The history of Sierra Leone began when the land became inhabited by indigenous people some 2,500 years ago. The dense tropical rainforest helped isolate the region from other West African cultures, and it became a refuge for West Africans escaping violence in neighboring kingdoms. Portuguese explorer Pedro de Sintra first mapped the region in 1462 and named it Sierra Leone.
A century after de Sintra, the Manes from the Sudan (land areas south of the Sahara including Western and Central Africa) suppressed the local tribes and militarized Sierra Leone. These invaders soon blended with the local populations and the result was a nearly constant state of conflict among the various tribes. As an aside, the secret societies practiced in Sierra Leone today have their origin with the Manes. Many of the captives of these conflicts were sold to European slave-traders and as this trade flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries Sierra Leone was significantly impacted. When the trade was abolished in 1807, British abolitionists organized a colony for freed slaves who fought for the British in the revolutionary war. The colony quickly grew as liberated American slaves were released, joined by West Indian and African soldiers who had fought for Britain in the Napoleonic Wars. The descendants of the black settlers were collectively referred to as Krios, and their language was a broken English learned in both America and Britain. This is the origin of the Krio language spoken throughout Sierra Leone today. [credit: distilled from several Wikipedia articles]
Why the history lesson? Because this week we have done more family history than at any other time since we have been here. These family histories, though still being written, are part of the Chronicles of Sierra Leone. As we have mentioned before, there are no written birth and death records, so family history is a challenge, but that doesn’t mean there are not people on the other side of the veil praying to be found. This morning, our district sent a group of 22 people to the Accra Ghana temple. Because of the generosity of the members of church across the world donating to the temple patron fund, the group will fly over and back this week. I doubt any of them other than our temple coordinator Paul Aruna (2nd counselor in the district presidency) and the few who have served missions have ever flown before. It will be an adventure of a lifetime!
Our involvement in preparing names for the temple came mostly on Friday and continued into Saturday. Felix Kanneh, the family history consultant from the Simbeck Branch had called earlier in the week and asked if we could come at 4 pm on Friday to help a couple of members of his branch input names into FamilySearch. Since Friday is Tongo Day, I told him it would have to be at 5 pm, and he said that would work. Unfortunately, we did not agree on a place. Power in Kenema has been extremely spotty the last week or so, which means those who have a phone have a difficult time finding power to keep it charged. I got back from Tongo about 4:15 pm and so we packed up our computers and MIFI and set out to find Felix just before 5 pm. Melissa Hawkley has been with us this week from Utah, doing some more gospel literacy training, so we invited her to bring her computer as well and off we went. Unfortunately, I managed to leave my phone at home. We first went to the Simbeck Branch building but no one was there. We drove to Felix’s home and the neighbors said he had gone to church, so we drove back to the branch building but there was still no one there. At that point, we offered a prayer that we could find them and decided to go back home to get my phone in case Felix had tried to call. But when we arrived at home, there were no missed calls. While in Tongo earlier in the day I had received a call from Sidie Pumogoi (it was he and his wife Monjama’s traditional wedding we had attended in January) but we were in a lesson with an investigator and I could not pick up. When I tried to call him later he did not answer. Thinking maybe that his call was related to our appointment to do family history, I tried calling again. Bingo! He picked up and told us they were at the Kenema Central Branch as there was a meeting of those going to the temple. We said we would be right over.
When we arrived, we thought it was going to be two or three members who needed help, but as it turned out it was 10 (Joseph and Isatu Aruna, Monjama Pumogoi, Mariama Foday, Agnes Banya, Veronika Koppa, Bernard & Kadie Laundeh and Mohamed & Maseray Jabaty). For the next three hours, all three of us worked feverishly with members at our sides setting up LDS.org and FamilySearch accounts, inputting names and calculating dates from previously filled out pedigree charts. We have mentioned this before, but one of the big issues here is dates of birth and/or death dates. This greatly slows down the process as it is necessary to calculate and discuss approximate dates and then make sure that everything fits. In addition, aunts and uncles born after 1908 require permission since the member is not a direct line relative. We have found that receiving permission here in Africa to submit “non-direct descendant” names to the temple is not a problem, but it does take additional time to fill out the request. There was no electricity in the building so when it began to get dark around 7:00 pm we turned on the flashlights on our phones and kept going. We were quite a site to see, with all of us huddled around three computers in the dark. At 8:45 pm our MIFI internet connection went down and we had to stop. We made appointments with the two families still needing more help for the next day and then left, coming home to a very late dinner. We were exhausted but grateful to be a part of something so special.
