Gambia Trip Report – March 2012
On Thursday 1st March, I flew out from London Gatwick to return to the Gambia for a week. This trip was different from other trips to the Gambia as rather than travelling with a group I was travelling alone due to late booking, which made it more difficult for others to accompany me on the trip. Normally the thought of travelling abroad alone isn’t a thought that would at all appeal to me but I was as excited as ever to arrive there and meet up with everyone, believers and unbelievers alike.
Furthermore the trip was different in that it didn’t consist of partaking in practical projects, which we as a partnership often get involved in. The week was to be spent for the most part in various meetings and in travelling some distances relating to furthering the objectives of the Partnership. As unappealing as that might sound, given the seemingly many more practical and exciting ways of spending a week in the Gambia, it is an important and a necessary part of our involvement there.
As I arrived I made my way to Kololi where I was to stay at Mansea Beach Resort in the tourist area, as part of my package booking. Even though the tourist area is not in many ways representative of the real Gambia as it is built up with resorts, businesses and large foreign owned homes, in other ways the real Gambia is to be found there too. Gambians are drawn to the tourist area from other areas with the hope of making money and perhaps befriending some foreigners who may in their friendship try to help those who are struggling and living in poverty.
After settling in I phoned Reuben Weedor, who is our main contact in the Gambia and we planned to meet early the next morning to begin our week. As usual I was given a warm welcome from Reuben and from the locals out with the resort. Amongst the many new faces there were many familiar faces but with one exception.
Gambians sometimes give themselves British names in order to relate better to us the visitors. We met Bob for the first time in 2004 along with his friend Bafo and struck up a lasting friendship with the two of them. Sadly Bob took unwell and passed away last year in his early thirties. Everyone in the Gambia are so friendly and because of this, it can be easy to fall into the trap of getting on well with them, to have a laugh and to say little about their soul.
Bob’s passing reminds me of the importance of not only befriending those we meet but to pray for them and to witness to them of Jesus, who is the one mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:5). It is also a reminder to us of how quickly life can be taken from us, as a vapour that appears for a time and vanishes away (James 4:14). We tried to share our faith with Bob over the years but as far as I’m aware he never came to faith. God is sovereign but I often wonder how seriously we take our responsibility to witness to and pray for the lost, whether it is in the Gambia or here in Scotland.
Rather than give a blow by blow account of how the week was spent, I’ll include some highlights. We are looking at the possibility of purchasing some land in order to construct a building for one of the schools we are in contact with. Whether or not this materialises is another matter and I’ve no doubt the Lord will open and close doors accordingly. If we do go down this line, we will need a trustworthy solicitor. Reuben and I spent some time with a British solicitor discussing these issues. She has experience of both British law and Gambian law having lived in the Gambia and has run an office there for over 20 years. It’s always helpful to make good contacts along the way.
The solicitor also advised us in relation to the registration of the Gambian committee as a charity as we are currently seeking to form a committee to further the Partnership’s aims and objectives from the Gambian end. Further to that we went to Banjul, the capital of the Gambia, to the company registration office who are responsible for the registration of charities in the Gambia. They gave us specific information relating to the requirements necessary to us to form a charity, which was helpful as we move forward.
Rather than rush through with the process of forming a committee, it is important that we prayerfully consider the right individuals agreeable to our statement of faith so that we are all working to the same end. We spent a lot of time with Mary Jabang who is enthusiastic in reaching out to the lost and speaks many of the regional Gambian dialects and is an excellent contact for the Partnership to have. Mary also introduced us to Jacob as another possible committee member. Jacob is a college lecturer and again seems a worthwhile contact. There are further contacts we have made relating to the committee and God willing with time the committee will be formed and registered.
In visiting some of the Christian schools where we sponsor children, we visited Glory Baptist where Cyril Roberts, one of the sponsored children attends. Cyril is one of a number of students there who is involved in the University of Cambridge International exams. We met the head teacher, Mr Sorie Koroma, who explained that the curriculum is sent to them and the exams are sat in the Gambia. The purpose is to further the educational prospects of the children, who are looking to enter university in the UK.
One of the other schools we spent some time at was Living Faith Bible School. Living Faith were kindly donated a sum of money from a Lewis based church for amongst other things, the funding of a second teacher in the school. We met Binta Seesay who has taken up the post and has taken some of the workload away from Abigail Onwogbonu who was until that point the only teacher at the school. Part of the time spent visiting the schools is about keeping up relationships, meeting the children and discussing requests for support in certain areas from the schools.
A great deal of the time during the week was spent travelling from village to village on behalf of Mrs Forbes and New Covenant school, who are considering possibilities of relocating the school, which is currently rented over 3 different sites. Each village has a village development committee which has powers to give land free of charge to those who would build upon it for the development of the community. We visited 4 areas and were eventually offered a piece of land after speaking with the Alkalo (village head) and members of the VDC in a particular village. The community had reserved the land for the building of a school but couldn’t afford to proceed with it.
One of the great things about spending any length of time in the Gambia is the opportunity to get to know people and to speak to them about spiritual matters. Strangely enough it is often easier to speak to people about the Gospel in the Gambia, a Muslim nation, than it is to do the same back home, in a supposedly Christian nation. The Gambian people are some of the friendliest you are likely to come across, hence the name ‘the smiling coast,’ therefore during the course of the day you will speak to many people, which is why it is often handy to carry Bible tracts.
During this trip I spoke to a man called Seedy, whom I had briefly met previously, who was genuinely interested in the Gospel and wanted to know about the differences between Islam and Christianity. I gave him some tracts and a book written by a former Muslim who was converted to Christ called ‘Your Questions Answered: A reply to Muslim Friends.’ He also asked for a Bible which I have since sent on to him.
I enjoyed spending time with Reuben’s family where we practiced singing some Psalm tunes before singing them in the worship service on the Lord’s Day. Reuben is an able preacher and I enjoyed his opening up of the Word to the 20 or so people who were at the service. Reuben’s son Dave has begun distance learning theological training via Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, America. His books and other costs are being funded by the Partnership, some of which I took over with me and it is encouraging to see his enthusiasm in studying the Word. We all enjoyed a candlelight fellowship together at Reuben’s house on the last night as the lights had gone out and where Reuben’s wife Marie treated us to some fine cuisine.
Overall the week was a busy week but a worthwhile and encouraging week. I’m looking forward to my next visit already!