Redemption Is a Verb

By Karen Conkle, serving in Burkina Faso

Kumabo. How would you define that word if you were playing Balderdash (a game in which players make up definitions for obscure words)?

Would you say kumabo is an exotic dance? An African instrument? A song that kids sing around the campfire? Perhaps none of those definitions work for you. Truth usually is more interesting than fiction.

No Balderdash

Some years ago when I studied the West African trade language Jula, I came across the word “kumabo.” I learned that it’s the verb for “to redeem.” Its literal translation means “to take the head out.”

But I didn’t grasp kumabo’s full meaning until my husband and I were assigned to develop church-planting teams in Senegal several years ago. That’s when I learned about a remarkable practice that took place nearly two centuries ago.

Gorée Island is about a mile out to sea from the main harbor of Senegal’s capital city, Dakar. It’s the place where tens of thousands of slaves were quartered before they were shipped to Europe and the New World between the 17th and 19th centuries.

Today, this island is a prominent tourist attraction, a memorial to the massive human toll taken by the transatlantic slave trade.

Indentured servitude was a part of West African culture for centuries. But the West’s insatiable demand for slave labor fueled tribal conflict and the tragic practice of Africans selling their countrymen to Western slave traders.

When men and women were rounded up to be sold, their captors clamped iron collars around their necks. The slaves were then shackled to one another with a heavy chain and forced to march through the jungle toward dreaded Gorée Island and its “door of no return.”

Jesus and Kumabo

Occasionally, a slave who had been captured years before to serve in a distant location was marched near his home village. When friends or relatives recognized him, they would attmpt to buy his freedom—sometimes having to sell everything they had.

When the slave was freed, his head was released from the iron collar; thus the verb “kumabo”—“to take the head out”—“to redeem.”

Today, West African believers say “kumabo” when they describe what Jesus does for us. We were headed on the wrong path, slaves to sin. But Jesus paid the debt to free us from our shackles—He “took our heads out.”

How grateful I am that that message is true for West Africa and for the world.

—Alliance church planters Doug and Karen Conkle returned to Burkina Faso in February 2012 after serving in Senegal for several years.

What You Can Do


Pray that many more West Africans will come to know Jesus as their Redeemer. Pray for Alliance workers worldwide to find cultural cues—like the word “kumabo”—so many more people groups who have not heard the good news will understand the great love of Jesus our Redeemer. Try using our weekly Alliance Prayer requests.


  • Give to the Great Commission Fund (GCF) to support Alliance workers in West Arica and around the world who are extending the hope of Christ to the lost and discipling new believers.
  • Give now

Learn More

To learn about exciting ministry breakthroughs that took place during Bridge Senegal 2009, read the February 2010 Alliance Life article “GOD HAS A PLAN . . . And it is always better!”


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