By Jesse Lyautey
NIGER, West Africa - The Songhai woman grabbed the cassette tape, lifted her wrap skirt and ran shouting to neighbors to come and get the free cassette as she went back to her hut hunting a player.
As the group of visiting Americans walked down the dusty lanes of the village, praying for the Songhai people, they could hear the stories of Jesus playing from the cassettes they gave out.
The 45 mile long, dusty gravel "road to Mehanna" has 48 villages that had never heard about Christ. That is, until First Baptist Church Hurst, Texas decided God had called them to reach the villages along the road that parallels the Niger River.
"The Songhai on the Mehanna Road have no way of hearing of Jesus, unless someone goes and tells them," said team leader, Marc Tolson. "Our prayer from the start was for us to see where God was moving and go there. I know we found that."
This was the church's first time to send a group of volunteers to Niger on a "vision trip," to see the Songhai people and learn about their culture. They planned as a church for seven to make the first step into unknown territory.
"Our church had thousands praying for the Songhai on the Mehanna Road," Tolson said. "We were just the Fed-Ex or UPS guys delivering the packages on the ground."
The idea was to start at the beginning of Mehanna Road and visit nine villages every day, handing out Bible story cassettes with picture books, Bibles, soccer balls, dolls and gifts to the chief of the villages.
They were looking for villages willing to let them come and visit again. They found so much more.
Brad Womble, International Mission Board missionary to the Songhai people, said he was amazed at the response the group got from villages that accepted the gifts and wanted the team to return.
In one village a chief led Brad outside the hut and said, "We are tired of the Muslim faith, come teach us. Look at all the land that can be the church. That is all yours if you want it."
All but one village accepted the gift to the chief and cassette tapes. In five days, more than 1,000 cassettes, 63 videos and 50 Bibles were handed out to tell about Jesus in the Songhai language.
Two chiefs offered places for future teams to stay while they taught the village about Jesus.
Five Songhai kings lead the Songhai people of this region. Two of those kings live along the Mehanna Road. The volunteer team was able to meet both kings and give them each a Bible, videos, story books and cassettes about Jesus. Both kings were excited the Americans had come to visit the Songhai and want them to come again.
This first trip was during cool season, with morning temperatures in the 70s heating up to around 100 degrees in the afternoons. The next church trip is planned for hot season, when heat indexes can reach 150 degrees.
But the threat of unimaginable heat has not stopped the church's plans to reach the Songhai, and the next trip is already full.
"We have eight [people] on that team," Tolson said. "We have about 300 people on our e-mail database for prayer and will keep them in the loop on prayer items each month."
The church's strategy: get everyone involved.
A group of women in the church provide dolls, some homemade, for little Songhai girls to have their picture taken with the doll and names sent back to the United States for prayer.
The RA's, GA's and Mission Friends will emphasize the Songhai people to coincide with the team's next trip, and the GA's have also planned to make frames for the pictures of the chiefs to return to the villages.
First Baptist Church Hurst, Texas is committed. Committed to praying, giving and going to tell the Songhai people about Jesus.