A special thanks to Karen Conkle, today’s guest speaker to start this year’s 2012 Missionary Conference. Doug and Karen Conkle are presently serving in the Republic of Senegal, West Africa after serving for many years in Burkina Faso with the Christian & Missionary Alliance. Here is an excerpt from Karen’s message:
Matthew 9:37-38 (HCSB)
Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”
Jesus was asking us to participate in the harvest. He made a huge impact on Palestine during his time on earth…a huge impact. But he would use partners to carry that message on to Rome and to other parts of the world. He uses us.
One of my favorite authors is Philip Yancey…and he writes it this way—‘God has made the work of the Kingdom dependent on the notoriously unreliable human species.’ Us—you and me. One of the first missionaries was William Carey. He came from the States. He felt the call to travel to India and he really wanted to go to India, but some very well-meaning pastors and leaders said to him, ‘if God wanted to save the heathen in India, he could certainly do it without the likes of you or us.’ That was the response he got. They missed the point. God does very little on this earth without the likes of you and me. He uses us. God wants us to pray. He wants us to send. He wants us to go. He wants us to bring that light of the gospel to everywhere in this whole world.
My husband, Doug and I, have had that privilege. We’ve been sent by you as part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance for 35 years. You sent us, whether you know it or not. Through the Great Commission fund our most recent assignment was to Senegal. And if you look at Africa, it the furthest part west on the continent—if you go as close as you can to New York. We were sent there—our main responsibility in Senegal was to set up a new team. When I’m in the states, I would always look for things to bring back to our new team—four young families—young couples with their kids. I always try to think of something American to bring back to them. The last time was back in the fall. I actually brought back Butterball turkeys. Frozen Butterball turkeys. You can get them through if you put them in your suitcases. Don’t try it on your carry-on (luggage). Why turkey? Because turkey is all-American. It is something that America considers to be ours—turkeys are ours. The turkey was almost nominated as the national bird instead of the eagle. Can you see the silver dollar with a turkey head on it? For one, I’m very glad they chose the eagle.
If you have ever researched the eagle, you would know what a fascinating bird it is. That mighty bird is a great representation (of America). One of the things it does is that it pulls all of the excess feathers and down on its body so that it can soar through the air when it flies. It keeps itself light. They use the excess feathers and down to line their nests like other birds do. But they do something different when they want their baby birds to leave—to move on from the nest. They pull the down and feathers from the nest. They make it uncomfortable. The adult birds pull the feathers out and make it not so comfy to stay there—it’s like if you have this thirty-five year old son still living with you and you tell him ‘you’re in the basement bedroom and you’re doing your own laundry.’ You try to make it more uncomfortable for him so that he will move on. I wonder if, during these past few years in America, where we have had these economic woes, if God is not pulling the feathers out of our nest. If God is saying, ‘Wake up—move on. I’ve got more for you!’ Maybe He wants us to step out of the nest a little bit. We (Doug and I) were very comfortable in Burkina Faso for 27 years when we were sent to Senegal. We were very comfortable—the first 15 years we were in church planting. And I have to say that some of the places we were with unreached people groups—they were far out in the bush. Most of the places had no electricity, no running water—it was not always comfortable, especially since it gets so hot there. We would sleep outside in the yard. We would move our cots out in the yard to catch the air at night when enduring the hot season. It was not comfortable (then), but the last ten years my husband was the Field Director. (We) lived in the big city, 24 hours electricity, running water, and we knew our job—our job was to facilitate the other missionaries, to take care of the young families. We knew our job well. We were very comfortable…no stress. And it was at that point that God asked us to move on. And we were asked by our boss to take on this assignment in Senegal, a country that is 94 percent Muslim. I’ll tell you what—pushing into those areas, when you’re 53 and 54 years old, learning a new language—that was really a challenge for us.
The first time we had Alliance missionaries in Africa—we have had them there for over a hundred years—1929 was the first year we went to Senegal, but they only stayed two years. They went in there, and they say the reason that the missionaries moved on was because they had this revival among the Baoli people in Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), the neighboring country. They had this big revival among the Baoli people, which is true because it is the second largest group of Alliance believers in the world—they are located in the Ivory Coast. Does anyone know where the largest group of Alliance believers are located—what country? Anyone want to guess? It’s not the United States—it’s Vietnam. A country where (believers) have suffered. It’s the largest group of Alliance believers in the world. Cote D’Ivoire was second, and perhaps that’s why these missionaries left Senegal to go and help there because they had this big harvest, but a lot of people say that it was difficult there—no one responded. The dominant people group in Senegal is called Wolof. There are 15,000 of them that have emigrated in New York City. It’s a large people group but they are 100 percent Muslim and they are a very proud people. It has been very difficult in Senegal. Great mission groups have been there like the Baptists and they have not seen a response, and they’re doing the same things that we did in Burkina Faso to see people come to Christ. We would move into a new area. We would call it a new people group. We would learn the language and live among the people, and we would see people come to Christ, and then we would move on to a new place. We would show the Jesus film and they were very responsive to that—but not in Senegal—not the Wolof people. They were not responding, so that’s why they wanted us to go. They wanted the Alliance to go in there because we are known as the church planting mission that gets things done. So they asked us to go.
