Monday, March 31, 2008

The Kingdom of Heaven Comes Not by Violence

One of the first places we visited was an amputee camp in the Jui section of Freetown. Camps for amputee war-victims and their families like the Jui camp were set up by the government all over the country after the war. The children came right up to us, held our hands, and sat in our laps! You can tell they are loved.

We sat and listened to the horrific stories of these people from the war. The lady in the middle of the picture below in the wheelchair is the matriarch of the camp. She is affectionately known as "the Chairlady." Part of the psychological tactics the rebels used when they attacked her village was to tell her and the ladies she was with that they were 'politicians' because they danced when the president was elected and, therefore, deserved to have their feet cut off. The rebels left her and the other ladies upstairs bleeding and set the ground floor of her house on fire. They were told that the first one who came out of the house would be shot. Choking on smoke, they were forced to crawl out only to realize the rebels were long gone. The Chairlady didn't get medical help until 2 or 3 days later, resulting in her having to be amputated above the knees. She told her story with an amazing amount of dignity and courage.

At first, the Chairlady was reluctant to recount her personal history because, she reasoned, many people had come to see them before, taken pictures of them, and left without returning again to help. It was only because we were with Pastor Victor (whom she trusted) and had promised to buy them a bag of rice that she deemed our motives less self-ingratiating. Out of all my experiences on my first trip to Sierra Leone, the Chairlady's words struck me most deeply and have lingered with me the longest.

Although the government created these camps with basic houses, some land to farm, and arranged for amputees to receive prosthetics, a failed government has not been able to sustain them. The farmers cannot feed everyone in the camp year-round. As you can also see, the amputees aren't using their prosthetics. These two realities are related: they do not have enough to eat; therefore they beg for food; they get less money when they beg wearing a prosthesis; therefore they beg without their prosthesis. The other thing about prosthetics is that they need regular maintenance and adjustment for practicability and comfort--which does not seem to be happening. To add to these difficulties, members of this community also have to hike to the river and back for water, 1/2 mile each way. The rebels tried to build a better government by violence and all of this is the result.

We learned that ministry in Sierra Leone is slow, difficult, and complicated; so we want to start small. We also learned--especially from the Jui camp--that ministry needs to be holistic, addressing the physical, spiritual, intellectual and social needs simultaneously. Therefore, as our first, smaller project, I have been contemplating adopting this camp. Please pray for these people and this potential project. Wouldn't it be a beautiful thing to bring the peaceable, life-giving kingdom of heaven to earth by transforming this camp of about 100 people by providing a new school for children with laptops, a church, sustainable farming, a water well, and a clinic which prosthetists can work in conjunction with? Wouldn't it be a wonderful thing if we could give the Chairlady a reason to dance again?

Leaders 4 Life exists to bring the best in the world to bear upon this situation. I leave you with this amazing 5 minute prosthetics video by Dean Kamen--creator of the Segway--for those who have a few extra moments to be inspired to that end:

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Trash Talkin'

I remember one day, shortly after I had become a Christian, in which I threw some rubbish out of my car window while sitting in a fast-food parking lot in Las Vegas. My meal was rudely interrupted when a war veteran picked up the trash and threw it back into my car and upon my lap with some choice expletives. Who could blame him? He had risked his life for his country and I was de-beautifying it.

The 10 year war in Sierra Leone has left all systems in the country broken. The postal system is unreliable and "recycling" is not even on the radar map. I learned that some rubbish trucks were donated by Germany (I believe), but that trash collection was sporadic and generally unreliable. This is not to mention the terrible road conditions which muck up the matter even more.

I can’t help but think of how demoralizing living with such waste must be. Besides the potential to spread disease, apart from the watery eyes caused by the constant burning of garbage, it is not pretty to look at. I wonder how much Sierra Leoneans dream of re-capturing the beauty of their country …

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

January 6th

Some dates are unforgetable. They mark the undulations of our collective humanity. Dates like 9/11 and 7/7 have become part of our everyday vocabulary, triggering images of horror and grief.

On January 6th, 2008, I was commissioned at the Parish Church of the Holy Trinity in St. Andrews to enter Sierra Leone for the first time. After 10 years of watching and waiting as God continually and profoundly put this country before me, it was a much-anticipated trip. Being commissioned on January 6th was a memorable event, not least because January 6th is also my father's birthday.

When I got into Sierra Leone and began meeting people , I kept hearing them talk about this date. "On January 6th rebels cut off my feet ... " "On January 6th I saw someone die right in front of me ..." I finally caught on and asked the significance of this day. I was told that while Sierra Leone's war had been going on for 8 years out in the countryside, for the people in Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, there was little thought that the war would ever reach them. I discovered that January 6th (1999) is the day the rebels entered Freetown to take control of the government and the country. Many terrifying things happened to the citizens of Freetown on that day. The 6th of January is Sierra Leone’s 9/11 or 7/7. Before entering the country, I had no idea what had happened on this date 9 years earlier.

Victor Zizer is the minister of First Presbyterian Church in Freetown. He told me of his experience on January 6th. Rebels came to his house and held his family at gunpoint. They took half of the food in Victor's house for supplies. His wife and children were terrorized. When they left, his family was relieved just to be alive. A total of five groups of rebels came to their house that night. Victor and another pastor gathered about 200 people together and began praying in a place the Lord had provided as a refuge. They prayed through the night until they heard gunshots getting closer and decided to move. As they walked through the darkness, they heard bullets flying all about them. Victor says, "It was like walking through the valley of the shadow of death ..." This is just a small glimpse of Victor's harrowing story, and his is but one among the 2 million people who lived in Freetown at the time. So when I told Victor I was commissioned to come on January 6th, he looked at me as if to say, "That's significant." I should not neglect to mention that after the war, Victor participated in a programme to rehabilitate rebels--an unbelieveable act of grace and forgiveness.

You've probably heard me talk about the many 'amazing' things God has been doing to lead us to Sierra Leone and this is yet another one of them. My first trip into the country has confirmed that God is calling us to help heal what has happened to the people of this country during their war. As one of my friends, Jeff Tippner, says, "the Lord is already beginning to redeem that date for Sierra Leoneans."