Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Fulani (Fulbe) People of West Central Africa

Wandering the vast deserts, mountains, and savannahs of West and Central Africa, the Fulani are the largest unreached nomadic tribal people group in the world. Forced to convert to Islam in the 13th century, they have become known as the missionaries of Sunni Islam in Central and Western Africa. In fact, the Fulani have seen themselves as the propagators and preservers of the Islamic faith in West Africa for almost 700 years. They were instrumental in facilitating the spread of Islam across West Africa through evangelism and conquest. At times they would wage "holy wars" or jihad in order to extend and purify Islam. Today it is difficult to find any Fulani who admits to not being Muslim, no matter how lax his or her practice may be. To a Fulani person: to be Fulani is to be a Muslim.

Most sources list the Fulani population as 17 million. However, Fulani leaders and scholars believe the more realistic number of Fulani people to be somewhere between 30 to 70 million.

There are only a few believers among this strongly resistant tribe. Because Fulani society is very structured and closed to outsiders, mission work among them is very dangerous. Persecution and death are always imminent threats for believers.

In the first 30 years of attempted evangelization, not one Fulani is known to have become a committed Christian. This has begun to change slowly as some Fulani have, in the last few years, been brought to Christ through such resources as the Jesus film, radio broadcasts and Bible story cassettes which are available to the Fulani in their language. Continued radio broadcasting, effective scripture translations, especially in oral forms such as radio, tape, and easily learned Bible stories oriented to a shepherd/nomadic culture, may be effective strategies in winning some Fulani to Christ.

There is also a great need for missionaries to go to the Fulani as the number of Christian workers actively engaged in evangelism among the Fulani is extremely small in comparison to the vast numbers of peoples to be reached. This is, in part, due to the hardships that come to missionaries living in Africa and especially in areas where the Fulani live. As was stated above, mission work among the Fulani is also a very dangerous undertaking and combined with the other hardships involved, few Western Christians have the heart for it.

Indigenous Fulani missionaries have the best access to the tribe and well understand the risks. Therefore, one of the more effective strategies in reaching the Fulani is for non-indigenous missionaries to come alongside Fulani believers to train, encourage, and support them as they assume the primary responsibility of reaching their people with the Gospel. While some missionaries join the nomadic life of the targeted group others place themselves in strategic stopping places where Fulani trade and pick up needed supplies, taking every opportunity to present Christ. Others work among Fulani who have settled in towns and cities, despite their danger to Christians.

Many bloody tribal clashes have resulted from the Fulani understanding that they can graze their cattle wherever they desire. One tribesman, Sule, was watching his beloved cows destroy the fields of a farmer whose land he crossed. Expecting a fight, he was shocked when the man was warm, loving and forgiving to him. The farmer happened to also be an indigenous missionary and he, by the grace of God, led Sule to Christ.

Sule’s tribal elders commanded him to recant his faith, and when he refused, he was imprisoned for three years. During that time, Sule and his wife and children who also became Christians were tortured and threatened. In an attempt to force his denial of Christ, three of his children were killed. Yet despite the ordeal, Sule continued to stand true to the Lord. Sule has since been released. He evangelizes Fulani people and has a training center where converts receive shelter and training as they mature in their faith.

Opportunities abound to help support both indigenous and non-indigenous Fulani mission work throughout Africa. Here is how you can help:

  • Pray for and financially support African and non-African missionaries willing to go and live among the Fulani people for the express purpose of sharing the Gospel with them.
  • Pray that the Lord will send missionaries to provide biblical & theological training to the few Fulani believers to better equip them to reach their own people.
  • Pray for the persecuted believers among the Fulani people like Sule and his family.
  • Pray that God will raise up a church-planting movement among the Fulani people that will spread throughout all of West, Central and North Africa.
  • Pray for us as we plan to leave the U.S. next September to move to Cameroon in West Africa to minister among the Fulani (Fulbe) people.