At one point, the Mande Peoples ruled over much of West Africa in an empire that spanned centuries.
Every church bulletin includes a prayer list: names of the sick, those without jobs, friends and family who are traveling, church staff, and, oh yes, the missionaries. Some remember to pray for those on the list. Some even pray for a blessing on all the missionaries.
Others take the time to pray specifically for the individuals, the sick and those away from their homeland for the express purpose of telling others about Jesus Christ, and the difference following Him and His teachings can make in anyone’s life.
In 1997, through the church he attended at the time in Indiana, my son, Mert, learned of the Mande, a people group in West Africa. He included them when he prayed for individual missionaries in their specific country. He not only prayed, he researched the needs of the people and followed events and missionaries in the area.
In 2000, he left Indiana, but he kept the Mande mission outreach in his prayers – even when he heard little about them.
In 2005, he moved to Michigan where he rides the city buses and prays for opportunities to meet new people on the bus. Sometimes, he shares Bible verses that catch his attention.
One day’s reading touched on Paul’s visit to Rome as a prisoner and his greeting to the Jews, “You will be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Ever hearing, but never understanding. Lest you turn from your sin and be healed. …” That evening, Mert shared those words with the man sitting beside him.
“That is so true for me,” the man said. “I have trouble seeing, trouble hearing, and trouble thinking.”
“Go to the elders of your church and ask for healing,” my son said.
“I am a Muslim.”
“Oh, where are you from?”
It turned out that the man, Reggie, came from West Africa – from the Mande people group for whom Mert continued to pray.
After briefly sharing the Good News with him, Mert noted his contact information and, a couple of weeks later, he visited Reggie.
Reggie expressed his belief in Jesus as the Son of God, asked prayer for his family and began reading the Bible.
After visiting him a couple of times, Mert and a friend arrived one day to discover that the entire apartment complex was empty. No one knew where anyone had moved.
Turning to leave, they spotted a business card for Reggie’s mother’s hair-braiding salon. It took a bit of hunting to find the place, but they did. It was hidden behind a simple glass door at the end of a narrow hallway.
Reggie’s mother, Sarah, talked about her family and accepted prayers of blessings for her in Jesus name. Over time, she introduced them to other Mande people in the area. Sometimes Mert brought Bible story books he had received which were in her language, Gospel recordings or copies of the “Jesus” film in Sarah’s native language to give to her and her friends.
For Reggie, a boxer, Mert found an autobiography of George Foreman that included his testimony of faith in Jesus.
This year in March, Ahmed, a religious leader, moved into the area, and Sarah introduced him. They began talking about the Word of God. Ahmed introduced Mert to a professor of the Mande people’s language whose father had created an alphabet for the people and written numerous books in their language.
In August, searching his Internet resources for a Bible in his friend’s native language, Mert found a linguist who had been living in the West African country and was working on translating the Bible for this people group. The linguist accepted an invitation to visit the transplanted folks from his adopted country over the Labor Day weekend.
From the translator and a website, Mert learned simple greetings in the Mande people’s language to use at the local ethnic grocery store, where he met more folks who spoke the language.
Preparations and prayers for the translator’s visit included printing 20 copies of the portions of the Bible he had translated, scheduling as many visits with various Mande folks as possible and distributing copies of the translation.
But, God had bigger plans.
The folks at the beauty salon, the grocery and around the neighborhood invited the translator and Mert to the annual gathering of immigrant Mandes. This fall that gathering just happened to be in the area.
The number of people at the convention was 150-200. By invitation, the translator gave a short speech and blessings of peace.
“The atmosphere was electric,” Mert said. The translator became the unexpected star of the convention as conventioneers asked to have their pictures taken with him. Learning that he was a Bible translator, the host said, “We are Muslims.”
“I know, but doesn’t the Koran say that you are supposed to read the Law and the Gospel?” the translator politely acknowledged.
Before he left, the translator received an invitation to speak on the international radio broadcast in the West African dialect. He plans to revisit the folks in Michigan before he returns to his work in the West African country.
For Mert, the weekend gave testimony to him that God is answering prayers for this people group.
(Written with Mert Hershberger)
This blog first appeared in Joan Hershberger’s Wednesday Column in the El Dorado News-Times in Union County, Arkansas.