Kabba Jallow, a Gambian fisherman in the Upper River region, casts nets for a living as he also plants churches in his hometown of Basse.

Preaching and Parables: Planting Churches in the Face of Persecution

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Rowdy noise from accelerating motorbikes and cargo trucks bellows into the Basse market air.

Kabba Jallow, a fisherman who’s in his 40s, looks out across green-tinted waters of the Gambia River. He waits for a modest-sized ferry boat to admit passengers for its next ride.

It’s not quite 10 a.m. and the temperature’s rising in the Upper River region of The Gambia, a place where 105 degrees Fahrenheit feels normal to residents.

The riverbank is full of collaborative energy, vivid colors and constant sounds. Conversations in local languages — Fula, Mandinka, Wolof — pop up in this bustling place that connects Kabba to his people. It anchors him relationally, as he sees old friends he’s worked with.

Located steps from the river where people cross daily, the Basse city market is a bustling center of commerce and relationships that ties the region together.

Basse, considered the capital of the Upper River region, includes several ethnic tribes, including the Fula, Mandinka and Wolof.

The river also serves as a passageway moving him through Basse, linking him spiritually to Christians hungry to hear the truth and learn about Jesus.

“I discovered that Christ is the truth, and He’s the only one who can save us.”

Kabba Jallow

The two-minute ferry ride, though necessary, can be inconvenient. Waiting for the ship to load eats precious time that Kabba wants to spend teaching in the village of Bereno, across the river.

Near the bank of the Gambia River, Kabba Jallow explains how God’s presence affects him.

Kabba knows that sometimes even in the desire to minister, delays happen. So he converses with men nearby, as sheep baa and chase each other through the crowd. Suddenly the ferry captain signals he’s ready for passengers. Kabba boards, ready to cross and teach his people about God.

A roundtrip ferry ticket costs Kabba 100 Gambian dalasis, equivalent to about $2.

Three female high school students walk home after their day of classes.

In the village of Sare Ngai, a woman stands in front of her home as children play. Sare Ngai is the furthest community Kabba visits, almost an hour’s drive after he crosses the river.

A choice that cost him everything

As the only Christian in his rural village of Jiroba Kunda, Kabba sticks out like a peculiar blueberry bush among hundreds of familiar mango trees. He doesn’t quite fit.

Kabba made the decision to leave the traditional faith his family followed and begin a personal relationship with Jesus Christ in 2011 after viewing the “JESUS” film in his village.

That choice changed his life — personally, relationally and economically. Before becoming a Christian, Kabba says he was a very critical man who smoked cigarettes and drank alcohol.

“[Before, I believed] that it was not Christ Himself that was nailed on the cross,” Kabba says. “Also I used to hear people that say Jesus is not the Son of God.”

He and his wife often yelled at each other. He wanted to be happy, but their relationship agonized him because of how they quarreled. But when they heard the gospel together, Jesus brought reconciliation to the marriage and new faith for them.

“Since we [gave] our lives to Christ, automatically our lives changed,” he says. “All those troubles disappeared. We had peace in the house.”

Neighbors recognized something powerful happened, but seeking to discourage his wife, some people told her things that made her fearful and unsure of her faith decision. The pressure led her to renounce Christianity.

“She was a Christian for two, three years, then went back.”

Kabba

Trouble started between them again. Kabba says his wife left him, taking their three young children. And eventually, the marriage ended.

His entire family follows the traditional religion in his area. So when he became a Christian, his mother rejected him and any help he wanted to provide for her, even food.

“In Africa, [the] main problem is buying a bag of rice,” he says. “If I buy a bag of rice for my mother, she’ll throw it out.”

Rice can be expensive in the area and difficult for some to purchase. His mother’s refusal showed Kabba how much she disapproved of his new life.

A local man bags produce in a market.

Local foods enjoyed in Basse include fufu with egusi (a root flour dough eaten with soup), chicken yassa and a one-pot rice dish called benachin.

