Feature

God Has a Plan . . .

And it is always better!

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Picturesque cities that hug coastlines throughout the world are often flanked by infamous islands that float in their bay waters. San Francisco showcases Alcatraz Island. Cape Town overlooks Robbin Island. New York’s history is intricately connected to Ellis Island. And on Gorée Island, Dakar, Senegal’s past is powerfully preserved.

However, there is a stark contrast between Ellis Island and Gorée Island. Ellis Island was a place of new dreams; Gorée Island was a place of dreams deferred. Two different islands, two worlds apart, two centuries apart—but connected by one God. A team of African-American C&MA members flew from the shores of New York to the shores of Dakar with one resounding message: God has opened the hearts of the children of the African diaspora in order to open the doors of the gospel in Senegal.

God’s Word is shot through with stories of closed doors that are miraculously opened. There is perhaps no greater example of this than the life of Joseph, who went from a slave in Egypt to being the savior of his people. Joseph’s own words give testimony to how God’s pathway is quite different from ours: “‘Do not be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives’” (Gen. 50:19–20). God’s plan is always better than our plan.

A ‘Bridge’ Is Rebuilt

The Bridge Senegal ’09 team prayed and prepared for two years to become ambassadors of liberation for the Senegalese people, most of whom are in bondage to darkness and disappointment; many Senegalese will forwardly tell you that their nation is 95 percent Muslim and 100 percent animist.

The remarkable thing about the Bridge Senegal team was that we mostly comprised the children of the African diaspora. It is likely our ancestors left these same shores shackled and ashamed, humiliated and horrified. Like Joseph, they were ripped from their families and sold into slavery, destined to be scattered across an alien nation, seemingly unwanted and worthless. However, God had an enigmatic plan of redemption. In America, Africans heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, and against all odds, many believed! The children of those who left Africa literally bound returned to free those who are now spiritually bound.

The spiritual bridge to Senegal was built on a night of reconciliation. Twenty-two African-American short-term missionaries, our C&MA Senegal missionary team (currently composed entirely of Caucasians) and several representatives from the U.S. C&MA National Office joined together for healing. Various denominational policies and attitudes that hindered African-Americans from serving on the mission field were revealed and rebuked (see “A Mosaic Mended,” p. 7).

None of us were present when others were enslaved, or even encumbered by enslaving polices, but we all felt a deep desire to speak to the sins of the past. Dr. Gary Benedict and Dr. Bob Fetherlin repented for the disastrous discords that were made by our nation and our denomination. Bob said, “The Alliance was dead wrong and shamefully mistaken back in the 1950s to exclude African-Americans from missionary service. I feel deep anguish over this, as does President Gary Benedict and our Board of Directors.” I felt the sincerity pour from Bob’s heart as he continued, “Over the last three days, I’ve seen that there is a bridge between African-Americans and Senegalese that is very special. There’s a connection. Trust flows quickly and easily across this bridge.”

Dr. Benedict displayed a Christ-like example of love when he washed my feet in my role as president of the AAAC and the feet of Donna Baptiste, principal director of Bridge Senegal. With careful deliberation, Dr. Benedict symbolically washed away decades of sorrow, hurt and pain. Both Donna and I then gave prayers of confession representing the African-American constituency of the C&MA, asking God to forgive us for harboring any ill feelings for the wrong that we or our ancestors may have experienced and expressed. Just as Joseph and his brothers embraced in a flood of tears during their reconciliation, so did we.

Through the Open Door

Bob had concluded his powerful presentation with a challenge that referenced Senegal’s most well-known national monuments—the “door of no return.” “Could it be,” Bob said, “that a strategic tool God wants to use to break down the walls of Islam in Senegal is the coming of long-term African-American missionaries? Could it be that the doorway of no return could be transformed into a redeemed symbol of returning African-Americans whom God uses to accomplish something amazing that is more than we could ask or imagine? Do you believe this might be possible? Can we build a new bridge of working together to this end?” Whatever God’s plan, we know that it is sufficient and efficient enough to push back the darkness in West Africa.

Gorée Island, which enshrines one of the best-preserved slave-trading sites, is the location of that infamous door. After slaves were sold they were then chained two by two and led down a dark and dismal stone hallway to ships waiting on the rocky shore. The curator of the museum said it best; “bye-bye Africa” was the dreaded result.

There was not a dry eye in the room. I could imagine our tears collectively flowing back to Gorée Island and anointing the rusty hinges of that locked door of no return. Our tears caressed every window of pain and corner of shame on Gorée Island and within ourselves. Our tears of reconciliation redeemed and reclaimed an island that had chronicled man at his worst into an island that would now show God at His best.

The door to Africa had been closed tight by greed, ignorance, selfishness and the sin of the captors, but God is now opening it wide once again. Satan meant for the sign on the door at Gorée Island to say “Closed,” but God’s Son, Jesus, snatched it and posted a new one that says “Open.”

John’s revelation confirms this assessment: “See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut” (Rev. 3:8). Was this God’s plan, even many years ago when the African slave trade began? God has indeed opened wide the door to West Africa by infusing the hearts of the children of the African diaspora who are in America. With God, closed doors still have hinges that can swing open once more.

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