Unreached People Group Project: The Soninke of Mali

Soninke People

In order to fulfill the Great Commission in today’s world, one must first understand the command Jesus gives to His disciples, “to make disciples of all the nations,” flows from the very heart of God. Throughout the Old and the New Testament, God is seen moving toward the lost and broken-hearted. As part of His redemptive plan, God sent Jesus to restore the communion that was corrupted between man and God, and Jesus gave His life, so that all who would call upon His name would be saved. Jesus tells His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”[1] This means anyone, any nation, and any people group can be redeemed, forgiven, and receive salvation.

Over time, the word “nations” has become synonymous with people groups or cultural groups and according to the Joshua Project; the world is currently made up of 16,464 people groups. Of those groups, forty percent or 6,659 are considered as being unreached, meaning the evangelical population is less than two percent and they lack the ability to evangelize their own people.[2] The 1982 Lausanne Committee defines people groups as, “The largest group within which the Gospel can spread as a church planning movement without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance.”[3]

This project will focus on a region within the 10/40 window of the world because as A. Scott Moreau et al. illustrate, “this [region represents the] vast bulk of people who have yet to hear a clear communicated invitation to repent, return to Christ, and worship God…”[4] While Christianity ranks as the number one religion in the world, Islam follows closely behind it. Within the 10/40 window, this paper will specifically target the people group called the Soninke who are located primarily in Mali. In order to do this, this project will first endeavor to give a brief background of their history, language, culture, economy, religion(s), and family structure and values. Secondly, a brief overview of past and present mission efforts will be detailed, demonstrating the current state of the church, number of known believers, challenges, and any successful strategies. Lastly, a proposed strategy will be presented detailing how best to evangelize and reach the Soninke people. Given this writer’s role as a church pastor, a plan will be designed centered on taking the gospel to the unreached people of Soninke, in the form of church laborers to work among them, with the end-goal ultimately being the establishment of a mission’s outpost/church and the digging of a water well.

Background Information

Status of the World

In a world with 7.3 billion people, where every second that passes two people die and four babies are born,[5] there has never been a greater need for evangelism and missions. John Piper believes, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more.”[6]  Daily, between 150,000 – 175,000 people perish and 325,000 – 350,000 births occur.[7] The good news is everyone has everlasting life; the bad news is not everyone will spend it in heaven. These are unsettling statistics because out of the world’s population, only 1.9 billion people profess to be Christians, and of that number, only two percent regularly share their faith with others, and only five percent have ever led someone to Christ.[8] To make matters worse, the Barna Group recently found that seventy-five percent of Americans who said they were “born again” could not even define what the Great Commission[9] was.[10]  This is the fundamental problem facing Christianity today, as George Barna explains, “The gap between the churched and the churchless is growing, and it appears that Christian communities of faith will struggle more than ever to engage church outsiders…”[11]

History of Soninke People

The Soninke people primarily live along the Senegal River where it enters the western border of Mali in the Kayes, Yelimane, Nioro, and Nara regions. According to the Joshua Project, other small tribes settled along the borders of Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso and due to influence by a large nomadic tribe known as the Fulani, the Soninke have become farmers and herdsmen.[12] One of the earliest Soninke settlements was established in Ghana around A.D. 750 and because of persecution by the Berbers, the Soninke dispersed into small groups within the neighboring regions. The three main sub-groups of the Soninke are the Marka, the Nono, and the Azer. Often, these three tribes are further broken into even smaller clans that specialize in various crafts. Four of the most important Soninke tribes are the Sisse, the Drame, the Sylla, and the Kante. Some of these groups eventually intermixed with the local Wolof, Serer, and Malinke tribes.[13] Today, there are roughly 800,000 Soninke in Mali, making up seven percent of the country’s total population.

Map of Soninke in Mali

Soninke in Mali

[14]

Language, Culture, and Economy

The Soninke are believed to have descended from the ancient central Saharan people and archeologists believe they used to make and trade woven textiles through a process called strip weaving. It was from this region that led to the Songhai Empire expanding across West Africa and some of the earliest evidence of the Soninke people can be traced near the Tichit-Walata and Tagant cliffs dating back to 2500 BC to 2000 BC. There is also evidence, which supports the Soninke were early producers of stone settlements. Some these establishments still have traces of the massive defensive walls that once stood. Mali’s most famous Emperor was Kan Kan Mussa, also known as the Lion of Mali. Under his rule, this became an extremely rich area and during his pilgrimage to Mecca, he brought over one hundred and eighty tons of gold with him. As Global Prayer Digest illustrates,