Persecution arose against him in his village, where relationships are vital. People regularly spend time together, visiting and talking in their yards. Now Kabba doesn’t get many visitors. He’s acknowledged but not included. People walk past his compound as boisterous children play on nearby streets. Neighbors also stopped buying his fish, and friends no longer invited him to cultural ceremonies. He’s ostracized because he follows Jesus.

“The Christianity here is not easy at all.”

Kabba

Losing relationships hurt Kabba profoundly. But the losses also deepened his faith in God.

The fisherman in need of fish

Becoming a Christian gave Kabba hope. As he grew spiritually, he says God taught him how to read the Bible. He had to leave school when he was a child and only learned how to read his name.

Seeing the “JESUS” film moved Kabba from religion into a personal relationship that gave him peace.

Kabba began to preach about Jesus in his home village shortly after becoming a Christian. Believers — who had witnessed his life change and explained the importance of prayer to him — connected Kabba with a local church, The Church of Pentecost, where he matured in his faith.

And over time, the church sent Kabba to preach in nearby villages to help people learn about Jesus. He then began preaching at his church, desiring to help more Gambians learn about Jesus.

Travel by motorbikes is common, and Kabba uses his bike for work and to attend Sunday morning services at The Church of Pentecost.

Baobab trees, common in parts of Africa and ranging in heights from 16 to 65 feet, cover open land between villages.

But financial challenges jostled his hope, introducing challenges he wasn’t prepared for.

Fishing is in Kabba’s blood. It’s what his family does — what his father did, even what his sisters do. Along with fishing, Kabba makes his living as a carpenter. But leaving the faith he was born into and accepting Jesus significantly affected his livelihood.

Kabba says he’s lost roofing jobs because he’s a Christian. And when he fishes, filling his nets and selling his catch have recently proved difficult. Neighbors don’t want to buy his goods ­— because he’s a Christian. If he can’t sell his fish locally or get carpentry contracts, he travels to other villages where people will buy from him and hire him.

The Gambia River spans 700 miles, with headwaters in the Republic of Guinea that flow westward through the Republic of The Gambia into the Atlantic Ocean. Kabba sets his nets in the river along the shoreline to catch fish.

Kabba heads to his fishing spot at the river to lay his nets in the afternoon. The bike ride takes him about 40 minutes over rugged terrain and unmarked dirt roads.

Aside from another fisherman nearby and birds singing to each other, this section of the Gambia River is quiet, as a calm breeze moves in the trees.

Kabba finds his anchored boat submerged under river water. He’s been away for two weeks in Banjul for ministry training, long enough for the few leaky spots in the long wooden vessel to capsize it. He empties the water and readies himself to work in the dry heat.

The next day, Kabba returns to his nets. After five hours of work over a two-day period, he caught five fish, mostly small in size. Fishing during the dry season hasn’t yielded the bounty he’s caught in seasons past.

A man from a nearby area spends time in the town of Basse, which has an open-air market where people can buy fresh produce, meat and clothing.

Kabba says he only needs two good-sized, quality white fish, which can go for 800 Gambian dalasis, about $16. Selling them in nearby villages provides a nice profit for him.

He’s a man who lives by faith, trusting God to meet his family’s needs for food and provision.

“I have given my life to somebody who can help me not to struggle every day for my feeding and He promised me also, if you give your life and you trust, don’t think of tomorrow’s feeding, and that is true,” Kabba says.

Charlie Yarbou, a Gambian farmer, standing with his son Omar, lives in Kundong Maria, a small town located 134 miles from Basse.

Raising livestock, such as goats, chickens and sheep, helps sustain Charlie’s family and provides income.

A determined disciple

Facing relational and economic persecution doesn’t stop Kabba from helping more people in his city and surrounding areas know about Jesus.

During the week, he spends four days working his jobs and uses the other three days to work for God.

Kabba is not a full-time pastor or a missionary; instead, he serves as a volunteer. He uses his own money to support his ministry, even with limited resources. He makes ends meet to cover his motorbike fuel, ferry tickets and small items, such as laundry soap, to bless his church groups.

Kabba meets with his Las Palmas church group, consisting of members of the Basari tribe.

