Tag Archives: musical instruments

The beginning of the end

For the past two months I have been traveling in Freetown and the provinces,  making final visits to places I’ve come to know, and saying goodbye to the people who have become my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Dancing the good news: gospel processional, King of Glory, Njala

Two weeks ago I traveled to Romankneh, Bo, Ngolahun visiting schools with the chair of the Education Commission.  I also visited Njala and served as the “Grand Chief Unveiler” at a thanksgiving service there.

Construction work on a new school building in Ngolahun resumed earlier this year, as  the path into the village is dry enough to accommodate vehicles.  Most recently, bags of cement and zinc panels for roofing were delivered to the village by motorcycle.

School students in Ngolahun are helping to build their own school building. These mud blocks are heavy!

Michael, teaching in his brand new classroom. He is one of the "volunteer" teachers at St. Peters, working year after year without salary as the school seeks government approval.

In Romankneh, furniture has at last been delivered to the new St. Peter’s Lutheran Primary School, and the students have moved into their classrooms.  It is good to see these changes and to witness slow but steady progress in the village settings.

My time in Sierra Leone is growing shorter and shorter but still there is time for new things.  I traveled with friends to a village called Kpatema last Saturday.  Driving into the village we were met by a crowd singing and dancing, two Texan Lutherans  among them:  Alfred Gorvie and Pastor Cheryl Walenta.  We joined the Gorvie family for a traditional village celebration, complete with addresses by the village chief and local politicians, followed by hours of traditional dancing.

Bundu society dancer.

Pastor James Hotagua, Faith Lutheran in Senehun

On Sunday I was able to worship for the first time with the people of Faith Lutheran in Senehun.  (Although I have visited every ELCSL congregation, Senehun was one of two I had never joined for worship).  The congregation has struggled to obtain land and maintain attendance, but is doing well now.  They are hoping to build a church structure on land they now own, and for now they are meeting in a rehabilitated chicken house (no one would ever know that now!).  And the congregation definitely needs to build more benches for worshippers. All morning, people kept arriving to join the celebration and by the end of worship it was a standing room crowd. The choir at Faith is all of 2 weeks old and they did an amazing job of helping lead the Mende-language worship.

One of the choir members played this homemade percussion instrument. The stick has notches cut into one side, and the player ran a piece of metal up and down the stick.

This coming week the ELCSL is hosting representatives from the ELCA and NTNL for annual partner meetings.  We will be at River #2, in Bo, and then back to Freetown.  After that, I will be packing up my house and  saying my final good byes.  I will be leaving Sierra Leone on Feb. 27 and returning to the US.  But I hope to share a few final thoughts as I go.


Singing a New Song, part 2

This past week ELCSL musicians continued their work preparing music for worship in the  Krio language.  Early in the week we gathered a small choir together to record the music that was written last week, and we also recorded a spoken version of the Krio liturgy – from the opening confession to the words of dismissal.

Recording of the new music was managed by Rob Veith who serves with Lutheran Bible Translators in Botswana. Daniel Mossima played the drums; David Kargbo and Halima George sang with the choir.

The recording session went smoothly at St. Mark’s in Calaba Town although we had to pause for rain delays a couple of times throughout our time together.  (The sound of the falling rain became quite loud upon occasion.)  The ELCSL is blessed with many talented and creative musicians, and the team that came together to “sing a new song” did a fantastic job composing and performing.

At the keyboard, Tom Barnett Jr. is the national music director. He will play a key role in teaching the new liturgical music to congregations.

We are now waiting to hear the final product:  a CD of the new Krio liturgy and music which will be distributed to the congregations of the ELCSL.    We will also  look into producing cassette tapes as I am told that many people in the provinces do not have access to CD players.  Along with the CD’s and cassettes, we will be distributing a written version of the complete liturgy and the new songs which will be useful for those who can read Krio.

Choir members Mariam Boima, James Tulley and Betty Fannah. We recorded with voice and percussion only.

The musicians who participated in this project have indicated a willingness to begin teaching the new music to their own  congregations.  Personally, I have been hearing echoes of the music all week; some of the pieces are, as they say in Krio, very “sweet.”    Our most immediate goal will be to train a choir to lead worship in Krio for the ELCSL General Assembly in Bo, scheduled for early November.     Teaching both words and music will be an ongoing process in coming months and years, but we’ve made a good start this week.  I also hope the ELCSL musicians will be  inspired to continue composing music so that Lutheran worship in Sierra Leone will remain vibrant and dynamic in giving praise and glory to God.

