By Augustin Longa
I had just given a talk during our traditional End of year Prayer Retreat in Mubi, Nigeria. My burning desire to see the church of Jesus Christ totally committed to reaching the Unreached was vividly present throughout the talk. I still have in mind the blinking eyes of Timothy, a young and zealous man, who had come from Chad Republic to partake in what the LORD had prepared for his people during the Retreat. In the evening of that December, while enjoying the cold but dry air provided by the lovely harmattan, Timothy came to me with a striking question. He said “Augustin, I was touched by what you said, but can you help me understand why some people groups are considered reached while others are not?”. Although I had just completed a Diploma Course in Missions and Intercultural studies, you can understand with me that getting simple but practical words to answer my brother’s question was not that easy. By the help of the Lord, we finally made it. I knew we really made a step when Tim told me: “If indeed that’s what it means to be an Unreached People Group, then we have lots of them in my country Chad”. Chad had always bubbled in my heart, and hearing such a declaration sounded like a confirmation of what the Lord was leading me to do. Going beyond the surface with Tim, this simple conversation led us into the wonderful venture we are presently having with the Ruto People.
The Ruto, also known as Lutos, originated from Egypt. Their refusal to submit to the Arabs who forcefully came with Islam caused them to leave their original territory in the 18th century to settle in Ethiopia. The presence of the Ruto and many other groups from Egypt on the Ethiopian territory created great tensions between the two kingdoms. The emperor of Ethiopia, pushed by the desire to preserve peace with Egypt drove the Ruto from his land. These ones left the place and found a refuge in Sudan, all along river Nile. That was where they lived peacefully until the year 1900. That was exactly the period when Rabbah, a very committed follower of the prophet of Islam, took upon himself the challenge of Islamizing the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa (The Sudan). The Ruto were no longer safe along the Nile, they had to run for their dear lives. A good number of them found refuge in Central Africa Republic (CAR), in a town called NGUELI, others found themselves in GOURURU, a remote village in Chad and very few of them were able to migrate to the present day South Sudan.
According to statistics provided by the Joshua Project, there are 23,000 Ruto in CAR and 4,100 of them are in Chad. They are not even mentioned as an existing people group in South-Sudan. I had the privilege recently of meeting with Tony, a South-Sudanese missionary with Operation Mobilization. He told me he had never heard of such a people before. It’s funny because one of the numerous field surveys Timothy and I did revealed that the Ruto/Lutos are quite present in Tony’s country. They are living there in thousands, but under the shadow of the people groups who welcomed them after their various migrations. The Lutos in Sudan speak Arabic, those in CAR use Sango while the ones in Chad speak Ngama. The truth of the matter is that Lutos, the Ruto primary language, is almost unspoken. Very few Ruto villages have a primary school. Health facilities are almost inexistent. I met a sixty (60) year old man with an amputated leg who told me he was wounded by a bicycle some years ago. The small wound he had grown to become a cancer and his leg had to be cut-off. With tiny drops of tears in his eyes he said to me: “I am sure my leg would have been ok if you people had helped us have a small health centre in this village”.
The Ruto paramount Chief in Chad, King Abel gave us the shock of a lifetime. That day on the 25th November 2012, Tim and I were visiting him in his palace for the first time. After giving us a whole lecture on the history of his people, we had the opportunity of sharing with him the story of king Nebuchadnezzar, his exploits, his failures and also his conversion. King Abel was so touched that he picked some sand from the ground and gave it to me saying:
“Augustin, my people and I have turned our backs away from the Great God. Please take this piece of land from my hands and give it back to God. Tell Him we are sorry and that we want to serve Him henceforth”. I cannot really express what I felt that day, but all I know is that since then, a heavy burden has been dropped in our hearts and on our shoulders. It’s so heavy that we can’t carry it alone.
We have done some little progress among the Ruto. We were able to have Timothy intentionally trained to pioneer the work among the Ruto.
Who could have imagined that Timothy’s innocent question one casual evening in 2011 could lead us where we are today? You won’t believe it. Timothy, his wife Abigail and their 4 kids were able to move from their hometown to Maro (A strategic Ruto town) with the aim of seeing God answering King Abel’s desire through their lives. We strongly trust God to launch, through CDMF’s work among the Ruto, an outstanding church planting movement in the entire Ruto Nation, starting from Chad and moving gradually to CAR and South-Sudan. We even intend to create before the end of 2015 a Bible Institute (Institut Biblique du Sahel-IBS) at Sido, the most important Ruto town in Chad. IBS mission will be to provide Bible knowledge and Leadership skills to emerging indigenous leaders among the Ruto and in neighbouring unreached people groups we intend to reach in the future. Central Africa Missions Outreach-CAMO is a huge project, intending to mobilize, train and send church planters so that by 2025, every single unreached people group in the Central African sub-region, South-Sudan and Sao Tomé (8 countries in all) will be holistically engaged. In CAMO, we believe great things don’t always start big. The work among the Ruto is just a tiny step compared to the huge work that is still to be done within the Central African Sub-Region.