PICTURE EDITION 41: THE CHURCH IN SENEGAL: AT 0.3%, THE COUNTRY NEEDS OUR PRAYERS!

History

Senegal occupies a prominent position as the western-most country in Africa and it completely surrounds the country of Gambia. Humans came here with the first wave of humanity after the Great Flood. By the Roman era the Berbers of North Africa were pushing down into the region, while the Wolof and Fulani Negroid peoples were establishing themselves from the East and south. Senegal was another of those many melting pots of humanity in Africa and the Middle East. In the Christian era we find Senegal lying in the western shadow of the formidable Ghanaian Empire to its east and a conduit of trade between Rome and the sub-Saharan world. In time the Wolof peoples would come to dominate this region and to this day they control the culture of Senegal.

With the coming of the Arab Empire in North Africa, commerce and cultural exchange continued and increased. Some Wolof and Fulani people began to convert to Islam, but not in great numbers. By the time the Europeans arrived, Senegal was still less than 30% Muslim. Animist religions with their heavy involvement in witchcraft and voodoo were the order of the day.

By the middle of the 15th Century the Europeans were active on the west coast of Africa. First came the Portugese, then the Dutch as explorers and traders. Dakar was a natural spot for trade. The global rivalry between the British and the French eventually saw the area come under the control of the French, except for the narrow region surrounding the Gambia River which was retained by the British and is now the nation of Gambia. The entire West African Coast played a central part on the tragedy that was the Atlantic slave trade to the Americas and it is quite possible that a portion of black Americans today are Senegalese by descent.

French power was centred around the city of Dakar and slowly over several centuries the local population was allowed some say in their own affairs. This culminated in full independence in 1960. The march of cultural Islam in Senegal and the rest of the French West African colonies was relentless during the 20th Century, growing from 40% of the population to some 90% today. Having said that, the vast majority of that 90% of the Senegalese are Muslim in name only, with little understanding and shallow roots in the religion.

Today

Since independence Senegal has been one of the few African countries to embrace and respect the rules of democracy, a point of which they are very proud. They are equally proud of their religious tolerance mainly because there has been such an impotent example of Christianity on display. Sadly democracy and tolerance has not translated into economic development. The country consistently comes in near the bottom of the International Human Development list: The average life span is not much over 50 years, half the population is under 20 years, and literacy is just 40%. A unique feature of Senegal is the power of the Sufi brotherhoods, of which there are three. They are wealthy, well organised and powerful; literally states within a state.

True Christianity

Sadly, true Christianity has only recently arrived in Senegal. If there was a Christian presence in the New Testament era coming down with the Berbers from the north it has not left any records. With the French came Catholicism and the country is now 6% Catholic. Their influence is larger than their numbers because they are well educated and run many of the countries hospitals and schools. Because there was no vibrant evangelical witness during the entire colonial era, most of those who were Animist in religious orientation in previous generations switched to Islam in protest against the dead European religion. This was in stark contrast to the situation in former British colonies where Christianity is now flourishing in Africa.

For the moment there is freedom of religion in Senegal and there are some 50,000 evangelical believers in the country, mostly around Dakar and other centres on the coast. Little missions work has been done in the vast swathe of villages in the interior. The country still awaits a move of God that is indigenous in culture but Biblical in spirituality. There are some reports of new spiritual foundations being laid and an openness to the Good News on the internet, but they are few and far between.

Prayer Points

For the rising rejection of radical Islam to grow into a powerful hunger for the truth

For the millions who are nominal Muslims but with a respect for Jesus

For the 100,000 street kids of Dakar

For culturally relevant church planting strategies

For the preservation of tolerance toward Christianity

For Souls, lots of souls to come to Jesus

For deep discipleship, not shallow conversions

For a wave of revival to invade the half a million Catholics

For the unreached among the proud and resistant Wolof people

For the nomadic Fulbe herdsmen who are very hard to reach by outsiders

For the Maures, who are all Muslim and who live near the Gambia River

 

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