Looking at the poor farmers working their fields in Ghana, one would never guess that the ancestors of these Soninke people once ruled a powerful empire along the banks of the Niger River. Gold flowed like water from the mines of the Ghana Empire. This people group also once traded in salt, copper and slaves. Then in the 13th century Berber invaders from Morocco drove the Soninkes from their homeland along the Niger River scattering this people group across West Africa and pillaging them as they had once pillaged others. Greed had come full circle.[15]

The social structure and organization of the Soninke are typical of the Mande-related people groups, who speak many of the Mande languages of the region of West Africa. They are now mostly farmers who raise rice, peanuts, and millet. They also raise large numbers of livestock including: goats, sheep, horses, chickens, and cattle. Because little to no fishing and hunting is done, trade among their neighbors is extremely important. While the Soninke trade in the local markets, it is also common for them to travel to markets in other regions to trade their goods. Interestingly, while in the past, the Soninke men worked the land and cultivated the crops and the women worked in the gardens, today things are much different. Part of this may be attributed to their high migration rate, but the primary factor is directly related to roughly half of the men leaving anywhere from two to five years doing migrant work. This is common practice, so the men can send money back to dig wells and provide for their villages and families in ways not possible if they were back home. As a result, the Soninke people have taken on more of a matriarchal society, where the women hold prominent positions of power and authority over the older men and children who are left behind. Recently, two hundred thousand Soninke people up and moved to Paris, making them the largest West African group in France. This has led to many problems in France, partly because of the unsanitary condition they live in and because they brought their religious customs with them (i.e. polygamy, high birth rates, and female genital mutilation).[16]

Religion(s) and Family Values/Beliefs

The poor Soninke live in small villages, with homes made out of brick and thatched roofs, while the wealthier people have brick homes, flat terraced roofs, and an interior court. Houses will typically line both sides of the main road, and a mosque will be positioned in the village square. Much like other cultures, the town square was where the market was located as well as where the religious influences were made known. According to Islamic law, the men are allowed to have four wives and while a dowry is customary in their culture, the payment goes to the bride instead of to her parents, which is vastly different from other cultures. Pre-marital sexual relations are strictly forbidden, so they do possess moral integrity, but there inheritance laws only give daughters half shares, while sons get equal shares, and the widow only gets a one-eighth share.

The Soninke were forcibly converted to Islam beginning around the 11th century and currently Sunni Muslims make up the majority of the Soninke in Mali at seventy percent of the population. Just less than thirty percent of the population is made up of ethnic/syncretistic religions, which are more animistic in nature. As with most Muslims, they follow the teachings of Mohammad, who they believe to be the Islamic prophet. Their holy book is known as the Koran, and they believe it was given to Mohammad by the angel Gabriel. The Muslim faith is centered on the five pillars or duties of Islam. They are extremely devout followers who believe there is no god but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet. They pray five times a day while facing Mecca, they observe religious holidays, and if possible they make at least one pilgrimage to Mecca.

According to Global Prayer Digest, “This Soninke for centuries looked to the north for inspiration, adopting Islam, brought to them by Berber traders from North Africa. Despite their conversion to Islam, some still practice Animism, the worship of nature spirits.”[17] Ernst Dammann illustrates, “Though Islam has gained a footing in these parts of Africa in the thirteenth century already, and though since the middle of the nineteenth century there has taken place an intensive Islamization here as well as elsewhere in West Africa, the tribal religions are far from being extinguished.”[18]

 Paolo Gaibazzi details the influence the outside world has had on the Soninke people stating: “The end of internal slavery in West Africa is generally associated with an increase in labor mobility. However, in Sabi, a Soninke village in Upper River Gambia, economic migration intensified and globalized from the 1950s onward. Although they have since been free to move, the descendants of slaves have migrated less than those of the freeborn.”[19] Gaibazzi argues, “the persistence of social liabilities linked to slave descent after emancipation has partially prevented slave descendants from accumulating the resources needed to out-migrate.” He then demonstrates while emancipation from slavery and migration are usually seen as closely related events, which lead to a free and mobile labor market that is not the case in people groups like the Soninke.

