SPLENDORA, Texas ? In the four years since Lori Smith started at United Baptist Church in Splendora, Texas, the church has participated in mission endeavors to 12 different countries, spanning four different continents. The church has reached Ecuador, Zambia, Australia, the Ivory Coast, Poland, and Honduras to name a few. But it is the Dogon people group of Mali in West Africa that has captured the heart of Smith and United Baptist church members. Located northeast of Houston and Kingwood, Texas, the 600 members of United Baptist Church seek to span the globe with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Our desire is to take it to the ends of the earth and that is in every place,” Smith said, missions ministries director at United, who recently returned from Jamaica, where she led a team of 18 to begin Vacation Bible Schools and reach out to a girls’ home.
Walter Kahler, senior pastor of United, said he has been amazed at the church’s response to missions needs because United “is not a huge church.”
“Last year, we had over 850 people involved in missions,” Kahler said, adding that many were from neighboring congregations. “We’re seeing that God may be moving allowing us to get other churches involved in missions as well. It’s an amazing thing.”
In 2001, Smith joined a group from the Dallas-area to investigate a possible partnership between United and missionaries currently serving in West Africa.
“I asked God to break my heart for the people there and show me what he wanted our church to do among those people groups,” Smith said, adding that they visited the Bozo, Dogon and Flami, people groups during her first trip. “But the Dogon people captured my heart.”
Smith’s trip to Mali yielded a partnership with the Dogon people aimed at building a school for them. In March of 2002, Smith led a team of 14 United Baptist members to Mali, later teaming up with other missionaries and journeymen.
The team entered the small community determined to build and complete a school facility and found the land covered in large rocks.
“For a week we broke up rocks and moved rocks and filled up gaps with rocks,” said Smith, adding that God had a plan for the week-long struggle to clear the land so a foundation could be laid. As the team worked to build a foundation for the facility, they also worked to lay a foundation on which to lay the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“In order to share the gospel, we had to build relationships. It’s a village with tons of tourists so all they know of Americans is tourists, and they aren’t the best examples of respect and how you treat others,” Smith said. “We made sure to impact them with the love of Christ by getting to know them, carrying water, feeding them lunch, and just serving them.”
Perhaps due to the team’s servant attitude, the Dogon people also sought to help their guests, often serving as guides over the country’s rough terrain.
“There is a certain age group of boys that when visitors come they attach themselves as a guide, and they help you climb up the cliffs,” Smith said. “Each one in our team had a person that would hold their hand and help them climb the rocks.”
Between the guide and the team member, Smith said a relationship often developed in which team members were often forced to find creative ways to share Christ due to language barriers.
“Watching them develop relationships with them and seeing the desperation that they wanted to share the love of Jesus,” is etched in Smith’s mind, she said.
“One woman, Rita, had a French tract, and she went through that with her little boy,” Smith recounted. “He seemingly understood it, and she found out that he was a believer. She asked him what he wanted to do when he got bigger, and he said he wanted to tell others about Christ.”
In June of 2002, a second team from United returned to Mali to continue work on the school facility seeking new ways to communicate God’s love.
United’s Youth Pastor, Forrest Coulter, tried to share the gospel with his guide, a boy named Mark. Before leaving, Coulter bought matching rings with a cross on them giving one to Mark and wearing one himself. When the second team returned in June, Coulter sent along a letter written in English outlining the plan of salvation.
“When the journeyman translated it into French, [Mark] acce