Born in the Cape Verde Islands, José Oliveira grew up in Dakar, Senegal, after the separation of his parents. When he was 12 years old, his mother remarried to a man who was a believer. Through his witness, José put his faith in Christ. As a young man, his church sent him for training to the European Bible Institute in France where he met his wife, France-Lise. In 1983 the Oliveiras returned to Dakar where they began serving in ministry. In 1997, Jose and France-Lise helped found Inter-Senegal Mission. Jose is ISM’s Director and France-Lise serves in the women’s ministry. The couple has three children.
Partners International is working together with Inter-Senegal Mission, the first church-planting agency in Senegal, to spread the Gospel to rural villages, specifically reaching the Wolof and Serer people groups. Villagers are often initially resistant to Christianity, so the ministry works through holistic projects, such as medical ministry and micro-enterprise, to build relationships with the people and gain acceptance and establish churches. The lives of an estimated 50,000 people are touched by the ISM ministry each year.
Siga is 55 years old and lives in rural Senegal. Before she became a believer she practiced witchcraft and wore amulets all over her body. Her body was often inexplicably hot. She visited many Muslim leaders, trying to find a solution. When an ISM women’s team came to her village, Siga would come to hear the Bible stories, but always wore all her amulets. However, as time went by, she opened her heart to Christ. She removed all the amulets, giving them to the pastor to burn, and was baptized. The burning in her skin has stopped. Siga has a remarkable memory of the Bible, and has become an advisor to other women in the Scripture. Siga’s oldest son has asked her to return to Islam, but she said,
"No. Since I began walking with Jesus I have peace."
Senegal is a sub-Saharan country located on the westernmost tip of Africa. As a secular state, it boasts of religious freedom, but the vast majority of the country’s 12.5 million people are Muslim. Far less than one percent consider themselves evangelical Christians, most of whom are concentrated in several large cities.
Some people groups, like the more than three million Wolof, are almost 100-percent Muslim. Having a strong cultural identity, the Wolof fear that putting their faith in Christ will mean they must also leave behind their treasured social and cultural traditions. More openness has been seen among the 1.5 million Serer people, yet the Christian population is still only a small minority.
Senegalese village life is one of hardship. The majority survive through subsistence farming, but in years of drought, crops fail to provide. For this reason, men often seek work in other areas, leaving the women in the village, who are for the most part uneducated, to provide for the family on their own.
Recognizing both the need and opportunity, Inter-Senegal Mission (ISM) was launched in 1997 with a focus on holistic witness and a creative vision for partnership, service, and community involvement.
One of the ways they do this is through the Jericho Project, a three-day celebration modeled after a local cultural festival called a “gamou.” The celebration typically includes praise of an Islamic leader such as Mohammed or one of the local Muslim holy men. In the “Jericho” rendition, several Senegalese ministries join together to host a celebration with the goal of sharing the Good News with the Wolof and Serer peoples. During the event, guests from neighboring villages gather together to listen to preaching, testimonies of Senegalese who have come to Christ, a Senegalese Christian choir, and watch dramas and films. Games are enjoyed by children and youth, and communal meals are shared by all. And with a mobile medical clinic on site, hundreds of people have access to low-cost medical and dental treatment, something that is not usually available to the villagers. The ultimate goal of this project is the transformation of Wolof and Serer communities through the planting of culturally relevant, visionary, and vibrant churches. The Jericho Project brings together groups as large as 5,000 people. Partners hopes to raise $14,500 toward the costs for this year’s Jericho Project event and follow up.
A second outreach is called the “Bread and Bibles” project. This outreach trains evangelists and church planters to share the Gospel through oral storytelling. Because a high percentage of villagers are non-literate, sharing the Gospel through dramatic presentations of the parables and cultural adaptations to Scripture in song have proven to be an effective way to share the Good News. The second part of this project, the “bread,” involves distributing basic food items in the villages where these training sessions are held to help address the humanitarian needs of the villagers and to demonstrate the love of God. To follow up on these outreach events, ISM staff begin chronological Bible studies to help solidify the faith commitments of new believers and to teach biblical truths to seekers. Gifts to this project will equip 18 evangelists serving in 65 villages. These church planters will also engage in prayer walks and introductory meetings in communities where ISM is not yet working. Annual funding needed for this project is $18,800.
