Tag Archives: beach

Down by the Water Side

Beached, at Tokeh.

I have greatly enjoyed living by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean throughout my time in Sierra Leone.   I’ve spent many an hour sitting on my porch watching the waters of the bay ebb and flow; tracking the birds there, and observing the fishermen at work.   All along the coast, and along the many inland waterways, fishing is a way of life, and fish of all kinds are a staple of the Sierra Leone diet.

Sunset at Hamilton Beach

Dugout canoes for river fishing. Photo by Jim Gonia.

Life along the  waterways is full of color and character.   Folk wisdom and expressions of faith abound.    As always, words and pictures offer only a glimpse, but here are some of my favorite photos from life by the water.

I saw this same sentiment on a boat in the bay by my house today.

Evangelism on the sea.

Net with boats at Tokeh.

Hauling in the fishing nets is a community effort.

Lumley Beach. The boat has just come in, and the nets stored for next trip. The boat will be hauled further up the shore using the wooden poles as rollers.

Sail boat in the waters beyond the Freetown port.

The View from the Porch: mystery at Lumley Beach

Tuesday was a national holiday in Sierra Leone — the “eid” to mark the end of the month of Ramadan.  In the Krio language, the holiday is known as “pray day.”  As I was out and about in the morning, the streets were filled with men, women and children dressed in their eid finest and going to the mosque for prayers.    It was a colorful and festive reflection of the Islamic faith in this predominantly Muslim country.

I made plans with friends to go to the beach on the eid, if the weather was decent for an outing.    Since the sky showed hints of blue on Tuesday morning, we drove to Sussex beach, about 10 miles down the peninsula from my house (Surprisingly, Sussex is home of an Italian restaurant, and is a couple of miles before River #2).   Passing along the beach road between Lumley and Aberdeen, we were amazed to see the beach completely covered with seaweed, and wondered what impact that might have on football players and other holiday revelers.   The seaweed on Lumley beach has been a mystery throughout the summer, but last week was the worst I had seen.  For our holiday outing on Tuesday, the Atlantic waters off Sussex were a bit murky with seaweed, but the beach looked nothing like the coast closer to Freetown.

The problem with the seaweed started back in July, when masses of the stuff washed ashore at Lumley Beach.  Reportedly, this was the first time this phenomenon had ever been seen in the area.  There was considerable speculation and bewilderment at the time, with blame being cast on the dredging operations of mining companies in the Sierra Leonean estuary.   (Sierra Leone has one of the biggest iron ore deposits in the world and mining recently resumed in the northern part of the country).  The mining companies have denied any responsibility for the seaweed, but in keeping with good public relations, at least one company has contributed money towards the cost of cleaning the beach.

Last weekend, and into this week, the amount of sea weed at Lumley Beach was ankle deep from the water to the high tide line.    Fishermen haven’t been able to cast their nets off the shore and those who make their living from visitors to the beach are complaining about the lack of business.     Between the rain and the tides and the preponderance of sea weed, I hadn’t been to the beach in weeks myself.  This afternoon the tide was low and the sun was shining so I decided to take the dogs to the beach to see what we might find.  Clean up crews have been able to remove some of the sea weed, and the tides seem to be tossing up smaller quantities.

Lumley Beach looking towards Family Kingdom. This amount of sea weed is an improvement over previous days. I should note that blue sky in rainy season is a joy to behold.

Still, the question remains:  where is all this seaweed coming from, and why is it washing onto the peninsula coast near Freetown  this season?   One plausible explanation relates to the existence of vast masses of floating sea weed in the Atlantic Ocean;   every so often the mass of sea weed breaks apart and chunks float away on ocean currents.    In recent days, according to the newspaper,  scientists at the University of Sierra Leone have been examining the sea weed and consulting experts in other countries about the matter.    The rest of us just wait to see what the tide will bring in tomorrow.



River #2 is one of the better known beaches near to Freetown. The fact that there is a Lutheran church (Lord of the White Sands) in the community makes it an especially nice place for Lutherans to visit.

Yesterday was a public holiday in Sierra Leone, the Muslim Feast of Sacrifice or Eid al-Adha.    Since I am blessed to have a friend visiting from the U.S. this week, we joined multitudes of Freetown residents in heading to the beach for the holiday.   Yesterday, I was able to introduce my friend to the  white sand shores of River #2, about 15 miles down the peninsula from my house in Aberdeen.

Only a fraction of the beach communities are indicated on this map. On the west coast of the peninsula, I've been to Lumley, Lakka, Sussex, River #2, John Obey, Bureh, and Kent beaches.

The Western Area Peninsula of Sierra Leone is characterized by a series of  astoundingly beautiful beaches and peaceful fishing communities.  The wonders of creation are in full display there  with warm, Atlantic ocean- blue waves crashing to shore below the green slopes of the peninsula mountains.  Among the simple pleasures of life in Freetown is the chance to get away for a day or a weekend to the beach, and to enjoy sun and swimming and seafood.   Sierra Leoneans know they have a treasure at hand, and the Ministry of Tourism is working with local communities and business people to develop the area’s tourism potential.

