Posts Tagged ‘Senegal’


On Sunday 28 August 2016 at 10.30 am, I had the privilege of speaking at Newtownbreda Presbyterian Church in Belfast as they sent Wycliffe UK member Clare Orr back to Senegal. Here is an edited version of what I said…


Back in the days when the Wycliffe office was on the Beersbridge Road, we had a world map on the wall. And on the map we had a piece of paper with some verses from Matthew chapter 9.

Clare’s Dad has already read Matthew 9: 35-38 for us. In NIV, it is entitled The Workers Are Few.

We had the last verse on the office map, the words Jesus spoke to his disciples: “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Just before this, Matthew tells us that Jesus had compassion on the crowds: “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

In a way this passage sums up what we’re doing here this morning. You’re sending – or perhaps more accurately, re-sending – Newtownbreda’s worker Clare back to the harvest field where she has worked before – and where Jesus still has compassion on people who are harassed and helpless; people who need a shepherd; people who need to hear the good news of the gospel; people who need to find Jesus as their shepherd..

And by the way, there are people around us here at home, or maybe even sitting here in church this morning, who are harassed and helpless who need to find Jesus as their shepherd.

The verse on the world map was both an encouragement and a challenge to us working in the Wycliffe office.

  • We were so encouraged every time we produced Wycliffe News and read the updates from around 50 people from Ireland working around the world in Bible translation and literacy and many other roles
  • We were challenged by Jesus’ words because we knew that there were still many millions of people yet to hear the good news in their heart languages

It was such a joy when Clare walked into the office one morning back in late 2012… We thought she was there for a bit of a chat. But no, Clare came straight out and said, “I want to join Wycliffe. What do I have to do?” So we told her; she applied in early 2013 and was accepted in spring 2013; started training in August 2013; and in February 2014, she went to Senegal.

This morning, together, we are sending Clare back to Senegal…

Clare with an Ebola poster

Because what she is doing there is important!

Do you remember the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014? Do you remember the Ebola prevention posters that Clare and her Senegalese colleagues produced in – I can’t remember how many languages… Those posters – produced because Clare was there working in literacy development – helped to save lives by giving people information about how to avoid Ebola in a language they could understand.

There are lots of ways in which literacy helps people – and it is a very important part of what Wycliffe does. But our main aim is that people can have access to the Bible in the language of their hearts.

So why is literacy crucial?

There’s an old Wycliffe saying that Bible translation without literacy is like a tin of beans without a tin opener. If you can’t get the tin open, you can’t eat the beans.

Yesterday morning I searched the kitchen cupboards in vain to find a tin of beans. So I’ve had to make do with a tin of Cream of Tomato Soup with a hint of basil. You need a tin opener to get access to and enjoy the soup.


It’s a little parable… If the Bible is translated into your language, but you can’t read – how do you access and enjoy and be challenged by God’s word?

Actually with modern tins, you don’t actually need a tin opener. You have this little pull thingy. Perhaps you could say that the little pull thingy is literacy. Clare, and literacy specialists like her, provide little pull thingies 🙂 If only it were so simple…

Be assured that our prayers and best wishes go with you, Clare, in the weeks ahead.

Jesus still has compassion on those who do not know him. Jesus still says to his disciples, to us…

“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

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Third in a series on First Steps NI 2016…

Assaalaamalekum mbokk yi.
Maangi leen di nuyu ci tuuru Yàlla boroom jàmm.
Maangi tudd Clare Orr. Irland laa joge waaye Senegal laa liggéey leggi.
Maangi liggéey ci mbiru alphabetisasyon, mooy nga xam ne nu danu jappale ay nit ngir ñu mënu bind di jàng ci seeni làkk. Fi ci Senegal lu ëpp benn ci ñaari sunu reewandoo mënuñu bind, mënuñu jàng.


Clare was one of the First Steps team at Ballyhenry Presbyterian Church on 6 February 2016. Her topic was literacy and Scripture engagement- and here’s some of what she shared with us…

How much of that were you able to understand? Probably not very much, if any. Maybe a few words of French! That was Wolof, Senegal’s main trade language. If we want to learn, we need to understand the language. We’re here today to hear stories of how having access in the mother tongue to information, whether it’s God’s word, health information, schooling or Christian resources, helps us to be able to learn, to grow in our faith and to improve our lives.

What I’ve just said in Wolof is this:
Welcome. My name is Clare Orr. I’m from Northern Ireland and work in Senegal.
I work in literacy, which means helping people to learn to read and write in their own languages. In Senegal, fewer than one in two people is able to read and write.

Nowadays, lots of children go to school. The numbers of children in schools in Senegal has risen and primary school enrolment is currently around 80%. Yet, the literacy rate remains low. When children start school, what language do they understand?

