Thursday, January 28, 2016

Sierra Leone 5: Sunday Worship and Time to Go Home!

Sunday morning those of us who had gone to bed at a reasonable hour got up and headed to worship. Bishop Momah was kind enough to pick us up and take us to Faith Community Lutheran in Levuma Beach about 5 miles south of our hotel. The community there has a long history but recently completed their first worship space. It lies in a low spot in the midst of a poor community that is challenged by encroaching development along the beach front.
 Despite these challenges the community thrives and continues to worship and sustain its life. On this Sunday we arrived just as the Catechism class was finishing for adults, with education for children going on in the back of the one room worship space. Once it was time for worship we followed a traditional Ordo (Gathering, Word, Meal, Sending) with the exception of having communion. Wine made from grapes is actually quite scarce in Sierre Leone. So Communion is not celebrated each week. This community is led by two pastors, a woman who is ordained, and a male who is an "evangelist" which means he is in training.

The people at Faith Community were of course more than gracious to us. They even allowed Dad and I to preach which was a fun and honoring experience. But ultimately it was time to leave. So we journeyed back to the Aberdeen bridge to catch the water taxi over to Lungi where the airport is located. The taxi left a bit later than expected, but we were in good form to get on our trip.

Having arrived in the dark it was fun to be able to see the journey on our way now. The skyline of downtown Freetown (where the market we visited was) against the mountains that gave the nation its name.
Arriving at Lungi we could see the beautiful beaches that, if properly developed, could provide Sierra Leone with such great tourist trade and economic advance.
Of course, to capitalize on that opportunity the facilities and capacity for welcoming visitors must be advanced. For the second time in our trips to Sierra Leone I found myself on the second floor of the Freetown airport arguing with ticket agents about our reservations.

Apparently Kenya Air, a codeshare partner of KLM and Delta, had changed their flight number. As such, the reservations for "the boys" (Dad, Joel, and me) were thrown into disarray and what should have been a simple function of checking in and booking through to DFW became far more complicated than it should have been. Eventually after a couple hours of negotiation we were able to get the Kenya Air folks to book us through to Accra where we would find more sophisticated assistance and help.
Goodbye Sierra Leone, may we see you again soon and may you thrive in the meantime! The Kenya Air flight was a wonderful experience. Good food, wine, and in flight entertainment. Perhaps the most comfortable of our flight experiences. That said, there was uncertainty when we arrived at Accra and had less than 2 hours to make our connection. Would we be able to re-check and re-book our flights? Thankfully, a lovely woman named Rosemary greeted us in Accra and guided us through the airport. So ultimately we were able to get aboard our KLM flight to Amsterdam. Once aboard, everyone was all smiles!!!
The KLM flight was full of good hospitality and entertainment. Each of us had our own TV with which we could watch various movies and TV. The boys enjoyed their meal and then settled in. Dad watched more TV (at least 8 consecutive episodes of The Big Bang Theory) than I think I have ever seen him watch.
A couple hours later, after food and wine, I checked the in flight monitor of progress. Amazing to think of where we were flying over at 45,000 feet. As we crossed out of Africa and over the Mediterranean I looked out and could see the fires from the refineries and the cities fade into the black of the sea. Goodbye Africa, Thank you for a wonderful weekend. I look forward to being with you again.
Amsterdam to Minneapolis to the FWD was thankfully uneventful. We arrive home Monday afternoon. It was a long and thankfully very successful and safe trip. We are grateful to have been with Jiwoh, Manja, Yeani, and Hali. We look forward to returning soon.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Sierra Leone 4: THE WEDDING!!!

