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 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
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.