Many of you have heard about the Somali people on the news or in Hollywood films.
Perhaps you imagine pirates attacking ships, warlords fighting in Mogadishu or famine victims huddled together in a harsh, dry landscape, glaring suspiciously at the camera.
These images are not entirely untrue. Somalia is indeed one of the world’s most dangerous countries, with the terrorist group al-Shabaab carrying out hundreds of attacks killing thousands of civilians in the past decade.
It is hard to imagine reaching a more intimidating, mysterious and hostile people. And yet we must.
Here is another image of a Somali: She is a believer reaching the lost through radio, web and social media. She produces programs for radio broadcast Codka Nolosha Cusub (‘Voice of New Life’), reaching Somalis in 20 countries. Her name is Kawser Omar.
Through WhatsApp, Kawser disciples women anywhere, whether they live in Somalia, Denmark or Canada. She regularly holds virtual Bible studies and prayer meetings for Somali Christians.
This Somali is not a pirate, warlord, follower of Islam, famine victim or stranger. She is a missionary obeying her calling with love and courage.
The very wording of the Great Commission implies carrying the Gospel further and further, “to the utter ends of the earth.” The “utter ends” may be a mile or an ocean away, but there will be higher costs to get there, more formidable barriers to the gospel, and more hardships and challenges.
Kawser has not always been a Christian. Her testimony reveals the barriers and challenges she experienced as part of a community where Christ is least known. After secondary school, Kawser moved to the country of Djibouti to live with extended family.
There she had dreams which gave her great peace. In one dream, a hand extended to her bore a cross on the palm, glowing brightly like diamonds. She realized the dreams must have to do with Christianity.
She knew a neighbour’s Ethiopian maid was a Christian, so she went to ask her about her dreams. The maid, fearful of being arrested, gave her the address of a church. Kawser went to the church where her dreams were explained. Then every Friday, the Muslim holy day, Kawser dressed up as if she were going to the mosque, but instead went to the church service.
After about a year, she was caught. Her relatives beat her. They called Muslim teachers to convince her to return to Islam, then tried to cast demons out of her by beating her while reading the Qur’an. But she would not relent. The family imprisoned her in a room, repeatedly beating and starving her for weeks. Not wanting to kill her, they eventually threw her into the street, injured, hungry and desolate.
She found refuge and healing among the Ethiopian Christian diaspora. She says of that time, “My faith became strong and God proved to me that He loved me and chose me, and He restored my wellbeing emotionally and physically little by little.”
Eventually, she was able to immigrate to Europe. She married another Somali Christian, and together, they began online evangelism to Somalis, establishing two Christian websites and YouTube channel.
While in Europe, God called them to join SIM – our first Somali members after 80 years of prayer and service. Last year they relocated to Ethiopia to help reach Somalis through radio, web and social media.
What would compel someone to go to a difficult place and sustain their presence there?
Many believers have equated the Great Commission to a task that we desire to see “finished.”
But we do not go out into some of the most dangerous and needy places on earth simply to complete a task. We could not sustain ourselves for years in difficult locations in order to tick a box. Only one motivation can keep our feet grounded in communities where Christ is least known. That motivation is love.
We go and we stay because we have experienced the love of God; our strength and joy are renewed in communing with Him. Out of that relationship comes love and compassion for those we serve, those with the potential to be in relationship with God too.
Today, about 77 percent of all missionaries in the world are serving in locations considered reached with the gospel. Only about 19 percent serve in unevangelized areas. A mere 3 percent are in completely unreached areas – areas with no known believers and no active church planting efforts underway.*
Jesus told us the parable of the shepherd who searched for one lost sheep among 100. And yet there are communities today where 99 or 100 of the sheep are lost, and not a single shepherd is yet available to search for them.
Messenger without compassion
One day a missionary went and sat outside the city of unreached people that he was called to serve. He was fed up with his calling. The process of even arriving at his assignment had been tumultuous, to say the least. And now he was here, he abhorred the people, just as he had predicted. But he did as he was told, and despite his attitude, their hearts were turning to God. Now he was furious that such people would be saved, so he went out to nurse his wounds, grumbling to God.
This missionary was Jonah. And those repenting of their wicked ways were the Ninevites of Assyria. Assyria was one of the cruelest nations in the world, and they oppressed Israel and Judah. Understandably, Jonah never wanted to go. So, he ran away. We know how God prepared a large fish to swallow him and vomit him up on dry land three days later.
God called Jonah to go to Nineveh . . . again. This time, the reluctant prophet went. He walked the streets and announced that the Lord was going to visit calamity upon them. I am sure it was not his best preaching, but it ticked the box.
