These past 2 weeks, we had the opportunity to spend time in Senegal, so a few Sundays ago, we headed off to the airport and flew to Dakar, the capital of Senegal. As soon as we stepped off the plane onto the tarmac, we were delighted to feel a beautiful cool breeze blowing off the ocean. The temperature was around 30 degrees, but with the refreshing breeze, it felt more like 25: very refreshing coming from the 40+ degrees of Bamako! David Oldenburger, an intern with WR in Senegal, met us at the airport and brought us to the guesthouse where he and his wife Jessica are living, a beautiful property run by wonderful and hilarious Dutch lady who has been in Senegal for over 40 years. It was great to spend the evening chatting with David and Jessica and hear about their experience in Senegal over the past year and a half.
During their time in Dakar, they have been revamping a health education program with teenage girls, so, the next day, Jessica took us to see some of that program. WR always tries to work in partnership with other local organizations, and in this case WR has partnered with the Lutheran Church who have hired local staff to run their programs. We got to see their office, meet the staff, and also see one of the programs in session. We first watched the trainers’ training session in the morning and then, later in the afternoon, we went to the house where one of the trainers was running the session for the teenage girls. Over the past month or so, we have started to work with Marie (WR staff in Mali) and two of WR’s local trainers to adapt this very program’s curriculum to our own Malian context (our program in Mali is in a Christian, Bambara (ethnicity group) context, and includes both genders, whereas the Senegalese program is run with Muslim, Wolof girls), so it was very interesting to experience the Senegalese context and how the trainings were facilitated there.
The next day, we took the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful Dakar weather and headed to Isle de Gorée, a small island just off the coast that used to be a large port for the slave trade. While seeing the conditions in the slave houses where they kept the slaves, walking down the hallway towards the ocean that the slaves would have walked down before being loaded onto a ship, and hearing their stories was very heavy, it gave us insight into that terrible part of history. The slave trade often seems so distant from us, but in reality occurred not so very long ago. It was hard to imagine that such a beautiful place, surrounded by cute, coloured buildings, palm trees, beach, and ocean, could be the setting of such horrible events.
The next day, the 4 of us headed off to Saly, a coastal town about 2 hours south of Dakar, for a Spiritual Retreat with staff from both WR and World Missions (WM). WM had brought a CRC pastor out from Portland (Oregon) to be the speaker for the spiritual retreat. So, each morning we had a worship session (which I had the opportunity to help plan and co-lead) followed by two sessions led by the pastor, working through the final chapters of Acts regarding the apostle Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem and subsequent journey to Rome.
We both found it refreshing to study God’s Word each day with a group of other development workers and missionaries, and it was also extremely enlightening to be able to commune with WM staff and hear their stories about the work that they do. We had many great discussions about what it means to be a missionary, God’s calling in our lives, and how to reach unreached people groups with the gospel. These discussions opened our eyes to the great need that WM (and all missions organizations, really) currently have for people willing to live in unreached communities, build relationships with the people there, and bring God’s love to them. There are so few missionaries in this part of the world, where people go their whole lives without having the slightest chance of hearing the gospel, and so few people stepping up to take over when these missionaries retire.
After the Spiritual Conference, the WM people left and more WR staff came from all over West Africa for the WAMT (West Africa Ministry Team) meetings that happen annually. The whole West Africa team was there, made up of our team leader, consultants, and interns from Senegal, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.
These meetings were an excellent opportunity for us to meet the rest of WR’s West Africa staff, as well as hear about all the work that they do in their respective countries. It gave us a much more holistic view of the programs that WR runs in West Africa and allowed us to see a bit of the more administrative/planning side of the work. F or example, each country presented their plans for the VSL programs (Village Savings and Loans) and then together we decided how to distribute the different funds that were available based on the funds requested by each team. This required some shifting of funds and compromising, but the team was able to do so without any fighting or competition between countries; they simply did what was best for the team as a whole, which was great to see. Overall, the WAMT meetings gave us a lot of insight into how World Renew functions on a different level than we get to see on a day-to-day basis at the office in Mali.
After the WAMT meetings, it was time to head home to Mali. However, because one family from Mali was heading back to Canada from Senegal, we drove their car back instead of flying. Having only seen Malian countryside once since arriving, it was great to see a bit more of the West African landscape over the 3 day (approx. 20 hrs of driving) trip. Aside from the regular food and bathroom breaks, we were happy to be able to stop to see a troupe of baboons, warthogs, a few monkeys, and a termite mound taller than me! God blessed us with a safe and smooth trip, and despite the air conditioning dying halfway through day 2 in 40-degree weather, we greatly enjoyed seeing a bit more of God’s great world!
On another note, we have now moved out of the guesthouse where we were staying and have moved into the house of the family who is on furlough in Canada. We now have a whole house to ourselves… much more space than we ever had in our previous apartments both in Mali and in Canada. Best of all, we are now only a 2 minute bike ride from the office! While we do have to learn where everything is in this new neighbourhood, overall, we are happy about the move and look forward to spending our remaining time here.