SENEGAL, West Africa (BP)–Dustin Allen, 22, didn’t even notice the potent smell of fish in the saltwater air that had overwhelmed his senses a couple months earlier when he arrived at a seaside village in Senegal, West Africa.
It was just part of daily living for the missions volunteer from Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Ga.
He rose every morning from the foam mat on the floor where he slept and bathed using a bucket. He ate rice and fish with his hands out of a bowl on the floor along with his friends. He slipped on his flip-flops and trekked through thick sand to visit the homes of young believers who have never been to church in a building.
“This is a great life,” said Allen, who learned enough of the local language to teach simple Bible studies to the believers. “I could really see myself doing this long term.”
Allen’s consideration of missions as a career prompted him to join the Fishing for Fishermen (F4F) summer missions program which began among the Lebou people of coastal Senegal in 2001. The effort offers about a dozen college students each year a summer-long look at missions work among the Lebou, who are more than 90 percent Muslim.
“This is like going from boot camp in the Bible Belt to the frontlines of lostness,” Matt Herring, a student at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, said. “It’s like an internship for missions work. This is a great way to get a good idea of what this world would be like.”
Herring and Allen lived in villages and fished with the men as a form of outreach. F4F students receive a basic culture orientation and by day two are on the streets of the capital city, hailing taxis in the Wolof language to various hands-on projects. Their tasks include everything from hosting medical clinics to being evangelical artists and sharing the Gospel through intentionally hanging out with locals.
Kelly Davis, a student mobilizer for the International Mission Board, said students get a much more accurate insight into missionary life when they move beyond a typical two-week mission trip to an extended missions experience.
“In six weeks, you run out of food bars, you have to use the squatty potty, you’ve given up on having clean feet, and you’ve discovered you can live without a cell phone or constant Internet access,” Davis said. “Six weeks or longer forces you to begin living within the culture as opposed to holding your breath and hoping you make it to the end.”
TIME TO BUILD RELATIONSHIPS
As Kari Freeman, 19, strolls down a sandy street, children call out her Senegalese name and run up to throw their arms around her knees.
The nursing student from the University of Central Florida in Orlando greeted them and headed into the rustic clinic where she’s worked for two months. She understood enough Wolof to share in the busy Senegalese nurses’ inside jokes as they lightened their weighty work with a laugh. During free moments she sought to share Bible passages with them.
“These are the amazing things you don’t get to experience on the two-week mission trip where you build something and go back to your air-conditioned hotel room at night,” Freeman said. “This way we have time to build relationships.”
But the team of nursing student volunteers she served with in Senegal realized that extended service comes with a sacrifice. One teammate missed her best friend’s wedding. Another received news from home that her grandfather died.
“When you’re just here for a few days, you can push your struggles [to] the back of your mind and tough it out a few more days,” Freeman said. “But this just rips you from everything you’re attached to, like your family and comforts. It exposes all your weaknesses and forces you to rely on God. This paints a much better picture of missionary life.”
And she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s been really good for me,” Freeman said. “I’m definitely thinking of making a career of this.”
The baby is born screaming, but Grace Morehead knows that’s a good sign he is healthy. Senegalese babies face a high infant mortality rate.
As Morehead rocks the baby, he calms.
“We prayed over him just that somehow he would grow up knowing that he is loved and that he would know Jesus,” said Morehead, a 20-year-old nursing student from Azusa Pacific University in California.
She says the last four words of her prayers in the local language: “Ci tuuru Yeesu, ameen.”
In the name of Jesus, amen.
Experiences like that have given Morehead a new definition of the life-giving work she feels called to do.
“I always thought just missions would not be enough and I had to do nursing, too,” she said. “But I’ve realized God isn’t confined to work through medical things. We can heal wounds, but we have to heal souls.”
WORKING AMID THE LOSTNESS
Missionary Tim Horton knows that frontline missions experience is what it takes to give students a real look at missions work.
“God is going to grow in them a passion while they’re here that He is going to use to bring them back to work for Him,” he said, speaking from experience.
As a college student, Horton spent multiple summers serving in F4F. Now he and his wife serve as full-time missionaries, discipling young Lebou believers and supervising the current generation of F4F-ers.
“You can’t gain a passion like that until you’ve been in the midst of the lostness and seen it,” Horton said.
The students have not only seen the lostness around them but worked among it to transform lives for Christ.
Lebou fisherman N’Gala Gueye accepted Christ in the past year. With no church or pastor in his village, he was hungry to learn what he could about Christ from the college students.
“They came to be with us, to be our friends, to talk about the Bible, to bring us peace, and it is good,” Gueye said. “Through their actions and their spirit, they show us that they love Jesus. Whenever people want to see the way of God, they can see it through the lives of these students.”
To find out more about Fishing for Fishermen (F4F), e-mail David and Cheryl Johnson, who work with the program, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or go to gowestafrica.org and read more about the effort by clicking on “list all” on the “people groups” pull-down, and then clicking on “Lebou.”
Emily Peters is a regional writer covering West Africa for the International Mission Board.