After we had concluded the interview Reverend Banny revealed to us that we were actually sitting in the room where formal education started in the Gambia, in 1821. How awesome! This building have stood so many years of witness to Jesus Christ, and as well to the memory of its builders who perhaps never had the idea that it will still be standing strong over two centuries, and that today we could shelter in it and discuss pertinent issues to our common faith and age.
But wait a minute. Do you know that the testimony of people who are devoted to God live this long? It outlives them to generations unknown, and there as a precious inspiring obelisk. So a youth prepared for service is not just a vessel, but like such solid building erected for the use of God and his people.
Banny Manga is firstly a Christian, a Gambian and a youth. He has been serving as a reverend minister in the Methodist Church for over ten years now. The Voice caught up with him in what was a revealing and educative moment as he tells us below.
The voice: considering you as a youth in the ministry my mind goes back on Timothy (in 1st Timothy 4:12) where Paul exhorts him to let no one look down on him because he is young. Rather he should be an example in life, in faith, in love and purity. How do you consider that exhortation in view of your ministry?
Reverend Banny: Actually this was my confirmation text when I was confirmed in 1994, so it is so dear to my heart. Looking at it in context, St Paul was telling Timothy that just because you are a young person doesn’t mean you should not bear witness.
As far as I seek to do, I want to serve God with all my heart, soul, and strength, and I will try as much as possible to fulfill that. Now as a young person obviously there are so many things that people presume when they look at us. I remember when I was coming to the ministry years ago somebody said about me speaks in Wolof ‘’ndeysan, he is not going to marry. He is going to be someone to pity’’ Yet I have been in this ministry for ten years and I think I am very happy. I don’t really look like someone miserable or dejected and depressed. One thing we need to realize is that before you became a minister-a priest a pastor, you were a child of God. And God chose you out to participate in taking care of other children of God. Yes you have a special calling on you, but you are a child of God first and foremost. The bottom line is you, I and he is Christian. Now in our being Christian, then God says ok Banny I want you to do this, Michael I want you to do this, but all of us as young people are supposed to be examples in our conduct, in purity, in love and in our speech. And I want to strongly say that the young people in this nation, when they look around them, they want somebody to be an example. They would tell you that we cannot live a holy life! But somebody needs to show them that we can live a holy life. And how are you going to do it? Let them see the footsteps you bear. So it is possible to do it and God has given us the grace, the strength, I don’t see anything stopping us. That is where I stand.
The voice: Taking into consideration that there could rise moments of misunderstanding in any given relationship, as a young minister how have you been relating with your superiors?
Reverend Banny: The first point is, we need to understand why we are in the ministry. The problem we have is that a lot of people don’t want to look at why they are in the ministry, but they look at ‘’what can I be in the ministry?’’ I have come to be a minister- a servant of God, and that is my primary goal….. If I have added responsibility on it, praise God, if I don’t, praise God! the bottom line is I have come to be a servant of God. Obviously they have been there before me and I recognize their gifts and graces, and I believe they also recognize my gifts and graces. It is not a competition but, is about complementing each other for the glory of God. In the ministry, you are not there to make a name for yourself but you are there to make the name of Jesus magnified. If that is your motive, I don’t think you’re going to have any problem. But once we begin to look at ourselves then there will be problem because we will begin to say, oh I want to be better than this. And as a result, you will do things that are to your advantage. That is not what the ministry is about; rather it is about lifting the name of Jesus. If it means that I have to be on the ground and the name of Jesus is lifted up I will be. John said in the gospel ’’I have to decrease and Jesus has to increase’’ and that is what the ministry is about. I am only a vessel, I don’t want people to look at reverend Banny, I rather want them to look at Jesus Christ, because he is the author and finisher of our faith. I cannot give salvation; it is Jesus Christ who can give salvation. That is what is important for me.
The voice: Would you like to tell us what your challenges have been since you were ordained a minister?
Reverend Banny: well I think as you grow up you mature in faith. Like St Paul says when I was a child I thought like a child but now I am growing up I put away childish tendencies. There have been times, for instance, when you bring things you think is for the betterment of everybody and it is turned down. And obviously you feel like saying ‘’oh what is happening?’’ there have been times that you have been preaching, you have been praying with people and you feel in all you are saying you are swimming against the tide. But the good news in all of that is that I have not stuck in the challenge, God have given us strength to go beyond the challenge. You see, in life you are surely going to have challenges. The trouble is not the challenge; it is allowing the challenge to weigh you down. And I am not here trying to impress myself, but in essence I am saying that whatever challenge that comes my way, I take it to God in prayer, and he has always helped me out of those situations, that at least today I stand to be where I am. A typical example is when I just started, sometimes when you stand and you speak under God and say this is what the lord says; this is what he wants us to do. Some people will say to you speaks in Aku ‘’na pikin I no know wetin dey talk.’’- That I am a child i don’t know what I am saying. But this is not my word this is the Lord’s word, and the Lord proves his word. So the same people who were saying he is a child he doesn’t know what he is saying, will be the very ones who will say ‘’ah but reverend Banny been sayam’’- Reverend Banny has said it. so, for me there are going to be challenges in so many forms, but like Saint Paul says, is about keeping focus on the cross, and on the call, and on what God put you there for. And once you focus on Jesus the challenges you face become sustainable.
