Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Scriptural Justification

            Why should Christians be concerned about a country like Sierra Leone? What does Scripture have to say regarding mission work to such a country?
            A first justification for such mission work to Sierra Leone comes from Scripture’s numerous statements about the believer’s responsibility towards the poor. For example, God’s people are to care for the poor through charitable provision (Leviticus 19:10) and through providing justice to those who are defenseless due to their poverty (Leviticus 19:15). God’s ideal is that there be no poor among His people (Deuteronomy 15:1-11), and the early Christians demonstrated this by sharing their goods with one another so that no one was in need (Acts 2:44-45). Sierra Leone has consistently been ranked among the poorest of poor nations in the world. If ever these Scriptural commands concerning poverty applied to a nation, Sierra Leone fits the mould. 
            Second, one might simply note that mission work is the primary focal point of the early church. The church’s birth and its first efforts are rooted in mission. It is no accident that the stories about Jesus in the gospels are followed in the Christian Bible by the book of Acts: Jesus’ coming (and the coming of the Holy Spirit) gives birth to the missionary work described in Acts. The first leaders of the church—men such as Peter, Paul, James and Jude—were all missionaries, preaching about Jesus and his resurrection from the dead and planting churches. This is what the church in every age should primarily be about: the making of disciples of Jesus and the building up of the church. As such, the church should be putting its best and brightest on the mission field.
            One final instance from Scripture will suffice. In writing to the Corinthians who were confident in their own wisdom and strength, Paul explains God’s thinking on human power:
For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Corinthians 1:25-29)
Similarly, James writes that God has chosen the poor to be rich in faith (James 2:5-6). Jesus’ message is in fact good news for the poor (Luke 4:18-19). In short, Sierra Leone—humbled by its poverty and its civil war—is ripe for the gospel and for genuine Christian service. And, as the gospel takes stronger root there, one can be confident that Christians in this country have the potential to be very ardent and faithful believers. Indeed, our experience in the country has proven that there are some amazing Christians in the country, however small in number they may be.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Challenging Context of Sierra Leone

When starting a new venture it is crucial not only to assess your strengths, but also to take stock of the challenges and potential obstacles. But being wide-eyed about the obstacles can help us overcome them. The major challenge for Leaders 4 Life is the context in which we are called to work. It will take a Herculean effort to prevail in a place like Sierra Leone. Here's why ...

Corruption is rife in Sierra Leone and recent efforts to root out corruption in the government, army, and police force are slow-going. The main airport, Lungi International, is notorious for bribery and corruption. The infrastructure of the country was decimated during their 11 year civil war and it is only beginning to be rebuilt. For instance, although the war ended in 2002, consistent 24-hour electricity in the capital city of Freetown was only just restored in 2010 along with the city’s hydro-electrical plant being put back on track for completion. Roads are just beginning to be rebuilt so that travel remains slow and difficult. The postal system is notoriously unreliable so nothing can be mailed in or out of the country except by UPS, which is extremely expensive. Less than 1% of the people in Sierra Leone have Internet access, and it is one of the few countries left which is wholly reliant upon expensive satellite bandwidth. (The World Bank estimates that Sierra Leone pays 10 times as much as East Africa and 25 times higher than America for Internet access.)[1] Clean water is a substantial problem in the country (although bottled water is plentiful enough). Food is scarce as subsistence farmers struggle to obtain the skills, equipment and raw materials to improve their food supply.
            The rainy season in Sierra Leone—May to November—makes travel and construction slow and difficult. This large amount of water in the country is, however, also a potential resource for power, etc.
For many people, gathering firewood to sell is the only way to survive.
Unemployment remains high at 74%. Besides contributing to a depressed economy, such high unemployment is a potential threat because it has the potential danger of creating civil unrest. Many of the unemployed or under-employed are youth, and some of these youth are former child soldiers (an estimated 10,000 child soldiers were forced into military action during the war). Such frustration and “idle hands” among the country’s youth is a continuing security threat. 
            Sierra Leone has been consistently ranked near the bottom of the human development index for the past 20 years.[2] Due to the extreme poverty, the crime rate in Sierra Leone is very high with the most common being petty theft, burglary and muggings. Pick-pocketing is also common in highly populated areas such as the ferries or major city centers. More high profile crimes in Sierra Leone are drug and human trafficking. Along with Guinea and Guinea Bissau to the north, Sierra Leone is considered a “weak state” or a “narco state.” Drug traffickers from Columbia and other drug-producing countries in South America use these West African countries as hubs en route to Europe, often bribing airport officials to refuel and make their passage. In the process, drugs often filter into these countries themselves. Women and children are also often taken from the rural provinces of Sierra Leone and trafficked for the purpose of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation.
Children at a school in Lungi.
            The effects can still be felt in the country from its history of colonialism and poor governance, leading to a brutal civil war. The education level in Sierra Leone is poor, with only a 40% rate of literacy among adults, 66% among male youth (15-24 yrs) and 46% among female youth (15-24).[3] Tribalism makes social cooperation, in general, difficult. The fair and equal treatment of women is also an issue. 
          The level of health in Sierra Leone is poor. Malaria and yellow fever are common as is tuberculosis and HIV. Polio is also present. Sierra Leone’s mortality rate for children 5 years old and under is the 5th worst in the world and the maternal death rate the 4th worst in the world.  
The tools of witchcraft for sale at the local market.
Secret societies and witchcraft remains prevalent religious influences in Sierra Leone, keeping the country in spiritual bondage. The practice of female circumcision related to such religious practices occurs in 95% of women in Sierra Leone and often creates health problems such as severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later, potential childbirth complications and stillbirths. 
             Sierra Leone is not an easy place to operate and initial progress may be slow. However, it is in light of such challenges that we have chosen our particular tactic. The first phase in building our L4L Communities addresses—at least on a small scale—many of the infrastructural challenges (more on this later). Later phases address spiritual issues such as corruption and witchcraft through the planting of churches with the preaching of the gospel; health challenges through the building of clinics; and tackle social and educational issues through the starting of orphanages and schools. The L4L Institute aims to raise the level of technical and leadership expertise (again, more on this later).