He trusts God to help him encourage the villages of Bereno, Saremamudou, Sare Ngai and Las Palmas, visiting groups he’s planted where he regularly teaches the Bible.

In Bereno, some villagers were Christians before he began visiting four years ago. Kabba says the Bereno believers did not have anyone nearby who could share God’s Word with them. He decided to help and enjoys visiting with them for hours at a time.

Using the teaching method of parables — as Jesus did — Kabba delivers stories in both their and his native language, Fula. He wants them to know Jesus meets people in their needs and that He cares about them.

The stories range from Jesus healing the woman with the issue of blood to Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead to Jesus restoring sight to the blind man at Bethsaida.

Marie Kamara, one of the Las Palmas Christians, poses a question to Kabba about Jesus healing the blind man at Bethsaida.

Denise Kamara listens along with other children in the Las Palmas group.

And Kabba believes that hearing and understanding these stories can open the door to more spiritual growth.

“I want them to learn them so they can teach these stories,” he says of those in his church groups.

Kabba ministers to a church group in the village in Las Palmas. Here, he sings along with them.

Kabba uses a church-planting strategy called Multiplying Churches and Communities — MC² — which was developed by Global Church Movements. He learned about MC² through the Great Commission Movement, as Cru® is known in Western Africa.

“Before the MC² training, I struggled to read and understand the Bible. Also, before undergoing the training, I lacked self confidence,” Kabba says. (See “5 Million Churches Worldwide by 2020” below to learn more.)

“He would come every week, two times to teach me.”

Kolly Danjou

Kabba (center in blue) meets with Kolly Danjou (left, holding his daughter) and members of Kolly’s community in Sare Ngai.

Kolly, sitting in his tailoring shop, was born into the traditional religion like Kabba and later made a decision to follow Jesus.

Kabba doesn’t just teach Kolly about Jesus, but also teaches Kolly’s wife, Fatou (left), and their children.

Kolly, holding his daughter Adama, is the only Christian adult male in his village.

Jammie Danjou, one of Kolly’s daughters, sits near her family’s compound.

Kolly Danjou, a dressmaker who trusted Christ three years ago, lives in Sare Ngai with his wife, Fatou, and their seven children. Kabba plans to develop more church groups in the community with Kolly’s help.

MC² also creates opportunities for spiritual conversations about Jesus over a period of time.

5 Million Churches Worldwide by 2020

The Gambia is Africa’s smallest country, about the same size as Hawaii. Its capital, Banjul, lies on an island where the Gambia River converges with the Atlantic Ocean. This nation, an inviting place where citizens welcome you with sincerity, is a strategic spot for a burgeoning global strategy.

David Oke, the national coordinator for church planting with Great Commission Movement in The Gambia, says the ministry desires to plant 2,000 churches in the country to contribute to Global Church Movement’s goal of establishing 5 million churches worldwide by 2020.

“MC² is a strategy we use to drive that, which involves working with the churches, recruiting church planters, training them and sending them to the field,” David says.

The churches identify areas to plant new groups, and the Global Church Movements division of the Great Commission Movement in Gambia supports that work with trainings, ministry resources and implementation of the training.

David says the Great Commission Movement hopes that the investment results in churches becoming multiplying communities in the country. Kabba’s ministry in Basse, with his church groups, demonstrates this hope.

“We’re trying to help Kabba grow in leadership,” David says. “He is volunteering with us as a district coordinator. We gave him that responsibility and title to create ownership in the work.”

And because of Kabba, David says the Great Commission Movement is able to converse with the Fulas now, Kabba’s tribe. Kabba’s ministry opened doors for the ministry.

“Many people don’t like the name of Jesus,” Ramatoulai Baldeh, a Great Commision Movement staff member, says. “You have to move slowly until the time where you can explain everything about the Bible.”

Kabba receives some financial help from the Great Commission Movement that supports his ministry in Basse and provided him with a motorbike in 2019. Before getting the bike, Kabba would walk miles to and from the villages and pay for bus tickets out of his own pocket.

Encouragement at the right time

Kabba’s trusting God for more opportunities to help his people follow Christ. He prays they will depend on God to multiply their lives as well.

