By Paula Schlueter Ross (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Thanks to a new partnership between the LCMS Office of International Mission and Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, the Synod has called its first missionary to the Gambia, a predominantly Muslim country in West Africa.
That new missionary, native Gambian Rev. Dr. John Loum, plans to spend about four months per year in his homeland; the rest of the year Loum will continue as director of the seminary’s Ethnic Immigrant Institute of Theology, a specialized pastoral and deaconess seminary program for those who are engaged in ethnic-immigrant and urban ministries in North America.
So, how did this missionary partnership come about? Whose idea was it?
“It was God’s idea, because He planted it in my heart,” says Loum.
Even though he left the Gambia in search of a better life when he was 17 — landing first in Sierra Leone for 20-plus years before arriving in the United States in 1993 — Loum says his heart “has always been with my people.”
Loum’s relatives — many of them Muslim — still live in the Gambia, and he still knows a few local dialects, although English is the country’s official language.
Says Loum: “I’ve cried out, in my heart, how can I help my people, to pull them from darkness into the light of Jesus?”
When that longing became almost unbearable a few years ago, Loum decided he “should be going on my own mission trip” to his native Gambia. So he rounded up financial support from donors and gathered supplies from a closing elementary school and others — a used organ, used Bibles, soccer equipment, books, desks, chairs, benches and medicines — for Lutherans in the Gambia, and partnered with Orphan Grain Train (which provided a 40-foot shipping container) and the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League (which paid for shipping) and accompanied the items to Africa.
That was one of three trips Loum made on his own to the West African nation, which has a Lutheran church body with some 600 members; three preaching sites; one ordained, but unpaid, pastor — who teaches school weekdays to support his family; and a handful of lay preachers.
The Synod began its involvement in the Gambia in 2001 when it responded to a request for assistance by a group of Christians who found the LCMS through its Internet presence. LCMS personnel visited the country in 2001 to offer support for planting churches and training leaders. And Synod leaders helped launch a partnership between the Lutheran Church of Nigeria (LCN) and Gambian Christians.
The LCN sent its first foreign missionary to serve in the Gambia in 2001. The first church building was dedicated, and the first Baptisms of 104 people and confirmations of 84 people were celebrated in May 2002.
Since then, the LCMS has supported mercy work in the Gambia, but teaching Lutheran doctrine remains a high priority, along with translation and literacy work.
Today, with a new, more open, government, says Loum, “there is democracy” in the Gambia, “and now people are free to accept Christian faith.
“So now is the time,” he adds, for the LCMS to expand its mission work there.
Loum’s missionary service will include raising up and teaching local church leaders, and identifying local translators who can help convert Luther’s Small Catechism into Gambia’s Mandinka language.
“Sharing Dr. Loum’s time, experience and expertise with Concordia Seminary is a blessing for the LCMS Office of International Mission [OIM],” said OIM Executive Director Rev. John Fale. “Dr. Loum has a wealth of knowledge of Islam and a love for the people of the Gambia who need to hear the Good News of forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus.
“Because he is from that culture, he will have opportunities to build trusting relationships that present opportunities to share the Gospel in ways that others could not. This is a good use of our resources in the LCMS.”
The Rev. Gary Schulte, area director for West Africa with the OIM, said placing a missionary in the Gambia, even a part-time one, “is an incredibly important step” and “a great opportunity for a rich, Gospel harvest.” Moreover, he said, it’s the first new work on the part of the LCMS in Anglophone Africa in many years.
“This is just one more creative way, in difficult financial times, to fund the sending of a missionary to the foreign field,” Schulte added. “Also, as our principal work in West Africa right now is in the realm of theological education, the seminary is a very logical partner.”
Loum says it’s “our responsibility,” as Lutherans, “to reach [Gambians] with the Gospel of Jesus,” particularly now that the country’s doors are wide open for evangelism.
He asks for prayers from Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod members, his “partners” in the ministry.
“This is the time,” he says. “It’s the opportune time. We must not miss it.”
And even though he’s wanted to return to the Gambia as a missionary for years, it has finally happened, he notes, “in God’s time.”
To learn more about Loum’s mission or to support his ministry, visit lcms.org/loum.
Posted June 14, 2017