The voice: What is your impression of youths in your circuit and what are you doing to make them become the right person you wants them to be?
Reverend Banny: well I think it should rather be the other way round-what the lord wants them to be. And once I am able to focus on that, I try and motivate them towards thinking in light of what God wants them to be. If I make them to be what I want them to be, I am only human, and as much as I am a minister I am limited. But if I make them think as the Lord wants them to think, then they will be in the centre field of God. You see I can tell you be a teacher, but what if the lord wants you to be a doctor? Then I am misleading you. So I don’t try to make the young people in my circuit think “me”, I try and help them think where God wants them to be. The second thing is I desire that the young people in my church will grow in the knowledge of the word of God; I want them to be rooted in Jesus. Because like scripture says there will come a time that there will be so much wind of doctrine. And if they are not strong our children will be wayward. Take for example a young lady who is lured to convert and be a Muslim in order to be married. And they tell them that is the same God, if it’s the same God, then why not the other way round? So I want my young people both male and female to be rooted in Jesus, for once they are, nobody will deceive them. And I don’t want to give up on anybody, because God has not given up on them. What I will rather do is encourage them to be rooted in God, help them appreciate the faith and know who Jesus is.
The voice: In view of the resurrection Paul urged the Corinthian brethren (in 1st Corinthians 15:58) to give themselves fully to the work of the Lord. Does this call for a total devotion appeal to you?
Reverend Banny: well I think whatever is worth doing is worth doing well, this is the bottom line. I don’t believe working for somebody and you are giving haphazardly yourself, that person would know. I cannot play ding dong game with God, because I owe my very life to him. So for me the same commitment I give to myself, I give even more to God. But in the context of your question, (1st Corinthians 15:58) we need to understand it in the sense that at that point in time St Paul was thinking that the resurrection has come, there is going to be Christ’s coming immediately. So he was radical to say, render all to the Lord. And I hold on to what we are told in Genesis that we are stewards of creation. Therefore, whatever work you are doing you are there serving God. In being a teacher you are serving God, because you are taking care of God’s creation, and you are serving people nurturing them to be better individuals. In being a minister you are a steward, in being a gardener you are a steward. Being a taxi driver, you are a steward because you are providing services that people need. So I believe when we are doing anything, even if it is eating, eat well, am not saying eat plenty, but eat well. If it is studying study well, playing play well, because once you do that you are contributing towards the harmony of what God has created.
The voice: Because the voice is a non-denominational magazine, we would want to dig into your impression of Ecumenism and how its implications pertain to your ministry.
Reverend Banny: well let’s put it this way. I think the subject matter needs to be understood properly. I have been in many programmes where when we discuss the whole subject matter of ecumenism it is very clear people don’t understand it. And I think if your magazine wants to look at that topic we have to look at its call on mission. We have to understand it better, rather than reframe it or digging it wrongly or not. In seeking to understand it I have to appreciate my people and the work that God has called me to do. That’s why I say I think that is more than this paper can take now. That involves a lot more, that you need to look at and work with that first. Further if you are looking at their belief and those are some of the differences, and all of that you aren’t able to contain at this point? You are only writing few lines and this is a whole semester base. But also I think in this nation we have quite a lot of young people who are going to various denominations and ministries and I think that sometimes as leaders of the church we are part of the problem, we are part of the problem because instead of teaching people about unity in Christ we are teaching them about how to focus internally. And then some of us our leaders will tell them leave this church because this church is not good and come to my church. That is not the spirit of God, because the spirit of God is never against itself. So any pastor, who tells you leave this church and come to this church, probably is not operating under the spirit of God because that church you are saying is not good, God put it there. Where was this church that they are saying is good? Do you know how many people have given their lives to Christ through that ministry that you are saying is not good? So why are you looking down on it? You don’t even understand what they are doing you just sit down and look at some internet page and say oh this is wrong that is wrong.
The voice: We admit you have given wonderful response to our questions, yet as a way to wrap it up here what else would like to tell us as conclusion to this interview?
Reverend Banny: I think I will use the words of Jesus in Matthew 22:37-39 “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” And “love your neighbor as yourself” those are the words of Jesus, and I think that is what the world need at this point in time. I can go on expounding, but instead of loving things you love God. You are not called to compete with any other person but yourself. You don’t say because this is how this person is, so I am going to be like him. You are a unique person in God’s creation; you can be the best that God wants you to be. Not what others say, not what others are doing, but what God is doing in your life! Once you focus on what God is doing in your life you are on top of the world. God never does things haphazardly, he does things and they are beautifully in our eyes. So love God! Serve him with all your heart and mind and love your neighbour as yourself. Don’t have any ill feeling against anybody, be nice to everybody be honest to everybody, you might not get there all of a sudden, but when you fall down, get up and wash yourself and walk on. Those will be my last words
To God be the Glory
By John Jatta.