I don't know what kind of emotions are evoked in you when you read about these challenges, but I get an adrenaline rush thinking them. I get pumped because I dream about the day when Sierra Leone is rebuilt, revitalized, and renewed.    


[1] This situation will hopefully soon change; in 2011 Sierra Leone—with a grant of $30m from the World Bank—connected to a submarine fiber optic cable which will run from France to South Africa. See http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/10/10/sierraleone-fibre-idUSL5E7LA2W920111010 and http://www.theafricareport.com/201110105174258/reuters-feed/sierra-leone-gets-fibre-optic-link-to-internet.html: both accessed October 10, 2011.
[2] See the United Nations Development Programme’s statistics on Sierra Leone here,  http://hdrstats.undp.org/en/countries/profiles/SLE.html: accessed October 11, 2011.
[3] Statistics from UNICEF’s website, http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/sierraleone_statistics.html#77: accessed June 26, 2011. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Calling

Chris and Lisa Chandler had never heard of the West African country of Sierra Leone until one evening in 2001, when Chris watched a documentary on MTV in which a well-known Canadian rap group called the Rascalz traveled to Sierra Leone. The documentary explained that since 1991 the country had been embroiled in a bloody civil war between an emerging democratic government and rebels from Liberia and Sierra Leone. At a key point, Sierra Leone attempted to hold a democratic election. One candidate’s political slogan was, “the future is in your hands.” In an effort to derail the political process, rebels began performing forced amputations on people’s hands with machetes. This was brutal political warfare. (One woman--pictured below in the wheelchair--Chris met on a 2008 trip to Sierra Leone recounted how the rebels, “told me that I danced when the President was elected, and so they cut off both of my legs.”)
            The documentary also detailed the political struggle of this war: rebels terrorized villagers in order to gain control of the diamond mines in Sierra Leone because whoever controlled the diamond mines controlled the country’s wealth. It was during this time that many groups in the US and Europe began warning Westerners of purchasing “blood diamonds.” (The movies “Lord of War” with Nicholas Cage about the gun trade and “Blood Diamond” with Leonardo DiCaprio give some idea of what this country has been through.) If you keep up on international news, Charles Taylor—who not only trained rebels in these terror tactics but who also supplied rebels with arms in return for diamonds thus fueling the war—has been on trial since 2003 for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during Sierra Leone’s conflict.
Lisa's ring.
            The next day after watching the documentary, Chris asked Lisa if she would be willing to give up her diamond wedding ring to help the victims of war in Sierra Leone. She enthusiastically agreed. A calling and a dream was born. To date, Chris and Lisa have received 15 rings totaling 136 diamonds without ever asking for a ring or a diamond.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

True empowerment in Africa

In my last post I announced a new series of blogs and provided a summary of our mission work. In today's post, I want to address the issue of colonialism in mission work in Africa.