Survey of Missions Work

History of Missions Among the Soninke People

Missions can be dated back to the early church, which shows God desires that everyone come to faith in Him through Christ, but that not all will. Romans 10:13-14 demonstrates the significance of Christian evangelism when it comes to reaching those who have never heard: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” A great example is Cornelius who knew about God, but not about Christ; however, because of his sincere desire to know God, Cornelius came in direct contact with the Apostle Peter who told Cornelius about Jesus.[20]

The first Christian missionary translators began working among the Soninke in the 1980s. While there are only a few books of the Bible that have been translated into their language, they do have access to the Jesus film[21] and global recordings.[22] [23] After consulting with several missionaries based in Mali, it became abundantly clear Christianity came at a great cost. The missionaries consulted for the purposes of this report were very cautious about giving any information, they did not want their names mentioned anywhere, and they all insisted only exchanging information if it happened using FaceTime, so they could see whom they were talking to. All of the missionaries have had multiple death threats on themselves and their families from followers of both Islam and from the people who still follow the animalistic ethnic religions.

One missionary couple had been down there for two years working to finish a complete Bible in Soninke’s native language. They have just come back to the states to raise additional funds so they can go back and hopefully finish what they had started, and they said raising money is one of the hardest parts of missions’ work. While they have many people who sponsor them, the effects on the economy in the United States has had worldly impacts and all the missionaries consulted said raising money has become harder each year. The missionaries who are working to finish a complete Bible said part of the difficulty was there are five different dialects for the Soninke language in Mali alone: Touba, Serecole, Azer, Kinbakka, and Xenqenna. They cannot wait to go back and finish what they started and they expressed gratitude to the instructor who encouraged this project of his graduate students. Some of their work on can be found at http://bienvenueafricains.com/en/soninke/ and at http://www.wycliffe.org. They have played a huge role in presenting the gospel to a people group who had not previously heard of Christ and the sacrifice He made for anyone who would respond. Despite their amazing work and contributions to the Soninke people, they wanted it to be known there are still over 1,800 languages that are still waiting for complete Bible translations, so while Wycliffe just celebrated twenty-three new languages receiving access to scripture, they stressed, there is still much work to be done.[24]

Current Status of the Church

            Seek first the kingdom of God are lofty words, but without action behind them, the result is a lukewarm Christianity. Bruner illustrates, “The church exists by mission… [And] when a church is no longer on mission, it is no longer a church.” The question that is highly debated is whether the church should meet the physical needs or the spiritual needs first. This writer is of the opinion that both must be reached, and through meeting both needs, a bonding relationship will form. In the past, Islam has been the religion observed by the majority and as a result, much of their infrastructure and supplies are from fellow Muslim believers. If Christianity wants to take root among the Soninke people, there are many physical needs that must be considered. While these needs provide great opportunities for God to produce wonderful miracles of blessings and new ways for converts to grow their faith, they cannot be ignored when attempting to evangelize, convert, baptize, and teach the Soninke people.

Known Believers

The Soninke people group is represented in eight different countries around the world: Cote d’Ivoire, France, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, and the United States, with a total population of 2,390,700. Currently, the Soninke in Mali have a population of 1,440,000 and Islam represents 94.99% of the population, with only .01% being Christian and .00% being evangelical. Of the .01% of known believers, 85% are Roman Catholic and the remaining 15% are Protestant. Among the Soninke in Mali, there are very few known Christians and those who convert to Christianity are severely persecuted by the Muslims. This has made evangelizing efforts extremely difficult.

The second missionary interviewed for this report said, “For most Soninke, they have still not yet heard a clear presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” When asked the question whether it was harder to evangelize someone who believed in Islam or someone who held no religious beliefs at all, he responded saying, “It was easier evangelizing someone who already believed there was a God versus someone who did not believe in any god, held to ethnic religions, or had no religious values.” He also said, “the main obstacle was building trust with the locals and making provisions for those who are open to the gospel.” After asking what role the Holy Spirit played in their mission, he replied: “The Holy Spirit was relied upon heavily and that he had seen the Spirit at work on a constant basis, both in converts and in those who were open to hearing what he had to say.” This writer holds to the belief that the Holy Spirit has the power to undo what happened at Babel, but for missionaries in this region, the language barrier still seems to be the biggest stumbling block to bonding and forming lasting relationships. Peter Wagner illustrates, “An estimated 48% of the world’s non-Christians find themselves in unreached people groups. That means over two billion individuals for whom Christ died will not hear of His love unless someone follows the call of God and leaves their own culture.”[25] A research team from Link Up Africa (LUA) reported, “We know of only one born-again believer among the Senegal Soninke and five to ten Soninke Christians in Mali. This believer in Jesus is like a flickering candle that the Holy Spirit can use to ignite a spiritual awakening to bring deliverance from sin, deception and the bondage of evil spirits.”[26] Darkness, by definition, is the absence of light, and all it takes is one spark to lead to a wildfire revival, with the power of the Holy Spirit. This is currently happening in other regions of Africa and LUA’s prayer is that the Lord would raise up messengers to carry the good news of the gospel across the Soninke territory, so they will no longer be isolated from the knowledge of the truth.[27] From this report and the information gathered from the missionaries consulted, there are now approximately twenty professing Christians among the Soninke people. This is a good start, but there is still much that needs to be done, especially as it relates to forming an indigenous church and teaching them how to evangelize their own people.

