Hinson Memorial Baptist Moves Forward with the Digo
In the April-May 1991 issue of Mission Frontiers we told the story of the adoption of the Digo people by Hinson Memorial Baptist of Portland Oregon. In this article we present an update on the progress of this adoption.
Although Hinson Memorial Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon, has gone through some internal challenges over the past few years, their commitment to their adopted people, the Digos of southwestern Africa, is firm and bearing fruit. For the Digo, a Muslim group of some 150,000 who live along the coast of Kenya as well as in the neighboring nation of Tanzania, are beginning to turn to the Lord in response to the prayers of several hundred believers around the world, many of whom attend Hinson Memorial.
According to Garry Morgan, a member of Hinson who has served as a missionary among the Digo for the past 10 years with Conservative Baptist International, the church officially adopted the tribe in the latter part of the 1980s under the terms of the denomination's "Focus on a People" program, C.B.I.'s counterpart to the movement more widely known globally as the Adopt-a-People concept.
The congregation largely opted to champion that particular tribe because Morgan was known by them and a relationship had been established. "It was a personal angle...After all, I had grown up at Hinson," Morgan recalled. "We felt it was important to select a people group with a natural link to our church through some of our own missionaries. This would greatly reduce the time and effort needed to explain and promote the project to the church," explained Ed Edwards, associate pastor of the church's intercultural ministries. "We determined that the Digos would be the most responsive to the ministry our church could offer," he added.
That ministry included defining responsibilities and setting goals for reaching the Digo, a long-term process which the church realized would require serious commitment in terms of prayer, educating its congregation about the group's spiritual and felt needs, supporting missionaries and nationals on the field, and, hopefully, sending additional members to visit and/or serve as time and opportunity allowed.
For the first few years the church's direct involvement in the tribe included providing scholarship monies for a Digo Christian to train at a Bible school in Kenya. A team from Hinson's singles class spent the summer of 1988 assisting a church-planting team there, and one of
these members returned in the summer of 1990 to gather fresh information on the progress of the ministry, Edwards noted. In addition, interest for and involvement in the project was generated in the church's members by various approaches, including media presentations, the distribution of brochures on Digo history and culture, and a regular update in the monthly news bulletin.
"The Hinson congregation was enthusiastic about the program from the very first. Having one of our own members directly involved in the ministry was a great encouragement. Prior to this program, no one knew what a "Digo" was. It took much education and promotion to increase the awareness and understanding of our congregation. As long as the missions committee [kept] the Digo ministry in front of our eyes, our people [were] supportive of the effort," Edwards said. Then, although "the adoption went fine into the early 90s, the church went through a difficult time and focused inward for a while. The Digo dropped out of sight for the church as a Body, although individual support continued," Morgan recalled. "It was not a conscious rejection," he hastened to add of the church's temporary lapse of corporate support for the program. "It just sort of faded out."
Then, two things happened that caused the church's sense of purpose to be renewed. The Morgan family, consisting of Garry, wife Connie and 8-year-old daughter Kristina, came home on furlough last August; and a newsletter focusing specifically on the needs of the Digo was started and began to enjoy a wide circulation among those who had truly been touched by God's heart for this people group whose lives have not yet been impacted by the gospel.
This latter development began when a CBI couple, sensing a burden for the Digo, began mailing a monthly bulletin in 1993 to a selected list of people who indicated their desire and willingness to intercede daily for this people group. During 1994 knowledge of the existence of this strategic publication--which could help believers target their prayers effectively--grew, and today some 300-350 believers regularly bombard Heaven on behalf of the Digo.
"I believe much of the fruit we are seeing this past year can be attributed to the increase in prayer generated by this," Morgan said. The results to which he refers includes the baptism of 18 Digo believers last November, of which he recently learned in a letter from the field. "This about doubles the congregation!" he exclaimed, referring to the number of Christians who make up two small churches spread over three Kenyan villages located within a few miles of one another. "We have a membership of 32, all but two of whom have converted from Islam within roughly the last three years."
There are more believers in neighboring Tanzania, where a strong German Lutheran church had been established at the end of the 18th century and which existed until the first world war, Morgan noted. However, no missionaries are currently serving there among the Digo and in all he is aware of 78 such converts, most of whom are related to at least one other person figured among that number, although no whole families have come in as complete units.
And now that the Morgans are home on a year-long furlough, the church is looking at creative ways to begin renewing their involvement with their adopted group. Such avenues have included holding a cultural- awareness event last fall which featured videos and slides, as well as food and indigenous crafts, etc., of the African tribe. The family has also been interviewed during a regular morning service. "But they would like to do more. They would at least like to send a summer team next year," Morgan explained, adding that the church has made it a priority to maintain him and his family financially, even when it was experiencing difficulties. "They've done well...and we're seeing the fire rekindled as they've decided to take advantage of our being here."