Category Archives: Youth

Let the Lutherans Sing (and dance!)

"Y" for Youth.

Youth of the ELCSL are currently dreaming and working towards the goal of producing an album of original music for sale in Sierra Leone and beyond.  Late last year they recorded two tracks for the album and are continuing to raise funds for this project.

This past weekend, some of the members of the Lutheran Youth Organization came together to create a music video featuring the theme song and title track for their project.  They sang and danced and had an altogether fun time, at least for the time they spent outside my house in the ELCSL compound.   The photos here are but a glimpse of the grace and energy of the Lutheran youth!   While I was snapping still shots,  Alfred Gorvie was directing and shooting video;  he hopes to share the music and the finished video at the NTNL church assembly in April.

Dancing to the music: we are saved by grace through faith in Christ!

The theme song has great words, a great tune, and invites all hearers to start moving and dancing:   “Let the Lutherans sing we are one in Christ, we are one, oo–ooh we are one!

We are one in Christ.

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

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.

Youth Happenings

In the time I’ve been in Sierra Leone  I have spent more time in the provincial village of Njala than anywhere else outside of Freetown.   As a university town, Njala has good facilities for hosting visitors and conferences,  with the added bonus of electricity every evening from 7 pm to 11 pm.   King of Glory Lutheran Church in Njala (Mokondi) is a dynamic, hospitable, well-established congregation under the leadership of Pastor Edward Lavally, and they have welcomed me on many an occasion.

Children and youth led the procession to the church for worship on Nov. 28 in Njala.

Two weeks ago King of Glory celebrated a youth-sponsored thanksgiving weekend with youth events on Saturday and a festive worship service on Sunday under the theme “Let us Dwell Together in Unity.”    The youth at King of Glory made their plans well in advance,  and they invited me a number of months ago to preach, to organize a bible quiz, and to otherwise participate in the weekend events.  I traveled with Lutheran youth from Freetown, including members of the newly formed Lutheran musical ensemble.

Youth from about 7 other Christian churches in Njala also participated in the weekend events.   A football match between the Lutheran youth and young people from other congregations resulted in a 1 – 1 draw.

The Lutheran football (soccer) team with supporters, including Pr. Lavally (wearing blue striped shirt on the right). A number of the players were wearing the same white shirt with #11 on it, so that made for amusing commentary from the play by play announcer who kept talking about what #11 was doing on the field.

An evening talent show by the youth provided energetic entertainment from the Christian community, including the best musical performance by youth from the Catholic church.   The bible quiz (with questions from the gospel of Mark) and the talent show were scheduled to start at 7 pm but didn’t get underway until 9 pm.   I stayed until about 11:30 pm and the evening activities continued until one in the morning — with, I expect, the usual high energy, touched by chaos, that characterizes most youth activities  here.

The youth I've met in Sierra Leone embrace western style instruments and electronic sound systems. But this group of musicians from the Catholic church brought the house to their feet dancing and clapping with joy as they performed a Mende song using only their voices and traditional instruments. I have been told that the Catholic church is far ahead of other churches in terms of incorporating cultural traditions along with traditional languages and music in worship.

Traditional Mende instruments played by the Catholic youth. Personally, I prefer Mende singing and drumming over modern styles with western instruments and amplification.

The youth thanksgiving worship service at King of Glory lasted about 4 and a half hours complete with a lot of singing and dancing and good natured exhortations to give money.   After nearly 2 years in Sierra Leone, I have a pretty good idea of what to expect when I’m invited to a thanksgiving service, including the various fund raising traditions involved.   Typically, key participants are thanked for their contributions with a certificate of recognition, and I received a certificate for being “the best missionary.”  (I will be keeping that one, although I am admittedly the only missionary!)   Mostly, these thanksgiving services are all about community, and coming together in worship to give thanks to one another and to God.

