Friday, January 14, 2011

More Trip Highlights

Many of you have been asking for more details about our recent trip and about Sierra Leone in general. So here's a post in response to that.

In Sierra Leone many people get drivers to take them where they need to go, which is great because with the lack of street signs, the rough roads, and so many pedestrians in the streets, a person can get lost very quickly! Our driver's name was Abu, pictured below. He got a kick out of when we made fun of phony Christian televangelists and when I asked him where all the prostitutes hung out ... hey, didn't Jesus do the same things?

But you have to have a good driver ... we happened upon the accident pictured below. The driver had fallen asleep. I kept pinching Abu to make sure he stayed awake after we saw this!

We went to the "big market" a couple of times to get souvenirs. You can buy lots of traditional African wood carvings, batiks (dyed cloths with pictures), materials for sewing, and even ingredients to perform witchcraft. You're greeting with "hey friend," as a way to get you to come look at a shopowner's goods. It's very hot (no AC) and you have to be prepared to barter: they usually name a high price; you offer 75% lower; then you settle somewhere in the middle. Below Fodie's playing a drum we bought for our son James--the base of which is made out of a hollowed-out coconut.

Security is a very important issue in Sierra Leone. On a day-to-day basis, things like vandalism and minor theft can be a regular occurrence. To prevent this, it is very common to put up barbed wire around one's property or cement broken glass onto the top of the perimeter wall (pictured below). It is also very common, for those who can afford it, to hire a security guard to patrol at night and guard the entrance of the property. Pictured below is our security guard Joseph, who is also studying to become a pastor.

A traditional Sierra Leonean dish is cassava leaves and rice. The girls at the orphanage made us some for dinner one night. Step 1) pound cassava leaves in a mortar and pestle; step 2) cook leaves, adding colorful but very hot peppers; step 3) boil the rice after picking out the hard bits. I'm sure I've left out lots of steps in-between, but you get the idea. Bintu (blue sweater) and Mariama (white t-shirt), the two oldest girls at the orphanage, did most of the cooking in a large pot cooked over a coal fire.

Sierra Leone has some of the most picturesque beaches in the world. We spent a low-key day at Sussex beach. We soaked in the warm sea water and relaxed in the warm sun. A few of the local boys tried to con us into giving them money for school books (you tend to notice a trend after the 4th or 5th kid with the same story). We heard monkeys in the trees nearby and saw the branches swaying back and forth. A couple of vultures paid us a visit, probably looking for some scraps. But to me, the most interesting part of our beach experience was the whale skeleton suspended above a car. It looked like something out of Jurassic Park.

That's all for now. Hope you enjoyed the virtual tour of Sierra Leone!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Leaders 4 Life's 3rd Anniversary, Trip Report, & Looking Ahead

Leaders 4 Life's 3rd Anniversary

Today mark's the third anniversary of Leaders 4 Life. Some will remember that I was commissioned at the Church of the Holy Trinity in St. Andrews on January 6th, 2008 to go to Sierra Leone for the first time. It was only after I entered the country that I learned of the significance of this date for Sierra Leoneans: it was January 6th, 1999 when rebels entered Freetown and began, "operation kill every living thing." There's redemption in the fact that God has chosen this date to be the anniversary of this ministry.
Much has happened since that first trip to Sierra Leone. I've finished my Ph.D. Lisa and I have returned from Scotland to the U.S. We're settling down and creating a base of operations in Phoenix. To date, we've received 15 rings comprising 136 diamonds. And, with the help of friends and family to watch our three children, Lisa has even had the opportunity to travel to Sierra Leone ...

Trip Report
Our trip this past December was short but productive. While there, we held a meeting of about 30 pastors and ministry leaders with whom I was able to share the vision of Leaders 4 Life. We had a good roundtable discussion about the importance of teamwork and discussed past mission work by Westerners in Sierra Leone. Later in the week, we blessed a handful of these Christian leaders each with a laptop to enhance and further their ministry (thanks to Neil Cooper's laptop ministry and those of you who donated laptops). I was invited by Pastor Patrick Williams to preach at the Agape Bible Church Headquarters in Kissy, which is a very poor part of Freetown. I closed my sermon with the story of John Newton's giving up his slave ship to become a pastor and his influencing William Wilberforce to abolish slavery in the British Empire and create "Freetown," Sierra Leone for freed slaves. Singing is very important in Sierra Leonean culture, so I left the stage by leading the congregation in "Amazing Grace" (first penned by John Newton). I know ... can you imagine me actually leading in song?
Pastor Patrick Williams (red tie), Fodie and the rest of the team.

I have to give Andy and Abby Walker credit for travelling well. They hung in there despite our 36 hours of travel time to get from Phoenix to a bed in Sierra Leone. Once there, they spent a good deal of time loving on the children at the orphanage where we stayed. We did, however, visit the hospital of Dr. Sylvester Nicol to deliver medical supplies which Abby had been collecting. Dr. Nicol has his Ph.D. from Cambridge and is a big-souled man with a great sense of humor.
Andy and Abby reading to Effie with Mariama.
Lisa and I often ventured out in search of schools for our children and to meet with ministry leaders. A highlight for Lisa and I was definitely visiting "Mile 91." Ninety-one miles out of town in a small village, Pastor Patrick Williams' small church in Kissy has built a school for children. It is truly amazing that these poor village kids in the middle of nowhere are learning English and computer skills!

Visiting students from "Mile 91" school.

Our trip was stopped short in London. Lisa and I had planned to spend some time up in St. Andrews, Scotland but the snow prevented this as nearly all flights out of London were grounded for a few days. We did, however, see a church in Freetown called "St. Andrews Church" with a Scottish flag on it, founded in 1820. Now how neat is that!

Looking Ahead

As we enter 2011, it feels as though we are turning the last bit of the corner from the "preparation-phase" to the actual "mission-phase" of what we're engaged in. Lots of networking and vision-casting has been done over the past three years (and, of course, this will continue). A ton of "educating" has been accomplished--education in the Bible, in the culture and history of Sierra Leone, and especially in leadership (and the educating of ourselves will not cease).

But now the real work begins, the kind of work which can be really tough but which can be equally exhilarating. I'm talking about things like developing teams, training leaders, raising funds, and partnering with people and organizations. These are some of those essential but "behind the scenes" kind of things which lay the foundation for good future ministry. It's a time of high energy and excitement, but also a time of crucial initial decisions. It is also a time when those involved will be challenged and stretched.

We have some good momentum as we move into 2011. Let's keep pushing together some more and praying so that we can keep this positive movement forward going!

In Jesus' Name,