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)

Preaching Points

Villagers in Yaweima are very eager to learn about Jesus

This past weekend I traveled to the town of Kenema in southeastern Sierra Leone to do some teaching about “Lutheran distinctives” at Incarnation Lutheran Church.     I had to make some adjustments to my intended presentation when I learned that about half of those attending the workshop were new to Christianity, and had come from a nearby Muslim village.

The folks who came from Yaweima village had been exposed to Christianity through the work of Christian development programs, and in conversations with a member of Incarnation who works in the community.   As a result,  the villagers have expressed a strong interest in learning about Jesus and in becoming Christian. Incarnation Church has responded by reaching out to  Yaweima village and naming it as a preaching point.  Two evangelists from Incarnation have been visiting this village every Sunday in recent months, and have been teaching and leading worship there.

Presentation of bibles to the worshipping community in Yaweima. These are English language bibles that were sent to the ELCSL from the U.S., and have now been sent to build up the faith of those coming to know about Jesus. A few members of the community do speak and read English, although worship was mostly in Mende.

On Saturday morning as I was teaching in Kenema, a villager from Yaweima asked:   “since God has always existed and was never born, how could God give birth [to a son]?”  Apparently, this is a question commonly asked by Muslims in conversation with Christians.   On this occasion, the question gave rise to a good discussion about Jesus — who he was and why he lived and died among us.   I noted that while we typically ask “how” questions as we study the bible and grow in faith, the important question to ask and answer is “why?”   We followed up that conversation with a good and spirited discussion of the parables in Luke 15 — the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son.   Conversations took place in 3 languages throughout the day:  English, Mende and Krio.

On Sunday morning I visited Yaweima village with the Incarnation evangelists Sister Alice and Mr. Banya.   Alice has been especially well received by the community as a preacher.  (I learned in fact that previous attempts at evangelizing in the village, by a  representative of another denomination, failed as the person  was not considered a good preacher.)   Alice has also been effective in using music as a way to teach bible stories and themes of the Christian faith.

Yaweima is a community marked by a spirit of hospitality and cooperation, seen particularly in the welcome and integration of Liberian refugees.  The community offered land to the refugees, and over time the Liberians have adopted Yaweima as their new home.     The village chief (a Muslim) has also offered land for the construction of a church building and the new Christian community there is eager to grow into this possibility.  In the meantime,  Pastor Gomoh, the 2 evangelists, and members of Incarnation have considerable work to do: teaching, training, discipling, and proclaiming the good news to those now eager to hear.

Alice serves as the main preacher and teacher. She travels with the man at the far end about one hour (one way) by public transport every Sunday to reach Yaweima.

As always, children are eager to participate. These children were the first to arrive at the open air community center in the village, and they immediately began singing and drumming -- calling others to come for worship. Note the 3 different types of drums in this photo.


A fraction of the items received by the ELCSL from Texas, offloaded 2 weeks ago.

Whether you’re at the packing and sending end (eg, NTNL Synod Assembly in Amarillo in April) or the receiving end (eg, the ELCSL in Freetown), a 40 foot shipping container involves a lot of boxes.

I had two conversations yesterday about cardboard boxes, conversations which remind me once again about the taken for granted privileges inherent in my own world view.   The context is this:  we are continuing to unpack the items shipped from Texas.  So far we have unpacked and sorted a generous supply of carpentry tools.  Currently, there are several large boxes of tools sitting in my office and designated for a carpentry workshop at Calvary Lutheran Church in eastern Freetown.   In coming weeks, the tools will be used to build furniture for the ELCSL schools.

The youth of the ELCSL have been blessed to receive the gift of a sound system and instruments for musical programming and worship.  When the container arrived 2 weeks ago, the youth immediately set to work unpacking these items, and have already scheduled a series of concerts for the fall.

Tom Barnett Jr, National Youth Director and Danial Mossima, president of the National Lutheran Youth Organization. As the instruments and equipment for the youth were off loaded from the container, they kept saying "we're so happy."

I have also been helping to unpack boxes of books from at least 3 U.S. pastor’s libraries.  Thanks to these donated books, we are blessed with an abundance of biblical, theological and other resources for the ELCSL, but there is considerable work to be done to sort and organize it all.   The ELCSL library (conveniently next door to my house) is currently filled with stacks of books and empty cartons.

