Veteran missionary Paul urged the Galatians, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9). Those words have sustained many a frontier missionary. The work of planting, nurturing and preparing for a harvest takes time, and through that time we may hear the question, and wonder ourselves, why does it take so long? When will we see the fruits of our labors? Is this investment worth it? But then, with faithful perseverance, the “proper time” comes, and what a joy it is! So it was for the AFM Susu Project the weekend of October 26-27, 2018.
On Friday the 26th, government, provincial and local leaders joined parents, students, church members, AFM representatives and a vibrant Pathfinder club for the inauguration of the new school building for the Fria Adventist Complexe Scolaire (FACS). This is the third campus of the school recognized as the Guinea’s premier private high school, providing a quality Christian education to more than 600 students, most of whom come from Muslim homes.
On Sabbath, Pastor Gbale, president of the Guinea Mission Station, officiated in the organization of the Fria congregation as a Seventh-day Adventist church. Once a handful of prayerful believers meeting in a home, this is now an energetic and evangelistic church. Joyful celebration rose in songs, sharing, preaching and the baptism of three new followers of Jesus.
In the midst of the celebration was Marc Coleman, a joyful smile on his face. Eighteen years ago, Marc and his wife Cathy, along with their young daughters Chelcie and Becca, launched their AFM mission project in Guinea, a predominantly Muslim West African country about the size of Colorado. When the Colemans arrived in Guinea in 2000, the country teetered on the brink of civil war between tribal factions. Rebels from surrounding countries already embattled in civil wars crossed the border into Guinea and fomented a volatile political climate that made mission work challenging and, at times, life-threatening.
The Colemans initially lived in Conakry, but after two years, they felt God calling them to the town of Fria, a trade center for the Susu that was built up around Africa’s first aluminum factory, Kimbo Fria (now the Aluminum Company of Guinea). The Colemans did not know the challenges that would come, including Cathy’s narrow escape from death after a wound from a monkey bite became infected and Marc’s close call with rabies, but they knew that God had brought them to that place. As they immersed themselves in their new community, God blessed them with friends who would become like family to them, and a group of Adventist believers was born. Each challenge would serve to strengthen their faith as they experienced God’s protection and providence. And, as He so often does, God used the challenges to open doors of opportunity and guide the project. A prime example of this is the school.
As the church grew, young Sabbath-keeping students were challenged by the government’s requirements to take the national exams on Saturday. Adventist students faced a seemingly impassable roadblock to advancing academically and completing high school. To solve this problem, the Colemans founded the FACS school, and Marc created a rigorous alternative exam that several countries in West Africa have accepted as valid.
Students from the Adventist schools do very well in all forms of testing, but the school’s positive reputation goes beyond academics. Those of you who have followed the Susu Project over the years will remember how, during a time when local religious leaders in the community pressed the government to shut down this Christian school, Muslim parents successfully fought for FACS, citing the high moral standards that their children were learning there.
The Susu Project exemplifies AFM’s goal not only to reach the unreached, but to equip new local believers to become disciple makers who, in turn, reach the unreached. Looking around me during the school dedication, I noted with deep satisfaction the legacy of commitment that has been passed on to these converts. There sat Fred and Isatta Coker. Marc met Fred while they were living in Conakry. Fred was a convert who had been baptized with his wife Isatta while living in a refugee camp after escaping the brutal blood-diamond war in Sierra Leone. The Cokers accompanied the Colemans as missionary interns when they moved to Fria in 2002.
Isatta knows what it means to leave the religion of your youth to follow Jesus. Raised in Islam, she met Jesus as a young woman. Though she faced strong opposition from her father, she persisted in following her Savior.
Today, the Cokers are AFM missionaries leading the Susu Project since the Colemans’ return to the States. Fred leads with a vision for evangelism, and Isatta finds great fulfillment in mentoring young believers, leading women’s Bible studies and working on development projects. She is also the accountant for FACS. Fred and Isatta are engaged in training young disciples and other couples with the goal of sending them out to start daughter and granddaughter churches.
There is another couple mentored by the Colemans and Cokers that would have loved to attend the events in Guinea but could not. George and Theresa Tooray are busily engaged as full-time AFM missionaries working among the Muslim Malinke people in Mali.
Pastor Niouma Leno, one of the first Guinean pastors in the country, was also present. Several years ago, he came to FACS as a student with the desire simply for a good education. He received much more. Young Niouma came to know Jesus and became an Adventist Christian. The opposition he faced for this decision only intensified when he made known his desire to become a pastor. When he passed the final national exam with flying colors, earning the top marks for the city of Fria, there were a number of attractive opportunities that opened up for him, but he remained true to his calling. After two years of practice teaching at FACS, he was able to study theology at Cosendai Adventist University in Cameroon with sponsorship from AFM. Today, he pastors the Fria church.
There was Joshua Toure, the locksmith, one of the earliest converts on the Susu Project. His newfound faith was tested when thieves pressured him to help them defeat locks, and they became angry when he would not. Some readers may remember that the Susu Project purchased a machine that makes blocks from compressed earth. Joshua managed the blockmaking and other aspects of the new school’s construction.
Like the Apostle Paul as he recounted the list of witnesses to the Jewish believers, we could go on and tell many more stories of the people who worked in Guinea for “. . . a better country, a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16). These include The Greenfields (now AFM missionaries in Cambodia), the Lovitts, Angel Johnson, Anneli Sigvartsen Campbell, Mary Qualls, Wendy Gonzalez, Jossé-Anne Martin, Danielle Koning; Eddie Perry; Christopher Perry; Alexandre Cooke, Ebony Daniels, Pam Seery, and several others.
With transformed lives, community service, and a growing body of believers, the Susu Project exemplifies the purpose and method of AFM’s ministry—to work hand in hand with the local leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the country, to reach indigenous people with the gospel and equip them to take over the work and advance God’s kingdom among their own people.