They seemed impossible to reach. Twice, missionaries from the West tried and failed to penetrate this spirit-worshiping group in northern Nigeria. Both missions eventually acknowledged defeat and left. The Gwandará people were totally unresponsive.
Then a team of missionaries from the Evangel Missionary Society (EMS) of Nigeria heard God’s call to the Gwandará, with whom they share a common language, Hausa. They received permission from the local elders to live there with their families and cultivate the land. Gradually the local people grew to trust the newcomers; then they revealed that in “deep Hausa” their name was not simply Gwandará but “Gwandará-wara.” What was the difference? The addition of “wara” describes “a people who prefer to dance.” The ancient story-tellers explained:
Early in the nineteenth century, this group had resisted conversion to Islam (even at sword point) in favor of their animistic worship which included dancing. And that is how they became known as “the people who prefer to dance.” The EMS missionaries applied the best missiological thinking. They asked themselves, “How does this new information shape our communication? How might we present the gospel of Jesus to these people who so love to dance?”
Thus was born a unique vision for missionary work. They would dance the Word of God to the Gwandará-wara people! Appropriate rhythms and movements began to unveil the Creator and His redemption. The stories of the Old Testament led to stories of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The Holy Spirit used the Gospels and the book of Acts, by means of dance, to break through spiritual barriers; and the first converts turned to Jesus Christ.
Today the church is established among the Gwandará-wara people. Starting a century ago, God chose to use SIM to establish His church in Nigeria, and now that church is sending its own people as missionaries to new places. Some of them are first generation believers. All of them serve at great personal cost and with remarkable effectiveness.