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The Wolof of Senegal

The Wolof of Senegal

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Published by speliopoulos
Paper submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements of Introduction to World Missions course at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. May 2010.
Please note: Several names have been changed to protect privacy.
Paper submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements of Introduction to World Missions course at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. May 2010.
Please note: Several names have been changed to protect privacy.

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Published by: speliopoulos on Sep 19, 2010
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Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary


Submitted to Dr. Jim O’Neill in partial fulfillment of requirements for ICST 500

by Elke B. Speliopoulos

Downingtown, PA May 8, 2010


INTRODUCTION...........................................................................................................................1 SENEGAL.......................................................................................................................................2 THE WOLOF PEOPLE...................................................................................................................5 MISSION AGENCIES’ WORK......................................................................................................7 POSSIBLE MISSIONS APPROACHES AMONG THE WOLOF..............................................12 PROPOSED STRATEGY.............................................................................................................17 CONCLUSION..............................................................................................................................19 BIBLIOGRAPHY..........................................................................................................................20



INTRODUCTION Before Jesus Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father, he told his disciples to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. Almost 2,000 years later, this commission to his followers is still in effect. Yet over 41% of the world’s people groups are unreached even today, according to the Joshua Project’s statistics.1 The definition for unreached people groups includes those that have very few, if any, known Evangelicals and where there are less than 5% of professing Christians, as well as countries where the proportion of Evangelicals is greater than 0.01%, but less than 2%. If the definition is expanded to include “formative” people groups, in which greater than 5% professing Christians (not Evangelicals) can be found, the number jumps to over 54% of all people groups.2 Much work remains to be done before every people group has heard the gospel of the kingdom, according to Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:24 the point when the end will come – and with it his return. While the southern part of the African continent has been evangelized to a much higher degree, the northern half of it still has a high level of unreached people group. The map to the right shows the high level of need for evangelization in the northern part. Senegal, the focal area of this paper, along with its neighbors is found along the border of “evangelized Africa”. This part of West Africa was the home of Kunta Kinte who became the basis of Alex Haley’s best-selling book Roots. Kunta Kinte was taken from Senegambia (more on this term later) to America, prevailed against the cruelties of slavery, and started a new family.3 The
. “All Progress Levels,” in Joshua Project: Bringing Definition to the Unfinished Task, http://www.joshuaproject.net/global-progress-scale.php (accessed May 7, 2010).
2 1

. Ibid. . Ibid.



countries of Senegal and Gambia are also home to one of the unreached people groups: the Wolof people, the focus of this paper, with most of them living in Senegal. According to one website, there are less than one hundred known Christian believers among the Wolof people despite being able to work freely amongst them.4 From just these few facts, it becomes clear that a continued targeted missionary effort is very much needed. SENEGAL Senegal has an area of 75,995 square miles and is Africa’s thirty-third largest country. It is comparable in size to South Dakota in the United States. Looking at the country through the lens of history, it appears that the Wolof came to Senegal arriving in the Senegal River Valley around the 11th century. The Wolof people are said to be an amalgam of Mandingo, Sereer and Fula. Some scholars believe that they originally came from the Nile valley, and that as such, the Wolof may have been part of the ancient Egyptian civilization.5 Once in this area, the Wolof were able to conquer many tribes in the north west of today’s area of Senegal. They had become an empire of self-governing states by the end of the 14th century. This empire was split into four Wolof kingdoms in the 16th century.6 However, from the beginning of that century, Senegal was becoming an important early source of slaves7. From very early in the history of Portuguese presence, this area was of West Africa’s tropical coast saw enslavement as “captives were being bought from local chiefdoms for sale into slavery.” 8 These slaves largely wound up on farms and

. “Journey With Us to the Wolof People of Senegal,” Wolof Connection, http://www.wolofconnection.org/wolof/ (accessed May 7, 2010). . Frontiers, The Wolof of Senegal (n.p.: Eden Communications, 1996). This was part of a handout one of our church’s short-term missions teams to Senegal received prior to their departure.
6 5


. Joshua Project: Bringing Definition to the Unfinished Task. . Kevin Hillington, History of Africa, rev. 2nd ed. (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005), 173. . Ibid., 172.




