One of the most wonderful things about Sierra Leone are the Pikins (pronounced “peek-ings”). Who are they? They are the children. Pikin is the Krio word for children – and they are everywhere.
Current population estimates indicate that 28% of the population consists of children 9 years of age and younger. If we include those up to age 14, the population is 40%. As a comparison, in the United States, children 14 and younger comprise 18% of the population. In Sierra Leone, a child is born every 2 minutes. In the United States, a country that is 41 times larger in population, there are 15 children born every 2 minutes.
The downside to these statistics, as wonderful as the children are, is that many of these children are born to teenage mothers. For example, in 2015 according to the United Nations Population Fund, 12% of children born had mothers between the ages of 15-19. There is another problem of increasing intensity and importance, that of rape. In 2018, there were 8,505 cases reported of “sexual and gender-based violence”, nearly doubling from the previous year. Nearly a third of these cases involved a minor. The current president, Maada Bio, has declared rape a national emergency. His wife, First Lady Fatima Bio, has created her own campaign titled, “Hands Off Our Girls” in an effort to stem this growing evil.
The anecdotal evidence we see here in the Eastern Region in regards to teenage mothers is that the problem is significant and growing. On average, women give birth to 4.3 children during their lives, and over 25% of them give birth before the age of 18. Many of these children are growing up without fathers and spend the bulk of their lives in poverty. Even inside the Church we are not immune to this problem, albeit our experience is that it is minimal compared to those outside the Church. It is one of the great blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ, to bring to the people a knowledge of the severity of the sin and the unintended consequences of breaking the law of chastity. It was also for this reason, that we rejoiced so greatly in President Cobinah’s talk last week in District conference on the law of chastity. Keeping this law, in our view, will be one of the most significant reasons that Sierra Leone will arise from the dust of poverty and corruption.
To discuss the children, of necessity, these facts need to be raised, but we don’t want that to take away from the fact that there are many wonderful, intact and fully functioning families here in Kenema and Sierra Leone. And while the population of children is high, through no fault of their own, their goodness, kindness, friendliness and love brings us hope for the future. Each time we go for a walk, it is the children, calling out from porches, schools, play areas and homes with their familiar “hallo, hallo, hallo!” Even after we respond and wave back, they continue to greet us until we are out of sight. They bring us great joy and remind us that truly God loves all of his children.
As is often the case, Monday was filled with various activities and meetings. LaDawn spent a good part of the day downloading the 2020 Primary videos for the Primary presidents of each of the branches so they will have them for next year. We don’t use the videos the Church has created much here in Sierra Leone because of the internet issues, but when we know which videos will be used, we can download them and put them on a DVD or a USB stick in an effort to take advantage of the wonderful Church media.
Tuesday morning, we made some deliveries to the missionary apartments, primarily Afrigas (propane) for their stoves, diesel for their generator, copies of the Book of Mormon and some of the missionary pamphlets. The current state of the side roads makes for what should have taken 30 minutes into a 2-hour excursion as we went from one end of Kenema all the way to the other. We are always happy to find ways to serve our missionaries so they can keep the work moving with momentum and consistency.
In the evening, we had a discussion with Elder & Sister Child. They are over the apartments in the mission so we have been working on a solar maintenance agreement with Junior Bendu and they had a few items that had come out of their weekly Monday meeting that they wanted to discuss. We also discussed the process for maintaining the apartments that Dennis Samai is now leading in an effort to put everything in place for when we are no longer here. The Child’s had also been asked to do some training on fast offerings and self-reliance in the district they support. We discussed some of the training we had done in Kenema in hopes they might be able to reuse some of the materials.
Much of the rest of Tuesday was spent working on the story of Rebecca and Grace which we are writing for the AfricaWest.ChurchofJesusChrist.org online pages. It is difficult to condense the story into something worth publishing without leaving out so many great aspects of the story. Right now, it is a labor of love, with emphasis on LABOR and LOVE!
On Wednesday, we again met with Junior (our solar guy) where we worked out a final proposal for a solar maintenance agreement. We had Junior sign the document which we then scanned and sent to the mission for President Harper’s approval. With our departure in December, we want to make sure there is a plan in place to take care of any solar issues that may come up (and they do).
