Friday, November 25, 2011

Church is Always an Adventure in Freetown

This week I had to make a hard choice about where to attend church.

The children from Cheshire Home were doing their annual Thanksgiving Service at King Memorial United Methodist Church.  Thanksgiving here has nothing to do with turkeys, Columbus, or pumpkin pie.  Thanksgiving here means, "we are going to do a special presentation, we will had out offering envelopes for you, and you will fill them with money, and bring them to the front of the church while we sing, dance and clap." 

By Friday evening I had received eight envelopes from children at Cheshire Home.  This seems to be a very big deal.  I have tried asking some of our local workers what the meaning is behind the envelopes - is there a competition?  Do they keep track of who brings in the most about of money (the envelopes have always been numbered, and this time some of them have names of the children written on them)?  Do they get punished if they don't return their issued envelopes?  So far the issue remains unclear, but it seems that there is a lot of pressure to make sure your assigned envelopes come back full of cash. 

Another option was to head back to Pastor Angel's church, Mercy Baptist in Mayenkeneh town.  Today was a special Sunday as our friend, "Joseph" was getting baptized.  Joseph was raised in the Fullah tribe, one that is 90% Muslim. He became a Christian several years ago through the influence and friendship of another Mercy Shipper from South Africa, a man named Henry.  Joseph desires to serve the Lord and make His glory known, despite receiving death threats, unwanted visitors in his home, and being ex-communicated by his family.

In addition to Joseph making the decision to be baptized, five other church members had decided to be baptized this week as well.

But, I had already promised the kids from Cheshire I would be at their Thanksgiving, so to King Memorial I went.

Church was good- about 30 minutes by foot, the sweat was rolling down my forehead and my neck by the time I arrived (but I've learned to carry a handkerchief like all the locals for this).  We sat in the balcony of this church that seats about 600.  Well, I take that back.  In America this church would seat about 400.  In Sierra Leone, I think it would seat about 1000 if needed - you just make more room.  You sit right on the skirt or coattails of the person next to you.  The baby on the lap of the woman next to me this morning was touching my arm the whole service.

The First Lady of Sierra Leone, Mrs. Koroma, read the Old Testament reading today!  What a pleasant surprise.  The children of Cheshire all had matching shirts made and they sang their choruses from their seats.  The sermon was nice, the hymns were familiar, and the heat made it difficult to fight the gravitational pull on my eyelids.  But, the grins that came from the front row as they saw our little "bright" (white) faces in the balcony made it all worth it.

"Disability is not the same as inability" is their motto (Mottos are very important to culture here.  Every Sunday the church has a motto.  Every school has a motto.  Every organization has a motto).  So true.

As I was leaving church, Mommy K. found me.  This is Rugiatu Kamara, mother of Foday, Kadiatu, Haja, Salamatu, and Aisha.  She is a Muslim woman who lives with her family of seven in a one room hut outside the perimeter fence of Cheshire Home.  The father is around sometimes- I certainly don't see him all the time.

They sell nickel candies and plastic bags of water at the side of the oversized cemetery on Race Course Road (called so because of the proximity of the cemetery, and we are all on a "race to the grave," is the local explanation I have just received for the nomenclature.

Mommy K handed me Aisha and asked where the "lorry" was ("motor car," aka car), and I explained I arrived on foot.  "Okay, let's go," she tells me and we head off - me carrying Aisha on my hip, and her walking empty handed.  The children from Cheshire (including her three daughters) were being shuttled back to the home in a pick-up truck belonging to another foundation. 

Rugiatu stopped at a stand along the way to buy three lollipops.  I thought it was for her three daughters that sang that morning. but she handed them to me explaining they were for Kylie and Savannah.   Along the route I received many stares and comments while I carry this chocolate skinned precious baby.  "You take this one, eh?"  Trying to give away other people's children seems to be a popular event.

Halfway back to the ship, my sandal broke.  The leather strap between my toes separated from the base of the flip flop making it impossible to wear.  Immediately Rugiatu took it from me and gave me her own shoe.  She walked on the sweltering blacktop, garbage, and broken glass with only one shoe on.  I kept trying to give her shoe back but she insisted.  Even when we got to the street where I turn off, she wouldn't let me give her back her shoe.  Instead, she gave me the other one, put on my one functioning sandal (which was about three sizes too big for her) and set out for her home, two kilometers away, with her sweaty baby.  She told me she'll get my sandal fixed by Tuesday when I head over to Cheshire Home next.  I cajoled and begged but she would not relent.  This was her way of saying thanks.

Thanks for what?  What have I done do deserve this?  A few used clothes we gave for her girls? A few dollars for medicine when Salamatu "Isatu" was sick? A million twirls of the jumprope for Kadie & Haja?  A few hugs?  Is there any sacrifice in that?  I didn't burn my feet for her.  I didn't give beyond my means.

We have so much to learn about the sacrificial gift of Christ from the poor.  Giving when it goes beyond our comfort.  Loving even when it's not convenient. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you guys for your faithful service in Sierra Leone! Hope you can enjoy some down-time in Ghana; then I'll look forward to seeing you in Togo!