Bureh beach, a great place for camping and surfing.

Lakka Beach.

In the year and a half I’ve lived in Freetown, I’ve been able to visit and explore  just a handful of the beaches in the area.   Among the residents of the city and expatriate friends, everyone has their favorite beach to visit.  I hope I  have the chance to venture out of the city and continue to explore the wonders at hand.

Early morning at Bureh beach.

Lunch at River #2. My friend Pat and I shared this lobster. This was the first time I had eaten lobster here. Grilled barracuda is frequently available, along with shrimp and crab.

Notes on context for an African Easter

This is a typical fish net style hammock, claimed here by Pastor Kobba during our visit to Sanhan village.

While sitting on my porch this morning, chatting with ELCSL colleagues, reference was made to my hammock hanging there, and this led to a discussion about the tradition of carrying paramount chiefs to special meetings in hammocks.  The hammock used for this purpose was specially made with a traditional woven fabric (country cloth), and it was designed to allow the chief to sit upright while being  carried by four  men.  This tradition seems, however, to have disappeared since the rebel war;  today chiefs and other “big men” arrive by car.

Earlier in Lent I had speculated with other colleagues and friends what means of transport Jesus would use to enter Freetown, if  the events of Palm Sunday were to take place here today.  (Donkeys are not known in Sierra Leone.)  The consensus idea for a Sierra Leonean equivalent to  a donkey was an “omalankee” cart typically used to haul heavy items throughout the city.   Omalenkees are humble and common, although not  normally used to transport people.  This morning, however, we decided that if Jesus were to seek a triumphant entry into Freetown in the traditions of Sierra Leone, he might enter the city in a hammock, carried and proclaimed as “chief.”

Omalankees can be hired to haul just about anything through the streets of Freetown.

On Maundy Thursday last week I celebrated with the Lutheran community of St. Paul in the eastern part of Freetown, and in my sermon we had further discussions about the role of chiefs.   St. Paul’s had not previously worshiped on Maundy Thursday, and members had never before participated in a foot washing service according to the traditions of the day.  So we talked about the scripture reading from John 13 describing Jesus washing the feet of his disciples.   Sierra Leonean society is organized, to a great extent, along strict hierarchical lines, and there are unwritten rules governing behavior and interaction between those of high status and ordinary men and women.   Chiefs, for example, would never carry water or engage in menial labor.  Chiefs would never stoop to do the work of a servant or wash the feet of others.  For Jesus — master and “chief”  to do such a thing is well understood as a great and unusual act of love and service.

For our Maundy Thursday worship, St. Paul’s evangelist –Tennyson Bindi —  and I proceeded then to wash the feet of all the members of the church.  All participated, from the youngest to the oldest.   When we finished, the water in the basin was quite muddy, as the feet we washed were dirty from all the steps taken in the heat and dust of the day.  It strikes me  that in the US, our practice of ancient Christian traditions is a bit sanitized.  Here, the washing of feet really was a practical service of grace ,and a reflection of our ongoing need for cleansing waters both physically and spiritually.  And in a culture that upholds the primacy of “big men,” Jesus’ actions are a startling challenge to the established order.    He says:   “I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you….  By this they will know that you are my disciples , if you have love for one another.”

Members and friends of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Kissy (eastern Freetown). This photo was taken late in Febuary when we visited to see the work being done to prepare mud bricks for building new walls.

Against this  backdrop of holy week discussions and devotions,  and in a city crowded to overflowing with holiday pilgrims,  my own celebration of Easter began in the dark  at Lumley Beach on the Atlantic Ocean.  Dawn began breaking into the darkness about 6 am on Sunday morning and although the sun was  hidden behind Freetown’s dusty haze, a sunrise service at the beach was an ideal way to begin the day.  Those who gathered on the beach shared a breakfast of bread and fish.

"Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus." (John 21:4)

Later in the morning I participated in worship at St. Mark’s in Calaba Town, and in the evening I hosted a potluck picnic complete with campfire and marshmallows.   All day long, we celebrated the  Easter truth:   Christ is risen, and he is known to us in the breaking of the bread.

Easter Eucharist at St. Mark's Lutheran Church, Bishop Barnett presiding. 14 candidates were baptized on Easter morning.

Down by the Riverside

#2 River Beach

I took this picture on Sunday morning, looking out from the window of the village church at  #2 River on the Western Area Peninsula, about an hour’s drive from my house in Freetown.  If you had to give a name for a church in such a setting, what would you suggest?

The Lutheran community in this area came together as the result of evangelism efforts supported by Faith Lutheran Church in Freetown.   A missionary pastor from Nigeria played an early role in this effort, and his presence offers a telling glimpse of  global mission for our day:   the Lutheran church in Nigeria, shaped by Danish missionaries, has been sending its own missionaries to promote churches in other lands.   At the Sierra Leonean beach marked by a river flowing into the sea,  the emerging Lutheran community chose  “Lord of the White Sand” as the name for their new church.