For example, in the last couple of weeks we have lost solar controllers in IDA, Dauda Town and Kailahun. In each case, the fix has been fairly simple. We are grateful that Eku Scotland knows how to diagnose and repair these things. It appears that we have a consistent flaw with one of the components (e.g., resisters, diodes, capacitors, etc.) that must get so hot that one of the soldered legs comes lose and the connection is lost. Again, it is a simple fix, but such a pain to have to constantly worry about repairing them. Still not sure how to fix that problem long-term.
We did have a bit of a breakthrough of sorts on Wednesday in terms of the solar freezers. One of the problems we have had is that there has been no way to repair a DC freezer because there are no parts for them here. Junior had been installing solar panels for Elizabeth and her sister Zainab. They have a significant import business from China and it is right here in Kenema! After meeting with him, he and I drove over to her shop and we discussed buying some compressors and controllers for the freezers. She immediately video-called her contact in China and by the next day we found out she could get the set for us for $170. Considering that a new freezer costs $500, we were very happy to discover this. We have now officially ordered three sets of replacements. This will significantly help us to keep these freezers up and running. A small miracle for us. Thanks Junior!
In the early evening, we drove out to Edith Juanah’s home in the IDA Branch area. Edith lived in the U.S. for 21 years and returned to Sierra Leone a couple of years ago. She is currently serving as the branch Relief Society president in the IDA Branch.
She is such a delightful woman. She made a wonderful dinner and invited us to come and share it with her. I was particularly fond of the ground nut soup on rice. It was so delicious. She had also invited President Cobinah. Sister Cobinah just had a baby a couple of weeks ago, so she was not able to come. Edith will be going to the U.S. for some medical checkups and will likely not return until after we have finished our mission.
On Thursday, we attended the Kenema South District Council where Elder Daniel is the district leader. For the council, Elder Daniel had prepared for a discussion about putting on the whole armor of God. He had done some nice pondering about it and had several pages of notes that he had written. However, to his credit, once we started the discussion, he allowed the questions and thoughts to flow from members of the district instead of his paper. This is what makes for a great district council meeting: When the person leading the discussion brings inspired questions instead of planned answers.
I came away with several completely new thoughts about the armor of God that had not occurred to me before. I will mention only one here. It has to do with Ephesians 6:15: “And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace”. The connection I had not previously made was with the temple, referring to the statement from God to Moses’ in Exodus 3:5 – “And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” It occurred to me that for us today, the temple is our most holy ground. Where better to have our feet prepared to do His peaceful work than in His temple. The reference to our feet denotes action and movement. It symbolizes moving to becoming more like Jesus Christ. To be effective servants of our Savior, we must be filled with peace and a desire to serve others. Where better for that to happen than in the temple?
After district council, we loaded up the freezer that we had brought from the Borbor Kombor apartment in Bo and returned it back to the apartment. Turns out the only problem was a loose wire on the timer, which was easily fixed. One more example where having a maintenance agreement with Junior Bendu would have made our life a bit easier. Elder Moomey and I took the freezer to the apartment and hooked it up while LaDawn and Sister Moomey drove over to the Bo West Stake Center and picked up the patriarchal blessings for Peter Ngekia and David Gbow.
On Friday we worked with several members of the Nyandeyama Branch to submit their family history.
We first worked with Dassama who came to our apartment and we input all but two of his great grandparents on his fathers side. He said his dad is still working on getting those names from his family in the village. In the afternoon, we went over to the Opportunity Training Center and worked with Bobson, Foday and Esther to input their family history. We will never get tired of this work of bringing the ordinances of salvation to families on the other side of the veil. A special shout out to Sister Akwara and Sister Awortwe who did a great job with the inputting of the names.
Later in the evening, we came back to OTC and met with Eku. He had studied the pamphlet on Families and Temples and taught us from its pages. We talked a lot about temple work and why we do it and how it blesses both us and our families. As we were discussing the temple (he loves everything about the temple), he said, “I feel like I have already been baptized”. He loves everything about the doctrines of the church. They speak to his heart and his soul. He has so much experience with perseverance and hardship that he has come to know God well. Which is why it was so easy for him to identify the Holy Spirit when it spoke to him and told him he should move to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We are still waiting on Bernice and Ralph to return so he can talk to them. I think we all hope they come soon as Eku is eager to progress and we are eager to help his entire family enjoy the blessings available to them.
