April 17, 2014
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FIRST-PERSON: 'Only God can repay you'
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A Southern Baptist relief worker and her West African friend celebrate the arrival of a six-month supply of food in a village in Africa's Sahel famine region. The provision of grain and peanuts will help two villages with a combined population of about 3,000 survive the summer. BGR PHOTO
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A single mother with four children (right) participates in a village-wide celebration of Southern Baptist relief supplies that should enable them to survive the summer in Africa's Sahel famine. Excited to find enough grain for her family sitting in her court yard when she got home from her work, her whooping and drumming could be heard all over the village. BGR PHOTO
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Posted on Jun 8, 2012 | by Anna Farmer

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EDITOR'S NOTE: The following note was written by a Baptist Global Response partner after the first distribution of food to two villages in Mali suffering in the Sahel food crisis. The name has been changed for security reasons. You can help save lives in this crisis by donating to the World Hunger Fund at www.worldhungerfund.com

DAKAR, Senegal (BP) -- It's going to be difficult to put into words the experience we had distributing food to these villages. I should begin by saying thank you to all of you have given to the World Hunger Fund. We brought six truckloads of grain to two different villages.

A single mother with four children (right) participates in a village-wide celebration of Southern Baptist relief supplies that should enable them to survive the summer in Africa's Sahel famine. Excited to find enough grain for her family sitting in her court yard when she got home from her work, her whooping and drumming could be heard all over the village. BGR PHOTO
Upon our arrival at the first village, nearly all the residents came to the road to welcome us. We were greeted with traditional musicians and singers, then treated to dancing -- something I've not seen amongst this people group. It was a festive air, filled with the anticipation of the arrival of much-needed grain. The first truck had arrived, and three days later the second arrived. In the interval, our team had the opportunity to share stories and participate in village activities, such as a baby-naming ceremony.

Through this gift of love and our relational approach to the people, the residents of these villages now have a better understanding of God's love. After we had distributed the grain, we met with the village elders, who repeatedly thanked us for the food. They told us it arrived just in time.

After the second day of distribution, I was in the "shower" taking a bucket bath under the stars after yet another 120+ degree day. In the distance, I heard a lady let out this traditional whoop of joy. I heard banging, like on a drum. After supper that night, our host asked if I had heard the lady. I said yes, and he went on to tell me a bit of her story.

She was a divorced lady with four children; her husband had left her. Because she had no man to advocate for her to be on the recipient list for the grain we were distributing, she knew she and her children would be left out. When she got home from her work, however, she found enough grain for a family of five sitting in her court yard. It was then she let out the whoop I had heard earlier, and she began to beat a five-gallon water jug as a makeshift drum. She told her neighbors she was going to beat the drum all night because she now had food to feed her children!

The second village that received the grain was about three times larger than the first. Two semi trucks arrived shortly after we did, and we inventoried the contents as they unloaded. We then got to wait another two days for the other two trucks to arrive. As those trucks were unloaded, the village treated us to traditional drumming and dancing in thanks for the food. They couldn't believe we would really bring such a gift. Our team and two volunteers from a sister organization measured out bowls of corn and peanuts to be sure the food was equally distributed -- hot and dusty work.

Our last night in the village, we were called to the public square for more dancing and drumming. It was a very special night. We got back to our hosts' home at about 11:30 pm, all of us quite tired and ready for bed. Just 10 minutes later, though, the traditional singers and drummers came into the yard. They had followed us back to dance and sing more for us! Never mind some of us were already in bed! The song they sang, though, was the sweetest: "Who brought us corn? Who brought us peanuts? Who brought us millet? Jesus did!"

During the past two weeks, I have received many thanks and blessings from the recipients of the grain. Our prayer from the beginning has been that this food would be seen given by Jesus and not simply the Americans. Villagers came to us and said, "We thought you'd forgotten about us. We were told you went back to America and didn't care." We explained that we had to leave for a little while but we were back for now. Others came to us and said, "You just don't understand, the food came just in time." Each time our team got to respond with a story and words of love.

Many of these families had little or no food left at all in their homes. The neighbors of our teammates had had no food at all in their home that week. One teammate returned to his village and noticed there were very few folks out and about to talk with. He asked where everyone was and was told "Oh, they're at home sleeping. We finally have food in our stomachs, and we can sleep now." Before, the majority of the village was too hungry to sleep through the night.

So it's been a humbling two weeks for me. Sure, it was 12 days of 120- to 128-degree weather -- with a few rains and sand storms tossed in to keep things interesting -- and some interesting food (tastes like chicken!). All of our team can testify to the Lord's provision and strength through it all. We got to share about God's love, and because of your generosity, softer hearts will reflect on things tonight as they eat supper.

We hope to do at least one more distribution to these villages before the harvest comes in. Please ask the Lord to send timely and abundant rains to these villages on the fringe of the Sahara desert. Also, ask the Lord to answer the cries of the many, many villages that did not receive this blessing. Many will be hungry tonight in Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso.

Thank you for giving. It was a profound blessing to our team during this time of chaos in Mali where the only thing certain is hunger. I just wish we could do more.

Only God can repay you. (Malian proverb/blessing)
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You can help save lives in this crisis by donating to the World Hunger Fund at www.worldhungerfund.com. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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