Category Archives: Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone

Saying Good-bye

The past 2 weeks have been a whirlwind of movement and activity with abundant blessings in the midst of it all.

Representatives from the ELCA and the NTNL arrived in Sierra Leone last week and have been engaged in conversations with the ELCSL since then.   We have covered a lot of ground in recent days, including a working/leisure visit to River #2   and a trip to Bo for churchwide consultations.   Rich conversations about church and mission have shaped our time together with the ELCSL.

Rev. Themba Mkhabela, ELCA West Africa Regional representative; Rev. Jane Mar, NTNL; Rev. Kate Warn, ELCSL Pastor in Residence 2009 - 1012; Rev. Jim Gonia, ELCA Global Mission; Rev. Marc Hander, NTNL. (Photo by Gerilyn Hander)

A gift from the ELCSL. This woven blanket (country cloth) is in the colors of the national flag. It reads: The ELCSL thanks God for the work of Pastor Kate Warn in Sierra Leone.

In the midst of it all, the ELCSL richly blessed me with a night of singing and dancing and traditional ceremonies to bid me farewell as I prepare to leave Sierra Leone on Feb. 27th.   Out of all the experiences I have had in Sierra Leone over the past three years, the farewell celebration offered by the ELCSL was the most surprising and amazing of all.    Special songs of blessing offered by the youth and women still echo in my heart.  The sound of drums  and the traditional gourd shaker being played still resonate as well.

As the night unfolded, I was quite moved to see Bishop Barnett lead a dancing procession of my Lutheran brothers and sisters — coming my way with gifts in hand  As the procession drew near I could also see two men carrying a stout branch across their shoulders, and wondered what exactly they were bringing.  Eventually, I spotted a beautifully woven hammock and began to suspect what was going to happen next.

The traditional mode of transportation for chiefs. I was carried in the hammock as Yei Boi Katie.

During this time of  ceremony, Bishop Barnett honored me with the name/title of “first born daughter.”  I was then invited to settle myself into the hammock.    Being carried in a hammock is an honor accorded to chiefs in Sierra Leone, and  I felt deeply moved to be acknowledged in this way.  I was carried in the hammock, in the midst of  drumming, dancing and singing; eventually I received  the  hammock as my own, among many other gifts.  The blessings of the evening were abundant and memorable — a true reflection of the grace and beauty of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone.

One of the gifts I received was this traditional country cloth outfit, complete with hat and shoes, made by Marion Boima.

My final good-bye to my ELCSL colleagues and Freetown friends is only a few days away as I write.   Today I gratefully sent one heavy suitcase filled with many of the gifts I received in Bo and books from my Africa collection back to the US with the NTNL visitors.  This weekend my challenge will be to empty my kitchen and my closets, and to fit my possessions into two additional suitcases for a flight to Buffalo New York.

As I write tonight, the electricity and the internet are on and off and then on.   That somehow seems fitting.  At this point,  I will plan to make one final posting for On Mission Sierra Leone when I am  stateside, once I’ve had a chance to unpack my suitcases (if not 3 years of African life).

The beginning of the end

For the past two months I have been traveling in Freetown and the provinces,  making final visits to places I’ve come to know, and saying goodbye to the people who have become my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Dancing the good news: gospel processional, King of Glory, Njala

Two weeks ago I traveled to Romankneh, Bo, Ngolahun visiting schools with the chair of the Education Commission.  I also visited Njala and served as the “Grand Chief Unveiler” at a thanksgiving service there.

Construction work on a new school building in Ngolahun resumed earlier this year, as  the path into the village is dry enough to accommodate vehicles.  Most recently, bags of cement and zinc panels for roofing were delivered to the village by motorcycle.

School students in Ngolahun are helping to build their own school building. These mud blocks are heavy!

Michael, teaching in his brand new classroom. He is one of the "volunteer" teachers at St. Peters, working year after year without salary as the school seeks government approval.

In Romankneh, furniture has at last been delivered to the new St. Peter’s Lutheran Primary School, and the students have moved into their classrooms.  It is good to see these changes and to witness slow but steady progress in the village settings.

