PICK UP THE STONES!
When Nehemiah set out to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem he did not mould new bricks, he did not go to the mountain to hewn new stones, instead he sought through the rubble and brought out almost every piece of stone to use. When the wall fell as one would expect, with great vandal from the conquerors of Jerusalem. Perhaps using big hammers or other instruments that rendered the well laid bricks to dismantle severely into bits and pieces that could hardly be appreciated much more considered for rebuilding a wall that was to protect the great city. Yet it was from those dust laden pieces, those burned rubble (Nehemiah 4) that Nehemiah and his fellows architected a very imposing wall which from its inception had evoked the jealousy of the enemies of Israel.
In like manner should we understand that God is not calling champions, experts, nor is he calling ‘’great men of God’’, but willing hearts. Thus small and insignificant as the bricks that lay down, we have to rise to the task with greatest confidence and faith. We will bring ourselves feeble as we are, inconsiderable men of no fame to the mighty God whose victory is regardless of many or few.
Peter says we are stones-living stones. We exist for a reason and purpose; built one upon another, intended to rise into a spiritual house of the Gambia to the honour and glory of our God.
Check through the lines of history and see that when God called people, he never called them when they were great; he called them in their inadequacy and over time and experience made them into the men he had desired. So where is the place of small and great? Where then are the Levites of today who are zealous for the Lord in the Gambia?
To pick up the stones then means making our selves available to the task of evangelizing the Gambia. This may not necessarily mean everyone becoming a pastor or evangelist especially as we understand the positions these words denote in today Christianity. But an awakening to the fact that the Gambia needs God to build her sanctuary by raising her own children, spark up a true revival in the nation, raising awareness from Gambian culture to propel the gospel in the land. Yet in reality this change may not necessarily take place in a short while, but may be realized after decades. However we must begin somewhere and now. What do we do now then? Let’s think along the same line and pray the same request. It is to make prayer the cement of your life by which your whole being knits into a harmony that demonstrates the glory and wonders of God. Employing Paul’s concept of a living sacrifice, let us bring coherence to our life by prayer, knowing that all domains of our lives are intended to light up the glory of God to the view of a dark and confused world bound to pain and misery. Whether in the office or at home, in the market or at the field, it is prayer that will awake us to the fact that we are there for God. And our God seeks to show himself through us. Let us then fan the fire of prayer in our lives. It will consume all the debris and stop the flickers of sin and complacence. And as we kindle the fire of prayer in our individual lives we will soon be able to light up torches for the church of the Gambia in its conquest, like those of Gideon and the three hundred. And as we continue to pray, the results of praises we will come out with will send the enemy helter-scelter in disarray and self destruction.
Now in our praying let us raise our eyebrow beyond the margins of self and need and begin to hem our evangelical interest with the burden of raising the walls of the church. We should pray God both individually and collectively to raise a greater witness to his son in the Gambia. As we pray let us think about this point: where is the Gambia’s pattern of the gospel? The gospel always has the power of suiting every culture thereby transforming it. The Gambia has her culture, and such ways to penetrating the people should come from within. Therefore unless the gospel roots in our culture to sprout from that background, our people will always see it as something foreign and close their hearts to it. One thing we should know is that the gospel is not replacing at all in its attitude but rather transforming. Reading Martha T Fredericks- ‘’We have toiled all night’’ pg 127, Islam could spread comfortably over the sub region because it was able to find itself a place and mingle with the culture of the people. It gradually became their identity, and hitherto its spread, while the gospel was so closely tied to the identity and culture of the missionaries who brought it. So it could be rightly stated that one fundamental reason for it to have born little fruit is because of this matters of culture and identity. This being the case we should center our prayers on God sparking up the Gambia’s own pattern of the gospel. This is what we call revival- people getting to know God in their own context and living according to his divine law in their context.
The revival we pray for and talk about all the time will only spark and be sustained when God begin to move in an indigenous way. It will be recognized when it comes, but that will not be until we begin to see sparks and blazes rising from the Mandinka, Jola, Serahuli, Fula Manjago Serer Balanta Wolof camps and of all other people of the Gambia. Think about how God can effectively transform all these tribes with the enriching glory of the gospel.
