This blog post was intended to be shared the week of August 14. The morning of Monday, August 14, a terrible mudslide and flood hit a portion of the capital city of Sierra Leone, Freetown. The tragedy of this flood and slide has taken the lives of hundreds and displaced thousands. Efforts to assist are underway. You may make financial gifts that will be passed on to the community of the ELCSL for support of relief efforts to NT-NL by clearly stating ELCSL or Mudslide Relief. Thank you for supporting this mission.
The NT-NL has a long standing relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone (ELCSL). This church has been a presence in Sierra Leone for almost 30 years, and as such is still a young church, yet it is a vibrant church committed to ministry amongst the poor and marginalized in a country that has struggled with corruption, civil war, and the lingering effects of colonialism and the Atlantic slave trade.
As we in America continue to come to grips with the reality of institutionalized racism, the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, and the still present realities of racial violence in this country, our relationship with the ELCSL can, I pray, deepen our understanding of these historic ties, injustices, and provide us an opportunity for healing and new life.
Building relationships requires honesty and accountability. In that work, I am so very grateful for the staff at ELCA Churchwide and also my colleague Bishop Moses Momoh. Bishop Momoh and I have known each other since he was kind enough to visit with me when I visited Sierra Leone in 2016 for the wedding of my brother Jiwoh (see photo from January 2016, a beautiful and warm January day).
In our time getting to know one another, I have been grateful for Bishop Momoh’s commitment to his pastors and their education. He is a bishop of the people and the pastors. We share a commitment to being present with our communities and engaging them where they are.
Working with ELCA Churchwide global mission staff, we have begun the process of building a relationship together based on accountability, accompaniment, and mutual mission. One of the projects that Bishop Momoh asked us to support was a training program for women in the church. To encourage and build them up as leaders and with the encouragement of the ELCA Global Mission staff and a clear plan of action from Bishop Momoh, I was happy to authorize NT-NL sending $2,500 to the ELCSL for a pilot of this project.
Bishop Momoh and the ELCSL was grateful for the gift and the program proceeded as planned. In addition, he sent us photos of the training activities and a 3-page report on who participated, what they learned, and what the future outcomes and plans were. As the NT-NL congregations engaged in the ELCA study on Women and Justice, it was so very heartening to be able to have NT-NL support this sort of work in the ELCSL as well.
In addition to the report about the study, Bishop Momoh also related to me work they are doing in translating the bible into the language of the Mende people, one of the tribes of Sierra Leone. As Lutherans, to have the bible in your native tongue is such a gift and expectation. In the banners at my installation, the words “In Mission Together” were written in the six languages of NT-NL; one of those is Krio, the dominate language of Sierra Leone. But it isn’t the only language. We are excited to hear about the work being done and the progress.
What impressed me the most about my interactions so far with Bishop Momoh is his fervent spiritual desire for connection and partnership. Shared mission and ministry that is not based on patronage or financial support but on shared priorities of service and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and raised.
This is the nature of accompaniment. As we look to the future and attempt to serve our congregations, particularly those who are small and struggling, we have much to learn from the people of the ELCSL as they train evangelists to serve small and struggling communities. The way they train evangelists, lay preachers, and encourage local ministries to teach, serve, and care for the poor is an example and challenge to us.
I am grateful for the partnership growing in our renewed relationship with the ELCSL. In fall of 2018, God willing, a small group from NT-NL will travel to Sierra Leone to meet Bishop Momoh and the community and sign a new relational agreement between our synod and their church. It is a blessing and a gift to be in mission together with these partners.