Was it worth it?
The southern edge of the Sahara Desert is a mysterious land with a striking landscape. Black volcanic mountains tower over emerald green oases. Cascading waterfalls and lush private gardens contrast starkly with the dramatic beauty of the desert, where sand waves roll toward the horizon.
Intermittent adobe cities dot the landscape, inhabited by people whom time forgot. My many years as a missionary in Niger have afforded me numerous unique opportunities. Often I have ridden on dromedaries (one-humped camels native to northern Africa) to remote villages, one village being nearly 100 miles from where we live in Agadez.
Other excursions often begin with many hours of driving in my Land Rover, followed by many more hours of walking beside our dromedaries before we reach our destination.
It is always a treacherous task to visit these villages in an attempt to give out the gospel to these Moslem people — people held in a mixture of witchcraft and Islam. However, God has shown his power and protection in marvellous ways.
The proud Tuareg people, who generations ago used to criss-cross the Sahara with their large caravans bearing trading goods, today barely make a subsistence living from tending their few camels, donkeys, and goats.
However, on my visits to their nomadic tents, they are quick to give me the best of their ‘desert hospitality’. After a long trip, they often offer me shade inside their humble tent, home-made of woven palm leaf mats and tree root poles. They serve me fresh milk, still warm from the dromedary cow, in a large gourd.
If I am to stay the night, I am always offered a bed in the tent instead of a palm leaf mat on the ground. The beds are not more comfortable than the mats, but help discourage the onslaught of mice, ticks, scorpions, spiders, and other desert critters of the night.
I remember on one occasion, as we sat around the evening fire outside the tent, I heard a faint sound of something digging softly in the sand. It was not until the next morning that I learned that it was a viper that had dug itself into the sand — not far from where I slept!
Once, while making a trip during a fierce windstorm, my vehicle broke down. The carburettor was completely choked up with sand and dust. Visibility on the ground was less than 50 feet. I was compelled to rebuild the carburettor inside the cab of the truck, where it would be sheltered from the blowing sand.
Thankfully, after several hours, the parts were reassembled, the engine roared to life, and we continued our journey. With all the inconveniences and hardships to reach these nomadic people, I can say that it is worth every effort to be able to take the gospel for the first time to these remote villages.
Our conversions over the years have been few, but precious. One example is a young man whom we will call ‘Ananias’. When I first saw him 30 years ago, he was a young man with braided hair. Back in that era, young Tuareg lads selectively shaved their hair, letting some of it grow long. The long parts were then braided.
Ananias and his family lived some 50 miles away from where my family and I lived in the town of Agadez. Whenever possible, we would make trips out to their village in the desert to share the gospel and occasionally show Bible filmstrips.
It was interesting to see the reaction of these desert dwellers, who had never before seen television or a movie (and in many cases a photograph). I remember the filmstrip about David and Goliath. Whenever the filmstrip showed the pictures of Goliath, Ananias and the other young men in my audience would throw stones at Goliath’s likeness on the screen to show their disapproval of him!
Through the years, Ananias and I became good friends. I taught him many things, yet he was not the only one learning. I learned much from him as well.
My prayer was that he would one day receive Christ as Saviour. Oh, how we did rejoice on the day we heard that Ananias’ brother Abrahim had accepted Christ!
Each time Abrahim came to town, he would bring news of the family. Because of the low literacy rate, we had begun to record parts of our Bible translation into Tamajeq (the language spoken by the Tuareg) on cassette tapes.
We furnished Abrahim with tapes of Scripture readings and Sunday morning messages to aid his spiritual growth. Abrahim would play these tapes for his family out in the desert. Yet, still no news came of Ananias’ conversion, and so we continued to pray.
Again, Abrahim visited us in town and this time he reported that his mother had confessed her faith in Jesus Christ. I shall never forget that day when I made a trip out into the desert to visit her.
She came to me, radiant and filled with joy, expressing her thanks for the messages on tape to which she had listened and to which she owed her salvation. It is difficult to describe in words the change I sensed in this dear lady. The joy expressed in her countenance alone was adequate testimony of a miraculous change.
After all, joy is not one of the outstanding characteristics of desert life and culture. I prayed that Ananias would soon follow his mother and brother in receiving Christ as Saviour.
In 1992, war came to this remote part of the Sahara Desert. Tuareg bandits, armed with machine guns and other modern weaponry, roamed this vast territory, robbing and killing. It was no longer safe to visit Ananias and his family. Our contact was reduced to visits from family members whenever they came to town to sell sheep or goats and purchase food.
I prayed that one of these visits would bring news of Ananias’ conversion. Finally, we received word that Ananias’ mother had become very ill. Her illness (probably a fatal variety of malaria) was prolonged, and we often prayed for her and sent special things out for her to eat. Soon afterward, we heard that she had passed away.
I, along with three Christian Tuareg from our little church group in Agadez, went out to the camp site to visit and comfort the family. We were told she spoke often of the Lord and had a clear mind to the very end.
Somewhere out in the lonely desert, she was buried, just 18 inches below the hot sand. Her friends and relatives did their best to cover the grave with heavy stones to prevent the jackals and hyena of the desert from digging it up.
Would his mother’s death bring Ananias to the realisation of his need of Christ? We continued to pray and hope as the years went by. Finally, one glorious day, I received a letter from Ananias.
The letter stated that he had accepted Christ. He also said that he had read in the Gospel of Mark that when one believes on Jesus Christ as Saviour and repents of his sin, he is supposed to be baptised. He wanted to come into town for me to baptise him.
What a joyous reunion when he arrived in town and told me that not only he, but also his wife and daughters, had trusted in Jesus Christ! He further explained that he had been closely observing those who attended our gospel meetings and confessed Christ as their Saviour, and he had concluded from his observations that the gospel is real!
Counting the cost
While I was overjoyed with his news, I could not help but remember that I had known this man for 30 years. Thirty years is indeed a long time for preaching, praying and hoping. Some may ask, ‘Was it worth it — worth the time, effort and cost?’ Was it worth risking ourselves in this less-than-friendly environment?
Our answer must be affirmative. Indeed, we are compelled to admit that we have paid but a very small price to take the gospel to an eternal soul whose worth it is not possible to calculate. Thirty years seems a long time here on earth, but it is nothing compared to eternity.
When we first came to Niger, we did not know all the difficulties, hardships and discouragements we would face in this strange new land. We did not realise the depth of spiritual darkness and satanic oppression we would encounter as we endeavoured to fulfil the Great Commission, but we were confident that God would honour his Word.
It is important to note that the same command to ‘Go’ is accompanied by the promise of ‘Lo, I am with you always’. God has been true to his promise. Every day in this Moslem land is a miracle of his sustaining power.
We have seen precious souls put their trust in Christ, and we thank God for the privilege we have to carry the gospel to those who have never heard. Yes, 30 years is indeed a long time — but it is worth the wait!
David and Donna Edens
This edited article is used with permission of the Baptist International Missions Inc, World Magazine online (www.bimi.org/worldMag/108A3.php)