Senegal Reflections: Nioko Bokk (We are Together)
Reflections on the Young Adult Exchange with Senegal
by Stephanie Petrilli
When I told people that I was going to Senegal with my church, I got a lot of “good for you” and “have a wonderful mission.” It was hard to explain to people why I was going, that I wasn’t going there to build a school or feed hungry children, I was going to just be.
Because that is what we practice in accompaniment through ELCA Global Mission. There is no mission to, only with and among. The point of our mission trip was to share our lives with each other, to walk together, and see where “your” and “my” become “we.”
What does accompaniment look like? It was traveling to a village where water comes from wells and your neighbor’s donkey or rooster is likely to interrupt your slumber. It was swimming in the sea. Eating from a shared bowl. Greeting every morning with a song of prayer, conversations, and crunchy baguettes. (The Senegalese young adults who visited the Grand Canyon Synod in January explained to me that that white, sliced stuff we have is quite unidentifiable as bread.)
After church one Sunday, our hosts dragged the wooden pews outside, and spent all afternoon singing, eating, playing, and laughing. In Senegal, relationships and community take far more importance than being busy or productive. I noticed my own impatience constantly. Why did I find it so hard to be present and just exist?
A times I was very uncomfortable and aware of my own wealth and power. I was challenged by the visible traces of global warming. The haunting legacy of the slave trade and colonialism. The shameful impact of our own materialism. Realizing for the first time that I can bathe myself with a single bucket of water, when the average American shower uses 2-5 gallons per minute.
As a member of the Grand Canyon Synod, you also walk as companions with Eglíse Luthérienne du Sénégal. Accompaniment doesn’t end. You, too, are part of its unfolding.
My prayer for you is that you will actively join this relationship as the Global Engagement team shares information and ways to engage throughout the coming months. I would also love to come share more about this experience with your congregation or over a cup of coffee.
The Woloff phrase for “You’re welcome” – “Nioko bokk” is translated to mean “We are together.” This sentiment proved to be far truer than I had imagined when I departed for Senegal. God has given us companions for this journey, and Nioko bokk – we are together.