Oct 14, 2010, 12:05 PM
It is my privilege and joy to bring you New Year greetings from the
One of the things I have learnt since living in The Gambia is how important greetings are and one of the first things you do when you hear a different language is to try and learn how people greet one another - so 'Nanga def, 'Kasumai', 'Salam Alekum' and all the other greetings used in different parts of the country are often known, even if nothing else is known in a particular language.
Of course, in English, people say 'How are you?' and the response is 'I'm fine'. But, greetings are more often than not said without thinking and I remember going to see a church member once in hospital who was seriously ill and anticipating major surgery - and, without thinking, I said 'How are you?' and she, without thinking, said 'I'm fine' and as soon as she said that I realized that she wasn't fine at all, she was seriously ill and it wasn't absolutely certain that she would survive the operation. Thankfully, she did get better, and afterwards we laughed about the enquiry in my greeting and her response.
Maybe, at the start of a New Year, we should stop and analyse what we are saying when we wish each other' A Happy New Year'. Some of us have seen countless New Years come and go, and we know that most years are not always full of happiness, particular if you take a global view of things. Take the year that has just gone, for instance, there have been acts of terrorism, civil war, hurricanes and other natural disasters, which have dominated some people's lives- there have been financial crises, problems in finding employment, some who have suffered
from terminal illnesses and so I could go on. There is usually a mixture of happy things and sad things which happen throughout the course of every year and maybe it is a little strange how we can start a New Year with expectations of happiness yet really know, deep in our hearts, that at least for some, the days full of good things may not be as many as the difficult and sad days.
But I am here to wish you happiness in the year ahead - not to paint a picture of doom and gloom.
So, I refer to our everyday greetings again and remind you of just one of them, which I believe has a very real and helpful response at the start of a New Year. I think that when we say 'nanga def and then respond 'mangi fi', the response literally means 'I'm here'. Now to me this reflects what is at the heart of the Christian and biblical belief about God's care and guidance.
If you wonder why I make such a sweeping statement, let me refer you to a story in the Old Testament. Samuel, who was a prophet, had managed to get the tribes of Israel together to face the Philistines who had caused havoc for the Israelites - but surprisingly, they had achieved a great victory and in the first Book of Samuel, chapter seven, it says "Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and leshanah and named it Ebel1ezer; for he said 'Thus far the Lord has helped us'."
There was peace in the land and Samuel erected this 'stone of help' as a reminder that they had survived and that God's Holy Presence had been real and brought them safely through all their troubles.
So Samuel recognized that they were there, at that point of time, and God had been with them protecting them and giving them life and victory - and therefore there was hope for the days to come.
We are here, at the start of a New Year - God has brought us safely to this moment and the ,experience of the past gives hope for the days ahead.
For the Methodist Church, 2009 promises to be a very special year, as, after being in the Gambia since 1821, our Church is due to become autonomous - with its own Conference - and no longer under the British Methodist Church. Here again, we shall remember how God hasbrought us safely to this momentous time in our history and will be praying for his continuing help in the years to come.
Maybe yo'u too are looking forward to some event in your life, or your family or your place of work - may I ask that you will remember that God has brought you safely to this moment and that because of that you may approach this coming year with the confidence that he will continue to be with you.
Whatever happens over these coming months you can be sure that God will be with you, protecting you and guiding you and that the true happiness will come by realizing his continuous presence in your life.
As the hymn says:
'We'll praise him for all that is past
And trust Him for all that's to come'
May God be with you and with the assurance of his presence, may you have a really Happy New Year.