Maybe Wolof, or Jola Kassa, or Manjaku. Senegal has more than thirty languages. Children understand their own language and maybe Wolof or another Senegalese language. They don’t understand French. Nobody at home talks to them in French. Yet what language do teachers speak and teach in at school? French. This is a huge problem. A child who doesn’t understand French, can’t learn in French.

It’s not that education isn’t possible in other languages. Learning can take place in their mother tongues, and this is something Wycliffe members are involved with in Senegal.

For the past few years, literacy classes have been offered for children in the Manjaku language. These classes aren’t part of the formal curriculum. Instead, the children come back in the afternoon, when normally they would be off school, and learn to read and write in their own language. Originally, parents were suspicious, thinking that learning Manjaku would hinder their children’s abilities to learn in French. However, parents are now realising that their children are advancing in French more quickly because of these mother tongue classes.

Famata, a 17 year old, didn’t understand much French, did badly at school and therefore had dropped out a couple of years previously when she became pregnant. When Manjaku classes began in her village, she went to the classes, and was able to follow them and learnt well, even encouraging the others in her class to keep up their regular attendance. Thanks to the confidence that this gave her, she was able to return to French school, and was near the top of her class there. She dreams of being a teacher some day.

As one Manjaku parent said, “The step backward into their tradition means they are in a better position to then step forwards.”

Of course, it’s not only children who can benefit from learning to read and write in their mother tongue. Coming back to the Manjaku, Lamine, the leader of the literacy team, spoke of how happy the people in one village were to have a class in their mother tongue rather than in one of the neighbouring languages. One learner said, “We have this proverb that we always take the flash-light of others to light the room. Now we have our own torch to shine on our path so we know where we are going.”

Clare with one of the Ebola posters

Clare with  Ebola poster

Ku la abal i gët, nga xool fa ko neex.
If someone lends you eyes, you will look wherever he wishes.

By enabling people to read and write in their language and by giving them new ways to engage with Scripture in the mother tongue, we are helping them to look with their own eyes, and through their own eyes to come to know the God of the Bible for themselves.

You can read about how Clare’s work helped prevention when Ebola threatened Senegal in 2014.

Find a Wycliffe Bible Translators UK & Ireland First Steps day near you!

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… and other connected questions: how hard can it be to learn a Senegalese language? How hard can it be to organise literacy projects successfully in the local context?

Recently Clare Orr, Wycliffe literacy specialist from Belfast, N. Ireland, creatively addressed these issues in her prayer letter.

Clare 2

Slicing an onion Senegal style

Living in a culture very far from my own, every day I’m faced with these differences. Every day there are new things to learn. Often, these are things that I’ve already learnt – at least, I’ve learnt the way we do them back home. However, that’s not necessarily the way they’re done here – and sometimes it’s not even possible.

Some of these, like hand washing my clothes, I doubt I’ll ever learn (at least to the level of a Senegalese woman!). Therefore, I must depend on others to do this for me. Other things, like cooking, I can gradually learn. Girls here grow up watching their mothers cook. As a young child, she’s sent to the corner shop to buy the bits and pieces for the cooking, such as some black pepper or stock cubes. A few years later, she’ll be trusted to peel the vegetables, then to pound the spices in a pestle and mortar. Gradually, the tasks are built up until she can prepare a meal by herself.

Clare 1

Clare with two of her host mum’s children

Coming into this from an outside culture, of course I can cook – but not Senegalese meals. And, to be honest, even lighting the coal stove remains a challenge to me now. Onions are a key ingredient of all Senegalese dishes. Chopping an onion isn’t so hard, is it? However, here, chopping boards are unheard of. Even plates are a rare sight. Onions are chopped whilst being held mid-air, and there’s a fine art to it. While I certainly wouldn’t win any onion-chopping races here, it is a skill that I’ve been able to learn and I’m frequently handed the onions to chop if I’m about while a meal is being prepared. Sometimes a family meal will have 8 onions in it, so speed is necessary!

It took time though for me to even be able to chop onions ‘well’ by Senegalese standard – and then some more time to get a bit faster. It can be frustrating to feel incapable of even such ‘simple’ tasks, frustrating to know that a child could do them better than me. The same applies to language learning, where again I am at the level of a child and not of someone my own age. It’s easy to want to be fluent right away. To want to be able to cook a perfect Senegalese meal right away.

However, neither of those things are possible, and there are also benefits to be taken from the slower process. As I learn, both language and cooking, I’m given the opportunity to spend time with people. I’m learning not only these skills but also how to depend on others, how to let them help me when I don’t know how to do something myself, or when I don’t know how to say something.

