Much to our surprise we were given the morning off today! They were devoting their time to various reports such as finances and committees, which although important, would always be hard for us to follow and often irrelevant to the SLM. And so it was that we found ourselves after breakfast walking down the track from the Hope Centre through Jui, past the Huntingdon Secondary School, to Roger Grundy Church. This was my first time walking through an African village unaccompanied by a Sierra Leonian. It was a great experience, good to mingle with the locals and have a little insight into daily life. At no point did we feel threatened, although we did feel somewhat conspicuous – it was clear that the sight of two white men strolling down the ‘road’ is not a common sight here! Often we were greeted with the shout of white man or ‘porto’ (? spelling) by young children with big smiles and outstretched hands.
One development that I noticed last year and has continued since, is the increase in ‘okados’ (?), motorbikes used as taxis. These are much more practical for the roads than cars, but I do fear for the passengers, wearing only thin clothes and no helmets, often three of them piled on alongside the driver, carrying all sorts of bags or containers (or even once a bicycle!) Life here is very basic with people clearly living a hand to mouth existence.
The countryside is beautiful, lovely vistas over the Rokel River with its mangroves, with the backdrop of the mountains that make up the spine of the peninsula with the cloud pouring over their misty tops. I have tried to capture a taste of this with my camera, but it is almost impossible to convey without a panoramic lens and a device to stimulate the other senses with the smell, feel and sounds of the place from the humidity that makes your palms instantly damp to the sound of the vehicle horns and their wheels as they bounce down the bumpy track and the rich smell of the country.
After lunch we headed back to Conference for our discussions with the ministers and lay pastors. We were joined by two who missed us yesterday, Magnus Bendu who many will know from his visit a few years ago (he sends his greetings to you all) and Angel Ama-Lamin. Angel was seriously ill the other year and lost a lot of weight. He looked very haggard last time I saw him and it was a relief to see him looking happy and lively once more!
Magnus chaired our discussions, adopting a very informal calm style which he saw we were used to in the UK, but quite foreign in many ways to that usually used at Conference. This put us at ease, but it also helped keep the discussion from becoming heated as we were able to hear all their concerns and issues and we were able to respond. If we’re honest, we were concerned about this meeting, not knowing what they had been told about some of the problems we had been working through this year with the new administration in SL, but we both came away feeling that God had lead us all through the proceedings, giving us a much better mutual understanding. It was also very good to be able to hear their suggestions for the way forward and how the SLM and the Connexion in SL should work together. Priceless! We were both struck by Magnus’ maturity and spiritual insight in the way that he led the meeting and the way he is clearly respected by his peers. Other younger ministers also stood out – I think the future of the Connexion has plenty of hope.
Back at the Hope Centre we spent some time planning the way ahead for the next few days – our potentially difficult meetings are not over just yet – and sharing our views on how things were going. I also spent some time uploading some photos (click photos above) although I have since noticed that the date is wrong on all of them so I might try again later. Skype was not so good, in the end I abandoned communicating on the ‘phone’ and had a rather erratic ‘instant’ message conversation with Kate instead. It was also good to hear that Liverpool FC won as well – I look forward to celebrating with Theophilus tomorrow!