He also sees God meet his faith with encouragement that touches his family and his ministry. Initially, his mother rejected him when he started following Jesus. He says prayer opened a door and now anything he can give her — his money, his help — she receives.

“Christians, what we believe is Christ is alive, and if you give your life and your faith is strong, anything you pray about, your prayers will be answered one day,” Kabba says.

Isatou Jallow, Kabba’s youngest daughter, helps her father at their home by preparing meals and washing clothes with water from the village well.

Kabba prays for his family and that his three adult children — daughters Kadijatou and Isatou, and his son, Salieu — will come to know Jesus for themselves. Salieu and Isatou live with him now.

“I know no one can be safe without Christ. If I am safe and my family is not, it is a big challenge. And I do pray about this a lot.”

Kabba

Few Christians live close by for Kabba to fellowship with. But each time he crosses the Gambia River and travels miles through Basse teaching God’s Word, he unites with the community thriving among his church groups.

Whether in the welcoming circle of chairs in Las Palmas or under the cool shade of a mango tree in Saremamudou, these believers see him and he matters.

He’s not alone. One of the ladies from Saremamudou even checks on Kabba if time has passed since his last visit.

“If I won’t be here for a week or two weeks, she will call and say, ‘What’s happened? I want to hear the Word of God!’”

Felly Damdhe, a disciple of Kabba’s, works with other men outside the village of Saremamudou, laying the foundation for a new building.

Kabba says of Felly, “He’s very strong in his faith,” and the two have known each other for more than 10 years. Kabba is looking for a Bible to encourage Felly.

A woman in the Saremamudou village weaves leaves into a broom that helps keep the dust at bay in her home. Weaving leaves is a common practice among women.

Kabba (left), with members of the Saremamudou village, sometimes uses resources from Jesus Film Project® in Wolof, Pulaar and Fula languages on his tablet when he teaches.

And God has used the way Kabba lives his life to change the hearts of his neighbors. After hearing about him giving away shoes from the Great Commission Movement to many children in their village, Kabba says a neighbor told him, “You put us to shame. I would not give these for free, but you did.”

Kabba felt it was the right thing to do.

“It was not me; it is Christ,” he says. “That is why I share.”

That neighbor’s daughter, Habbi Sidibe, friends with Kabba’s daughter Isatou, now visits her at Kabba’s compound, something that would not have happened before the shoe giveaway.

Her father doesn’t persecute Kabba anymore, and he’s begun inviting him to village events. It’s an unexpected blessing that reconnects Kabba just a little more to his people.

Sitting in his yard, he prepares fish he caught for cooking while an ornery rooster crows loudly a few steps from him. The bird doesn’t belong to Kabba, but visits often to flirt with his hens.

Kabba doesn’t mind. And as he cleans his fish, he keeps making plans for Basse and the next church group he hopes to plant.

“I want to find people who need my teaching,” Kabba says. And he goes to whatever villages he needs to visit in Basse to make that happen.

Though he gets tired sometimes, Kabba says he remembers his life before he knew God and that motivates him to keep helping believers in Basse be strong in their faith.

Reach out

How have you persevered in sharing the gospel, even when your efforts were rejected at first?

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Melody Copenny
Words by

Melody Copenny

Melody serves as managing editor for Cru Storylines™ and a journalist with Cru®. She’s an Atlanta, Georgia, native and University of Georgia graduate with a bachelor’s degree in magazine journalism. She enjoys the intersection of creativity, theology and popular culture in her writing projects.

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Guy Gerrard
Photos by

Guy Gerrard

Guy isn’t much of a city person. Paddling down the Wda river in northern Poland with participants of a Cru® summer mission project describes a great place for him to photograph. He likes being outside, doing anything with water, and he enjoys making things with his hands. Guy serves as a photographer for Cru.

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Read more from the September 2019 issue

From the Field

Living With One Foot in Business and Another in Ministry

In college, Frank Kelly III wrestled between working in full-time ministry with athletes or in his father’s company. Years later, as the CEO of that company, he leverages his business and his athletic ties to develop a thriving ministry.

September 2019

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