Last Thursday, the SIL Wolof Research Team collected the data from the last of the four cities, and therefore successfully completed the data-collection phase! This was obviously worth celebrating by getting smart, matching outfits made by the local tailor.

Prior to Thursday, we spent four days of sending out our local surveyors, helping them conduct the required number of interviews, continuing to check over their questionnaire sheets for problems to correct, and beginning to enter the data (while continuing to enter the data from the other cities). The number of needed interviews was 450. The challenges were not lacking for our research assistants in finding that many available people in this bustling capital city.

Above, we hold a small ceremony as usual to give the trained research assistants their certificates. This ceremony was special however, since it marked the end of the whole data-collection phase, and since we held it at the SIL headquarters (located in City #4). We were pleased to have local church leaders and other SIL colleagues attending, along with our trained surveyors who stood and introduced themselves one by one.

Above left, a local church leader is given the floor to address the attendees. He praised the research project and the efforts of the surveyors. As he shared, though he is only half-Wolof ethnically, he sees much potential in using this language, spoken by the majority of the country’s population, in church life. He encouraged those in attendance to take advantage of the Wolof language, in sharing the good news of Christ who have yet to hear. He urged us to go out in courage and gentleness, using the words of Philippians 4:5, “Na seen lewet leer ñépp. Broom bi jege na.” (“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”) Above right, SIL Director Pascal also  addresses the group, explaining SIL’s commitment to see the research project out to its conclusion but also beseeching the local church to engage and even take the lead in it. As he said, SIL is not here to do for the local church but to come alongside them once they take the initiative and invest in their languages. These are essential points in the Wolof Research Project.

In the next several months, our project coordinator, with the help of others, will be analyzing the data and making a recommendation to SIL leadership. SIL will then be deciding if and how to continue a Wolof language project.

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Our group of 23 City #4 surveyors who successfully completed the 450 needed interviews.

And so, though much work remains to be done and decisions remain to be made, we thanked God for enabling us to complete one phase.

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Bagne, Eva, and I also thanked God for enabling us to work together as a team over the past 17 months. Since Eva and I both will leave on furlough soon, our work as a three-person team has come to an end for now at least.

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Join the Wolof Research Team and our surveyors in four of this country’s cities in saying Jërëjëf! (“thank you”) to our God!

The Wolof Research Project team has started field research in the last of the four cities comprising our research scope.

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Last week we trained our last group of research assistants, 27 members of Protestant and Catholic churches in City #4. City #4 is the capital of this West African country, making it more complex than the other three cities. The population is much larger, making it harder to cover. The higher population includes the number of Wolof-speaking church members, creating a higher number of interviews needed to represent the population. And finally, people in the capital tend to be much busier and harder to track down. This creates a more challenging task for us and our group of surveyors.

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Lunch break mid-way through the first day of training, because as the Wolof proverb says, Saku neen du taxaw (“An empty bag can’t stand up.”)

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Second day of training: Eva and I leading a session demonstrating how to conduct the comprehension test with an interviewee.

Above: Sharing some laughs during a session when the surveyor candidates practice approaching a potential interviewee (played by Bagne).

Above: After lunch on the second day, Eva wakes our candidates up for the next session with some singing and dancing. (The trainers in the back – Bagne and I – didn’t miss the chance to sing and dance.)

Above, I serve as a dummy interviewee during one-on-one practice for our research assistant candidates. Then Bagne uses one of their practice questionnaire sheets to demonstrate how NOT to fill it out. Much hands-on practice is needed to equip our surveyors, most of whom have never before participated in field research.

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While Bagne leads a training module, I enter data from one of our previous rounds of field research. The data pile never seems to end and is hard to keep up with!

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Third day of training: During the final module, a group of the candidates are asked to perform an impromptu sketch. The woman sitting down had to play the part of a research subject who wants to include her family in the interview. The poor candidate playing the role of the surveyor ended up facing a near interrogation by the family members!

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The group of research assistant candidates at the conclusion of the three-day training.

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Once Bagne, Eva, and I made our selection of the 23 surveyors, we met with them the following morning to give them their interview assignments. We need to be sure that all 24 Protestant churches comprising the base of our population sample are represented in those interviewed, as well as the needed number of Catholic and Muslim participants.