My time in Sierra Leone is growing shorter and shorter but still there is time for new things.  I traveled with friends to a village called Kpatema last Saturday.  Driving into the village we were met by a crowd singing and dancing, two Texan Lutherans  among them:  Alfred Gorvie and Pastor Cheryl Walenta.  We joined the Gorvie family for a traditional village celebration, complete with addresses by the village chief and local politicians, followed by hours of traditional dancing.

Bundu society dancer.

Pastor James Hotagua, Faith Lutheran in Senehun

On Sunday I was able to worship for the first time with the people of Faith Lutheran in Senehun.  (Although I have visited every ELCSL congregation, Senehun was one of two I had never joined for worship).  The congregation has struggled to obtain land and maintain attendance, but is doing well now.  They are hoping to build a church structure on land they now own, and for now they are meeting in a rehabilitated chicken house (no one would ever know that now!).  And the congregation definitely needs to build more benches for worshippers. All morning, people kept arriving to join the celebration and by the end of worship it was a standing room crowd. The choir at Faith is all of 2 weeks old and they did an amazing job of helping lead the Mende-language worship.

One of the choir members played this homemade percussion instrument. The stick has notches cut into one side, and the player ran a piece of metal up and down the stick.

This coming week the ELCSL is hosting representatives from the ELCA and NTNL for annual partner meetings.  We will be at River #2, in Bo, and then back to Freetown.  After that, I will be packing up my house and  saying my final good byes.  I will be leaving Sierra Leone on Feb. 27 and returning to the US.  But I hope to share a few final thoughts as I go.

New things in the new year

I traveled to Bo late last week for a  workshop with a select group of  ELCSL evangelists.   Rev. Edward Lavally (chair of the Commission on Evangelism and Outreach) and I worked together to teach these lay leaders about the sacrament of holy communion in the Lutheran tradition and to train them to preside at the Lord’s table.

Participants in the training for holy communion: Wilfred Kamara of Faith, Freetown, James Vandy, St. Anthony's, Yeagele, Rev. Lavally (teacher), Henry Massaquoi, Mt. Olive, TImidale, Marion Boima, St. Paul, Kissy, and Dwight Suluku, Messiah, Taima. Two additional evangelists were not present for the picture.

The evangelists have been asking for this training for some time, and the Commission on Evangelism debated at length about the best way to address the need for communion services in congregations not served by pastors.  In the end, the Commission selected 7 of the 23 ELCSL evangelists to participate .  Five of these are in remote provincial congregations and two are serving  in Freetown in congregations without pastors.   The evangelists who participated in the training will be “tested” in August and be eligible for certification as Eucharistic Ministers thereafter.

I’m always struck by the variety of issues that arise as we seek to train and support the churches in Sierra Leone.   Language is an ongoing issue.  Rev. Lavally asked the evangelists to learn the communion liturgy in English. He said the upcountry evangelists would be able to translate easily into Mende once they know the service by heart in English.   During the workshop last week, we also talked at length about the elements used in holy communion.   A visiting pastor shared his experience of being asked to celebrate holy communion in a distant village and using coconut water and cassava root for the elements.  In that instance, he needed to be creative, and to use the resources available.  He believed, (and I concur)  that in those extraordinary circumstances,  he was indeed celebrating holy communion, and that with the words of promise and command spoken by Jesus, God was present in the act of sharing food and drink. In our teaching, however, we instructed the evangelists to stay within the ancient tradition of the church, and to use bread and “juice” for holy communion.  Most village congregations will be able to procure  bread, as long as they plan ahead.  Communion wine is not easily accessed and so the question of the cup presents a greater challenge here.   Grape juice is not easily found either, and with wine  is also very expensive.   The  alternative communion drink used by most ELCSL  churches is a cherry soda.

Rev. Christopher Yanker, St. Peter's,Romankneh. The communion trays were most likely sent by churches in northern Texas. St. Peter's does not have a chalice. Distribution of communion drink is by plastic cups which are recycled month after month.

