Steve Bryant’s visit to Senegal Jan/Feb 2018

Steve and Gill Bryant,

School hall

Thanks to the many people who prayed for me in Senegal and also prayed for Gill while I was away. The visit went very well with two main purposes.

The first one was to visit our school for missionaries’ children, Bourofaye Christian School (BCS) where 7 of the group who were with us back in July 2017 are now working. Anne-Cathy from France was back there for surgery on a benign growth – David and Anne-Cathy’s early time in BCS has been difficult with Anne-Cathy’s father dying a few months ago and now this surgery. The others in our group last summer – Lydia, Eva, Hannah, Philip and Ivens – are all doing very well with the possibility that one or two of them may stay on for another year. Inevitably the staff there are looking to see who will replace the ones leaving so specific prayer would be appreciated for house parents, teachers and a school counsellor, and in the longer term a new director to replace Michelle who is willingly standing in but has had to leave field ministry to do so.

Senegal, Gambia and Guinea Bissau

The school is an integral part of evangelism and church planting in Senegal, Gambia and Guinea Bissau and supports around 30 families in that work. Given this, they would love to have your prayer support to not only have the staff they need, but also to consistently model Christian living to the children and to know God’s power at work in and through their lives and ministry.

While there Steve was able to talk through many issues facing the school such as the minimum age of boarding, English as an Additional Language (EAL) teaching, recruitment and the transfer of children to other school systems.

EAL is a huge challenge as many of the children are not native speakers – coming from places like Brazil, Nigeria, other European countries, and Korea. In addition to this the EAL teacher is due to retire in July making this one of the school’s most obvious staff needs.

Steve also did a seminar on LGBT+ issues which the science and PSHE teachers will use as part of preparation for ‘re-entry’ (the ‘return’ to the passport country for home leave or at the end of overseas service). The context of this is that these are issues which are hardly discussed in West Africa with very few LGB people and non-existent transgender visibility. Children leaving that environment face an enormous cultural adjustment when returning to the West or Latin America where the media are giving huge publicity to these issues.

The school’s main hall and chapel – the photo at the top of this post – was just a brown earth site a few years ago. Since then the school has had anything between 60 and 90 children of missionaries studying there.

After leaving BCS Steve travelled the 560km (350 miles) south-east from Dakar to Vélingara.

Dakar to Vélingara bus
Dakar to Vélingara bus

Thanks to those who prayed for my journey. I was braced for the usual experience of a seriously cramped ride in a battered old minibus or 7-seater bush taxi, but was pleasantly surprised to travel in a much newer bus shown in the photograph. That got me most of the way there then it was back to normal in a really dilapidated bush-taxi (on the back row of seats intended originally for small children) which made the one in the picture look good – just the last 2 hours thankfully! On the way back it was the new bus for the whole journey….much better.

Battered 7 seater Peugeot estate - a typical bush taxi

A typical bush taxi

Once in Vélingara close to the border with Gambia I was able to start on the second purpose of the visit which was to work with national churches on safeguarding. The WEC-related church, although still very small, has grown since our first arrival back in 1990 when there were just 4 congregations. Now there are 15+ churches which are growing numerically and seeking to spread the gospel and plant new churches.

Part of the church outreach involves school and nursery ministry; there are already two centres and clear plans to set up another one, and a vision for more after that. Both schools are in the south-east of the country – one in Vélingara and the other in a village nearby. These schools did not exist when we left Senegal in 2001, but now there are already around 650 children enrolled with huge potential beyond that. This kind of ministry is crucial bearing in mind that 50% of the population is 16 or under which means that the population is doubling every 20-25 years. Church leaders are convinced that they have the right people to staff any new schools as there are many well-educated church members looking for jobs who would welcome working there.

The school ministry is impressive. The children are being taught the full curriculum from a Christian perspective. The classes are around 40, but are very well organised and disciplined and it is clear that the teachers love teaching and the children enjoy being at school. This is already a huge advantage over the extremely stretched state sector. The children come from a mixture of Christianised backgrounds from minority tribes and Muslim ones from the local majority tribe. All of them value the school’s commitment to learning and its supportive and child-friendly Christian ethos.

Existing school room made of three fence panels
New school building ‘Senegalese style’

I was able to deliver a French-language equivalent of the Baptist Union Level 2 training that was adapted to Senegal and covered major local issues such as forced marriage and FGM. Encouragingly, all 30 of the school staff and church leaders who took part were very clear that these are evils to be eliminated. The course ended with the presentation of certificates; it is very important in Senegal to have them as proof of study.

As the photograph above show the school’s resources are minimal with classrooms made of local fence panels or in the quarter-finished building. The building is planned to be 3 storeys with 9 classrooms, not just the one storey already built. This will be done in standard Senegalese style when enough money comes in to continue. There was not a murmur of complaint from any source.

Vélingara school’s new classroom
Mural in new class room
Vélingara school’s new classroom

In the one classroom that has been built there is the brightening effect of decoration and murals. There was also time and effort taken for at least a simple celebration of one little girl’s birthday.

On the last day there I spoke with leaders of the overall group of WEC-related churches about safeguarding policies and their concerns and perceived needs. Church members face many huge challenges, mostly related to poverty, that make them vulnerable so any safeguarding policy and training will need to recognise these dangers and how the church at least can be a safe haven.