I’m also forced to let go of my ideas about how things are done. My idea of how to chop an onion isn’t wrong. It’s just not practical with the utensils available in a Senegalese kitchen. My idea of the best way to run a literacy project might not be practical with the resources available here either, and hopefully as I depend on others to teach me how to cook, I’m also depending on them to show me how literacy can best happen here.

Could you see yourself involved in a literacy role alongside a Bible translation team? I just got some statistics on Wycliffe personnel needs  – 89 vacant positions in literacy in Africa alone! And that’s just the needs in literacy. See the Wycliffe Bible Translators UK and Ireland website for other opportunities around the Wycliffe world. And if you are in UK or Ireland take your First Steps here.

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In a recent blog about Wycliffe First Steps in Belfast, I mentioned that it coincided with International Mother Language Day. Then I heard that Wycliffe colleague Clare Orr (who had been involved with Ebola prevention posters in local Senegalese languages) had been part of an International Mother Language Day in Senegal. So I asked her to write a guest blog for me… over to Clare!

Since 2000, international mother language day has been celebrated annually on the 21st February. This year, for the first time, an event was organised in Ziguinchor, southern Senegal, by the Inspection Académique (regional education authority) and SIL.*
Photo 1
SIL had invited each of our literacy partner organisations to participate. People came from all over the Casamance, all dressed up and ready for a party. We had representatives from the Bandial, Gusilay, Jola Fonyi, Karon, Mankanya, Manjaku, Kasa and Kwatay language groups, all of which are languages spoken in southern Senegal.
Photo 2b
As soon as they arrived, the Gusilay women got changed into their traditional outfits, comprised of a white t-shirt, indigo cloth as a wrap skirt, and beads strung around the torso. They started the day off with a song they had written specially, accompanied by drumming and dancing.
Photo 3
At the end of their song, we headed inside for speeches. The coordinator of each literacy project gave a speech in their mother tongue, with translation into French. The emphasis was on the value of the use of the mother tongue, particularly in education, in keeping with this year’s theme of, “Inclusive Education through and with Language – Language Matters”. This was followed by a speech by the head of the regional education authority and a speech by an SIL representative.
Photo 4
However, the dancing and singing weren’t over. Every time someone got up to make a speech, members of the audience sang and danced their way up to the front before returning to their seats to listen. That certainly kept things more interesting!
Photo 5
After the speeches, we went to another room where each partner organisation had laid out a table to exhibit their written materials. The majority of these materials have been produced in collaboration with SIL. Books, calendars, posters, photo stories and leaflets were available for everyone to see.
Photo 6
Members of the different partner organisations, some of whom understand each other’s languages, could be seen helping one another to read the other’s languages. As well as being an opportunity to show what they had, it was also a chance for each group to see what other groups had done and to get ideas for what they could produce.
Photo 7
No party would be complete without food, so we enjoyed lunch together, before some began the journey home whilst others continued to chat in their mother tongues.

* SIL is Wycliffe’s partner organisation with whom Clare works in Senegal in partnership with local language groups.

Postscript: while buying a new printer in Lisburn yesterday, I was chatting with a very helpful young sales assistant and happened to mention that I worked for Wycliffe Bible Translators. When he heard that there were about 7,000 languages spoken around the world, he replied, “And I can speak just one of them!”

Importantly though, that one is his mother language – and the Bible is readily and extravagantly available in it.

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… others quietly get on with doing their bit using their literacy skills in Senegal.

Translation workshop on Ebola posters

Clare at a translation workshop on Ebola posters

In my previous post, I quoted my colleague Eddie Arthur in his post… Please show this on X Factor

Of the six countries which have been affected by the current Ebola outbreak, two (Senegal and Nigeria) have contained it effectively (which is more than the USA managed) and Mali seems to be on top of it. With the right resources and preparation Africans countries are doing a good job.

Another colleague, Clare Orr, a Wycliffe Bible Translators literacy specialist from Belfast, is working in one of those countries – Senegal – which has so far remained Ebola free while being very close to infected countries to the south.

Clare’s job is very varied, but essentially she is there as a resource and help for Senegalese colleagues who are speakers of minority languages. In September, Clare and her colleague Elisabeth wrote…

Ebola awareness / prevention posters in four minority languages of Senegal

Ebola awareness / prevention posters in four languages of Senegal

Currently, there are no cases of Ebola in Senegal. The recovery of one infected person, who had travelled from a neighbouring country, was followed by the declaration that none of those with whom he had been in contact were infected. However, with the news in neighbouring countries becoming more and more worrying, there is a need for people here to be conscious of the danger and educated about the disease. We decided that we should hold a workshop to translate documents containing information on Ebola into the languages in which we work. At least two colleagues from four language groups took part in the workshop. We did research on the internet and found various posters, flyers and an interesting lesson that could be conducted by Ebola educators in awareness-raising sessions in their villages.

