Sierra Leone visit update from Bethany Green.
Esther and I couldn’t stop grinning at each other with excitement. It was the first time my 15year old daughter had been on a plane and the view out the window was mesmerising. The English Channel, France and Spain, and then the desert and highlands of North Africa. We couldn’t quite believe that the year of planning, saving up and prayer was over and we were actually going to be in Sierra Leone.
Janet O’Shea was our team leader, having been out to Sierra Leone five times already and we were so thrilled to have her guidance. Although we had met her at the Connexions Conference and salvaging sleeping bags at Reading Festival, we didn’t know each other well. However, the three of us quickly became good friends and worked very well together.
We arrived late on the Tuesday evening and after the car breaking down, finally reached Bethesda Orphanage. The welcome from the children was as warm as the weather, and we were shown to the lovely guest rooms, with a flushing toilet.
The programme Magnus handed us for our stay was impressive and exhausting. We had expected the containers to be at Bethesda and that we would be involved in the distribution of aid. But since they were under restrictions in the docks, we spent the first three days visiting 18 schools and/or churches. This was a completely new experience for Esther and I and we had no idea what to expect. But with Janet’s expertise and Magnus’ wonderful care, we swiftly got into a rhythm.
The Head Teacher, Pastor and children would greet us with songs and speeches. Then Janet would present greetings from the SLM. I would share a brief word from scripture, followed by Esther and I showing the children how to do a “loud” Amen (you wind your arm like a crank on the “Aaaaa” part and then shoot your arm in the air with a yell on “men!” Needs to be witnessed!), and then I would pray a blessing. A Bible quiz would follow where the children won prizes and we would finish by presenting the Head Teacher with a box of books and a football for the school.
For Esther and I, it was our first experience of such extreme poverty. The mud brick houses and non-existent roads, water drawn from a well or pump, the ‘hole’ toilets, are memories that will never leave us. But neither will the wonderful people we met. And what a privilege that was! Aminata, Sallay and the children of Bethesda are wonderful and looked after us so well. Each evening we joined them for their devotions and saw their deep and loving relationship with the Lord. Ambrose, the pastor of Fabaina Church, newly built with a roof but no windows or doors, excitedly told us of his plans to reach out to neighbouring villages. Samuel took us on a medicine walk through the bush and then treated us to fresh coconuts in his home.
On the Saturday we joined the children to their annual trip to the beach. 34 of us fit into that 15 seater minibus! The Sunday was a special day. We crossed the river on the ferry to visit the Anne Pink School and church. Anne is a member of Rosedale and we gifted Pastor Michael with a photo of our church. Magnus then took us to his church in Mabang for the morning service, where he asked me to preach for the first Sunday of Advent. I’m pretty sure I was the most blessed that morning! Of course, it came as a terrible shock when we heard just two weeks later that the ferry had sunk.
Several people lost their lives, including two children from Mabang school and church and a friend of Bethesda. Our hearts and prayers went out to Magnus and the families.
Since the containers never arrived, our plan to distribute the aid never materialised. This was hugely disappointing, especially for Janet who had worked the whole year on the project. But as we prayed and talked, we felt that perhaps this was according to God’s plan. Had we gone with all the gifts, it would have re-enforced the view that we are rich white people with largess. Instead we listened, talked, observed school lessons, prayed and did what we could to hear and understand the need. We also had the opportunity to provide funds for several very sick people to receive medical care, including a young boy who had broken his arm in two places a few weeks before.
We were deeply touched by the commitment and hard work of all the teachers and pastors and congregations that we met. In situations that are so difficult and deprived, many give sacrificially of themselves for the benefit of others. And that is especially true of Magnus. A man of God, Magnus’ heart, vision, abilities and integrity humbled and inspired us. He is a rare man and we would commend him to all the Connexions Churches as an example of a Holy Spirit filled servant of Christ.
Esther and I returned from the trip a new understanding of the challenges and blessings of life and ministry in Sierra Leone. We are so grateful to the Lord for the opportunity and are praying about how and when He might lead us back there. If you ever have the opportunity to visit, we would encourage you to go. You will never be the same again.
Janet O'Shea, Bethany and Esther Green from Rosedale Community Church in Cheshunt visited Sierra Leone for 13 days in November and December 2018, staying at the Bethesda Orphanage and visiting a number of churches and schools in the local area.