Category Archives: Worship

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.

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

It has been a quiet and rainy couple of weeks in Freetown since I last wrote.  At times in this season, I can look out over the bay and see that it is raining across the way in Lumley.  On Sunday afternoon,  I watched as the sky grew dark over the bay and the wind started blowing. A couple of  minutes later I noticed a white line moving at great speed across the water of the bay.  I had never seen anything quite like this.   Behind the line the water was white and foamy with the impact of the falling rain.   Ahead of the line the water was steely blue-green, but in less than a minute the rain-driven line in the bay hit the shore and then torrents of rain hit my house too, with power and might.  We had rain the rest of the day and into the night.

Sunday morning, before the heavy rains of the afternoon, I attended worship at Faith in Lumley and was privileged to baptize 11 folks — from shy children to one joyful dancing adult.  Water (with God’s word) has power in more ways than one.

Newly baptized children of God at Faith Community, Lumley, with Bishop Barnett and Evangelist Wilfred Kamara.

Over the past couple of  weeks I’ve been working on two projects with my colleagues here.  We are in the midst of final preparations for a training workshop next week with the lay evangelists of the ELCSL.   23 evangelists  along with pastors-as-teachers will be in Njala for 6 days, and we hope to establish this as an annual training event.  I will be teaching Luther’s Small Catechism throughout the week.   In addition, I have been working to oversee the translation of the English order of worship into Krio, and the first draft is now complete. A  small group will be meeting with the translator this Saturday to review and finalize the translation.  We are anticipating a composition workshop in September to set the Krio words to music.

Bishop Barnett traveled last week with representatives of the ELCSL to Liberia for a workshop sponsored by LUCCWA:  Lutheran Communion of Central and  West Africa.    LUCCWA participants sometimes use “The African Creed” in worship, and Bishop Barnett  introduced the ELCSL staff  to this creed some months ago during our weekly devotionals. We used it today (an inclusive language version)  so I thought it would be worth sharing here. This “creed” is a summary of  Christian beliefs using imagery and language familiar to Africans.   It was originally written by western missionaries working with the Masai in east Africa, and is one example of the way the Christian story has been contextualized.  (For further reference, see Christianity Rediscovered by Vincent Donovan.)

The African Creed

We believe in the one High God, who out of love created the beautiful world and everything good in it.  God created people and wanted them to be happy in the world. God loves the world and every nation and tribe on the Earth. We have known this High God in darkness, and now we know God in the light.  God promised in the Bible to save the world and all the nations and tribes.

Rainy season sunset over Lumley Beach

We believe that God kept a promise by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, a human being in the flesh, a Jew by tribe, born poor in a little village, who left home and was always on safari doing good, curing people by the power of God, teaching about God and humankind, showing the meaning of religion is love.  Jesus was rejected by his people, tortured and nailed hands and feet to a cross, and died.  Jesus lay buried in the grave, but the hyenas did not touch Jesus, and on the third day, Jesus rose from the grave. Jesus ascended to the skies. Jesus is the Lord.

God's beloved children of Sierra Leone

We believe that all our sins are forgiven through Jesus Christ. All who have faith in Jesus must be sorry for their sins, be baptized in the Holy Spirit of God, live the rules of love and share the bread together in love, to announce the Good News to others until Jesus comes again.  We are waiting for Jesus. Jesus Christ is alive.  Jesus Christ lives. This we believe. Amen.

As Lent Begins

When I look out upon the world these days in Sierra Leone, the landscape  is increasingly dry and lifeless.   Grasses are withering,  flowers are fading, and the greenery is tinged with a reddish brown coating of dust.   In this season (“the dries”) farmers  are clearing  their lands  in preparation for the coming rains.  Traveling up country, it is fairly common now to see clouds of  smoke billowing in the sky, as farmers burn their fields to prepare for planting once the rains return.

This morning I attended Ash Wednesday services at a Roman Catholic church at the edge of downtown Freetown.  I heard the words “dust you are and dust you shall be,” as ashes in the shape of a cross were smeared across my forehead.  There were 400 or 500 people worshiping this morning, all marked by the sign of the cross.  It seems that the priests were not expecting such a crowd because they ran  out of communion wafers before the entire congregation had been served the Eucharistic meal.   Members of the congregation were typically gracious and good humored in their response.

As part of a recent batik lesson I made this simple cross design. I am planning to use my batik materials to make a pastor's stole.

So often in Sierra Leone, especially when traveling, I end the day feeling hot and dusty.  Early this morning, before the rise of the day’s heat and dust,  I watched the  long lines of Ash Wednesday worshipers at St. Anthony’s  in Freetown and  felt quite strongly a sense of our common humanity:   “dust you are and dust you shall be.”  And I thought of the ash covered fields awaiting the rains all over the country, and the effort of the farmers to prepare for growth and new life.  For me this year, dust and ashes are a reminder of life’s seasons, and the promise of new life waiting to burst forth .  I am grateful for the cleansing, renewing power of water, and for a community of faith to journey with throughout the coming 40 days.

A New Chapter in ELCSL History

Lifting up the cross:: Members and friends of the Lutheran community in Gondama were led by the cross into worship. I'm always grateful to see all generations active in worship.