This photo reflects two traditions typically practiced in thanksgiving services: friendship ribbons "for sale" to members of the congregation and pinned on the blouses and shirts of those one wants to honor. The ribbon covered cloth is used to hide a gift from the youth to the congregation. After considerable singing and the collection of money, the gift is finally unveiled. Those who sponsor a thanksgiving service (sometimes even the whole congregation) typically wear matching outfits for the event.

The youth's thanksgiving gift to the congregation was a clock. On similar occasions in other congregations, I've helped unveil and dedicate a chair, a fan and cleaning supplies. Clocks are often prominently displayed in church settings, although I haven't noticed that anyone pays particular attention to them.

Giving Thanks with Grateful Hearts

On a recent Sunday at St. Mark’s in Calaba Town, the Northwest Region’s Lutheran Youth Organization dedicated newly received musical instruments.  When the praise band started playing these new instruments, the church overflowed with the joyous energy of God’s people dancing and singing and praising the Lord.  The dancing and singing didn’t stop for about 30 minutes.

When Tom Barnett Jr. assumed responsibility in 2009 for youth ministry as well as music ministry in the ELCSL, he immediately began to look for ways to build up programming in both areas.

Bishop Kevin Kanouse and the NTNL Synod have once again been a source of grace and possibility for the ELCSL, as they shipped a variety of instruments and a sound system to the ELCSL on the container that arrived earlier this summer. These were dedicated with prayers on that Sunday 2 weeks ago.  Thank you to our  partners in Texas!  Making music is at the heart of worship in Sierra Leone, and the new instruments serve the needs of the emerging generation of Lutheran leaders here.

The ELCSL received electric guitars, a sound system, and the electronic drum set which is one of kind in Sierra Leone

The instruments are available on a loan basis for congregational use, and will also be put to good use on special occasions.  We are planning an outreach event in eastern Freetown in 2 weeks, featuring the ELCSL praise band and the showing of the film “Jesus of Nazareth.”  The Northwestern LYO has also scheduled a concert on October 2, so I am expecting the psalmist’s words to come to life again and again:

Praise the Lord!  Praise the Lord, O My soul!  I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.   (Psalm 146)

Let there be light?

Sunday during breakfast, the electricity went off, and the power was off until Monday around 9:30 pm.  The electricity has been on and off since then, and the office is running on a generator as I write this.   These power outages are not particularly unusual (and we do better than some neigborhoods) but the reality of regular powerlessness sets the context for a topic of conversation in Freetown these days.

Back in April, the president of Sierra Leone promised that the long awaited Bumbuna hydroelectrical system would soon be working and that Freetown would have reliable light and power at last.  Then we were told yes… but not yet.  News reports indicated the system would go on-line late in the rainy season, after there was sufficient water to fuel the turbines.  After waiting 35 years for the completion of this project, no one was surprised to wait awhile longer.

In the face of many difficulties including ongoing post-war recovery, the government of Sierra Leone is trying to work towards a better future.  This billboard can be seen throughout the country.  Photo credit to Jim Laetsch of Lutheran Bible Translators

In the face of many difficulties including ongoing post-war recovery, the government of Sierra Leone is trying to envision and work towards a better future. This billboard can be seen throughout the country. Thanks to Jim Laesch of Lutheran Bible Translators for the photo.

Headlines in July and August proclaimed the successful completion of the Bumbuna project, and the president was pictured in the news as having officially thrown the switch to generate power for the capital city and outlying districts.  Still, Freetown remained in the dark.  News reports and rumors explained that throwing the switch at Bumbuna simply allowed the authorities to begin testing the system.  The fully operational power system was promised soon.   Freetown continued to wait, still in the dark.    Again in mid-September,  we began to hear news that Bumbuna power was coming, and radio announcements indicated that Freetown would emerge from darkness neighborhood by neighborhood.   Government officials once again traveled to the hydroelectric station and officially commissioned Bumbuna.  Headlines on Sept. 18 proclaimed the completion of the 35 year old project — a solid accomplishment for the government of the day.

