PICTURE Edition 15: The Church in Gambia: Tiny But Growing Very Fast

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1. History
The Gambia is a tiny elongated country of 2 million people that straddles the first 300 km of the Gambia River on the Western coast of Africa. The country is completely surrounded by Senegal. It was the source country of many of today’s Black American citizens, and the first African country ever to host an American President in 1943.

The Gambia first appears on Muslim trade records a thousand years ago and was soon dominated by the powerful Mali Empire from 1200-1400. In the 16th Century the first Europeans arrived and this eventually led to a protracted dispute between France and England for control of the area. The eventual success of the of the British is the reason the North American slave trade being based here and why it speaks English in a part of the world that speaks French.

Gambian citizens fought for the British in both the First and Second World Wars. The push for emancipation gathered steam in the 1920’s and eventually led to independence in 1965.

2. Today
After The Gambia received its independence it’s politics slowly disintegrated into several military coups. Multiparty elections in 2018 eventually resulted in a return to democracy, but only after UN intervention. The country is resource poor so relies on subsistence agriculture which employs 75% of the population. It has an income of just 1% of the USA and over half the population lives in or around the capital of Banjul on the coast. There is a small tourism industry here catering to European sun lovers and birdwatchers.

The country has a high level of religious tolerance even though it is 90% Muslim. Gambian Islam is lived out far more gently than in other Islamic areas because so many ethnicities share the country. However, with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, there are dangers for missionaries serving in the country, with a British chaplain serving the local army being arrested for sedition in 2008.

3. Evangelical Highlights
The traditional church comprises about 5% of the population with the Catholics being by far the largest group. Historically the Christians have been fairly complacent in regards to evangelism due to respect for the status quo. However, since the 1980’s, a time of political and social unrest, there has been strong growth in evangelicals who have multiplied 10 fold, now number about 15,000, and are growing at 9% a year. This growth rate will eventually peter out as they begin to evangelise the Muslim majority instead of the religiously traditional Christians.

Believers committed to evangelism and local missions work are few, education is low, resources are lacking and most Christian workers, who are already overstretched, do not want to leave the coast to evangelise the hinterland where they have to learn new languages. Congregations of Muslim Background Believers are growing and there are now two YWAM training bases in the country.

4. Prayer Points
Pray that the church can be set free from fear and complacency
Pray for the many African missionaries who are coming to Gambia to bolster the local church
Pray for the Christian radio station as it broadcasts the Bible orally in local languages
Pray for Bible translation to be completed in the minor languages
Pray for more evangelists who move into isolated areas to plant churches
Pray for Christian TV programs that air nationally to good response
Pray for the evangelising of the rapidly westernising youth who flock to the capital

Next Week: Guinea

Kevin

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