This past month I had the privilege to be a part of a project team serving the Beer Sheba Project to design a primary school and teacher training center in Sandiara, Senegal. The name Beer Sheba means “well of the oath” or “well of seven” and comes from the location on the southern end of Israel on the edge of the Negev desert where Abraham dug a well and had it stolen by the Philistines. To secure his ownership of the well, Abraham gave Abimelek seven lambs (hence the meaning of the name). Beer Sheba is a barren land where water is scarce and Abraham’s well helped provide life and sustenance to the people and the land. Similarly, Senegal is on the edge of the Saharan desert and the Beer Sheba Project began on barren land where water was scarce. The property where Eric Toumieux began the Beer Sheba Project was given to him because the locals believed this land had been cursed. Eric will tell you that the best land a follower of Christ can find in this part of Africa is cursed land. They will literally give it to you and at the same time you possess the cure for the curse.
When Eric acquired this land (unlike when Abraham moved into the region of the Negev) he started by praying over it and building a fence around the property (to invite the presence of God and to keep any Abimelek’s from coming in and causing a dispute). The spiritual and physical barrier served as his oath to the surrounding communities that this property was now set apart for God’s purposes. After this, a miraculous thing occurred. The land inside the fence started to produce vegetation! Eric also had well drillers come out to the property who told him there was no use trying because they wouldn’t be able to get water in this area. Eric told them to drill anyways and sure enough, they hit a large aquifer.
They began to plant trees and crops and raise livestock and they are now using this site for biblically-based agricultural training and production. In addition to the Kingdom building work they were doing and sending from this property, they didn’t realize the impact they were having on the surrounding environment until a group of bird watchers showed up with TV cameras from Europe. They claimed that not only was this property the home of hundreds of bird species, but it had actually affected the migratory patterns of the endangered turtledove!
The population of Senegal is over 90% Muslim, but unlike some of its neighboring countries in west Africa it is very tolerant of other faiths and is a very peaceful nation. Peace is of tremendous value to the Senegalese. In fact, the local greetings in Wolof and Serer can last for several minutes and greatly consist of ensuring that the other person has peace. Still there are challenges for Christian ministries in Senegal and God has protected the Beer Sheba Project from assault on several occasions. Protection has even come from the surrounding Muslim community who recognizes the good work they are doing for the people of Senegal. As a testimony to the good work that they and other Christians are doing in Senegal, the government openly supports and encourages the development of Christian schools around the country. They have a very high regard for the quality of Christian education.
This is no exception in Sandiara. The Beer Sheba Project has built a great relationship with the local government and they are providing land for Beer Sheba to build another agricultural demonstration area in the main part of town as well as a piece of land for a primary school and teacher training center (that we are currently designing). Beer Sheba has also acquired another piece of cursed land on the main highway coming into town where Eric envisions building a restaurant sourced by the Beer Sheba Project. God is doing and has plans to do even more incredible things through Beer Sheba in Senegal!
Another thing that struck me about the name Beer Sheba was its significance throughout the Bible. It is not often taught about or thought of, but many revelations from God occurred in Beer Sheba and many journeys of faith began or ended at Beer Sheba. Those included Abraham, Hagar, Isaac, Jacob, and Elijah. For the nation of Israel it is the southern border and is mentioned many times as a boundary description or a place where the people of Israel settled after being in exile. I began to wonder why God would choose to use such a barren place on the edge of the desert as a place of Biblical significance. What I didn’t expect was to have my own Beer Sheba moment while on this trip to the edge of the Sahara.
My participation in this design project was supplementary to my primary reason for being in Senegal. With the launch of EMI’s west Africa office in Senegal, I was interested to see how we could partner and participate in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) projects from this office. This project provided a great opportunity for me to do this and spend some time visioning with some of the office launch team. While I was hoping to make a few beneficial connections with ministries in Senegal and get a better understanding of what WASH would look like in Senegal, I did not have high expectations for projects or clear direction to come from this exploratory trip. However, God had other things in mind. I left the desert with a clear picture of what God wants to do through EMI in WASH and specifically in Senegal. I even left having identified a potential WASH project near where the office will be launched. I look forward to sharing more about this vision and future WASH projects in Senegal as things begin to take shape. For now I know that I have heard from God and a new journey of faith is beginning.
And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith. Matthew 21:22