New Tribes Mission in Guinea, West Africa
The country of Guinea is home to about 40 people groups, most of which are classed as least-reached or unreached with the gospel. It is just the sort of place one would expect to find a mission like New Tribes Mission (NTM), since our mandate is to assist the church in reaching people groups who have no effective gospel witness.
For many years the Guinean government would not allow missionaries to work in Guinea. That changed in the mid 1980s, and by the end of the decade a few NTM missionaries had arrived to begin preparing for church planting work.
Initial surveys indicated several unreached people groups in the northwestern region, in and around the prefecture of Boké. The area had no churches and very few, if any, indigenous believers. And no church planting work was being done.
The first NTM missionaries began living in the town of Boké, and new missionaries soon arrived for orientation and learning the former colonial language of French. Later they either joined the support team (serving as administrators, supply buyers, etc.) or a church planting team in a village, where they began culture and language study.
Missionaries began working among the Landuma and Nalu people groups in 1992. In those early days there was little consultant help available to guide new missionaries learning African cultures and languages, and no experienced missionaries nearby to provide counsel and guidance.
How does one learn a language for which no language course exists? How does one write down a language which has no established alphabet?
And how should one go about learning the culture of the people, their practices, habits, values, ideals, beliefs, and world view? A thorough understanding of all these is necessary if effective communication of Bible truth is to take place.
This is where NTM’s comprehensive pre-field training programme showed its great value as new missionaries put the principles they had learned into practice.
As they gained experience, the on-field consultant programme became increasingly effective. And as relationships are built with the people among whom one is serving, missionaries have the tools to make much more rapid and effective progress.
In the succeeding years NTM missionaries opened church planting works among the Tanda, Jahango, Baga Foré and Konyagui people groups.
Most of the groups we work with are predominately Muslim, though their beliefs and practices are strongly influenced by animistic folk religion. The indigenous African culture stresses community solidarity and maintaining the social and religious practices of one’s fathers and grandfathers.
Combine this with the antagonism to Christianity built into the very fabric of Islam and it becomes obvious that working to see churches established among such people groups is not an easy task.
So the question arises: How can a strong church be planted in such a context?
The answer is complex. First, we have found that relationships and spending time with the people are key to evangelism and discipleship. Usually it is those who have the closest relationships to missionaries who are most likely to listen and respond to the Bible’s teaching.
Second, we must take advantages of points of contact, the bridges to Bible truth already built in to the African cultures. This would include as much as possible using religious terminology familiar to them, and affirming those truths they believe which are biblically correct, such as God being the creator.
Third, we must discover the barriers to Bible truth which would hinder accurate communication of God’s Word, and carefully teach on these points from the Scriptures. One example would be their unscriptural views of the nature of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness which allows for the possibility that man can earn salvation through good works.
And fourth, we recognize that it is essential that the Bible be taught systematically and chronologically in the heart language of the people, beginning at Genesis and building carefully essential foundations for faith in the Saviour Jesus.
Without this teaching of foundational Bible truths, in their own language, the message of the gospel would remain incomprehensible.
Through the efforts of NTM missionaries, God has worked and continues to work to draw Guineans to himself. Literacy has been taught in four people groups. Bible books and/or portions have been translated for three people groups, and translation work in another will begin soon.
The Bible has been taught and there are now small but growing churches in two people groups, and a few believers in two others. Those who come to Christ always face ostracism, and sometimes heavy persecution, at the hands of their families and neighbours.
The belief is that by ‘changing religions’ they have rebelled against their fathers, their village, their people and their god. They are now considered to be pagans, having joined the ‘foreigners’ religion’.
Please pray for the Guinean believers, that God would give them strength each day to seek him, and to grow in their faith and stand firm against the opposition of the enemy of souls. And please pray for the missionaries, that they would be able to effectively disciple these precious African saints.
The national church in Guinea has grown considerably in the past decades, and God has increasingly shown us the importance of working alongside our African brothers and sisters in accomplishing the task that he has given to all of us.
We pray that in the coming years God would provide many co-workers from the Guinean church, and that every people group might be reached as effectively and quickly as possible, for God’s glory.
The author and his wife Yolanda have worked in Guinea since 1991. They are planting a church among the Landuma people. Kirk’s primary role is to translate the Bible into Landuma language.