The first time I went to The Gambia was last May, where I spent a week working at a school called New Life Children’s Centre. The school (which is ran by my pastors parents) provides quality education to hundreds of children, who otherwise may not have the opportunity of an education at all.
Over the last 20 years they have seen the school grow to two sites, and they provide additional support to the children through youth programs and Christian outreach in the local community.
I knew that I would be impacted by the trip but I hadn’t realised just how much it would affect me, and so a couple of weeks ago I returned (for a little longer this time).
Me and two friends planned, prepared and fundraised to be able to go out there and be a blessing to the children and staff of NLCC, and we had an amazinggg time. There is so much I could say about the trip but what I wanted to share with you is one of the key things God has really shown me: understanding unconditional love.
It began on my first trip, when a three year old boy called Mustapha came and sat on my lap. I completely fell in love and decided to sponsor him through the charity each month so that I could help contribute to him having a better future. I didn’t realise how much God was going to teach me about His love, through this little boys life…
- Gods love for us isn’t dependent on our love for him.
At the end of our first trip when we were getting ready for saying goodbye, I remember thinking “Mustapha probably won’t even remember me.” and I felt really sad about that. But almost immediately after, I thought “I don’t actually care. It doesn’t change the fact that I love him and want to support his education.” and then God spoke to me and said “That’s how I felt about you when you turned away from me.”
I remember realising that I hadn’t ever fully understood just how much God loved me even during the years when I had forgotten all about him. He doesn’t love us if we love him back, He just loves us. And that is something we cannot change. It makes you realise just how powerful love really is!!
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.” – Isaiah 49:15-16
- God wants us to choose to spend time with him.
When I first saw Mustapha again this year, I was soooo happy! I was in the middle of taking a photo of another child when I looked down and saw he was at my feet, beaming up at me. Within seconds I had scooped him up and didn’t want to put him back down.
During the next two weeks I would always spend break time with him, and when he would choose to come and find me I was so, so full of joy! He wanted to see me and have the fuss and attention that I would show him. That’s when I realised God was telling me that that’s what he wants from us.
He wants us to come to him with arms outstretched, asking Him to lift us up! He wants us to need Him and to enjoy spending time with Him. How often do we sit at Gods feet just to feel happy that He is with us? God loves us as a father and wants us to be children to Him!
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” – John 1:12
- We don’t have to be perfect for God to want to bless us!
Mustapha loves to eat! He’s the sort of kid who will shove a whole fistful of crisps into his mouth in one go, and then demolish a pack of biscuits before you realise he’s even opened them!
One lunchtime another little girl was sharing the small amount of food she had with some of her friends, but Mustapha had absolutely no intention of doing the same! For a moment I felt disappointed that he wasn’t sharing, but then immediately I thought “It’s ok, he is so young and just hasn’t learnt this yet.”
I instantly had the revelation that sometimes I am the same in God’s eyes – he is wanting me to learn something that will make me a better person, but he completely understands that I am not going to be ‘perfect’ straight away. Just because I’m not being the absolute best version of myself He still loves me just the same.
In the same way that I still wanted to give Mustapha all my attention God still wants to pour out His perfect love on us regardless. Isn’t it amazing that we serve a God who understands we take time to develop and mature and wants us at every single stage of our journey!
“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” – Titus 3:4-5
Sometimes we think we know these basic principles of God’s love, but often it isn’t until we have a total revelation of the true depth of His love for us that we are able to really get it! It’s totally crazy and amazing that God is able to feel this way about every single one of us ALL THE TIME! What a God we serve!
“I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” – 2 Corinthians 6:18