This was a day of very mixed emotions for me; our last full day here visiting churches and some old friends, but maybe also my last time of seeing them. I am torn between being eager to get home and see everyone again, especially the family, and sad to leave these people and places behind. Sierra Leone is a beautiful place with some wonderful people, despite its undoubted problems.
Our first port of call was Ebenezer Church, Lumley, where Theophilus Nicol is currently minister. This was a grand airy church, situated on Lumley roundabout, a hub of noise and colour towards the outskirts of Freetown. I was concerned after my visit last year when I heard talk of the government wanting to knock the front down in order to widen the road in preparation for the 50 years of independence celebrations this year. What would I see as we drove down the slope? At Conference we were told that it had happened, that 15m had been taken from the front. Concerning. In the end, we needn’t have worried too much. With a little compensation and a whole lot of effort by the church membership a new front has been put on and the church redesigned and expanded sideways and backwards. They’ve done a marvellous job of it too! Of course much is yet to be done, and the way to the church consists of carefully traversing wooden planks laid over ditches cut out by the roadworks, but I look forward to hearing reports of its opening and seeing photos of the completed premises. Did get frustrated with Theophilus though, he took us around the Manse, now completed, so that we could see it, and in his living room is a large poster of Manchester United. I have promised to send him a Liverpool one to replace it! We finished with fish and chips.
Leaving Lumley we passed Clinton Jackson’s old road as we moved gradually out of Freetown. The road widening has had a dramatic effect, giving a much more open feel to that road, pulling the bustling market away from the traffic. The road is yet to be surfaced and is quite bumpy in places, but I can see why they’ve done it. Hopefully it will ease the congestion here at least.
The changes confused our Sierra Leonian travelling companions and we ended up getting a little lost on the way to Jerusalem Avenue. Here is one place I am still glad we were able to build at, with the previous ‘shacks’ (a word which is more than generous) simply not fit for children. As so often we were greeted by rapturous singing from the children (Gordon has this on video along with a number of other snippets to share on our return and at Conference this year). It wasn’t their singing that struck me though, it was the new building being erected in front of the church on land which I know is ours. We have been told again and again about land grabbing, and this is the clearest example yet. Its often brought about, I think, by people beginning to look to build houses to replace the temporary structures they moved into in and around Freetown where they fled to in order to avoid the troubles. Not wanting to return to the villages, every scrap of seemingly unclaimed land is being leapt upon, although often, as here, it is indeed owned. In fact, as we talked a gang of young men started gathering about another land issue, maybe they felt threatened by our photo taking, I don’t know. Sylvanus tells me that there is often violence around such issues. We could see that this would continue to be an increasing problem in this area and so took the initiative at the encouragement of Peter Cole, the pastor, and David Renner, the Head, to give the go ahead for erecting boundary posts as soon as possible. As our time here ended, we were again offered fish and chips!
Finally we travelled across the red dusty tracks to Goderich, my home from home. Here I always feel completely at ease, no doubt in large part to this being Reuben’s home church. It was lovely to meet with him and his wife Rachel and his grandson, Reuben. It has been a long running joke that I want to do a pulpit exchange with the minister here. This has been in the past Jacob Dove and Samuel Sinnah, but is now Ransford Williams, who I think is quite happy here, and maybe a little reluctant to do so. Most of the church members were out at work, but the few that were there welcomed us warmly, as did the children who played happily for some time with us, and followed us down to the gorgeous beach before we left.
A stranger slipped in at the back during our visit, the sister of someone in my congregation in the UK. I had been sent with a package for her and told that our paths would cross at some point. It was lovely to see Pastor Jean again, a smile and friendly attitude just like her sister. She made it just in time! For the third time in about as many hours, our visit concluded with the offer of, yes, you guessed it, fish and chips!!!
Our official duties done, we were ushered to Francis’ house, where it was lovely to see his wife Umu again and their daughter, Alicia. When I first met Umu last year she was heavily pregnant, Alicia being born the next week. They are a lovely and generous family, and we enjoyed spending some time with them. More food, this time local dishes! Fortunately I have learnt on certain days to only graze… We were delayed in leaving; the car battery needed jump starting, worn down by having the air conditioning on too much. With the help of Francis’ men Joseph was able to get it going, and we made it back to the Hope Centre with no more delays. We had contemplated heading to try and see the chimps on the way, but opted against this, concerned that the car might complain at stopping and starting again. Next time!
Back at the Hope Centre, the grime showered off and the backs packed. Tomorrow we meet with Sallu and Sylvanus, before Francis takes us off to the ferry and the adventure that is returning home…