On June 29th, 1909, Sierra Leone celebrated a significant milestone as their “14-years in the making” railway finally reached from Freetown to Pendembu, 227 miles east of the capital city. The British began surveying for the railway in 1893 and by 1907 the first line from Freetown to Wellington began operations. Over the next two years, it would reach Pendembu, but never made it the entire way to Liberia as originally envisioned.
There were two types of trains. “The Goods Train”, which transported heavy goods, including cocoa, coffee and palm kernels. The palm kernels were mostly sold into Europe and used to make things like soaps, glycerin and lubricants. The other type was the “Passenger Train”, divided between Express and Normal. Every day, these trains would transport thousands of people across and within Sierra Leone. All in all, there were 49 stations along the railway covering over 600 kilometers on three different lines. The railway was unusual in that it was constructed completely on 2 ft. 6 in. narrow gauge tracks, which generally were confined to minor feeder railways.
During World War II, the Sierra Leone railway took on increased importance. Apart from moving minerals from mines from the interior of the country to the coast, the railway was also supported the war effort in North Africa. Fighter aircraft were shipped to the end of the line, where they were assembled and then flown on to Egypt. This brought a revival in the use of the railway, but the tracks, engines, and railcars began to fall into disrepair as maintenance took a back seat to expediency.
Following the end of the war and into the 1950’s, the railway equipment was upgraded including the introduction of diesel locomotives and the purchase of 155 new freight wagons. In addition, when Sierra Leone was granted independence in 1961, the United Kingdom gifted them 45 new passenger coaches. The railway system was back better than ever!
But in the ensuring years, competition from both air and road transport took its toll and the railway could no longer support itself. In order to keep the lines running, the government had to subsidize operations and this became a political liability for the ruling party. The result was a slow phase-out of the lines. The line to Makeni was closed in 1968, followed by Kenema to Pendembu in 1971, Bo to Kenema in 1973 and Freetown to Bo on November 17, 1974. In early 1975, the railway line became one more footnote in the history of Sierra Leone. Even today there is finger pointing between the two major political parties as who was to blame for the demise of this national treasure.
Fortunately, some of the engines and cars were locked in the carriage shed in Freetown at one of the stations, only to be discovered in 2004 by a man named Colonel Steve Davies. Davies was able to convince the then president, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, that the equipment was worth preserving and after nearly two years of significant restoration work, Sierra Leone’s National Railway Museum was opened to the public in March of 2005.
Remnants of the rail line between Bo and Pendembu can still be seen today. Each time we drive to Kailahun (we pass through Pendembu), we can see a number of river bridges where the railway used to cross. These bridges form an important reminder of the history of Sierra Leone.
On Monday evening we had a delightful experience with John Martin Sesay and his wife Rachel Jongopie Sesay. They had invited us to join them for family home evening. They also invited their wonderful neighbor Esther to attend. It was such a fun little gathering. Rachel gave a lesson on 4th Nephi and the importance of “no contention in the land because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.” We had a great discussion and then played a couple of games. We laughed and laughed. We think Esther had a great experience as well. We are so proud of these young faithful couples here in Kenema like John Martin and Rachel. They make the future look very bright for the gospel in Kenema!
On Tuesday, we took the zone leaders to Bo to catch the van going to Freetown with the other zone leaders and sister training leaders so they could attend Mission Leadership Council (MLC). We were back in Kenema by 8:45 am. A few minutes later, Peter and David, two of the young men with mission calls, came to our home to clean the bars on our windows which attract all kinds of spider webs and bugs. They did a great job! It always makes our apartment feel so much cleaner when we can look out without the view being filtered by bugs! While the young men were working on the windows, LaDawn spent quite a bit of time downloading the 2020 primary videos. The hope is to create a disk that they can use with a DVD player and LCD screen to show the children these amazing videos to help them build their testimonies.
In the late afternoon, we went to the Kpayama Branch where we met Elder Moyo and Elder Paongo and did some family history work with Jibao Gaima and Christian Lawson. Jibao is the brother of Clinton Gaima, who we earlier worked with to help him get out on his mission. He is now serving in the Nigeria Enugu Mission. Christian is the branch mission leader and thought he had already submitted all of his available names, but just as we were about to leave, he realized he had two siblings that had passed away that he had forgotten in his earlier work. We took a few more minutes, gathered the information and submitted the names. It was so joyful for him and for us.
