Missionary in Africa Talks Outreach Efforts, Challenges

Lee Sonius, sub-Saharan Africa for Reach Beyond, helps train the future staff of the first radio station planting in this Kenyan district on May 9, 2015. Reach Beyond has planted five Christian radio stations in Kenya and 100 stations throughout Africa. (Reach Beyond)

A missionary project leader who works on the frontlines in Africa credits rapid advances in technology and communication for changing the way the Gospel is shared with unreached people, but fears terrorism is becoming a rising obstacle for Christian missions.

"The biggest changes have come in the area of technology and communication. The world has become so much smaller and far more interconnected because of cell phone technology, computers, and social media," said Lee Sonius, director of sub-Saharan Africa at Reach Beyond, a Colorado Springs-based ministry to the unreached, in an interview with The Christian Post.

"When we first started out as missionaries almost 30 years ago, we were still writing letters back and forth to the U.S. which would have a turn around time of two to three weeks minimum," Sonius added, noting that phone calls from the U.S. to Africa would cost a minimum of $5 per minute, while now there are a number of ways to speak for free on Skype and plenty of other social media platforms.

"These technological changes have also given us far more ways to proclaim the Gospel. You can now livestream a 'radio station' almost for free and without a license over the Internet. Podcasting is also another way to get short messages across," he continued.

"Handheld chip recorders and playing devices are also a VERY good way to get the Gospel to people. People in Africa who can't read and write and come from a oral culture, can also have access to God's Word as they can listen to the Bible in their own language."

Sonius has been with Reach Beyond for 18 years, living and serving in Ghana, but has also spent a number of years in the Ivory Coast and a host of other countries in the West African region. He has specialized in planting radio stations, working through global initiatives and global partners in efforts to spread the Gospel, but in the last six years the organization has also branched out into more holistic efforts, including healthcare.

Part of these efforts include sending medical teams to go into rural villages in West Africa where they carry out healthcare outreach, while on the development side, they build water projects in villages to provide access to clean water.

"I'm really excited about the water projects we are involved in, because we would put in a well in a village that previously did not have access to clean water, and they were getting water from wherever they could get it, such as rain water or just going through a swamp," he said.

"When you put a well in, and actually provide clean drinking water, it completely transforms the life of a village. It cuts down sickness, it cuts down things like cholera, and water-born diseases, and also in some villages it has lowered the death rate."

Sonius also reflected on the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak that spread primarily throughout Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, leading to over 11,000 deaths in total, and affecting many ministries along the way.

The Reach Beyond regional director said that ministry efforts were greatly affected by the outbreak. A medical team was scheduled to go into Sierra Leone in March 2014, the month that the Ebola crisis really began hitting the news, but those plans were forced to change.

He said that after much thinking and praying, they decided to cancel the medical outreach team, and instead got involved in a program called Bucket Brigade.

"We raised money to have a local partner provide buckets to people in neighborhoods that were filled with all kinds of things to help combat Ebola. In the bucket there were things like hand sanitizer, bleach solution, food items, protective gear like gloves, so the bucket was filled with all kinds of small items," he explained.

Thousands of these buckets were handed out, which he said had a huge impact, especially in Sierra Leone, in helping people battle the deadly virus.

As for the biggest challenges in the missionary field over the last few decades, he pointed to civil war, unrest, riots, and political turmoil that have created many difficulties, especially in the country of Liberia.

"Ebola was a big obstacle for almost one full year. Infrastructural problems like lack of electricity and running water even in big cities is also an issue," he said.

"However, I think recently, just over the last few years, terrorism is becoming a big problem in Africa, with groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria and al Shabab in Kenya. Security issues constantly have to be in the forefront of our thinking and planning."

Reach Beyond is one of the groups that makes up the "Alliance for the Unreached," which is calling on churches, radio stations, media and individual believers to make a special effort to reach out to people on May 15 -- the International Day for the Unreached.

Major evangelical leaders are joining in the project, including Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, with the hope of reaching out to more than 2 billion people around the world who have yet to hear the Gospel, and minister to them on that day.

Sonius pointed out that there are dozens of unreached people groups across Africa, including the Nomadic Tribes in the Sahel Region in West Africa.

"My hope is that the IDU will really raise awareness in the Western Church (Developed World) for the plight of these groups. If the only thing that came out of IDU was a major prayer campaign for the unreached, it would be worth it," he said.

"I was very happy to be on the task force for IDU, because I live and work on the 'front-lines' in Africa and see the need to reach these groups with the Gospel."

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