Article | Missions magazine

Carving Out a Future in Senegal: A Trade School Teaches Skills and Proclaims Christ's Love

Jul 15, 2021

By Herma Bode

In 1976, when my husband, Gerhard, and I stepped off the Marseille–Dakar ocean liner into Senegal with our children and Volkswagen van in tow, we expected to explore the whole of West Africa to see where God wanted us. Little did we know that we were already there. In the intervening years, Senegal became our home. I can scarcely believe more than 40 years have passed since then.

Senegal gained independence in the 1960s and is a peaceful, democratic country; it is one of the few on this continent that hasn’t suffered a coup d’état. Situated on the coast, Senegal is located just below the Sahara, and its capital, Dakar, lies on Africa’s westernmost point. The country is about the size of South Dakota. Although 96 percent of the population is Muslim, religious freedom is tolerated; three percent are Roman Catholic, with the remaining portion being evangelical. Of the 27 languages spoken, Wolof is the most prominent.

When we first arrived, we partnered with our colleagues, Dr. Eric and Eithne Church, who were commended from an Irish assembly in the early 1960s. Their life’s work was translating the New Testament into Wolof, the first edition of which was published in 1987. Since then, the New Testament has been revised and has gone through two additional printings. Today, it is used in Wolof communities around the world. The Old Testament translation is close to being completed, so soon, we will have the entire Bible in Wolof.

During our years in Dakar, when our children were young and attending grade school, Gerhard and I were involved in mainly church planting. When Eric and Eithne Church returned to England in 1990, God provided a way for us to move to Malika, 15 miles up the coast, to continue ministry there. Today, the Dakar assembly we worked with thrives in the hands of Senegalese believers.


Gerhard and I have four children: Dany, Becky, Naomi, and Josh. Having grown up in Senegal, our children know the languages and consider Senegal their home. In 1996, the Lord took Gerhard home to heaven.

Dany, who is talented like his dad was, desired to start a vocational school for the young men he grew up with. Eighteen years ago, he and his wife, Nadine, started a workshop on our property in Malika, teaching trades through an apprentice system for Muslims and Christians alike. The school started with two departments: a drum-building shop and a welding atelier. It has since expanded to encompass mechanics, auto bodywork, furniture building, fine woodworking, textiles, and the building of musical instruments. Besides a trade, students learn basic reading and bookkeeping skills, all of which help them support their families. Here are a few of the men’s stories:


Jugena grew up in an animistic household. Bored with school, he left at an early age to roam with a gang in Dakar’s dump. Serving the two million inhabitants of Dakar, this enormous dump has an entire community living within its sprawl. One day, the young Jugena showed up at my kids’ club. At first, he attended sporadically, but eventually, he joined our Sunday morning meetings and was ultimately incorporated into the workshop as an apprentice welder.

Jugena loved the Lord but could not read. One day, a missionary placed an order with him: a Bible verse written in metal on an iron plaque. Since he was illiterate, forming each piece of metal into a letter with the right shape and proportion was an enormous frustration. Countless times, Jugena thought he had the verse right, only to be sent back to the drawing board. Though humbling, the experience sparked in him the desire to learn to read the Bible for himself.

Thus motivated, he began joining me at the kitchen table. By God’s grace, and with the Wolof New Testament as our textbook, I taught him to read. Those times led to great conversations. Often, Jugena told me, “I would love to have a wife like you!” The remark was charming and funny, and believe it or not, God gave him a wife, Joanna, who is a Dutch missionary from Holland (I, too, am Dutch)! Today, he continues his ministry in the welding business, having just left the nest of our school and passed on the baton of running our welding department to his two apprentices.


Jibby was born in a Wolof fishing village, in a community that practices animism under a veneer of Islam. One of 18 children, Jibby first heard the good news from a group of health-care volunteers who were doing a three-month outreach in his village. When Jibby completed grade school, his father told him it was the end of his schooling since they had no money for books. Armed with what education he had, Jibby started reading the Bible in Wolof. He soon became a believer in the Lord Jesus and discarded all of his amulets, which the Senegalese wear for protection from evil spirits. Because of Jibby’s faith, his family rejects him, but he helps them as much as he can.

Jibby came to our shop to learn a trade. He began with building drums and then moved on to sewing. With Jibby at the helm, our textile department grew to incorporate several young men. One of them is Modu, whose skills have so improved over the years that he now fulfills overseas orders. Another is Ernest, a history student. The proceeds of his work go toward supporting his parents and continuing his studies. Jibby has progressed from sewing to helping me manage the property and our many visitors, which is a relentless job. He has become my extremely capable general manager and right-hand man.


Abdoulaye grew up in the parcel of land neighboring our compound, so our families have a long-standing relationship. He is very musical and, currently, is the head of our school’s fine woodworking department. He plays and builds numerous instruments, including koras (African harps that are Senegal’s national instrument), which showcase his craftsmanship and attention to detail. Since there is much musical talent here, we are building a music studio so that our Senegalese friends can record their own compositions. The original djembe (African drum) department has been passed along from Aziz to his apprentice, Gilbert, and it is still going strong. Aziz now runs a successful surf camp in Dakar.


Labath is gifted with his hands, and he is building a pirogue with Dany. When we took the boat on a test run up the coast, it was a proud moment for Labath and the other men in the shop. Captivated by the idea of connecting the ancient with the modern, they partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Vanderbilt University to design a motor that runs on a biofuel engine and a traditional sail. To reenact the 14th-century transatlantic crossing that the Malian emperor and explorer Abubakari attempted, Dany plans to sail to Brazil in the boat Labath built. (1)


The latest addition to our vocational school is an auto body and mechanic’s shop, which buzzes around the clock. Most Senegalese men are interested in cars and consider themselves mechanics, so half the village passes through on any given day, providing opportunities for us to witness to them.

Women are also a significant part of our ministry. I have had the chance to teach many women to read. I have a constant stream of volunteers and visitors from diverse backgrounds and parts of the world. My open home and dinner table are a great mission field.

We are here to build a community with our fellow Senegalese. Musicians, artisans, mechanics, carpenters, students, laypeople, and visitors from overseas work side by side on our property. We build, eat, and play together every day and carve out a future full of hope. It is a triumph for the Lord Jesus! May our lives as Christians be a witness and an invitation to know the One who loves us so much and gave His life for each of us. ■


Herma Bode is commended from Southside Bible Chapel in Colorado Springs, Colorado.


(1) Joan Baxter, “Africa’s ‘Greatest Explorer,’” BBC News, BBC, 13 December 2000,


Originally published by Echoes International Mission Magazine, December 2020. Appeared in the July 2021 issue of Missions. Used with permission. For more content, sign up for a free subscription (US) to Missions at