To Jonah’s surprise, the wicked people yielded to his voice. They proclaimed a fast and humbled themselves before God. True to his promise, God turned away the calamity. At this, Jonah grew angry. He did not share God’s compassion for this city; he only obeyed to get God off his back. He complained: “For I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.” Jonah 4:2. He even told the Lord he wanted to die!
In a climax to this story, Jonah left the city to sit on a hill and watch what might happen to it. The Lord provided a plant to shade Jonah, the next day a worm to eat the plant, then a scorching wind and blazing sun to beat down on Jonah’s head; he became faint and wished for death.
Jonah, who was initially “very pleased” with the shady plant, was now angry it had wilted. He felt compassion for the plant and for himself, yet he could not connect with God’s compassion for people. While the eternal salvation of an entire city seemed utterly unfair, he felt entitled to his personal comforts in the shade, provided by God’s kindness.
This story concludes with a question that reverberates through time and eternity:
“Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand?” Jonah 4:11
If we parallel Jonah’s commission and our own, we will realize that at the heart level, the reason we are called to communities where Christ is least known is compassion.
John 3:16,17 tells us:
For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
God saw the whole world in danger of his wrath and judgment, just like Nineveh. As he sent Jonah, He sent Jesus to intervene in a sin-soaked world – not to condemn that world, but that the world through Him might be saved (John 3:17).
Billions of people in the world still live like the people of Nineveh, never understanding that a loving God has made a way for them. Thank God we have a Saviour who will not sit on a hill and watch our world die, but instead climbed a hill to die for us.
In John 6, Jesus asked a question after seeing the needs of the hungry crowd: “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” In the Matthew 14 account, the disciples wanted to send the crowd away. But Jesus who saw the crowd and had compassion on them said, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
One incredulous disciple explained the financial absurdity – it would take over a half year’s wages to buy enough food for everyone to have a bite. Another disciple brings a boy to Jesus with five loaves and two fish and said, “But what is this among so many?”
But Jesus “took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them.” He fed the 5,000 until they were full and there were leftovers aplenty.
Many of us share the mentality of the first disciple. Missions to the least reached communities are costly and the financial proposition is absurd. Others consider non-financial resources (bread and fish) and arrive at the same conclusion. Perhaps we feel it is reasonable to feed ourselves, at least. After all, we are hungry too. Few have Jesus’ mentality of abundance.
God of abundance
But God is a God of abundance. Look what he is providing for the Somali. In May of 2020, Abdi Duale, husband of Kawser Omar, shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ on Ethiopian state television. In the past, any religious broadcasting was strictly limited, especially for evangelicals. At this historic time, he preached for 42 minutes, in the Somali language, aired twice, with audiences estimated to be about 5 million.
How will you respond to the reality of communities where Christ is least known? Is missions a task to be accomplished, checked off and abandoned, or a call to a life of compassion?
In a time of pandemic, global fear and uncertainty, whom do you see? Do you see the peril of millions or are you more concerned about the shade that has been removed from over our heads? Can you see people who are hungry, who do not know their left from their right? I am hearing the Lord ask us, as He asked Jonah, “Shall I not have compassion?”
I am hearing the Lord ask us: “Where shall we buy bread for the people who are hungry for the gospel?”
Will we explain to God Himself how this is financially impossible?
I am from a town renowned for occult practices, idolatry and the dominion of darkness, and from a family whose members rejected the gospel at the first encounter. Today, my family are believers, and I am a missionary. Why? Because many years ago, a Canadian named Guy Playfair loved the Lord so much that he went looking for communities where Christ was least known. He found my community.
Whose community will you find? Let us submit everything to Jesus and, filled with His compassion, prepare ourselves to carry full baskets to a hungry world.
This comment is re-posted by permission of Mission Central.
Dr. Joshua Bogunjoko brings two decades of leadership and mission experience to his role as the first African leader of SIM International, a large missions organization serving in 80 countries. He is also a family physician with years of experience in surgery, and holds a Masters in Leadership and Management from Briercrest College, Saskatchewan.
Sent by their church in Nigeria, Joshua and his wife, Joanna, also a medical doctor, were among the first missionaries sent outside of Nigeria by the Evangelical Mission Society. They joined SIM in 1995.
A recent history of SIM (Gary R. Corwin: By Prayer to the Nations) notes that there was “almost unbelievable expansion of the mission” during Guy Playfair’s tenure as general director of SIM from 1944 – 1957. He had been West Africa Field Director since 1915.