Additionally, none of the remote village congregations have communion ware or easy, affordable access to  suitable alternatives.   Most plates, cups and dishes used in daily life here are plastic, and that is by far the most practical and affordable material for this context.  We encouraged the evangelists, however, to set aside special items for holy communion.   I was able to purchase simple, durable wine glasses with short stems to be used as the chalice in the village congregations, and we encouraged the evangelists to purchase a suitable plate for the communion bread.

I originally posted this picture in Oct. 2009 after worshiping in Yeagele. Since I was a visiting pastor, the congregation celebrated holy communion for the first time. We brought the chalice, bread and drink, and improvised for other communion ware items. St. Anthony's evangelist was among those trained to preside, so the congregation will now be able to share holy communion on a regular basis.

In addition to their own learning about holy communion, the evangelists now have the task of returning to their communities and teaching their people — what it means; the liturgy itself; as well as the very practical details about how to receive the bread and wine.   In my experience here, baptism and communion are often occasions for “holy chaos,” as worshipers (especially the children) eagerly seek to participate.  It is my hope that local congregations and the ELCSL as a whole will be strengthened and renewed as “Christ is known [anew] in the breaking of the bread” — especially in those places where the bread has not often been shared before.

General Assembly

Lutherans from throughout Sierra Leone gathered in Bo last week under the banner “Let us Rise and Build.”  The occasion was the 8th biennial General Assembly of the ELCSL.  Twenty-three congregations were represented along with staff and a good number of energetic youth.

The ELCSL on the move: marching to worship in Bo. A marching band led the procession.

Assembly business was straightforward this year, focusing on reports as well as amending the ELCSL constitution.  I was priviledged to lead a bible study on the assembly theme over the course of three days, and enjoyed the chance to interact with delegates in that context.   During the bible study we talked about the visions which have shaped ELCSL history and will,we hope and pray, shape the future of the church as well.

ELCSL pastor's: Dalton Levi-John, Lynton Gomoh, and Christopher Yanker,

There were a number of highlights during the assembly.  King of Glory Foundation Scholarships  for theological education were presented to the first recipients.   Lona Yovonie, Marian Boima and Dwight Suluku are currently serving as unpaid evangelists for local congregations, and earn their income as teachers.   Each one also feels called to ordained ministry.   Lona, Marian and Dwight are each enrolled in theological studies but face significant financial constraints in this process.   Earlier this year, the King of Glory Foundation at King of Glory Lutheran Church in Dallas Texas, awarded a grant to the ELCSL for the establishment of a scholarship fund for theological and biblical training.   The King of Glory funds enable the ELCSL to build for the future by investing in the church’s human resources.    Bishop Barnett also challenged members of the ELCSL to add to the scholarship fund with their own offerings.

King of Glory Foundation scholarship recipients for 2011: Lona Yovonie, Resurrection, Bo; Marian Boima, St. Paul, Kissy; Dwight Suluku, Messiah, Taima

Rev. S.K. Yovonie of Resurrection, Bo. After his congregation struggled for years to make progress on building a church structure, he was very happy to see Lutherans at home in the new worship space.

A second highlight was worship on Sunday morning at Resurrection Lutheran Church.  The congregation has been working very hard in recent months to complete the roofing of their building, to install windows and doors, and to prepare the building for regular use. The General Assembly provided the occasion for Resurrection to host a worshiping congregation in their new building for the first time.  In addition, the liturgy for holy communion was conducted in the Krio language for the first time, using music composed by ELCSL musicians.  I was delighted to hear Sierra Leonean Lutheran voices singing their own music in their own language;  it sounded great!

A glimpse of the sanctuary at Resurrection. Doors to the building were installed the week of the assembly and considerable work remains to be done to complete the structure. But the congregation plans to begin regular worship in this structure and continue to raise funds to complete the building project.

True to the rhythms and energy of Africa, dancing was also a highlight of the assembly experience.  Singing and dancing marked the parade through the streets of Bo to worship on Sunday morning, and Friday night was devoted to singing and dancing and celebrating the culture of Sierra Leone.