plantations in southern Spain and Portugal. 9 Senegal later became part of an area of western Africa called Senegambia, formed by the areas of today’s Senegal and Gambia.10 The French were originally drawn by the benefits of the slave trade and ultimately gained a strong foothold in Senegal after they established a fort and trading post at Saint Louis in 1659. They drove out the Dutch from the isle of Gorée in 1677.11 Colonization favored the Wolof. The long-term effect of this was seen when this people group quadrupled within about seventy years between 1900 and 1970.12 Islam entered this area of the world when the west African jihads began in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in the highlands of Futa Jalon, an area southeast of Dakar. As Hillington describes, “The Futa Jalon jihad inspired a similar movement in Futa Toro to the south of the lower Senegal. Here between 1769 and 1776 Muslim Tukolor and Fulbe waged successful jihad and established a new Muslim state under the rule of the shari’a.”13 Despite these developments, the colonial era lasted through 1945. After the end of World War II in 1945, the desire for independence grew in the former colonial empires of the West and in 1960 and 1961 gave birth to two independent nations, Senegal and Gambia. In addition, Guinea and Sierra Leone gained their independence at the same time. 14 Koslow describes Senegal’s development after its statehood: In the years following independence, Senegal – incorporating the former Wolof and Serer domains – emerged as one of Africa’s most progressive and stable nations under the leadership of President Léopold Senghor, who had been a distinguished poet and critic in

. Ibid. . Philip Koslow, Senegambia (n.p.: Chelsea House Publishers, 1996), 32-33. . Sheldon Gellar, Senegal: An African Nation between Islam and West (Boulder, CO: Westview Press,,



80301), 6. . Timothy L. Gall and Jeneen Hobby, eds., “Wolof,” in Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life, second ed. (Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, Cengage Learning, 2009), 582.
13 12

. Hillington, History of Africa, 224-25. . Koslow, Senegambia, 54-55.32-33.


4 France before leading the postwar independence movement. Under Senghor and his successors, Senegal has thrived as an agricultural nation. Senegal’s capital, Dakar, is a sparkling city of one million people. Its beaches and luxury hotels have made it West Africa’s main tourist attraction. Farther inland, the entertainments and modern conveniences of the capital give way to rural areas where the people live much as their ancestors did, and welcome strangers with the same exquisite courtesy they extended centuries ago.15 Senegal today is neighbored by Mauritania, Mali, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Gambia and is divided into ten regions. The capital is Dakar, with other larger cities being Thiès, Kaolack, Ziguinchor and Saint-Louis. Its chief farm products are cassava, corn, cotton, livestock, millet, peanuts, rice and sorghum; its chief industrial products are beverages, cement, fish products, processed food and edible oils and fertilizers. Its per capita income for its 8, 300,000 inhabitants is $600. Three quarters (77%) of Senegalese are employed in agriculture, with the rest holding jobs in services (16%) or industry (7%).16 While 57 people groups are represented in Senegal17, its major ethnic groups are Wolof, Fulani, Tukolor, Serer and Dyula. Most Senegalese (94%) are Muslims, 5% are Christians and 1% followers of African religions. The major languages are French (Senegal’s official language), Wolof, Fulfulde and Manding. While French is the official language of Senegal, only a small proportion of educated people speak it. Smaller villages and towns have a much lower percentage of French speakers. The average life span at birth is 50 years. Only 42% of Senegalese live in urban areas.18 Within Senegal, the gospel has reached 52.6%, however, 29.8% of those are nominal Christians. 47.4% remain to be reached with the good news of Jesus Christ.19 To many


. Ibid., 55. . The Diagram Group, Peoples of Africa: Nations of Africa (New York: Diagram Group, 1997), 45. . Joshua Project: Bringing Definition to the Unfinished Task. . The Diagram Group, Peoples of Africa: Nations of Africa, 45. . Joshua Project: Bringing Definition to the Unfinished Task.






Senegalese, “Christian” means Catholic. About 5% of the Senegalese population is Catholic, and only about 0.08% of Senegalese are Protestant.20 THE WOLOF PEOPLE The Wolof people of Senegal are a group not insignificant in size: almost five million Wolof live across the globe.21 They are the majority ethnic group in Senegal.22 Over four and half million live in the West-African country of Senegal. According to the Joshua Project, as many as 15,000 Wolof may live in the United States today, mainly in New York. 23 While French is the official language of Senegal, the Wolof speak their own language, also called Wolof. They are Sunni Muslims, yet there is a strong belief and reliance on the spirit world.24 An elementary aspect of Wolof society is the social cohesion that works hand-in-hand with the religious cohesion of Islam. Wolof society in the past had its own traditional social structure, but the French colonial period impacted this to the point that Islam was able to take over as a new form of social construct.25 The Wolof follow the five pillars of Islam:

. Mission Inter Senegal, “So You're Going to Senegal!,” Handout for Adopt-a-Village Teams edition. . Joshua Project: Bringing Definition to the Unfinished Task. . Gall and Hobby, Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life, 582. . Joshua Project: Bringing Definition to the Unfinished Task. . Ibid.





. “The Wolof of West Africa,” in People and Language Detail Report (n.p.: Joshua Project, n.d.), http://www.joshuaproject.net/profiles/text/t15414.pdf (accessed May 7, 2010).


