I had just reached the stage of being able to have primitive conversations and the language was starting to make sense. Then all mission workers were withdrawn, with danger from Islamic militants growing ever closer and more severe.
We live in an area at the forefront of the advance of Islam in West Africa, in a country changing rapidly under this influence. More recently, foreigners have been targets of kidnapping and violence.
We’d only moved to this town six months previously. It was a town with a small handful of other mission workers. The dominant people group included Christians – there was an explosion of growth in the 1970s. However that generation are now either elderly or have gone to be with the Lord, and pastoral training has not continued. So there was a great need to come alongside national pastors to help strengthen them.
I had begun work on learning the local tribal language and culture, alongside other parts of our lives – home-schooling and tent-making. It had not been easy for the children to move to this more rural town, but they were adapting, and enjoying the opportunities to meet up again in the home-schooling co-op weeks back in the capital. Everybody enjoyed the growing family farm and the open air; living in Africa has many blessings. My teacher, a hard-working 72-year old, was a great character, and a key evangelist in the early congregations.
But now, we were uprooting the family and moving again. It was painful leaving behind friendships that had begun, and the people we had set our hearts on serving.
We were withdrawn by the mission’s security team from that side of the country for a period that became indefinite. The language group I had set out to work with is only a tiny minority elsewhere and so my language studies ceased. We decided to use our months in the capital before home assignment with me doing the home-schooling, and Liz studying the national language full-time. We then went on home assignment, having been here a couple of years. The greatest highlight of this was the birth of our youngest daughter, who is now walking.
Before home assignment, we made an exploratory visit to the other side of the country – a situation that seemed ideal for all of us, with a young group of churches amongst a people reached only 15 years ago, greatly in need of workers and teaching.
Sadly, the security situation has deteriorated there too. It now only makes sense to live in the capital, until things stabilise one way or the other – another shut door.
So, since returning from home assignment, Liz was been finding ways, together with the older children, to join existing compassion ministries to use her gifts, particularly in healthcare work.
I have been looking for opportunities to teach in Bible schools, using the national language, taking Bible studies and preaching as invites arise. Next week we begin teaching English through a programme that has introduced many people to the Bible and the Lord over recent years. The uncertain situation has deterred new mission workers. Hence, I now carry a substantial responsibility in eldership and preaching in the shrunken English-speaking church.
In times of uncertainty, our prayer and desire is that God will lead us into the relationships and ministries that will bless the national church, and our ever-growing children. May they all be established in the love of Jesus Christ, of his truth, and of his sheep.