A week of firsts in Senegal
September 13, 2010 § Leave a comment
History was made last week when United Methodists in Senegal hosted the West Africa Central Conference United Methodist Young Women’s Network. Delegates from six West African countries attended the four day gathering held in Dakar, Senegal’s capital city, September 2-5.
This was the first time that the young women of the four West African annual conferences and the two General Board of Global Ministries mission initiatives had gathered for an international event. A total of forty young women attended from Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroun, as well as the host country of Senegal. They were joined by the West Africa Youth and Young Adult Executive Team, planning team members from Senegal, and leadership from the Women’s Division of GBGM led by Mrs. Finda QUIWA, the Women’s Division Regional Missionary for Youth and Young Adults for Sub-Sahara Africa.
The week was also historic in that this was the first time for the United Methodist Church in Senegal to host a Central Conference event.
Organized under the theme of Isaiah 1:18a, “Come, now let us reason together,” the gathering was officially opened on Thursday morning by Rev. Paul D. Messer, GBGM missionary, and Country Director for United Methodist ministries in Senegal, who was substituting for Bishop John K. Yambassu, Episcopal leader of the Sierra Leone Annual Conference, who was unable to arrive until Friday morning because of travel difficulties. Rev. Messer challenged the delegates to make their time together one of discussion, careful listening, and respectful argument as they addressed issues of HIV/AIDS, teenage and young adult pregnancy, Christian decision making, and the future shape of ministry with young women ages 18-30 in the West Africa Central Conference.
Delegates to the gathering say that the highlight of the week was getting to meet the young women from other countries and hearing what the United Methodist Church is doing in young women’s ministries in other countries. “It was exciting to see that people of different backgrounds and cultures can work together in the name of Jesus Christ,” said Greta AKO of Cameroun. “We have learned much to help us organize and educate young women in Cameroun on issues that are important to our health and faith. We are not going back empty!”
The Gathering concluded on Sunday with a worship service at the Methodist Protestant Church of Gran Yoff, when was founded and is supported by the Korean Methodist Church. Delegates and guests to the conference, along with members of the Nord Foire and Gran Yoff United Methodist churches, joined the members of the Korean church and other guests in overflowing the sanctuary. This service was also historic in that it was the first time that the two Methodist denominations in Senegal have worshipped together on a Sunday morning.
“We are very grateful to our Korean Methodist brothers and sisters for having allowed us to worship with them in their sanctuary today,” said Rev. Joseph Bleck, Superintendent of the United Methodist Church in Senegal. “It is wonderful to have all of these followers of Jesus Christ and John Wesley in Senegal and West Africa together under one roof this morning. It is a great day for Methodists in Senegal!”
Mr. Pape Gning, Youth Coordinator for the United Methodist Church in Senegal, led the local planning efforts along with four other young adult leaders of the GBGM Mission Initiative in Senegal. This group spent many hours over the last year planning for this historic gathering.
“I think it was very important for our church in Senegal to take this step,” said Mr. Gning, himself a former Muslim who came to Christ ten years ago through the ministry of the United Methodist Church. “It is a step toward our becoming full partners in ministry with our brothers and sisters of the West Africa Central Conference.”
When asked what the thought was the significance of the week for Senegalese Methodists, Superintendent Bleck commented, “For our church members in Senegal to see so many United Methodists from countries that have had United Methodist churches for many years is a great blessing to our young church. We still have much to learn, but this was a big step forward for us.”
Delegates began returning to their home countries on Monday with promises to see each other again at the 2011 Young Women’s Gathering in either Sierra Leone or Liberia.