6 1. To testify that there is no god but [Allah] and that Muhammad is the messenger of God (shadadah); 2. to perform the prayers (salat); 3. to give alms (zakat); 4. to fast during the month of Ramadan (saum); and 5. to make the pilgrimage to the holy house of God in Mecca (hajj).26 The traditional rural villages of the Wolof are small and consist of a group of family compounds around a village center (pencha). The family compound (ker) is surrounded by a fence with a compound head, the borom ker.27 Senegalese culture and society are, however, in a state of change. The population, as in many other countries, is migrating towards the cities in search of economic benefits and education. One quarter of the population now lives in Dakar.28 One phenomenon seen over the past few decades is the rapid expansion of Koranic schools. Parents send their boys there in order to get an education. They are called talibé and are under the tutelage of a marabout, an Islamic teacher.29 Many of these boys now are forced to beg by their marabouts, justified by their teachers based on the third pillar of Islam. Since the Wolof have traditionally farmed, much work needed to be done to cultivate the soil, sow seed and then ensure the fields were weeded and ultimately harvested. In the past, there was a division of labor between men and women and also age-based. Women and children were responsible for weeding, and the women were tasked with childbearing and childrearing as well as cooking and cleaning. However, today many of the Wolof women hold jobs in the towns and cities.30 Major values and customs of the Wolof are identified as hospitality and generosity, community, honor, peace, maintaining appearances, and finances. A very noticeable and central
. Masoud Kheirabadi, Religions of the World: Islam (Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004), 79. Kheirabi uses “God” rather than Allah in pillar 1, which seemed out of context in the reading.
27 26

. Tijan M. Sallah, The Heritage Library of African Peoples: Wolof (New York: Rosen Publishing Group,,

1996), 17. . Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandryk, Operation World: When We Pray God Works, 21st century ed. (Tyrone, GA: Authentic Media, 2001), 560.
29 28

. Gellar, Senegal: An African Nation between Islam and West, 87. . Sallah, The Heritage Library of African Peoples: Wolof, 17-18.



Wolof value and trait is their enormous sense of hospitality (tarànga), which they extend to people even not of their race or religion. From meals to lodging, a visitor will be readily given all of this with no expectation of reciprocation. They are extremely generous and will give lavish gifts for family festivals or if someone returns from a long journey. The Wolof also readily share with those in need, in particular if they are relatives.31 The Wolof are a people of oral tradition, and much of their learning is done through storytelling. It becomes an important teaching tool for all generations. Sallah explains: The story (leb) consists of six different genres. Chosan (historical narrative) tells about the past, the deeds of heroes and antiheroes. The lebatu (proverbs) are used to give point to a story and make it memorable. The chax (riddles) are used to strengthen the puzzlesolving skills of children. Woi (songs) are used to entertain, mourn, or mock, to spur emotional response. Finally, the bida contain folk beliefs and combine all six genres. The gestures, sounds and behavior of humans, animals, plants, and supernatural beings are imitated and presented in an entertaining manner. The audience often participates. Many of the stories are educational and contain a moral lesson. Stories often end with “Fii la leb dohe tabi ajana” (The story passed by here and entered heaven) or “Fi la leb dohe tabi ca gech”(The story passed by here and entered the river). This end to stories evokes their mysterious origin.32 MISSION AGENCIES’ WORK The capital city of Dakar in 2008 had an estimated population of 900,000. It is the economic work center of the country. There are about 60 multi-ethnic evangelical churches, but very few Senegalese Christians are found there. The cost of living is going up rapidly, and many Christians are leaving the capital to find cheaper housing. The talibé boys are very active in Dakar. The suburbs of Dakar house about 2.7 million people and have a very high growth rate, but only about ten evangelical churches exist there. Wolof is spoken by virtually all the ethnic groups, whether they are part of the 95% portion of Muslims or of another religion living sideby-side with them. Poverty is a large characteristic of the inhabitants of the suburbs.33


. Frontiers, The Wolof of Senegal. . Sallah, The Heritage Library of African Peoples: Wolof, 41-43.



