‘Gambian Dreams’ gave way to real vision in November 2022 as Global Scholars Canada met virtually across the country and around the globe for an update from our scholars who lead the Christian Religious Studies Program at the University of The Gambia.
This is the only program that confers a faith-based university degree (BA) in Christian Studies in a country that is 90% Muslim. Previously, students had to go to Ghana or Nigeria for such training. This full-time, four-year program has been running for a mere 7 years and has already seen Christian graduates moving into all sectors of society. Some have taken prominent places in the military, education and in church planting. Ten more are poised to graduate this February.
GSC scholarships are an essential recruiting tool as CRS partners with local Churches and leadership to encourage student applications. Not all who want to enrol, are able. Rigorous entrance qualifications can prove prohibitive and not all candidates are able to access private tutoring in preparation. There is also a relatively small population of Christians in the country, that sees this “group of David’s taking on the most helpful bits of Saul’s armor” as Dr. Glen Taylor put it, through perseverance, prayer and the critical provision that is GSC supporters and donors.
Dr. David Koyzis described the Gambia as a long, thin river coast probing English-speaking African terra firma which in turn, probes surrounding Francophone Senegal. Both predominantly Muslim countries, the Christian Religious Studies program at The University of the Gambia would seem “an unlikely happening in a geographical oddity where God has seen fit to do a marvelous work” according to Dr. Harry Fernhout.
Dollar for Dalasi, a year of study in the Christian Religious Studies program is great value for money in comparison to the cost of tuition here in the West. For $1000 CDN, a student in the Gambia receives a full year of tuition as well as bursary support for things like books and the bus. The equivalent here, it was pointed out, is a full ride for a year at Harvard. We have an excess of PhDs in North America and in Korea where Dr. Yoon was born, but not enough in places where there is student-interest and opportunity-a-plenty. The means however, of raising an indigenous population to its own empowered potential, would be a stumbling block without the generous support of Global Scholars Canada donor scholarships.
Dr. Manhee Yoon, professor and the country’s only Old Testament Biblical Scholar, described the unmistakable “calling” he received 6 years ago. Having prayed for direction in career next-steps, and while congratulating a friend after a successful dissertation defense at the University of Toronto, the pair were joined in an office by Global Scholar, Dr. Glen Taylor of Wycliffe College, who was looking for a theology professor to commit to teaching in The Gambia.
Yoon was stirred and responded, “I will go.”
An employment opportunity was before him, but Yoon did not know where The Gambia was on the map. His wife had already agreed to accompany him wherever God called, but he then learned he would have to fundraise for his own salary. Whiplash moments of uncertainty soon turned to confirmations of a calling, as donors rose to the occasion. Manhee has been serving faithfully for years now in one of West Africa’s poorest countries.
Pastor Benjamin Michael is a facilitator for the CRS program in the Gambia and is described as a pillar of support. He repeated just how meaningful a GSC Scholarship for a Gambian student can be. For many, it is the difference between a university education (and all that opportunity brings) and not having one. Most of the students in the CRS at the UTG are local, although some have hailed from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria – they are a multi-denominational, “hard working bunch” that have come to appreciate the quality of the program.
Recently there have been calls for the program to expand to include a master’s degree level of study. Pastor Benjamin explained just how well respected the CRS program and its people are, even though it is small and under-served relative to the University and other African National Universities. The strategy and logistics of this have yet to take shape.
There is growth here and promise, in fact the program is currently seeking a New Testament Scholar for a course now well-established by retiring US Global Scholar, Layne Turner. As Pastor Benjamin illustrated, the Gambia is a place where a Christian minority has found ways to flourish despite challenges like lack of resources, such as reliable internet and electricity, classroom access and even tables at which to study.
Two descendants of Abraham meet regularly in the Gambia: Christian and Muslim, and students must learn respectful dialogue and cooperation in the midst of deep differences. Outside of interactions between CRS and Islamic Studies at the UTG, Muslims also have opportunity to learn about Isa (Jesus) in the Quran through Pastor Benjamin’s weekly radio program. Indeed, converted Muslims to Christianity are circumspect; they carry old habits in new faith as seen for example through the removal of shoes upon entering the church and kneeling on a rug to pray.
Overall, there is “steady progress” said Pastor Benjamin with a confident grin. Christian Religious Studies at the University of the Gambia is a place where God has obviously planted his Word and the right people. The program, he confirmed, is “here to STAY.”
While our ‘Gambian Dreams’ might include an Elon Musk satellite dish in the near future that could make online education more of a reliable reality, until then, your donations and prayers are requested with the fullest promise of faithful return. When partnerships amongst Christians from around the globe combine to make cross-cultural ministry and respect communicated through the Gospel in a public University a force for change and good, it is to the benefit and cooperation of all: student, scholar, donor and beyond.