By Christopher Chaney
My daughter and I just spent 3 weeks in Salone. At least that’s what the people from Sierra Leone call it. Our flesh suffered tremendously. There were poisonous snakes in the jungle. There was rotting trash in every corner of Freetown. There were open sewers everywhere. The food didn’t agree with our stomachs. We didn’t sleep well. But we can’t wait to get back there. Why on earth would we want to go back? It must be God!
We were the honored guests of Andrew and Angie Sesay, directors of Iris Ministries, Sierra Leone, and newly affiliated with CMM through Morningstar Church. From the very beginning it became clear how things would go. We were escorted out of the airport as VIP’s and onto a waiting water taxi. The airport is across a wide channel that takes 25 minutes to cross on a speedy boat. Andrew greeted us with hugs and more than a few declarations of amazement and joy. Angie gave me a hearty hug. When we got to his house his 3 kids swarmed us with hugs and squeels. I was already known as uncle Chris to them, but only by through what they were told. Now I was uncle Chris in the flesh, and Megan was their new best friend. This was the kind of favor and honor we were to enjoy over the next 3 weeks, wherever we went. Whether or not we deserved this only the Lord can tell.
After spending a few days getting our bearings, Andrew asked me to preach at his home church on Sunday morning. As I spoke Andrew translated into Krio– the language of the streets in Salone. It is mostly akin to broken English, but not exactly. Worship was loud and hard to understand, but it didn’t matter. Everyone was worshipping–that was obvious. The floor was dirt, the walls and roof were corrugated, rusty, zinc coated tin; it was hot, but the people were happy and sincere. This was a house of worship that honors God. I felt honored that Andrew would trust his central church into my hands that morning.
The first Monday Andrew put together a team, and we headed off to the “village.” Its name name is Maieneh. This is where the school was built, and where Andrew has been planning to move his family to and where he is currently building his house and ministry base. We constructed a tent city where the 8 of us spent the next 4 days. We spent the daytime talking with the kids at the school, talking with the leaders of the school, and strategizing on how to help them. At night we went to 3 different villages to preach the gospel and win people to Christ. Maieneh is centrally located and perfect for pulling together over a dozen villages into one faith community (the people just don’t know it yet).
The first night we went to Songuloko. It is about 3 miles down the dirt road on the way back to the highway. As we pulled in the local Christian at this village was expecting us. A crowd of about 30 adults and 40 kids gathered to hear what we had to say. Again, Andrew deferred to me and allowed me to present a Gospel message to them. Even though this day was something he had foreseen and anticipated for years, Andrew gave me the honor of preaching. Every hand went up at the end to receive Christ into their hearts. We prayed for all who wanted prayer and then invited them to start attending church at the school on Sunday mornings.
The second night we went to Mabangba. This village is located right at the edge of one of the local swamps. The locals invited us to view the wildlife and scenery in a dug out canoe and took us into the swamp. I should mention here that a large, green, hairy, jumpy and aggresive spider of about 2″ diameter jumped into the canoe right next to Megan as we were pushing off into the water. She didn’t even flinched but just looked at it with curiosity. After about 30 seconds of chasing it back and forth (right next to Megan), one of the village boys raked it into the water. Again and again, Megan showed incredibble poise and calmness in the face of many things that would have freaked out the average American teenage girl. That night the people gathered, and again Andrew gave me the honors of preaching to the people. There were no Christians in this village, so when I gave the call to accept Christ the people started looking at each other. I started to pray in the Spirit. Then the first man raised his hand. Soon all the hands went up. Around 25 adults and 25 children gave their lives to Christ–everyone who came to hear the Word of the Lord. It was there that we saw a remarkable healing. Pastor Admire (pronounced Ad-my-yah) and myself prayed for an elderly woman who was unable to raise her left arm and who couldn’t see well out of her left eye. God healed her on both counts. We got a generous bag of fresh coconuts the next day as a gift for her gratitude.