The other night after the sun had gone down, I was sitting on my porch enjoying a breeze from the bay and listening to my ipod.   The electricity was off that night, and I was burning a candle for some light.  As the guard was doing his nightly rounds, he saw the light from my porch and came by to chat.  He joked, “Pastor, I saw the light and thought you had Bumbuna power.”

When President Koroma addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations in NY last week, he was quoted as saying “We  are already delivering on our priorities…. we have completed the hydro-electric project which is supplying clean, affordable power to Freetown for the first time….”   Last night as I sat outside once again in  the dark,  the guard came by  and echoed what I have been hearing for weeks.  Sierra Leoneans are quite astounded,  even angry, to hear  the nation’s president repeat the same empty words about the Bumbuna project.    Most people are resigned to the reality of waiting another month or two or more for abundant, clean and affordable power, and they simply wish the government would stop making proclamations about it.   George also said that many people in Freetown don’t really care about Bumbuna power in any case, as they are too poor to be able to afford electricity in their homes.  What people really want, he said, is food and jobs.

Youthful worship and praise:  powered by the Spirit

Youthful worship and praise: powered by the Spirit

Against this backdrop of Sierra Leonean life and times, the Lutheran Youth Organization of the northwestern region met in assembly last weekend under the theme “We are called to be salt and light for the world.”  These young adults continue to inspire with their energy, commitment and  faith.   Having lived through war and living now with educational, economic and employment challenges, they know and celebrate the true light of Christ shining in the darkness.  These young people want to make a difference in their church and in the world.  Together they give thanks for the trustworthy promise of life and light that is ours in Christ.  They went back to their homes empowered by the Spirit shared in bible study, worship, singing, dancing, and time spent together.  Called to be light,  the youth of ELCSL continue to be shining , hopeful and faithful witnesses.

Lutheran Youth Gathering

As thousands of Lutheran youth from all over the U.S.  gathered in New Orleans last week for “Jesus, Justice and Jazz,”  Lutheran youth in Sierra Leone came together in a town called Njala to “renew their strength in the Lord.”  I was invited to attend the gathering and  give a bible study on this theme  from Isaiah.

From Njala, SL to New Orleans, US, every Lutheran youth gathering has scenes like this: the sight and sound of young people making a joyful noise to the Lord.  See for a remarkably similar photo.

The Njala event was a gathering of representatives of the Lutheran Youth Organization from the southeastern region of the country who came together to formalize their constitution and to work with youth from the northwestern region to plan for a national youth gathering later this year.  About 40 youth attended the event  from 13 of the ELCSL’s 22 churches.

The young adults from Freetown who wanted to attend the LYO meeting approached me 3 weeks ago about the possibility of traveling to Njala together.  The cost of travel is the largest burden for events of this sort in Sierra Leone.  Gasoline is about $5/gallon, and travel by either private or public vehicles is expensive.   In truth, the  youth from Freetown didn’t have sufficient funds to pay the cost of their transport.  Njala is about 3 hours from Freetown by car, and the youth estimated they would need about 30 gallons of fuel to make the trip in the  15 passenger ELCSL van.  They were able to come up with funds for 20 gallons and asked me to consider riding with them and covering the remaining cost of the needed fuel.   I agreed, and found our conversations around this to be an interesting commentary on some of the fundamental issues related to my presence here as a missionary: how can I be of support, and how can I be in partnership with the ELCSL as I am present here with all my American privileges and resources?

Young people in Sierra Leone love their cell phones like youth everywhere.
Multi-tasking with a mix of technologies: copying reports by hand in a world without xerox, but talking on the phone at the same time.

As it turned out, the youth were highly energetic companions as well as good teachers and cultural interpreters as we traveled together.  Even now, I’m not certain how many people rode in the van, as we just keep squeezing in more travelers and baggage as we left Freetown, and the same was true when we left Njala. My part of the deal was to ride in the front seat, graciously apart from the energetic good spirits spilling over in the seats behind me.  I also claimed my own space for relaxing and sleeping at a guest house at nearby Njala University.  The visiting youth slept in a classroom in a local primary school, although I was told they didn’t actually sleep much, but sang and danced, laughed and talked all night.