In order to reach the Senegalese, especially the 95% part of the Muslim population (including virtually all Wolof), and to mobilize Christians to reach these Muslims, WEC Senegal has developed a plan to evangelize and church plant within the suburbs of Dakar. The goal toward which the missionaries are working is for the suburbs of Dakar to have churches that are accessible, capable of multiplying, led by national believers, depending on God for their resources and that are transforming the community. All this will be done in the context of the suburbs using the Wolof language.34 Joshua Project lists ten ministries working in Senegal, Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission, Baptist General Conference, International Ministries, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Fellowship International Mission, International Gospel Outreach, Mennonite Mission Network, Mission: Moving Mountains, Open Door Baptist Missions, Reformed Church in America, and WEC International. In addition, 53 regional ministries work in Senegal. Other mission agencies are also working in Senegal, such as New Tribes Mission (NTM), Mission Inter Senegal and CrossWorld; however, some of these find it easier to begin their work with the Serer or the Budik people, rather than the Wolof. The author’s home church has been involved in multiple short-term missions trips in the past few years and has formed relationships in these areas, hoping that it will eventually spill over into the Wolof areas. Many of these approaches have been launched through medical aid. In addition, aid has been offered through cereal banks, community improvement (such as fences for cattle, water wells, etc.), reading programs, providing teaching on nutrition, hygiene, child rearing and similar family topics to women and offering sports programs for children.35
. “Dakar Vision,” W.E.C. Senegal, http://www.wec-int.org/senegal/where-we-work/dakar.html (accessed May 7, 2010).
34 33

. Ibid. . “Mission Inter Senegal,” Mission Inter Senegal, http://www.missionintersenegal.org/ (accessed April 10,




The New Testament has been translated into Wolof, but much of the Old Testament is not available yet.36 The third edition of the New Testament is currently being printed, and Sue Miller is busy working on a translation of the Old Testament, which so far has been 80% completed in first draft. 30% of the Old Testament has been approved for publication and can be accessed on www.BibleWolof.com.37 With increasing availability of the scriptures in Wolof, missionaries can use variations of chronological storying, which Miller describes as one of the primary evangelistic strategies, and which may be a part of a social development project, but may also stand on its own.38 In addition, Miller reports that after years of only a few dozen believers among the people whose first language is Wolof, this number is currently growing due to the availability of Wolof scriptures in media form.39 As already mentioned, the Wolof are a people group with profound storytelling skills and will much more readily listen when the content is presented in an auditory format. The media making this possible are audio cassettes, MegaVoice digital players (http://www.megavoice.com/), radio programs, the JESUS film and Wolofal (Wolof converted to Arabic script). Since only a third of Wolof can read and understand French, Erich Church in 1963 began a project under the auspices of the Open Brethren Assemblies to convert Wolof language scripture into Arabic script is critical. Today, this is done quickly via a computer program.40 The biggest barrier to reaching the Wolof, according to Mike Jones, who with his wife spent 16 years living and serving among them with WEC International, is the lack of a visible


. Wolof of Senegal. . Sue Miller (name changed), e-mail message to Elke Speliopoulos, May 6, 2010. . Mike Jones (name changed), e-mail message to Elke Speliopoulos, 5/6/2010. . Miller, e-mail message to Elke Speliopoulos, May 6, 2010. . Ibid.






community of believers. He says, “The Wolof will never leave their existing ‘umma’ communities until they see a viable alternative community to join. They do not want to join something foreign so the community must express its faith in ways which are perceived as being really Wolof and at the same time be a visible genuine community.”41 Yet, as can be seen from the history of the Wolof described above, such a change has occurred at least once already when the pressures of the colonization had the Wolof give up their traditional societal structure and fall in line with Islamic structure. Another difficulty in sharing the gospel, according to Doug Taylor, who worked as a missionary among the Wolof for many years and who is also part of the Wolof Connection taking place every year in the US, is the “Wolofized” version of Islam. While they are outwardly Muslim, inwardly they follow pseudo-Islamic religious leaders, Maurides, and are still involved with animism.42 This makes somewhat standardized evangelism approaches to Muslims only partially usable. This will be discussed further below. Miller states that “from a sociological point of view, the Wolof value community far more than other people groups in Senegal. They are very afraid of what people think or say about them, very afraid of evil eye and evil tongue. Because of this they dare not do ANYTHING differently to their neighbours, for fear of drawing attention to themselves.”43 He considers this to be a critical fear that keeps Wolof from responding to the gospel. Likewise, the love for peace displayed by the Wolof serves as an interesting dynamic. The Wolof are known to be the most peaceful Africans on the continent and will go to great lengths to keep this alive. In addition, they guard their reputation very closely. This can have an


. Jones, e-mail message to Elke Speliopoulos, 5/6/2010. . Doug Taylor (name changed), e-mail message to Elke Speliopoulos, 5/7/2010. . Jones, e-mail message to Elke Speliopoulos, 5/6/2010.




