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January 01, 2006

Chad: On the Fault Line

Strengthening the churches in Chad to meet the challenges ahead

  • A Great Effort

    Though the bush country of Chad can be desolate and unforgiving, plagued with disease and poverty, the Chadian people are open to new friendships.

Located on the fault line between Arab north Africa and Christian south Africa, the country of Chad is a land of contrast and conflict.

More than a religious divide, Chad also sits on fault lines of culture, economics and the environment. Contrasts between nomads and villagers, the desperately poor and middle class merchants, and the desert and grassland create a landscape of diversity and uncertainty. Regularly in the bottom ten countries in the world economically and composed in great part of the arid wasteland of the Sahara Desert, it would seem to an outsider to be a place of desolation, defeat, and hopelessness.

Lorraine sees Chad differently. She is a missionary of eight years in the Lai region and over twenty years in Chad. She sees the challenges facing Chad everyday in the lives of her students. A Bible teacher whose ministry is primarily with women, she sees “endless opportunities” to share the word of God and hope for the circumstances of their daily lives. The women in the Bible school where she teaches are there for four years. During that time many are taught to read the Bible for themselves, while others who cannot read are taught Bible truths orally. When not teaching at the school, Lorraine often ventures out in her four-wheel drive truck and conducts three-day seminars for women in the region, many who walk up to 15 miles to attend these classes. Having taken the time and effort to learn the language of the people she ministers to has paid off – she is treated kindly and openly by the people of the region, both men and women.

Lorraine herself has a genuine love for the Chadian people. “The Chadian people are very warm, very friendly. [If you] make an effort in their mother tongue, [they are] quite happy, very thrilled. So they’re easy to get to know in that sense, but because of the difficulties of the language, it’s hard to know them in a profound way; in other words, often the friendships can be shallow unless you really work at it. The language is very important.”

It can be frustrating though to discover that people only 20 miles down the road in a neighboring village speak another language. There are 126 distinct languages in the country. Lorraine knows that communicating the gospel effectively is the key to hope and freedom for the Chadian people she loves. “It’s true that there are many hard things about a woman’s life here in this land, but the gospel can make all the difference in the world for them, and it’s a tremendous privilege to be here, to be among them, and to help them to find hope and an assurance that can make all the difference in the world in their lives.”

The key to reaching the people of Chad, believes Rick, is teaching and motivating Chadian Christians to reach out to their neighbors. An elder in a multi-tribal church of 150 and a missionary in the region for 15 years, Rick and his wife Monica are committed to the concept of friendship evangelism. “Our long-term goal is to reach the people who are born and raised here in the area.” One of the ways he is accomplishing this is through diligent efforts to learn their language. Another method is to become part of their daily activities and to go where the people work and live.

Monica takes this idea of friendship evangelism to heart. She has a close relationship with many women in the region, and helps them in various ways – educating teachers in how to better instruct children in the gospel, helping them with their accounts, providing support and friendship. They are trying to motivate local Chadian Christians to embrace the idea of reaching out to those of other religions in friendship, but it is difficult.

“Everybody says ‘Yes, [they] want to,’ but to actually get them to reach out and witness to them is kind of difficult; to help them not be afraid of each other is a real challenge; to get the southern Christians to open up and share Christ, and the northerners to be willing to listen to listen and take them in as friends.” Taking this one step further, Rick and the nationals he mentors don’t just wait for unreached people to show up on their doorsteps – they take the gospel to the streets (or rather, to the waterways). With a gift from a Swiss pastor, they purchased a boat with an outboard motor, and they head out on the lake to visit different islands and meet the people in the fishing industry. “A big market for the fish is Nigeria, our heavily populated neighbor to the west. We get many people from other African countries to fish in the lake.” Again, meeting the people where they live and work is the key.

Though French and Arabic are the official languages, the vast number of local languages (many of which have no written alphabet) is a big challenge. That is a need which Mark and Diane feel called to meet. As Bible translators and linguists by training they are two out of the three foreigners in the world who speak the Kwong language. Because of this, they are honored by the people and have been warmly received. Elders in the church and community include them in decision making, and they consider the Kwong people to be their family. Mark and Diane’s mastery of the language and the relationships it has afforded have not come easily, however.

Countless hours have been spent with language helpers, listening to hours of texts, and designing and putting to paper an alphabet for the Kwong language for the first time. Their village is in the flood plain between the two major rivers in Chad, and they are virtually cut off from neighboring people by miles of land under a foot and a half of water during the rainy months. They use this time to develop their language skills and materials in preparation for the dry months during which they teach, preach, and hold seminars. One of their hopes for outreach is to rely on the popular Kwong pastime of listening to the radio. “One of the things they do in the evening is to listen to the radio. Every other household has a radio, and they listen to the national broadcasts on shortwave in French. That’s one of the things we’re able to capitalize on in the culture,” says Diane. And so, with the help of Back to the Bible they have recently constructed a low power FM radio station. Although its format won’t be “all music, all the time,” jokes Mark, it will feature Scripture reading and devotions in the morning, and at nightfall will feature indigenous music both folk and Christian, announcements, and additional scripture reading. According to Mark, “People who can’t read the Scriptures can hear the Scriptures and be edified by them. If we get the radio station in Kwong working well, then the government will look favorably upon two more radio stations in the region which will help reach other tribes.”

