Tag Archives: elca

Advent

This morning when George, the ELCSL guard,  came to the porch for our morning chat, he was wearing a denim jacket and winter gloves.  We agreed that it was cool this morning, and that the harmattan season has arrived.  This time of year is marked by noticeably lower temperatures in the morning and dust everywhere.

Musa and one of her twin sons, age one month.

Earlier this week I was visited by the young woman who formerly helped around my house cleaning and doing laundry.  She gave birth to twins a month ago, and brought one of her sons for a visit.   The twins received their names last week:  Alusine and Alasene, which I am told are the typical names given to twins in various traditions.  This week in Advent, as we remember Mary’s story, and rejoice “for the Lord is near,”  it  was good  to rejoice with this new mother.

The season of Advent seems to get lost amidst other issues and events in the worship life of many of the Lutheran churches I visit.  The tradition of holding thanksgiving services dominates this time of year and overshadows liturgical themes.    In late 2009 (my first year in Sierra Leone), I preached with reference to the church calendar at Incarnation Lutheran Church in Kenema, and made note that Advent is the start of a new year for Christians.   On the first Sunday of Advent ever since 2009, I have received a phone call from one of the members of Incarnation, wishing me a happy new year and a blessed Advent.  Every year I rejoice and give thanks for the grace of  relationships developed and sustained in surprising times and places.

Market women waiting for customers at Moyamba Junction

Near the end of my first year in west Africa,  I wrote an advent reflection which continues to speak to my experience here.  These were my thoughts, originally sent to various church newsletters  in 2009:

“This Advent season, I have been thinking a lot about waiting.  The truth is I seem to spend a lot of my time in Africa waiting.   I often find myself waiting for meetings to begin, for events to take place, and for the right people to arrive…. Looking at the bigger picture of life in Freetown, I see young people waiting for employment, teachers waiting for their salaries, and the hungry waiting for food.  Entire communities are waiting for political promises to be fulfilled and for change to come.

There really is a sense of “African time” in all of this – a certain fluidity to the flow of hours, days, weeks and years in which we never really know what will happen, or when.  After all this time in Sierra Leone, I feel that I’m still learning how to live in African time. And some days I’m better at waiting than other days.

This woman sells rice and sauce across the street from the ELCSL compound. She always calls out "hi, neighbor!" when she sees me.

There is a certain irony in all of this when I consider the ELCA approach to mission described as “accompaniment.”    Accompaniment implies movement but quite often I don’t feel like we’re going anywhere.  It’s somewhat difficult to feel like I am accompanying anyone when I spend so much time waiting.  I share this experience with most Americans and Europeans who have crossed cultures and entered the African context.  What often ends up happening is that we grow impatient or frustrated, and end up charging ahead and proposing our own solutions to African problems.  But in this context, “waiting with” our African brothers and sisters is essential.  Only by accompanying our partners and waiting with them will African ideas and solutions emerge in African time.

African Nativity

These lessons I am learning of African time seem right for the season of Advent.    We prefer to be in control and to shape the future according to our own terms.  In Advent, however, we are called to step back, and to wait with expectant hope.  In Advent this year, I give thanks that I don’t need to be in control because God is.  I give thanks for the African community of faith teaching me daily to wait with tenacious faith for the working out of God’s gracious purposes….  God is indeed at work:  wait and see!”

Di lanin boy den

The Krio translation of the English word “disciples” is  “lanin boy den.”   (Krio actually has different vowels than English so I can  only type this phrase in an approximate way.)  In  Krio, a disciple is one who  is learning (ie, “lanin”).   Last week in Njala, Lutherans came together as disciples to learn:  we were teachers and students together, as well as a community of faith learning from each other.

Lutheran disciples: "lanin boy den." Some of the pastors and evangelists found the weather in Njala to be quite chilly as you can see from the coats and hats. It may have been in the low 70's F, cool enough for me to wear an extra layer too.

