An Update from The Gambia by Dr. Manhee Yoon
University of The Gambia, though it is the only national university in the country, lacks basic facilities such as classrooms, toilets, and offices, let alone water and electricity. During the Covid years, all classes were conducted online, and the university admitted more students for some departments than it could handle. As a result, when all classes came back to the in-person mode, there was a shortage of classrooms. Unfortunately, none of the courses of the Christian Religious Studies program were given classrooms. Lecturers and students in our department are having classes in a chapel building, located in one corner of the campus. This is a very old building; ceilings are torn-open, windows are broken, there is only one table and a small desk with no blackboard. We still feel it lucky to have this chapel building where we can meet for classes. This chapel building was built a long time ago with funds from overseas and has been used for Christian meetings but hasn’t been properly maintained. Still, it is useful in a situation like this. Students are not complaining much, they accept it as reality. These kinds of things are very common in The Gambia. I don’t think the university is discriminating against our program because we are Christians, though some students suspect that possibility.
A couple of exciting developments:
There have been some positive developments in our department and for the university. First, one of the full-time lecturers in our department, Rev. Bannie Manga, was elected as a new bishop of the Gambian Methodist Church, one of the mainstream churches in the country. Bishop Manga has been with our department since 2016. After having been appointed as the new bishop of the Methodist Church, he was also appointed as the chair of Gambian Christian Council, which means that he has become the top leader of the Christian Church in The Gambia. He expressed his desire to continue his teaching in our department.
There is another piece of good news. Prof. Pierre Gomez, a former dean of School of Arts and Sciences at UTG, who, as a Catholic Christian, played an important role in getting our program started in the university, was promoted to the position of Deputy of Vice Chancellor in Academic Matters last year, and then recently he was appointed as the new minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology by the President of The Gambia. Interestingly, the person who has been appointed as the new minister of Basic and Secondary Educations is also a Christian. This means, out of 18 cabinet members of the new government, two ministers are Christian, and I believe this is the first time we see this in this Muslim-majority country. In addition to that, the Vice Chancellor of the University of The Gambia (the Chancellor is the President of the country) has recently been appointed, and he is also a Christian man. This means the two ministers of education in the cabinet and the top leader of the national university are all Christians. It shows that though the country is predominantly Islamic, more than 90% of the population being Muslims, Christian influence on the education sector in the country is significantly growing.
This makes me stay hopeful toward the future of this country. Though the Christian Church remains a minority in the country, its leadership role and presence among the Muslims, especially in the education sector, is not small.
‘Fishers of Men’ in The Gambia
I am sometimes concerned about the sustainability of our program in the university; Are we going to continue to have enough students in the future? Are we training our students adequately for their ministry and teaching? Are our students serious enough about studying the Bible? These questions are always in my mind, but I am reminded that it is our Lord who called me and that he is in control, which gives me comfort and leads me to focus on what I can do rather than on what I can’t do anything about.