Ok, a late start to blogging tonight, I wonder how far I’ll get before nodding off!
It has been a longer day today, with a day that has shown clearly the contrasts in Sierra Leone. We were out in the bush today in areas that know little of technology and ‘modern life’, and look probably not all that different to how they did 100 years ago. Here the houses are basic palm thatched roof atop mud blocks, people scrape together enough to survive and not much more, the roads are rough and bumpy, and white men are rarely seen – as we are spotted in the car, the cry of ‘Oporto, Oporto!‘ (white man) goes up accompanied by much shrieking and pointing, occasionally accompanied by a request for sweets which is somewhat depressing.
Today we visited Fogbo, a large village deep in the bush which our friends at Sheppey Evangelical Church have supported for a number of years now. When Gordon and I first visited here seven years ago, we met a joyful congregation seated under a mango tree. Now they have a growing membership, a building of their own and thriving school under the leadership of Philip Kamara. Their hope is for a separate church building, and to that end they have made mud blocks and are asking for us to help provide zinc sheets and concrete to finish it. This would need to be done before the rains come. I always find this difficult as on the one hand we want to encourage them to do what they can, but on the other hand I know they can’t finish these projects on their own, and we can’t afford to roof all of the five such projects we have been shown so far.
Ebenezer, Manalo was a visit that Gordon has been looking forward to due to the twinning relationship between it and Copthorne Chapel where he was pastor until very recently. Here we were met by the minister Samuel Williams, retired pastor George Braima and the elder Christopher Taylor. This is a small church in a Mulism dominated area. There were requests for help for two people suffering from hernias here, a sadly common condition, and we shall have to see what we can do to help. Gordon presented them with a Copthorne Chapel top, and we enjoyed worshipping with them for a brief while.
Next up was Makomba where we were greeted by the wonderful smile of Victor Simbo, enough to cheer up even the glummest of people! This church has a great spirit, due in no small part to his clear vibrancy and spirituality. They have also embarked on a building project, and have made mud blocks for a manse. For the ministers it is hard and expensive to travel out this far on a regular basis, and I can see it would be easier if they had somewhere to stay when they came. When we arrived, it was not just Victor that greeted us, but ranks of children walking down from the school to come and join us – the school here is on a different site, outside the village. This makes it difficult for the school as it is hard to secure it – can we help build a room for a teacher to stay in and act as caretaker or can e make it more secure was the request. We were also told about other missions moving into the area and another larger school. Members are leaving us for them. Victor responded to this magnificently saying that as long as people are worshipping Christ, he doesn’t mind where they go, its if they stop that he does. Often we hear of the churches being very competitive between denominations, and so this expression of ecumenism was refreshing. They’re looking for a church to twin with them, anyone interested?
Magbafti, our final church visit, is led by Rev. Arthur Coker-Davies, and is twinned with Mortimer West End. They were very grateful for work on the church ceiling , but were looking for more help in a variety of other ways. One such project was small scale agriculture carried out by the mothers of the church in order to help them become more self-sufficient. We are naturally interested in this as it helps them and such schemes may bridge the funding gap caused by their work expanding whilst ours keeps still. There was also another person suffering with a hernia, this time a school girl. The ceiling in the school also needs renewing as termites have eaten through much of it. One of the requests was for first aid kits, leading to a wonderful moment when I produced two from my bag amidst other bits and pieces I had brought for them!
Having finished our formal visits, we drove out from the bush and over the mountain road past Mongegba into Freetown to meet John Sawyerr who had arranged to take us out for a meal. I was struck yet again by how breathtakingly beautiful the mountains are with their steep palm covered slopes covered in mist and the plunging valleys between them. Quite a contrast to the clamour and crush of Freetown. This was our first visit into the city this year, and having been in a rural environment so much, this really jarred. What also jarred was the move from the simplicity of the bush, through the grime and poverty of the city street packed with African ‘Del-Boys’ selling their wares and beggars, and the riches of the mountain road area inhabitants, who judging by their mansions are far more affluent than we are. On the one hand this seems very wrong, but on the other hand I guess you need wealth in the country in order for their to be a chance of some of it trickling down to those in need. A complicated situation.
It was lovely to see John socially once more, and good to get a chance to eat something different – I love the African food, but it was nice to make a change with some pasta tonight! Thanks John!