The last day! Time always does funny things on a visit like this. After the first few days it felt as if we’d been here for years – we’d packed so many experiences in on the journey here alone! Then with Conference and numerous visits we had so much panning out in front of us, but then all of a sudden the last few days galloped away and here we are, the last few hours in Sierra Leone.
We only had one location to visit before leaving, although we had three tasks to do there. It was back to Lady Selina’s Chapel to meet with the Ministers, to call in on the Minister’s Wives’ sewing group and looking around the new floor, the offices above the Chapel.
Every month the ministers gather to talk business and receive their pay. This month it was scheduled for our today. It was good to be able to meet them all at Conference and then see them together once more having visited their churches and seen them at work. This was a good opportunity to say thank you for the warm welcome we had received wherever we had gone – we have as always been treated as distinguished visitors – and to talk over a few important matters with them regarding the nature of our ongoing support. It was also a chance to clear up some confusions that had arisen about the relationship between the SLM and the SL Connexion over the four years since we last were here. At the end of the business and speeches, we were extremely touched to be presented with some personalised decorative plaques and traditional tops – having just said how we appreciated their patience under the constraints caused by the current financial situation this was quite humbling. Although like any family we have our disagreements from time to time, I cannot deny that these are God’s people – we found Christ in them and made many good friends. I do hope that one day I will return to see them again.
The Ministers’ wives have started a sewing group with the help of donated equipment from the UK. This meets in a small room at the front of the Chapel. Lovette M’Bayo, one of our ministers and wife of Kelvin M’Bayo another minister currently working on the church plants in the Provinces, invited us to come and see what they have been making. We were very impressed with their handiwork – and it was good to see them all again before we left.
Our last port of call was to head upstairs to meet the committee running the offices built on top of the Chapel for the SLM Agency, the FSL and the Connexion. Of these, it was brilliant to meet my old friend Mulba Harris who had designed and overseen the building work on the Chapel – my first large project upon becoming Chairman. We were also taken to the unfinished top floor where they hope eventually to build a Manse. There is a temporary roof and the walls reach part way, but other than that it is currently open, providing a great view across Freetown – ideal for taking photos.
And so, having said yet another round of goodbyes, we left in the good company of Augustine and Francis for a last drive through the congested streets, to the Ferry Terminal. Sitting here the temperature dial reached the record level of our stay, 108 degrees Farenheit (42 degrees Centigrade)!
This time there were no antics with broken down containers, and the ferry was loaded without disaster. Tim enjoyed noticing how the Ferry kept backing away from the jetty so that there was always water at the low point of the ramp – we guess so that it didn’t run aground. This meant that foot passengers had to either get wet crossing, or pay one of the willing volunteers to carry them over!
Boarding the ferry during daylight was wonderful. We opted to sit on top amongst the throng of other foot passengers under a canopy that had been erected. Here, although somewhat crammed in, we could enjoy the breeze and view. I had warned Tim of the entertainment before we made our journey here a fortnight ago, and as expected, no sooner had the boat started moving, when two whited up (think ‘blacked up’ in reverse – unthinkable in our politically correct world) popped up and started working the audience. To begin with they were trying to sell CDs and VCDs which are popular here, but before long their pitch increased in vigour and volume as they decreed that they were having an argument and wanted us to resolve it for them. They were debating whether there were more Christians or Muslims on board (again this is something else we would not dare do at home). They needed our help to answer the question. First of all, one of them would cry out ‘Amen’ to which all the Christians on board would have to respond ‘Halleluja’h. Then the other would cry declare ‘Assalamu alaikum’ (peace be with you) to which the Muslims on board had to respond ‘Walaikum as salaam’ (and peace unto you). Whichever side did it the loudest would be the winners. After several attempts and similar calls they gave up on this approach and announced that a vote was needed. each of them passed around a bag, and if you were a Christian you had to put a coin in one bag and Muslims in the other. Outrageous maybe, but the crowd loved it! Having collected in the money, they decided there was too many coins to count. The only way to do it would be through collecting notes! They would take it in turn to appeal for a note, and the one who collected the last note won – although in the hilarity, I’m not sure we ever worked out who this was! Of course, it didn’t take long before they noticed that there were two white men on board, Christians obviously (yes, the stereotype works here just as we may assume that Asians are Muslims). ‘White man, shake up!’ came the insistent demand. I fear I had no intention of getting out my money belt in public, but Tim was ready with some Leones, and presented them to great applause!
We made it to Lungi Airport with time to kill. Francis and Augustine weren’t allowed in with us, so we said our final goodbyes and entered. I must confess that this, alongside arriving, is my least favourite part of the journey. There are no real facilities outside of check in, and so it was a case of getting a few drinks and biding our time. Naturally we developed a ‘friend’ who had to guard our bags for us for a few dollars. Others tried to befriend us too, but we were in no mood to play along, especially when we realised they were in employment at the airport.
Eventually we made it in, passing through the checks with little trouble. They even let me carry my staff through from Foofoo Water without comment! now we were untroubled and could get some food and relax, even check out the Duty Free! The plane arrived on time, and we went through another round of checks, this time carried out by British staff. I fear they thought little of the Leonian checks and were stunned that my staff had been admitted for hand luggage. At one point I thought it was going to have to be discarded, but one kind soul took pity on me and stashed in it the staff compartment.
The flight itself was smooth, my stomach held out, and eventually we landed in the cold UK. It was good to be home and to be reunited with our families – although as I had said previously to Tim, Sierra Leone gets under the skin. I know it is under mine again – despite the frustrations and problems, I love the place and the people. One day we’ll be back. For now though we have our memories, our photos and a pile of requests to work through!