Wednesday was LaDawn’s birthday. At 11:00 am we traveled out to the district center and met with Jenneh Freeman, the IDA Branch Literacy teacher. Sister Freeman is a committed and spiritually sensitive teacher. Though she has been called for some time as the Gospel Literacy Teacher, she had not been able to make it to any of the training meetings we have held. To that end, we worked with President Samai, the branch president, to find a time when we could come to her. True to her word, she was at the church early and it allowed us to spend a full hour with her as we taught her about how to teach a picture story and how to effectively use the letter cards. We were also able to share with the video of Charles David’s gospel literacy journey. It is inspiring and we knew it would help her to be inspired as well. It was a wonderful hour together!
As soon as we returned home, Junior Bendu (solar guy and electrician) came over and installed a fan in the converted DC freezer (it is now AC). The guy that installed the new compressor said it didn’t need a fan, but I refused to accept that. Once Junior installed it, we had him help us load it on the truck and we took it back to the Rogers Street apartment in Bo. We almost missed the missionaries (Elder Gray and Elder Sabao), but caught them just at the last moment and we were able to unload the freezer and put it in their apartment. We plugged it in and everything was working great….for about 30 seconds, and then it simply stopped working. Our guess is that one of the wires Junior connected may have come loose. We were late getting to the Moomey’s for a birthday dinner for LaDawn, so we promised we would come back and then we left.
The dinner at the Moomey’s was delightful. Sister Moomey made pesto pasta and Elder Moomey barbequed chicken on his self-configured barbeque pit. Well done! Bread pudding with caramel for dessert. You can’t get that in Kenema (or anywhere else in Salone for that matter)! [How did we manage to NOT get a picture?]
We were expecting for the zone leaders to return from Freetown shortly after dinner so that we could be back in Kenema before dark, but they left late from Freetown, which meant we didn’t leave Bo until 6:30. We do not like to drive in the dark on that road between Kenema and Bo because of the people who walk on the sides of the road, the motorbikes that drive without lights and because of the all too often stalled trucks in the middle of the road. Thankfully we made it safely back home by 8:00 pm.
On Thursday, we attended the Hangha Road District Council with Elder Moyo, Elder Paongo, Elder Kennelly and Elder Edun. If there was a highlight for us, it was probably the questions that Elder Edun kept asking. We love his gospel curiosity! What is the difference between an Apostle and a Disciple? (A disciple chooses to learn, an apostle is called to teach – and yes, apostles are also disciples). We also discussed 1 Nephi 19:23 in regards to likening the scriptures unto ourselves and discussed briefly how we might emulate Ammon’s service to King Lamoni. Our experience both here and at home is that it is easy to talk about how we need to serve others like Ammon served Lamoni, but it is far different to actually do something so wonderful. Someone made the comment that it is in our willingness to sacrifice and do hard things that make it possible to liken the scriptures unto ourselves. Well said!
In the afternoon from 2:00 – 4:00 pm was the monthly Senior Missionary Couples Council with President and Sister Harper. It was good to be able to connect with all of them as we often feel disconnected from the mission spending our time working primarily with members and leaders as well as living in Kenema. We love our assignment though and are so grateful to be in this wonderful area of Salone.
At 4:30 we went to Dauda Town and helped Elder Daniel and Elder Uyinmwen input family history information into FamilySearch for Albert Daneson Boima. Brother Boima joined the church in 2015 and has recently felt the pull of the Spirit of Elijah encouraging him to do the temple work for his kindred dead. It was also a great experience for Elder Daniel who had never helped someone enter their family information before. We all had a great experience and Brother Boima left feeling very grateful and happy.
On Friday, I drove Elder Matchowa and Elder Hansen to Tongo where we met with 13 wonderful people being taught the gospel. Bockarie, Samuel, Agnes, Emmanuel, Rebecca, Sister Iye, Papa Kanu, Sarah, Sama, Mamie, Messie, John and Esther.
