Talibe boys the focus of ministry in Senegal

By September 28, 2006

Senegal (BP/MNN) — The talibe (pronounced TAL-ee-bay) means ‘student.’ The word comes from the same Arabic root word as ‘Taliban.’ But, for Muslim boys in Senegal they are the talibe. They live away from home, studying the Koran, Islam’s holy book, and begging for their existence.

Thousands of ragged talibes wander the streets of Senegal. Community leaders push to end the talibe system from time to time, but it remains entrenched in Senegalese Muslim society. Some talibes are treated relatively well by their teachers; others are neglected or worse.

Many parents say they do this for religious reasons, but the reality is they do it because of the extreme poverty.

The Southern Baptist International Mission Board is doing something about it. IMB missionaries Cal McIntire and David and Cheryl Johnson are reaching out to them. They did so recently with a group of student volunteers from Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo.

They providing new foam sleeping pallets, new clothing, and treated diseased skin. More importantly, they just loved the boys with hugs, piggy back rides, and other fun.

As good as such ministry feels, it’s not just feel-good ministry. McIntire is the missionary strategy coordinator for the 150,000 Lebou (LAY-boo) people of West Africa, who live mostly in Senegal. Islamic and traditionally fishermen, the Lebou settled centuries ago in the coastal peninsula, where bustling Dakar now sits. More than 18,000 of them live in Yoff.

Through working with the talibes-who have special significance to the greater community-and other children’s ministries, McIntire and his co-workers have won many Lebou friends in Yoff. On this day, at least 10 neighborhood residents passing by pronounce blessings on the missionaries and volunteers for helping the talibes.

“We ‘love on’ the kids in order to share Jesus with the parents,” McIntire explains. “We’re able to come in and do more of what we want to do after we do something like this. The people here know we care about them.”

There are only a handful of Christian believers among the Lebou so far, but the first Lebou home fellowship began earlier this year — in Yoff. McIntire hopes to see four or five more meeting by the end of this year.

One day, the talibes may be liberated from their service. Meanwhile, the Lebou are hearing about the liberating love of Christ.

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