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Two Years in Senegal

Before going to Africa we used to say that we were going to help them, now we say that we went to Africa to be helped.
By Daverne and Rute Bazan

Exactly one month after our wedding we arrived in Dakar to be volunteers for one year at the Senegal/Mauritania SDA Mission. Although many of our friends in Brazil told us it wouldn’t be a good idea to start married life in a different culture, we decided to follow our dream and the direction of God. Now we can honestly say that those people were wrong. At least in our case starting married life in a new culture away from family and friends only made us grow closer to each other and to God. Every time we were faced with a new challenge we had no friends or family to run to so we had to trust one another and God, and it’s amazing how we just missed some of the problems and adjustments most newlyweds go through because we were so involved in getting adjusted to the new culture.

When Elder Paulo Bechara, the Mission president picked us up at the airport he welcomed us by telling us that we had just landed in one of the most fascinating African cultures ever known to him. We soon discovered it to be true. To buy something as simple as a tomato, sometimes we had to talk for about 20 minutes and discuss a fair price considering all things for us and the salesperson. At first, we would get very frustrated every time we had to go shopping or take care of something downtown, but as time went by we learned how to better deal with those situations. And when you find someone you can trust, you can really trust that person and they’ll never let you down. We had the privilege of having many friends like that in the church and they are our friends for life.

When we were called to go to Senegal we didn’t know specifically what we would be doing but that didn’t matter because we were eager to get there and start working. Since our French was limited in the beginning, we were sent to French school for a while and our first assignments didn’t require a whole lot of language skills. Dawerne soon became the official driver of the mission, since only the mission president and his wife could drive. Dawerne had to go everywhere and he soon learned how to get around Dakar. As his French improved he also started working as cashier/accountant for the mission. He could count in French really fast!

About two months after we arrived in Dakar the Mission received a donation to renew an old recording studio they had there. The very first time Dawerne opened the doors to clean the studio he killed over fifty roaches, but in about a week the place looked completely different, it looked like a real recording studio. We started making trips downtown to purchase new equipment and soon the recording studio became the main attraction of the mission office. When the studio was ready, he started to test the equipment and train a Senegalese young man to record new programs for the radio. At the time, the mission was sending old programs in French that came from the Union office on the Ivory Coast, but the goal was to start recording new programs in French as well as in some of the many other dialects spoken in Senegal.

The first time we saw the Mission facilities, the yard looked like the Sahara desert, which is not too far from there. It was noticed in my resume that I had previously worked at a garden center and Elder Paulo asked me to do something about the mission’s landscaping. I confess that I loved that job. I started visiting the local market to see what kind of plants they had that would grow in the sand and soon everyone was involved in making holes, removing weeds and planting flowers. It was hard on the sunniest days but it was worth it in the end. The mission garden became the place to go when people wanted to take pictures.

Another assignment that I received at the beginning was to organize the ADRA office. There were some on-going projects that needed supervision, completed finished projects that needed a final report to be written as well as new projects that needed funding. Since most of ADRA’s reports and documents are written in English I had no language barrier to do that. For some of the reports the accounting had to be done, so Dawerne and I ended up working together.

Some of the ADRA projects were located in different parts of Senegal but there were two special projects in Dakar in which we had the opportunity to participate. The first one was an educational center for street boys that ADRA ran for a few months. About 20 boys came every morning for a hot meal, physical activity like gardening and soccer, but we also had the chance to teach them basic writing and mathmatics skills as well as offering some fun time doing music and arts. It was very rewarding to see a smile on their little faces when they were able to write their names for the first time. We tried to teach them how to take better care of themselves by brushing their teeth and taking a shower but it was hard for them to follow up under the circumstances they lived in.

The other project we participated in was milk distribution for malnourished children. Many mothers would bring their children to us once a week. Their children were weighed and we would give them powdered milk according to the child’s needs and they would come back the next week for a follow up. It was amazing how much stronger the babies would get in a week drinking whole milk. We also had the chance to give them some advice as to how they should care for their children.

Although 95% of Senegalese people are Muslims, they are not radically against contact with other religions like some other countries in Africa. Since the Adventist Mission became known in the area because of the ADRA projects for children, we decided to hold a kind of Vacation Bible School for the local children. We prepared puppets (Dawerne is an expert on that) and had meetings for 30 days. The children would come, sing songs, listen to stories told by the puppets, watch videos about Bible stories and then have games outside. Our vacation Bible school became so popular that sometimes we had over 60 kids present including many of the street boys and malnourished children with their mothers.

At the end of the month we announced that we would be starting a children’s choir the following week. We started with about thirty and by the time we left there were only fifteen regular children but it was a great blessing. We sang a special song on mother’s day from door to door and people would ask many questions about the Adventist Mission. With the studio starting to produce radio programs we decided to record some songs with the children. For this project, like for most of the others, Dawerne and I trained young people from the church to lead out. So for the choir, we had two young people actually direct while we taught them the skills needed. That way when we left they were able to continue the work. We had a great time recording the kids and at the end we put all of the songs on a tape and started to sell them to raise funds for the studio.

The Seventh-day Adventist church in Senegal has about two hundred members. During the year we were volunteers about six people were baptized. Although it might seem a small number for us, it was a great victory for them. We like to say that our brothers and sisters in Senegal are giant Christians, because they have to give up so much to follow Christ and once they make that decision nothing is worth abandoning Him.

In Dakar there are two Seventh-day Adventist churches; one is the largest and main church of the country with about 70 members. The other one is a small company with about 15 members located on the other side of town. We decided to help that company because some people were from Guinea Bissau and spoke Portuguese and Portuguese Creole. During that year in Senegal I don’t think we ever heard a sermon in one language only, it was always translated into one or two other languages. We both had the opportunity of preaching at that church and it was great to see the expression on people’s faces once our sermons were translated and they could understand our messages.

Both churches in Senegal received a Tam-tam (African drum) from the Mission Office to assist the singing. When we arrived, there was no one who played the tam-tam at our church so every Sabbath we took our keyboard to play. We thought that people would be very happy to have the opportunity to sing accompanied by an instrument some of them only had seen on TV. One Sabbath we left the keyboard at home and when we got there I saw the tam-tam on the side and decided to play it for song service. We were amazed at how much stronger and excited people sang that morning. So from that Sabbath on I told them that I would only play the keyboard if someone else also played the tam-tam.

There were so many lessons we learned that year in a culture we so many times considered inferior to our own. Before going to Africa we used to say that we were going to help them. Now we say that we went to Africa to be helped, because words cannot describe how much we learned that one year in Senegal!

Dawerne and Rute Bazan are from the United States and were volunteers in Senegal for two years.

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