by Elizabeth M. Truong
After 10 years of missionary service in The Gambia, the Rev. Samuel Essien and his family returned to their native Nigeria in August 2011. Pastor Essien was sent to The Gambia through a partnership between The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and The Lutheran Church of Nigeria to connect with people who were curious about the Lutheran church, share the Gospel as widely as possible, form groups of new believers into Lutheran congregations, organize training for lay leaders and evangelists and eventually to leave the young church in the hands of a trained Gambian pastor.
Located along the West African coast, The Gambia is a physically small country only slightly larger than the state of Maryland. It-s population of 1.7 million people is 90 percent Muslim.
Not even a year after the Essien familys arrival, the first Lutheran church was erected in the village of Kitty in May 2002. On the day of the Kitty congregation’s dedication, 102 souls were baptized into God’s family and 68 were confirmed into full membership of the new Lutheran church.
Through witness and mercy over the course of 10 years of ministry, God granted Pastor Essien the blessing to preside over the baptisms of more than 250 people and the confirmations of more than 150. With support from the LCMS, he also helped provide training sessions and educational materials for developing leaders.
“We kept teaching and preaching to everyone who came our way, wrote Essien. We held Bible classes and helped our hearers know the real Gospel that leads to salvation. Many have come to faith in this way.”
Essien made a point of actively attending social celebrations in the community–weddings, naming ceremonies and funerals–many of which he himself conducted. He said, “At many of these outings, people outside of the church would ask, ‘How can we know more about your church?'” Essien noted, “As part of our concern for the people, I visited clinics, health centers and hospitals in order to pray for the sick. We also visited prison cells where we talked with inmates, assured them of Christs love and encouraged them not to give up hope.”
Among those baptized during Pastor Essien’s time in The Gambia was an 80-year-old Muslim man. His children accepted his conversion–which is often very challenging in such a context–and even participated in his Christian funeral, where they heard the truth of the Gospel as Essien preached.
Since 2001, the Essiens have helped establish four Lutheran schools, and the vast majority of enrolled students are Muslim. Schools were started in the villages of Abuko, Sifoe, Kitty and Note. Their curriculum includes teaching Bible stories, the Lord’s Prayer, prayers before meals, Christian songs and occasional worship services at the host congregation. Thanks to the mercy efforts of the LCMS, each of these schools received a hand pump, providing the students and staff with clean, safe drinking water.
God blessed the partnership of the LCMS and the Lutheran Church of Nigeria through the ministry of Pastor Essien and the prayers, financial support and encouragement of the members of both church bodies. Pray that the seeds planted through the faithful 10 years of teaching and preaching the Gospel continue to provide a plentiful harvest in The Gambia!
> Learn more at www.lcms.org/gambia.
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About the Author: Elizabeth M. Truongis a staff writer for LCMS communications.