Friends partner to reach African people group
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.
RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- Two friends, both pastors, attended an Embrace conference hosted by the International Mission Board. One felt called to "embrace" a people group in sub-Saharan Africa, the other wasn't ready to make that commitment.
But God worked on both of their hearts to form a partnership that is having an eternal impact on an unengaged, unreached people group (UUPG) in Africa.
Kyle Noffsinger of Cadiz (Ky.) Baptist Church and Carlton Binkley of First Baptist Church in Woodlawn, Ill., became friends three years ago when they were pastors of Kentucky churches a few miles apart.
Their former churches -- First Baptist Church of Fredonia, where Noffsinger pastored, and New Bethel Baptist Church of Eddyville, where Binkley served as a bi-vocational pastor -- are part of Caldwell-Lyon Baptist Association. In September 2011, six of the association's pastors, including Noffsinger and Binkley, attended an IMB Embrace conference in Marietta, Ga.
Noffsinger and Binkley attended a session about sub-Saharan African people groups led by Daniel and Carol Jones,* IMB missionaries and leaders of the people group engagement team for West Africa. Noffsinger felt drawn to the people groups, knowing he had to go to Africa.
Binkley, however, didn't automatically feel that pull.
But God had a plan to involve both pastors. About two weeks after the conference, Noffsinger received a phone call from his childhood pastor Tim Adcock, who asked if Noffsinger would join the missions work he was doing in Africa with the Joneses -- not knowing Noffsinger had just met the couple.
Noffsinger accompanied Adcock and the Joneses on a vision trip to West Africa in May 2012 to minister among a primarily Muslim and animist UUPG found mainly in one of the country's largest villages. Unable to keep traveling to Africa, Adcock "passed the baton" to Noffsinger to continue reaching this West African UUPG.
Right after Noffsinger returned, he told Binkley that he had to go to Africa with him. Binkley told him "no" but agreed to pray about it.
"The more I started to pray about it, the more God was moving on my heart to go," Binkley said. "Until one night I was laying in the bed and it was just clear that I was supposed to go to Africa."
Between the two pastors, they have traveled to Africa four times: Noffsinger on his initial vision trip, both men six months later and Noffsinger again in May and November 2013.
Provision and Preparation
Committing to reach a UUPG (with a population of less than 2 percent evangelical Christian and no active church-planting methodology), however, is not a small task. An obvious obstacle is finances -- traveling to Africa can cost $2,500-$3,500 per trip.
Before his trip in November 2012, Binkley was still a bi-vocational pastor and making ends meet as an adjunct professor at Mid-Continent University, near Mayfield, Ky. In addition to paying for trip expenses, time away would mean losing a semester of teaching income. The university had also asked him to teach a second class, which would lead to more lost income.
"But the Lord still impressed on my heart to go and that He'd take care of it," Binkley said.
The Lord provided the money that was needed, said Binkley, who had applied for and received a missions scholarship through Caldwell-Lyon association. Sunday school classes from other churches and individuals he didn't even know sent him checks. Since many people knew he was bi-vocational, some even gave him money specifically to help take care of his family while he was gone. None of them had any idea he was going to lose income, Binkley said.
"[God] provided ... the money I needed to go on the trip, as well as the money that I lost of my income," he said. "... I had never petitioned for money -- people just heard about what God was doing and through the faithfulness of His people, He provided for us."
God also provided the funding for Noffsinger's travels. His first two trips were provided by his church at the time, First Baptist Fredonia, and his current church, Cadiz Baptist, funded his third trip.
Before Binkley's trip with Noffsinger, they attended a "base camp training." The Joneses hosted the camp in South Carolina, where the pastors learned about sub-Saharan African culture, how to engage people groups, and evangelism strategy.
Because of their people group's culture, the pastors have been able to walk up to people in their village and share Bible stories to engage their attention. But many listeners will not ask further questions in front of their Muslim friends.
Binkley and Noffsinger prayed that villagers would have a "Nicodemus experience" and come to ask more questions about the Gospel in private. Every night during their trip, Binkley said, men and women came to hear more.
God at work
When the pastors first began working with this people group, there were no Christians in the village of about 15,000. On Noffsinger's first trip, he played a part in seeing a young man named Mustapha become the first known believer in the village.
After Noffsinger came back to the U.S., he prayed that when he traveled to Africa with Binkley he would see some type of "fruit" —- Christian growth —- in Mustapha's life. The first night the pastors were there, Mustapha brought two friends to hear their message.
"We tell them, this is not Jesus plus your animism, this is not Jesus plus Muhammad, this is Jesus only," Binkley said. "... We tell them, you're going to lose your family, you're going to lose possibly your home, your income, and when we say 'Are you still willing to follow Christ?' their answers were almost like Peter -- 'Who else would we follow?'"
But sharing the Gospel, even with willing listeners, is not always easy because "spiritual warfare is alive and well in West Africa," Noffsinger said. During his first trip, IMB missionary Carol Jones was sharing the Gospel with a young woman but at the moment the woman was ready to accept Jesus as Savior, the Muslim call to prayer rang out over the village loudspeakers.
Jones' husband Daniel began praying under his breath, "God, kill the power!" —- and the lights went out, Noffsinger said. "Right in the middle of that call to prayer it went silent." The power often goes out in this village, but Noffsinger sees the timing as God's work.
Carol continued to talk with the woman, and she became a follower of Jesus.
Today, there are six believers in the village.
The pastors plan to continue traveling to West Africa and include several of their church members. Their initial goal is to see at least four teams between the two churches travel to the village every year.
Binkley's church, First Baptist Woodlawn, has about 160 people attending Sunday mornings. Noffsinger’s church, Cadiz Baptist, has about 300 on Sunday mornings.
Both pastors advise those considering embracing a people group to find an UUPG based on IMB resources such as embrace.imbresources.org, take a vision trip and pray and ask God if this is where He wants you to be. But "buckle up," Noffsinger warns, because this journey will change you forever.
To learn more about embracing a UUPG, visit call2embrace.org. For Embrace information specific to people groups in sub-Saharan Africa, go to imbafrica.org/embrace. To find out more about sub-Saharan Africa base camp trainings, click here.
Give to the Lottie Moon offering through your local Southern Baptist church or online at imb.org/offering, where there are resources to promote the offering.
Laura Fielding is an IMB writer.