each other but is committed to working together across denominational lines.

In 2000, our exploratory team was introduced to Sam and Josephine Sesay (shown above), newly appointed Southern Baptist missionaries to the Susu. Phil Stombaugh drove Harry and me to Sierra Leone to visit the Sesays.

The road was an experience in itself. We drove over and around rocks and through water holes for mile after mile. “It was a bone-jarring, spine-rattling, internal-organ shifting ride!” Harry said.

It was while traveling back to Guinea that we visited the island of Kaback. Last year our church gave money to dig five wells on this island. Phil took us to visit Cesay, a Susu man who came to Christ through the ministry of an Alliance dental team organized the year before. Cesay told us that after he accepted Christ some of his Muslim family members beat him. Yet, as he shared the story with us, he beamed with joy in his love for Christ!

As we stood with Cesay at this new well, the woman shared her joy with us and we took a moment to honor our Savior. Through two translators—from English to French to Susu—I asked everyone around the well to join hands so I could pray for them. Two Americans, one Alliance missionary, four Susu followers of Christ and a few dozen villagers who had encountered the love of Christ by means of a new well joined in a circle of prayer. I thanked Jesus for the privilege our church was given to have a small part in providing this village with safe water and asked Him to reveal Himself to the villagers as the Living Water. This was a moment I’ll never forget!

Back in Conakry, Harry and I spent precious time with eight men who make up the heart and soul of the Susu church in Hafia. All have suffered persecution for their faith in Christ, often from their families. The work of evangelism is hard and discouraging. They pleaded for our prayers for them to remain strong in the face of persecution, to find work to support their needs and to have courage to share their faith with family and friends. We were deeply touched by the depth and ruggedness of their faith in Christ.

Fresh wind is blowing through our partnership with the Susu people. Our church has been brought up-to-date, prayer for the Susu people has been reinvigorated, possibilities for future short-term trips are being dreamed and God is enlarging our hearts to more accurately reflect His will for 1 million unreached Muslim people in West Africa. Through five new wells on an island off the Atlantic coast of Africa, people have been given a new chance at life through clean water. And our missionaries have been given an open pipeline through which the Living Water can flow into hearts of villagers.

“I Will Die with My Faith . . .”

Conakry is in the heart of Susu land, the coastal region of Guinea, West Africa, where this people of 1 million make their living selling in local markets, catching fish and farming. The preferred language is Susu, and it is spoken by almost everyone, Susu and non-Susu alike.

Social and gregarious, the Susu love life and live it “out loud” in every way. At any time of the day, one can hear lively discussions ranging from politics to the public sharing of personal and family difficulties. In one word, “community” describes the Susu best.

Yet not all is well. Only .01 percent of the Susu know Jesus Christ as Savior. When a Susu becomes a follower of Christ, the road ahead is paved with hardships. Because family members feel betrayed and angry when one of them chooses Christ, several Susu who showed initial interest in Christ turned away due to family pressure. Praise the Lord that one man found courage to stand firm!

David, in his early thirties, is not yet married. Along with his lifelong friend, he accepted Christ several years ago through a Bible study. Since that time his friend, caving into peer and family pressure, has returned to the family religion, but David was determined to stay true to his new faith.

Late one night, David came to visit, deeply disturbed about the day’s events. While walking home, he had encountered the local imam (the religious leader of the local mosque), whom he had known most of his life. After confirming that David had accepted Christ, the man spit on David and warned him to never come around his home again. As I heard David pour his heart out, I feared that this may be too much for him to bear. Would he too forsake the Jesus road?

“Phil,” David said, “no matter what they do to me, one thing I know. I will die with my faith in Jesus Christ—nothing will ever take that away from me!”

Through partnerships with churches in the homeland, we are able to come to places like Guinea and help young men like David learn to walk with Jesus in often difficult places. My prayer for the Susu of Guinea is that David (still true to the Lord) and many like him will one day blanket this people with the good news that Jesus lives and saves us from sin.

We have found this to be true: Churches that partner are churches that pray…churches that partner are churches that give . . . churches that partner are churches that go—we want you to partner with us and other missionaries to see this lost world brought to Christ!

Will you join me in praying to see the Susu and the thousands of other people groups brought into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ? Will you consider partnering with a mission field or missionary as you share directly in his or her ministries? May God use us greatly as we live the call together in Guinea and around the world.

—Phil Stombaugh

Past Alliance Life Issues

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