The sound of a computer booting up echoes throughout the house. Lori Funderburk hardly notices the familiar noise as she sips her cup of tea next to the monitor and settles in to work.
The sound of a computer booting up echoes throughout
the house. Lori Funderburk hardly notices the familiar noise as she
sips her cup of tea next to the monitor and settles in to work.
Funderburk, an International Mission Board
missionary and former member of Calvary Baptist Church in New Orleans,
lives in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, but works with the Banta Themne people
group of Sierra Leone. She is the strategy coordinator for a unique
team — a “virtual missions” team — whose members live around the world.
The computer and Internet make this type of team a
reality as Funderburk uses e-mail to keep in touch. Today’s message to
team members is a little different than usual. The ministry is coming
to a close. So, Funderburk writes, “We have certainly had a purpose
over these last six years, haven’t we?”
She recruited “ordinary” American housewives to be
members of this virtual missions team. All five women — Funderburk,
Mary Sanders, Earline Ellis, Lou Ann East and Donisa Page — once were
members of Calvary Baptist Church.
Funderburk wrote letters asking them to join God in
bringing the Banta Themne of Sierra Leone to faith in Jesus Christ.
“Are you praying?” she asked in the first letter.
“If not, stop and do so now. I’m not good at statistics and numbers,
but there are still lots of people who have little or no access to the
Funderburk then told the women about a small people
group, the Banta Themne, who live in northern Sierra Leone — and who
had no known Christians among them. The women were already familiar
with Sierra Leone since Funderburk and her family had originally been
missionaries there. The family was forced to leave when a 10-year civil
As strategy coordinator, Funderburk explained that
this team was experimental. Missionaries cannot go to a lot of places
because of war and rebel activity, but Christians still have a
responsibility to find a way to minister to those people. From the very
beginning, prayer would be the main means of ministry for Lori’s team.
Members would communicate through constant letters and e-mail.
“It all seemed too simple,” Sanders says from her
home in Kingwood, Texas. “It isn’t a great sacrifice to pray from the
comfort of my home. But, the fruit of concerted prayers is amazing — we
are all missionaries.”
The team gathered information about the Banta Themne
from Internet searches and interviews with people from Sierra Leone.
Eighty-year-old Earline Ellis even bought a computer so
she could do research from her Louisiana home. The first two years of
the ministry was totally based on prayer and research.
Then the team enlisted nearly 3,000 prayer warriors.
Sanders says there is no way to tell how many people were praying,
since most of the prayer warriors read the weekly prayer points in
their Sunday School classes.
Churches from all over the United States helped by
producing prayer brochures, prayer calendars and prayer cards. Sanders’
own church adopted the Banta Themne as their special people group for
Wednesday night prayers.
“All I knew about the Banta Themne in the beginning
was that they were completely unchurched,” Page says. “It’s hard to
believe that through prayer I ended up loving and caring for a group of
people that I would most likely have never met. Prayer is a mighty and
While the stateside team focused on prayer support,
Funderburk began encouraging a church in Freetown, Sierra Leone, to
help reach the Banta Themne with the gospel. The Funderburk family had
been members of Hope Baptist Church there before the war.
“We cannot reach West Africans like West Africans
can,” Funderburk says. “I knew there were people in Sierra Leone who
could do this ministry with a little bit of encouragement and a lot of
prayer support. They needed to learn they were the missionaries, and
it’s their responsibility to reach the lost.”
Hope Baptist responded to the challenge. Church
member Donald Conteh discovered the majority of the Banta Themne had
been driven off their land by rebels and lived in a refugee camp for
Conteh became fast friends with a Banta Themne chief, and that opened the door for sharing the gospel.
After the Banta Themne returned to their homeland,
volunteers from Hope Baptist teamed up with Americans to prayerwalk
through Banta Themne villages. They met Muslim village elders there who
encouraged them to come back.
“Many people want Jesus here,” one Muslim elder told the team. “But they don’t know the way.”
Soon, Hope Baptist sent a home missionary to the
area. As he traveled sharing the gospel, he heard many people say: “We
have heard of Christianity, but we didn’t think it was important
because no one had come to tell us.”
In less than two years, more than 300 Banta Themne have left Islam and become followers of Jesus.
“The home missionary found an open door everywhere
he went — he even preaches inside of mosques,” Funderburk says. “That’s
only possible because of the years of prayer that prepared for this
Now, six years after that first handwritten letter,
Funderburk writes the final e-mail to her team and thousands of prayer
partners. Hope Baptist Church has asked to totally take over the Banta
Themne ministry. Such a request is the dream of every missionary —
handing over the work to national brothers and sisters in Christ.
“I have been totally amazed at your faithfulness to
pray for the Banta Themne,” she writes her team. “It has been an
adventure that I will never forget and am glad God led you to this
journey. I hope you realize what a part you played in the Banta Themne
hearing the gospel.
“How does it feel to know that you ‘prayed’ these unreached ones into the kingdom?”
(For more information on this Banta Themne ministry, go to http://www.peopleteams.org/banta.)