Our team of research assistants is currently out canvasing City #4!

The Wolof are a people group that could be easily classified as “unreached.” They number some six million, while the believers among them number 100 by some estimates. Among missionary circles, the Wolof are called a graveyard of missionaries. The Presbyterian Church of West Africa has been thinking and seeking God’s guidance for the past couple years about how they can participate in the efforts to reach the Wolof with the gospel of Christ.

Reaching the Wolof with the gospel: I was reminded recently of how seemingly impossible of an idea that is. A couple months ago was an annual meeting of Wolof believers and missionaries from other ethnicities working among this people group. One missionary gave a presentation summarizing many years of his mission’s work among the Wolof in the north of this country. With sobering words, he recounted the long, faithful witness of many missionaries who rarely saw any lasting fruit from their labor. He concluded by sharing, from his mission’s experience, the following five challenges facing the Wolof in accepting the gospel: persecution, loss of social status, lack of integration into the church, the loss of the person who led them to the Lord (missionary or national believer who goes elsewhere), and the identity crisis from the fact that Islam is so tied to their identity. He shared the anecdote of an old woman in a village where missionaries had spent their lives sharing the gospel in word and deed. She said, “Yes we saw that what they preached was the truth and we knew it, but I couldn’t stop being Wolof.”

Several of those obstacles are associated with honor and the deep fear of losing it, along with the shame that follows. And so that sobering reminder made the following Wolof song sung during worship at the annual gathering all the more poignant. (To listen to the song, written by a Wolof convert, click here and use this password: consultation.)

Baayoo Baayoo maa ngi lay màggal di la sant te di la gërëm
Ndax Baayoo Baayoo sargal nga ma
Fu ma jafee nga yombalal ma ko
Fu mu metee nga woyafal ma ko
Fu mu diise nga may ma doole
Fu ma juume nga won ma yoon wi
Kon, Baayoo Baayoo sargal nga ma
Baayoo Baayoo ci barke Yeesu
Yaa ngi may aar te di ma tette
Baayoo Baayoo ci barke Yeesu
May nga ma xel, may nga ma doole
Kon, Baayoo Baayoo sargal nga ma.

(“Father, Father I worship you and thank you and praise you
because Father, Father you have received me with honor
Where it is difficult for me, you make it easier
Where it is painful for me, you make it lighter
Where it is heavy, you give me strength
Where I go astray, you show me the path
So Father, Father you have received me with honor
Father, Father through the blessing of Jesus
You protect and guide me
Father, Father through the blessing of Jesus
You give me wisdom, you give me strength
So Father, Father you have received me with honor.”)

The Wolof word sarga gives the idea of welcome and honor, as when in this culture one is a guest and is given the seat of honor. The song captures beautifully the hope of a lonely, ashamed Wolof believer who, after having been rejected by his entire family and community and literally dispossessed of any earthly inheritance, is received by God the Father who lifts him up to a place of honor.

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Would you pray for the Wolof? Would you pray for the newly-formed council made up of members of the Presbyterian Church of West Africa and advisors (pictured above), as they brainstorm about where to start a new initiative among the Wolof?

If you’d like to receive regular updates from the council on ways to pray for the Wolof, please click here and follow the instructions. One thing is clear: nothing will happen to change the hearts of the Wolof without prayer.

 

Field research in City #3 is complete!

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Making sure the recruits all have the recording used during the comprehension part of the Wolof interviews.

 

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Above: More demonstrating of how to conduct the comprehension part of the interview, as well as how to fill out the questionnaire correctly.

Two of our surveyors perform a sketch, the woman playing the part of a chatty, distracted interviewee.

Two of our research assistants perform a sketch, the woman playing the part of a chatty, distracted interviewee.

The 3-day training complete and our selection of the surveyors made, Eva and I distribute the questionnaires to be filled out on the first morning of field research.

The 3-day training complete and our selection of the surveyors made, my SIL teammates Bagne and Eva and I met with them the first morning of field research to give them their assignments for the interviews. Above, Eva and I distribute the questionnaires to be filled out by each of the research assistants on the first day.