            The colonialism of the past caused big problems in Africa. When a Western power left an African region, it was often the case that an ill-equipped African leader came to power. Many of these leaders were simply not ready to lead. They had neither the character nor capacity to lead well. This often created chaos and/or corruption. (Witness Idi Amin of Uganda, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe or Charles Taylor of Liberia.) This dynamic has happened in government, but this also happens on a smaller (but no less important) scale in the realm of mission work. In Sierra Leone, missionaries of the past quite often led everything and nationals were given little responsibility. When Sierra Leone’s civil war broke out, many (but not all) white missionaries left and this created a leadership vacuum.
Bill Roberts (a missionary who did not leave during the war), talks with David Musa.
            The problem with a colonial style of leadership is that it is crippling, rather than empowering. Today there is much talk about “empowerment” in Africa. At the same time, however, people from the West are flocking to Africa to “help.” Are we really helping? If we’re still doing everything for Africans rather then helping create an environment in which they themselves lead, the problems will persist. Such help, while well-intended, often makes people dependent rather than creating ownership and an attitude of taking it upon their own shoulders when it comes to their countries, their hospitals, their ministries and take responsibility for the success or failure of these entities. We believe a better style of leadership, and one which is more morally responsible, is one which empowers others to lead. Leadership which is truly life-giving raises others up so that they are ready to lead. Needless to say, the style of leadership we promote is therefore diametrically opposed to colonialism.
            We speak of “experts,” often in the context of those we would like to bring to Sierra Leone from the West to teach or serve as leaders in their field. Its tricky to talk in such terms, since this can easily be misunderstood in colonial or paternalistic terms, as if those from America or Britain or Europe are morally or ethnically superior to Sierra Leoneans. Such a notion, of course, is a stench in God's nose since God values all people and is partial to none (Acts 10:34-35).
            We do recognize, however, that there is a high concentration of experts in the West upon whom to draw for resources. Our bottom line is that we draw upon the best, most qualified people—whether they are American, Sierra Leonean or otherwise—in order to build up and empower Sierra Leoneans who, generally speaking, currently have a low concentration of leaders and experts.

Meeting with established leaders Donald Manley and Emerson Thomas.
            Our motive and mentality, then, is to give to, encourage, and build up Sierra Leoneans so they can stand on their own two feet rather than take from, oppress or keep Sierra Leoneans dependent as forms of colonialism in the past have done (including evangelical missionaries).  Such empowerment creates dignity. I want those in Sierra Leone to be able to stand tall and be able to choose whom to partner with rather than being forced into dependence upon the charity of others. Creating such capable and confident leaders is true empowerment.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

New Series of Blog Posts

One of the most rewarding things for me as a leader is when I hear many of you get excited about what we're doing. I've also found that the more details you have, the more excited you become!

A couple of months ago, I mentioned that I have been working on our Strategic Ministry Plan (aka Business Plan). I want to share in bite-sized bits the main points of our plan with you: our calling to the country, the context of Sierra Leone, our vision, mission, values, our two main goals and a few other things along the way.

Worshipping in the village of Kenema
Today is the "executive summary" which gives a good overview of the plan:

            When pastor Chris Chandler asked his wife Lisa to give up her diamond ring to help the war-torn country of Sierra Leone, they had no idea where it would take them or what it would turn into. Over the next decade, God would develop leadership in them through a leadership mentor named Danny Golich and take Chris and Lisa to St. Andrews Scotland so Chris could obtain his Ph.D. in the New Testament. They would also visit Sierra Leone and build an extensive network of both nationals and expatriates engaged in ministry in the country.
            This team of three now has a powerful calling, a unique leadership style, a high degree of theological expertise, and an extensive network. Sierra Leone is an extremely challenging context in which to work. A desperately poor country before its 11 year civil-war, this conflict witnessed some of the most brutal atrocities in recent memory. The country is now devastated in its infrastructure, in dire need of healthcare, battered psychologically, behind in education and lacking in many other areas such as clean water. Through our nonprofit efforts based in Phoenix, AZ, we seek to breathe life into the West African country of Sierra Leone through our commitment to the gospel and our effective leadership philosophy.
            The aim of Leaders 4 Life, as our mission statement says, is “to provide access to the highest quality leadership and expertise in the world in 4 areas: spiritually, physically, socially and intellectually.” We will do this in two primary ways. First, through The Leaders 4 Life Institute we will bring experts from around the world in the fields of leadership, theological education, the medical field, and beyond. This Institute will also create a network of Christian organizations in the country to rally and focus existing efforts. Second, we will create Leaders 4 Life Communities throughout the country. We will work with locals to adopt communities, build a basic infrastructure for them, and then build a 4-fold community consisting of a church, a school, a clinic and an orphanage. Leading these communities will be high caliber leaders alongside nationals. But these expert friends are merely there to help; Sierra Leoneans will eventually lead these communities and continue to receive training from the Institute.
            There is a high degree of risk in a venture of this kind. It is a new concept in a challenging environment. But we are taking every precaution. We approach our work in Sierra Leone cautiously and prepared.  
            We believe that the current state of mission work in Sierra Leone can be much better, and we seek to make drastic improvements. By telling the inspiring story of our calling and telling of the amazing faith of Sierra Leoneans, by training people in our unique leadership style, and through training from the world’s leading experts, we believe we can prevail in Sierra Leone. 
Meeting the Chief with Victor and Tony