EDITOR’S NOTE: Some of the names in this story have been changed to protect the identity of missionaries in sensitive locations. The interview was conducted in French through an interpreter.
Everyday Oumar Camara goes to work in one of the most spiritually oppressed and impoverished areas in the world. Camara is a Christian evangelist working in an orphanage in a Muslim context.
Among approximately 100,000 other people, Camara speaks a language used across West Africa called Yalunka. Out of all of the major people groups in Guinea 99 percent are Muslim. There is much work to be done, and Camara has decided to become a part of it.
“This is the good road, and that is why God sent me on it,” Camara said. “I want to send others on this good road.”
The Christians in Guinea are few, but Camara comes from a family of Christians, and his faith plays a huge role in the work he does.
“Since of the time of my father’s father, we have been following Jesus,” he said, speaking French through an interpreter. “So, I also decided to follow Jesus immediately. That is why I want to continue in the work of Jesus.”
Camara said he chose to follow Jesus because of the power of prayer.
“When I pray through the name of Jesus, on that day I get food to eat, and I get answers to my prayers only that way,” he said.
One of the ways Camara serves is through an orphanage and formula distribution program. In Guinea, when a mother dies in childbirth, it is quite often that the baby will die.
There is no knowledge of formula or bottle feeding, and within the culture, a woman will not breastfeed another woman’s baby.
The prevalence of this situation is what led to a program for the distribution of formula to be created.
“Whenever a kid is born nearby us that doesn’t have a mother, I will go and do the visits to the house,” Camara said. “I will go and take the formula to the family of the baby.
“I will check in on the children, to make sure they are healthy, and if there is illness I will give the parents advice on how to treat it,” he said. “If I have medicine, I will help them with that.”
David Smith, a local missionary who has known Camara since he was a child, sees how unique of a type of service Camara is providing in this context.
“He’s really a kind of neat, soft-hearted Yalunka man,” Smith said. “While I was there, he was holding one of the babies, which is already very unusual in that context, (for a man) and the baby started crying.
“He was trying to comfort the baby, and one of the ladies that works there said to just take the baby and put it down on the bed, and he was just shocked,” Smith added. “You could tell by the look on his face.
“He said, ‘This baby? Just put him on the bed? When he’s crying? No way.’ Which I thought was really cool, and then he held the baby until he stopped crying.”
As of last year, 11 children are staying at the orphanage Camara operates, and the orphanage is providing formula to more than 140 babies.
With any project like this comes many logistical issues.
“The other day a woman called me on the phone, and she said ‘the kid’s crying a lot, I don’t know what to do,’” Camara said. “So, I got some medicine, some formula, some bottles and I took a taxi to a certain distance.
“I then got out and had to take a different taxi, because some of these mothers are a long ways off, and so the second taxi takes me to another place and then I’ve got some distance to walk after that,” he said.
“So, the amount of money I spend on transportation costs is almost more than the money I have to spend on food,” he added. “Getting enough food for the kids is one problem, because there is a lot of them, and then the second is getting the food to the kids.”
Smith knows that the work Camara is doing to take care of orphans in West Africa is a big challenge.
“Recently they had an outbreak of typhoid in the area that killed one of the orphans, and a total of seven orphans were hospitalized,” Smith said. “So, it’s a very challenging situation to be able to overcome.”
Despite the challenges, Camara has dreams for an area in the orphanage that could become a meeting place for Yalunka and Susu Christians in the capital.
Pointing towards a corner in the courtyard, Camara said, “We would put the benches here. For after church we would install a blackboard for the children to study the Bible on that blackboard.
“So that as the children grow, they have the Word of God,” he said. “That’s what I want. That’s what this part of the courtyard is good for. If God gives me the means.”
Another significant piece of Camara’s work is the time he spends going out to different locations reading scripture. He is currently reading with 84 people, and more people are joining him.
“When we go to talk to people, and we start to read the Bible with them, a lot of times they’ll be happy about it, they’ll rejoice about it,” Camara said. “They’ll thank us for coming and reading with them.”
Camara said he believes the contextualized method they use to approach scripture reading helps make people more accepting of the word.
“When we approach people in the beginning, we do so with the Arabic greeting Assalamu ‘Alaikum, which is a question asking, ‘Is there peace here,’” Camara said. “That greeting gets them into the mindset of, this is a religious gathering, and this is an acceptable religious thing because they started with that Arabic greeting.”
Camara also makes a point to join the community of the people they are evangelizing.
“Sometimes, if we’ve been able to get some resources, the normal thing to do is to share with people,” he said. “So, sometimes we will say to them, ‘we’ve got this little bit for you, as a way that you can take care of your children.’
“Then, that guy will tell the other people, ‘hey, these are good people. They are people who come with good words that will give you peace in this life and peace in the next,’” Camara added.
Camara said he has dreams of one day being trained, and becoming a pastor in a church.
“The work I would like to do most of all is the work of a pastor, where I am preaching to a church of people, visiting them and helping them,” Camara said. “Whatever work I could do that missionaries do that would be my favorite work of all.”
Camara would like people to be praying for the ministry he is doing, and his future as he continues to work amongst the people in Guinea.
“Be praying for the people that I am working with in these Bible studies, for them to begin to see things the way I do, and for them to draw closer to Jesus that way,” Camara said. “Pray that somehow I would be able to be trained as a competent pastor, the way I have seen other pastors in the past, which is a desire that I have had for a long time.
“Pray that there would be some way for me to be trained properly,” he said.