Children in Burma IV district joyfully greeting the van of churchgoers

Precious Gift from a Wonderful African Homecoming

Returning to Sierra Leone to check on the progress of a school the Morrow Church team helped fund, the Modern-Day Church Lady received something more precious in return.

The children of the Burma IV school ran joyfully besides our dusty white van as we pulled off the abandoned WWII airfield onto the red clay dirt road leading to the new school.  The memories of the children’s exuberant cries and exaggerated pantomimes as they directed the van towards the school still bring a smile to my face. To be remembered and welcomed after two years and 5,000 miles of separation is a heartwarming gift.

A group of us from Morrow church were returning to Sierra Leone to witness the progress on the primary school that our congregation had helped finance. We made the 2-hour bumpy drive from Bo to see the new “Burma IV” school, named for its district on the outskirts of Kenema. Interesting historical fact: the unusual district name originated from the West African soldiers who were repatriated here after fighting for England in the Burma campaign of WWII.

An old English Airfield in the Burma IV District outside of Bo, Sierra Leone
Former British Airfields in Sierra Leone

The new school building was a replacement for a ragged assembly of blue tarps, woven grass panels and bamboo poles that had previously masqueraded as a school. Our congregation was able to raise $60,000 to help create a permanent cinder block structure.

The former school made of blue tarps and bamboo poles
Images of the new school in progress

The Methodist church of Sierra Leone donated the land for the school. The head mistress, Mrs. Saloma Amara and the Methodist District Superintendent for the Kenema region, Rev. Andrew Forbie, assumed the administrative headaches that come with any building project, much less one in rural Sierra Leone. It was truly a joint venture, building the school together, each doing our part for the children of Sierra Leone.

Headmistress Mrs. Saloma Amara, the Chief of the Burma IV district and Rev. Andrew Forbie

Meanwhile, the teachers, some of whom traveled 2 hours each way, kept the learning going. And the kids lugged the school benches in and out of storage each day to the temporary tarp school, to prevent them from being stolen.

School Children moving benches out of the school

On a day that cycled rapidly between dark threatening clouds and brilliant blue skies, we all assembled together in school courtyard—church officials, teachers, administrators, students, parents and the Morrow Church contingent—for an inaugural celebration.

The school wasn’t quite finished, but it would only be a month or two before it was in full swing. We capped off the wonderful day with a celebratory lunch.

On my way home from Sierra Leone, I stopped in Switzerland and visited Chaplin’s World, a homage to Chaplin’s great talent, nestled in the hills above the bustling commercial town of Vevey. In the museum, I was struck by a quote of Chaplin’s “I am a citizen of the world,” comfortable in every setting. Chaplin had settled in Vevey after having his U.S. re-entry permit revoked while he was on an ocean liner bound for Europe due to his political beliefs.

The quote made me reflect on what a wonderful gift I have received from the Methodist Church. I have been given the opportunity to form warm relationships with people all over the world—Sierra Leone, Haiti and Guatemala— as we work together to address the inequities that are a blight on our humanity.

 

Methodist Church Symbol
United Methodist Church symbol overlooking Freetown Sierra Leone

My church travels have helped me to feel comfortable in my own skin in any setting—whether in the midst of a swam of rambunctious primary students in Sierra Leone or a quiet moment at dawn with a new mother in rural Haiti. What a gift, to feel as Chaplin did, that I am at home in any setting.

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