Like a belt separating the northern part of Chad from the southern, the “Border Peoples” of Chad divide the predominantly Muslim north from the non-Muslim south. Comprising a multitude of smaller ethnic groups, the border peoples have had many evangelical churches planted among them. TEAM is working with these churches to insure their long term viability. We focus especially on the discipleship of church leaders and helping these churches to reach their youth and their children with the gospel.
Mark and Diane Vanderkooi
The Tandjile Initiative seeks to ensure the long term viability of the evangelical churches among the Border Peoples of Chad through the discipleship of leadership and the promotion of ministries to youth and children.
A Quick Look at the Tandjilé initiative
As one moves north through central Africa into Chad and approaches the more arid regions bordering on the Sahara desert, one passes through a series of medium sized tribes with populations numbering the hundreds of thousands. These are the tribes among which the first missionaries to Chad began their work in the early years of the 20th century and where now nearly 100 years later, the church is the strongest and most resilient. Perhaps a hundred miles north of these tribes is the invisible line in the sand which marks the southernmost extent of the Islamic advance from across the Sahara desert.
Sandwiched between these two monoliths in that 100 mile “no-man’s land” are the Border Peoples – a collection of very small tribes which typically occupy territories of not more than 20 to 40 miles in extent, and have populations in the range of 10 to 50 thousand. Each of these tribes has its own language, and each language is unintelligible to its neighbors.
In Chad, the Border Peoples stretch in a 300 mile band across southwestern part of the country, the main part of which falls in what is called Tandjilé Province, or more commonly “The Tandjilé.” There are 14 languages in this region. Some of them have been Islamized during the last century, but fortunately, most have not. Almost all of them have had churches planted among them by evangelists from the larger Christian tribes to their south and they have remained resistant to the well-funded organizations dedicated to making these areas completely Muslim. However, the churches in this region are quite weak and whether they can long endure in the face of Islam, secularism, and a resurgent interest in their animistic roots is an open question.
TEAM-Chad’s intimate familiarity with the Tandjilé and its close relationship with the Chadian national church leadership in the area make it ideally suited to the task of strengthening these churches so they endure for centuries to come – something TEAM is committed to. So what is TEAM doing to make this happen? This initiative is distinguished by the following elements:
1. We focus on personal discipleship and devotion to Christ. A long history of theological education with an insufficient emphasis on discipleship is in some measure responsible for the present-day weakness of the church. This focus on discipleship includes the pastors, women, children and youth.
2. We focus especially on the discipleship of pastors and the mid-level management of the national church. The distances involved, the multitude of languages, and the sheer numbers of people involved make this the most strategic deployment of expatriate time and talent. Presently, one experienced missionary is moving especially into this role.
3. We seek to build into our teaching the clear expectation that the gospel must be deliberately transmitted to the next generation of believers. There is presently far too little conscientious transmission of the Gospel to Tandjilé children and youth and the long term viability of the church is at risk for this, if for no other reason. The recruitment of missionaries to instill in the churches of the Tandjilé a seriousness about the training of their children is a priority.
4. When God raises up linguistically capable missionaries, we seek to engage with the tribes of the Tandjilé in the translation of Scripture and the production of other spiritual resources for the different languages in question.Presently, one couple is working full-time in this capacity with the Kwong people.
5. FM Radio is proving an ideal way to overcome the distances involved and mitigate the linguistic challenges inherent in an area with so many languages and so much illiteracy. One such station is already operational and there are plans for two more if personnel and resources are forthcoming.