Many of these wonderful people will be ready to be baptized in October which is the next planned baptismal date. The highlight of the day for me was teaching Agnes, Rebecca and Emmanuel the Plan of Salvation while Elder Hansen taught Sister Iye with John Charles and Elder Matchowa taught Messie and Mamie with Bockarie Konuwa. Using a sheet of paper to draw some diagrams, coupled with the Plan of Salvation pamphlet, all three of them seemed to understand my terribly poor attempt at some small amount of Krio. Elder Hansen came over after they finished teaching Sister Iye and reviewed the lesson with them to confirm they understood. Agnes is generally shy about answering questions when her family is around, but I kept pressing her and giving her opportunity to speak. When her sister Rebecca would chime in, I would tell her that Agnes needed to respond, which she did. That eleven year old young woman is one smart cookie. While we were teaching, two random strangers came up and sat down. I paused to ask them why they stopped in and the man (Tamba) responded that he saw the “bible” and wanted to sit in and learn. The woman (Mariama) lives in Tongo, but Tamba is from Kono. With help from Agnes, Rebecca and Emmanuel, we explained to Tamba and Mariama that the Bible they were referencing was the Book of Mormon. We briefly explained its origin, history and purpose as a second Testament of Jesus Christ. Agnes opened the book to the picture of Moroni burying the plates and explained it to him. I was impressed! Tamba’s response was classic, “Well, I cannot read it if I do not have a copy of the book”. Rebecca was then quick to invite them both to church on Sunday. He said he was Catholic, but that he would come. I loved the way that those I was teaching became the teachers for this good man and woman.
We arrived back in Kenema about 4 pm, and at 5:15 pm we drove over to OTC and had another wonderful discussion with Eku Scotland. We had left a Word of Wisdom pamphlet with him last week and asked him to read it. We knew that he enjoyed drinking coffee and from time to time would drink some alcohol, so we were not sure how he would react. But it was amazing to listen to him teach us for almost 30 minutes about the word of wisdom. He told us that he knew that coffee was not good for him, and that he had actually stopped for a week, but then eventually went back to drinking it. He simply said, “As of today, I will no longer drink any coffee”. His reasoning? He knew that coffee was not good for him physically, but had not realized the spiritual implications. Once he realized that he could not have the spirit with him if he was breaking this commandment, he fully and completely committed to living it, without us saying a single word. He also indicated that he would stop drinking alcohol. This man is so filled with faith that he inspires us desire to follow his example of being perfectly obedient to the commandments of God.
On Saturday, we arose early, leaving the apartment about 7:15 am, heading first to Kailahun and then on to Dia where a baptism for 8 people had been scheduled to begin at 11:00 am. We made it to Kailahun in 2 hours, about what we figured. We dropped off some Afrigas (propane) bottles and a new mosquito net to the elders, picked up President Morison Nabieu, Sister Francis Salia (RS counselor) and Brother Bockarie Sarty (former branch clerk who leaves on his mission this week) and headed to Dia.
The last time we went there the “good” road took us about 1 hour and 10 minutes and on the way back we took the “bad” road, knowingly shorter but rougher. It took us about 50 minutes. However, on Saturday, the “good” road was very bad. It is the road from Koindu to Kailahun and is the route for transport trucks. Couple that with the rainy season and you have a definite mess. It took us 2.5 hours to get there, meaning we were a full hour late. We had the baptismal clothes and the branch president, so they waited, but we felt bad to cause so much waiting.
The baptism itself was wonderful. We started in the community center with a hymn, prayer and talks and then walked down to the small river where all 8 of the candidates were baptized by Brother Sarty and Brother Benjamin. It was quite the memorable moment. We do not even have a home group yet in Dia and there were 40 people in attendance, excluding us, the missionaries and the members from Kailahun. They have now baptized 12 new members this year and there are more who want to join. Unfortunately, the mission just cannot support these remote congregations – at least not yet. The travel time, the safety of the road, the amount of missionary work that needs to be done in Kailahun, all of these things have resulted in the decision to pull the missionaries back to further the work in Kailahun. The Kailahun branch will now have the responsibility to care for the flock in Dia (which they were already doing), but without the help of the missionaries. After the baptisms, we walked back to the community center and each of the converts bore a powerful testimony of their love for the Lord, his gospel and his church. At the conclusion, we walked back to where the truck was parked at the Paramount Chief’s house (he is also a member) and many of the members and Elder Nwangele and Elder Abad had some food and then all four of us were on our way back to Kailahun. Those we brought up with us stayed so they could be there on Sunday when the new converts were confirmed. Coming back we took the shorter way which used to be the “bad” road. As it turns out, the bad road is still bad, but it is much better than the “good” road. It took us about 90 minutes to get back to Kailahun. We picked up the empty Afrigas containers which we had replaced earlier in the day, enjoyed a quick restroom break at the Elders’ apartment and headed back home. We arrived back in Kenema about 6 pm. A very long, but rewarding day.
