Another of our Listen for Love: A podcast series for Advent episodes - four conversations with United Methodist missionaries for Advent 2019. Shared in partnership with Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church's Give Love campaign.
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David Makobo N’Shikala knows the peace of the farm. After studying agriculture at United Methodist Africa University, he moved from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), to Dakar, Senegal where he leads Senegal United Methodist Mission. David teaches farmers how to grow food in poor soil and how modern technologies can help them work with their land most efficiently.
David Makobo N’Shikala
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This episode posted on December 13, 2019.
Joe Iovino, host: Welcome to Get Your Spirit in Shape, United Methodist Communications and UMC.org’s podcast to help us keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. I’m Joe Iovino.
Today we continue our partnership with Global Ministries as we get to listen for peace with United Methodist missionary David Makobo. David is a graduate of Africa University from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He’s teaching agriculture to farmers in Senegal. David serves as the director of the Senegal United Methodist Mission in Dakar, where he shares his expertise to help grow crops in a dry climate with challenging soil.
You will be encouraged as you listen to David describe his ministry, and how he humbly serves Jesus every day.
Joe: David, welcome to Get Your Spirit in Shape.
David: Thank you.
Joe: You are a missionary serving as an agriculturalist with the Senegal United Methodist Mission. Tell me about your ministry.
David: Here in Senegal my ministry is two tasks. One of them is to help United Methodist churches who have some agriculture-related projects to enable those local churches to be financially self-supported.
I also work with local farmers. These are small-scale farmers by African standards – to teach them sustainable agriculture so that they can produce enough for home consumption and the surplus which they can sell and generate some income. These local farmers don’t have any other activity for generating some income beside the agricultural activity that they do. So that’s basically what I have been doing here in Senegal for almost the past 6 years now.
Joe: Six years.
David: I say almost because next January I will be here for 6 years. So I’m 5 years plus, close to 6 years now.
Joe: And you said some of your work … I think the first task you said was that some of your work is to help churches become self-sustaining. So are they growing things that they sell to help keep the ministry going? Is that the idea?
David: Yes. That’s about the idea, but I did spend sometimes when we didn’t get much involved into it because the local churches here in Senegal don’t have a piece of land where they should do their agriculture project. So we managed to raise some money and we managed to buy some pieces of land for 3 churches. So those churches already: One is raising some pigs, they will be mostly about livestock and the other places will be…we have been growing some crops with those pieces of land.
Joe: And you also are helping farmers use their land in better ways?
David: Yes. These other local farmers are predominantly Muslims. You know, Senegal is over 90% a Muslim country. So I work with both Christians and non-Christians, the majority Muslim and some animists. The Christians are very few among local farmers. The majority of them are non-Christians.
When I first arrived, I found these people in different communities they were already doing some agricultural activities. I thought at some point, they were going to be quite relevant. But I remember when I first visited one of the places here, in the village of Pointe Sarene we were going to introduce a big community farm – they work together, it’s a big piece of land where every farmer is using his own land – as we’re walking into, I saw that what they were doing was wasting time and energy. Because there was not much that they could expect. I was shocked.
I asked them, “Why are you doing so?” Then one of them said, “This is what we have been doing with our grandparents and our parents and we have never had someone to tell us what we are supposed to do.” That day I was touched, and I really felt there was need of helping those people. They’d been doing that for years. But the way they were doing it, it was just wasting time and energy. And they could not expect that much.
Joe: You are trained as an agriculturalist. Correct?
Joe: What does that mean? Like, what was your schooling like and what are some of the things that you’re sharing with the farmers to help them?
David: You know, I studied agriculture. I did agriculture in high school. Then I went to college. Undergraduate I majored in horticulture. Master’s level, I majored in crop production.
So talking of horticulture, we do an awful lot of these activities here in Senegal related to horticulture. One other thing to mention, here in Senegal – unlike other parts of Africa, like where I grew up and other places I’ve been – in Senegal we only have 2 months maximum of rains.
So we do a little bit of feed crops like cereals. But our cash crops are vegetables. And the number one vegetable is onions. Onions are very, very produced and are very consumed here. So we do onions, tomatoes, okra, peppers. These are the most cash crop that we focus on. And it is a part of our horticultural project when we do them. It fits with what I’ve been doing here.
