May 2020

‘Praise the LORD, O my soul, all my inmost being, praise his holy name… For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him.’ Psalm 103: 1, 11

Suumoolee from The Gambia!

Many of you have asked how COVID-19 has affected life in The Gambia... We are thanking God that so far the number of recorded cases has remained very low (17, with seven active as of 3 May). The government declared a state of emergency on 15 March – all schools and colleges were closed and all gatherings limited to a maximum of ten people. There’s not a full lockdown because people here go to work and go to the market so that they can eat each day, but the maximum occupancy of taxis and minibuses has been reduced to encourage social distancing. Mark was pulled over by the police last week when he’d allowed four passengers to travel with him to town from our village (an elderly lady had been determined to climb in behind two other ladies… and fortunately he was let off with a warning).

Gambians are adapting. Not shaking hands is a big cultural shift and various improvised hand-washing facilities are popping up outside homes, shops and in the market. The towns are a little less busy than normal, but as you can see from the picture, many of the shops are still open.

At Servants of the Word (SOW) we are now attempting to offer classes ‘virtually’. We have simplified the timetable to one main topic each morning (Psalms, Genesis, Galatians or theology for preachers), based on self-study notes and worksheets. This is followed by a Q&A session via WhatsApp in the afternoon.

Happily, a few students continue to reside at the SOW campus, which guarantees them access to WiFi, hardcopy worksheets, and the library. It is more difficult for the others who may have to travel from their homes to access WiFi or a phone signal, or even to borrow a smartphone to join in the online sessions. Some are rising to the challenges of the new ways and means of studying, but overall it’s a bumpy road.

Our compound is quieter too, since Nick, Harriet, Phoebe and Arthur Algeo returned to the UK last month. But Leese Mendy, a SOW graduate, has returned from Beersheba in Senegal where he was trained in a farming methodology called ‘Farming God’s way’ and he’s been planting seeds and trees around our hut. Mands now springs up and out every morning before the sun gets hot to ensure every baby plant gets watered. We have lines of beans, corn, okra, pumpkins, moringa, cucumbers, orange and lemon trees all growing outside. And you can imagine how quickly we sprung into cattle-herding action again today when we realised about eight cows had managed to enter the compound, fearing that all those baby plants might get munched or trodden on!

We haven’t been able to attend the Tubakuta village church for several weeks, nor continue leading a once-a-month youth bible study after church at Pirang village - these are not possible due to the restrictions on gathering. But it has been easier to find time for Mark to meet with three teenage boys from Tubakuta church, with whom he is reading Mark’s Gospel. And we have been able to join with our UK home church (www.dundonald.org) for their YouTube Sunday services, which we have really enjoyed.

A few updates from the March letter:

  • Praise God that all seven students who sat the externally-marked Explore exam passed.
  • We had arranged for 10 French-language bibles to be delivered to Timothy in Guinea Conakry but they and the kind courier are currently stuck in the UK.
  • Thanks so much to everyone who has contributed to the student support fund. We have received enough to cover all of this year’s scholarships and are even able to offer support for students coming in September.

Prayer point summary:

  • Thanks for the virtual timetable and the level of engagement that has been possible so far. Please pray that we could continue to provide the students (David, James, Joshua, Mary, Matthias, Simon, Stephen and Tony) with useful training, that God would help them to overcome the various challenges and develop their self-study skills.
  • Praise God for four wonderful morning devotions at the start of term from Psalms (103, 76, 43 and 121), focusing on God’s love and compassion. Please pray that students and staff would continue to praise the LORD throughout this strange time.
  • Ask our loving heavenly Father to be at work in the hearts of people in The Gambia so they may ‘grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.’

With love from Mark & Mands x

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