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McMinnville church targets unreached tribes in Africa

October 23, 2012

Church adopts unengaged people group in West Africa
By Sheila Allen
By NW Baptist Convention

Members at Valley Baptist Church in McMinnville, Ore., intend to prove a lone church can make a difference in the world, one mission trip at a time.

Pastor Ronny Cooksey was struck by the emphasis of Tom Elliff, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, when he spoke of “unreached, unengaged people groups” at the Southern Baptist Convention last summer.

A former IMB missionary to Japan, Cooksey has a long history of ministering to the nations, but for his congregation it is a newer endeavor.

“I heard that there are over 3,800 unreached, unengaged people groups around the world,” Cooksey said. “Our church sent a team to Japan following the earthquake and tsunami last year, but we decided to turn our focus to West Africa for a completely difference experience.”

The church ended up selecting a people group in a small West Africa nation that has no scripture in their language. Valley Baptist has sent two teams to the nation this year to work among their people group and have another trip planned for November.

A team from Valley Baptist Church in McMinnville, Ore., has traveled twice to a nation in West Africa and plans to continue trips three to four times per year to build on the impact they hope to have on local villagers.

Members at Valley Baptist Church in McMinnville, Ore., intend to prove a lone church can make a difference in the world, one mission trip at a time.

Pastor Ronny Cooksey was struck by the emphasis of Tom Elliff, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, when he spoke of “unreached, unengaged people groups” at the Southern Baptist Convention last summer.

A former IMB missionary to Japan, Cooksey has a long history of ministering to the nations, but for his congregation it is a newer endeavor.

“I heard that there are over 3,800 unreached, unengaged people groups around the world,” Cooksey said. “Our church sent a team to Japan following the earthquake and tsunami last year, but we decided to turn our focus to West Africa for a completely difference experience.”

The church ended up selecting a people group in a small West Africa nation that has no scripture in their language. Valley Baptist has sent two teams to the nation this year to work among their people group and have another trip planned for November.

“We feel like we have adopted them,” Cooksey said. “Our first team was led by Valley associate pastor Bobby Johnson and the team was met by our IMB missionary on the field who oversees our particular group and five other related sub-groups. He went out with our first team every day and arranged for translaters to accompany them.”

The unreached people group that Valley Baptist “adopted” is made up of 12,000 individuals residing in 10 villages.

“They are not starving but are very poor people from farming villages and live in cinderblock huts with thatched roofs,” Cooksey said. “Almost no electricity is available and they use wells for their water source, but there are cell phones everywhere. Our first team spent their time trying to find the villages that we interested in hearing Bible stories that we used to share the gospel and then praying for the needs of the people.”

The team felt tremendous response as they talked and observed people listening, most of them Muslim.

The second team of five, led by Cooksey, journeyed abroad again in August and took two to four contacts the first team made as their focus. Even though they stayed in a rudimentary hotel, the facility’s wireless internet service enabled the team to video chat with the congregation during local services while in Africa.

“Our first week there was their last week of Ramadan, so we did not eat or drink in front of them out of respect,” Cooksey said. “The second week we were able to eat every day in the village from a big pot of communal food and God really protected us. My daughter, Hannah, did get food poisoning there the last night we were there.”

A mission team from Valley Baptist often ate meals from communal bowls with locals in the villages they ministered in during a recent mission trip.

“Definitely, I want to go back,” said Hannah Cooksey. “You can’t just say, ‘Oh well, the people in Africa don’t get to hear the gospel because I got sick.’ It’s worth it to have a tiny, tiny bit of suffering to bring the Good News to them.

“The people there are really hospitable and really care about relationships,” she said. “They are really smart and resourceful with what they have. They have a great sense of humor. They are lots of fun to spend time with.”

Valley Baptist hopes to send three or four teams each year and is trying to learn as much of the language as they can each time they return. The church helps individuals with funding, although each team member has been responsible for their own expenses.

“We had at least $10,000 given for trips this year, and no one has needed to pay for more than half of their trip,” Cooksey said. “This has not cut down on our regular offerings, either. This church was previously mission supporters but it’s really exciting to see it growing. Those that have gone are pursuing more mission activities at home.”

Future plans including camping in the villages while they are ministering instead of the previous accommodations the teams have used.

“These people believe in Jesus and that he was a prophet,” Cooksey noted. “We are able to talk about who he really is to us and the salvation that comes through Christ. We turn up the heat each time on what we say and continue to build relationships. We are trying to add new folks each time we go and there is a growing interest among our church members. I think it will be a snowball effect. I am motivated by Paul’s words to preach where the message hasn’t been heard before. These are people who haven’t had the chance to say no and there are no churches in their heart language.”

Cooksey is convinced the pastor has to be behind a church’s efforts to adopt an unreached people group for it to work.

“It’s fun because it’s something we literally can’t do on our own,” Cooksey said. “We are trying to go and be obedient and do the work as God chooses. We know that if God doesn’t come through it will never work. Our hope is that some will eventually want to stay for two years instead of two weeks and others will go to live there for years.”

 

  
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