After all the preparations and the activities of the week, it was finally time for the wedding. Initially the focus of the worship space was to be the large tree to the left of the altar area here. Thankfully, Leo, the photographer, was wise enough to encourage the wedding coordinator to move the focus to the right so that the ocean would be more of an emphasis. Leo was right. 
Prior to the wedding (which was scheduled to start at 4pm, but seriously, this is Sierra Leone) we had time to get together and take a few pictures. Here is the Reverend with the groom and his groomsmen. From left to right, Gaiva (his school buddy), Jongoi (brother), and Joel (brother). Gaiva did his best to push us for information and stories to embarrass Jiwoh, but we stayed firm!!!
Jiwoh with his mothers, Mary and Sharon. Mary lives in Lagos now, but was sure to bring special gifts for Jiwoh's Texas family.
Finally, on Jiwoh/Sierra Leone time we got going. Time to have the wedding.
It just so happened that Jan 9th was the feast day of St. Adrian of Canterbury. He isn't exactly the best known Saint of all time, but he was remarkable for today in that Adrian was born in Africa in the 7th Century. He was a Berber who left Africa for education in Europe. Not unlike Jiwoh and Manja I pointed out and the congregation got a good laugh. However, unlike them, he never returned home and instead spent his life in England. On a day like this one it was worthy, I said, of celebrating that Jiwoh, Manja, Yeani, and Hali had come home to make their home, in their home, Africa.
I had given Kristen my phone to take pictures, and she got some wonderful shots. Especially this one of our kid's cousins. Annika has made me promise that we will be back to Sierra Leone soon to see her cousins.

We closed with my favorite final blessing from the old LBW.
"Most gracious God, we give you thanks for your tender love in sending Jesus Christ to come among us, to be born of a human mother, and to make the way of the cross to be the way of life. By the power of your Holy Spirit, pour out your abundant blessing upon Manja and Jiwoh. Defend them from every enemy. Lead them into all peace. Let their love for each other be a seal upon their hearts, a mantle about their shoulders, and a crown upon their foreheads. Bless them in their work and in their companionship; in the sleeping and in their waking; in their joys and in their sorrows; in their life and in their death. Finally in your mercy, bring them to that table where your saints feast forever in your banquet; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever. Amen."

And now, Dear Friends, I present to you, as husband and wife, Jiwoh and Manja...

Couldn't help but have a selfie at the altar. Such an amazing setting. Not sure I will ever get that sort of an opportunity again.
Jiwoh and Manja and their parents. Not the official shot, so Jiwoh is not exactly in great form. ;-)

The wedding ceremony was over. Now it was time for the party. And what a party it would be. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Sierra Leone 3: Downtown Freetown

Saturday morning we trekked out from the Lumley beach area to downtown Freetown. Along the way we climbed Tower Hill to see the Parliament Building and along the road stopped for a group shot. Freetown sits on a peninsula, with mountains to the south and east, ocean to the west, and the Sierra Leone river to the North. It is one of the worlds largest natural deep water harbors. Ideal for defense and why in the late 1700's freed British slaves and then later freed men from America who had sided with the British (the Black Loyalists) but found life in Nova Scotia untenable due to economic and racial discrimination came here. Freetown was founded in 1792 under the "Cotton Tree" in downtown Freetown, prayed into being by a Baptist preacher from South Carolina (the first Baptist sermon ever in Africa). This began a trend of Freetown being a city of many different ethnic and religious groups. No dominate majority has ever controlled the city.
 On our way we traveled the crowded Saturday morning market streets. Very little regulation on the "shops" that set up on street corners, car hoods, or tents.
 Had to take this picture for Axel's Godmother Ms. Diana from TLCC. Even in a place as challenged as Freetown there are those caring for the Tiny Tots in their midst.
 Eventually we found our way to the Upgun Market which I had visited back in 2007 with Jiwoh and his sisters. This is the large two story covered market you can find in most cities. Where trinkets and other items are sold. However, it is only one of many markets in the city. So when we told our driver we wanted to go to the market he wasn't sure what we wanted. Luckily for some reason I remembered it was on Kissy street across from St. George's Anglican Cathedral.
 Church directions never steer you wrong!!! The market was full of materials but very quiet on Saturday morning. That led to good shopping. Each vender promised us "the best deal, for being the best first customer."
 Miriam and Tante proved to be good bargain shoppers. It was a good lesson for Miriam no doubt in how to negotiate. That they will never offer you a price they won't settle for, so you have to stay strong and decide what you are willing to pay.
 I bought some gifts for the kids, the staff as well as a new nativity set for Kendra. As any good African nativity set should, it contains Hippos. The Word became Flesh to come into our context, our lives, whatever those lives are and wherever they are, Christ comes to be with us.

