The Ground of Faith: Religion in Sierra Leone

Descriptions of Sierra Leone generally cite the following statistics:    60% of the country’s residents are Muslim, with 40% holding either Christian or indigenous beliefs (I’ve read different reports on the percentage of Christians here).  In this mix, one of the most striking things I’ve discovered here is the degree to which religious tolerance is a deeply held value.  Christians and Muslims live side by side; they celebrate and work together; they intermarry; they elect political leaders of both faith traditions.   In a world too often divided by relgious differences, Christians and Muslims in Sierra Leone  have joined together and speak with one voice on critical public issues through an Interreligious Council.   Every converation I’ve ever had about religion in Sierra Leone cites tolerance as a living reality.   Historically, and still today, Christians and Muslims get along without the misunderstandings, fear and suspicion so common in many parts of the world, including in the U.S.

This Muslim community leader joined in  the singing of songs about Jesus during a meeting to organize for the water well project.

This Muslim community leader joined in the singing of songs about Jesus during a meeting to organize for the water well project.

My contact with Muslims in Sierra Leone has been limited although periodically I hear the call to prayer from a mosque and see faithful Muslims lined up for prayer.   Earlier today I met a captain in the Sierra Leoneon Armed Forces who is also an imam.  In the army he is a Muslim chaplain working in the same office as Christian chaplains.   He talked about his dream of establishing an organization to take the message of tolerance and peaceful co-existence to places in the world beset by religious conflict, like Nigeria, Sudan, the middle east.

Captain Kamara of the SL Armed Forces, Chief Imam in front of mosque

Captain Kamara of the SL Armed Forces, Chief Imam in front of mosque

The Christian context in Sierra Leone is fascinating and complex.   The Roman Catholic church is well established throughout the country, with a sizeable school system as well as a major seminary.  The Protestant churches  include Wesleyan, Methodist, Anglican, Baptist, Presbyterian, and others.  Sierra Leone was ground for Protestant missionary efforts as long ago as the late 18th century.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone is very young in this context, at the age of 21 years.  (A number of Lutherans have actually converted to Christianity from Islam). These days, great growth is seen in the number of Pentecostal churches as well as a variety of independent and evangelical  churches.  There are also significant evangelism and missionary efforts coming this way from Nigeria.   

Down the street: a Pentecostal church next door to a mosque (minarets with scaffolding) visible in back

The New Apostolic Pentecostal church (yellow and blue building) next door to a mosque. (Minarets with scaffolding are visible to the left of church/trees.) This is down the street from my house. (A cell phone tower in this photo reflects the prevelance of cell phones throughout the city and country.)

A peddler I sometimes talk to at Lumley Beach is a member of the “Jesus is Lord Church.”  The other day he told me that this is a “born again” church.  His comment reminded of  a question raised during a Sunday school discussion at King of Kings Lutheran Church a few weeks ago  about the difference between Lutherans and “born agains.”  I asked the beach peddler what it meant to be “born again.”  He told me that members of his church didn’t smoke or drink.  I also learned that members of his church are praying and fasting these days in preparing for an upcoming, week long revival to be led by an American evangelist.   I have been graciously invited to attend, but I’m not sure I have the properly tolerant ecumenical spirit or physical stamina to endure what I imagine will be a lively and lengthy experience.

Christians and Muslims worship and practice their faith amidst deeply rooted traditions related to witchcraft, sorcery,  and secret societies.   I’ve had a few conversations about these things, but  as an outsider its difficult to get a clear picture of the nature and extent of such traditions.   The Christian church faces a great challenge in addressing deeply ingrained traditions in this arena, and in this light,  the Lutheran message really is good news to proclaim.

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My front door -- the compound gate -- proclaims the Lutheran motto: "Saved by Grace"

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3 responses to “The Ground of Faith: Religion in Sierra Leone

  1. Kenn Mingus

    Kate,

    Thanks again for sharing the amazing story that is Sierra Leone. This small, impoverished country has set the world standard for religious tolerance. I pray that the Muslim chaplain is able ti full fill his dream.

    Kenn

  2. Tom Barnett Jr.

    Kate,
    Sometimes I feel the need for a Missionary from Sierra Leone to United States. There is a lot our brothers and sisters in the United States can learn from Religious leaders in Sierra Leone. Our Muslim brothers and sisters have an amazing story to tell and we welcome their imput.

  3. Dear Kate
    I was delighted to find your blog and find in it much to confirm what Janice (to whom I am married) and I have experienced since arriving in Freetown less than two months ago. We are working with the Meth Ch S L and wil begin teaching appointments at the SL theo college next month. We have arrived from a 5 years experience of excellent inter-faith work in Edinburgh Scotland and will be seeking to ensure that we are the benificiaries of exemplary Muslim-Christian relationships in SL too. Hopefully we may meet at some point in the near future, we have certainly seen you front gate and walk past the Lutheran Bible translation office in Tengbe Town on a daily basis. For our intiatial reflections on F,town and SL please see ClarkServInSalone.blogspot.com

    Advent blessings Peter

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