The occasion was a week of training for the lay evangelists of the ELCSL.  While some of the original ELCSL evangelists received training 20 years ago, many of those currently serving have never had substantive instruction in basics of the the faith or in the leadership needed to sustain a local congregation.   These faithful men (and one woman) have  nonetheless led and maintained their churches year after year, many without any substantive pay in current years.    The ELCSL, in partnership with the ELCA, recently identified education for pastors and evangelists as a priority for the future of the church.  This is an area I am paying particular attention to in my time remaining in Sierra Leone.  Funding has been an issue in the past, and will remain an issue in the future, but we also need to establish processes and systems to ensure that the mandate for such training is carried out.  The ELCA provided a grant for this particular workshop to take place.

Pastor Hannah Kargbo was ordained in 2006 and is exploring possibilities for starting a new congregation in Waterloo, east of Freetown.She is currently the only actively serving female pastor in the ELCSL.

One of the highlights of the week for me was the chance to see my colleagues in action as teachers.  Rev. Hannah Kargbo provided a lectionary based bible study and insight on sermon preparation.  Rev. Dalton Levi-John taught Lutheran history; Rev. Moses Kobba Momoh taught stewardship; ELCSL treasurer taught financial management; and Rev. Edward Lavally taught leadership.   All are very fine teachers.  My teaching focused on Luther’s Small Catechism and I also did some instruction on issues related to worship.   Pastor Lavally stayed very busy as our host in Njala. His family along with members of his congregation provided additional support as cooks and servers for every meal.

"Support staff," African style. These are just two of the women who prepared food each day for about 30 people. Abu my driver stayed busy with my car transporting 3 meals a day for 30 people from the Lavally home to our meeting hall. As this picture suggests, African cooks are very proficient with sharp knives (they are peeling eggplant for a stew).

The consensus at the end of the week is that the ELCSL should do this kind of thing more often. The evangelists expressed a willingness to meet twice a year — during school holidays, as many earn their livings as teachers.   I would like to see similar programs held on a regular basis for the ELCSL pastors.

The 7 days I spent in Njala last week were the longest period of time I’ve ever been out of Freetown.   It turned out to be a good week to escape the torrential rains in the capital city. We had some rain in Njala, but intermittently so.  I enjoyed the chance to walk in the quiet beauty of a rural, provincial setting,  to do some bird watching in the mornings, and at night to see fireflies flickering under an incredibly vast, star-filled African sky.

International Literacy Day

Today, September 8,  is International Literacy Day, a day so designated to draw attention to issues of literacy in the world, including the link between poverty and the inability to read and write.    Appropriately enough, the ELCSL is sponsoring a Krio literacy workshop this week.  In partnership with the ELCA, the Sierra Leone Bible Society, and The Institute of Sierra Leonean Languages (TISLL), 17 ELCSL pastors and lay leaders are learning to read, write and teach the Krio language.

Pastor Jones (from an indigenous Pentecostal church) is one of three Krio literacy instructors working with ELCSL leaders this week.

English is the official language of Sierra Leone  but Krio is the language of the people.   Yesterday the executive director of the Sierra Leone Bible Society challenged the workshop participants with the idea that “until a person can read and write their own language, they aren’t educated.”  She was speaking to a gathering of  individuals who speak Krio, English  and probably at least one other language, and all of whom have completed some level of higher education.   Until this week, however, few of them were able to read and write Krio.

Krio is an English based creole, with influences from many languages. Learning to read Krio is fairly simple for English readers, although the alphabet is not equivalent and the differing vowel sounds can be confusing at first.

Literacy trainers and bible translators talk about “heart language” meaning “mother tongue,” or the   language people know and understand by heart,  from birth.   Organizations like the Bible Society, Lutheran Bible Translators, and TISLL emphasize and promote literacy in countries like Sierra Leone because scripture is best understood by people when they hear and read it in the language of their hearts.   This week’s workshop is the first step in a process leading to translation of the English liturgy into Krio and introduction of the liturgy in the Krio speaking churches of the ELCSL.    Most significantly for now, all the pastors and evangelists have been equipped with a Krio New Testament, and have been trained  to read the gospel to their congregations in Krio.   The workshop has been extremely positive so far, and I’m eager to start hearing the scripture in Krio when I attend worship in Freetown in coming weeks.