Drums and the shegbura provided accompaniment for dancing.
Drums and the shegbura provided accompaniment for dancing.

Hospitality for the weekend was graciously provided by Pastor Edward Lavally and his wife Josephine.  Imagine all those visiting young men and women  needing a place to bath, change clothes and find food, and you can catch a glimpse of the comings and goings at the Lavally house.  Women from King of Glory Lutheran Church helped with meal preparations and serving.  In the midst of all that, the Lavally’s also found time to care for me as an honored guest.

King of Glory Lutheran Church in Njala is one of the few congregations to have a permanent structure of this type.  The small town of Njala is home to a major university and is easily accessible by road. Njala University continues to rebuild after displacement and destruction during the war.   This was my 3rd visit there.
King of Glory Lutheran Church in Njala is one of the few congregations to have a permanent structure of this type. The small town of Njala is home to a major university and is easily accessible by road. Njala University continues to rebuild after displacement and destruction during the war. This was my 3rd visit there.
Rice with sauce (stew) is a typical meal. Sierra Leoneans tell me that unless they eat rice, they don’t consider that they’ve eaten a meal.

The Emerging Church – Sierra Leoneon Style

One of the most impressive and inspiring dimensions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone is the presence and participation of youth members.   “The youths” (so called young adults ages 15 – 30) are actively involved in the life of local congregations and the national church.  They bring energy, commitment, talents, and a forward looking vision to the church.   For these young people,  church involvement is as integral to daily life as family and school.

In my conversations with some of the youth leaders, I hear two things that keep them motivated and engaged:   music and  community.   Throughout the church, the youth give voice to their faith in joyful songs of praise; they frequently lead the singing , drumming, and dancing in worship.  Many are  also involved as leaders and teachers in the community of faith.  The youth organize activities and programs to learn together and to promote their interests; they know one another and come together to celebrate their faith as Lutherans. 

One of the young men who visited Texas with the Jubilee Singers in 2006 recently shared with me his observation that members of congregations in the U.S. are mostly older people.   Here, he said, the opposite is true.   At least 60% of the ELCSL are children and youth, so there is a vibrant new generation emerging to define the church.   The children and youth are sometimes called “the real Lutherans” by their elders who came to the ELCSL from other denominations and faiths after it was founded in 1989.  It is clear to me that the young people raised in congregations of the ELCSL see this as “their church,” and are strongly committed to its future.   (In the U.S., young people often seem to disappear from the life of the church after confirmation or after graduation, but that is definitely not the case in this context.)

Youth Workshop

"Say No to Drug Abuse" Youth Workshop at St. Mark's in Calaba Town. St Mark's is the only Lutheran church in Freetown with the facilities to accomodate such an event -- until the Jubilee Center is completed.

Early in April, youth from the Freetown region conducted a 2 day training workshop on drug abuse. This was funded by a grant from the Lutheran World Federation youth desk.  As it turns out, abuse of drugs and alcohol is a significant problem among young people in Sierra Leone (which is unfortunately not surprising given the brutal traumas of the civil war and in the precarious context of high unemployment).  The workshop trained participants to engage their own peer communities around drug use.  
A series of radio conversations as well as a community football (soccer) game are designed as follow up activities.  I remain impressed with the initiative and vision that brought this event to life!

Earlier this year, a young woman of  the ELCSL was invited to attend the 2009 ELCA national youth gathering in New Orleans.  She would be one of 40  international guests of the ELCA, but her application for a visa to the US was recently denied.  This is unfortunate as the opportunity to travel and meet youth from other nations affords rich possiblities for faith formation, for leadership development, and for building global relationships.   The US consular office discourages appeals, but we are thinking of trying again in any case.

The ELCSL youth would love to hear from and learn from their peers and partners in the US, especially in the NTNL, but we haven’t quite figured out how to manage communications across the miles.  Your ideas and prayers are welcome!

PS  May 6 I am trying to upload additional photos and a video clip. Check back again to see if I succeed.  Kate