Monday, December 15, 2008

What did we actually do?

Our time in Sierra Leone went by so quickly – partly do to the fact that we were busy! Though some things Scott and I didn’t participate in fully since our goal was to lead the interns in ministry, we were able to be a part of everything that went on in some way. 

Here’s a look at what we did the first month …

(Pictured above: Intern Mark Drennan playing games with the children in his village)

VILLAGE MINISTRY (the favorite aspect of everyone’s time in Africa)

The eight interns (five Americans, two Liberians and one Northern Irishman) were teamed up in four groups of two and then assigned a village that would become their own during our stay. Monday afternoons consisted of Outreach, when each group would prepare a message, songs, games and skits to do for the children of their village. Tuesday and Thursday afternoons the interns went back to their villages and were placed with a family or group of friends who taught them an Africa “skill.” Interns came back with baskets they’d woven, a new hairstyle they’d braided, stools they’d nailed and mats they’d learned how to tie together. Some went to the family farm to learn what a typical day looks like, others cooked with the women of the village and tasted the food after. The main point of the “new skills” day was not necessarily to learn how to do all of these things, though the interns enjoyed it. It was an excuse to sit and form relationships with people in their villages, hopefully sharing with them about the love of Jesus, whether they could communicate with words or not. Sunday mornings each team of interns attended their village church which were part of a new church planting initiative that COTN has started in villages near their property in Sierra Leone. Most of the village churches the interns attended had just started a few months before. They helped lead songs, encourage villagers to attend, prayed and some even preached. This part of our time in Sierra Leone was very special because of the relationships formed between interns and the people of their villages. Imagine walking into a village in the middle of the African jungle and hearing people call your name and being able to greet everyone you see by their name as well. Pretty amazing experience. Thankfully, Scott and I got to visit each of the four villages, tagging along with the interns, numerous times and were able to experience a little bit of where they loved to go so often.

(Pictured above: Three village children at one of the school buildings; Tutoring on of my students; Intern Myles Hamby waking up his class with an exercise!)


This was the first year that the COTN school in Sierra Leone held summer school, meant for the students who were struggling the most during the normal school year. The interns were each assigned to a classroom and every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning until noon, they split up the subjects of teaching with the summer school teachers. I got to participate in this part of ministry and helped Aunty Kadie Kobba teach middle schoolers English and reading. What fun! (And what a challenge!) The main reason why it was important to have native English speakers helping teach is due to the customary way that reading education works in Africa. Children are taught to memorize words instead of sounding them out phonetically. This causes major problems when, later in school or life, they come across a word they’ve never seen before and don’t know how to sound it out. Because the interns spent so much time with one teacher and with one class of students, it enabled us to really get to know them. My middle schoolers became very close to my heart – one of the boys who was not excited about being there on the first day, Shaka Sandy, soon excelled in the class and even came to bid me goodbye at our farewell party. This was a special time, no matter how difficult it might have been some days.


Tuesday and Thursday mornings, the interns spent time doing or preparing to do something that was personal to them – working in an area where they had expressed interest before arriving in Africa. Two girls who are in school to be teachers did one-on-one tutoring with students. Four guys who are all interested in pastoring or somehow going into the ministry planned a three-day pastor’s seminar for all the new pastors and church leaders from the church plants in the surrounding villages. And two other interns assisted the COTN counselor in mentoring groups of home kids on tough topics. This allowed the interns to work at and give to something they were good at and had a passion for.

(Pictured above: The orphan home children, interns and home mothers gather to listen to intern Elijah lead Bible study.)


Every Wednesday evening, the interns along with Scott and I helped lead the Bible study for the orphan home children (about 100 of them). The interns organized who was going to give the message to the older children and who was going to speak to the younger children, what the message would be about and what kind of skit would make them laugh really hard, and yet teach them something at the same time. We all had a blast making fools of ourselves for the skits and also singing Sierra Leone praise and worship songs at the beginning and end.

(Pictured above: Intern Myles Hamby leading his "Yellow Team" of children in a camp chant; The whole group of us enjoying a hearty camp meal of rice -- from top, left: Andy, Gee, Myles, Scott, Sam, Mark, Stacie, Laura, Stephanie, ELijah)

The last two weeks ...

One word can describe them: CAMP. Though going in to camp, we were under the impression that we were just in charge of crafts and helping with sports, we quickly realized that we were actually one of the main forces running the camp. The first week was for children – Try to picture about 250 Sierra Leonean kids all under the age of about 12. Most of them don’t speak English and most of them, like normal kids, want your attention all the time. They were split into four teams – red house, green house, blue house and yellow house – and two interns took a house (more than 50 children) to help lead throughout the week. The most exciting part for the kids had to be that they spent the night. The school class rooms were converted to dorms and each child brought a sleeping mat, extra clothes and a water bucket for bathing at the river twice a day (that was a site I’ll never forget!). All the orphan home children came, but the camp was mostly made up of children from the surrounding villages, which explains why they couldn’t speak English. It also emphasizes the amazing opportunity the camp was to not only tell these children about Jesus – some of them had never heard about Him before – but to also educate them in important areas. We talked about hygiene, sanitation, how to brush your teeth. We also just loved on them – some of them don’t get that kind of attention at home. The camp involved crafts, a Bible message, quizzes, lots of sports and even a movie at night (run by a generator). The interns were involved 100 percent for the entire day – helping with each aspect of the camp as well as keeping the morale up on their team, which involved lots of cheers, singing, fist-pumping and silly dancing around. Though there was exhaustion each night, the children made it all worth it.
The second week was the camp for youth, which was, incredibly, a lot more relaxed. Not only did we now know what to expect, we had teenagers who could sit quietly, understand and speak English. They were also a lot more competitive. Crafts, a Bible message, quizzes, and relay games still made up a lot of the camp, but soccer was added – the four colored teams competed their best players against the others. The other major additions were talk sessions lead by the COTN counselor with the boys and girls separated about sexual abuse, STDs,  AIDS/HIV education and what the Bible says about what’s right and wrong in a dating relationship. Both groups of boys and girls were very receptive to the sessions and had lots of questions. Some interns even brought their mattresses up to the school and slept with the children at night, bringing a guitar, playing cards, lots of love and an incredible amount of energy. The teenagers loved every minute of it.

One of the highlights of the entire two weeks, however, was on the first day of the first camp for the children. Two of the interns – Myles and Stephanie – were teamed up in a village called Wonde for the village ministry. While there, the village pastor told them about another village farther away where a church would soon be starting. They visited this other village with the pastor and realized that no white person had ever been there before. While there and after meeting so many of the children, Myles started telling them about the upcoming camp. He tried to convince the parents to let the children come and he promised that he and Stephanie would be back to escort the children to the COTN property (about five miles away) on Sunday (when the camp began) if any of them wanted to attend. On that Sunday evening at about 6 p.m., most of the campers had arrived – about 200 of them – and the group was beginning to sing. All of a sudden, out of the corner of everyone’s eye, around the bend came Myles and Stephanie with a group of about 50 children in tow – all carrying their mats and buckets, ready and excited for camp. Myles looked like the Pied Piper, with the biggest grin on his face. They had walked the five miles back from the village, picking up children along the way and leading them all there – to learn about Christ. It was a beautiful picture.


Sam said...

This brought tear to my eyes...So good to remember everything we got to do. thank you!

Sarah Saunier said...

I love those pictures. So great!