This trip has gone much better than Jeff and I expected, even hoped for. The churches are growing. There are new leaders throughout the ministry who are growing and working hard. Schools are packed but still performing. A new school. New churches. In fact, Jeff and I had talked about how “light” this trip has felt so far – generally encouraging, great stories of conversion of life change – and easy to see God’s hand at work. We even mentioned it after dinner the other night before we prayed that this trip was so different. Then Friday dawned.
It started with some creature on top of the metal roof over our rooms that sounded like one my kids had put all of their shoes in the drier, flipped it on, and walked away. Who knew that Bose noise canceling headphones worked on African animals? After breakfast of omelette and pancakes we went out into the bush. To the white man, it felt like we were already in the bush so my ears perked up when Henry said we were going to the bush to visit the new churches. They are only about 5 miles further up the highway but it might as well have been 50 because the change was so great. We left the highway and drove another 2 or 3 miles into the bush through dense forest to the village of Kola Tree, which only has about 100 people, 25 who now attend our church. Poverty grows exponentially the farther you get from Freetown. Jeff and I think Kola Tree is the poorest place we’ve visited here and the poorest place I’ve ever visited. They are caretakers for the land they farm, their homes had no side walls, and there were significant medical issues. We went to the blue tarp church (yes, we have another one now) that was constructed out of tree branches and met with most of the church members with Pastor Kaimuto and Henry translating for us. They thanked Bethel profusely for bringing them a church, the only one in their village. They gave us gifts – baskets of food – that they had harvested – cucumbers, oranges, bananas, potatoes, cassava, and some mystery produce. We prayed and they sang songs. It was great to worship with brothers and sisters, even if we were separated by a language and a culture. Same God. Same Spirit. Same savior, Jesus. They pleaded with us to bring a school there since the closest school is 3 miles away and is a muslim school that meets on Sundays and makes it hard for people to go to church and impossible for the youngest children to walk there. Then they asked for money for bricks for walls and a metal roof to build a permanent church. The contrast between their joy in worship and the sadness as they brought a crippled baby for us to see was stark. And very humbling.
We then went to visit the new 5 Mile church. It is about another mile up the highway and the village of about 1000 is split by the highway -old and new town, although it was hard to tell the difference. Pastor James introduced us to his leadership team, all of whom were converted out of Islam – some recently, others many years ago. They meet in an abandoned home for now and have about 40 people who come to worship. Both visits highlighted that GEM needs a clear multi-site strategy here as there were issues with the spiritual qualification of leadership, difficulty in traveling to the location, and even the method of determining which pastors will go launch new churches. Much work to do there.
We then drove into Freetown and engaged in food therapy. Ice cream and turkish coffee. It’s even better with AC and wifi. We used the time to prep for the board meeting that evening and process the morning with Henry. The board meeting was much like the others we’ve attended. There was little evidence of engagement outside of attendance at the meeting. The contrast of the progress Henry has made with the churches and schools was markedly different than the lack of progress by the board – still working on a new constitution, as an example, with 3 months lost waiting on feedback from directors. fortunately, Jeff had prepared a training session on board revitalization and how to stagger terms and move people off. They agreed that was important and what was common in SL. I led a session on strategic thinking and used the development of the property as the case study. We have one director (Donald John) who can think strategically and Henry is getting better in that area. Not so much with the others. We encouraged them generally and Henry specifically to limit board involvement to budget approval and goal setting until the engagement level changes. This would enable Henry to make progress while the board continues to grow in effectiveness.
We visited the Raining Season Orphanage in Freetown where Donald John used to work. My family sponsors two girls there and we were able to visit with them. We also witnessed their Bible class taught by Pastor Daniel – 90-100 kids being taught God’s word for 2 hours on a Saturday am in an 80 degree room. Yet, he held their attention. We then left for the Beach Road, which has been redeveloped in the last two years. All the surfside beach clubs (shacks) have been removed between the road and the ocean, exposing a long, wide stretch of beach. Many of the restaurants on the other side of the road have been redone. Family kingdom has a new beach club called papa with is nice and an ice cream place named Scoops that serves Illy coffee. We chose to the beach club. We decided to let Henry take us to the water taxi early so he could spend time with his family, which was a good thing, because his car was dead. He had a friend take us to the water taxi while his car went to the garage. While driving to the water taxi, we passed a “new” Radisson, is the old UN compound next to the Aberdeen Women’s Clinic. It looked nice. Like $216 a night to be exact.
Water taxi has been upgraded, too. Nice covered boat with tables/booths. Unfortunately, exit options are also reduced. Hope we never need more than two. We’ve got a water taxi, bus, 4 flights, and a pickup to get home. Please keep praying.
Fritz Hager, Executive Pastor