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August 7, 2007

Enlightenment in Africa - Part One

Derek Shackelford

Last May I had the unique opportunity to make a pilgrimage to Africa. The trip was sponsored by Rev. Ernest D. Lyles, the founder of El Shaddai International.

The immersion trip to Gambia and Senegal was one of the most highly anticipated trips of my lifetime. I have heard so many compelling stories and read so much that enlightened my thinking on Africa, in particular, the area of West Africa, rich in history and tradition.

All of these factors added up. This trip went beyond my expectations. There was nothing that could have prepared me for what I witnessed, experienced, and the spiritual impact that this immersion had for me.

In basic simple terms, it was life transforming. It was transforming to the extent that it allowed me to realize that most of the world lives in an impoverished state, that it is besieged by oppression and is not equipped with modern technology.

One thing that I found was that injustice is being perpetrated throughout the world. Seeing this made me realize that we need people to stand up for justice, fight against oppression, and give a voice to the voiceless. At the same time we need to have a compassionate heart, a measure of faith, and the ability to sustain against attacks of the majority.

Most people may not realize how the continent of Africa is exploited by the rest of the world. Sudan, in particular Darfur, is experiencing genocide. The media coverage has been slow to bring attention to this situation. Thus, those of us who are aware have a responsibility to assist those who are unable to assist themselves.

Africa has been oppressed for centuries and the slave trade was the means. Also, because the continent is rich in natural resources, it attracted people from around the globe to take advantage of those who were powerless over there condition. The lack of education, underdevelopment, and unemployment has not helped West Africa build a stable economy. This has allowed the exploitation to continue.

France and the United States arguably have exploited Africa to the benefits of their own agendas. This is somewhat of a conflicting relationship for some of the populations in these countries. For those who are black and brown, the connection is in skin tone but - more importantly - in ancestral relationships. Ancestry cannot be minimized. Many of those whose skin has been kissed by nature's sun have roots that stem from West Africa.

One of the most profound feelings about this trip was the sense of connection I felt when I arrived in Senegal. It may have been a foreign country, but in my spirit I felt the sense of having been there before. It was as if my spirit was at home and not in a place where I had not been before. This was refreshing.

I had heard from those who have experienced the same feeling. To some degree I could not imagine what they were saying; but to realize it first hand left a lasting impression on my psyche.

So, as I visited the two countries, I felt at ease and a deep sense of spiritual connection. Gambia and Senegal are predominately Muslim countries. How does this impact my Christian faith?

I have read about the Muslim faith and its core beliefs. One thing I can say - based on my visit - is that the followers are serious about their religion. Also, their faith is articulated in action and in the treatment of their neighbors.

In a time when the people could be bitter and discouraging, I found these people to be very friendly, welcoming, and hospitable. More so, they made me feel at home and were proud that one had come to visit their countries.

One of the most important lessons I learned was that it doesn't cost anything to be nice and encouraging. Some parts of our society have forgotten service to the people. Also the friendliness that was exhibited should be mentioned. There was never a time in my experience where I was not warmly greeted. In the United States warm greetings may be few and far between, but on this trip I was warmly received by everyone, everywhere I went.

Tomorrow: Part Two

Woodsboro - Walkersville Times
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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