Sierra Leone: Part One

Dear Friends,

Greetings in the Lord. For the last month, we have continued our Gospel Expeditions in West Africa. From Cape Verde, Senegal, The Gambia, Liberia, and Sierra Leone we have worked in each region with the local churches and ministered from the coastal areas to the interior. We want to thank you for your steadfast prayers and support as we press on to share the Good News to those who are in remote places. Your support means so much and is the means by which we can reach the lost. God is good and His mercies endure forever! Additionally, we are so blessed for new networks airing Travel the Road and happy to receive testimonials each month. They truly are special to read and bear the fruit of the mission. We have some dynamic new episodes coming soon and we know that many will be blessed by the testimonies contained in them. Your financial support makes this possible and we will need your help just as much in the months to come. Please consider partnering with us as we reach the unreached. Together, we are accomplishing much!

This month, we would like to share part one of our missions in Sierra Leone — Sierra Leone: Part One

Sierra Leone is a country mostly known for its difficult past. Much like Rwanda is associated with the genocide of the early ‘90s, Sierra Leone is known for its history of slavery, rebel wars, blood diamonds and most recently, the deadliest Ebola outbreak in human history. Yet, through all the pains and hardships, hope in Christ can be found in many communities and districts. All one has to do is walk down the streets of Freetown on any given night and they will hear the sounds of praise and worship crackling from roadside churches. However, it would be a mistake to think Sierra Leone is predominantly a Christian country as it has more than a 70% Muslim population. Many would think religious strife would be a source of constant conflict, but unlike other countries in West Africa, it rarely is. In the months ahead, we will share great testimonies of our outreach in the region as well as a telling of the history of Sierra Leone. We hope you will be blessed by it.

Slavery: The telling of the modern history of Sierra Leone begins with the slave returnee colony of the British. The first settlement of freed slaves was established in 1787 in what today is the capital city of Freetown. These freed slaves landed upon steps of Freetown and returned to Africa. Later, when Britain outlawed slavery in 1807 they used Freetown as a naval base for anti-slavery patrols. Any captured vessels containing slaves bound for the Americas would be immediately returned to Sierra Leone and the slaves would be set free. As the years passed, more British slaves from the colonies (Jamaica and other Caribbean islands) soon returned to Sierra Leone as well. However, with the slave trade still being legal in the Americas slavery didn’t end there. One of the most famous cases and likely one of the major firebrands to spark the future civil war in the United States was that of La Amistad. La Amistad was a slave vessel departing from Cuba loaded with newly arrived slaves from Africa. However, in a rare case of insurrection, the slaves aboard La Amistad managed to revolt and overtake the vessel. This revolt was led by Sengbe Pieh (later known as Joseph Cinqué). After killing the Captain, the Mende slaves, who lacked sea navigational knowledge drifted north along the shores of North America in La Amistad. They were eventually discovered by a US naval vessel and captured. What followed was one of the most pivotal court cases in American history pertaining to slavery. Joseph Cinqué and La Amistad captives were ultimately returned to Africa (Freetown, Sierra Leone) after the case was heard by the US Supreme Court. Another famous name who was impacted in Sierra Leone was John Newton who wrote arguably the most recognizable Christian songs ever — Amazing Grace. In his early life as a sailor, Newton was such a profane and rebellious man that his fellow crew members left him in what is now Sierra Leone (1745). He was enslaved to an African slave dealer whose Sherobo wife took possession of Newton and abused him like any other slave. Newton was rescued in 1748 and later in life, he became a staunch abolitionist. The words of Amazing Grace are very autobiographical — Amazing grace! How sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found; Was blind, but now I see...The history of slavery is deeply interwoven into Sierra Leone, from the Returnees to those who took part in the transatlantic slave trade. It is a dark beginning, but not the end of the story. 

