This is my long overdue reflection on our recent trip to Sierra Leone. Why so late? Honestly, I had no idea where to begin. Bishop Gronberg has done an excellent job of reporting the specifics of the trip and giving updates about our renewed relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sierra Leone. I encourage you to read his blog posts as they give great details and include more photos. Mine will be more about my own processing of the experience.
This morning I preached at Our Saviour’s in Durant about our time there, and that finally helped me put all of my thoughts and feelings into words. So now I’m ready to share here.
Since this was my first visit to Africa, I really didn’t know what to expect. Nothing can really prepare you for the experience. The first day was simply about just adjusting to the overwhelming overload on my senses – every one of them. Freetown is a chaotic, noisy, busy city.
Add to that the smells. People burn fires everywhere: cooking, burning trash, clearing away whatever they need to burn. It brought back memories of our wood furnace at home where Dad burned trash and/or heated our house regularly. Not a pleasant smell. Blend in the effects of very hot and humid weather, and my nose felt like it was under constant assault. (And I’m talking about the smell of my own self!)
So, yes, I needed some time to adjust to this new cultural experience. But as we visited schools in Freetown and I experienced the excitement and joy of the children, I began to see beyond the overwhelming senses.
As the days went on, I saw the strength of these warm and lovely people of Sierra Leone. We saw the site of the horrific mudslide from a year ago in Freetown that killed more than 500 people in an hour. We visited the village of John Thorpe, which suffered tremendous losses from Ebola a few years ago. The resilience and faith of the communities was evident. They welcomed us with joyful processions and dance and just exuberant joy every place we visited. Gratitude was a constant emotion. And faith. So much faith in God.
But it was the faces of the children that gave me the most joy. It was the leadership and maturity of the young adults that gave me the most hope. This is a church that is very much alive and committed to being a presence in this part of the world. Today, as I preached about the widow who offered her last two two coins, I got it. Jesus wasn’t lifting up her generosity as an example. He was helping to open the eyes of his disciples to see HER. To know her. To recognize her as a sister. To be in mission together, we have to KNOW each other. That is why this trip was so important. So we can see each other and our shared faith and humanity.
- The faces of these children brought that to life for me. Sharing in worship and celebration made it real for me. Conversations in gatherings gave it depth for me. Our final worship together was the culmination of all of that. The celebration was beyond joyfully and Bishop Gronberg preached a heckuva good sermon. But for me personally, the most meaningful part was being asked to help serve Holy Communion. To place the bread, the Body of Christ, into the hands of these brothers and sisters as I looked into their eyes was a powerful experience that I will never forget.
It may have taken me a while to get this reflection done, but I sure haven’t stopped thinking and processing the experience. Hopefully I never will.