Challenges

Currently there is still no complete Bible in the Soninke’s native language, which all the missionaries cite is one of the primary obstacles in spreading the complete gospel and evangelizing the unreached. Wycliffe research shows, “When people finally get the Bible in their own language, lives often change in amazing ways. People are transformed as they are led to Jesus Christ and a right relationship with God.”[28] Both missionaries said it was important to also know the culture and traditions, which meant it was often necessary to go with the flow, almost like what the apostle Paul was referring to when he said: “Do whatever it takes.”[29] The only exception to this notion would be anything that would violate the inherent and infallible Word of God.

While each new day has presented different obstacles, it has also allowed opportunities for God to show up and meet a need. According to Claude Hickman et al., “When it comes to God’s will, many of us want the GPS version of God’s plan, [but] the Bible does not lay out a map, it gives us a compass.”[30] The missionaries said there are still many obstacles that stand in the way of evangelizing the Soninke people. Some of the biggest they have faced were: lack of understanding, language barriers/dialects, or cultural variations. When a complete Bible is available, the missionaries will be able to show how much of their Koran is found in the Bible, and how the chosen people of God came from the descendants of Isaac, not Ishmael. It will also rightly portray Jesus as the Son of God and not just a prominent prophet.

For the second missionary team consulted, they said their end-goal was for the indigenous people to begin evangelizing within their own communities. This model will cause churches/communities of faith to be self-sufficient and become multipliers of people of faith. In some cases, this process can be lengthy, since new languages must be learned, the translated Bible may not yet be available, or the people group may be resistant to Christian missions. This however was an area the two missionaries consulted differed on. One thought the notion of an indigenous church was great and the other had mixed emotions about it. This was something William Smalley believed was extremely misunderstood by many missionaries asserting, “An indigenous church is one in which the changes taking place under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, meets the needs, and fulfills the meanings of that society and not of any outside group.”[31] As Americans, it can very easy to try and duplicate and impose one’s own ideas and values in the people group trying to be reached. This is also an area that must be watched very carefully because syncretism has a tendency to blend a new believer’s previous customs and traditions with any newfound faith.

A great resource in helping to fulfill the Great Commission is the Joshua Project, which is a research initiative focused on taking the gospel to all unreached people groups. They use Revelation 5:9 and 7:9-10 to show that there will be some from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people before the Throne of God. Their goal, through the collaborative efforts of missionaries, is to help define the unfinished task of the Great Commission by highlighting unreached people groups. Their data and information is extremely helpful to: mission agencies, different denominations, churches, and missionaries to accelerate the Gospel’s advance into each of the least-reached people groups.[32] For the Soninke people, they are specifically praying for, “the Lord to send forth laborers into Mali to share Christ with the indigenous people, that Christian broadcasts will soon be made available in their region, that God will give the small number of Soninke believers’ boldness to share Christ with their own people, and that God would rise up people who will begin breaking up the spiritual soil of Mali through worship and intercession.”[33]

Global Connections is another great resource that believes missions are at the heart of the church and the church is at the heart of missions. They illustrate some additional challenges that they have personally faced in country: “Soninke live in difficult areas with a hard climate, their living conditions are primitive, there is little to no technology, they are subject to tropical diseases, and witnessing to them is very hampered by the mobility of the population.” Interestingly, over the last few years, through their continued commitment to the Soninke people, they have been leading a small number of people to the Lord and some have even expressed an interest in obtaining more Christian literature. Global Connections also found the Soninke people preferred reading in Arabic rather than Roman script.”[34]

Proposed Strategy

For the Great Commission to be truly fulfilled the gospel must be taken to every tribe, tongue, and nation, otherwise this commandment becomes nothing more than the “Great Suggestion.” R. T. France further illustrates,

The phrase panta ta ethne, “all the nations,” has occurred already in Matthew 24:9, 14; 25:32, to denote the area of the disciples’ future activity, the scope of the proclamation of the “good news of the kingdom,” and the extent of the jurisdiction of the enthroned Son of Man. In each case we have seen that the emphasis falls positively on the universal scope of Jesus’ mission rather than negatively on “Gentiles” as opposed to Jews.[35]

