A gap year cut short

Bobby Barnardo

What a trip! We flew out to The Gambia on 7 January 2020 and I loved every second we had there. 

The first 10 weeks

Pre-COVID, our typical week consisted of teaching in schools for four days. For me this meant teaching maths, physics and reading at a primary school. It had its challenges but the kids were amazing. Every Friday, Dan, Lucy, Grace and I had the opportunity to do a 45-minute bible devotional for all the students. We were doing a bible overview, however only got as far as David and Goliath. Every Wednesday we had a bible study on the book of Esther with the staff of GamFES – the Gambian Fellowship of Evangelical Students. Twice a week we went to the MRC to play frisbee with the people working there. We were also involved with a University Campus Missions week with GamFES. We had many opportunities to talk about Jesus and the Bible by giving out free tea and running sporting events. We attended Omega Church and got stuck in with the children’s groups and the choir. We also had some fantastic experiences - such as attending a Muslim wedding reception where the whole team got to showcase their dance moves (much to the amusement of the other guests)! We went on a weekend away to Boboi where we slept in tree houses, had a day out to see some suspiciously sleepy crocodiles and had a boy’s fishing trip on the river Gambia. We loved getting to know so many people through all of this.

Lockdown in The Gambia

After the first case of COVID was reported, the country immediately shut all schools and gatherings of more than 10 people - which meant church and GamFES bible studies had stop. When all non-essential shops were closed and transport limited, we began to self-isolate in order to protect ourselves and the people living in our compound. We took up new tasks such as scraping and painting our compound’s walls and had more time to spend praying and studying the Bible - both as a team and individually. This time brought huge growth and learning for us all, particularly to have greater trust in God’s plan. Any day we could have got a call to tell us we had to fly home, but this just built up a greater trust in God, knowing that he is sovereign and in control. COVID did not catch God by surprise! In our bible studies in Esther with GamFES we had learnt how God was working in the story, even when his name was not stated. Similarly, we don’t know what his plans are for this pandemic, but we do know that he is in control and he works for the good of those who love him. I also learnt huge amounts from all our bible studies, seminars, sermons and book reading, put together by our amazing leaders Ed and Sarah, who helped us all so much, before and during this time of uncertainty.

The extra time we had away from schools also provided great gospel opportunities with a guy called D, who Tom and I had been getting to know. He was about our age and worked as a mechanic. We were able to spend more quality time with him and have more conversations about Jesus and the Bible. He struggled speaking English sometimes but thankfully we were able to leave him with an SD card with an audio bible in his language on it. We’re unable to keep in touch because he doesn’t have a smart phone but we are praying we can see him again one day.

Leaving too soon

I think the hardest thing about leaving early for all of us was saying goodbye to the people – both the friends we had made in The Gambia and our teammates. The short notice of the flight home meant we were not able to say goodbye to many of the people we loved spending time with. Thankfully we are able to keep in contact - with each other over weekly zoom meetings and with Gambian friends through WhatsApp.

Please pray for us as we adjust to a very different UK to the one we left in January. Pray that we would use this time well and that we wouldn’t forget all that we learnt in The Gambia. Pray that we would continue to want to serve Christ with the rest of our lives in our different ways.

Pray for The Gambia, that COVID-19 wouldn’t spread as they don’t have a health system that could combat it. Pray too for people who don’t have any income during the lockdown. Pray for the Christians we met, that they would stay strong in their faith during this time of uncertainty. And pray for Mama, Claris and Bertha, who looked after us so well. Pray that they would continue to grow in their love and knowledge of Jesus.

Find out James and Kirsty's experiences of their cut-short gap year trips.