Lutheran women in Sierra Leone love to dance.

Traditional instruments and a Bundu (women's) society dancer.

Youth Happenings

The youth of the ELCSL have been busy meeting and celebrating in recent weeks, and I have joined them for some of their gatherings.  As usual, youthful energy and enthusiasm overflowed.

Youth meeting at River #2. I believe the young man in the hammock has the best seat in the house.

Late in October, the northwestern Lutheran Youth Organization met for their biennial convention in the scenic setting of River #2.   Youth from the churches in the Freetown area gathered for this event.  I led the Saturday afternoon bible study on the theme for the weekend, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… and your neighbor as yourself.”  (Mt. 22:37-39)  Pastor Levi-John gave the keynote address and spent the weekend with the youth as pastoral advisor.   The youth worshiped at Lord of the White Sands Lutheran Church with Pastor Yasim Turay on Sunday morning.

During my bible study, I assigned small groups the discussion questions: How do you know someone is a Christian? (What does a Christian look like?)

At the end of October the youth of St. Mark’s held their annual thanksgiving weekend.  They organized a bible quiz competition on Saturday afternoon with teams from other churches, and I served as quiz master as I have on numerous previous occasions. This year’s quiz was based on the gospel of Mark.   A musical competition followed later that evening.  On Sunday, the youth led worship at St. Mark’s, complete with musical contributions from other churches and the naming of a “career of the year.”  Accountants bested the medical field in this competition, winning the designation by collecting the most money from supporters with the very familiar envelope system (familiar anyway to anyone who has ever  lived here).

Samuel Davies preached at the St. Mark's youth thanksgiving. He is the president of the LYO there. He gave a very fine sermon for Reformation Sunday, calling on people to stand for truth in the face of corruption today.

For the past week, youth choirs from Freetown, Njala, and Bo have been learning the Krio liturgy, in preparation for the ELCSL General Assembly which starts tomorrow.  Representatives from all 23 congregations of the ELCSL will be meeting in Bo through Sunday, and I will be leading the bible study for three days on the theme “Let us rise up and build!” (Nehemiah 2:18)  As the Assembly meets,  I am particularly looking forward to hearing the church members join voices in singing for the first time the newly composed music for Lutheran worship in Krio.

The View from the Porch: work and play

Later today I am heading to Bo to meet with a small group of ELCSL colleagues. Our plan is to spend two days in an intensive review  of the church constitution.    The ELCSL will be holding a biennial general assembly in November so we are under deadline to complete our work by then.  The ELCSL constitution was last amended in 2003 and it became clear at the 2009 General Assembly that updating was in order.   I serve as a consultant and ex-officio member on a number of ELCSL working groups,  including the constitution review committee.  In this case, one of the roles I can play is to serve as an interpreter for resources that come to Sierra Leone from partners in the U.S.   The ELCSL constitution, for example, reflects influences of the ELCA constitution, and it is helpful at times to be able to explain the rationale behind the ELCA wording as well as the differences I see in the African context.

One of many varieties of kingfishers living in Sierra Leone

Whenever I travel outside of Freetown I carry a pair of binoculars and a bird book with me.    I have continued to enjoy seeing the incredible bird life in Sierra Leone, and have learned many new birds in the past 2 years. My interest started during an early visit to Bo, when I spotted a small, brightly colored bird in a tree outside the room where I was staying.  When I got back to Freetown I borrowed a reference book and was able to identify a malachite kingfisher.  I’ve been trying to pay attention to the amazing winged colors and shapes of creation in Sierra Leone ever since then.  On rare occasions, I am able to take pictures of what I see, and here are a few favorites, as spotted in various locales around the country. Keeping my eyes open for birds in Bo in coming days will be an appealing balance to our focus on the church constitution.

Male and female pintail whydahs. I saw a large flock of these at Lumley Beach in July.

The tail of the whydah is very distinctive, especially when flying. There were many whydahs in Njala when I was there in August.

Blue turacos seen early morning in the village of Gondoma. I have also seen blue turacos in the hills of the western peninsula outside Freetown.

