by Phil Byler, REO of Central Region“Our ministry must demonstrate that the Christian message is as much at home in a nomad camp as in a western church building” – The Nomadic Peoples Network
Sometimes I feel a tingle of thrill up my spine as I read the account in Revelation of “before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb….wearing white robes and crying out in a loud voice: “salvation belongs to our God … and to the Lamb.”
Every tribe and tongue! That includes the Mbororo of Central Africa. We have a vision in Central Region, AIM, to be a part of sowing seeds among the Mbororo of Chad and Central African Republic (CAR) to prepare them for this great white robed throng worshipping Jesus. Please pray with us for the workers, the resources, and the difficult logistics to enable this to happen so that we can bless the Mbororo.
Recently, I asked veteran mission Wendy Atkins some questions about the Mbororo.
Who are the Mbororo and where are they located?
The Mbororo are a sub-group of the much larger Fulani, a tribe that is spread across much of West Africa. They have also spread eastward and are now in West and Southern Central African Republic. Their name means ‘cattle herder’ in the Fulfilde langauge.
They are part of the Fulani Muslim group who are one of the largest unreached people groups in Africa. Originating in Niger/Nigeria, they have travelled and are spread over many countries across an almost horizontal area across Africa, bound by the Sahara Desert to the north and by the disease-carrying tsetse fly to the south. Most of the adults we work with were born in Cameroon with most of the children born in CAR. Those we are working with are located in the southeastern corner of CAR.
What can you tell us about them?
They are nomadic cattle people, and semi-sedentary herdsmen who combine agriculture with herding. In common with many nomadic peoples, they have a quest and are on a journey. They are travelling to Ethiopia where, when they all arrive, they will build a tower which will reach the sky. When they accomplish this, Mohammad will return to take the Muslims with him to heaven. Jesus will return to take the Christians with him to heaven.
These herdsmen consider the long-horned cattle to be a prized possession and have dedicated their lives to caring for their herds. Owning cattle is a symbol of health and well-being among all Fulani. In fact, the level of a man’s respect is based on the number of cattle he owns and how much he knows about herding. The cattle have their own names and are treated with affection by the Mbororo.
They are a patriarchal society, and the men especially the elders, make all the decisions for their families. Although there are many young men among them who mainly continue to support the system established by their fathers, but they do have a voice in some decisions.
Who are the real leaders among them?
The chiefs and the religious leaders are looked up to by all the Mbororo. There is usually a main religious teacher for each of the groups who travels to various family groups. They have close family ties with women having important roles in the society. In accordance with Islam, Mbororo men may have up to four wives each and lots of children who are important and loved.
What about their belief system?
They are animistic Muslims who follow a form of folk Islam. They fear sickness, disease, and death as well as evil spirits as evidenced by the “kitabu” or charms they wear with each one of them offering protection from a specific thing. They teach their children in schools that are held around the fire in the evenings with all the children memorizing verses from the Koran and the older ones learning to read and write on wooden slates. The men often attend meetings at the mosque in nearby towns or even build their own mosques, just grass structures, off in the bush if they are settling down for a longer period of time.
What work has AIM been doing among them up until now?
When the Mbororo started entering the area in CAR where AIM works in the early 90s or so, our main contact was through the church medical centers. AIM missionaries along with Central African church medical workers reached out to show the love of Jesus to the Mbororo when they came to the health centers.
Then, in 2000, after receiving training at the Missionary Training Centre in BaIlli, Chad, one of the CAR pastors, Rev Mbolihoundore Jean Baptiste and his wife Julienne, returned to an outreach ministry among the Mbororo. He began traveling and making friends with various Mbororo men and their families. As he gained their confidence, they started calling him “Pastor” and he has had many opportunities to share the gospel with many Mbororo. He even informally trained and discipled young Zande men who traveled with him sharing with young men the truths of the gospel.
Besides encouraging Rev Jean-Baptiste, how has AIM been involved in reaching out to the Mbororo?
We have helped with two short term thrusts. First, AIM facilitated a team of Ugandan Bible school students who traveled to CAR to spend about two weeks among the Mbororo. After that, the Central Region organized a team of Congolese and Ugandan veterinary doctors and nurses and even a cattle farmer from New Zealand who traveled to CAR to spend two weeks treating cattle throughout the area where the Mbororo were keeping their animals.
What’s being done now to reach out to the Mbororo?
Jean Baptiste and his wife are still ministering to the Mbororo, many of whom have fled to the town centers due to the instability in the area caused by the LRA. But the most exciting news is that AIM has identified the Mbororo as one of the groups they desire to see a team planted among during 2011. Please be praying for that possibility! And pray that Christ-centered churches will be established among the Mbororo!