The next morning at 5 am, I awoke and could not get back to sleep knowing it was going to be a very busy day. I had been working with Bernard Laundeh the night before on inputting his names but had not finished. He had almost completely filled out a “My Family Booklet”. Traveling to the home villages of his parents and grandmother, he had gathered 5 generations of names, complete with aunts and uncles through 4 generations. It was a lot, in fact more than we had seen from everyone else combined! I had taken pictures of his last 5 pages in hopes of being able to input more names before our planned meeting Saturday evening. When I couldn’t sleep Saturday morning, I pulled out the pictures of his booklet and spent the next two hours inputting what I could. I called him later that morning with questions only to find out there was yet more information he had, so we did what we could and again agreed to meet Saturday evening.
We need to provide a bit more context before continuing with the family history story. As we mentioned above, Melissa Hawkley was here from Utah to help us continue to roll out the Gospel Literacy program. In an earlier post, we wrote about the work that was done late last year to film several of the gospel learners to create vision and training videos for a broader rollout across Africa.
Some of the videos are now complete and Melissa brought them to share with leaders here as well as those who were filmed. In the afternoon, we traveled to the Burma branch area to show this video to four of the sisters featured in the videos: Mabaindu Kongoley, Matta Kongoley, Sallay Foday and Maseray Jabaty. Since the Jabaty’s are going to the temple this week, we met with them and helped them to enter their family history information as well as share two of the videos with them.
The Jabaty’s had stayed late Friday night, but when the MIFI went down we rescheduled for Saturday. They are taking three of their children with them to be sealed so they not only needed help with their family names, but they also needed a family group sheet for their own family. It was marvelous to feel of their joy, both for their own family and also for their ancestors. There were smiles everywhere!
From Burma we traveled the short distance to the district center for choir practice at 5 pm. It was the first practice as we prepare for district conference in April. There was no electricity at the building so we pulled our chairs outside in the shade and sang a number of the hymns acapella. Aruna Kongoley, who is actually quite musically gifted, led us as we learned a few hymns, unknown to the members here. It was good. During choir practice, LaDawn called in an order of barbeque chicken to Food Masters and we picked it up on our way home and were able to enjoy a delicious meal together.
At 7:50 pm, I called Bernard to ask if he was still coming. He was having a hard time getting transport so we tried to solve a few questions over the phone, but he finally said, I will find a way and come to your home. He arrived less than 30 minutes later. We then spent another 1.5 hours inputting the remaining names and submitting more requests for aunts and uncles. By the time we were done, Bernard had temple slips for 42 ancestors representing 160 temple ordinances! By Sunday evening, we began to receive the approvals back on the aunts and uncles for both him and his new wife Kadie. By the time they finished coming, the total for Bernard was 60 names and 244 ordinances and his wife Kadie added an additional 24 names totaling 91 ordinances. This is more than half of the total number of names taken by the entire group. On Sunday night, Bernard sent me a text expressing his overwhelming joy of tracking down these names and preparing them for temple ordinances. “Yesterday after leaving your home, I walk by a little and I felt great power of the Spirit. I couldn’t able to take anymore steps, so I found a place to sit and then started shedding tears of great joy for about 5 minutes before I was able to walk home.” This is the spirit of Elijah, the joy that only comes from knowing our ancestors and helping them to progress in their own spiritual journey. We are humbled to be a small part of this great work here in Africa. Thanks Bernard for being such a great example of doing family history work! You inspire all of us.
The other significant activity this week was preparing for and helping to deliver the gospel literacy training at the Kenema Central Branch. On Thursday morning, President Cobinah and President Aruna came to our apartment and discussed how to best roll it out to Kenema Central. That evening at 5 pm we met with the branch presidency, showed them the new vision video and invited them to be part of the facilitators who would work with the branch members on Sunday.
They were very enthusiastic to be a part of the training and to bring this to their branch. On Saturday morning after building cleaning, we had 14 members of the branch and district who came to be trained to facilitate family circles as they experienced their own gospel literacy lesson as part of an assessment to determine who might best benefit from the classes.
On Sunday we all attended the Kenema Central Branch and after Sacrament meeting held a Family Gospel Literacy Sunday School class that everyone in the branch participated in. We formed into 9 circles, each with a facilitator and then essentially taught a gospel literacy lesson. The intent is to identify those who need help learning to read while at the same time modeling how the gospel literacy class is to be taught. Since our guard, Charles David is in that branch he took the opportunity to bear his testimony about the program and how it has helped him to learn to read and write, even if at a very elementary level. It was a wonderful success.
Afterwards, we held a meeting and identified each of the learners that will be invited to attend a gospel literacy class. In total there were 21 members of the branch in attendance that day that the group felt could benefit from attending a gospel literacy class. I am sure there are many more who were not in attendance. The need here is so big and the program is so wonderful. It is a match made in heaven. Overall the process is impressive and based on our experience, works every time!
There were a few other things that happened during the week as well (can you tell it was a busy week?). On Monday night we started up the young single adult family home evenings again. This time with IDA. We have never had a great turnout there, but on Monday we had 10 members and the two missionaries show up. We had a wonderful discussion on the atonement and then some delicious cookies that LaDawn had baked earlier in the day. It was a very good evening.
