(Before I begin, I wanted to mention that from now on I will not be using proper names for anyone other than our immediate family. We want to make every effort to be transparent with you, our friends and family, but at the same time there is always a need to be cautious, as this is a public blog. )
We’ve had some exciting days as a team recently, and I thought you would like to hear some great news. But first, a little background…
Over the past year, Bill and our colleague B., along with two other guys, have felt God’s clear leading to be involved in ministry at the large (65,000 students) university here. As they spent time on campus, meeting students and other workers, they realized that almost 8,000 students are pursuing a degree in English. The guys began establishing friendships with the students, and before long they were connected with and helping the student-led English Club. (See last blog entry for more on the English Club.)
Bill and B. had long envisioned establishing a student center, and had visited an existing center last year in Mali in order to get some ideas about what worked and what didn’t. There was some thought given to trying to find a place to meet on campus, but that had several down sides. It was frustrating trying to have meetings or events on campus – they would show up only to have the assigned room locked and no way to get a key. There are frequent strikes and demonstrations on campus, by both students and teachers, making it impossible to even get on campus some days. And even though their relationship with the staff is good now, there is always the risk of someone new coming along who is not interested in our help.
So it seemed wise to try and look off campus. The guys began looking for a building that could house their “English Resource Center” early this year. They were looking for a space with one large meeting room and hopefully several smaller rooms, for different sized events. They hope that the English Resource Center will house a resource library, perhaps a small coffee/tea bar, and kitchen. They would love to host English camps, discussion groups, movie nights, and help sessions. At one point, they had found a villa in a perfect location – close to school – with a nice layout for their needs. But of course, funds were needed to make any of these plans possible.
Our team wrote to supporters to tell them of this English Resource Project at the beginning of summer. We had a great first response, with one large gift and several other gifts. It was enough for us to feel we could proceed with renting the villa the guys had found. However, when they called to set up an appointment to discuss finances, they found that the villa had just been rented. That was a bit discouraging, but they began in earnest to find another place. They have looked at villas and apartments, but to date have not found a location that will work.
Just as the first villa fell through, Bill and B. were talking with another colleague who recommended very strongly that they consider getting a particular kind of training, called CELTA. CELTA is an internationally-recognized program for teaching English as a second language. Not only would CELTA certification give Bill and B. credibility in this Senegalese culture that places a very high value on accreditation and degrees, but it would give them the skills they need to provide a professional-quality program at the English Resource Center. CELTA is offered at many locations world-wide. They began to look for the least expensive, closest place to take the four-week, intensive course. (They were hoping maybe there would be a CELTA course offered at twin locations, Virginia Tech and the University of Nebraska, but alas, it was not to be.) The best choice appeared to be at a university in Johannesburg, South Africa. Timing was also an issue – when could we find a four-week block of time with no short-term teams expected, no major holidays, and no other family commitments? The next course offered in South Africa, beginning in mid-October and running until mid-November, seemed to be perfect, especially since this is the slowest time of the year for university ministry – the students will not return until December or even January. However, the cost involved in sending both Bill and B., including airfare, lodging and the course, would have eaten up all the funds we had in the ERC budget. If they then found a location to house the ERC, they would have no funds to work with. We decided as a team that clearly we could not proceed with the CELTA course at this time, unless more funds came in. We sent another letter out at that time, explaining the situation briefly.
So that brings me to the great news! We got the message late last week that we have received a very large, generous anonymous gift, plus enough other gifts to not only allow Bill and B. to attend CELTA this October, but to fund the ERC for its first year! This means that as soon as a building is located, we can begin preparing it for use by the students as early as their arrival back on campus this winter. Not only is this an amazing testimony to the generosity and faith of God’s people, but it is a particularly personal encouragement to our team as well.
We had been struggling with finding the line between stepping out in faith, believing that God would provide, and being wise stewards of our resources and above reproach in our business dealings, for example, not wanting to sign a lease knowing that the money to cover it was not yet in the bank. We had begun to be convicted that we were not trusting God to do big things, and at a recent team meeting spent time in prayer asking God to help us believe that He would not only provide, but that we should be willing to do as God commanded… “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it (Psalm 81:10)” … implying that He would pour out his blessings in abundance. So you can imagine how exciting it was to receive word of these financial gifts, less than two weeks from the time we prayed! To God be the glory, great things He has done.
And as if that wasn’t enough good news for one week, we also received word that the family we have been waiting to join our team here hit the 100% point in their support! We are now waiting to hear the exact date of the arrival of the A. family. It will be wonderful to have another family on our team, and we can’t wait to meet them.
I guess this entry has run long enough, but I’ll leave you with a few pictures from our meal yesterday with our friend I. It was Korite, the last day of Ramadan – everyone is very happy to be able to eat during the daytime again!