Please Don’t Send Me to Africa...
Greetings from Bwiam, it’s been almost a month since I left Singapore. I wish I could say that it seems like only yesterday, but that wouldn’t be completely true either. Truth is, it can be really long and winding at times especially in coping with the changes. This involves getting used to the new sounds, the new smells, the new language, the new culture, the new people, and even the different way of worshipping God at church. I’m not saying that it’s all a really tough challenge; some are easier to cope than others. But as I learn to be all things to all man, it can be very easy to focus on my needs and rights by simply saying “ I don’t need to be here”. Nonetheless, I remember that even Jesus left his comfort zone in heaven to serve mankind on earth, and this assures me that I am likewise able to do so. As I surrender to God, I slowly uncover how God has been preparing me for this trip, way before I even knew I was coming.
It seems that my internship in Pulau Ubin for 6 months was part of God’s plan for me to be in a “kampong”. The village life is simple and serene; yet for a 25-year-old man who has grown up in a city such as Singapore, things aren’t instantly available here so there isn’t much choice for food and you pretty much eat whatever is served. But I believe my time in Pulau Ubin trained me to be able to live in the village- the insects crawling up and down you while you sleep, the cows, donkeys, goats, dogs and the rooster!!! Yes!! That’s the one animal that gets at you every morning. It seems that the rooster decides how early my morning will be, sometimes even as early as 4am. But all in all, I would still say I am in one piece. I am hard pressed in every corner but not crushed, persecuted (by the wildlife) but not abandoned.
And with the tough times, surely there are the good times; in fact the difficult days really make you appreciate the good ones. It is indeed a joy to be here in the most Western border of Africa and to find faithful Christians who are serving God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength. My field mentor, John, and his wife Alice, have been here in the Gambia for the past 16 years. And their presence here has greatly uplifted the community. From a barren land that was just next to the road, the land is now filled with fruit-bearing trees and this one-hectare land could be said to be the center of the small village in Bwiam of The Gambia. Practically everyone knows this Tubab (foreigner) from Canada because John has built his life around this community for the past 16 years.
John is in the country with an Agricultural visa. The government and the villagers in the area recognize his work here. John, together with the help of the locals, also built a Youth Centre that is situated opposite his garden home. The Youth Centre hosts 16 students, and it is customary for the students to attend morning devotions and services before and after school. The chief aim for the Youth Centre is to provide a shelter for students who live far from school. Years ago, the Youth Centre was the only place where there was electricity for the students to study at night. It took John 8 years to build the Youth Centre. In his words, “it’s not much, but it’s our best”. Every screw and every brick was laid in love and with the hope of providing the students with a comfortable place to live. Lastly, John also has a radio ministry where he broadcasts messages in their local language every Sunday for an hour.
John often sits down with me over long chats with regard to almost anything. During one of our conversations, he shared with me the difference between an evangelist and a missionary. Both are called to bring the good news to others, but a missionary is called to do so cross-culturally. John’s desire to see Gambia saved is engraved deep in his heart. Once, a local policeman stopped us for a security check hinting for a “gift”(bribe) and John took out the Gospel of John and passed it to the man saying, “This is the most valuable thing I have”. Indeed, the Holy Scriptures is the bread of life. He doesn’t know, but I really admire him as I see him mingle with the people here. His work really encourages me to do likewise. I cannot think of anything else but to duplicate his work here in another part of the world, wherever that may be. I am reminded of what Scripture says, ‘Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven’-Matthew 5:16 (NIV) and my heart is indeed full of praise when I see the work in this corner of the world.
Just as Job 42:5 (NIV) reads, ‘My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you’, physically being in Africa is incomparable to merely learning about Africa from Google. Now I understand why God didn’t just love us from afar. He came down to earth as a human to live among us and demonstrate the depth of His love for us. So how can we love from afar? I’m excited to see how God will reveal more of Himself to me as I spend (a lot more) time reading books, memorizing Scripture, praying and simply understanding His will in my life.
(** Jerome, who has a passion for the poor and marginalised, is now studying at TTC to prepare for long term service.)