The language efforts of the missionaries in Chad are greatly enhanced by the work of Jack and Nancy, who operate a print shop at Koutou. Committed to providing doctrinally sound, pertinent literature to the evangelical community, the Snyders are passionate about the role literature plays in the evangelization of the Chadian people and growth of the national church. The literature they produce – hymnals, Bible school materials, Sunday school materials, quarterly magazines, and other training materials and tracts, to name a few – often substitute for the missionary in remote areas. With 90 – 95% of the printing done in vernacular languages, their work multiplies the effectiveness of the missionaries they support. As Jack puts it, “I can only be in one place but literature can be in hundreds of places where missionaries can’t go and will last much longer than missionaries can usually stay.” Chadians value literature highly, often passing it along through several families. “There is just not much Christian literature available, and the print shop is providing a crucial component of Christian discipleship and leadership development in the Chadian church, as well as tools for evangelism and church growth.”

It is exciting because the Chadian church is beginning to reach beyond itself. Even though financial resources are scarce, the church has sent out over 30 workers to unreached groups. The church in Chad is of considerable size with an estimated 1500 congregations and 250,000 members. Mobilized to spread the gospel and reproduce churches, the Chadian church can make a huge difference in their communities and villages, and with their neighbors.

Carl and Sandy are the glue that holds the Chad ministry area together. Tireless and fearless, they keep all the administrative areas running, often criss-crossing the difficult country from town to town on difficult and dangerous roads. They encounter the tremendous needs and opportunities this vast country presents. From pioneer evangelism to small village medical clinics, Bible schools and printing presses, Carl keeps in touch with everyone. They make sure all the missionaries are accounted for in a daily radio call as well as planning the logistics of supplies, transportation and schedules. These are vital functions that make it possible for the work to continue and families to survive in an often tough and unforgiving place.

The population of Chad, which numbers almost 8 million, can expect to live only 48 years, and during that lifetime battle diseases made more deadly by unsanitary conditions and inadequate healthcare. Eighty percent of the population subsists below the poverty level, with 80% of the labor force relying on subsistence farming, herding, and fishing for their livelihood. Granted independence from France in 1960, Chad endured three decades of civil warfare as well as conflicts with Sudan and an invasion by Libya, its neighbor to the north. Chad today experiences an uneasy peace that is still plagued with sporadic rebellions. While there are many hardships, Carl and Sandy choose to focus on the positive. Where there is disease and poverty, they see healing and hope. The darkness of despair never seems to find a place in their thinking. It is the light of Jesus Christ, and the inspiration of co-workers and Chadian believers, that keeps them joyful.

As the son of missionaries who served 40 years in Chad, Paul has now returned to Chad with his family. Paul lived in Chad as a youth. After high school, he began a career as a tool and die machinist, and shortly after married his wife Kathy. Although fulfilled in his career, as a growing Christian he began asking himself “What more could I do for the Lord?” He knew that his “wanting” to return was not enough – he needed to know that his call was from God.

A good friend who also grew up on the mission field gave him some good advice when Paul asked how he recognized the call of God to be a missionary. “God can’t steer a boat that’s not moving” was advice that struck a chord. Paul provides the invaluable service of maintaining the equipment, vehicles, and computers, etc.) that keeps the work going in a land where the rugged environment and lack of supplies take their toll. He also acts as a technical consultant to many of the missionaries and serves as an organizer for some of the infrastructure required for everything to run smoothly, such as building projects and coordinating shipping containers to transport equipment for the missionaries to Chad.

Kathy is the principal teacher and administrator of Palmview School, an elementary boarding school for missionary children. Her crucial work keeps missionaries from several organizations and homelands on the field, without having to worry about the education of their children. She is dedicated to providing international-focused, quality education to prepare the children for a smooth transition back into their respective homelands and the spiritual battles that will face them.

Mary understands the power and appeal of God’s call as well. A native of Oregon and a missionary working with youth in Chad for ten years, she laughingly admits that “Chad’s not a place you would come because of natural attraction and beauty,” but she makes clear that one of the things she really loves about Chad is the people. They have a “priority of relationship”, something she sees as all too often lacking in the fastpaced, materialistic lives of typical Americans. But she says candidly, “I don’t think you can stay in Chad unless you’re committed to the Lord.” She is also committed to helping educate people about basic life issues such as prevention of HIV/AIDS and God’s perspective on sexuality. Sometimes discouraged by what she sees as little progress or change in the lives of the Chadians she loves, she has come to realize that she is “not here just because of the people, I’m here because of Him. I’m not here just to see a difference, I’m here to obey. The needed thing is to be able to keep my focus on Him.” And that, after all, is the source of all hope. Mary has the profound desire to see others living lives of passionate devotion to Christ.

Tillie is a farm girl at heart so she decided in her first term in Chad to try her hand at raising a couple head of cattle. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to build relationships with local herders and especially unreached nomad families that traversed in her region of this vast country. The cattle didn’t last, but Tillie’s love for Chadian nomads grew even stronger. She recalls her early days in Chad traveling by 4x4 to scattered villages and encampments. Sometimes she would connect a projector to her truck battery and show the Jesus film. The hospitality and warmth they showed her far exceeded the danger and hardships of her duties. After serving a term recruiting back in the United States, Tillie is back in her village and looking to pick up her relationships with her nomad friends. She can tell by the looks on their faces that not much has changed.

The climate is still arid and oppressive, the bush country is still desolate and unforgiving, disease and poverty still plague the people, but Tillie’s enthusiasm and joy at being back can’t help but change their countenance. Even more importantly, Tillie is bringing with her the timeless message of hope in Jesus Christ that changes the landscape of the heart.


[Originally published in TEAMHorizons, January 2006]

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