Survey of Past and Present Mission Work

Missions and evangelism are being done with great success in the “Global South” and according to Todd Johnson, places like “Africa have seen the most vigorous growth, exploding from 10 million Christians in A.D. 1900 to 360 million in A.D. 2000.”[36] This is in sharp contrast to what is happening in America as Johnson demonstrates, “After A.D. 1980, Christians from the southern hemisphere outnumbered Northern Christians for the first time since the 10th century.”[37] Considering in A.D. 1500, ninety-two percent of all Christians were European, the future of Christianity in the south is exciting, while the future in the north is in trouble. For a nation, which was founded on biblical principles, America has hardened their hearts and turned their backs on God. While North American missionaries, over the last few centuries, played a huge role in the outpouring of Christianity in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, it is now the sending nation of America that needs an awakening and spiritual rebirth.

Larry Stockstill recently said that missiologists tell us that over one million souls are being saved every week around the world and that over 180,000 new churches are being planted every year and even among Muslims; there is a huge influx of Christianity. It is interesting to note, when looking back over the history of Christianity, the times when it thrives were and still are during times of the church’s greatest persecution and turmoil. For example, before ISIS, there were one million Christian believers in Egypt and now there are 4 million.[38]

As Luke Keefer illustrates, “We live and minister in a world that is changing quickly and much. But God has given the church a genetic code, a particular DNA, which gives us an identity in a world that is losing its face, and a mission in a world that is losing its way. That genetic code is the gospel, which has endured from the first to the twenty-first century.”[39] At PeopleGroups.org, their goal is to fulfill the Great Commission by informing the body of Christ about the people groups around the world: who they are, where they are located, and the progress of spreading the Gospel among them. Their vision is to see a multitude from every language, people, tribe and nation knowing and worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ.[40]

Phase One: Going There to Work Among the Soninke People

C. Peter Wagner illustrates, “The teeming multitudes of all colors, languages, smells, and cultures are not just a quaint sideline in our nation; they are America. And it is America that God has called to evangelize, [but] the first step in reaching [people] for Christ is to want to do it. Motivation is key.”[41]

For the purposes of this report, this author has decided to team up with Operation World, an organization dedicated to evangelizing the world. Their key strategy is prayer and Patrick Johnstone believes, “When man works, man works; when man prays, God works, [demonstrating] the ministry of the children of God is not just doing but praying, not just strategizing, but prostrate before God seeking His will, not just clever strategies for manipulating people and events but trusting in God who moves in the hearts of even His most implacable enemies.”[42] They believe firmly that prayer changes people, situations, and even the course of history. Only after prayerfully considering the mission that waits and counting the cost will a team be sent. Given the relationships formed with several missionaries in country and other organizations through the research of this project, it became clear there were many physical needs that needed to be addressed, in addition to the spiritual needs. As a result, the initial team going down will consist of people trained in the medical field, to heal the sick; contractors, to help build key infrastructure and begin work on the multipurpose mission outpost/church; and also laborers to help both in the treatment of the sick and in various construction roles. Another initiative will be the drilling of a well in a key location. Upon visiting the people and discovering where the greatest needs are, the goal will be drill a well very close to where the mission outpost will be. This will act as a central point where people will travel, not only to receive water for human consumption, but also to receive water from the river of life, that will cause one to thirst no more.[43]

After addressing their most basic human needs, the focus will then turn to meeting their spiritual needs. Fulfilling the Great Commission always leads to planting churches and involves three parts: going, baptizing, and teaching them to obey. Beram Kumar, when talking about the Western and non-Western church demonstrates, “We need one another. We need to be careful to guard that relationship. Of equal importance, however, is the need for the Church in the West to move out of the ‘they are emerging’ mentality and recognize that non-Western missions movements are equal and able partners.”[44] When looking at unreached people groups, what separates them from other groups is they lack an indigenous community of believing Christians who are able to engage with the group and have a church planting strategy, consistent with evangelical faith and practice. Emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s guidance is key, as Ed Stetzer illustrates, “Without the Holy Spirit’s work, we are not planting churches; we are starting religious clubs.” The end-goal must be the gathering of believers and planting churches to establish an effective and multiplying presence among the people group.[45] This will be the vision and strategy for this project. Training and equipping the people to do the work is fundamental to the health of the church. The same is true for any church, as it is the job of the church pastors to teach the laity of the church how to do the work of the church. This model has gotten lost, been forgotten, or blatantly been ignored out of a desire to control and do everything themselves, but in doing so, they are essentially robbing the people out of the blessings they would have received in doing the work they were called to do. The body is made up of many parts for a reason and each one contributes something specific according to the giftings God has given them.[46]