We also do a little bit of feed crops during the short window of rains. We do millet, sorghum and okra. We can’t do some other crops like in southern Africa where many people do corn. We don’t do that here in Senegal because that’s a big risk. We only have 2 months of rains. And most of the country we don’t have many days so far. So, those are the risks.
So, we focus on these cash crops and a little bit of the feed crops.
Sometimes during the window during the rainy season when we have a little bit of grains because these people, if they stop producing when we harvest the vegetables, then they don’t have other activities that they will do the rest of the year. So when I became aware, I started working with them so that we can fill the gaps.
And we also have some goats, sheep and cows in that period then we slaughter them and we have lot of celebrations here in Senegal. So a little bit of livestock. I did an introduction to animal science at Africa University, and in high school I did a course in what we call in French zoe technique (?). A little bit of that introduction of animal science I did. So that’s what I apply when it comes to working with… to doing livestock with these local farmers.
Joe: They must be very grateful to have your knowledge and expertise to help them make these things work.
David: Yeah, I remember, as I said, during my first visit when I asked that question, and the answer that I got. Then after a year, after the training, during our meeting one of these farmers he said, “We don’t understand how come you came from another country to help people you didn’t know before.” Then he ended up saying, “This is God.” And this one is a Muslim. He said, “This is God.”
And in 2018 in August (I still remember very well.) during the training I saw somebody who… the face I was not familiar to. Then at the end of the training – he was old. He was in his late seventies. Then he said, “I have something to say.” And I said, “Okay, go ahead.” Then he introduced himself by saying, “I was born and raised here. What we are seeing now we have never seen before. The change we are seeing in this village, the accomplishment of these young people are making in this village. You have played the role, an important role. You are responsible.”
He said, “When you first arrived, the first day you came here I saw you, and I knew that we’re not going anywhere. But what I have seen, the accomplishments of these young people into this village, I decided also to join this group.” So since that…at that time, in 2018, that man is part of the group. He’s in his late 70s. So he testified to the accomplishments they’ve seen by the people in that village.
They’ve been sharing a lot of testimonies of their goal, things that they’ve experienced since I started working with them, the improvement that they’ve made on the activity that they’ve been doing for many, many years.
Joe: That’s amazing. What a wonderful ministry you have in sharing that with those people and changing their lives in such an amazing way. Do you have opportunity to worship with them and to talk about your faith?
David: No, the first thing I did with all the groups I’ve been working with – these local farmers – I usually, what I did the first time I went there, I met with a local pastor of that area. So the introduction I just told them that I’m David Makobo. I’m coming from Congo. And I’ve been sent here by Global Ministries which is an agency of The United Methodist Church. The United Methodist Church is just responding to the call of God has told the church to help people. So myself, as a Congolese I never had in mind one day to come to Senegal. So I’m here on behalf of The United Methodist Church. I will give you my expertise in agriculture as an expert. But you should always remember that I’m doing this in the name of our Lord Jesus because he is the one who recommended the church do so. And the church is proof whatever I need, including my salary, taking care of me to come here to help you.
So that’s the first introduction that I always give them. And we always have time of praying and worshipping. And as I said, I always move [travel] usually with a local pastor of that area. So that with the local language we can share the word of God with them. And then we will proceed with the training and to do any other activities. So that’s how we’ve been approaching this, to present them with the love of God and that has sent us to be and work with them.
Joe: When did you first feel God’s call to use your gifts for agriculture in this way, to become a missionary?
David: I can say when I was in college. That’s when I was very convinced to serve as an agricultural missionary. And I said, after I graduated from high school, when I got into Africa University, there’s kind of a testimony behind how even I got to Africa University. Maybe that part will come later. But let me start from the time I was supposed to do my Master’s program.
When I was about to finish my undergraduate, I was really involved in different activities on the campus under the chaplaincy. But when I was about to finish my undergraduate there was this couple which is right now in Durango, Colorado. Before they were in the Illinois area. They came when I was in my first year on campus, they were in touch with many students on the campus. Then at one point we lost contact.
Then 2 months, I think, before I graduated in 2007 for my undergraduate, they found my email, they sent me an email saying, “David, we lost your email” and “When are you graduating?” I told them that in 2 months I will graduate. “So what are you going to do?” I said, “I’m going with the church back home in the Congo. Maybe in the future, I might think of doing a master’s program so that maybe I can help in teaching in schools in the Congo.” Then they said, “Where do you want to do the masters?” And I said, “No, anyplace where I find an opportunity.”
