As I've talked lately with missionaries who've done extensive work in Sierra Leone, I've learned just how challenging ministry there can be. I knew the roads were rough, the toilets didn't flush (if there was one at all) and that the electricity was spotty (although I've heard it's much better now). But more than those things, one of the biggest obstacle seems to be the obliteration of a solid network of missionaries in the country due to the war.
Before Sierra Leone's war, if there was a white person in the country he or she was a missionary. The country was neatly divided up, with Anglicans working in this area, Wesleyans in that area, and so on. But the 11 year civil war drove most of the missionaries out of the country or severely limited their work inside the country. Ministry is done in, through, and by people. No people means no ministry. These missionaries once provided "well-worn paths" so-to-speak. If a person felt God's call to Sierra Leone, he or she could get connected to some of the missionaries already operating in the country and get a head-start by learning the ropes from some seasoned veterans. Today, this is just not the case. It's like hacking through an overgrown jungle. We have to cut our own paths and that takes time, effort, and persistence.
To complicate matters, after the war a host of non-government organizations (NGOs) flooded into Sierra Leone. Today if you see a white person in the country he or she is most likely not a Christian missionary but rather someone working with an NGO, many of which are not Christian in orientation. The mission of most NGOs is not to make disciples of Jesus Christ, but to provide much needed material aid. Their presence is a blessing and a curse. The missionary in Sierra Leone (or Sierra Leonean pastor, for that matter) has much more material aid at his or her disposal than before the war. However, working with organizations which are not gospel-centered can prove to be a great temptation to center one's ministry entirely around such material aid rather than around the gospel.
So we are forging ahead, cutting a new path. This overgrowth is part of the reason things will take longer than usual than is the case for missionaries in most other countries. We have to create a network of ministry partners basically from scratch and figure out the best ways to operate in the country with less help from those who've gone before. Part of this path-cutting will happen as we take some initial trips to the country. We hope to travel there during the dry season this winter. We are taking a small team and a couple of friends have even already graciously offered to pay for our flights! There are also some other very positive funding developments happening which should come to fruition in the coming months. So things are happening ... slowly but surely we will hack our way through this jungle and accomplish that which God is calling us to.
Blessings and may you feel the presence of Jesus' resurrection this Easter season!