When we got back, we headed down to the Lumley Beach to take in a bit of afternoon sun before the wedding. It is such a beautiful strand of beach. If only the community could get their infrastructure in place, and basic levels of trash and sanitation, Sierra Leone would be an amazing holiday destination. We pray that the commitment of folks like Jiwoh and Manja will help make that possible.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Sierra Leone 2: Meeting A Bishop

Once in Freetown we settled in to our hotel and got a good night's sleep. The next morning dad and I were honored to have coffee with the new bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone, the Rev. Bishop Moses KobbaMomah. The Bishop brought with him the treasurer of the ELCSL and we had a good conversation about the challenges facing the church especially in the wake of Ebola.
 Giving thanks for this opportunity to meet with the bishop it seemed appropriate to give some gifts. I was privileged to present the bishop with a "Texas style" cross (found by Trinity member Penny Level at the antique mall on Montgomery and I-30) as well as a 2016 calendar by noted Fort Worth photographer Brian Luenser.
 One final gift I was able to give to the bishop was a lapel pin from Cowtown. These were provided by Trinity member Jim Level through our city councilman Dennis Shingleton. The bishop seemed pleased by these gifts and he would wear the lapel pin when we met him for worship on Sunday.
 After the morning's activities we had a brief wedding rehearsal and met our driver and headed down the coast for the rehearsal dinner. Along the way we observed some young people playing soccer on a makeshift pitch.
 The rehearsal dinner was held at the home of a friend of Manja's family. She had married a banker from Europe who built a beautiful home on the beach. The deck of their home provided an amazing setting for dinner.
 Had to take a "walking on the rocks" picture just for fun.
 Having met the bishop earlier in the morning, when most of the rest of the family was resting, I was very tired and hungry. Unfortunately, this was Sierra Leone. So while we were there at the appointed time of 4pm for dinner, no one else showed up for at least another hour. So we enjoyed the scenery and waited smelling the wonderful cooking.
 Thankfully, dinner was finally served. An amazing feast combining West African, Caribbean, and European tastes.
After dinner there were toasts and sharing of stories. Then, thankfully, we returned to the hotel and I was able to rest for the night.

Sierra Leone 1: Getting There With Pop

I was honored to be invited by my brother Jiwoh and Manja to preside over their wedding in Freetown. It was a beautiful day and time together. But getting to Freetown from Fort Worth for a "quick weekend" getaway isn't exactly like popping down to Corpus. So it took a little work.

Granmom, Tante, and Miriam went ahead of us to spend some time in Paris. So Pop, Uncle Joel, and I left DFW for Atlanta, and then on to Paris to meet up with them before flying to Freetown.
We left on January 6th, which is of course the Feast of the Epiphany when the 3 magi came to visit the Christ child. These three "wise men" were able to find their way through passport control in Atlanta and onto a plane to Paris. A plane where I was able to arrange for Pop and I to have exit row seats. Which was a lovely treat.

Of course I brought my copy of Tim Lull's Luther's works with me. A small volume to keep me company on the long journey. Ultimately we made it to Paris to meet up with our traveling companions. Paris, the city of light, which I was glad to see also had a Prada store just like the one in Marfa, Texas.

Glad to see the French are keeping up with West Texas Haute Couture fashion

Arriving in Freetown is always an adventure. The airport is an old British Airbase across the bay from the city. Negotiating the medical "checks," baggage claim, passport control, and ultimately the amazing number of "helpful" guides to get us to the water taxi is intense. Loud conversations about the number of bag tags finally get worked out and we got on a bus that took us down to the beach at Lungi. Where we walked along an old wooden bridge to get us to the boat in the dark. Always an interesting proposition.

That said. The boat was a lot better than the Libyan ferry from 2008. There was air conditioning, free sodas, and a bit of rest before we got the the offloading.
Thankfully, all the bags made it from the airport, to the vans, to the boat, to the dock at Aberdeen bridge. And there, there was Jiwoh. So we got everything loaded up and headed to our hotel. We were safely in Freetown and ready for a wedding weekend.