But what if there are no results? It’s very discouraging when there are no results. What if there are no results? Well, Jesus knew about that. Jesus had something to say in Luke 5. It talks about Jesus and the fishermen who had no results—if you remember that story.
Luke 5:1-11 (HCSB)
1 As the crowd was pressing in on Jesus to hear God’s word, He was standing by Lake Gennesaret. 2 He saw two boats at the edge of the lake; the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, which belonged to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from the land. Then He sat down and was teaching the crowds from the boat.
4 When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
5 “Master,” Simon replied, “we’ve worked hard all night long and caught nothing! But at Your word, I’ll let down the nets.”
6 When they did this, they caught a great number of fish, and their nets began to tear.7 So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them; they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, because I’m a sinful man, Lord!” 9 For he and all those with him were amazed at the catch of fish they took, 10 and so were James and John, Zebedee’s sons, who were Simon’s partners.
“Don’t be afraid,” Jesus told Simon. “From now on you will be catching people!” 11 Then they brought the boats to land, left everything, and followed Him.
Senegal is actually very much into fishing. They’re on the ocean at the furthest point in West Africa. They have the entire ocean there and their number one economy is fishing. They are fisherman and they know how to fish. They will go out in the evening and it’s beautiful to see—the boats go out and they come back in the morning with the catch, and they either have fish or they don’t have fish. I guess it depends on the weather—I don’t know what, but they fish very much like they did in Jesus’ day except they have motors on their boats. They go out and come back in the morning, and this is what happened in this story in Luke—it’s talking about fishermen. Now Jesus had borrowed a boat, so to speak, and these guys were not his disciples yet—He had not called anyone. He was standing there and the people crowded around him because he could heal people. He had crowds all of the time so what he did was borrow the boat that he could step into and pushed it off from the shore a little bit so that everyone could hear what he had to say when he shared with them. So he’s standing in the boat afterwards and he says to the fishermen, ‘Why don’t you go out deeper?’ Well, number one, Jesus was not a fisherman—he’s a carpenter’s son, right? What does he know about fishing? And he’s telling these fishermen, ‘Hey you guys, just go out deeper.’ The fishermen were discouraged. They were out all night. There’s no fish (caught) right now. What a waste. They didn’t say that though…instead, when Jesus told them to go out farther, they said, ‘because you say so, I will let down my nets.’ He was going to out farther and put out his nets ‘because you say so.’
You know, that is why Doug and I took on that assignment because Jesus said so. We trusted Jesus. We asked God to show us what He was doing. We knew that God was already in Senegal. God is everywhere and He loves those Wolof people as much as He loves me, the Irish. We knew God was working there so we asked Him to show us what are you doing here—who are You speaking to? Which people are seeking You? Show us those people; because God says ‘If you seek Me, you will find Me.’ They just haven’t gotten the chance to hear. It was then that we noticed that no one had been working with professional people. Everyone—all of the missions—were working with the poor, which is the vast majority of the people in West Africa. We talk in the United States about the 2 percent who are millionaires. It’s probably less than two percent there, but nobody was working with the professional class, in other words, the educated people—the college professors. Very few people—only 20 percent of the people in Senegal can read—have been to school at all. So the group of educated people is very influential. If you have an education—we’re thinking if a Wolof man came to the Lord who was a professional—what an influence he would have. They’re not listening to anybody else—the Wolof, no, but one of their own people. So that was our focus. You know that one reason that we missionaries tend not to work with professional people is because it is very intimidating. It’s very intimidating but there’s many ways to show the love of Christ to the poor—many ways. You can give them malaria medicine. You can help get someone’s child get to school—pay their tuition. You can give coats…there are so many things you can do. What can you do for someone that has more money than you do, and more education than you do? That’s intimidating, isn’t it? But we knew they would have a great impact on the people so we assigned two of these new couples after they finished their language study. They’re working with the upper class and the way they learned how to use it is people like you. We invited professionals from the United States to come out and share what they knew. Whatever profession they had—if they sold houses, they would come out and teach that profession. We introduced them into the university and got them invitations, because, you see, they love America. Everyone in Senegal’s goal in life is to play basketball in the United States (laughing) or to get their kids into universities there. They love Americans, and so it’s a draw in just the fact that we’re Americans, and we had many opportunities. Everyone wants to learn English, because how are you going to go to the university in the United States if you don’t know English—and many of the banks there require English—it’s the universal language. Chinese is another language that’s good to know. Did you know that? So there was an opportunity to teach English—we’ve sent couples there. Two of the couples are working with business as mission—and what they do is set up little seminars—translate the stuff into the language of the people that are there and let businessmen come out and let them teach what they know. And we’ve had people from every level and from every school come out and help in this way.