The third day we went to the village of Makono. Right away Andrew and I knew this would be different. There was incredible darkness and fear in this place. Susan preached to the group that had gathered (around 10 adults and 60 kids). We saw 2 brothers in the same family plagued by demons and manifesting a similar neurological problem. When we tried to take a van to bring the few who said they wanted to come to church, the van broke down on the way. We never made it back to them. There will need to be more prayer and power to see these people get truly freed in Christ. But this work will go forward, especially since Andrew will be relocating out there as soon as his house is completed.
The second great task assigned to us and one of the main reasons for our visit was to assess the condition of the school and come up with ways to help them. It is called “Iris-No Boundaries-Jubilee-Junior Secondary School.” It has 3 main benefactors and all are duly mentioned in the name. If it is not clear by now, honor is a big deal in Salone. The Christian school offers children grades 7-9 an opportunity to get a quality education to children that would otherwise be raised Muslim. Prior to the school the kids walked 11 miles each way to a Muslim intermediate school. Now they have a Christian school right in their midst. I am happy to say, most of the children now openly profess faith in Jesus. This is the second way the area is being fundamentally changed into a Christian community. First through evangelism and second through the school. When Andrew moves there and builds out a church and missions base the third leg of the stool will be complete–a thriving church in their midst.
As a strategy I suggested we interview the most needy kids with the idea of presenting them to our church and CMM for possible scholarship. After conferring with pastor Andrew, Mohammed the principle, Fornah the vice principle, and Lawrence the head teacher we decided to have Megan take a picture of each child along with a short “bio.” It has been decided that for $30 a month each child could receive enough help to have their tuition paid for, to receive a school lunch (most kids only get one meal a day–dinner), and to use any left over money to buy books and to be used for school needs. In all actuality, if we can find sponsors for 30 kids (the school has around 100 children most of the time) it will fundamentally change the childrens’ lives and change the trajectory of the school toward one of lasting success. The tuition being asked by Andrew is barely enough to cover the basic costs of operating the school, and they are unwilling to turn away kids who can’t pay the full amount (around $140 for the entire school year). As you read the bios and see some of the pictures you will understand better the desperate condition these kids are living under. But despite all this, I am happy to report that nearly every child passes the exam to go into the 10th grade.
The second Sunday, pastor Andrew again allowed me to preach in his central church. Now once is an honor, twice shows incredible trust. I know Andrew loves me. He trusted me enough to put his precious church into my hands 2 weeks in a row! I preached on integrity–something I know is needed in the society as a whole. Everyone was very excited about the message. Praise God! The second trip to the village we went house to house in teams of 2 by 2 as found in the Gospel According to Luke. Megan with pastor Andrew, Me with pastor Admire, Sue with Susan, and Dennis with Nelson. We all met new people and prayed and encouraged people that had never talked with a Christian up close and personal. Many seeds were planted during these days. That Sunday pastor again asked me to preach. I would like to report something else to you. The monthly church report was recited before I got started. Pastor Miriam said that a total of 16,000 Leones had been taken as tithes and offerings the prior month. That comes to around $3. This is how poor these people really are. I think that Sunday was by far the biggest offering that church had ever seen. We all made sure of that.
As I conclude this report I would like to say that another reason for us going now has been on my heart. Namely, I wish to bring back future teams with the express purpose of doing more of the same kind of work that is already ongoing. The people are so open to Christians and to the Gospel right now. They know that Muslims haven’t come and won’t come to help them. But the Christians have come and will help. All that is needed are willing Christians with hearts full of faith and gifts that can truly contribute to the strengthening of the community of faith, to the school, and to the Kingdom of God as a whole–gifts both of a more overtly spiritual nature and those of a more practical nature but no less needed. Look and see a nation that has been so wickedly treated that it is at the bottom of the list for quality of life (according to the UN) but at the of God’s list for a place to pour out His blessings! Despite civil war, incredible poverty, and recently ebola Salone is full of people with open and trusting hearts. It is my prayer that many will come and sew into the ongoing work in Salone. Andrew is a good and faithful man, full of the Spirit, walks in integrity, and has the commandment of the Lord to win not only Sierra Leone but West Africa as well. It is my privilidge to call him friend. I hope that you will be able to do so as well.