If we consider ourselves then as the rubble of the wall of Jerusalem which was left to bear shame testimony to Israel before her neighbours and enemies, we realize that we have no chance of making a wall just by ourselves.
At this juncture, we should ask what the wall of the Gambia could be, WHAT IS THE WALL OF THE GAMBIA? To answer this question we first have to go back to the wall of Jerusalem and ask some questions like: why was it there? What other function did it serve? And so on.
In trying to answer these questions, we realize that the wall of Jerusalem was there:
- To protect the city God had found them
- To serve as an image of their civilization
- To serve as control to the movement of people in and out of the city
All these points in one way or the other preserved and fostered Jewish culture. Yet we accept that Judaism was a closed society and culture which we are not meant to be because Jesus Christ calls us into one church that is indiscriminate of tribe and culture. However, the wall meant something great to them. And so we analyze that the wall gave them a taste of who they were, the God they worshipped and the culture they promote.
How then can we see the wall of the Gambia? Especially in a state predominantly muslim.
The answer is, we see our God and the culture we promote. Unlike a physical wall we are then building a social-spiritual wall to represent our identity to the glory of God and to the benefit of our people, bringing our praises to him in our own languages using the very instruments known by our tradition. Lord grant that we will find our building possible and successful as the wall of Jerusalem Nehemiah rebuilt. May everyone take part and, your spirit be there to lead us in and through all the challenges as were posed by Sanballat and co.
We will never understand God as fully present and so close to us unless we begin to notice him even in the most quiet and unseen aspects of our culture. I was born and bred a Manjago Gambian, so I can best understand and be in touch with God as a Manjago Gambian as long as I hold to that as my identity. Therefore we should understand that the church did not come to take us away from home rather the church has come home to us. The church of Jesus has come to be part of us so that we can be part of it.
Why do I say this? It is true with me and with most other believers in the Gambia that the moment you believe and want to follow Jesus as an evangelical or Pentecostal Christian, your people see you as leaving the tent-going out from them to something foreign. This ought not to be so. It is very painful to come from a family whose perception of God is not correct, and having known the truth now which you would your people as well to know, yet you find that the implications of faith has taken you far from your people.
This is definitely so because our people don’t see anything Gambian or belonging to their tribe in what we are doing. Yet the gospel is not like this. In short all that I am saying is that the gospel is not given the right contextual package in the Gambia. Whoever is involved in the propagation of the gospel in the Gambia, we should endeavor to begin to reconcile it to Gambian culture.
In fact when we go to Christ’s words in the great commission what we would realize at a critical consideration is that people do not bring the gospel rather it is the gospel that brings people. Jesus said ‘go ye therefore…’ all he intended is that they go all over the world telling people the good news and teaching them to be disciples. Paul had to confront the Jews severely when they began to take along their tradition/culture with the gospel. So this has been an issue of concern since long ago. And I think we in the Gambia should wake up to this fact and find the way to be more effective contextually speaking.
Truly when men see themselves as bringing the gospel they don’t notice that inevitably they are just relaying it in their culture- they bring us their home. But when a man sees that it is the gospel that brings you and not you bringing the gospel, then that man will first observe what he has come to, and see the ways by which to put the gospel, so that it is well relayed without tasting so foreign to the people. Think for instance incorporating our musical instruments more increasingly in our praise sessions at church. We have to start somewhere.
Until now this is one thing that missions have not been able to accomplish in the Gambia. Reading Martha T. Frederiks ‘we have toiled all night’, Anne Marie Javouhey stands out to me for her wonderful missions mindset and foresight which was to raise indigenes so that Senegal in particular would not have to depend on outside for her clergy. Second to that the Methodist church from early on had begun a wonderful approach of preaching and teaching in Wolof through their translators, and even translated gospel documents into Wolof. These approaches were nevertheless in the right direction and their patterns should not be ignored by any mission house. Instead of churches and church leaders increasing let Christ increase.
Who then should pick up the stones? We realize that this work is to be done by both foreign missionaries and indigenes. Gambians on their part should embrace the propagation of the gospel and be greatly involved. Foreign missionaries on their part should consider changing their approach to a more effective pattern of contextualization.