The great blue turaco has grey and purple cousins (plantain eaters) in Sierra Leone. I have yet to see a purple plantain eater but one was sighted by a friend in Freetown.

Jubilee Center update

Construction work at the Jubilee Center resumed this summer with financial support from the NTNL DiscipleLife Alive Initiative.  Bishop Barnett has shared a number of photos he snapped during  a recent visit to the site, and these offer a good glimpse of the work in progress.  It has been good in recent weeks to see the progress on this center for Lutheran life and worship in Freetown

The view from below, near to the Fire Force complex, looking at the administrative wing of the Jubilee Center.

The scaffolding on the outside of the building will remain in place for many months, as windows are installed and the exterior undergoes plastering.  One more story of the scaffolding will be going up in addition soon, on top of  what is already in place.  (It seems to be sturdier than it looks at first glance!)

One of the workers I met in August demonstrated the construction of the reinforcing pillars for the office wing. The workers were collecting water for concrete mixture from puddles of rain water (to save hauling it up 3 flights of stairs).

During my last visit to this site  late in August, I met a man coming up the hill from a nearby mosque.    We chatted for a few minutes and he asked about the building up the hill.  He commented that “he wished he was a Christian because he would join the church that would be worshipping in such a building.”  Members of the King of Kings Lutheran community worshipping in cramped quarters in the Fire Force offices also look forward to worshipping in the Jubilee Center soon.  The current hope is for completion of the project early in 2013.

The security bars for the windows of the Jubilee Center have been crafted into a design of Luther's seal.

Singing a New Song, part 2

This past week ELCSL musicians continued their work preparing music for worship in the  Krio language.  Early in the week we gathered a small choir together to record the music that was written last week, and we also recorded a spoken version of the Krio liturgy – from the opening confession to the words of dismissal.

Recording of the new music was managed by Rob Veith who serves with Lutheran Bible Translators in Botswana. Daniel Mossima played the drums; David Kargbo and Halima George sang with the choir.

The recording session went smoothly at St. Mark’s in Calaba Town although we had to pause for rain delays a couple of times throughout our time together.  (The sound of the falling rain became quite loud upon occasion.)  The ELCSL is blessed with many talented and creative musicians, and the team that came together to “sing a new song” did a fantastic job composing and performing.

At the keyboard, Tom Barnett Jr. is the national music director. He will play a key role in teaching the new liturgical music to congregations.

We are now waiting to hear the final product:  a CD of the new Krio liturgy and music which will be distributed to the congregations of the ELCSL.    We will also  look into producing cassette tapes as I am told that many people in the provinces do not have access to CD players.  Along with the CD’s and cassettes, we will be distributing a written version of the complete liturgy and the new songs which will be useful for those who can read Krio.

Choir members Mariam Boima, James Tulley and Betty Fannah. We recorded with voice and percussion only.

The musicians who participated in this project have indicated a willingness to begin teaching the new music to their own  congregations.  Personally, I have been hearing echoes of the music all week; some of the pieces are, as they say in Krio, very “sweet.”    Our most immediate goal will be to train a choir to lead worship in Krio for the ELCSL General Assembly in Bo, scheduled for early November.     Teaching both words and music will be an ongoing process in coming months and years, but we’ve made a good start this week.  I also hope the ELCSL musicians will be  inspired to continue composing music so that Lutheran worship in Sierra Leone will remain vibrant and dynamic in giving praise and glory to God.

Singing a new song

Step #3 of a long term project to create a Krio language liturgy for the ELCSL is underway this week.  After teaching pastors and evangelists how to read and write Krio (one year ago), and after working to translate the English liturgy into the Krio language (this summer), five ELCSL musicians are now working to compose music for Lutheran worship in Sierra Leone.  The project is moving ahead at this point with on the ground support from a consultant with Lutheran Bible Translators.

Singing a new song: this is the team working together to compose music for Krio language worship: Betty Fanna, Halima George, Rev. Christopher Yanker, Tom Barnett (Jr.), and Daniel Mossima. They are practicing one of their compositions in this photo, using the papers to read the Krio words. In this process, the tunes are learned by ear and sung from memory, as only one of the team members reads and writes musical notations.

