Senegalese storyteller has lived the truth she proclaims

SENEGAL, West Africa (BP)--Coumba* knows how to tell a story.

Her flowing robes and regal face command notice before she even opens her mouth. When the story begins, her long arms and expressive fingers move with the rhythms of her voice. She competes with crying babies, strutting chickens and other distractions in the Wolof (WUH-luf) village for the attention of her circle of women listeners.

As she unfolds the story of Adam and Eve, she uses whatever visual props present themselves. A woman sitting nearby becomes Eve. A leaf from an overhanging tree becomes the forbidden fruit.

The women nod, laugh, gasp. Slowly they become hypnotized by the ageless story of man’s sin, God’s judgment and the beginnings of redemption. Even some of the village men standing nearby listen with fascination.

Coumba has become a master storyteller among the Wolof people in the years since she first heard chronological Bible stories told by Southern Baptist missionary Tammy Cortimilia. Coumba’s father was a famous Wolof “marabout” (Muslim leader) in Senegal, so she knew about the teachings of the Koran, Islam’s holy book.

“When I first heard the [Bible] stories, I knew a lot about them already,” Coumba says. “The Koran says Jesus is coming back to judge the world. But it does not say He is the Son of God.”

What convinced her mind of Christ’s divinity?

“I was drawn to the Word,” she says. “The stories touch the heart because they are the Word of God. I wanted to know the truth. I wanted to know God. He touched me.”

Coumba was ready to follow Christ. But during a discipling session, Cortimilia shared Jesus’ words in John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (NIV).

Coumba stood, angry and upset. “This cannot be true!” she cried. “If this is true, my ancestors have all gone to hell. I cannot accept that.”

As Coumba stormed out, Cortimilia called after her, “Coumba, I want you to remember that I didn’t say this. You read it in the Word of God, and you need to ask Him if this is true or not.”

No one saw Coumba for weeks. One day, however, she appeared and declared to Cortimilia, “I have wrestled with God, and I know this is true. I don’t like it, but I have to trust God.”

She gave her life fully to Christ and was baptized. Then the persecution began.

Her family threw her possessions out of the house and forced her to live outside. But she would not renounce her faith. Even when they enticed her with gifts. Even when her brother beat her. Even when she was bounced from one temporary dwelling to another.

Even when they took away her 18-month-old daughter and 5-year-old son, giving them to her estranged husband.

Hard years followed. More than once, alone and tired, she considered returning to Islam. After a decade of effort she was reunited with her son. She dreams of a reunion with her daughter. She faithfully pays respects to her relatives. But above all, she remains true to Christ.

“She has never left her family,” Cortimilia says. “Her family left her.”

Now 33, Coumba is a housekeeper when she isn’t teaching stories. She still gets kicked out of rental rooms from time to time for telling the truth so boldly.

“She’s so vocal about her faith, and she has such a strong personality,” Cortimilia says. “She knows the Koran, but she knows the Bible is the Word of God. She’s just a perfect in-culture witness. She has become a master storyer, much better than I could be. She trains lots of other people to story, too.

“We need 100 more like her.”

*Name changed for security reasons.

Download Story