Church meets first believer among desert's 'Hidden People'

EDITOR'S NOTE: This year's Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is Dec. 1-8 with the theme of "Totally His heart, hands, voice" from Matthew 22:36-39. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions in tandem with Cooperative Program gifts from Southern Baptist churches support nearly 5,000 international missionaries in seeking to fulfill the Great Commission. Gifts to the Lottie Moon offering are received through local Southern Baptist churches or online at imb.org/offering, where there are resources to promote the offering. This year's goal is $175 million.

PRINCE GEORGE, Va. (BP) -- To say that Ellen Zaborsky is a fan of her church's adopted people group is a bit of an understatement.

Sitting in the sanctuary of Unity Baptist Church in rural Prince George, Va., the retired ninth-grade science teacher sticks out like a sore thumb against the congregation's standard Sunday morning attire. That's because Zaborsky is wrapped from head to toe in a vibrant pink cloak called a taseynest (pronounced tasulhness) -- traditional women's wear among the Hidden People of West Africa.

In 2009, Unity took responsibility to share the Gospel among those they call "the Hidden People," a group of roughly 300,000 nomads who roam the West African desert. The church has since sent six short-term teams to their adopted people, and Zaborsky has aided every team -- at least in spirit. Though her heart is firmly planted in West Africa, the 69-year-old won't ever set foot there. A wheelchair and a heart condition have ensured that. Fortunately, on this Sunday morning in early fall of 2013, a piece of West Africa has come to her.

Zaborsky listens intently as Ibrahim,* the first known believer among the Hidden People, preaches a sermon to Unity's congregation. It's a surreal experience for many of Unity's members, who, like Zaborsky, have been praying for the Hidden People for years.

"I was one of the first ones that wanted to go," she says. "I begged my doctors to let me. And they said no.

"We pray for Ibrahim, we pray for his boys, we pray for his wife -- all the time. It was wonderful to actually see and hear from the man who is so instrumental in getting the Bible translated and getting it to his people."

This is Ibrahim's first visit to the United States. He's come to connect with church partners such as Unity, and to expand his ministry with training in basic medical care.

"In the desert there are no hospitals. There is nothing," says Ibrahim. "During my ministry trips, I came across some medical cases which brought me to tears ... very simple infections that lead people to die. This training will equip me to heal such sicknesses, but it is also a way for me to show the love of God to my people."

Chris Jenkins, Unity's pastor, believes Ibrahim's visit is a pivotal moment in Unity's journey to evangelize the Hidden People, breathing new excitement into the effort.

"At the onset there's great excitement and novelty with the mission, and then a couple years into it, that passion begins to wane, and it turns into work," he said. "It may take our lifetime. This is a very difficult people to reach, in a very hostile region of the world, but it's a people that Jesus died for."

Jenkins adds that Ibrahim's influence is also renewing passion for missions closer to home.

"What Ibrahim does is just amazing to me," Zaborsky says. "And God is saying to me, 'You take notes from him. And then you go out into your Jerusalem and your Judea and your Samaria.'"

That's something Zaborsky can do, wheelchair or not. She already teaches Bible stories in Prince George public schools, and she recently began traveling to northern Virginia twice a month with a Unity team that's helping start a new church with the North American Mission Board's "Send North America" initiative.

"I could sit in this wheelchair and be grumpy, but who wants to be around grumpy people?" Zaborsky says. "Ibrahim inspires me."


*Name changed. Don Graham is the International Mission Board's senior writer. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Baptist Press published the story of Ibrahim's conversion to Christ at http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=39388).