Seeking to make a greater impact with its global outreach, Morrow Church of Maplewood sent a small team to Sierra Leone last month. Inspired by a recent discussion of the book When Helping Hurts, the Morrow team was looking to take their current relationship with the Sierra Leone Conference to the next level. With the ultimate goal of building a long-term and asset-based partnership, the team had three objectives for their trip:
- Listen and learn from the Sierra Leone Conference members where Morrow Church could make a difference
- Witness and report about the impact the Ebola virus has had on the lives of Sierra Leoneans
- Talk & connect with the Sierra Leone conference members, teachers, students, doctors, nurses, patients and administrators
The team was hosted in Sierra Leone by Olivia Fonnie, Director of Christian Education/Specialized Ministry to Children. Tim Roebuck, Team Leader of Sierra Leone outreach at Morrow, worked with Fonnie to create an itinerary that would expose the group to a variety of potential projects.
Initially, when considering the trip, the Morrow team had concerns that the Sierra Leone Conference would benefit more from a donation than a visit. But once there, Bishop Yambasu of the Sierra Leone Conference reassured the Morrow team saying, “You should come even if you never even give a dime, because when people come and see (Sierra Leone), they are never the same. People visit and then spread the word back home…who knows what will come of that?”
Over the 10 days in Sierra Leone, the Morrow team traveled across the country visiting multiple UMC run schools, hospitals and women’s empowerment projects. The team journeyed to many of the areas hardest hit by the Ebola virus including Bo, Moyamba and Kenema in the Southern Province.
An evening of cultural exchange at the famous Moyamba Harford School for Girls proved to be a real highlight. Harford is a UMC school that has historically provided the country with many of its women leaders. The Harford Girls put on an energetic show of traditional African dances. In return, Morrow Church member, Shona Roebuck, led the girls in praise songs and popular American line dances.
Talking about soccer proved to be a great icebreaker with the students. Using soccer as a springboard, the team found it easy to engage the students about their hopes and dreams for the future. “The students we met have ambitions to be lawyers, accountants, nurses, doctors and in one case, even the President of Sierra Leone,” says Shona Roebuck.
The team received an enthusiastic welcome at a temporary UMC primary school in Kenema. This school, derogatively termed a “mushroom school” by the government, was made of bamboo stakes intermittently covered by well-worn tarps. Each day the children carry their benches in and out of storage to prevent them from being stolen. However, after six years of moving from place to place, land for a permanent school has been purchased and architectural plans have been drawn up.
Inspired by the passion and determination of the teachers and students at the Kenema school, the Morrow team bought tarps to get the school through the rainy season. Back home, they hope to generate more long-term support by telling the story of the “mushroom school” at every opportunity.
For Mary Beth Scherer, it was energizing to see how far a dollar could go. “There’s a well crafted 10 year plan, highly resourceful people in place and strong community partnerships to make our efforts sustainable,” she said.
According to Melinda Wilkening, the team built lasting relationships with the people throughout the Sierra Leone Methodist Community, “As we toured the hospitals and schools, we connected with our hosts on a personal level, sharing stories about our families, our churches and our lives. We even made a few new Facebook Friends.”
The trip culminated in a dinner with Bishop Yambasu. The team was inspired listening to Bishop Yambasu talk about the leading role the UMC played in compelling Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma to announce an Ebola state of emergency. “It made you feel proud to be a Methodist to see what a pivotal role our leadership played in bringing the Ebola crisis to the world’s attention,” said Scherer.
According to Tim Roebuck, “There are so many opportunities for congregations in Greater New Jersey to make a difference, whether it be sponsoring individual students, paying the salaries of village medical professionals or even, transforming a ‘mushroom’ school into a building with a permanent roof.” He urges other congregations to visit Sierra Leone and see what God is calling them to do.
Congregations wishing to learn more about making a visit or to see a short presentation on Morrow’s experience in Sierra Leone should contact Tim Roebuck at firstname.lastname@example.org.