[To view photos from this trip click here.]
This trip is going to be a long journey to take us Sierra Leone. We left our home on Thursday, September 9, traveling from Albany, NY to Detroit, to Amsterdam, Netherlands (an all night – no sleep flight) and then to Prague, where we were met by Roman and taken to their house. That night we slept in a real bed. The next day was a quiet day but at 5 PM we again had to board a plane for the next leg of the journey. This flight took us back to Amsterdam and then down to Nairobi, Kenya (another all night – no sleep flight). The weariness of this travel sometimes causes me to ask, “God why are we punishing our bodies like this”. But I am quickly reminded that we are voluntary bond servants and that our desire is to see the fullness of the kingdom of God come to all of this earth and that men are “saved by the foolishness of preaching”. On the final leg of this trip we transfer to Kenya airways for what I believe to be about a 9 hour flight to Freetown with a stopover in Accra, Ghana. When we finally land at Freetown, Sierra Leone at about 3 PM (this part of West Africa is on Greenwich Median Time, or GMT zone which is one hour west from England, 4 hours from Eastern Time in the US) we are met by Brother Ron Johnson. Since the airport is on a long spit or peninsula of land across a bay from the city, we boarded a bus which took us to a boat dock where we would board a small passenger boat (bus sized) and take the ¾ hour ride across the bay to Freetown.
So on Sunday afternoon we are finally in Freetown. Burt will be arriving two days later. We were told there was not room on his flight from Kenya so we had to take the one two days earlier. Ron took us to where we would be having the meetings and introduced us to a few brethren. Then he settled us into the Raza Guest House (a small hotel). This place happened to be a real blessing to us as first of all they gave us a 3rd floor suite at nearly the price of a normal double bed room. We were able to take meals here and there was air conditioning from 7 PM to 7 AM (the last of which we would see for the next week). There was also wifi for internet connection (slow and unreliable) so at least we could inform our families that we had safely arrived. This was also the last means of outside communication we would have for the duration of our stay here. I might also add that this place has the last of running hot water that we will see for another week. The next day brother Johnson took us to the beach where we were able to wade into the Atlantic Ocean and watch the tides come in.
On Tuesday Brother Baker came and gave us a complete tour of the city, all the way to the top of the mountain west of the city where we drove past the American Embassy (almost a fortress), and then down past the tin-roofed slums and into the market district. In this part of Sierra Leone the mountains are quite close to the Atlantic coast. Any significant new construction or expansion involves cutting into the hard rock of the steep slopes, yet here there are houses being built, mostly by those who have a decent job and income. The best employers seem to be in government or working for the United Nations (the employer of several of the brethren in the fellowship). We learned some of the history of the city from the brethren. This was one of the ports that shipped out many African slaves during the 18th and 19th centuries. After slavery was finally outlawed many freed slaves were permitted to return to Africa and Freetown was where they landed and stayed. Since they had lost all contact with their tribal roots, they formed a new tribe (Creole) in Freetown and they speak a language mixture called English Creole. There are about 2 million souls living in Freetown, about 2/5 of the Sierra Leone population. There are 12 tribal districts in the country of which Freetown is one. There is much poverty and unemployment here. The 10 year long civil war which ended only a few years ago left much desolation and pain among the people.
We had two days of meetings in Freetown at a rented hall near the stadium. The first of two days of meetings was Tuesday, night. The meeting was shared with the Lakka and the Freetown fellowships. I brought the first word that night on “sonship” as Burt and the Nigerian brethren (Chijoke) had not yet arrived. Sonship, God’s expectation for us to change, and the finality of our choices in this hour seemed to be the themes of the conference for all meetings. Wednesday night after the afternoon meeting in Freetown we all began the drive to Lakka, the home fellowship of Brother Sylvanias French (the senior elder by age and as founder). This is also the fellowship of Ron and Margaret Johnson. Ron works for the UN and is stationed in Congo with Sister Biri, who also attended the conference.
We were told that the road to Lakka would take about 30-45 minutes, but it was not to be so. In our SUV was Rita, myself, Burt and Biri as well a Brother Baker the driver and much luggage. In the beginning of the night ride we joked that the road might have qualified for status among the 10 worst we had ever seen. We would soon have occasion to upgrade it to among the top three. The road is supposedly under construction and we are told that they expect to someday have a nice highway here. But 10-20 mph seems to be the top speed considering the bumps, potholes and ruts that have to be avoided in a vehicle that has understandably lost its shock absorbers. Climbing one of the hills the vehicle lost power and began to roll backwards and with a resounding thud we found ourselves in the ditch on the right side at more than a 45 degree angle. When I looked in the ditch on the other side we would have lost the vehicle entirely into a 12-15 foot drop-off (thank you Lord). And it was night and raining, very dark with few vehicles on the road. We managed to crawl out of the vehicle and up on to the road, and of course prayed, thanking God for keeping us and praying he would send some angels. I would not have expected angels would come with a large SUV and the letters UN printed on its side. Sister Biri immediately went over to the vehicle and introduced herself as a fellow UN employee and we soon had a ride to our destination, Brother Ron Johnson’s house only another mile or two. We were then sent to our quarters Vivian and Geraldine McEwen (husband and wife, Sierra Leonean’s) new house (so very new that it was also their first night in the house. Also staying here were Burt and the Port Harcourt Nigerians Chijoke and “Efee” his wife. We are thanking God for His hand of protection this night, but we are also aware of Satan’s desire to kill us. We must be a threat to his evil empire.
The meetings in Lakka would be twice daily from Thursday through Sunday Morning. Brother Ron Johnson had built a pole structure over which was stretched heavy blue woven tarp, making a tabernacle in his front yard which should seat up to about 100 people. It was also wired for lights, fans, projection and recording equipment. What a blessing it was to be under cover these days since it rained torrentially at least some of the times nearly every day and every night! But the word that came was also reminiscent of a latter rain. The spirit spoke strongly to the souls of those in attendance, calling them to the preparation that is needed to enter into the “new house” which God has given for us to choose in these last days.
It is now Monday morning, September 20, 2010 and we wake up to the sounds of a hammer making small rocks out of larger rocks in the neighborhood along the drive that is rutted, pothole pitted and with boulders projecting, which leads to the house in which we are staying. I suppose it is a reminder that the hammer of God is not yet finished working us over in preparation for making us to be living stones that will be fit into His final house, from which His glory will be seen and desired throughout the world. Tonight will be one more meeting with the local elders to discuss any issues of concern to them. Tomorrow morning we will leave here for the “short” daylight ride back to Freetown, across the bay and to the airport where we will begin the 9 hour flight back to Nairobi and then on another flight north to the neighboring nation of Ethiopia and her capital city Addis Ababa. To be continued when email service is again available.