While more Christians live in Sub-Saharan Africa than in any area of the world, 27,000 people in the region die every day without knowing Christ. Sub-Saharan Africa has one of the fastest-growing populations in the world and one of the highest rates of child mortality.
Many people groups in Sub-Saharan Africa have no gospel presence and no knowledge of Christ. The International Mission Board (IMB) leadership in the region set a goal to start ministering among 55 unreached people groups. The ministry initiative is known as “55 in 5.”
Daren Davis, the affinity leader for Sub-Saharan Africa, said the area has 55 unreached and unengaged people groups with populations of more than 100,000 people.
“We were looking for big, audacious goals that we could go after as [missionary] teams,” Davis said. “As I looked at this reality of 55 unreached and unengaged people groups, I began to evaluate that and think through that and ask the Lord, what do we do?”
At the beginning of the year when the 55 in 5 initiative launched, personnel in Sub-Saharan Africa were actively serving among 90 people groups.
“How in the world could we engage another 55 unreached, unengaged people groups?” Davis asked himself.
Davis said accomplishing the goal will mean partnerships with local Christians, missionaries from other organizations and churches in the U.S.
“If we do our part to mobilize, facilitate, be a catalyst among African partners and global partners, we could highlight 55 unreached and unengaged peoples and see them engaged with the gospel in the next five years,” he said.
Strides to meet the goal are underway.
Through research, IMB missionaries discovered that some of the 55 people groups already have a gospel witness because of the ministry of missionaries from other organizations and national Christians.
Jay and Kathy Shafto are partnering with local Christians in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to minister among two people groups that are a part of the 55 in 5 initiative.
Vincent, a pastor from the DRC, approached the Shaftos and asked for their help to reach his people group, the Sonde. Vincent made the 124-mile trek to his people group multiple times, but occultist beliefs held a spell over the Sonde. Jay encouraged Vincent in his efforts to reach his people in spite of their resistance.
The Shaftos and Vincent discovered the Sonde didn’t have the Bible in their own language, so they began an oral Bible storying project. After launching the project, they discovered several evangelical churches had already been planted and two different Baptist denominations were ministering among them.
“We have been happy to bring support to that engagement,” Kathy said.
Six Sonde Christians are now learning 25 oral Bible stories. Thirteen people chose to accept Christ, and four Bible storying groups began. Four Sonde Christians are receiving leadership training.
The Shaftos say because of the zeal of Mama Helen, a Christian from the Ngongo people group of the DRC, 3,000 Ngongo heard the gospel and 167 committed their lives to Christ. Mama Helen used the 25 oral Bible stories, and as a result, three new groups of Ngongo are learning the Bible stories. Sixteen Ngongo men and women are receiving leadership training.
The Ngongo are another 55 in 5 people group who now have a gospel presence.
The gospel has also spread to the Makhuwa Marrevone of Mozambique. In 1997, a missionary from New Zealand and a volunteer team from a Japanese church ministered among a neighboring people group and the gospel message eventually spread to the Makhuwa Marrevone. There are now more than 2,000 Makhuwa Marrevone Christians.
“I’m thrilled that we are seeing momentum with our personnel, but we are also seeing momentum across our African partners,” Davis said. “We have churches that are highlighting these 55 unreached and unengaged people groups. We have WhatsApp groups that are receiving the prayer updates and the different ways in which we are advertising and promoting prayer.”
Marc, a Christian in Benin, is ministering among the Kotafon people group, another one of the 55.
Marc became a Christian after the son of IMB missionaries Jeff and Barbara Singerman invited him to play basketball. When the Singermans moved to another country, Marc pledged to continue serving as a missionary.
“As a missionary working in full collaboration with the Benin Baptist Convention, he seeks out American churches to engage the unengaged,” Barbara said.
After the Singermans moved, Marc began ministering among the Kotafon, and in 2015, Mt. Vernon Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., sent volunteer teams to partner with Marc. Four churches have been planted, and 10 Kotafon men are attending a Bible school.
Ministry among the Kotafon, Sonde, Ngongo and Makhuwa Marrevone is a team effort. IMB missionaries, missionaries from other organizations, national Christians and U.S. churches all play a vital role.
“We really are better together,” Davis said.
There are still many people groups in Sub-Saharan Africa who have no gospel witness and no known Christians. To learn more about these people groups and download prayer resources, please visit the 55 in 5 home page.
To learn how you can join the 55 in 5 effort, contact [email protected].
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Caroline Anderson writes for the International Mission Board.)