One of the key features of the ELCA’s model of global mission is the concept of accompaniment. What does this mean? It means we do not intend to come into a community, a nation, or engage a partner church and dictate to them norms and visions. Instead we come alongside to learn, grow, and share the gifts that God has given us together for the sake of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and sharing in the mission to serve those Christ prioritized (Matt 25:40 to begin that conversation).
Too often missionary efforts have been clothed in the concepts of preaching the gospel while instead being really slightly veiled attempts at colonization and the prioritization of western values onto a culture that is quite distinct. That is not the goal of our ministry and mission with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone today and will not be as long as I am bishop. Instead we are called to walk alongside, serve, and learn from our sisters and brothers. This journey to Sierra Leone, my personal third trip to the nation but first as bishop, was educational in this aspect as well as a great opportunity to get to know my colleague and brother, Bishop Moses Kobba Momoh.
Our traveling party included myself, Bishop’s Associate, the Rev. Kris Totzke, and Dr. Paul Bjerk, a lay member of Gloria Dei, Lubbock, professor of African history at Texas Tech University and experienced global mission partner (he spent a great deal of time in Tanzania doing research as well as being part of the St. Paul Area Synod’s relationship to the Lutheran church there). Additionally, the Rev. Dr. Andrea Walker, West Africa Desk Director for ELCA Global Missions, traveled with us to help us navigate and discern how best the NT-NL can partner with ELCA Global Mission to support this partner church. It was a good team, a thoughtful team, a pastoral team, I am grateful for them all.
What follows and in subsequent blogs were all published on my official facebook page www.facebook.com/bishopgronberg which is far easier to update when wifi and connectivity is challenging. If you haven’t liked that page, please do so.
Oct 23, 2018
Left my house at 8:30am on Monday morning. Hopped up to O’Hare for the flight to Brussles. Saw the sunset over Lake Michigan and rise 8 hours later over the English channel. Then 6 hours down to Freetown and a beautiful Tuesday night sunset over the bay as we ferried into Freetown from Lungi airport.
17 hrs in the air all told. Long trip but worth it to be here with our partners in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone for a 501st reformation celebration and 30th anniversary celebration of this young church.
Fruitful conversation with our churchwide global mission staff as well along the way. Building understandings of accompaniment in mission together. Utilizing more fully the depth and breadth of the wisdom of our whole church. Your NT-NL Synod, ELCA Bishop’s associate the Rev. @Kris Totzke along with ELCA African global mission director the Rev. Andrea Walker have been great travel companions. We will be joined tomorrow by Dr. Paul Bjerk a member of Gloria Dei, Lubbock who is also an African studies professor at Texas Tech. Grateful for all their expertise.
Staying tonight in the new Bintumani Hotel (originally built in the 1970s in preparation of Sierra Leone’s tourism boom, that never really manifested, closed for many years it re-opened in 2016). This hotel is both a fine place to stay (and less expensive than most accommodations in the states) as well as a symbol of the influence Chinese money and investment have played recently in Sierra Leone. The restuarant has menus in English and Chinese featuring culturally appropriate cuisine.
A full next 5 days planned by our partners will culminate with a celebration liturgy and dedication of a new mission congregation. Much of our time will be outside Freetown and in and around Bo, Sierra Leone’s “second city.” Wifi may be lacking a bit there but we will report in. Thank you for your prayers. Grateful to be here safely. #elcsl30th #ntnl #InMissionTogether
Oct 24, 2018
Our first full day was just that. A full day. We were up and ready to go to visit the bishop and his staff at the ELCSL facilities. We had a lovely time of conversation around shared priorities and beginning the reset of our relationship after 30 years. We listened and learned and having heard from the pastors and leaders I gave my initial thoughts that our needs and connections centered on a few clear areas. Supporting education and care for children, working for gender justice and the rights, healthcare, and empowerment of women, and finally in developing and training evangelists and pastors. These are areas we will further discuss and form but are places I believe we can learn together.
From there we went downtown through Freetown out to the eastern district to visit Calvary Lutheran School, Up Mountain. There we toured the school, met the leaders and teachers, and heard a musical performance. The school is bursting at the seams with children in bright blue uniforms. An inspiring sight to see this ministry growing and thriving.
We then went a few more miles before hopping out of the cars (in front of the Sierra Leone Brewing Company no less, sorry, no tour) to join a procession to St. Marks Church and School in Calaba Towm (east Freetown). After a good mile+ walk/dance/parade we reached St. Marks.
There we celebrated the work of this primary to high school educating 250 students. Former NT-NL pastor Kenneth Moerbe and his spouse Paula were honored (in abstentia) for their consistent support of time, prayer, and finances of this congregation and schools mission. Their recent support means additional classrooms have been able to be added to handle overflow from this thriving ministry building leaders.
I reiterated to the community my gratitude for the Moerbes and our connection as NT-NL Synod, ELCA in being able to support the building of facilities for growing programs for future leaders for the ELCSL and Sierra Leone. Yet I reminded myself and them that the people who inhabit the building, the work done there to build leaders, is what is most vital. Additionally, the support of the wider community was evident in the grand celebration. We are grateful for consistent, accountable, generous leaders and stewards like the Moerbes and many others in NT-NL.
After an hour+ in a traffic jam (moving about !a quarter mile, had I-35W flashbacks) and a bumpy last 2 miles including crossing some good water obstacles arrived for beachside dining with hospitality of Lord of the White Sands Lutheran Church. This congregation honored at our celebration two of their founding members, both older lay female leaders. A reminder of the importance that the ELCSL is an indigenous church of the people of Sierra Leone and has consistantly lifted up female leadership.
The energy is growing. Partner bishops from The Gambia and Liberia have arrived. Tomorrow we meet the Council of Churches, visit a communiy recovering from landslides and another who ministered to their neighbors (Muslim and Christian) during the Ebola outbreak. Then to Bo for three more days of festivities as well as some vital meetings and conversations about our partnership. We will have visited all the districts of the ELCSL by the weekend, getting a full view of the ministry of this church.
As always I am mindful of those left at home to continue the work there. Thankful for my wife and kids who are all shouldering a bigger burden this week to allow me to be present. I am grateful for their sacrifice and gift.
#elcsl30th #ntnl #InMissionTogether
Oct 25, 2018
Today we started with a visit to the Council of Churches in Sierra Leone. This ecumenical body is an advocate for peaceful elections, gender justice, youth empowerment, and interfaith relations. It was good to see how our ELCSL partners are a part of this ministry and seen as leaders in this work.
Then we drove east and we were warmly welcomed at John Thorpe community. Where the ELCSL, with partnership support from NT-NL Synod, ELCA and ELCA global mission, made a dramatic impact during the ebola outbreak. Bishop Momoh was honored for his leadership in providing food, health care, coordinating construction of sanitary and water facilities, and registering and providing school fees and supplies for ebola orphans. Powerful witness to our work together building people and the gratitude of the community from Muslims and Christians alike.
On our way to Bo we stopped to dedicate an addition to the King of Glory church near Njala University. They are growing and need room for children and youth programming. Excited to see them take initiative in partnership with the ELCSL to make and execute the plans for this work.
We arrived in Bo in the dark and late after 6 hours on good and not so good roads. Yet members of the community were here ready to welcome us with song and dancing. Tonight we rest. Tomorrow will be a day of vital meetings about our partnership and planning for the future. I also hope to be able to see my brother Jiwoh who will be in Bo for a family funeral. Then a weekend of celebration liturgies and I will preach Sunday morning. Grateful for our partnership and for their hospitality.
#elcsl30th #ntnl #InMissionTogether