ill effect on sharing the gospel as reactions cannot always be gauged correctly. Short-term missionary John Weston described encounters he had on his trips: So most, (men, women and children), certainly not all the people, will appear on the outside as interested but only because they do not want any type of conflict. Especially when our teams show up, knowing that we are visitors coming from a far away land to see them every year, they have a desire to listen, but most times it is associated with the appreciation they have for our groups, knowing what we have done for their villages over the years, whether it is Wolof or Serere. We tell them all the time that we pray in the name of Jesus, or that we are helping them in the name of Jesus and they have no problem with that and they respect it for the most part. This is one of the main reasons why it takes so long for someone to come to faith in Christ, because your never quite sure where they stand or what they are really thinking.44 The talibé boys have also been the target of efforts to share the love of Christ in practical ways. Mission Inter Senegal, e.g., has a ministry to these boys. The talibé boys range in age from 5 to 14 years old. A 2004 UNICEF report estimated that up to 100,000 child beggars are active in Senegal, or 1% of the population.45 While they have been sent by their parents from their home villages to study the Koran being trained by marabouts (Islamic teachers) in daaras (Koranic schools), more often than not, they actually spend more time on the streets of Dakar begging for money for their marabouts, instead of studying the Koran. 46 They are also at great risk of sexual abuse; statistics say that 80% of talibé boys have been abused with a high risk of contracting AIDS. Mission Inter Senegal counters this by providing some level of care and outreach to the boys. Laurie Fenicle describes a typical encounter, “On this particular day, the boys came to the BOH47 to shower, undergo a medical checkup, receive medication or special medical attention (if needed), receive vaccinations, eat a nutritious meal, and just hang out & play some games. To

. John Weston (name changed), e-mail message to Elke Speliopoulos, April 23, 2010.

45 . “Questions and Answers: Talibés of Senegal,” World Vision, http://www.worldvision.ca/ContentArchives/content-stories/Pages/questions-and-answers-talibes-of-senegal.aspx (accessed May 7, 2010).

. Laurie Fenicle, “Day with the Talibe Boys,” in Laurie's Page, http://fenicleinsenegal.blogspot.com/2009/12/day-with-talibe-boys.html (accessed May 7, 2010).


. BOH = Beacon of Hope, a missionary guest compound.


put it simply, they came to be the children that they are and receive some good tender-loving care for a change.”48 POSSIBLE MISSIONS APPROACHES AMONG THE WOLOF One missions book on Islam identifies five approaches to the evangelization of Muslims: 1) The confrontational approach, in which missionaries try to win Muslims by public debate and which has been largely abandoned now. 2) The traditional evangelical model, which tries to win Muslims through friendship evangelism, but expects them to break with Islam and has resulted in western-style churches. 3) The institutional model, seeking to win Muslims through hospitals, schools and orphanages and trusting that deeds speak louder than words. 4) The dialogical model, which purposes to learn what Muslims believe, to appreciate their beliefs as they relate to their culture, to build honest and sincere friendships and to ultimately bring them to faith in Christ without falling into syncretism. 5) The contextualization approach, which allows missionaries to learn culturally relevant methods and use this to allow Muslims to identify with known ideas. This may require in the missionary’s lifestyle, forms of worship and the use of theological terms.49 While the confrontational approach will most definitely alienate and frustrate the Wolof, and the traditional evangelical model may or may not be more appreciated today by a 21st century urban audience that has been exposed to western concepts more than their rural neighbors or Wolof of days gone by, the institutional and dialogical models may have validity in Senegal if they stay within the context of Wolof culture. Yet, the final model provides guidelines that seem to fit very well within the context of the Wolof society: the first contact is with the

. Fenicle, Laurie's Page.

. Keith E. Swartley, Encountering the World of Islam (Colorado Springs, CO: Authentic Publishing, 2005), 314-16.



Muslim leaders in the hope of avoiding direct opposition. Next touch points are the opinion leaders of the community, not fringe elements of the group. Families are addressed rather than the individual. Only basic theological concepts are shared, and enough time is given to let change take place. When conversion does occur, converts, while sharing their confession of faith, may hold off on baptism to win others to Christ, as this is often viewed as an offense to the culture and religion of the land.50 The Wolof love peace above all things. Their exchanges tell this story: they ask when greeting each other “Jama nga am?” (Do you have peace?), and the response is “Jama rek” (Peace only is what I have). Relationships have been built with people in particular villages. The Wolof will accept anyone who speaks their language and has a degree of identification with their customs. This tolerance is called kal in Senegal. It opens the door to interactions.51 Much work is needed to bring life-giving news of Jesus Christ into this part of Senegal. One issue here is that exactly the love for peace described above and also the concept of tolerance may lead to cultural misunderstandings. This can, e.g., lead to exchanges where a western missionary may share the gospel with a Wolof only to find him smiling politely and appearing to agree, when in reality this is not the case.52 Cultural insights such as these are thus critical, especially when bringing non-indigenous missionaries to Senegal. Likewise, individuals that do come to faith in Christ are often ostracized for a number of years. Ultimately, their perseverance in the faith many times culminates in their families allowing them reintegration back into the community. If they are married, the community may try to separate the believing spouse from the non-believer. Some may lose their work, but others may not, based on their skills and how much they are needed. While young people may

. Ibid., 316. . Sallah, The Heritage Library of African Peoples: Wolof, 9.