For some of the Soninke, it is harder to become a Christian because they already believe in a god, while for others it is hard because they do not believe in any god. However, the majority of the Soninke people believe in some form of god, so a strategy must be developed to illustrate how the Koran is really accounts from the Bible twisted to show it was the offspring of Ishmael that were God’s chosen people. Once the complete Bible is available, this will be a huge benefit to present the entire gospel meta-narrative. Next, a strategy must also be implemented to deal with the animalistic witchcraft currently being practiced. By showing God created all the animals on the earth in the Genesis account would be a good starting point to showing God’s supremacy over animals and man’s dominion over them, once that part of the Bible is completely translated.

One of the biggest obstacles faced in evangelism is explaining how a loving God can send people to hell. In their book, Faith Comes by Hearing, Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson write, “How could it be fair and just for those who have never even had a chance to hear the gospel, which is necessary for salvation, to be condemned to hell? The question sounds powerful, but behind it lies faulty assumptions.”[47]  Morgan and Peterson demonstrate the first mistaken assumption is that, “our condemnation is based on a rejection of the gospel.” They then show Scripture teaches that our condemnation is based on the fact that we are sinners, not because at some point in time we rejected the gospel. Morgan and Peterson then show, “God’s wrath is revealed against everyone who suppresses His truth revealed through creation … [And] strictly speaking, the Bible denies that there are persons who have never heard of God.”[48] Another faulty assumption that will have to be addressed pertains to “a confusion of justice and mercy.”[49] God is gracious and merciful in that He has provided a way of salvation through faith in Christ for those who will accept Him, but God also cannot let un-repentance go unnoticed. Ultimately, God will deal fairly with those who have not received a direct presentation of the gospel, just as He will deal fairly with those who have. God’s way is wide enough for everyone willing to accept it and receive Christ. The most important question any of us can answer is the one Jesus asked his own disciples, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?”[50] This will be the question every Soninke will eventually have to answer.

Phase Two: Setting Up a Mission Outpost/Church and Well

The American Missionary Fellowship has developed a four-tier goal/system of planting churches where there is presently no clear gospel witness to reach the un-churched by: influencing future generations by reaching their children and young people; establishing ministry centers in the areas of trade and commerce, where there are desperate spiritual needs; and by multiplying leaders who can then take the gospel even further, and by developing ministries to target peoples of other diverse cultures. David Schenk and Ervin Stutzman affirm, “Church planting is thus the most urgent business of mankind. It is through the creation or planting of churches that God’s kingdom is extended into communities, which have not been touched by the precious surprise of the presence of the kingdom of God.”[51] Planting churches matters because people matter.

Eugene Scott explains, “One of the biggest mistakes pastors of white evangelical churches can make is not addressing policies that affect the poor. Coming to urban environments and endorsing policies that only benefit new transplants and businesses directs attention away from issues that have affected neighborhoods for generations.”[52] If someone is starving, you should first offer him or her bread for their body and then talk to them of the bread of life for their eternal soul. Efrem Smith says church planting has to be about serving the undeserved, not just following the latest trends: “We don’t simply need more churches… We need church planting and leadership development movements. These movements should specifically center on the empowerment of the poor. This will call church planting movements to connect evangelism, discipleship, and a liberating witness to the marginalized and outcast.”[53] These are whom Jesus sought out in His ministry and Wagner believes new church planting is the single most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven,[54] but as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. popularly said, “Sunday is also the most segregated hour of Christianity in America.”

David Mechanic and Jennifer Tanner illustrate a fundamental issue facing any outreach effort is: “The behavior that the public views as personally controllable is fundamental to whether they see people as sinners or victims. Governments provide assistance to those who are not seen as responsible for their vulnerability. When people are seen as responsible for their life circumstances, there is less public compassion and often stigma.”[55] Making disciples and multiplying churches must be the unified goal. At the first Southern Baptist Convention in 1845, the Foreign Mission Board (FMB) was founded as part of “one sacred effort, for the propagation of the Gospel.” Southern Baptist churches believed that by working cooperatively, they could accomplish more for God’s kingdom. Today this organization is know as the International Missions Board whose focus has shifted from geographic countries to people groups, with a concerted effort to start church-planting movements among unreached peoples.[56]

