Sahara Desert: The evangelical neglect…$200,000 project to the rescue
By Gbenga Osinaike
“Give me the desert”. That seems to be the prayers of Rev Ola Sunday, founder Royal Missionary Outreach International. But his love for the desert is not about self or personal ambition. It is about the souls in that arid region of the world who are in dire need of the gospel.
For almost 30 years now he has been traversing the desert region of Southern Libya, Southern Algeria, and Northern Niger for missions. But his efforts have mainly been concentrated on the Agadez region of the Northern Niger Republic, a place he described as the most neglected region in the world in terms of evangelism.
But beyond the spiritual neglect, the inhabitants are not having best of life. The poverty in that part of the world is not only grinding but blinding. The main work in desert according to him is animal husbandry. But then, the herders are not getting value for their labour. Rather, they are being exploited. The exploitation does not stop at their physical wellbeing but also at their spiritual wellbeing.
Rev. Sunday was first led to the North of Nigeria in the 80s before the Holy Spirit led him further to Niger Republic after putting in years on mission fields in Sokoto and Kebbi. “I went to Niger Republic by revelation. I was missionary in Sokoto, Kebbi. I felt I was called a missionary to those places until God gave me a vision to go to Insala in Niger Republic. So I went to Kaduna and consulted libraries eventually I discovered Insala was located in the arid area of Algeria. I began to get more picture that God wanted me to go further up North from Sokoto. So I came to UNILAG library to study about the people because there was no internet in those days. Agadez is the gateway to the desert. I discovered that, it is one of the most neglected parts of the world. There is no single church in the North of Niger as I speak. There are churches in the southern Niger, Northern Libya but none in the North.”
Today, Ola Sunday has a missionary post in Agadez in Niger Republic. And his missions in Niger has been on for close to 20 years. But he said efforts over the years to get churches to come to that region has produced no fruit. He had contacted the big churches and requested that they send their workforce to the place at least to plant a church so that those who have given their lives to Christ will not be sheep without a shepherd.
He noted, “As a missionaries we don’t have the mandate to start a church. Ours is to reach the lost and hand over to the church for discipleship training and follow up. There are many people who have come to know the Lord in that region but no church for them and no direction for them. What we need the church to do is to come and adopt them and provide structures for them to grow. There are churches in Northern Libya, Southern Niger but none in the North. This region has been avoided and abandoned for so long.”
He explained further: “What we need the church for us to create a support body for them nothing more. Unfortunately no Nigerian church, no denomination has shown interest in coming to the desert. Southern Libya, Southern Algeria, Northern Niger are the only remaining places the gospel has not been preached effectively in the whole world. If the words of Jesus is to be reckoned with I am convinced that as soon as the church responds to the sahara desert the end will come.”
He opined that the Sahara desert is a continent of its own though not recognized as one. “When Islam came to the North of Africa there was so much resistance from the Tuareg region. They were broken into pieces. But before then, they were a region of their own. They broke to pieces and scattered to further north of the continent. It is the hottest desert land in the whole world.
Tuaregs direct descendants of Tyre and Sidon
“The Tuaregs are direct descendants of Sidon and Tyre which the Bible talked about. They call them the people of purple. That is the meaning of Sidon. They used to dye their cloth in purple. They are the people that dominated the Niger Republic. They are the first people that experienced the gospel in the first century. But Islam soon overran that region. Those who didn’t want to become Muslims ran down to the south of North Africa. Those who did not mind Islam remained in the North. Those who moved further south in later years became animist and then gradually embraced Islam because of the influence of the trans-sahara trade”
The missionary evangelist noted that the desert region enjoys so much peace. “There is no religious war in the desert. It is a peaceful place and many of them are embracing Christ. I just pray that the peace we enjoy in the desert will continue. There are France army blocking ISIS from penetrating Niger. The local people there don’t support Boko Haram so Boko Haram has no foothold there. In the case of Nigeria there are local people supporting Boko Haram that is why they are succeeding.”
