If you were going to the Gambia for a fortnight what would you expect? Bright sunshine, baking heat, beautiful sandy beaches, smiling faces, good fresh food, relaxation and the bright colours, bustle and energy of African culture all around you...the smiling coast...?
It's a skinny country, arranged along the banks of the River Gambia. It was dry and dusty in March. The paddy fields were empty, waiting for the rains. The mangoes weren't yet ripe. Only well tended plots were green.
24 people went as a Charity group to visit this amazing country and returned having had their lives challenged and changed. This was no holiday.
The group age ranged from teens to seventies, with gifts in construction, nursing, teaching, evangelism, administration, management, the sewing of bean bags and bartering, to name just a few.
Each one had an important role to play. This was because the trip had a huge agenda.
The building team got going at 7.30 on the first morning – setting off to Badou's house where foundations had been dug and 1,000 concrete blocks made by hand in advance of their arrival. In 3 days they had built an extension to the little house on a compound in Serrakunda. After returning from a trip up river they finished their work and celebrated in style with the family and their friends.
We took 80 large charity bags full of donated items from the UK (such as clothes, pens, blankets, medicines, spectacles, shoes, toys ...) and supplemented them with food, tools, cooking equipment and practical items bought in the local markets. Some went to homes in the Kotu area – block huts with tin roofs built on and around a rubbish dump. The Queen Victoria Hospital in Banjul, and clinics at Serrakunda and near Tendaba were visited. The juvenile and men's prisons in Banjul received similar gifts, plus money to help provide a facility for rehabilitation training in carpentry, tailoring and masonry.
A number of rural villages near Tendaba were visited and the gifts were given out under the shade of the meeting tree, to the sound of upturned tin bowls used as drums, and the laughter and dancing of the women and children (who threw out a scarf to members of our party so that they would join in the fun for a few moments before passing it on to another dancer!). As the men gathered, and the chief came to sit under the tree, Ruth would present the gifts, and a bible. Many heard about the love of Jesus Christ, who motivated the group, and many in the UK who provided charity items, to share their concern and love for those struggling to cope in Gambia. She would ask permission to pray for sick people and the response was always gracious and respectful in every way.
At the Pentecostal Church which the group has links with bibles were presented and ministry carried out locally. One of the party was baptised in the sea alongside four African Christians. We benefited hugely from the time shared with members of the family of God in the Gambia. They gave to us more than we ever could them.
D. Harris International School is in Kotu. The Nursery and Primary classrooms were painted (quite an experience to mix up lime with water and watch the cauldron bubble), locks fitted and shelves installed. The sponsorship programme was administered and extended, with letters and pictures collected from the children. This was just the beginning - the Minister of Education was approached and the need for a more adequate school facility in this area was recognised. There are now plans to look for land to build a Mission School. Quite some commitment.
So what now? Back to the UK and normal life resumes? Not many people can go on a trip like this and not find their lives changed just a little bit. New construction projects are being planned and many people are keen to encourage and equip the Christians in Gambia as they carry out God's work day by day. So the next trip out is being thought out ... perhaps you would like to join the team?