By Sue Sprenkle
IN BRIEF -- Bread vendors in Senegal are helping spread the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ to hundreds of people otherwise isolated from Christian witness. Vendors are wrapping their bread in paper provided by Southern Baptist missionaries. A logo on the bread wrapper qualifies the buyer to redeem it for a prize -- one of 14 different Bible stories and Bible verse memory cards in the Sereer language. As the vendors travel from village to village -- and as Sereer people pass the Bible stories among themselves -- the gospel is spreading through the people group -- more than 1 million people, most with little or no knowledge of God's love for them.
He grabs the newsprint from his mother and runs through the crowded, open-air market with his mother close behind. Cutting through a vegetable stand and then dodging some stray goats, the two finally arrive at their destination - a crowded table.
The boy pushes his way through the crowd of people and proudly says to the man sitting at the table, "Here's my paper. I am here for my prize." His mother quickly adds that they want prize number four.
Songo Faye looks up the family's name, enters the redeemable newsprint in the record book and hands them the coveted prize - a single Bible story written in their own language, Sereer. There are more than 1 million Sereer speakers in Senegal and Gambia. The majority have little or no access to the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.
"The Sereer want to know about God and Jesus," the evangelist says. "The Bread of Life project is making it possible for many to hear."
A picture of a loaf of bread with the words "Bread of Life" adorns the front of the newsprint. The inside print instructs participants to go to their nearest distributor for a prize. The prizes are 14 different Bible stories and Bible verse memory cards in the Sereer language.
Missionaries Phillip and Karen Brown came up with the idea for the bread wrappers after seeing their own trash used as bread wrappers at the market place. The Browns have served as missionaries in West Africa since they were appointed in 1997 by the International Mission Board, a Southern Baptist Convention agency supported by the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
"They use anything they can find to wrap up the bread," Brown says. "I watched one guy sit down and read his bread wrapper. I asked him why he was reading a piece of trash. He answered that it had words on it - so it must be read."
The Bread of Life project is a natural fit for the Sereer, especially since custom requires a person traveling to town or market to bring something home that is not available in the villages - bread.
One million wrappers were printed and distributed to bread vendors, free of charge. Sereer evangelists and pastors man the distribution booths at each market to give out the Bible stories and witness to any who will listen. There also are distribution points in different villages.
Brown says the wrappers are currently being used in 10 markets, but because each vendor attends a different market every day of the week, almost all 160 Sereer markets are receiving the wrappers.
"This just amazes me how so many people from all over Sereer land are being reached by this," he says. "The first year Karen and I were here, we spent all our time driving to get to villages and didn't make it to half of them. With this ministry, we have reached almost every village and have seen more people than we ever thought possible."
Original plans called for printing Bible stories on the bread wrappers. But the Browns opted to use a redeemable prize system because of the Sereer's respect for Scripture.
"A Muslim wouldn't put the Koran on a bread wrapper; it would be degrading to God," Brown says. "We wanted this to reach everyone, so invented a points and trading system."
After getting a bread wrapper, a Sereer turns it in for one of 14 Bible stories. The evangelists keep records on what Bible stories each person has read. The records allow them to know which villages are receiving the wrappers and returning for more. Each story also has a study sheet for each participant to fill out. When that is returned, more points are earned.
Once all 14 lessons are done, the participant has earned 50 points and the privilege of the "Jesus" film coming to his village. The evangelists make the film showing a huge celebration and bring other Christians to the village to worship.
"We don't really know how many people are responding because we aren't keeping track of numbers," Faye says. "I would say hundreds and hundreds and hundreds.
"That one Bible story paper passes through 40 or 50 hands in each village several times before the next story makes it to them," he says. "The story on paper allows them to read it, think about it and understand it. We are reaching whole households at a time."
"I've heard many of the old men say, 'If this is truly God, why is it not in our language? Our God must speak Sereer or else how could he make us?'" Brown says. "With all of our material in Sereer and the illustrations drawn by a Sereer artist, we are welcome anywhere we go."
Less than 1 percent of the Sereer are evangelical Christians while 15 percent are Catholic and 54 percent are Muslim. Missions researchers estimate 85 percent of the Sereer include animistic beliefs in their everyday religious practices.
One of the biggest struggles the Browns face is getting the Sereer to embrace Christianity as the "only" way to Christ. The tendency is to add some Christian beliefs to their traditional beliefs in Pango, a mixture of fears and superstitions.
Evangelists teach and help the people understand that ancestors and spirits do not bring the peace they are searching for. One young boy read the stories and constantly spoke with the evangelists about the Bible. After months of quizzing the pastors, the boy announced that he and his family were ready to be baptized.
"You see, many are interested in God," Faye says. "We just need to take the Word to them."