It seemed like we’d only been in bed for a few minutes when the alarm woke us up – actually this was more or less the case. We’d only managed a couple of hours sleep when it was time to get up, but thankfully the adrenaline soon kicked in and we were off to a vaguely flying start. If truth be told, it wasn’t the alarm that woke us, but the sound of the air conditioning unit. At about 6am the overnight generator would be turned off and the room go completely quiet. No lights, no electrical sounds, nothing. Then at 6.15am the main power would kick back in. All the residual electrical noises returned – the fridge etc. – accompanied by a fanfare of beeps in an increasing pitch, as the air conditioning turned itself on again.
Breakfast was a buffet laid out in a sheltered outdoors area. The food was a mix of local fruits, bread, jams, various croissants, eggs etc. This was a good way to start the day, and quick to compared to my previous visits to other hotels here. This makes a difference as you don’t want to start a busy day by being late…
Breakfast is accompanied by the visit of small deer who are incredibly tame and wander up to you like a pet dog fully expecting to share in your meal. Doesn’t take to long for us to succumb!
Our first port of call was Ebenezer Church, Lumley, where the minister is Rev. Sallu Koroma (the Assistant General Superintendent). This is a short trip from the hotel, just down the beach road. The church is on a busy roundabout, where cars, pedestrians, taxis, poda podas and motorbikes bustle around noisily. It is one of the oldest churches in the Connexion here, large and decorative. It also has the largest congregation, with a busy programme of activities. Currently they are particularly worried about planned development of the roundabout which could require the compulsory demolition of the front of the church. Consequently they have started making bricks for extending the church out to the back so that it comes alongside the manse that is in the rear of its grounds.
From Lumley we drove across Freetown to get to the Milton Margai School for the Blind. This is an organisation outside the Connexion that we have had a relationship with for many years, and in the past we have helped through the sending of typewriters and money to make new beds. We make a point of visiting them whenever we’re in Sierra Leone to keep in touch with what is going on and to also support Barbara Davidson, an English woman who has worked there for a number of years now. Our visit started with being received at one of their assemblies. This is always a treat. We’re introduced as Uncle Tim and Uncle Ben – although at first Reuben tried to get them to work out who I was from my voice – seemed a bit unfair, no matter how good they are at recognizing voices since the last time I was there was four years ago – an eternity for primary school children! We were then treated to some songs which they sang for us. The school has a wonderful love of singing. They all enter in with gusto and ability – I’ll post a video later. In the past they have toured the UK as a choir. This must have been quite an experience for them. After the ‘assembly’ we went on a guided tour of the school, seeing the bedrooms, classrooms, kitchen, library and other facilities. It is clear that the school is doing really well. Two things particularly touched us. One was the way that they are willing to share what they have with other less fortunate organisations such as the nearby deaf school and other blind schools further in land. Knowing they can cope, they actively point donors towards them so that they can have the same level of support. the other thing that wil stay with us was during the assembly when the Head asked the children to pray for us. A couple spontaneously did so, praying for our safety, well being and for our families back home.
The next port of call was Roger Grundy Church, Jui. This is a fantastic church building – a converted ex-British forces building – with a large plot of land. We arrived before they had gathered and so were able to rest for a moment outside in the shade and breeze and gather our thoughts and strength again (yes, the adrenaline was beginning to give way to drowsiness by now). The church is lead by Zadoc Williams, assisted by Bernadette Massaquoi, and when enough had arrived, we headed inside for our short ‘service’. There is a pattern that is continued for all of these visits. The service starts with a short period of singing, usually upbeat, often local choruses. This is followed by a an official welcome to us – we are welcomed to the country and the church, and then introduced to the gathered community. This is always a surreal moment. The Sierra Leonians love ceremony, and we are introduced as distinguished visitors, ambassadors, etc… Cringeworthy to our English sense of humilty, but touching too. Then the community make various statements regarding their situation. Maybe they’ll share a little of what they are doing and some of the successes they have experienced, but at the heart of the speeches are usually a list of their ‘constraints’, the things that they need or want us to help them with. Jui was no exception to this. Their major request was for help developing the land. They have a real fear that the land will be encroached on if it is not built on and enfenced or demarked in some way. (This would turn out to be a common concern this visit) Zadoc’s dream is for a Conference Centre to be built so that they can host Conference here and generate money from other gatherings, and even host UK visitors when they come. Although a great vision, I think the aspirations are not entirely realistic!
Finally we drove to the church at Hastings which was hosting the Youth Conference Singer Fest. This was a loud vibrant service in which the youth from the churches took it in turn to sing songs for the others, entering in to it with great enthusiasm and volume. A far cry from the embarrassment that youth might show in a similar function in the UK I imagine. This also caused the first major surprise of the visit – as we walked up the steps into the church, I gathered that I was expected to give a talk! There had been a communication breakdown, and no one had given warning. With urgent prayer and frantic flicking through the Bible, I was able to bring together a quick talk on working together to share God’s love. I hope it worked – I’m not entirely sure many of them actually understood my English, but the older ones seemed to enjoy it!
Finally we made our way home, in time for food, a shower, and most importantly sleep…
Text to follow, but for now enjoy the photos: