In April of this year I was presented with an opportunity to lead a team of six extremely passionate business-minded people to the country of Sierra Leone, in West Africa. There were 26 people in the travel group, representing 19 countries and 4 main categories of world aid. At the time there was only one small problem. The trip was close to $3700 and I was just shy of finishing a year of bible school in the US, with school end approaching and $13 left in my bank account. When school is finishes up, who here knows that students are usually broke? To say the least that was me, trying to get to Africa while wondering who was going to bail me out of my next car payment (thanks Julian). An odd, but liberating feeling of sorts.
For years I dreamed of going to Africa. Since sponsoring a child through World Vision at age 14 while working at Burger King for $5.90/hour to supplement my xbox infatuation, I happily gave up two shifts a month to help out. Little did I know, that would lead me to “crowning” 400 kids with burger king hats in person 11 years later. Man, I still remember the little child’s name, Mudelanji Bhanda. He was my long lost little bro… and now I have hundreds of them awaiting my return.
Sierra Leone is burdened with memories of it’s brutal past and malicious civil war. If you were born in the 80’s, you would have been in your teens growing up to Will Smith and Backstreet Boys, while just across the waters there was an uncivil world with children your age producing some of the most gruesome and inhumane stories of all time. Most don’t know this but from 1992 to 2001, it is said that 70,000 people were slaughtered by rebel forces. While in Sierra Leone I experienced first hand what the aftermath of such circumstance does to a nation.
While at a church in Freetown, the capital city (named for hosting nearly 2 million people into freedom, behind it’s protected UN walls during the rebel outbreak) I met a 25 year old man, the exact same age as me at the time. His mother, the pastor of this church. The largest in all of the region, seating 5000+ people every Sunday morning with over 1000 pregnant women with priority seating (the full first story of the building). One of the most successful churches of all time, with miracles and healings taking place during service like you’ve never heard or seen in your life. Some seriously hard stuff to grasp like blind people seeing and crippled people walking (I can attest). The father of the house was nowhere to be seen. I asked, “is it common to have a woman run the church in Africa instead of a man”, while understanding the background and history of oppression towards women in the region. The 25 year old son, the same age as me said “When I was 8 years old, the rebels came to the church. My father knew what would happen when he tried to defend, but he did it anyways. So they cut off his head in front of everyone”.
How can one find peace after something like that? I thought only of what kind of demons must have stuck around in so many people’s lives, lurking deep beneath the surface in every situation or circumstance. These people’s spirits must be masked with emotion, loss, and a default for cynicism. It must be like this un-seen, un-penetrable lingering of disbelief and self-worth just flushed away with the muddy water. For days I cried. I watched people walk by with no eyes, others with limbs lost, and others with Polio so bad that they’re legs were backwards. Aggh. What can I do about this.
I soon realized something that has forever changed my way of thinking. It is exactly what the enemy wants. When we partner with negativity, regardless of how bad or inhumane a situation is, we project it onto those who are oppressed and burden them even further. When an entire country takes pity on another country, it changes the social landscape in such a negative way that can only be described as spiritually hell binding. I will never, ever again in my life choose to look at a situation as pitiful and take only the bad from it. What I failed to realize was that what truly laid behind every lost and tortured family, was not darkness. It was a spiritual covenant and faith so strong that left me mesmerized. I pictured the industrial revolution of America and how far by economic standards the rest of the world perceived them to be ahead… then took that image, multiplied it by China’s net worth today and then ten-folded that to represent how far Sierra Leoneans are ahead of the world spiritually. It is unfathomable and frankly, unbelievable.
With judgement gone, my eyes were cleared and I visioned a place so powerful and anointed that I didn’t want to leave. I wanted every little piece of it that I could get. I wanted to kiss every child, smile until my face hurt, give every article of clothing off my back, my water to the kids, just love on people. Bless them as much as possible with more hope. More inspiration. More love! The more I tried to do things like this the more I realized what was really happening. They weren’t the one’s who didn’t have control. They weren’t the ones crying. I was. When I tried to give, they would give back 10x more. If I gave 3x the price for a necklace to bless someone, many wouldn’t let me leave without taking the most expensive necklace they made. I realized after touching down on that blood red earth and leaving it once again, something deeply special had unlocked in me. My heard beat changed. Sierra Leone had done it. It was the pulse of Africa.