Marion Boima is an evangelist at Calvary. She is holding up the Krio word for hand.

Pastor Samuel Yovonie of Resurrection, Bo is holding the Krio word for "see" or "sea."

Evangelist John Kandeh (Thomas Memorial, Newton) has a flash card with the Krio spelling of the word for month. Next to him is Evangelist Wilfred Kamara.

Walking together

“Accompaniment is… a walking together in Jesus Christ of two or more churches in companionship and in service in God’s mission.  In the walking together on the road to Emmaus, the Lord reveals himself to his companions.  While walking together, each of the two disciples’ and Jesus’ stories become interlocked. Their three stories become intertwined. As the stories come together, God’s plan in Jesus’ resurrection becomes clearer. A new community, the church, begins to emerge in Jerusalem. In sharing a meal the companions recognize the presence of Jesus with them.”  (Global Mission in the 21st Century,  ELCA planning document)

Members of Redemption Lutheran Church in Bumpe with ELCSL and ELCA partners

Traveling, conversation, worship, meetings, prayer and sharing of meals marked last week’s visit to Sierra Leone by 2 representatives of the ELCA’s Global Mission program.  Rev. Jim Gonia came from Chicago and Rev. Viking Dietrich came from Ghana; they spent the week learning about the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone.  They met and talked with pastors, evangelists, lay leaders and youth, and were able to visit 14 of the 22 Lutheran congregations.  At the heart of the visit was a desire to share stories about what it means to be Lutheran, and to understand how best to “walk together” in the one body of Christ.

Members of St. Luke's in Mogbuama offered a musical welcome to the visiting delegation

When I was in Texas in January, one of the questions I posed in my preaching and speaking came from St. Paul’s letter to the  Corinthians.  Paul wrote:  “there are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all.  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (1 Cor. 12:4-7)  I understand Paul to be telling us that we need each other, and we need each other’s gifts,  in order to be whole and complete in the body of Christ.    Lutherans in North America  have often been generous in sharing financial and material gifts to support the church in Africa.   But what gifts and wisdom do Lutherans in the U.S.  need from others?  What spirit-inspired gifts might American Lutherans be blessed to receive from the church in west Africa?    As churches around the globe accompany one another in mission, such questions are important to consider.

Youth participants in ELSCL- ELCA conversastions

When asked last week to reflect on the strengths and gifts of  the ELCSL , church leaders and members talked about the witness of the youth and the contributions of the women.   They talked about the role of music in the life of the church and the history of lay leadership in the ELCSL.   Conversation about the distinctiveness of the Lutheran church in Sierra Leone further highlighted gifts the ELCSL brings to its own context:  the Lutheran emphasis on God’s grace;  theology centered on Christ and the cross; meaningful practices of faith including regular confession; hospitality in worship and an emphasis on care of the whole person.

I was particularly struck by the vitality of the Lutheran identity expressed by all the ELCSL members who spoke last week, and by the depth of commitment to Lutheran Christianity.   The leaders we met were grateful in turn to be reminded by the presence of ELCA representatives that the ELCSL is part of a bigger community of faith and that Lutherans in Sierra Leone are not alone in their struggles and celebrations.

Jim Gonia of ELCA Global Mission greeting members of Messiah Lutheran Church in Taima

Women's leader Juliana M'beillaya presenting a gift from the ELCSL women's training center to Viking Dietrich

The View from the Porch: Sunday afternoon

This afternoon I am waiting for a phone call from Lungi airport telling me that Rev. Viking Dietrich has arrived from Ghana.  (He is one of the west Africa regional representatives for ELCA Global Mission.)     Once he has cleared immigration and customs at the airport, Viking will be directed to a water taxi/motorboat for the journey across the bay to Aberdeen, and I will meet him at the dock conveniently located under the bridge across the street from my house.  Tomorrow morning at 6:30 am we’ll leave for a few days of travel.  If the road is as good as I hear, by 9:30 am we’ll arrive at Taimia and meet up with Bishop Barnett and Rev. Jim Gonia (from the ELCA Global Mission office in Chicago).   Then we’ll  travel on for a series of visits to the provincial churches and to meet with church leaders.  At the end of the week, Lutherans  in Freetown will have a chance to meet together and talk about their church with Jim and Viking.