. Pastor Brent Mueller (name changed), shared short-term missions trip experience in conversation with author, May 6, 2010.



experience beatings, imprisonment or violence are unlikely due to the concepts of kal and jama.53 Taylor suggests that one way for missionaries to counter these effects for believers is to open their home to them if necessary and to encourage other believers to aid the ostracized believers. However, as he cautions, foreign missionaries can never truly enter into the experience of the local believers: “We can catch the next plane out of country.”54 In order to give believers a place to go and to associate, it may be necessary to offer a sort of boarding house where people can come to stay short or even longer term and which would offer a level of community. Koslow writes, “One of the favorite sayings of the Wolof is “Lammii ay ekkal demb” (Speech is what gives shape to the past).”55 This strong oral tradition has to play a focal point in any missions approach to the Wolof. Koslow explains further that …conversations revolve around useful topics: they always derive some benefit from them, such as we would derive from reading a good book, entering into a sort of dialogue with the author and deriving moral principles from it. If you imagine the Wolofs’ meetings taking place in a room containing a rich library, where the president of the society would choose a book by a moralist and read it aloud to the gathering, each of whom would have the opportunity to express his reflections, you would have a true idea of their pastimes.56 It is here that mission agencies should focus much time and energy. Already, as described above, many have realized this and have gone to oral methods of transmitting the gospel to the Wolof. In the meantime, Proclaimers (http://www.faithcomesbyhearing.com/proclaimer) may be an additional tool to the existing MegaVoice digital recorders. While Wolof is not yet available, an employee from Faith Comes By Hearing suggested that this would be easy to achieve if


. Jones, e-mail message to Elke Speliopoulos, 5/6/2010. . Taylor, e-mail message to Elke Speliopoulos, 5/7/2010. . Koslow, Senegambia, 23. . Ibid., 27.





scriptures were available in the language.57 An issue raised by several of the people interviewed for this paper was the importance of radio transmissions in Wolof language. Societal changes are occurring. While in the past, the caste system was an important aspect of family life, due to western influences, it is now giving way to a society based on merits. Intercaste marriage is on the rise, and individuals from lower castes have managed to obtain high positions in government and business.58 This brings with it also the potential of believers that may come from a lower echelon of society to bring the Good News into areas of society that have not been impacted so far. Since the Wolof are the dominant ethnic group, anything that begins to happen within their people group will affect other people groups in Senegal. There is even a sort of “generalized wolofization” where young people grow up learning Wolof as the lingua franca of the land and then start adopting other aspects of the Wolof culture.59 This may be a benefit in the future as, in particular, the divide between Wolof and Serer was great due to the incompatibility of their social orders. While religion was one dividing factor, patrilineal and matrilineal descent and questions of inheritance separated even more.60 This was already lessened during colonial days, but is now being even further ameliorated by this change in society. One societal issue that needs to be addressed is the fact that a lack of believers in the female population has tempted young men to marry non-believers or has placed them in the path of immorality. In addition, those that have come to Christ are scattered and have neither a church body to uphold them in the midst of adversity nor good discipleship and biblical training.61 The

. Conversation with Faith Comes By Hearing representative at Missions Fest Lancaster in February 2010. . Ibid., 57. . Mike Jones (name changed), e-mail message to Elke Speliopoulos, May 6, 2010.



. James F. Searing, “Conversion to Islam: Military Recruitment and Generational Conflict in a SereerSafèn Village (Bandia), 1920-38,” The Journal of African History 44, no. 1 (2003): 75, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4100383 (accessed May 2, 2010).


. Johnstone and Mandryk, Operation World: When We Pray God Works, 559.


young men are lacking both the support and the training to set them on a steady course. While the imbalance in gender in the believers may be difficult to fix, the training issue can be addressed, at least with respect to budding church leaders. Global Training Network (http://www.globaltrainingnetwork.org/) specializes in offering pastoral training in nations where the pastors have difficulty learning to teach and preach the scriptures. Likewise, Third Millenium Ministries (http://thirdmill.org/) has at its heart the desire to produce seminary level courses for believers in nations where access to seminaries is difficult or impossible. Plugging into these types of organizations may accelerate the discipleship of new believers. Global Training Network has begun to formulate plans for training women at the same time as the men. While Miller affirms that the Wolof today are not a people that will learn by reading, but rather through apprenticeship in a culture of oral communicators,62 this may be shifting in the years to come as westernization brings modernization and access to such tools as the internet. The reading programs deployed by such organizations as MIS seem to have what it might take to have a very strategic impact. If the literacy rate of the Wolof is increased, especially in the young generation, the possibility of sharing written content with them in the future is greatly improved. In addition, targeted effort should be directed to the estimated 15,000 Wolof living in the United States, with most concentrated in New York. Recently, the author had the chance to attend an ACMC conference where Dr. Solomon Aryeetey, director of Pioneers Africa, shared that he had recently launched an African grocery store in Atlanta in an effort to use it as an evangelization platform. This may be an approach that other African believers may be able to deploy in communities of Wolof in the United States.