With this team-focused approach, the goal will be to identify a key location to setup a mission outpost/church, and also dig a well within a close proximity. For the water well, World Vision will be consulted, as they have just dug their 1,000th successful borehole drilled in Mali since 2003 marking a substantial breakthrough in the effort to provide as many as 120,000 Malians a year with access to clean water and improved sanitation and hygiene.[57] Having access to clean water is of the utmost importance, as nearly one thousand children die everyday as the result of unsanitary water conditions. Depending on the location of the well will determine how deep it needs to be dug. The deeper the well, the more expensive it is to have access to clean water. For shallow wells, a hand pump is sufficient and only cost between five to ten thousand dollars. For deeper wells, where a diesel motor is required to bring the water up, the cost can be as high as thirty thousand dollars. However, with the deeper and larger well, the pump can tend to the consumption needs of several thousand people.[58]

The overall goal with the mission outpost/church will be to have versatility with the space, so it can be used for medical needs, teaching, church, and even a place where the local people can come together under one roof. Most of the villages all have mosques, so presenting this location, as a church may be problematic. In addition, Africa requires numerous permits for both building and drilling, and this process varies greatly at every location. The assistance of locals and organizations familiar with the process will be relied upon heavily. Before phase two can be implemented, a significant fundraising effort must be started back home, in addition to soliciting any support from the local Soninke people.

The Stone-Campbell Movement in Mali is a great example of sustaining a long-lasting partnership with the Soninke people. The missionary couple began their ministry in the late 1980s and made the commitment early on that they were going to stay for at least fifteen years to establish a local church that would be indigenous and self-sufficient apart from missionaries and the mission. Their plan was, “instead of focusing on a quick growth in numbers in the church, they concentrated on laying a firm foundation for the church.”[59] This meant a great deal of time and resources were spent on teaching new believers, building cement block structures, establishing irrigation and agriculture projects, and raising up natives to function in leadership roles within the church. This team also used their medical training to help better the lives of those they came to serve. One of the things, previously stated, that must be avoided is offending the Muslims; this regrettably was a reality this missionary team eventually faced:

Unfortunately, as time went by, the work had become more of a “church,” and except for programs on the radio station, their outreach was greatly diminished. When it was still at its beginning and the assorted buildings in the villages were seen as multi-purpose buildings, most Muslims did not object to participating, but when the local Christians insisted on setting up a large sign with a church name and hours for the service, the Muslims quit coming. Muslims do not want to be seen going to “church”. Church traditions are prevailing over the need to reach out to the un-reached.[60]

This is what will prevent growth from beginning and it will stop it even quicker. The mindset of the mission team must be focused on meeting the needs of all, both physical and spiritual, and not segregating those who are not Christians. This is what has happened in America, and as a result, the world knows more what the church is against than anything it is for. Love must be the motivation behind all actions, as reflecting the image of Christ is the ultimate goal and the only way the Great Commission will truly be fulfilled.

Conclusion

This project has given a brief background of the Soninke’s history, language, culture, economy, religion(s), and family structures/values. By understanding the people, their past, and their culture/religious views, an action plan was presented to reach the Soninke people. A detailed presentation of past and present mission efforts was then presented demonstrating the current state of the church, number of known believers, challenges, and successful strategies. Lastly, a proposed strategy was then presented on how best to evangelize and reach the Soninke people. Given this writer’s role as a church pastor, a plan was be designed, which was centered on taking the gospel to the unreached people of Soninke, in the form of church laborers to work among them, with the end-goal ultimately being the establishment of a multipurpose mission’s outpost/church and a water well to provide clean water for consumption. The location picked will be the Antioch of Mali, as this project will be the epicenter of missions to the Soninke people. By meeting the physical needs of the Soninke people, bonding will be developed and relationships will be formed. Over time, this will open the door to meeting their spiritual needs and fulfilling the mission Jesus passed onto the church after He ascended to heaven. By being imitators of Christ and showing love to the Soninke people, the mission effort will have the best possible chance of making an eternal impact.

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Kumar, Beram. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: No Longer Emerging, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009.

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[1] John 14:6 (ESV)

[2] Joshua Project Website, https://joshuaproject.net (accessed April 19, 2016).

[3] Joshua Project Website, https://joshuaproject.net/resources/articles/what_is_a_people_group (accessed April 19, 2016).

[4] A. Scott Moreau, Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee. Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey, 2nd Edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2015), 281.

[6] Moreau et al., Introducing World Missions, 75.

[8] Bill Bright, The Coming Revival, (Orlando, FL: New Life Publications, 1995), 65.