On Tuesday we took Mohamed Flee and Nancy Tamba to Bo to receive their patriarchal blessing from Brother Berewa. While we were waiting for them we visited with the Moomey’s and the Clawson’s who were staying at the Moomey’s while in Bo. Knowing that the Clawson’s and Melissa Hawkley would be staying with us on Wednesday night, we decided to add another 12 volt solar fan to our collection after we returned home. That was a good decision!
Wednesday was zone conference. President and Sister Clawson and Elder and Sister Moomey were there along with all of the missionaries in the zone. I have to admit I think it was probably the best zone conference we have attended since arriving. There was a lot of good gospel preaching going on and less of a clarion call for missionary repentance. It reminded me of the story in the Book of Mormon when Alma went to Zarahemla and called the people to repentance and then went to Gideon and spoke to them about the atonement of Jesus Christ and principles of sanctification. This was definitely a Gideon zone conference and not a Zarahemla one! There were many things that President Clawson said that I really liked, but one that stood out to me. “Because the Mission Standards of Excellence are priesthood assignments, the missionaries are capable of (and expected to) use priesthood power to fulfill them.” A good reminder to all of us that we are on the Lord’s errand.
It wouldn’t be a complete week unless something broke. This time it was the generator for the sisters next door. I am guessing it is no surprise that bad things happen when a generator runs out of oil? It turned out to be a very expensive repair, requiring replacement of the camshaft, piston rings and piston rod. Unfortunately, when the guys removed the head on the generator they broke one of the head bolts. Getting that fixed out here in Kenema is no easy task. They tried at a machine shop but they couldn’t do it. They took it to Polytechnic University here to their mechanics shop, but as I mentioned earlier, the power has been horrible of late and without power they cannot run their tools. As of today, the generator is still out of commission. Fortunately they have solar so they have lights and fans, just no freezer.
Wednesday evening I was invited to meet with the District Presidency and President Clawson to discuss what still needs to be done to prepare to become a stake. While we have all the required numbers, we now need to improve on the programs and implementation of priesthood priorities such as ministering assignments, young men/young women programs, presidency meetings, branch councils, and gospel instruction. There is so much capability here that we now need to put it to work building the kingdom. We can no longer afford to be only caretakers, we must now become shepherds and builders. I am confident we are on the right path!
I will only mention two things for Thursday. The Dauda Town missionary apartment well has subsided to the point where they can no longer pump water. They will begin tomorrow to dig it 6 feet deeper and extend the pump 6 feet down. We managed to get them 2000 liters of water on Thursday in order to bridge to this week when we hope to have the well fixed. We had to pay 40% extra for the water because the quantity was low and so delivery was no longer free. Interesting enough, the additional 40% went to the drivers, not the company!
The other thing of note on Thursday was a follow-up visit to Philip Bunduka to finish putting in the names of his family into FamilySearch. We really love Brother Bunduka. He can be such a hoot at times. Each time we go he again asks why family history is so important. We were able to help him prepare 8 names consisting of 37 temple ordinances. I think now that he has participated in it and has felt the spirit of Elijah it will have much more meaning for him.
Friday was Tongo day and it was another glorious day of teaching. As I mentioned last week, we stopped and met Jelius Kanu’s family who we invited to come to church and they all came. We were able to teach them on Friday and they are very interested what the church and the gospel has to offer them. As I have said before they are an incredible family. This time I did not let the opportunity pass by to snap a picture of them!
I hope to have much more to report about this family in the future. They will be a great strength to the home group there and eventually the branch when it is formed. We continued teaching John, Rebekah Grace, Konawa, Lasana, Peter, Mary, Kadie, Fatmata, Ishmael, Hanna, Sahr Lanai & his wife and Mary, wife of Aniru Conteh. James and Foday were out of Tongo in their respective villages. Not sure where sister Iye was . With the Kanu family, we now at least 20 solid, progressing investigators. It is amazing to know these people, feel of the goodness and humility and their desire to know and understand God even better than they do now. For example, as Elder Wallentine explained the Book of Mormon to Sister Hannah, she replied that she had prayed and prayed to know if the book was true. She was worried about a number of things in her family including how to help her son go to college in Bo. As she continued to pray about the Book of Mormon, she said that everything just started to fall into place and the things she was worried about worked themselves out. She then looked up at us and said, “I know this book is true”.
It has been a very busy and very fulfilling week. The good news is that the Chronicles of Salone are still being written. The history of the members of the church, the names of their ancestors desiring temple ordinances, the growth of the church in Kenema, Tongo and Kailahun and the blessings of God that are being poured out upon these people. We are grateful to be in the middle of this book as it is being written and hope that perhaps our efforts will appear as an exclamation point somewhere in the chapter on Kenema. How we love serving Hand in Hand with these amazing people!