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Youth make connection in Senegal

SENEGAL, West Africa (BP)–High school student Matt Constantin looked out from the highest point of Dakar, Senegal’s capital city, and prayed. On his last afternoon in the African city, the U.S. teen saw much more than the sprawling metropolis. His view had been broadened by 10 days of ministry on the ground below.

Constantin and about 20 other students from North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia visited the West African city as International World Changers this summer.

International World Changers is an International Mission Board program that sends students on missions trips around the world each year. This IWC trip sent college and high school students to Senegal high schools to reach their peers by building relationships and handing out books and DVDs about Jesus.

During his time there, Constantin, from Salem Baptist Church in Salem, Va., had heard the call to prayer blaring from the mosque speakers. He’d seen men on those streets in Muslim robes bowing in futile prayers to Allah. He’d met a few believers who are left to roam those streets after losing their jobs and families for choosing to follow Christ.

“I’m overwhelmed by how lost Senegal is and the rest of West Africa,” Constantin said. “Missions has really come alive in my heart.”

That’s precisely the hoped-for reaction to IWC trips, said Steven McAbee, pastor of Glenpool First Baptist Church in Oklahoma who accompanied some members of his youth group on the IWC trip to Senegal.

“I’ve already had two of our students come tell me they think the Lord is calling them to missions,” McAbee said. “That excites me.

“I figure if we can get students here and give them a hunger and a thirst to serve God, there’s no telling how this world will be transformed for Christ in the next generation.”

But the trip to Senegal didn’t just impact the hearts of students. Missionaries in Senegal said IWC impacted their work by connecting them with teens who want to learn more about Christ.

“I think high schoolers were definitely the best choice to affect other high schoolers,” missionary Tammy Cortimilia said. “They had an immediate connection with those students.”

Courtney Mayes of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., had no trouble developing fast friendships with the teenage girls she met in the sandy schoolyards of Senegal.

They talked about classes, hairstyles and rap music. They laughed, showed family photos and shared their dreams and fears of the future.

Mayes and fellow IWCers gave books and DVDs about Christ to a large group of girls who had gathered around them at one of the schools. Interest in the female volunteers’ hairstyles precipitated a hairstyling session and an opportunity for Mayes to share the Gospel with one of the girls.

“We talked about our families, her favorite sports, her career plans and her dreams to go to university … [then] she allowed me to pray with her,” Mayes recounted. “She prayed in Arabic first and then I prayed…. All the girls told us ‘ciao’ and kissed us on the cheek. Hopefully, they will watch the DVDs and read the books, and some of it will sink in.”

Mayes also had the opportunity to pray with another girl who loved to talk about her family, her future and her life as a Muslim.

“When I finished praying for her, she said that I ‘prayed the thoughts from her head,’ almost like I had read her mind,” Mayes said. “After about two hours of talking, we had to leave, but I know that God will help her to know the truth.”
Emily Peters is a writer for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. To learn more about student opportunities for International World Changers in West Africa in 2008, go to www.thetask.org. To find out more about the peoples of West Africa and ways to pray for them, go to www.gowestafrica.org.

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  • Emily Peters