Having (hopefully) given you some insight into what Senegal is like, we can now move onto the promised sequel to the previous blog. With as much beauty as Senegal has, there is also a great need for the gospel there. In this blog I would like to share not only about this need, but also about the things we do as missionaries to meet those needs. (And I also share some more pictures about Senegal, because we took many nice ones.)
The city of Dakar is 95% Muslim. The other 5% is a mixture of religions, with Roman Catholicism being the second most common. Voodoo, is also practised by a minority in Senegal, though mostly by immigrants from Nigeria, Benin or Togo, which is the region that voodoo originates from. Finally, evangelical churches also exist in Senegal as a very small minority. Though the average Senegalese is unaware of any difference between a Roman Catholic church and an evangelical church.
Islam historically entered through the north, and is present throughout the country. Though south of the Gambia river, Roman Catholicism is much more common. So while on the streets of Dakar we saw people performing Islamic ritual cleansings, yet when we were on the boat to the south there were people singing Latin songs dedicated to Maria. And when we were walking through some rice-fields, we also saw animistic idols. (If you don’t know what animism is you can ask me sometime, it is a bit too complicated to explain within the scope of this blog.)
So, with so few people knowing the gospel, there are huge needs for evangelism, discipleship, and church planting in Senegal. And regardless of which part of the country one works in, you have to be prepared to deal with the presence of other religions.
Learning The Language
God is a communicator. This is a core attribute of Him. He spoke the world into being, he spoke by the prophets, he spoke by His Son, and He still speaks through Scripture. When we keep this core attribute in mind, it is easy to see the importance of learning a language well when church-planting.
Language learning certainly means the language that is spoken in a local province. Senegal alone has 39 languages, most of which have no complete Bible translation available. But it also means learning the trade language. Africa is the continent with the most bilingual people in the world. And learning French means that you can communicate in all but a handful of countries in West-Africa. Moreover, it means that you can have a ministry with those you don’t share any other language with. It also means that you are more likely to find someone who can teach you their local language. Having such a language helper is many times quicker than just standing in the village pointing at things while saying “what is that?” Especially once you wish to learn more abstract terms such as “justification”.
For this reason, the mission has set up a French learning programme in Dakar. Many of the missionaries we met during our stay at the mission’s guest house in Dakar were participating in this programme. But the time spent learning French is not just about the language. It is also primarily about learning the cultural values, most of which carry across West-Africa. From what I have been told, the core cultural values for West-Africans are hospitality, availability, and generosity. That might sound straight-forward, but there is a huge difference between knowing them and practising them!
Every day in Senegal we met new people involved in missionary work. Some were language learners; some were support workers, doing what is vital for others to be able to work elsewhere; and some where church-planters working in remote villages. While meeting one of these missionaries, we were shown a map of seventeen existing works that require help, ten works that are ready for new missionary teams to go, and twenty-two places where missionaries could potentially go – and those numbers reflect just what one organisation is doing in West-Africa.
When we were in the south, we visited some missionaries working in remote villages. Our main teachers here at the college worked in Papua New Guinea (PNG), so naturally my idea of missions is shaped quite like PNG. However, most tribes in PNG are a lot more remote than those in West-Africa. In Senegal, the typical remote village has a single tarmac road running through it, and then several sand-roads that lead into the village. This means that most houses are able to have a corrugated-iron roof, instead of the traditional straw roofs that need to be replaced every few years. Yet at the same time, the remoteness from a clear gospel presentation remains the same, and the need for people to go there and spread the news high.
Training and sending missionaries from all over the world takes a lot of time, and a lot of resources. So, how amazing would it be if the Senegalese people are able to reach the Senegalese people? This is exactly what the mission is working on doing within the next few years. Already there are people involved in doing Bible studies with potential Senegalese missionaries. And the leaders of this group are in the process of developing a curriculum for a full training. Due to the differences between Western culture and Senegalese culture, this curriculum needs a lot of thought put into it. Will full-time be possible? How many years should it take? Which modules need to be adapted? All of these questions need to be answered, but hearing what they are working was truly exciting and a real highlight of my journey.
Things for Prayer
- Praise God for the missions that are going on in West-Africa!
- Pray for the missionaries that are at work in West-Africa.
- Pray and give thanks for the language learning programme.
- Pray and give thanks for the training of local West-African missionaries.
- Thank God for all I got to see and experience in Senegal.
- Pray that I may have God’s wisdom in choosing where to go after I finish my training, West-Africa is certainly among the possibilities, but so are East- and Central-Africa.
Finally, I want to leave you with these encouraging Bible verses, let all be to the glory of the Lord!