‘They are used to hearing stories’

The nomadic Tamajaq (also known as the Tuareg) live in the Sahara Desert and the Sahel regions of Algeria, Libya, Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso.

The Tamajaq are related to the Berbers of North Africa with a culture dating back 1,000 years.

Tamajaq man
‘The Blue Men of the Sahara Desert’. Image credit, Pixaby, Denis Doukhan

The men are known as ‘The Blue Men of the Sahara Desert’ because of the distinctive indigo blue veils they wear and during the rainy season, they move camp every three to four days in search of grazing for their livestock.

During the dry season, they move to find water, but prefer to stay in the vicinity of their ‘home territory’.

Andrawes* and his wife joined the SIM Niger team in 1999, where he spent many years helping to translate the New Testament into the Tamajaq language, which was published in 2016.

Niger is a landlocked country, where 80% of the land is desert and the heat can be so intense that rain often vaporises at it falls. The life expectancy at birth in Niger is 41 and 12% of all babies die before their first birthday and most of the population is under 17 years’ old.

The Tamajaq live in family groups within tents of wooden poles covered with goat hide

Today, Andrawes focuses on helping the good news take root in the heart of his people and to help remote believers grow in their faith.

One way is through his audio ministry that involves recording the gospel and making it available on SD cards to use on mobile phones and solar-powered Mega Voice radios.

“The Tamajaq live in an oral society, with an extremely low literacy rate,” he explains, “and being nomadic and semi-nomad, it’s easy to understand why probably less than ten per cent of Tamajaq people can read.

“They are used to hearing stories being told and listen intently, taking everything in; which is why we focus on helping them hear the good news in their own language so it can enter their hearts and make a real impact on their lives.

“We distribute micro SD cards and Mega Voice radios with gospel messages and the Tamajaq New Testament recorded on them; knowing these recordings will reach where we can’t go and be heard by hundreds, if not thousands of people, for whom this may be the only way to hear the good news about Jesus.

“We also proclaim the gospel through radio broadcasts on five radio stations, 15 times a week across Niger and receive occasional calls from our listeners to express their appreciation. Over the years, a good number of Tamajaq, certainly into the hundreds by now, have used their own money to call us, to tell us how much they love these messages. Some of them have encouraged us, to keep broadcasting these messages.”

The Tamajaq Ministry seeks to:

  • Share the good news of Jesus with the Tamajaq using audio and visual forms of communication.
  • Care for people’s health and help with community development.
  • Plant and strengthen the church among new believers.

Fifteen years ago, SIM helped set up a church in the main town nearest Tahoua (Niger’s fourth largest city) which is led by Andrawes’ friend, a Tamajaq pastor called Gad*.

Pastor Gad shares the gospel with two young men during his visit to their village

Pastor Gad (pictured) regularly visits three villages on his motorbike, which was bought by SIM supporters, spending time building relationships and explaining the gospel.

“Pastor G1 continues to be ‘salt and light’ in the north,” says Andrawes. “Recently, he spent four days in a new village and told me, ‘The problem with our people is ignorance. False teaching has been sowed in their head, so they have difficulty understanding anything contrary to this teaching. Therefore we have to go slowly, teaching them bit by bit the truth about Jesus.’

“He asked us to pray particularly for three men in that village with whom he spent time explaining the gospel. One of of them later called to tell him that he couldn’t stop thinking about the conversation he’d had with him.”

When working in one of the world’s poorest countries, it’s impossible to ignore the hardship people are going through every day.

Human needs are overwhelming in Niger’s poor and remote communities and why Andrawes also seeks to serve the Lord among the Tamajaq through practical support.

“Access to any sort of health care is almost non-existent and the nearest medical centre is up to 40 miles away and only accessible by a motorbike, or on a donkey,” he explains.

“Because of little faith in the health centre, coupled with lack of education and money for treatment, people tend to treat themselves with traditional medicine first – including prayers from the local Muslim priest. When this doesn’t work, for obvious reason, they travel to a medical centre, but by then, their body is weak and their system doesn’t respond well to treatment.”

Thanks to the generous giving of SIM supporters, Andrawes and his SIM colleagues run several community development programmes, including supplying farmers with millet from the SIM Grain Bank and providing one meal a day for schoolchildren in the poorest villages.

“Niger may be a hot place, but it can get relatively cold, especially for people who are not prepared for it, so last year, we also distributed blankets and soap to the two schools we are supporting,” he adds.

“We hope to be able to do more in the area of education, beyond just offering a daily meal, as we all know that education is the key to any social and economic development.”

Pupils enjoy their meals

“Malaria is also a huge health problem for the communities where our ministry is and abundant rain means more mosquitos. Since the flooding crisis of summer 2020, more people are getting malaria, especially children,” says Andrawes.

“After many years, we are now by God’s grace, seeing our work bear fruit,” says Andrawes, “and we are extending our outreach into the Agadez region, which is an exciting ministry opening for me. I recently joined a pastor from Agadez to meet a group of men who were very welcoming and said they were Christians. This is amazing and now these new believers need teaching to grow in their faith.

“We also have two projects planned, including setting up a Tamajaq-speaking Bible school and a regional Bible school.

“Planting and strengthening the church is our ultimate goal and although we’re unsure of what church will look like, we give thanks to the Lord that he is working among the Tamajaq.”

*Pseudonym used

By Kerry Allan

Please pray

  • Praise the Lord for Andrawes’ audio ministry in Niger and the gentle spiritual awakening, SIM is witnessing in the Agadez region.
  • That the small Tamajaq Church will rise to the challenge of taking the gospel to their people.
  • For workers from Niger or other parts of Africa to go and serve among the Tamajaq.

This was posted on 9 January 2024 in Bible access and Compassionate ministries and Ministry stories.
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