After after a week or 2 weeks, they sent me this email saying, “David, God has told us to pay from your Master’s program.”
David: “Not that you have… Not that you have a lot of money, but so that you can help your fellow Africans.” That’s what they wrote into their email. I did not ask them to pay for my Master’s, but they said – they’re members of the First United Methodist Church of Durango, Colorado. They said, “God told us to pay for your Master’s program, not that you have a lot of money so that you can help your fellow Africans. We are retired. We don’t have enough money, but we put aside $6,000. If your family can help us with the remaining amount.”
I said yes. My family will help. I knew that my family was not going to send me anything. … My parents are teachers. They are not well paid in The Congo. But what this $6,000 was going to cover my tuition and at least one meal per day. I said with one meal a day I can complete my three years of masters.
Then I said, “Yes, my family will pay me the remaining part.”
So in June I graduated. I just went for the break home in 2007, and I came back for my Master’s program. Now I was thinking, how am I going to help my fellow Africans? These people have paid for my Master’s not so that I will have a lot of money. So how am I going to help my fellow Africans? I should be serious. Otherwise …because if I… otherwise I will be just working for myself, for my family.
When I was thinking about that, at one point I must think of becoming a missionary. But I was discouraged because I know by then I knew very few African missionaries, very few and they were old, and they were pastors.
It can’t work with myself. When I thinking about that, one day a friend of mine said, “David, what you have doing on the campus, can’t you apply for missionary services?” And I said, “I wish I could do so, but do you think of myself, from where would I start? Who knows me? Who can recommend me to become a missionary?”
Then she persuaded me and after a time, I said, I have to make a try. And I applied for missionary services in January 2008. I was in my first year of Master’s. When Global Ministries got my application, they sent me a letter saying that we got your application. You’ll probably be a good one. If there any placement we will get in touch with you. That was in 2008.
I graduated in 2010. I went back home. Global Ministries never contacted me. The church asked me to be the founding Dean of the School of Agriculture at Katanga Methodist University. Then I said, at least I’m still in that vision. I can help many young people to develop a curriculum which will be very competitive with state university. So I went there. I served for 3 years as the founding Dean of the School of Agriculture. This was a new school of agriculture.
Then in 2011 I received an email from Global Ministries saying that your file is no longer active after 3 years. You should update it with a CV. So I sent the CV in 2011. Then, after 2013 in January, after 5 years from the time I applied, that’s when Global Ministries contacted me, saying there’s a placement in Senegal which is predominantly Muslim country. Are you interested in going? We would like to have a conversation with you. After 5 years that’s when I was confirmed by Global Ministries as an agriculturalist missionary. So that’s how the journey of my training in agriculture and serving as an agriculture missionary – It took this path for me to get to this point.
Joe: Wow. That’s very exciting.
What’s something that’s happening in your ministry right now that you’re very excited about? What are some really great things that are happening?
David: As far as agriculture is concerned, I’m very excited to play a role in helping the lives of these people. A lot of accomplishments have been made. I can give some examples.
The first year that we started with this community of Pointe Sarene, there was this gentlemen who was discouraged with his tomatoes in the seedbed and we worked with him. In the end, it was a team from Alabama, from Wesley Memorial. They were talking to these farmers – these were the ones that said, “I’ve never counted in my hand, 400,000 CFA,” which was then the equivalent of $800 U.S. dollars. He said, “You know, I was discouraged with the tomatoes in the seedbed. I knew that those were the worst already. But David helped me and apart from what I gave to people, apart from what I take home, what I sold, and I was able to count 400,000 which was the equivalent of $800 US.
And you know, we’ve got a lay preacher who was living with 7 children in a hut – a small house, from top to bottom, grasses. A hut with 7 children for many years. After working with him the first year, the second year he was able to build a house in concrete with iron sheets on top. And he is not the only one.
Many people have been making those accomplishments. I know they’re using their own strength, their own courage. It’s only a little bit of techniques and encouragement and experties that I’ve given them which has changed their lives with the same activity that they’ve been doing for many years.
