Helping People of The Gambia See Jesus Clearly
In an effort to find creative avenues for evangelism, AGWM missionaries in The Gambia are giving nationals the gift of sight.Sharing the gospel with people living in sensitive global areas requires new and compassionate mission strategies. Past methods may need retooling.
For example, AGWM missionaries, LaVonna and Scott Ennis, have recently launched a creative healthcare outreach in The Gambia, West Africa, one of the world’s poorest countries. They oversee training and equipping nationals to conduct free optical exams. Many in Sub-Saharan Africa suffer chronic eye problems caused by heavy sunlight and sandstorms.
According to the World Health Organization more than 1 billion people worldwide live with vision impairment.
“When we provide physical vision help, we pray that each life we touch will clearly see Jesus Christ,” LaVonna Ennis, 54, says.
When assessing local needs, the Ennis’ found a critical lack of basic eye care, especially among the poorest. Optical clinics are scarce and eye exams are expensive. Most Gambians cannot afford eyeglasses. The average wage in The Gambia ranges between $2.50 to $4.00 per day.
As Africa’s smallest nation with 2.6 million people, The Gambia occupies a sliver of land bordering the North Atlantic coast and is surrounded by Senegal.
Islam dominates The Gambia’s highly spiritual religious scene at 96% but blends with folk religions and witchcraft as well. Juju objects and charms are worn for their perceived magical powers.
LaVonna and Scott Ennis moved to The Gambia in 2017 after ministering in Nigeria for 22 years where they helped plant more than 600 churches. Scott served as the founding principal of the Northeastern Bible School and as president of Evangel Theological Seminary in Nigeria.
Together the Ennis’ have planted three churches in The Gambia and oversee the planting and operation of an additional eight congregations under the Al-Masih Assemblies of God. Al-Masih means the Anointed One (Messiah) in Arabic and local languages.
Scott is the lead pastor of The Al-Masih Worship Center, and Lavonna, co-lead pastor. He also directs the Al-Masih Training Center, or Bible school, with 27 students and is president of the Al-Masih Gambia Foundation. LaVonna serves as the academic dean of the school and is secretary of the foundation.
The foundation, incorporated in 2021, is registered with the Gambian government. It provides sustainable development services such as clean water solutions, educational programs, food/clothing distribution, health care, economic empowerment, and agricultural projects.
“We needed a way to reach communities where traditional evangelism methods were not working,” Scott Ennis, 53, says.
The Gambia’s dry and humid tropical climate commonly causes chronic eye irritations. Yet more serious problems occur during the late fall and winter when the Harmattan trade wind blows across the Sahara Desert, carrying billowing clouds of sandy dust.
The Ennis’ requested the healthcare expertise of Dwight McConnell, director of CompassionLink, an international AGWM ministry supporting missions projects and national churches in 92 countries.
“Over the years, our optical department has supplied thousands of eyeglasses and conducted numerous clinics for needy people in remote areas,” McConnell, 68, says.
In September, McConnell and two veteran U.S. eyecare professionals trained nine students from the Al-Masih Worship and Training Center to conduct optical screenings.
Supervised by the U.S. team, the students conducted 271 exams in three days and distributed eyeglasses. They also offered prayer for each person of whom many shared personal concerns. Only one refused prayer.
“I told the students ‘You are Jesus to these people,’” McConnell says.
Al-Masih Gambia Foundation cooperates with CompassionLink in supervising the free clinics.
“I see myself as a facilitator and organizer of the program and encourage the local people to assume the responsibility,” LaVonna says.
The clinics are currently scheduled on Fridays at the Bible school and as one major outreach, monthly, in various community locations. Patients are asked to give 200 Gambian dalasis for a pair of glasses (about $3.00) to provide a sense of ownership. However, those who cannot pay receive eyewear as a gift.
Every patient is offered prayer and gospel literature.
During a recent clinic, a teen needing glasses and unable to navigate unfamiliar spaces because of his poor eyesight, was led into the exam room by his sister. The boy had also been experiencing frequent chest pains. During the exam, the technician prayed for the glasses to work.
God answered immediately. The teenager reported that he could see perfectly and his chest pains ceased. He left the clinic happy, jumping up and down.
On October 28, a community clinic was held for employees working at the Banjul International Airport in the old passenger terminal. The foundation team cleaned the room and arranged benches for the participating 132 patients.
Four exam stations were set up with each station staffed by two technicians. Glasses donated by CompassionLink were arranged by prescription strengths. Each exam took 10 minutes.
The media has covered two outreaches. After the first event, the news reporter did not mention anything about the team’s faith. But on a second national TV broadcast, the team shared openly about prayer and Jesus.
From the original training sessions held September through the end of November, about 600 exams have been conducted. More are scheduled in schools, prisons, shopping centers, local churches, and other public locations.
“This practical eyecare ministry is opening new doors for us in the community to share the love of Christ for a spiritual harvest,” explains Scott Ennis. “We are confident of the Holy Spirit empowering us to do the work.”