Its a wonderfully apt and faith-inspired name.  “Lord of the White Sand Lutheran Church” says a great deal about the incredibly picturesque setting. This name also proclaims bold  faith in the One who created the sand and the sea and the sky.    The gospel text for the day of my visit was the story of Jesus calming the stormy sea (Mark 4:35-41).  As the preacher for the day at this church by the sea, I could not have asked for a better or more relevant text.

Members of Lord of the White Sand are primarily fishermen or those who otherwise earn their living from the ocean.  Coastal residents engaged in fishing in Sierra Leone are often from the Sherbo tribe, and that is true at  #2 River village.   I am beginning to appreciate the sense in which the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone really is a multi-cultural church with many tribes and languages represented: Sherbo, Limba, Mende, Timneh and no doubt others I have yet to discover.  Each tribe has its own distinctive character and way of being in the world.  Perhaps Lutherans in America have something to learn from this multi-cultural mix as well as from the witness of Christians who have weathered great storms of violence and suffering, and who continue to confess Jesus as Lord.

Members of Lord of White Sand Lutheran Church
In most congregations, the youth help lead the music for worship.
The youth helped lead the music for worship.

The youth of the church are represented in the following  picture. I have heard some amazing drumming in my time here, but this young woman was an exceptional drummer and brought the heartbeat of creation to life in worship

There are no young men in this photo as they were out fishing or otherwise working on the morning of my visit.  The #2 River village has organized their own community development association.  This CDA  manages and promotes tourism at the beach, so that the community itself benefits rather than outside entrepreneurs.  They collect fees for access to the beach and  for use of beach cabanas. They run a guest house I hope to utilize next visit, and they served a wonderful meal of barracuda, chips and rice.  Many UN, embassy and NGO workers take advantage of the beach on weekends, and I was told that  some Lutherans from the US, Canada and Europe do occasionally worship at Lord of the White Sand while they are taking a break at the beach.

More white sand,  where the waterway called #2 River meets the ocean and the mountains meet the sky.
More white sand:  where the waterway called #2 River meets the ocean, and where mountains meet the sky.

Easter Life

I celebrated Easter in Sierra Leone in 2 ways over 2 days.  On Easter morning, I worshipped with the community of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in eastern Freetown.    Pastor Juliet Roger Pearce graciously invited me to join her as a pastor to the community for their Easter celebrations, and I was priveledged both to preside at holy communion and to help baptize 20 young people between the ages of 2 and 24 years old.   I’ve never before  had the chance to baptize so many at one time, so that opportunity made for a memorable Easter experience.  The candidates were dressed in white, and were solemnly  reverent as they were splashed with water at the font and anointed with oil.  But they came alive with a vibrant spirit, with clapping hands and dancing feet when the singing and drumming  for Easter worship began.   Watching those newly baptized childen of God come alive in song and dance was the best witness of the day to the spirit of resurrection joy and life.
Easter dancing

Easter dancing. Young and old alike celebrate togther in worship and praise.

The Easter baptismal party

The Easter baptismal party

For many years, St. Paul met for worship in a school building and they are now  struggling to obtain land for their church.  The current worship space is a simple, wood framed structure.  The roof is zinc (which is typical) and the  walls  are created from  pieces of sacking stitched together (see the UNHCR logo on the walls).


Easter celebrations continued on Monday, a public holiday in Sierra Leone.   I joined the youth of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church at their annual outing to Kent Beach on the Freetown peninsula.  Actually, we joined thousands of beach goers on Easter Monday for sun and surf and sand.  Kent beach is a beautiful, wide, white sand beach about 40 miles from the city.  The entire beach  was packed with people feasting, dancing and swimming.    I found myself mobbed by children every time I went near the water.  I was obviously a guest and a living object of curiosity for the little ones, and that meant a lot of new friends smiling and laughing together.  Sierra Leoneon hospitality also meant that I was warmly welcome at every turn, not to mention well-fed with fish, chicken, yams, plantains, rice and more.   The spirit of Easter seemed to overflow from Sunday into Monday through this water-side celebration, and it felt certain that Jesus was present “in the breaking of the bread” of the feasts and fellowship.

For readers who have worked with the NTNL Companion Synod Program or visited SL, some of the people who celebrated Easter at the beach might be familiar to you.

Youth of St. Mark Lutheran Church

Youth of St. Mark Lutheran Church. "Youth" are generally young adults in their early 20's and are very active in the life of the church.

 Halima, director of the women's center and Doris, secretary of the ELCSL

Halima, director of the women's center and Doris, secretary of the ELCSL


Pastor Moses of St. Mark's and friends
Pastor Moses of St. Mark’s and friends

In these pictures you can see the palm frond roofs of the beach shelters.  These huts provided  some needed shade.  The beach was lined with multitudes of these structures.