Sierra Leone, West Africa (April 19-28, 2007)
Sierra Leone Travel Blog› entry 1 of 1 › view all entries
I returned from my mission trip to Sierra Leone, West Africa.on yesterday It was an eye-opener to say the least. I have seen poverty but never extreme poverty if there is such a word. More than that, the stories about the civil war that took place there will always stay with me. How a people can be so resilient after having gone through such a war is incognoscible. Peoples' legs and arms were cut off for no reason other than having been at the wrong place at the wrong time. As people were fleeing Sierra Leone soldiers would stop them and ask them if they wanted a long sleeve or a short sleeve. If they said long sleeve they would cut their hands off at the wrist. If they said short sleeve they would cut their arms off above or right below the elbow.
My cook for the week was named Katherine. She told me how she had to flee to Liberia and while a group of them walked along the way a soldier called one of them out. It was a woman carrying a child on her back. They asked her--do you want your life or the life of the child? They put the child in a mortal and then took a pestle and started grinding the baby as if they were grinding flour. She said they then made the mother dance, sing and laugh while they were grinding her child. If she stopped dancing they would shoot and kill her. Other women they made dance until they dropped. They told them the moment they stopped dancing they would shoot and kill them.
Another woman was pregnant with child. The soldiers called her out and then they all placed bets as to whether it was a boy or girl. After placing the bets they cut her stomach open, pulled out the child to see who won the bet. They stopped another young man and asked him if he wanted a long or short sleeve. He said he would rather die than have his hands cut off. He was shot and killed on the spot.
I kept looking at the people there who looked like they were coping with everything just fine. However, as we all know, looks are deceiving. You look at them and think that they are coping well under the circumstances. We would be in a mental institution or seeing a therapist. I was talking to a 32-year old man named Jeremiah one day on the veranda. The entire time I was there he was always smiling and telling jokes until one of my team members gave him the book: A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah. It is on the best seller list and will give you an insight of the civil war that took place in Sierra Leone. When I walked out onto the veranda Jeremiah was crying. I asked him what was wrong and he said "I can't read anymore of this. I had buried everything that I saw and all that had happened during the war. This book just brought everything back including my brother's death. Maybe another time I can start reading this again but not now, it is too painful." He started to tell me his story and the things he encountered while fleeing. His wife was 4 months pregnant and he had his daughter on his back.
I went to church on last Sunday. I saw all these children dancing and singing and praising God. These were the kids I had just seen the day before sleeping on dirt floors, maybe getting one meal a day, living with no water, lights, heat, windows, doors. They didn't even have outhouses. Their front yards were their outhouses and their left hand was their toilet tissue. These kids didn't know what a toy was. Toys to them was an old tire and a stick that they used to roll the tire up and down the street or an empty plastic bottle that they kicked like a soccer ball. Yet, they were smiling and singing. I looked at them and started to cry. All I could think about is: "Do you realize that you are poor? Do you realize that you don't know where your next meal is coming from? Do you realize that you have nothing? Their joy overwhelmed me as much as did their poverty. Immediately my mind went back to the States, back to Alpharetta, Georgia, one of the if not the wealthiest cities in Georgia. A place where most homes start at a half million dollars. I thought back to people with 2 and 3 car garages, Hummers, where kids don't have allowances but credit cards with no limits. I thought back to kids who have every conceivable toy and electronic gadget there is and yet they are not happy. I thought back to Sunday mornings at my church where you can't get people to even say Amen. People whose annual income would take care of one family for life. These children and their parents had hope, not in their government who was doing nothing for them. They had hope in Jesus Christ.
Has this trip changed my life? You bet. Will you ever hear me complain again about anything? I hope not. Tell me, what would you do at this very instant where you are right now if we were under attack and you had to flee for your life. You couldn't go home to get anyone or anything--not even your kids from daycare. All you could do is run. You had nothing but the clothes on your back. You didn't know how you were going to eat from day to day. You didn't know if your family made it out or even where they were. You didn't know if your children made it out or were killed. All you knew is you were running and all along the way the soldiers were cutting off people's hands and feet. You watch as soldiers rape your or a friend's 10 year old daughter or capture your son, drug him, and then turn him into a killing machine. You run, you watch, you are helpless. What would you do? Well, that is just what happened to the people of Sierra Leone. With no warning they were fleeing for their lives. Don't think that it could never happen to us.