One of my goals this year has been to worship at the 2 ELCSL congregations I was not able to visit in 2009. Both congregations are difficult to reach, and dry season traveling is highly recommended. To even communicate on a regular basis with these congregations is challenging, as cell phone coverage is limited and mail service is non-existent.
The church is served by lay evangelists who preach, teach and lead worship.
This past weekend I made it to the most isolated and least accessible of the Lutheran churches in Sierra Leone. (This coming weekend we plan to travel to the 2nd most remote village.) I traveled in the company of Bishop Barnett and Pr. Kobba, and everything we had heard about the road and the distance was true: it was not an easy journey.
The village of Sanhan, Timidale is 42 miles from a major commercial town, and it took us about 3 hours to cover this distance by car. In places, the road was deeply rutted and trenched. Not many vehicles actually travel that route. When villagers from Sanhan want to travel to towns or cities elsewhere in the country, they typically walk 10 – 15 miles to access public transport. More commonly, I was told, residents of the area walk to a village by the sea and take a boat to a larger town. Similarly, commercial items are brought into the area by boat and then carried inland.
The Rogers family, including twin girls. Mr. Rogers has taught 10 years without pay. Note the poster of Barack Obama on the wall.
The residents of Timidale are either Mende or Sherbro in tribal origins, and either farmers or fishermen. The communities in the region barter for goods and services, and operate with a limited cash economy. Education is a significant issue for the people we met, and the community members were quite clear in their request to Bishop Barnett: let the ELCSL assume responsibility for the one primary school serving hundreds of children in the surrounding villages. At the current time, the school is barely functional and the few remaining teachers haven’t received salaries for 10 years. (One of these teachers told me that his first wife left him because he didn’t have reliable income.) The school issue is a complicated one in Sierra Leone, and there are no easy answers for paying teachers’ salaries and maintaining structures. Historically, the Christian churches in Sierra Leone, ( the Catholics and the Methodists in particular), operated a well-established network of educational institutions. People remember what the churches once were able to accomplish, and they turn to the church again today with hope. I came away from Timidale with a new appreciation for the difficulties faced by Bishop Barnett and the ELCSL in managing scarce resources in the face of such needs and expectations.
The community knows that education opens doors to the future, but they are too poor to maintain a building and pay teachers.
One of the toys invented by kids in the village
A highlight of the weekend trip to Timidale was the opportunity for a morning walk from Sanhan village to a fishing village on the Atlantic shore. We walked 2 – 3 miles through bush and swamplands. My guide was Mr. Rogers, one of the school teachers. He asked me why I wanted to walk that morning and why I wanted to visit the fishing village. I was glad he asked. I told him that I wanted to try to understand more about life in Sierra Leone, to see the countryside, and to see how people were living so I could share those stories with people in my country. He seemed to appreciate that. He had his own assignment to buy fish at our destination but in the end came away empty handed as the price was too high.
The hike from Sanhan to the seaside fishing village meant walking this pathway through the swamp and over numerous logs and wooden bridges.
A favorite Sierra Leonean moment happened while I was sitting in the village waiting for Mr. Rogers to negotiate for the fish. All of a sudden a man came out of his house and started climbing a tree. I had earlier noticed something hanging in the tree and had wondered about it. It took me a minute and then I figured it out: the man had climbed the tree to answer a mobile phone. He talked for a few minutes, then another man climbed the tree and he talked for awhile as well. It seems the only way to get cell phone coverage in the village was to climb that tree. Such is Africa: a mix of traditional and modern, often in surprising and creative ways.
This boat was being loaded with luggage and chickens for a journey to another town. The Atlantic ocean is in the background -- beyond the mangrove trees.