. Jones, e-mail message to Elke Speliopoulos, 5/6/2010.


PROPOSED STRATEGY The group dynamics in the Senegalese and, in particular, Wolof culture pose a significant problem in the development of a missions strategy. During research, it has become abundantly clear that a Wolof man or woman will rarely step out of the cohesiveness of their family or community – the cost is very high. Yet, as was seen in Wolof history, change on a societal level is possible. In the case of Islam, the oppressiveness of colonial powers led to a people group’s adoption of a new religion. The hope is to repeat this for Christ. As McGavran describes, “peoples become Christian in this group-mind brought into a life-giving relationship to Jesus as Lord.”63 First and foremost and as already stated, the Wolof are relational people who will be tolerant to those who speak their language and adopt their customs. Every missionary effort has to respect this and will ultimately be fruitful only if the missionary is willing to deeply engage with the culture of the Wolof people and learn their language to a high degree of fluency. This, of course, requires many years and cannot be achieved without long-term commitments to country and people. Discussions with short- and long-term missionaries have also shown that the Wolof are an oral culture. Despite modernization and movement towards urban centers, this has not changed the fact that Wolof learn by listening and by doing. In order to bring the gospel to the Wolof, it needs to be wrapped in stories that they can listen to and learn from. These stories need to address the world view of the Wolof, yet redirect it towards the God of the Bible. An excellent way of doing this is through the use of radio transmissions. Here churches who want to become active in missions, yet cannot send people of their own, can engage and sponsor such radio programs.


. McGavran, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, 337.


The worldview of the Wolof centers on their understanding of who God is, but also which influence spirits powers have in their lives. The Wolof think in hierarchical terms and believe in fate (what will happen, will happen). They are clear that God created death and accept it. Keeping the peace and expressing it in their conversations is critical to them, as is community – humans must live interdependently. They value patience and are afraid of losing their face.64 Regrettably, from their native nominal Christians, they have not seen positive examples of life change or why being a Christian is a better way. Believers that live out their faith will do this. What the Wolof do see of Christianity is the expressed display of love in medical teams’ visits, in the provision of hospitals, in care for the talibé boys. It is here that the relational approach needs to find an outlet. In addition, two current trends in missions may come in as a secondary step: BAM (business as mission) and micro-finance. As modernization occurs and urban centers expand, such injections of business expertise and provision of the finances needed to start a business can be keys to unlocking an important portion of the cultural dynamic of a Wolof equivalent of “keeping up with the Joneses”, which is typically expressed in dress and other elements of appearance. Commerce will bring contacts and opportunities for sharing. Miller suggests that, while, generally speaking, the males and elders are the true decision makers in Wolof culture, in reality it is now often the person with the income.65 It is here where such an opportunity to generate income through small business commerce may very much resonate with the women and young people who through these efforts can prove themselves and achieve a level of authority otherwise not easily attainable. As far as possible, a missions strategy should incorporate African missionaries who can easier adopt to Wolof culture and who may themselves come from cultures that value many of the things the Wolof do. Pioneers Africa, according to Dr. Aryeetey, is ready to send out

. Mission Inter Senegal, “So You're Going to Senegal!,” p. 32-33. . Jones, e-mail message to Elke Speliopoulos, 5/6/2010.



hundreds of young men who have been trained, but this is currently limited due to restricted funding.66 It is also here where churches can play a much larger role. Finally, the evangelization of Wolof in America should become a primary target. As studies have shown, natives of Muslim countries are most vulnerable to being approached with the gospel when they are outside of their home countries. It is also here that programs taught by business people interested in BAM could help young Wolof men learn to navigate business in America and to ultimately take those skills back – and hopefully with it the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Taylor wrote, “winning a village is a great thing, but it is probably more likely that the city believers will reach out to the villages than it is that village believers will reach into the city.”67 What if these new believers came from a city such as New York? CONCLUSION Jones responded to the question of what the prime reason for the Wolof of resisting the gospel is: Many have pondered this question but we don't really know. Ultimately the cause of resistance to the gospel is spiritual - Satan has blinded the eyes of unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel (2 Cor 4:4). Why Satan has so much power among the Wolof is anyone’s guess. Was it the centuries of selling slaves to the West? Was it the centuries of animistic occult practices that still exist to this day?68 From these comments, it is clear that missionary efforts toward the Wolof first and foremost are a fight in the spiritual realm. As Paul said in Ephesians 6:12, the battle is “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”69


. As shared at ACMC conference in Downingtown, PA. April 2010. . Taylor, e-mail message to Elke Speliopoulos, 5/7/2010. . Jones, e-mail message to Elke Speliopoulos, 5/6/2010. . English Standard Version.





