We’re sitting in Pastor Judith Banya’s house in Baiwalla, Sierra Leone, and there’s a gaggle of children and adults in the yard. This is a community gathering spot because there is a well. Kids are filling up buckets of water. But this morning is different. There are visitors from Minnesota, and there’s a chance to investigate what is happening, meet them, and shake their hands. Whenever we sit on the front veranda, we are in a fishbowl with throngs of little children surrounding us with greetings in both Mende and English. This is no place for introverts.
This is also no place for people who dislike traveling twenty hours in a plane, followed by seven hours of bumpy road to village of 3,000 people clear across the country about two miles from the Liberian border. But for the rest of us, it’s totally worth it. These folks know the meaning of radical hospitality. As they lead us on a tour of their town, we enter people’s homes, stop by a local community kitchen where women are cooking together for their families, and visit a blacksmith community where men work together to sharpen scythes to be used in the fields. We chat with the local Iman at the mosque, meet the community health workers at the clinic, and walk out to the rice fields on the edge of town.
Baiwalla has suffered a lot recently. The civil war in Liberia first spilled over into Sierra Leone here. Ebola threatened this area, too, as it did the whole country. Consequently, the literacy rate plummeted as fewer and fewer children could go to school while the guns and disease spread through the land. But Africans are by nature resilient, and hope is rising.
Hope is rising as 700 children are fed each noon at the local primary school. Nutritional packets from Feed My Starving Children, delivered through OC Ministries, are mixed with local rice to provide them with at least one healthy meal a day. Parents are now encouraged to spend the little money they make to send their children there, rather than to just ask them to work all day in the field. This is “material” evangelism, and Pastor Judith knows it. It’s no secret why the little United Methodist Church she started two blocks away keeps growing. She’s “doing all the good she can” in a myriad of ways. Word is getting out beyond Baiwalla, too. She’s been able to start three other churches in communities close by, because those parents send their children to the same school.
The ripple effect spreads as Judith builds wells and employs teachers, lay evangelists, cooks, drivers and farmers. It also is expanding through her plans to complete a 12-classroom secondary school just outside of town. Local construction workers/laborers make $2 per day, and are happy to get it. And they all know that their children—the ones who currently attend primary school—will soon be given a meal at that school too. And Judith will not be anywhere near finished. She also plans to build a preschool, start a student scholarship program, and build community latrines and wells in the future.
Judith is grateful for the education she received from United Methodist Schools in the past. After graduating from college in Sierra Leone, she completed her Master of Divinity degree in Minnesota and served here for a while. But her heart was always with her Mende people and she knew she would return. Hope continues to rise in Sierra Leone through people like her, as well as through OC Ministries, a ministry of the MN Annual Conference, now completing its tenth school in the country.
Rev. Lyndy Zabel is director of community engagement for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Find out more information about OC Ministries.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church