As I wait, the view from the porch this afternoon includes a grey heron perched on the rocks in the bay watching the tide recede.  This grey heron has been here for about a week and often stands there alone for hours after the egrets and other birds have migrated elsewhere.  Taking in the view from the porch and appreciating the breeze from the bay is a pretty good pastime for these days with no electricity.  I have very little idea about what is happening in the world beyond Freetown as a result, but I don’t really regret  that.

I will be out of Freetown until Wednesday and hope to be able to make a blog post on Thursday.

The World Wide Web: Lutheran Style

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The ELCA motto "God's work, our hands" came to mind during the meetings.

At the end of May I was in the southeastern town of Kenema attending a week of strategic planning meetings for the Lutheran World Federation (World Service) Sierra Leone country program.   LWF began working in Sierra Leone in 2000 at the request of the ELCSL.  After many years devoted to providing relief and rehabilitation assistance to refugees and survivors of the civil war, LWF is now focusing on longer term, community-based work.  The meetings were an immersion in all things developmental.  Language for the week included words and phrases such as:  integrated community empowerment, needs assessments, participatory and rights based approaches, cross-cutting issues, micro-enterprises, and sustainable development.

As I began to get a sense of what LWF/WS is up to in Sierra Leone, I began to make connections between America and Africa.  Support for the ELCA World Hunger Appeal by church members in the U.S. supports the work of LWF here.  Your giving through the World Hunger Appeal to address basic human hungers and needs helps feed and sustain people in countries like Sierra Leone.

The LWF Sierra Leone country progam states their mission in this way:   “Inspired by God’s love for humanity, we will respond to and challenge the causes and consequences of human suffering and poverty.”   How in the world do we go about such work?  What does it mean to be feeding the hungry in today’s complex world?

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LWF field staff -- the community facilitators -- drive motorcycles to access the villages they serve. I thought it was hot the day we made field visits, but these guys were dressed for cool breezes.

LWF Sierra Leone has developed a program aimed at empowering rural villages to identify and address their own needs and problems. “Community empowerment facilitators” work full time in the target villages to develop relationships, to train leaders, and to facilitate the work of  development and change.  The work is slow and demanding, but the LWF staff are impressive in their commitment.

The residents of many rural communities throughout Sierra Leone were displaced by the civil war, villages were destroyed, and traditional ways of life disrupted.  Post-war rehabilitation included provision of seeds, tools and livestock to enable farmers to return to their villages and begin the work of reclaiming their lives.  Seven or eight years after the war’s end, many rural villagers are still not able to produce enough food to feed their families.   As a whole, Sierra Leone continues to be dependent on imported rice, the staple element of the nation’s diet.  There are many reasons for these problems, and I can’t say that I completely understand either the micro or macro levels.

In visiting some of the villages where LWF works, and in talking with the staff, I did begin to grasp some of the dynamics involved with hunger and poverty at the most basic level.   LWF is trying to work with villagers to illustrate and teach improved farming methods, as it is clear that the traditional approaches to planting and harvesting are not sufficient.   Additionally, traditional, labor-intensive agricultural production has been seriously impacted by the post war, nationwide shift of population from the villages to the larger towns and cities.  Young people are no longer staying in the village, which translates into a labor shortage and an inability to cultivate sufficient land for a sufficient harvest.    Finally, access to markets is severely limited by poor road conditions, especially during the rainy season.  Impacting these and other dynamics will take time and creativity.  It really is God’s work, and our hands, together across the globe.

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This rice field has been prepared for planting using traditional slash and burn clearing techniques. Part of the land will be used as a demonstration plot. Village farmers will be able to compare productivity using their traditional planting and cultivation approaches, and methods being introduced by LWF.