As one of the workers here was collapsing and stacking the empty boxes yesterday, I learned more about the practice of recycling, Sierra Leonean style.    As I chatted with the worker about what he was doing, he asked, “Do you know ”pan bodies?”   Pan body houses are made from sheets of zinc, and cardboard (I learned) is used as a form of insulation. Rainy season means cooler temperatures, and some nights can be downright cold for those accustomed to heat and humidity.  Cardboard is used to line the inside of “pan bodies” and serves to cut the wind and keep the interior a bit warmer.  So the boxes were being broken down and bundled together to be sold.  I was told that selling cardboard brings a good price in the market this season. (I wrote about “pan bodies” in my June 2 posting.)

A typical board house; this one is much patched with zinc sheeting. This house is in Regent, in the mountains above the city, but similar housing can be seen throughout Freetown.

Later in the afternoon yesterday, one of the ELCSL youths stopped  for a visit and he wondered what would happen to the boxes of tools now occupying the corner of my office.  It took me a minute to get that he was interested in the boxes, not the tools.  He lives in a “board house” and wanted to use the cardboard as  insulation.   Board houses are distinctive and old wooden houses scattered about the city.  I have often admired these houses as they have considerable character, but I have also wondered how these structures have held up over time.  I gathered from my visitor that drafts and leaks might be a problem.  This young man commented that to buy cardboard in the market was very expensive (like many people his age, he does not have a job or income).  Fortunately, there were still a number of spare boxes sitting around and these were available for rainy season needs.

I am generally aware that most things have multiple purposes and multiple lives in a country like Sierra Leone.  Little is wasted, and one man’s trash (boxes, or my own trash,  for example) may be another man’s treasure.  As I see how this plays out in the struggles of daily life, I feel that I learn something almost everyday that causes me to look at the world with new eyes.

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

King of Kings Lutheran Church

As I have been settling back into life in Freetown after my weeks away, I have been grateful for all that has become familiar in recent months.   After one year here, all the questions and uncertainties that come with moving to a new place and entering into a new culture have given way to a sense of being at home.   If all my questions have not yet been answered, I have at least grown more comfortable in living with the mysteries.

A sense of  “homecoming” has been particularly pronounced as I’ve attended worship at local Lutheran churches the past 2 weeks.  When I meet the pastors, evangelists and members, we  know each other, it is a good and gracious thing.   Throughout the coming year, I will  introduce some of the faces and places of the ELCSL — profiling each of the 22 ELCSL congregations — and so expand the circle of familiarity.

Pr. Levi-John was a journalist before being ordained as a Lutheran pastor in 1997. In 2009, he completed a masters degree in theology and community development at Wartburg seminary in Iowa.

This past Sunday, I attended worship at King of Kings Lutheran Church at Tower Hill in central Freetown.  I can drive to King of Kings in 15 – 20 minutes on a Sunday morning,  although I may be one of the few worshipers to arrive with my own vehicle.  Most members come by way of public transport, or on foot, from locations throughout the city.  Rev. Dalton Levi-John is the pastor at King of Kings.  About 60 men, women and children were present for worship  on Sunday.  The children are greatest in number, and at King of Kings they are dismissed from worship for their own lessons, and then return to receive a prayer of blessing.    The membership of King of Kings includes a good number of  professional people working in education, business, and civil service.  In addition, there is a good and active core of students and young adult members.

Sharing holy communion at King of Kings. The "sanctuary" is long and narrow, and presents some challenges for movement and seating, but the congregation is accustomed to such constraints. Lillian Levi-John is distributing the bread. In addition to earning a living as a teacher, she serves the lay evangelist for the congregation.

For many years, the community at King of Kings has worshiped in a room at the  Fire Force complex at Tower Hill in Freetown.  This is the site of the fire department for the city.  The available worship space is small and crowded on a Sunday morning, but the worship is full of life and spirit.  In my experience, King of Kings is unique in combining  strong liturgical sensibilities with Pentecostal fervor and piety.  Eventually, King of Kings will move to the Jubilee Center now under construction right next door, and they will form  a worshiping community there.

The Fire Force building is the flat roofed 2 story blue building in the center of this photo. King of Kings meets for worship on the second floor. I have yet to hear a fire truck roar out of the station during worship. The Jubilee Center is up the hill and to the left of the Fire Force property.

Worship under the sign of the cross includes a processional hymn.

Daniel James is one of the active youth in the ELCSL. He would like to be a full time student. He plays the keyboard by ear. Patrick, the drummer, is fortunate to have obtained a job working at a bank.