Listening for “No”
Life has been a whirlwind since our return from Sierra Leone and I appreciate your patience in waiting for “the rest of the story”!
Our survey trip was wonderfully blessed of the Lord. However, before we launch into the in-country details I must tell you all how blessed we consider ourselves to have a pastor and church family who genuinely care for us and who prayed for our success and safety. Before leaving, our pastor, his wife, and a faithful brother took us out to dinner. The fellowship was good as it typically is, but our pastor had more on his mind than food. Our conversation covered such a broad range of issues concerning the ministry that it would not make for interesting reading. I will mention, however, one question our pastor and brother asked of us: what if you get to Sierra Leone and learn it is not right. He said, “I think it is great you have both sold out to go, but are you ready to hear ‘NO’?” My response was, “Pastor, I am 52 now, and by the time I finish school I will be 54 and just beginning the deputation phase of this ministry. I do not have a lot of time left, so if it is ‘no’ I am not going to waste any time trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. We will just come back and see what the Lord’s contingency plan is for us.” He was more of an encouragement than he knew that night. The wise counsel given us was to remember that there was no shame in returning from our survey trip only to announce to the church that we misread God’s leading, Sierra Leone was not God’s choice after all, and perhaps He simply wanted to check out the sincerity of our commitment to go.
So with our heads and hearts full of thoughts and anticipations, we boarded our plane in Orlando, Florida, headed to Brussels by way of Chicago and then on to Sierra Leone via Ivory Coast, a trip that would take us 30 hours to complete.
The many inconveniences and difficulties inherent at all levels of life in Third World countries became immediately apparent upon disembarking the plane at Lungi airport, which is across the bay from Freetown where we were to meet our friends. The efficiency and amenities taken for granted in the West vanished immediately. Retrieving our four checked bags and arranging for the Vietnam War-era helicopter flight to Freetown took several hours of standing in line to clear customs in a dirty, poorly lighted, stiflingly hot, chaotic pandemonium of people grabbing our baggage, offering to carry it to the next station in line (for a small fee, of course). It is here that we learned the meaning and value of African hospitality: for a nominal fee there are always shortcuts, and the more generous the “hospitality,” the faster the service. With prayer, a little help from an inside contact, and US dollars, we cleared customs and had our tickets for the helo. While waiting in what resembled a corral, we were the objects of everyone’s curiosity and the target of every beggar, hawker, and embezzler. We were somewhat prepared for this, only not to this degree. However, it did give me a great opportunity to witness to everyone who got close enough to hear.
We finally arrived at the mission house in Freetown about 0100 am and things began to settle out, with our daily routine quickly developing. The next day we met with Pastor Michael Mansaray and sorted through the mountain of gospel material we brought with us for distribution and evangelizing. That done, we laid out a schedule for meeting the branch churches in the outlying villages and evangelizing in those areas – a welcomed task we eagerly engaged in the following morning and continued throughout our stay.
Our experiences in this lovely country were many and varied. To do them justice, I would like to dedicate several future installments to specific events. Along with this, we will include photos so that you, too, can meet these warm and friendly people.
We love him, because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19
Four days before our departure, David Tanner, a missionary from Massachusetts whom we had met through a mutual contact, came to the mission house where we were staying in Freetown. Last summer, we met with him and his wife Jeanne at their home to discuss mission work in Sierra Leone in order to learn from his experience and knowledge gained on short-term trips to Sierra Leone. He, too, is just starting on deputation and plans to labor full-time in Sierra Leone as soon as the Lord directs. The crucial part David played in our experience there concerns a brief conversation I overheard him having with Max, the mission house director. His joy to be back in Sierra Leone was obvious. He mentioned to Max just how thrilled he was to be back in HIS country, among HIS people, and how much he LOVED the people and the country. Those words cut me to the quick. I had been in the country almost a month and I could not honestly say I had experienced David’s enthusiasm. His words plagued me all day. We had been praying and listening for God’s still, small voice, and I still believed this was where God wanted us to serve. So why could I not echo David’s sentiment; why could I not have the same feelings of love for this place and these people? I was devastated, even panic-stricken, about my feelings. Later that evening, while sitting on the second floor verandah and looking out over smoke-filled, noisy, filthy Freetown, I found myself wrestling with the Lord over my heart’s condition. Lord, why can’t I say I love these people? And before the words were off my lips I heard myself repeating, “Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?” That quickly, the Lord showed me a great truth, one I had struggled with, yet overlooked, all day. I did not ask you to love them, I asked you to love ME, and I will teach you how to love them. “He saith unto him (me), Feed my lambs” (John 21:15). What a great and faithful God we serve. What a tireless, compassionate, Saviour we have. Just that quickly he flooded my heart with sweet confirmation. The doubt is gone, and we live in anticipation of satisfying our burden for Sierra Leone and its people and establishing a Bible school to train up Sierra Leoneans to reach their own.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27
Now back in the States, we are preparing to begin the deputation phase of our ministry. Our lease will soon expire and we will move out of our one-bedroom apartment and into the 18-foot travel trailer that will be home during deputation and the last year of school. This summer we will travel to meetings in the New England area and spend time with sorely-missed family. At times it feels like this ministry has a life all its own and we are simply “tagging along,” following the Lord’s leading; it is a great place to be. Our excitement and anticipation grow daily, God really does take very good care of us, and we do covet your prayers. Until we meet again, may God bless you in your service for Him.