Daniel Mossima is the national youth president and a very talented musician.

On Monday, the team read through the liturgy in Krio and asked the Holy Spirit to bless and inspire the work ahead.   One of the participants expressed the hope that music for the Lutheran liturgy would not simply replicate the pervasive styles and sounds of Pentecostal worship.   We realized that we don’t yet know the sound or nature of a truly (indigenous) Sierra Leonean Lutheran worship style,  but hope to set a process in motion for the ongoing development of “Lutheran” music in the Krio language.

Rob Veith, an ethnomusicologist with Lutheran Bible Translators is holding the microphone. Once the musicians have composed a song they want to remember, Rob steps in with his recording equipment.

After two and a half days working together, the musicians have composed 9 pieces of music for worship, including Krio language versions of the kyrie, “this is the feast,” the holy, holy, holy, and the  Lord’s prayer.  They were a bit tired as we wrapped up the afternoon session earlier today, but we all feel that the Spirit has been at work in these days.  The team will continue composing as the Spirit moves, and next week we will begin teaching the songs to a special choir, with an eye to producing a CD for use as a teaching tool.  We welcome your prayers as this project continues in coming days and weeks.

The view from the porch

The view from the porch is that of a grey and gloomy world  today.  We have been having heavy, persistent rain all day.   As I write this afternoon, the water in the bay is at low tide and I can see the pile of rocks in front of my house while the far shore is lost amidst the falling rain.  The  temperature feels almost cold today, and  I am wearing a prayer  shawl for warmth sent my way from a church in Texas some months ago.

It is fairly unusual at low tide for there to be no one out in the bay fishing or searching for cockles, but it seems to be the case that the rain and the lack of visibility have kept people away today.  One of the guards told me that a fisherman drowned in the bay on Saturday afternoon, a tragedy that drew crowds of people and generated considerable speculation.    The conversation in the neighborhood understood the drowning to be the result of witchcraft practices, with the speculation that the victim was himself a witch pulled into the underworld, under the water,  by kindred evil spirits.     Mysterious events, unexplained illnesses, and tragedies are commonly attributed to witchcraft here.  Saturday’s events served to remind me once again that there is much I don’t know and much I don’t understand about the worldview of those around me.

I have discovered that recognizing and remembering the differences in the African and American worldviews, especially concerning the spiritual realm,  is important for me in teaching and preaching.  I often feel that I miss the mark in both arenas since I  have such a limited  grasp of the problems, struggles and fears of the people I am addressing.

Members of the northwestern region Lutheran Youth Organization met at St. Mark's on Saturday. I appreciate that the word "retreat" in the picture is made with leaves.

On Saturday, when the fisherman drowned in front of my house,  I was attending a youth retreat at St. Mark’s in Calaba Town.  I was asked to talk with the youth about Lutheran distinctives, a topic I frequently address.  On Saturday, I  led a bible study exploring what Luther taught about “the way of glory” and the “way of the cross.”

In the course of our conversations, a question came up about what Jesus means that we should love our enemies and pray for them.  One of the youth noted that it is common in some churches to pray for enemies to be crushed, or to ask for fire to come down upon our enemies and to consume them.  I have a suspicion that my answers, and my references to Jesus’ commands to love, serve and forgive one another, were not particularly satisfying to the youth.  Granted, the way of the cross is a hard way, but in retrospect I think I also failed to understand where the youth were coming from in raising their questions and concerns.   To have enemies — from jealousy, or broken relationships — is a serious concern of daily life here, and it is understood that one’s enemies have the power — through witchcraft —  to invoke harm, sickness and death.  As a consequence, fear is a significant dynamic in everyday life.   I do believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is a powerful and essential answer to these issues, and I feel that I still have much to learn about how this good news can be proclaimed in a way that will be heard and understood in the context of Sierra Leone.  Further conversation with the youth and my pastoral colleagues is in order.