Operation Barthimaeus is a large hospital and medical outreach established by ISM in the city of Thiès to meet the country’s serious need for medical care. The hospital’s services include surgery, orthopedics, gynecology, cardiology, and ophthalmology. The medical team also provides prenatal consultations, child growth monitoring, nutritional counseling, vaccinations, dental care, and lab analysis. Last year, more than 35,000 patients received medical care.
This compassionate work touches people’s lives in a very real way: people are grateful to be treated medically, prayed for, and introduced to the God of grace and love. The approach of caring for people’s physical needs has given ISM credibility among the Muslim-majority population and has helped the ministry gain recognition by the government.
With the increased size of the hospital and its outreaches, the number of staff needs to increase as well. Partners International hopes to raise funds to support three doctors, an anesthetist, and training scholarships for two nurses.
In addition to treating patients at the hospital, these medical workers also travel to rural villages to provide medical care, nutrition programs, and vaccinations. Nearly 10,000 patients benefit from these services each year.
Through our Gifts-In-Kind program, Partners International sends sea containers of goods to our partner ministries in Africa. Requested directly by the ISM hospital staff, these items range from pharmaceuticals to medical supplies to medical equipment. In many countries where our partners work, certain medicines and equipment simply cannot be found locally or the expense is beyond the ministry’s capacity. Each shipment of medical equipment is valued from $300,000 up to $1,000,000 or more. The cost to Partners International for filling and shipping each container of these life-saving supplies to Senegal is just $25,000 per container. Partners would like to provide part of the costs to send two shipments to ISM this year to stock their pharmacy with needed medicines.
Capacity Building Training, ISM
ISM has tremendous opportunities to expand their ministry to new areas. But like every organization, they must have a motivated and equipped team. ISM’s church planters, community development workers, and office staff are highly committed to the ministry, but their work is very demanding and spiritually taxing, especially in Senegal’s strong Muslim environment.
For this reason, Partners aims to fund an annual retreat for ISM’s staff. The retreat is a time when all the workers can come together for fellowship and spiritual refreshment. The different ISM teams are spread in different locations and need time to get together to build team spirit, share their burdens and victories, and minister to each other. The outcomes will be more team motivation, spiritual momentum, and cross pollination of successful ideas and strategies. Your gift will provide accommodations, transportation, and food for ISM’s 90 team members to come together. With a staff that is equipped spiritually and professionally, ISM will move closer to its goal of reaching 400 villages by 2020.
As in many African cultures, it is more appropriate that women, rather than men, minister to other women. Because of this, Christian women from the churches in the cities of Dakar and Thiès travel to the villages for outreach each week. They engage the women in classes on nutrition and literacy and also provide fortified milk for malnourished babies. Since the infant death rate is so high in Senegal, many mothers turn to mystical practices and amulets to protect their children. However, when they learn solid nutritional and health information they are freed from such destructive and useless practices. This ministry has brought great returns—not only in improved health for children, but gratitude and friendship with the mothers. More than 300 women from six regions and 300-500 children will benefit from the nutrition program.
In addition to health and nutrition programs, ISM provides training in income-generating skills such as sewing and tie-dye. Once women have completed the training, they have valuable income-generating skills, but no seed funds to start their own small businesses. With your gifts, Partners provides micro-enterprise loans which allow them to start a small business and contribute to the support of their families. The loans are repaid within six months, and the funds are used to help another woman. For many, this extra income gives them their first chance to provide proper food, medicine, and education for their children. This project already has 500 women in various cycles of repayment.
Through all of these outreaches, the ISM’s women’s team makes hundreds of new contacts each year. These new contacts are invited to take part in Bible studies where they study chronological Bible stories. Through this ministry, a number of Muslim and animistic women have come to know Christ. To further enhance their evangelistic work, Partners would like to sponsor two seminars for the women’s groups they serve, both Christian and Muslim women. This event will help strengthen the faith of believing women, while also giving seekers a chance to clearly hear the Gospel, receive prayer, hear testimonies of other believing women, and experience being part of the greater body of Christ. In all, 215 women will take part.