Saturday morning we had our third Literacy coordination meeting. President Fomba, Sister Bangura (District RS Pres) and Literacy Specialist Favour Tucker were in attendance. Emmanuel Yambusu (the other literacy specialist) and Maya Bockerie (District Sunday school President) did not make it. We had a good discussion about the role of the district literacy specialists., using one of the videos that were developed for that reason. We edited it a bit to take out those parts that did not apply, making it about 10 minutes long. It was very helpful. We agreed on the final dates for the roll-outs to the remainder of the branches and discussed the importance of the four month pilot to determine if it makes a difference holding gospel literacy class during the 2nd hour.
At 11:00 am, Grace Kongoley, Philip and Marian Briama and Rachel Sesay joined us. We were disappointed the remainder of the teachers who had said they would be there did not show up. We had a wonderful discussion, again using the videos to talk about ministering to Gospel Learners and then showing Martha Kongoley’s inspiring video about how gospel literacy has changed her life for the better. Overall, a very productive 2 hours.
Saturday afternoon, I attended a District Council Meeting with District Presidency. We had 8 district councilors present. President Cobinah discussed what it takes to build Zion and then followed that up with a discussion on how we could make future district and stake conferences better. It was a good session. After the evaluation, some of the councilors reported out on activities and concerns in the branches they support. This too was helpful for the district presidency to hear. A few pertinent actions were agreed. My contribution to the meeting was a plea to the councilors not to have to wait to be told by the district presidency about everything that they should go and do. All of us need to know how to receive personal revelation for our families and our callings. There is so much good that we can all do if we take our direction from the Lord as opposed to waiting on a priesthood or organizational leader to tell us everything that we should do.
Sunday morning we left our apartment at 6:45 am and headed to Tongo. We had not been there for a while on a Sunday and the missionaries needed to go so that they could interview the 6 Individuals who will be baptized next Saturday. Marie and Sarah Kanu, Samuel Charles, Sister Iye, Mamie and Messie. This will bring the number of converts this year to seventeen. It is always an exciting time to participate in these ordinances of salvation with people we have come to love and respect. Elder Fajardo, one of the district leaders in the zone came with Elder Tenney to perform the interviews. We drove them up, but they brought bikes back as we had other appointments we needed to attend to in Kenema.
During the second hour, LaDawn and I participated in the gospel literacy class that Sister Messie Senesie and Sister Steven (not yet a member) led. There were 6 gospel learners divided into a beginners and intermediate class, but the reality is that there are many more in the home group who need help with literacy. It continues to be painfully obvious to us that we need some materials with which to teach letter sounds. Despite the number of times these groups have met, they are still only on Lesson 3 in Book 1. The big problem is that the learners are learning the names of the letters, but they do not understand the sound that each of them makes. We expect to do a full roll-out in December once it has been made a branch.
One of the other great things about going to Tongo is being able to see Grace. She continues to do extremely well. Rebecca is happy and she feels like she is progressing and little Grace is growing and talking and smiling a lot these days. We will be forever grateful to have been able to have a small part to play in helping her to receive the life saving surgery in the U.S.
Peter and David left for Freetown on Monday morning, so they came by one last time. They both had an opportunity to bear their testimonies in their branch on Sunday and we have heard from several sources that they both did an amazing job.
We will miss these two young men. They are valiant servants of God and will be great missionaries. We were grateful to see them one last time.
Later on Sunday, we walked over to the chapel next door where we were able to help two more members of the Nyandeyama Branch submit their family history. Jattu Soufian and her sister in law. Actually Elder Jardine and Elder Colonia did all the heavy lifting. Since the two women are sister in laws, they have a common grandparent on their pedigree charts. When both women had the missionaries help them input the information, we then needed to do a merge of the records. That is where we come in as we work through issues that need clarification or in this case, records that needed to be merged. As we left the chapel, we all had a bit of a spring in our step as we felt the spirit of Elijah confirm that this work is important!
The children in Sierra Leone are a treasure for this country and for their families. They are also a reminder to us all that everyone in this country and on the entire African continent are a treasure to our Heavenly Father, as they are all children of God. Many are waiting to hear the truths of the restored gospel. Many are waiting to learn to read and write so that the scriptures can be open to them. Many are waiting to receive their temple blessings so their families can be together forever. There is so much work to do here, and simply not enough people to carry the load. We again want to make a plea to anyone out there who may read this blog who are considering a mission, or perhaps you may know someone else who is considering serving. We desperately need senior missionary couples in this mission. The work is rewarding and the sacrifice will change you. It has changed us and we will be forever grateful for the opportunity to serve these amazing people. We love walking and working hand in hand with members, missionaries and leaders as we build the kingdom of God here in Sierra Leone.