Last Saturday the Kenema Zone did a service project as part of the #LightTheWorld campaign. The project entailed painting the curbs at the Kenema Government Secondary School. This is the public high school here in Kenema. The curbs were painted green, white and blue as these are the colors on the Sierra Leone flag. I thought it might be interesting to talk about these colors and what they represent, as well as a bit of history of the flag itself.
Sierra Leone was named by Portuguese explorer Pedro de Sintra, who first mapped the region in 1462. Over the next three centuries, Sierra Leone was marred by conflict and tribal disputes and played a significant role in the Atlantic slave trade in the17th and 18th centuries. Later it became a center of anti-slavery efforts when the slave trade was abolished in 1807. The British first arrived in Sierra Leone in 1787, when 20 square miles of land were acquired as a home and refuge for freed slaves. Those 20 square miles are now a big part of Freetown (hence the name). In 1808, it became an official colony of the British Empire and remained so until Britain granted it independence in 1961.
As a result of their newfound independence, Sierra Leone changed their flag. The previous flag being a British Blue Ensign with an emblem consisting of a circle depicting an elephant, an oil palm tree, mountains and the letters “S.L.”.
The new flag was a simple design, depicting a green stripe, a white stripe and blue stripe. It was first flown at midnight on 27 April 1961, the day Sierra Leone became an independent country, and has remained as the symbol of the country since that time. The colors each have cultural, political and regional meaning. The green stands for the natural resources of agriculture and mountains. The white stands for “unity and justice” (I think they are still working on that one) and the blue stands for the natural ocean harbor in Freetown. Interesting enough, the flag is almost identical to that of the Galápagos Province in Ecuador except the green and blue are slightly different shades.
There is a lot of pride in the green, white and blue of Sierra Leone, and the Secondary School students here will be extremely pleased when they come back to school after the break and see these freshly painted curbs. Well done Kenema Zone!
Tuesday was Christmas and we stayed in all day as we had missionaries come to our apartment throughout the day to make SKYPE calls home to families. Although we purchased extra data for our Orange internet router, we were also depending on our “unlimited” SierraTel MIFI to be fully functional. Unfortunately, the morning proved SierraTel unreliable, up until about 11 am, but from then until the last missionary finished around 6:45 pm, it worked flawlessly. We doubt we would have had enough data on Orange alone, so we were grateful that these young men were able to call home without a glitch. All of the African missionaries (both sisters and elders) received “top up” cards from the mission to be able to call home using their mission phones as it would be unusual for their families to have access to the internet at home.
As a treat for the missionaries coming in the afternoon, LaDawn made a wonderful cherry crunch dessert which we then topped with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. Yum! We also watched the Other Side of Heaven twice for those missionaries who were waiting their turn to call home. We always love being with the missionaries and Christmas was made extra special by sharing time with them.
On Christmas Eve, the IDA apartment compound was again breeched by thieves who came over the wall in the back and stole their fuel for the second time. Even though we had the generator building padlocked with a chain, they squeezed someone in between the top of the wall and the roof and managed to get 4 new 20 liter gerry cans out. Frustrating.
So on Wednesday, Justin Gandi our FM assistant here contacted Daniel Kannesie from the Dauda Town branch and they went out to evaluate what needed to be done to stop the thieves. They then came to our apartment where we discussed the work, called Markus Wallace the FM lead for the mission and received his approval. The work was then commissioned and completed on Thursday. Hopefully now the thieves will be deterred!
Also on Wednesday we went over to Ngombolango Street where FA Sonnie the artist lives and we picked up our painting. It is beautiful and really captures the magnificience of rural Africa. We are very pleased with the time, patience, creativity, culture and vibrant colors with which he created this one of a kind work of art for us. Next door to Mr Sonnie lives Francis Williams, a member of the Kenema Branch. He is a big fan of Mr Sonnie’s and did his best to convince us of his expertise (we didn’t even need convincing). As we talked to Br. Williams he told us that both of his parents have passed away so then we talked about doing temple work for them. On Wednesday we brought back to him a “My Family” booklet and encouraged him to gather enough information so that we can help him get his parents work completed in the temple.
We also visited with Eku on Wednesday for a short time. The mission purchased a new printhead from the US and had it shipped over for one of the printers in the mission home that went bad. That printhead arrived right before Christmas and we took it to Eku to finish the repair on the printer that he started a month ago. On Wednesday he was putting it all back together but having some trouble with some of the parts. We stayed with him for about 45 minutes and then decided to leave. When we came back an hour later he was still working on it so we decided to let him work on it without us looking over his shoulder. The next morning he called with the news of his success. He was thrilled that it was working again and so are we and the Clawson’s!
On Thursday we attended the Kenema District Council combined with the Kenema North District Council (these are the names for the missionary district meetings). Elder Marrett went home due to some medical issues and that left Elder Hadlock with leadership of both districts for a week. Hopefully Elder Marrett will be able to return soon. The District council meeting was very good. We discussed the standards of excellence that President Clawson had introduced at zone conference and talked about how we can all use these standards to further the work. Afterwards we moved Elder Hadlock from Airfield to IDA, where he filled the gap left by Elder Marrett’s departure. For now, Elder Bledsoe is working with branch missionaries until he gets a new companion. We love the growth we have seen in Elder Bledsoe and now that he is taking the lead in his area, we expect he will grow even more!
