Monday, 15 June 2009

The Gambia Experience

As some of you know I am secretary of the Methodist Missionary Society. MMS is the historic descendant of the commissioning of the Rev Thomas Coke by John Wesley to take a group of ministers to the Americas. After getting blown off course they eventually landed in Antigua on Christmas morning 1786...and so the 'overseas mission' of the Methodist Church began. As the Gospel was shared around the world so 'Overseas Districts' were set up and all was administered from Britain which led to the building of Mission House at 25 Marylebone Road.

Through the years these Overseas Districts have become autonomous and entered into new partner relationships with the British Church. For many years we have continued to have one Overseas District and this is The Gambia. So it was a particular thrill for me to know that during my Presidential year The Methodist Church in The Gambia was to become autonomous.

We held a special ceremony at the Scarborough Conference when the British Conference agreed by a standing vote for the autonomy of the Methodist Church The Gambia.

Four representatives were elected to represent our Church at the special celebrations on May 24th but sadly only 3 of us could make it. These were David Gamble and Nwabweze Nwokolo who have both done a lot of work in the writing of their new constitution, standing orders etc. It was great having David (and his wife Liz and youngest son, Joe) there as he has done so much to bring this day to fruition and also has given him lots of good stories for his Presidential year! Nwabweze was a great delight, she just loved being there and was a great ambassador for the British Church. Robbie Bowen was invited to be the 4th memeber of our group at the last minute. He was a former Mission Partner and he was greeted with joy and laughter wherever we went.

We all met in Gatwick airport and didn't have a good start as there was a problem with the plane and we were 9 hours late taking off. However we were met and taken to our hotel and at about 2.00am had a briefing on what lay ahead for us!!

The present Chair of the District is Norman Grigg and he came to meet us and take us to the Church headquarters in Banjul.

We met staff and then popped across the road to the Methyodist School. A number of the Methodist School groups had gathered for a rehearsal for the Celebration Concert later in the week and it was a joy to listen to their singing and see their enthusiasm.

We went to a number of the schools, met lots of people and began to get a feel of how important the celebrations at the weekend were going to be.
(Albion Methodist School)
(rehearsing a drama of the arrival of the First methodist Missionaries 188 years ago for the concert)

The following day we went out to Brikama. Here the Methodist Mission Agricultural Project was begun as an NGO in 1974. 30 acres of land were given to the Church by the community for agriculture, health and educational purposes.

The agricultural side is a bit run down but the health clinic is going well and a dental clinic was opened in 2006

A jam factory(above) was begun in 2000 and they are now producing and supplying to a number of supermarkets.

The school was begun as a nursery and has grown since then and Network and circuit groups from across Britain have helped in a variety of ways.

(Robbie Bowen looking around the school he had helped to build with Joe Gamble looking on)

We met Ryan and Sylvia Kelly who have been coming out to The Gambia for 25 years and have developed a container ministry for the shipping of school desks, dental equipment etc - they are greatly loved.

Whilst at Brikama we met Ansumana Mendhi and his family showed us such gracious hospitality and gave us a wonderful meal

When we arrived the country's President had been on a tour of the rural areas and was returning to the capital and then it was his birthday. So for all the week we were there many roads were closed and the streets were often lined with thousands of school children waiting in the heat to welcome their President. So we decidied not to go to Marakisha, as the President was going there...and returned to the hotel.

Some of the previous Chair of Districts were also gathering at the hotel for the Celebrations - John and Jill Steadman, Titus Pratt, Yedu Bannerman....Peter Stephens was arriving the following day and the Rev Ernest Stafford,(on the staff of Westminister Central Hall) so greatly loved but now very frail, had managed to come with the help of two of his grandchildren Ernest and Jean. There were also heads of churches from Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Ghana gathering to join us for the weekend's going to be good!!

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