[9] Matthew 28:18-20

[10] Dave Earley and David Wheeler, Evangelism Is… How to Share Jesus with Passion and Confidence, (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic Publishing Group, 2010), 35.

[15] J.S. Global Prayer Digest, “Soninke People,” http://www.globalprayerdigest.org/index.php/issue/day/Soninke-People5/ (accessed May 7, 2016).

[16] J.S., Global Prayer Digest, “Soninke People in Paris, http://www.globalprayerdigest.org/index.php/issue/day/Soninke-People-in-Paris/ (accessed May 7, 2016).

[17] J.S. Global Prayer Digest, “Soninke People,” http://www.globalprayerdigest.org/index.php/issue/day/Soninke-People5/ (accessed May 7, 2016).

[18] Ernst Dammann, Review of La Societé Soninke (dyahunu Mali). Journal of Religion in Africa 6 (2). 1974. Brill: 153–54. doi:10.2307/1594893. (accessed May 10, 2016).

[19] Paolo Gaibazzi, “THE RANK EFFECT: POST-EMANCIPATION IMMOBILITY IN A SONINKE VILLAGE.” Journal of African History 53, no. 2 (07, 2012): 215-216, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1041238287?accountid=12085. (accessed May 8, 2016).

[24] https://www.wycliffe.org/celebrate (accessed May 9, 2016).

[25] C. Peter Wagner, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: On the Cutting Edge of Mission Strategy, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009), 577.

[27] Ibid.

[28] https://www.wycliffe.org/about/why (accessed May 9, 2016).

[29] I Corinthians 9:19-23

[30] Claude Hickman, Steven C. Hawthorne, and Todd Ahrend, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: Life on Purpose, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009), 725-726.

[31] William A. Smalley, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: Cultural Implications of an Indigenous Church, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009), 499.

[33] Joshua Project Website, https://joshuaproject.net/people_groups/14996/ML (accessed April 27, 2016).

[35] R. T. France, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel of Matthew, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 1114.

[36] Todd Johnson and Sandra S. K. Lee, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: From Western Christendom to Global Christianity, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009), 387.

[37] Johnson and Lee, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, 388.

[38] Larry Stockstill, Why I Give a Flip About Missions, http://larrystockstill.com/missions/ (accessed May 2, 2016)

[39] Luke Keefer, “The Changeless Gospel,” – Ashland Theological Journal 32, no. 0 (NA), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 20.

[40] People Groups Website, http://www.peoplegroups.org/Understand.aspx (accessed April 19, 2016).

[41] C. Peter Wagner, “A Vision for Evangelizing the Real America.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 10, no. 2 (Apr 01, 1986): 59 & 63, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1299982994?accountid=12085. (accessed April 21, 2016).

[42] Operation World Website, http://www.operationworld.org/prayer-and-nations (accessed April 21, 2016).

[43] John 4:14

[44] Beram Kumar, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: No Longer Emerging, 4th Edition. Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library Publishers, 2009), 369.

[45] People Groups Website, http://www.peoplegroups.org/ (accessed April 20, 2016).

[46] I Corinthians 12:12-27

[47] Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, editors, Faith Comes by Hearing: A Response to Inclusivism, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008), 241.

[48] Morgan and Peterson, Faith Comes by Hearing, 241.

[49] Morgan and Peterson, Faith Comes by Hearing, 242.

[50] Matthew 16:15; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20

[51] David W. Schenk and Ervin R. Stutzman, Liberty University GLST 500, Week 7 Course Content, Fulfilling the Great Commission through Church Planting, https://media.liberty.edu/cqhne (accessed May 6, 2016).

[52] Eugene Scott, “Evangelizing in the inner City: the role of white evangelical churches in urban renewal.” Kennedy School Review 15 (2015): 23. Academic OneFile. http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/ps/i.do?p=AONE&u=vic_liberty&id=GALE|A414840773&v=2.1&it=r&sid=summon&userGroup=vic_liberty&authCount=1# (accessed April 21, 2016).

[53] Efrem Smith, “Church Planting Among the Urban Poor,” Christianity Today, 15 May 2014.

[54] Wagner, “A Vision for Evangelizing the Real America.” 63.

[55] David Mechanic and Jennifer Tanner, “Vulnerable People, Groups, and Populations: Societal View.” Health Affairs 26, no. 5 (Sep, 2007): 1221-1222, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/204641146?accountid=12085. (accessed April 21, 2016).

[56] International Mission Board Website, http://www.imb.org/about-us/history.aspx#.VxknPj-J-8U (accessed April 21, 2016).

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