Sahara Desert: The project to the rescue
But in the interim, Ola Sunday has a lofty plan for the desert people. His mission body has been given 10,000 square meter of land by the government of Niger to implement this noble plan. The plan is to build a pastoral community where cattle owners can rear their animals and also employ technology to extract milk from cows for sale. Already an Israeli body has offered to render its services for the project but a sum of $200,000 is needed for the project to be fully implemented.
He explains, “Because I served among the pastoral community. They deal majorly in animals as far as Agadez region in Niger Republic is concerned. Their challenge is viable market for their products. They still use the ancient method in animal production. They also depend on ancient way of marketing the milk. They sustain themselves with the milk they wean from these animals. But because of the ancient way of producing these milk they are not getting value for their labour. So I thought of a project that can fully integrate what they do as well as use that as a platform to draw more herders and people to the desert land and create an enterprise around them that would help the cause of our evangelism.”
He observed that the people in the desert are passing through starvation because they could not make enough money for their own upkeep. “Presently their products can’t stand in the modern market. Those who do yoghurts, buy their milk at ridiculous price. When I discovered this, I felt there is a need to establish a pastoral resource centre where they can come for training on modern ways of rearing these animals and how they can use technology to extract milk from the cow so the milk will be safe for consumption. An Israeli company called Texxa is ready for the project.”
Relating how this will serve the missions, he said, “by providing a platform for them we will do three things: train them, help in treating their animals and provide market for them. We want to engage online marketers to patronize the market. The marketer will only take little commission the way Konga or Jumia does. But because the project is a mission organized programme there will chalets there for people to pass the night, chapel and there will be discipleship programme. All local pastors that are also Tuaregs and Fulani will come to the place and use the place as a base to meet the people with the gospel.”
Rev Sunday hinted that the story of the project has already been bringing souls to the Lord. “I have shared this vision with many of them and they are eager for it to take off. What I have experienced in the last five years is beyond my imagination. They are open to the gospel now more than ever before. They are even using government resources to sponsor the gospel. Many of them are turning to Christ. Recently we baptized about 200 of them. It is overwhelming.”
Citing one of the outreaches carried out by the mission agency in 2018, Rev Sunday said, “God used the Islam Chief Imam of Agadez and the Sultan of Agadez Region to host the missions outreach right inside Palace of the Sultan for three days. In the North, Traditional Rulers especially the sultans are the custodians of Islamic religion: releasing their palace for a Christian outreach is viewed by Moslems as an act of betrayal of trust.
“Moreso, Agadez indigenes do boast of traditional worship and cultures. Their Kings’ palace is viewed as the spiritual altars for the entire desert land not to be contested for by minority Christian religion. But they released the place for the outreach. With this backgrounds one may appreciate the body and verbal languages of the Sultan de L’Air of Agadez declaring before a crowd of his subjects that “He – the Sultan – is a product of Missionaries, and he shall support every Christian’ mission efforts in Sahara Desert.
Rev Sunday noted further that “the desert community is far apart. The landmass of Agadez should be 2/3 of the Niger Republic. It has the largest landmass in the whole of West Africa. I am hoping and praying that the pastoral project will draw global attention to the desert and bring more people to the Lord.”
The challenge now according to him is to raise the funds to prosecute the project. “I am hoping that well-meaning believers who have passion for lost souls will step in to help with the needed funds. Contributing a dollar will go a long way to make this project a reality. We are currently raising funds and asking people to support the vision. What we are trying to do is to support the economy of the desert while also trusting that the Lord will use this gesture to draw men to himself. Primarily our concern is for the lives that are facing grinding poverty. We feel there is need to extend the love of Christ to them. It is what the Lord taught us to do. If they now surrender their lives to Christ in the process fine. But our gesture is not primarily because we want them to be part of the church. That will be a wrong premise to start. The missionaries who brought the gospel to us did not make it compulsory for people to become Christians before they offered education. We are trying to replicate that same gesture to the people of the desert.”
Rev Ola Sunday could be contacted on 08166120436