We would be negligent if we did not mention that Thursday was our 40 year anniversary. That is a significant milestone which we are both very proud of achieving. We never expected to celebrate it in Africa, but that is exactly what we did. And what better way to celebrate than go to Food Masters for a “romantic” 40th anniversary meal. As always, the barbecue chicken was delicious!
Friday was Tongo Day. I took Elder Adjety and Elder Wallentine with me and we traveled the 28 miles in 100 minutes to Tongo. Unfortunately, we arrived at 10 am but were not able to begin the first discussion until 11:15 until everyone had arrived. We had 8 in the first group, whereas last week we only had 7. And the seven were not the same seven from the week before! That meant the Elders needed to review the things we talked about last week and get everyone to the same place. The nice thing about doing that was the Elders had some in the group who were there last week teach those who were new. I was extremely impressed with how well that was done. We love the people of Tongo. They are naturally spiritual, generally educated to some degree and very well mannered and kind.
After the lesson was over, Sister Messi again provided a small lunch. This time it was yams in a margarine sauce. Delicious! What you see in this picture is a “communal” plate that several of us ate from. The African yam is an extremely large tuber that provides plenty of complex carbohydrates, and healthy fiber. It is also a good source of B complex vitamins like Vitamin B6, Vitamin B1, riboflavin, folic acid, pantothenic acid and niacin. And did I mention it is delicious?
From there we traveled to John Charles and his mother Kadie’s home. Last time we taught just the two of them, but this time there were 7. Again that meant reviewing what was taught last week and bringing everyone else to the same place. We think we can say that as of now we have 15 investigators in Tongo that have all received the first lesson. I really had to pinch myself during that second lesson. We were literally sitting in the shade of a beautiful huge mango tree in a remote location in Africa. Ah the places of dreams!
As soon as we got back we drove over to the Kpayama Branch’s year end activity. The activities here are a lot like church. Hymns and talks are featured. Of all the activities we have attended though, we would definitely say this was one of the best. There was a variety of activities, including some couples dancing (including us), “radio-like interviews” (what is the secret to being married for 40 years?) and lots of music. We really enjoy being with the saints regardless of which branch we attend. The Kpayama Branch has been the most active in getting young men prepared to serve missions. We have worked with 4 of them over the last few months and feel right at home when we are in their branch.
Saturday was the service project at the government high school. Not much more to say about the project, I will just add some before and after pictures.
After the service project we went over to OTC where we had a wonderful discussion with Eku. We had given him 2 Nephi 29-33 to read and true to his word, he had read all of the chapters. In order to discuss those chapters we found it helpful to give him some perspective on the entire book including some of the Isaiah chapters. It took some time, but as we read the headings to each chapter he began to get context that he did not have. At the end of our discussion I asked him if he was praying about whether the Book of Mormon is true. He said he prays every time he reads it. We both hold our friendship close to our hearts and he feels that our meeting was not by chance and that our friendship is a sign from Heavenly Father. He is still sorting out the implications of all of that.
When we left OTC, we headed over to the Kenema Branch where they were having their year end activity. Reports from each auxiliary and a full length “ministering skit” by the branch missionaries were the highlight. There was also a Book of Mormon trivia game which was fun.
On Sunday we attended church in the Hangha Road branch. All three meetings were exceptionally well done. Sacrament meeting consisted of three speakers and all three were wonderful. I had to chuckle a bit during the second speaker’s remarks as the counselor in the branch presidency who was conducting leaned forward and tugged on the cuff of the pants of the speaker to let him know time was up. Subtle, but obvious. The speaker was the Elders Quorum president, Abass Lansana. He did a great job with his talk and from my perspective was on a pretty nice roll! Gospel Doctrine was taught by Joseph Mandegra, a recently returned missionary. He is an excellent teacher and really got the class involved in the discussion. For the third hour we had a combined priesthood / relief society meeting focused on self-reliance. Under the direction of President Cobinah (district president) and President Clawson (mission president) we helped pull together a lesson plan for teaching the important doctrines on self-reliance and the law of the fast. President Domowa (branch president) did a really great job and even though he did not get through the entire lesson, he hit the important points. We were also really pleased with the response of the members to the principles being taught including the idea of saving for a rainy day. We are hopeful this will be helpful in strengthening the resolve of the members to do even more in the area of self-reliance.
Sunday evening we met with the entire zone at the request of the zone leaders. We were going to meet at the building next door, but at the last minute decided to invite them to our apartment where we would be a bit more comfortable. We walked through the ministering training that we have now delivered to all of the branch elders quorum and relief society leaders and had a wonderful discussion about how to continue to help push the ministering program forward. We then discussed how the missionaries in each of the branches can reinforce all of the training that we have been involved in and help the leaders take their organizations to the next level. It was a very productive meeting, and once again, how we love to serve with these valiant young men and women!
The colors of Sierra Leone are vibrant. The colors on the flag are symbolic. Vibrant and symbolic. Two words that describe the work of building the kingdom of God here in Sierra Leone. Vibrant because the spirit of the Lord is in this work and it is in this people. As a result the church is growing and being strengthened. Symbolic because as the people and the Lord’s church are strengthened, so is the country as a whole. The strengthening we see in the people and the church is symbolic of the strengthening of the country. We have great hope for this country and are so happy to be a small part of helping to make it a better place to live and raise a family.