LUMBERTON — Eighteen-year-old Constance Rice, who spent part of her summer with a parasite infection in Senegal where temperatures routinely climbed past the 100-degree mark, said she would do it all over again.
Rice, who will be a freshman at The University of North Carolina at Wilmington this fall, spent 12 days in a village in West Africa last month, teaching English, distributing over-the-counter medication and introducing people to Christianity.
“I wanted to see people come to Christ and we did get to see one person come to Christ,” Rice said. “I guess that was an achievement being accomplished.”
Rice was a part of a group from Long Branch Baptist Church that went on a mission trip to Senegal in July. Carole Allen, the Children and Youth director at the church, said the trip marked her ninth visit to West Africa as team leader. It wasn’t a day at the beach for the young people.
“I always take young people so they can get a taste of what a Third World country is and know how blessed they are to have running water and electricity,” Allen said. “It usually ignites a passion in them to try and do it again.”
This year Allen’s team was made up of Rice, 16-year-olds Brianna Little and Harrison Hester, 17-year-old Kayla Liles, and 25-year-old Daniel Bradson.
Senegal is one of the world’s poorest countries, with close to 50 percent of its population living below the poverty line. The country is predominantly Muslim, where only about 5 percent of its population who practice Christianity. Much of their time was spent in a village near Dakar, the nation’s capital.
Rice said her decision to go on the mission trip was based on hearing Allen speak about her past experiences there.
“It wasn’t really a free trip of ‘Hey, let’s go to Africa’,” Rice said. “Our main goal was to share the gospel and tell people about Jesus.”
Allen said the mission team lived in concrete houses, called “compounds,” among locals and read them passages from the Bible.
“They called us ‘Tubabs,’ which is the name for a white person,” she said. “So when their kids see us for the first time, they’re pointing and saying ‘Tubab, Tubab…’, the kids are running down the street and yelling — it’s really kind of cute.”
Allen said Senegalese people were welcoming.
“In Africa, the saying is ‘Americans have watches and Senegalese have time’ because they just sit there and talk with you, it doesn’t matter what time it is,” she said.
Allen believes their work changed lives.
“We were able to share the gospel with over 300 people while we were there this time,” she said. “Watching them grow in their faith and taking the next step as believers is always an encouragement.”
Allen said the team had to go through weeks of preparation before leaving on a 14-hour plane trip.
“We do training,” she said. “Like a six-week international missions training, plus we do learning how to speak their language, basic greetings … and learning a lot of their culture because their culture is so different from ours.”
But the training didn’t prepare Rice for everything.
“I was nervous because I didn’t know how I would handle not being to talk with them,” Rice said. “We had a translator but I didn’t know how efficient I was going to be with that.”
Allen said the team faced health challenges on top of the language barrier and cultural chasms.
“Dehydration is always a part of it,” she said. “We’re having to drink three liters of water a day on a normal day and then more than that on a hot day.”
The rural areas of the country suffer from poor sewer and sanitation systems, making running water unsafe.
“We can’t brush our teeth just out of the sink,” Rice said. “We had to buy big bottles of water because it’s not healthy for us to use their water.”
The tropical country is also affected by lowland floods during the rainy months of May to November and severe drought in the months of December to April.
“There’s nowhere to cool off,” Allen said. “There’s no air-conditioning or anything so it just feels hot all the time, and sticky … .”
Rice said her parents were initially worried about her decision to travel to a Third World country, but are now thankful she got to gain that experience.
“They were excited that I got to do it because most people don’t get to do things like that,” she said. “I had never even been on an airplane — it was a lot of first-time events.”
Allen said she’s proud of her team this year.
“The kids are really good at jumping in there and doing whatever they were asked,” she said. “It was new for them … some of them had never been out of the county or never even flown but they were really good about doing tasks — it was a learning experience for them as well.”
Rice said she will never forget the faces of the people she met.
“It was so hard to leave them,” she said. “… We did get to make friends with them and it’s hard to leave them.”