Monday, April 19, 2010

James Island

This past Wednesday we took a trip to James Island. For those of you familiar with the book Roots, you may have heard of James Island. The Island is where the slaves were held before they were loaded onto the British ships. In the 1700's 60,000 slaves were held at Fort James, which is mind boggling when you see the size of the island and the size of Gambia. It is quite small in the middle of the not so small Gambian River. We took local boats and were honored to have Lisa Landis with us from Lancaster County's christian radio station, WJTL. There were six of us that went, Elias and I, Lori, Gary, Lisa and a Gambian friend named Amidou, or as we call him, Armstrong. We also had two boats each with a driver and an apprentice or water scooper when the floor leaked and waves came up over the edge.
     We left our house around 8 arriving in Pirang at about 9 and then we walked to the tributary where we would launch the boats. Once we were all there and the boats were ready to go, we climbed in and took off. Now there needs to be some explanation here. Our drivers were local Balanta fishermen, some from the Pirang church, who go out at night to fish. Since it was cheaper to pay them than go with a tour group, we opted for them to take us in their local fishing boats. As I said before there were 6 of us, with 4 fishermen, and we needed two boats so the boats weren't extremely large. We could have fit in one, but it wouldn't have been the best idea. The local boats resemble a large, fiberglass canoe, with boards on the top edge to make the edges higher. The seats inside were boards and small logs, some attached some not. Lori and I decided to take the front "seat" which was really a board that wasn't attached to the boat, it just sat on the lip from the edge where the fiberglass met the board. Then there was a small log about 4 inches in diameter behind so that the board wouldn't slide past that point.
     On the way there the water was quite smooth, there wasn't much wind and it only took about an hour. We then got out and walked around on the island, seeing the ruins of the building where the slaves were housed. Unfortunately the island is eroding away from the waves, and while it is trying to be preserved it continues to get smaller. It was definitely a humbling experience being able to see a place where the slavery movement was in full swing, but I will admit, it was hard to get a real feel for what it was like when it was active. Also, we didn't have a tour guide so we didn't know all of the details of what each room was used for.
      Lisa wanted to do a live broadcast from the island, so she and Armstrong climbed a tour to get cell phone service and went on the air. We have to say it was quite a sight since Armstrong had on a fuzzy, black hat, his sunglasses and his bright orange lifejacket while sitting on top of a tour doing a radio broadcast.
       We then ate lunch as the wind was picking up and we knew that it would be more difficult getting back. So once again we climbed into our boats and headed back to Pirang. This time the trip was a bit different though. The water was much more choppy so as we hit the growing waves our boat did not come down very gently. As I said before, the board Lori and I were sitting on wasn't actually attached, so with the first hard hit the board fell and we came down with it. We tried to put it back up and give it another try, but within 30 seconds we had fallen again. So we decided to give up on the board and sit on the not so comfortable 4 inch log that was nailed into the boat. This wasn't so bad at first but after so many hard hits the log wasn't as pleasant as it had first been. Elias on the other hand was quite comfortable as he sat on the cooler on the way home. There were a few times when I doubted the boat's strength to withstand the beating that it was enduring was water was came in over the sides, the seam in front of us was sealed with a calk that didn't look too strong and there were pieces of wood falling off the boat, but we weren't sure where they were coming from. Elias then went on to inform us, as we came to the end of our trip, that there was a large crack right underneath our bench. But, the boat didn't fail us and as we came closer to the tributary again, the water became calmer and the last stretch was quite peaceful.
      As a disclaimer, we did have life jackets and since I'm a fairly strong swimmer, this trip wasn't scary per se, it was just adventurous. We were even able to see dolphins from a distance even though we hoped they would be closer. Needless to say, we came back, wind blown, slightly sunburned and quite salty (the river water was salty considering it's closeness to the ocean). Here are some pictures of our adventure, some are a bit blurry do to salt on the lens.
our boats await

here we go!

Baobob tree and cannon
the island

model of Fort James

the large crack under our "seat"

our seat, minus the board in front of it

coming back into shore

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The next chapter has begun

          Now that we are into April, our time of formal language study has ended and we have entered into the next chapter and remainder of our time here. We have finally begun our work with the youth, which we are finding will keep us quite busy. We are currently meeting with four different fellowships in four different villages on four different days. This, combined with our weekly grocery shopping trip, leaves us with two days a week where we don't have to do any traveling, which has certainly changed the pace of life for us. During language study we were at home almost every day for class. We had our weekly shopping trip in the city and we usually traveled to Kiti or Pirang for church on Sunday. We also tried to go to Pirang and Kiti to visit the people once a week or every other week. Now, however, we spend our days preparing Bible studies, taking public transportation or riding our bicycles to the villages, which is much more tiring than it sounds since even to take public we have to walk 15 minutes to the bus park and then another 10-20 minutes to our destination after we get off.
        For those of you who don't get our newsletters, our main focus will be on youth work during our time here. Our vision for the next eight months is to hold weekly Bible studies with the youth of the different fellowships, while training one or two of the older youth to take our place as leaders. Right now we are doing most of the leading and preparing, but we want to slowly move out of that position into a participatory position where we can lend guidance and provide input, but leave the leadership up to the youth. Our purpose in doing this is so that the youth do not depend on us to lead them, leaving them without a leader once we leave. Rather we want them to take ownership of their Bible study and continue meeting after we leave. We realize that ultimately it will be up to the youth to decide if they find this time to be valuable enough to continue on on their own, but we want God to use us to bring them to a place where they can sustain the group on their own if they have desire. Hopefully they will not only be able to keep meeting weekly, but we hope that they do find these times to be valuable and meaningful so that they desire to continue meeting.
       We are also hoping this time will allow us to develop deep and meaningful relationships with the youth that will open doors to deeper discussions on a personal and spiritual level, which is not common in relationships here.  We are excited to see what the Lord has prepared to teach us throughout these next eight months.
       On a different note, now that we are busier and I find myself to be tired more often, I find that it has been a bit easier to get discouraged, probably part spiritual attack, part lesson from God. The other day I was thinking about how much we had to sacrifice to take this time off and serve the Lord. We had to put a year of our lives in the States on hold to come to here to Gambia where I sometimes wonder what we are doing. As I was praying and telling this to the Lord, He reminded me of the sacrifice Jesus made for us. I felt like one year of my life was pretty insignificant in comparison, and thought about all of the unreached peoples in the world who have never, and would never, have a chance to hear the gospel if we (as Christians) weren't willing to make sacrifices sometimes. I desperately want to avoid seeking the life of the "American dream", but as my high school classmates finish college I find myself thinking of where I "could" be. Instead, I need to remember where I am. Living in the present is not easy for me, and I tend to always be looking to the future rather than being content with where I am. I have dreams and plans, and I know God respects that, but I also know that His plans are bigger than anything I can imagine, if I just take the time to pay attention, listen and live them out. So as I think about those plans, and about the sacrifices I may have to make in the future, I am challenged to think about whether I am willing to make the sacrifice or not, regardless of the cost. I hope that I can walk in obedience no matter what I/we are called to do.

-We have begun our work with the youth!
-Drivers licenses are finally being processed
-Lisa Landis from WJTL, a Christian radio station in Lancaster, PA, has arrived safely and will be here in West Africa for a week raising money for schools here in Gambia and Guinea-Bissau

Prayer Requests:
-That Darrel Hostetter, HR rep at EMM, will also arrive safely later this week
-That we will be able to develop deep, meaningful relationships with the youth that cross cultural barriers
-That we will be open to the Lord and His path for us during the remainder of our time here and after we go home