The Wolophone evangelical church in City #3  is the smallest of the four cities comprising our research scope. Church leaders up here say the terrain is especially hard and church planting especially slow. Since the number of Wolof-speaking church members provides the base of our sampling, this means City #3 also required the least number of field research interviews. The number required was 60. Our research assistants completed the interviews in two days.

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Bagne, Eva, and I, along with local church leaders who attended our small closing ceremony — we gave certificates to the recruits and others who helped and thanked them for a job well done!

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Bagne leading an exercise with the eight research assistant recruits. They were to memorize a single phrase summarizing the goal of the Wolof research to tell potential interviewees.

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Eva leading a training session in which each recruit read out loud in Wolof, while the rest of the group rated them.

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Examining examples from the previous city’s research of questionnaire sheets filled out well and ones filled out poorly.

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The obligatory mid-morning coffee and snack break!

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In pairs, the eight recruits practice using the equipment and recording the answers for the first of the three interview sections, comprehension.

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Above: The added bonus in City #3 was a spontaneous traditional song and dance session highlighting several of the ethnic groups represented in the surveyor recruits. Two of the eight recruits are ethnically Wolof; the rest come from at least three other ethnic groups. We saw traditional dancing from the Beliyan, Jola, and Serer cultures. (To catch a glimpse, click here and use the password: pikinediokoul).

This multi-ethnic — and therefore multicultural — blend in the group we trained is linked to the very nature of our research. In an urban setting, what impact does Wolof have as a vehicular language spoken by members of various other ethnic groups? Our recruits demonstrated that they may be urban-dwelling, fluent Wolof-speakers while still holding onto their particular ethnic group’s culture — dances, language, etc.

And what Scripture needs are created in this kind of environment? What opportunities are created for gospel impact through the local church? These observations and questions continue to motivate my teammates and I in our Wolof research.

Our Wolof Research team is on to the third target city in our sociolinguistic research regarding Scripture needs in Wolof.

This city holds a special place in my heart because it was here that I lived for six weeks back in late 2014; it’s where a Muslim Wolof family took me in as one of their own and showed me a kind of hospitality that I’d never experienced; it’s where I was given the West African name that I’ve held onto as I’ve continued moving around; in many ways, it’s where I turned a corner in the ongoing cultural adjustment and started finding my place in this country. So returning here for the research brings me quite a wave of nostalgia.

Having done the research assistant training and supervised the field research in two other cities now, Bagne, Eva, and I are feeling more and more experienced and prepared for whatever new challenges await us in City #3.

In particular, we’re still riding the wave from the great group of research assistants with whom we worked down in City #2! The photo below was taken when we wrapped up there earlier this month. We held a mini celebration after the needed interviews had been successfully completed and they received their training diplomas.

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City #3, you’re next!

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Here I am leading a training session with the local research assistant recruits on the vision of SIL and the Wolof Research Project’s goals.

Above: Back by popular demand, Bagne and I once again perform the improv skit in Wolof, demonstrating how not to conduct an interview.

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Eva and I simulate the comprehension part of the research questionnaire, where the surveyor plays an audio recording of a passage from the Wolof translation of Exodus for the interviewee, followed by questions designed to test the comprehension of the Wolof used.

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One of my favorite places to be in this country: under a neem tree in bloom! As a small group of surveyor candidates practice using the questionnaire in pairs, I observe and take notes evaluating their performance. We had to evaluate the candidates throughout the training since we wouldn’t be able to hire all of them for the field research.

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Closing a day of training in prayer

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My teammates and I with the surveyor candidates at the conclusion of the three-day training

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Once the days of research were underway, we met with the surveyors each morning to go over the positive and negative experiences they had during the previous day’s interviews with the city’s Wolof-speakers. Together we found solutions to the problems encountered, encouraged each other, and made sure we were on target to reach the quota of interviews needed for this city. Above, Eva leads a morning session on the previous day’s highs and lows.

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After sending our research assistants back out into the field each morning, Bagne, Eva, and I would hit the growing pile of data, spending the rest of the day entering the data they’d collected.

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At the conclusion of the three days of field research, we met with the surveyors to collect their last batch of interview sheets and crunch the numbers to find out if the 224 needed interviews had been completed.

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