Yet, God has placed his people on this earth to be his hands and feet. It is only with humility, prayer, a lot of preparation and then perseverance that we can serve as his instruments to fulfill the Great Commission to the Wolof. To quote repeat short-term missionary John Weston, in Senegal “no one can run down to the local Christian bookstore, or jump on the internet and listen to a series of sermons, or sit in a 800 seat auditorium, air conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter.”70 It is up to us to bring the Good News to the Wolof in a way that is culturally relevant to them and that shows that God wants to meet them right where they are - and that he loves all these wonderful things about them that to us may seem strange at first glance. Ndaxte Yàlla dafa bëgg àddina, ba joxe jenn Doomam ji mu am kepp, ngir képp ku ko gëm am dund gu dul jeex te doo sànku mukk. - Yowaana 3:1671 BIBLIOGRAPHY “Dakar Vision.” W.E.C. Senegal. http://www.wec-int.org/senegal/where-we-work/dakar/dakarvision.html (accessed May 7, 2010). Fenicle, Laurie. “Day with the Talibe Boys.” In Laurie's Page. http://fenicleinsenegal.blogspot.com/2009/12/day-with-talibe-boys.html (accessed May 7, 2010). Frontiers. The Wolof of Senegal. n.p.: Eden Communications, 1996. Gall, Timothy L., and Jeneen Hobby, eds. “Wolof.” In Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life. Second ed. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, Cengage Learning, 2009. Gellar, Sheldon. Senegal: An African Nation between Islam and West. Boulder, CO: Westview Press,, 80301. Hillington, Kevin. History of Africa. Rev. 2nd ed. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005. Johnstone, Patrick, and Jason Mandryk. Operation World: When We Pray God Works. 21st Century ed. Tyrone, GA: Authentic Media, 2001.


. Weston, e-mail message to Elke Speliopoulos, April 23, 2010. . John 3:16 in Wolof.


21 “All Progress Levels.” In Joshua Project: Bringing Definition to the Unfinished Task. http://www.joshuaproject.net/global-progress-scale.php (accessed May 7, 2010). “Countries.” In Joshua Project: Bringing Definition to the Unfinished Task. http://www.joshuaproject.net/global-progress-scale.php (accessed May 7, 2010). “Wolof of Senegal.” In Joshua Project: Bringing Definition to the Unfinished Task. http://www.joshuaproject.net/global-progress-scale.php (accessed May 7, 2010). “Senegal - People Progress.” In Joshua Project: Bringing Definition to the Unfinished Task. http://www.joshuaproject.net/countries.php (accessed May 7, 2010). “Journey With Us to the Wolof People of Senegal.” Wolof Connection. http://www.wolofconnection.org/wolof/ (accessed May 7, 2010). Koslow, Philip. Senegambia. n.p.: Chelsea House Publishers, 1996. Kheirabadi, Masoud. Religions of the World: Islam. Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004. McGavran, Donald A. “The Bridges of God.” In Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, edited by Ralph D. Winter and Stephen C. Hawthorne, eds. Fourth ed. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2009. “Questions and Answers: Talibés of Senegal.” World Vision. http://www.worldvision.ca/ContentArchives/content-stories/Pages/questions-andanswers-talibes-of-senegal.aspx (accessed May 7, 2010). Robinson, David. “Review: Islam, Cash Crops and Emancipation in Senegal.” The Journal of African History 44, no. 1 (2003): 139-44. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4100386 (accessed May 2, 2010). Sallah, Tijan M. The Heritage Library of African Peoples: Wolof. New York: Rosen Publishing Group,, 1996. Searing, James F. “Conversion to Islam: Military Recruitment and Generational Conflict in a Sereer-Safèn Village (Bandia), 1920-38.” The Journal of African History 44, no. 1 (2003): 73-94. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4100383 (accessed May 2, 2010). Swartley, Keith E. Encountering the World of Islam. Colorado Springs, CO: Authentic Publishing, 2005. The Diagram Group. Peoples of Africa: Nations of Africa. New York: Diagram Group, 1997. “The Wolof of West Africa.” In People and Language Detail Report. n.p.: Joshua Project, n.d. http://www.joshuaproject.net/profiles/text/t15414.pdf (accessed May 7, 2010).

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