I am very excited about this, and hearing all those testimonies that they always share for the changes that they’ve been experiencing. I’m really excited about this. And I’m also excited about what local churches are trying to accomplish now.
Besides agriculture, I’m the only remaining commissioned missionary in Senegal. So I’m covering some of the other duties that previously were covered by other missionaries because at the beginning, Senegal had 3 couples that were missionaries all of them commissioned, so they had different responsibilities. But now being the only missionary I’m covering other ground. So, I’m really excited to bring such a contribution to this community. I’m quite excited. It’s an opportunity for me, a privilege to give this service to the community.
Joe: That’s amazing. And so if I ask what is the biggest challenge…is it that you need more help?
David: Yeah. Right now the biggest challenge is mostly working with local churches. This is the biggest challenge. Because with local farmers, there is no problem. You are just moving. You are just working. I give them the expertise. I visit their fields. They produce. They do whatever they want with their income.
But with the local churches, after overcoming the challenge of acquiring land, there’s still a challenge of having some church members who can volunteer at the beginning, before we start making profits. Because myself, as the chair of the agriculture project, I can’t payy for labor for local church’s projects.
We know that the agricultural projects at the beginning, we won’t make enough profit. You need to rely on volunteers. So that’s a fair challenge. I’ve been encouraging church members to do their best so that they can volunteer. I can help them with the input, that’s part of the program to help them with inputs and expertise. But the labor they should make that effort to do so.
So that’s the main challenge as far as agriculture is concerned, but another challenge is being the only commissioned missionary here. We are transitioning from the mission initiative to a district which is attached to Côte d'Ivoire. So this is another challenge, and it’s a real challenge, coming from programs and then trying to help churches to be self-supporting, like 50% of it. It’s very challenging. Yeah, those are the challenges I’m experiencing these days.
Joe: Do you find your work in agriculture a spiritual practice? Is it something that helps keep you in touch with God in your life and in the community?
David: Yes, it is. It does.
First, agriculture itself. When you look at the conditions which are here in Senegal as compared to other places where I’ve lived, I consider challenges as far as the environment itself are concerned, and that’s when I see God’s grace in everything.
Let me take the example Congo where we have plenty of land. In Congo you can just go and talk to a local chief then he will point you to a bush and say, “Okay, there is land. Do for whatever you want.”
Besides the land which is available and this is fertile soil which is good. Sometimes there are people in The Congo who don’t even use an organic fertilizer. They are just rotating and using the same land, using just biological controls, those kind of things and they are producing. Also in the Congo we have 8 months of rains.
But when you come into Senegal…when I first arrived into Senegal, I was even doubting myself. I said, “Am I not going to be exposed as someone who is not competent? Because looking in the soil, it is quite sandy. Two months of rains. A poor soil.
Already, under such land, under such difficult conditions, people are producing. I already see God’s grace and I have come to the point of valuing the environment. Things that we take sometimes for granted in Congo, I do value them here because you see a piece of land, a tiny piece of land, and we’re to do the best we can so we can produce enough.
So I value… Some of the things that I used maybe to take for granted like it was just normal. I used to value that. And I see God’s grace in how people can still produce under this condition.
And the connection with these people who especially the local farmers who are not Christians. And who are raising themselves concerns, asking for prayers – asking will you keep praying for us, and we, too, will pray for you. And you know, with that connection we keep showing them God’s love. This has been putting me into that connection where I can feel myself really connected into God’s presence.
Joe: Well, David, it has been a pleasure talking to you today and learning about your ministry. Thank you so much for your time.
David: Thank you, Joe. Thank you.
Joe: That was David Makobo, missionary to Senegal. To learn more about his ministry of giving peace to the people and farmers of Dakar, go to umc.org/podcasts and look for this episode of Get Your Spirit in Shape. We’ve put links on the page where you can support David’s ministry and learn more about Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church and their Give Love campaign.
There are also links to other episodes of Get Your Spirit in Shape and places to subscribe so that you won’t miss any of these wonderful conversations that we get to share throughout the year.
Next week, we’ll be back again with another conversation with another missionary, named Clara Biswas a humble missionary who shares the love of Jesus with the poor of Cambodia. As we draw nearer to Christmas, we’ll be listening for love.
See you next week. I’m Joe Iovino. Peace.