Whenever I hear about the possibility of joining the Rt. Rev. Sam Gray on a trip to Sierra Leone, I immediately sign on, because those opportunities are rare. My first one was in 2010, and the second was in December, which means I went BACK to the village of Ngiehun, and that made the visit extra special. Mohamed and Safie Braima, who lead our Moravian mission there, had told the church members that Sam and I were returning, so we arrived to the warm welcome and outstretched arms of friends.
What did we do at the church? I participated in the only children’s Sunday School class, that began the hour with 20 students and ended it with about 50. Next came worship. So that members of Mohamed’s congregation could share in his ordination that had happened in the States 10 months earlier, Sam preached his sermon from that day, and then baptized 30 people of all ages. After they lit the first candle on an Advent wreath, I led a children’s message using a set of nativity figures I had brought with me. There was quite a bit of singing, because when Sam is present they pull out the keyboard to add to the beat of their drums. And the choir looked spiffy in their new robes. The service concluded with communion.
In a nearby village called Morfindor, 10 miles from Ngiehun, the people have requested that Mohamed help them start a Moravian Church. I knew this, but was surprised to see when we visited there that the building is almost finished, lacking only windows, doors, and flooring. Inside I saw long planks resting on cement blocks. I learned they had already held several worship services in their new building, dirt floors and all, those planks being the temporary pews. Mohamed will spend intentional time mentoring Pastor Tamba, who will shepherd a new group of believers.
What did we do at the Moravian secondary school? This very important part of the church ministry has more than doubled in physical size (with an additional wing under construction), and nearly tripled in 7th-9th grade enrollment since I was last there. I was so glad to see my friend Matthew Korona, the principal, who helped me with a mammoth project. This involved penpal letters that Moriah Kimel (Little Church on the Lane in Charlotte, N.C.) had asked me to deliver from students in her town. Because mailing more than 150 responses from the village back to the States would have been very difficult, I asked Matthew to pass the letters out and give the boys and girls time to answer them that very day. Safie made the project even better by taking pictures of every student, and giving me her camera card to add to the letters that I stuffed into my suitcase.
New this year at the school is an effort to provide lunch several days a week. Little Church on the Lane, where the Braimas were members during the 30 years they lived in the States, has started the support of this lunch program, with the hope that many other Moravians will join in.
Lucy and Katuma are the ladies who cook the rice and sauce, which of course takes place outside over a fire since there is no electricity in the village. What’s in the sauce varies depending on what happens to be growing nearby, but the main ingredient is beans to provide the much-needed protein. The students eat at their desks in the classrooms and, from the way they cleaned their bowls, I could tell how grateful they were to have that midday meal.
While they were eating and I was talking to them, a funny thing happened. Even though the youth are required to speak English at school, they occasionally slip back into their Mende language. One of the boys did just that when he said to me the word ‘belay.’ I was stumped, and sheepishly responded that I did not know how to answer. He looked at me in astonishment and exclaimed, “You mean you don’t know your name?” The next time I visit Sierra Leone, I will be sure to remember that ‘belay’ means ‘what’s your name.’ And I hope that next time is not far off, for I love sharing life with the Moravians in the village of Ngiehun. Using another Mende word, I’ll say ‘kigoma,’ meaning ‘thanks be to God,’ for Mohamed and Safie Braima.
Because these two faithful Christians chose to return to the very place where they grew up, more people are hearing the Gospel.
Donna Hurt serves as Christian Educator at Home Moravian in Winston-Salem, N.C.
From the March 2013 Moravian Magazine