For the first time since 1989, a new congregation has been formally received as a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone.  This past Sunday, Trinity Lutheran Church in the provincial village of Gondama was welcomed as a part of the ELCSL family by Bishop Barnett.   After the long years of war and recovery in Sierra Leone (concurrent with the birth and development of the Lutheran Church), the number of congregations in the ELCSL has grown now from 22 to 23.    It was a joy to have witnessed this historic occasion and to acknowledge the ways God continues to be at work in the life of the ELCSL.

"Let your light shine before others" was the charge to newly baptized Christians at Trinity, and to the whole congregation as they were received into the ELCSL.

Trinity, Gondama began as a “preaching point”  in 1997.    Pastor Edward Lavally currently serves a church in Njala, but Gondama is his home village.  Over the years, he called together family and friends for worship  there and taught the basics of the Christian faith as well as  Lutheran traditions.

John Lavally is the lay leader overseeing Trinity. The congregation has built and furnished their own structure, and received the gift of green altar cloths from King of Glory in Njala.

Early in 2010, the Lutheran community in Gondama applied for membership as a congregation of the ELCSL, and the festive worship service this past Sunday was the final step in formal recognition of this new Lutheran community.   There are a number of similar “preaching points”  and nascent Lutheran communities being served by ELCSL pastors and evangelists in the southeastern region of Sierra Leone and given this reality, the ELCSL is poised to grow.

I was privileged to join Pastor Lavally in baptizing a number of new members of Trinity.   15 candidates had been registered prior to the worship service, but a far greater number of  infants, children and adults came forward to the font, so we baptized all who presented themselves or were brought by a parent.   (Someone did keep a record, but I have not yet heard the final count.)  Through these baptisms,  Trinity congregation grew in the number of its members, even as the ELCSL grew in receiving a new congregation.

I had the chance to practice my Mende as I asked each candidate (or parent) "what is your name?" prior to baptizing each one.

Resurrection, Bo

As the new year continues to unfold, I am looking forward to accomplishing a new goal in my experience with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone.  This year I am hoping to worship with a number of congregations in the provinces, in particular those congregations I have not yet had a chance to visit on a Sunday.  This week I was pleased to worship with God’s people at Resurrection Lutheran Church in Bo for the first time.

Eva Gebbie leading the congregation in singing praise choruses, a standard part of Lutheran worship services. She is also the newly elected president of the National Lutheran Women's Association.

In many ways, Resurrection Church reflects the state of the ELCSL at the edge of a new era.   The ELCSL came into being while the Sierra Leonean rebel war simmered and raged throughout the country. Throughout the 1990’s,  congregations were founded, lay leaders trained, and the first generation of pastors were ordained as the Lutheran movement took root.  In this time, the first generation of Sierra Leonean Lutherans were formed in worship and in the programmatic ministries of the ELCSL.   Today, significant challenges remain as the ELCSL continues to grow and as a new generation of members begins to emerge.  I am repeatedly confronted with the need for permanent church structures  and the need to train new leaders.

Men of Resurrection

Resurrection in Bo has been served since 1996 by Rev. Samuel K. Yovonie.  Rev. Yovonie received his training as a Lutheran pastor in Singapore and Tanzania  He is now in his early 70’s and  continues in ministry in partnership with his son Lona.   This past Sunday Pastor Yovonie led worship and presided at holy communion at Advent Lutheran in Bo, while Lona led worship at Resurrection in his capacity as the evangelist for the congregation.

Evangelist Lona Yovonie

In Sierra Leonean terms, Lona’s worship and preaching style would be described as “having fire.”  For the younger generations of Christians in Sierra Leone, “having fire” is much appreciated and applauded.  The idea of  worship and preaching that is “on fire”  seems to reflect Pentecostal influences, as well as a generational dynamic between youth and their more traditional elders in the Christian community.  The youth of the ELCSL are among those who are impressed by, and strongly desire “fire” in worship.

Women of Resurrection

In my experience, “having fire” means having energy, vitality, emotion, and spirit.  (The danger, or course, is having these without Spirit and without gospel content).   On Sunday, Lona preached an excellent message about discovery and testimony, and he did so with energy and conviction.  He is among the emerging generation of leaders in the  Lutheran church, and my hope is that he can pursue solid theological and biblical training. He currently works full time as a teacher, but does indeed desire to pursue further training for ministry in the church. Opportunities for theological studies are available in Sierra Leone, although none with a Lutheran emphasis.

Pastor Yovonie is on the right of Mr. Eddie Bongah, one of the congregation's leaders. They are standing in front of Resurrection's future church building, which has been awaiting a roof for some time.

Resurrection Lutheran has been struggling for many years to complete a building project.   The congregation’s vision of their own church structure is long-standing, but the dream has been on hold for a number of years in the face of limited resources.     Recently however, a renewed emphasis on giving and on stewardship has brought a renewed sense of life and mission to the congregation.  Gifts from partners in northern Texas will supplement congregational resources, and we are hoping to see the roof raised on Resurrection’s church home by the end of the year.   There will be singing and dancing — with fire — when that happens.  For now, the congregation continues to worship in a local community center.