Donna Hurt, a member of Home Church and someone with close ties to the Moravian work supported by North American Moravians in Sierra Leone, offered this update on the work in this African country.
With the passing of the ebola tragedy in Sierra Leone, I was able to take my fourth trip to that small West African country. For nine days I was blessed to share everyday life with Safie and Mohamed Braima, along with many other very special people.
When I visit Ngiehun, I enjoy walking around the village, waving and offering Mende words of greeting to everyone. It’s extra fun when I see people I actually know. Protocol is that during my visit I am to be taken to say hello to the several village chiefs. One of them, however, shows up daily at the mission house, usually to bring me a gift of bananas or pineapple. His name is Chief Lansana. Even though he speaks only Mende, we have a special friendship developed over the six years I’ve been visiting his village.
Spending time with the 200 students at our Moravian Secondary School is also a great way to experience life in Ngiehun. On this trip, Matthew, the principal, invited me to participate in daily opening assemblies and attend classes. Mostly I listened, occasionally adding a few comments. Except for one class, where the teacher allowed the whole period for students to ask me questions, starting with, “How do you get from where you live to where we live?” and ending with, “what’s it like to be a Christian?” Since most of the students are Muslim, and since the school is a huge part of the mission in Ngiehun, I was pleased to have the privilege of answering.
Lunch is offered twice a week, a process that begins with cooking at the mission house (outside over a fire of course, no electricity), followed by transporting the food to the school, then serving the rice/sauce into large bowls to be shared by 4-5 students. Those teenagers are quite fortunate to have an occasional mid-day meal, a rarity in most other schools of Sierra Leone.
Each morning (except Sunday) begins by gathering at the church around 6 a.m. to hear the words of that day’s Daily Texts with all the scripture, and to pray together. Sundays are different, following a schedule much like what we experience in the States. First comes a time of fellowship at the church, with juice and bread. Sunday School begins with several praise songs (accompanied by drums and a keyboard), followed by a class for children of all ages, and another one for adults, taught by James who serves as their very capable lay pastor. Whenever the Sunday School lessons end, “divine worship” begins, with typically more than 100 people attending.
I enjoyed leading Sunday School for 45-50 children. Besides reading a storybook I’d taken with me, and talking about its meaning in our lives, we centered on the phrase “Jesus loves you … Jesus loves me.” The children taught me to speak it correctly in Mende: “Jesu lungo abee Ö Jesu lungo agay,” and I taught them to express it in sign language. Mustapha, who usually teaches that class, translated for the very young ones who aren’t yet in school and do not know English.
Mohamed always offers me the pleasure of a children’s message during worship; this trip he encouraged me to take additional time to talk with the whole congregation. When the service was about to conclude, I was surprised to be invited forward, and honored by the choir who sang a song of farewell they had written to “Mama Donna.”
A spreading presence
A Moravian presence has spread to several nearby villages, so we went to visit. In Morfindor, I learned from church members that after three years they are overcrowded and planning to add a second room to their worship space. Then in Mbaoma, the three men serving as lay leaders for the new congregation (now meeting in a small house), led us to the hillside where land is being cleared to begin their church building. Mohamed oversees the ministry in these two additional places.
Besides Mohamed and Safie, there are other people in Ngiehun who are especially thoughtful, including Jeneba (who heated water over the fire each night for my sponge bath), Monjama (who always cooks delicious rice cakes for me), and even the Imams from the mosque (who walk to the mission house for a visit every time I’m there). There’s also Emmanuel, an older teen and a Moravian. Since 2010, I’ve gotten to know him well and been able to offer help in specific ways. In a conversation I’ll not easily forget, he expressed his appreciation with the words, “Over and over you have been so kind to me.” He said he wished he could travel to my country and repay me by helping however I needed, but realized that couldn’t happen. And so he offered his thanks in another way. “In my prayers to God, I speak about you, and ask that someday it’s possible that you go to heaven.”
Never mind the theological position of that request, it’s hearts like Emmanuel’s and many others in Ngiehun that pull me to return there as often as possible.
Donna Hurt is a member of Home Moravian Church in Winston-Salem. She also serves on the Board of World Mission and is president of the Mission Society of the Moravian Church, South. She has made four trips to visit the Moravian work in Sierra Leone.