In the program that I am in, accompaniment means, “walking together in solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality. In this walk, gifts, resources, and experiences are shared with mutual advice and admonition* to deepen and expand our walk within God’s mission.”
In case you didn’t know, this year I am living in Senegal with the Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) program through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The purpose of this year is to live in accompaniment with our global companions. Right now there are 85 of us living in 11 different countries. Six are in Senegal! (Go, Senegal!)
We just got here last Thursday, and since then our YAGM group has been accompanied and accepted by many Senegalese people.
During our first full day in Senegal, we were accompanied by our teachers in our cultural training class at a school called the Baobab Center. All of the teachers were patient with us Toubabs (foreigners) as we asked lots of questions about the culture of Senegal and learned part of the Senegalese way to interact with people and eat properly. We ate Ceebu Jen** ‘around the bowl,’ which means that groups of us ate around 3 big bowls in the room; a teacher with each group guiding us along the way. Part of eating around the bowl is using your right hand to make a ball of rice and then adding little bits of the goodies from the center (but not too much!). The point of eating around one bowl is sharing with and being with the people around you. The way the Senegalese eat is an insight into the way they live; for the community and with the community. Also – at the end you get to lick your hand before washing it, which I enjoyed very much.
After a long day of a new culture, we came back to the apartment of Kristin, our country coordinator. Her housekeeper+, Ndombour, had cooked us a meal called Couscous Senegalaise. Ndombour was patient with us and helped me practice my French. Mon premier amie du Senegal! She accompanied us, accepted us, and helped teach us right at our first meeting, which she didn’t have to do.
YAGM Senegal eating Couscous Senegalaise with Ndombour on our 2nd night. From left to right: Karen, Ndombour, Julie, Nate, Emily, Erik, Jessica
Another story of accompaniment happened the next day when our group started a walk to go past some stores and get a feel for the neighborhood we are in. I was a little daunted at first. We walked past the Lutheran church office to pick up some things and were greeted by Ussman, the security guard of the office. Shortly after, Baboucar, another security guard for a Missionary’s house walked up. Both men offered right away to show us the way through town and help us receive better prices at boutiques. Throughout the walk, Baboucar and Ussman helped us with our language skills, showed us when to cross the street, and made us feel welcomed and safe in a new place. One of the Bible verses our group had been reflecting on that day was about recognizing when the presence of God is with you (Luke 24:13-32). The peace of being with Baboucar and Ussman definitely felt like God working through God’s people to bring peace.
There are other stories of accompaniment from this week, like when Ndombour and her mother Néné (And their friend Martin!) helped us get through a busy market place, and when we YAGMs ate and talked with some missionary families living in Senegal, and when a Senegalese woman studying at University graciously translated the Sunday church service into English for another YAGM and me. I will, however, focus on the stories written above for now.
YAGM Senegal at a fabric store in Marché HLM with Ndombour, Nene and some shopkeepers. Buying fabric for our outfits for a very celebrated Muslim holiday here called Tobaski!
One thing I would like to point out, especially in a time of conflict and controversy in the United States between Christians and Muslims, is that the people accompanying us in the 3 stories on this blog are Muslim, and that the Muslims and Christians live in peace in Senegal. Both groups recognize that the other group has good intentions and that they are children of God. There are many Muslims who work in the organization we are working with in Senegal, SLDS (Services Lutheran of (du) Senegal). They are all Senegalese, and they have mutual respect and Teranga (hospitality) for each other. Thanks for reading, and I hope you are doing well.
Thanks for accompanying me along this journey with your thoughts, prayers, etc. I encourage you to look around and see who is accompanying you. They are there where you don’t always expect.
*Admonition: gentle expression of disapproval
**Ceebu Jen – A very popular, traditional and delicious Senegalese dish with fish, rice, and other vegetables and spices.
+In Senegal it is normal to have a housekeeper, it is considered a way of sharing the wealth
***Fabric Picture courtesy of Emily