On Sunday, we attended the Burma Branch Conference. There were three speakers in sacrament meeting. Victoria Massaquoi, a 19-year-old convert of almost 6 years, President Martin Phofie Konneh, the branch president; and Samuel Fomba, first counselor in the District Presidency. Victoria bore a brief but powerful testimony. President Konneh spoke about faith and obedience, including the importance of honesty, paying our tithes and offerings, and fulfilling our church callings. President Fomba gave a masterful talk about bringing about change in the lives of those who know not yet where to find truth. He gave 7 principles worth repeating. 1) We should not be afraid to invite change. 2) We should never force anyone to change. Free will is of utmost importance. 3) We should pray for the Lord to soften the hearts of those who need change most. 4) We should pray that others will have the God-given strength to change. 5) We should treat others as they can become, not how they now are. 6) We must be patient and allow others to change at their own pace. 7) We must never give up on those we are praying will change, even if they fall back to their own ways from time to time. It was another great sacrament meeting. The second hour was again combined and at the district president’s request, we taught a lesson on family history, just as we have done at the other branches. It was a good day.
GRACE UPDATE: Little Grace and Rebecca continue to do well. Tomorrow (Sep 10th), Grace will go back to see Dr. Grimmer for her follow-up appointment. The scar is healing nicely and should be band-aid free before she leaves to come back home on Friday. She will also get a thyroid test tomorrow to determine her hormones levels from that important gland.
Since its growth was impeded by the tumor, she may need to take medication for the rest of her life to keep her healthy. Everyone who has the opportunity to meet them and speak to them (the list is waaayyy too long to mention) have fallen in love with this wonderful mother-daughter combo. They enjoyed a special treat yesterday at church. Once again, Sister Bingham went out of her way to attend sacrament meeting at Lisa’s ward in Layton with Rebecca and Grace. It both impresses and astounds us the individual one-on-one care and concern that Sister Bingham has shown to this little family. Thank you, Sister Bingham, for being such an amazing example to all of us! Some of the other activities of this last week: A trip to the Aquarium with Susan Ogden; a second trip to Temple Square, this time with Skylar Christy and his family; a shopping spree with Lisa at Deseret Industries for clothes for Rebecca to take back to her children; fun for Grace as she repeatedly poured water on herself from a bucket on the back porch; a trip with Lisa to a neighbor who raises bunnies and chickens; a visit from Melissa Hawkley, who walked through a gospel literacy lesson with Rebecca; playtime for Grace with Susan’s grandchildren; and lots of other activities including visitors and numerous conversations.
Railways, like most things made by man, will with time decay – and eventually be forgotten. There is a natural decay in all things physical that cannot be stopped. Maintenance is required incessantly to keep a railway running, to keep a house livable, to keep a fence standing and a car running, to name only a few examples. This is a universal theme. There may be evidence of something’s one-time existence, but its utility will diminish to zero without constant attention.
There is an exception to this rule, but it is a spiritual exception and not a physical one. The atonement of Jesus Christ is the single source of a strengthening and enabling power that can reverse decay and decline. We see it everyday here in the Sierra Leone Freetown Mission as people who have felt lost and discouraged come to know the power of the atonement in their own lives as they repent and turn to Jesus Christ. We rejoice in our opportunity to work hand in hand with missionaries, members and leaders to see and help these miraculous changes occur. To the rest of the Church we say, “Africa is more ready to receive the gospel, than we as a Church are ready to bring it to them.” May we all lengthen our stride and make sure than none of our African brothers and sisters are ever forgotten.
4 thoughts on “The Forgotten Railway”
Such great pictures and stories! I imagine life back in Magnolia will feel forever changed after your time in Africa.
The pictures are so amazing. Glad little Grace is back to her health. So happy for the life of this lovely child (Grace)
Happy Birthday to my sweet friend!! I always think of her on that day! (Remind her she is always older than me…!)
What amazing experiences you both are having in Sierra Leone! You will be changed forever – our short time in Saudi, gave us such an insight into a culture we had not experienced before, and has completely altered our perceptions and expectations!