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Warning: the accounts below describe graphic real-life testimonies of the civil war

War: Just outside of Freetown we pull up to a set of small cement homes flanked by a school. This is what we have been told is the amputee camp. Those who live here are victims of the 11-year civil war (1991-2002). It’s here we meet James who is missing his right arm from the middle forearm down. His left arm bears the horrific scars of an attempt to chop that arm off as well, but it is still attached even though it is mangled. James sits quietly with sad eyes. Then he begins to tell us his story…”Dem RUF gon look thru da streets fo anyone de grab.” He says in creole. The RUF he is referring to are the Revolutionary United Front rebels. “De wear black polo, black pants, have blood all over’dem from dem chopp’en hands.” One of the most brutal tactics of the RUF was to cut the arms or hands off people they’d capture during the war. Some testimonials relate this horrific tactic to voting. If you have no hands, you can’t vote. So we cut them off. Also, it is widely known that the RUF would ask victims, “Short sleeve? Long sleeve?” Meaning, if you answer short sleeve, they would cut your arm above the elbow. Long sleeve would mean they’d cut you at the wrist. However, in James’ case, he said they didn’t ask him anything. They just ambushed him on the streets, brought him behind a building and chopped his arm off while he begged them to stop. He said another boy had his arms hacked off just before him. He saw the boy was crying profusely after losing both his arms and begged the RUF soldiers to kill him because he didn’t want to live after what had happened. James said the soldiers refused to kill the boy, but after he began to run after the RUF soldiers with blood dripping from his severed arms they finally obliged the boy and ended his life...after this, it was James’ turn and the results were terrible. James has been a maimed man since the war and is forced to beg on the streets… Another man, Bundu, who sits near us shows us his amputated leg which had been removed about 4 inches below the left knee. He lost it in an explosion as he was running for cover during the fighting in Freetown. Bundu and James have a certain camaraderie and can recall their traumatizing events with crystal clear detail. They show us how they try to do small jobs despite their disabilities. It brings tears to the eyes to behold what they have endured. 

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During the war, accounts like James and Bundu were commonplace. The dynamics of the power struggle and atrocities committed are impossible to comprehend, but what is clear is that the civil war halted any progress in Sierra Leone, caused terror and anarchy, and left emotional and physical scars on a generation. It was a time of darkness.

In The Name of Jesus: When we first arrived in Freetown we did what we do in every country —  we visited local churches and attended services. During the weekdays, in the heat of the tropical nights, we would praise and worship the Lord with one voice and one heart at different churches. On a particular Sunday, we attended a Spirit-filled service and heard a striking story. Pastor Issa of the Assemblies of God spoke about the war and how they prayed during that time to end the conflict. From the pulpit, he said, “On a night during the war, all the churches of Freetown agreed that we would come out and shout the name of Jesus. We shouted for ten minutes straight JESUS, JESUS JESUS!!!!! One voice, so loud that it could be heard in every corner of Freetown. That night the war ended!” As Issa said this, the congregation erupted in shouts of praise as they remembered the moment. “There is power in the NAME OF JESUS!!” Issa shouted.

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In the days ahead, we would travel to the diamond-rich lands of the Eastern Kono district and begin our journey to the interior. What would follow would be a powerful time of evangelism in Muslim villages and amazing testimonies of God’s amazing grace. Next month, we will continue with part two and share the wonderful accounts of outreach in Sierra Leone.

At Travel the Road, we have always committed to taking the Word of God to the most unreached areas of the world. We want to bring the name of Jesus to the ends of the Earth and see lives changed through the power of God. At a time when we are so close to being able to reach every corner of the globe, we want to press further and complete the Great Commission. With your prayers and support, we can accomplish this! Every partner contribution, big or small, is so valuable and makes a difference. So, if Travel the Road has been a blessing to you, then please consider supporting the mission at hand with a one-time or monthly gift. God is good and the Gospel Expeditions ahead will continue to yield much fruit. Let us press on and boldly share the message of Christ Jesus to all mankind. Peace be with you! 

In Him,

Tim and Will

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