Walking along a busy, colourful, sandy road immersed in the noise of cars, goats and laughing children, it is easy to become slightly overwhelmed by the sheer vibrancy of life in The Gambia. Holding my hand is a two-year-old boy, who is just finishing two weeks staying with a charity who primarily work to end the sexual abuse of children in The Gambia.
I spent that evening helping to get the children ready for bed, singing songs with them, letting them braid my hair and cuddling this toddler to sleep – who had found safety and love in the arms of a stranger who he had met only hours earlier. I knew that it was because I knew God’s extravagant love for me, that I could bring peace and security to a physically and emotionally noisy situation. In the face of such commotion, the only thing I could offer, was Jesus’ love flowing out of me.
The purpose of the mission trip was to love and serve our mission partners living in The Gambia. One week, we spent at their annual conference; running children’s work, helping to lead worship, bible study & prayers, and individually praying for each person. We were truly loved and welcomed in return. We were staying immediately next to a large mosque and, being the beginning of Ramadan, the month of fasting for Muslims, it had many homeless people sitting outside (it is a Muslim religious custom to give to those in need during this time). Several afternoons we crossed the road to the mosque, bought bread to give to the ladies sitting there, and began talking to them. We asked each one if they were in any pain and if we could pray for them in Jesus’ name. All of them were keen to be prayed for, and as we split off into pairs, we began to see them experience Father God’s extravagant love.
One lady, who introduced herself as Mama Africa, had been needing to use crutches to walk, and after we prayed for her, suddenly jumped up and started waving her crutches above her head, shouting, “I don’t need the crutches anymore!” It was amazing to see such life and joy erupt from her as she skipped around the road, completely healed. Another lady had been unable to walk without pain in her back. She was sitting against the wall of the mosque, and as we prayed over the source of the pain, she suddenly jumped to her feet and started dancing around. Jesus had healed her back, and she was entirely free from pain! Lots of the people around her were aware of her pain before prayer, so when they saw this, they rushed over with curiosity, and many of them subsequently experienced God’s healing power in their own bodies.
After the conference, we headed to the home village of one of the missionary families, where we would stay for our last week in Africa. Life is very different in the village, where even the western commodities found at the coast were entirely absent. Water came from a pump out of the ground, and showers were often moonlit and always from a bucket. Drying up was a thing of the past, but mangoes falling out of a tree were a very real possibility, as we dodged around donkeys and goats who roamed the compound at their leisure. I only woke up to a goat next to my face once! Here we spent time prayer-walking, helping with practical projects and daily life, and playing with any children that crossed our path. It was a humbling experience to see how life is lived so differently, and to be welcomed into their 40-strong families, where children are everywhere, and privacy is scarce. We prayed and worshipped every morning and we met many people, and heard their stories. Undeniably a moment that I will always treasure, was meeting a 2-year-old girl with hydrocephalus. Her head was twice the size that it should have been, and her body was close to wasting away. We spent some time praying and worshipping over this precious daughter of God, and it was such an honour to be welcomed into their vulnerable family. Throughout our time with them though, the only way I could look at this little girl was when I saw the love that Jesus has for her. With the ongoing belief that she will be healed, and with thanksgiving for the miracle that her life already is; she takes no pain medication, she can still eat food and is clearly, and amazingly, totally at peace. God has already worked hugely in her life and, keeping that at the forefront of my mind and knowing that God wants her well, I could fight for her wholeness of health. The Father’s love is so much greater than the sickness that she faces, and that put everything that we saw into perspective.
His extravagant love changes everything. It changes us, and it changes our perspective. And with that love flowing out of us, as we met people in difficult situations, we were able to change things too, as by His power we ministered healing, filled the atmosphere with joy, and brought peace and hope to situations that were lacking it.
Sophie Cleeve is a former church intern, and now works part-time for an Ashington-based design agency, as well as part-time Ministry Associate for Chanctonbury Church.