A lot of awareness-raising about Ebola is going on across Senegal on the radio and TV. However, many people in the villages don’t speak enough French, Senegal’s official language, or Wolof, the most widely-used national language, to understand the message well. This is why we are trying to reach them through documents and information in their own languages. Those who are able to read in their language can always read the information aloud for those who can’t.

The four languages are Manjaku, Bandial, Diola Fonyi and Gusilay, all spoken in southern Senegal.

Unlike Band Aid 30’s monumental ignorance of Africa, Clare and her colleagues realise the difficulties that people in rural villages in the Ebola stricken countries face.

Clare with one of the Ebola posters

Clare with one of the Ebola posters

False rumours pose a huge problem in our neighbouring countries: for example the idea that Ebola has been introduced by white people so that they can steal organs. Or that those governments exaggerate statistics in order to get more money from international donors. Moreover, the traditional African world view is very different from ours, which makes it difficult to raise awareness and manage the crisis. From a traditional viewpoint, illnesses mostly come because a spirit (fetish) is angry, or a mean person has put a curse on us. Sickness is to be addressed mainly at a spiritual level, therefore, by going to see a ‘marabout’ or fetish priest. Quite possibly the western view that ignores spiritual factors, is also to be questioned. On the other hand, many people in the villages have no idea what a virus is. There are worlds between people here and the doctors wearing yellow protective clothing and masks, who look scary to us, let alone to somebody in a remote village.

Giving information to people in their heart language has a very significant impact – whether that be about Ebola, other health issues, education, agricultural improvements or perhaps most importantly God’s Word, the Bible.  Clare and Elisabeth are certainly not forgetting  importance of spiritual influences on defeating Ebola.

We are praying that God will save this country from this illness, but we feel that we have a responsibility nonetheless to use our contacts and skills to equip and inform the local population at this vulnerable time. Our leadership is following the situation very closely. We foreigners can leave the country if needed, but our Senegalese friends and colleagues won’t be able to do so.

Read more of Clare and Elisabeth’s story

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Or did you forget you have already been invited?

Summer_MissionThis coming Sunday 22 June 2014 I’m coordinating an awareness raising cum act of commissioning for 36+ members of Saintfield Road Presbyterian Church in Belfast, NI. Some have already left us: others do their bit in late August. They will be serving God in a whole variety of ways.

Quite a number right here on our doorstep with Newtownbreda CSSM, others in Holiday Bible Clubs in churches close to where they live – and individuals in Bulgaria, Cameroon, Kenya, the Middle East and USA.

Why are they doing it? Because it’s the thing to do for students during the summer? Because their mates are on the same team? For academic study reasons? Yes, that applies to one person.

Or is it because they have sensed a “call”?

Many people get a bit confused about this Christian “call” to mission thing, so when I saw a blog from Eddie Arthur this morning entitled The Call! I thought this will sort it all out.

A personal call to missionary work is not necessary, can be rooted in Western individualism and may reflect a low view of the role of the Church. It is also something which God has used powerfully in history to motivate and encourage people. Who said theology was easy?

(Eddie’s Facebook status linking to the blog)

Sorted? Perhaps not what, but Eddie does succeed in describing a many faceted issue – and presents a challenge to think about our individual role in God’s mission.

Eddie argues that it’s not so much about “calling” as about “being sent” – and all of us have been sent. He quotes John 20:21… backed up the big message of all of Scripture

“As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”

That’s what my blog is called, in case you haven’t noticed – John 20:21.

So what are we to make of this idea of a ‘missionary call’? Here are excerpts from some of Eddie’s observations:

The notion of a personal call is to a great extent a reflection of the individualistic nature of Western society…

An individual call to mission often reflects a low view of the role of the Church in the mission of God…

A sense of personal calling is not a prerequisite for being involved in mission, but it can be a great comfort and encouragement when times get tough…

Being set aside by a church congregation for mission work does not mean that people can’t have a personal sense of calling…

When churches are not taking their corporate responsibility for world mission seriously, God is perfectly capable of calling an individual into mission work and using them to shake the up the church…

Read the whole blog: it’s well worth it to see how Eddie develops the above points and more. Sunday at Saintfield Road may see references to some of these ideas. They are not new to my church but hey, they’re worth repeating.


Macosquin Presbyterian Church

And looking forward, I’ve been asked to speak at a commissioning service in Macosquin in July for Wycliffe UK members David and Janet Wilkinson heading for an assignment in Senegal. I expect some of these ideas may creep into my talk.

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