It’s a rainy Sunday morning. Abu Sesay strikes a piece of rusty railroad metal dangling from a tree on the outskirts of the village to announce the beginning of the worship service.
Pastor Joseph Turay glances at his watch.
“It is the second bell; we must hurry up now,” Turay said. “We’re normally in church by this time; but it’s been a rainy morning.”
Worshippers sitting on the fringes of the veranda where they gather to worship get wet during a heavy rain like this, he tells UM News.
The new congregation does not have a church bell or building. They worship in the corridor of a small hut, which serves as home to one of their members.
The churchgoers start trickling in. There are no masks or social distancing. COVID-19 has been contained in many communities, including Bo District, and rural communities like Levuma remain largely unaffected.
About 32 people cluster into the small passageway by the time the service starts on Aug. 9. The latecomers bring along their own seats as the few available benches in the hut already are occupied.
The new United Methodist congregation has sprung up in this rural village because of the work of Community Empowerment for Livelihood and Development, the community development arm of the Sierra Leone Conference, which is responsible for supporting the poorest of the poor and forgotten communities across the country.
In 2018, a needs assessment team visited the community to find out its most urgent needs.
“One day, we received a visitor who told us he was from The United Methodist Church and that they were in the business of supporting communities in need,” said Kenei Charles, who serves as assistant pastor of the new church.
“We received him with open arms, because we let him know that our community has never, ever received any government development programs. We itemized the need for safe drinking water, toilets, a place of worship, a community center where we can gather and hold meetings. We even told him about the terrible state of the road to our village.
“They picked two of the needs we identified: a water well and toilets,” he said, noting that both are firsts for the community.
Now, the congregation is focused on building a church.
They asked the Sierra Leone Conference to help with the construction and received support from the late Bishop John K. Yambasu.
“Let them make mud bricks and we can see what is feasible,” the bishop said, after receiving the good news about the Levuma congregation.
Despite the loss, the villagers remain hopeful that their prayers for a new church will be realized.
“We are happy today that someone is here who will take the good news of our new congregation abroad. This is an opportunity we have today. We don’t know if it is the first or last. Let us grab it. Let us commit everything to God in prayers today so that our voices would be heard,” Turay said.
The Rev. Solomon Rogers, administrative assistant to the bishop, who witnessed the handover ceremony of the new water and toilet facilities, was told that there were Christians and Muslims in the community but they had no place to worship and don’t normally attend church.
Rogers identified Turay, an evangelist who already had been leading prayers in the community since completion of the development project, to help start the new United Methodist congregation.
Charles said there have been other mission visits, but the group had never grown beyond worshipping in verandas.
“We want to have our own church building where we can sit, worship and praise God,” he said.
The village improvements — completed in 2019 at a cost of $11,500 — have left more time for the community to focus on their faith.
“At the end of the projects, the community is now happy. They have safe drinking water. They no longer go to the stream to get water to drink. They now have a four-seater toilet, which has never happened in their lives,” said Community Empowerment for Livelihood and Development project coordinator Andrew Momoh.
“We wanted to minimize the health problems associated with drinking unsafe water,” he said, adding that waterborne diseases like diarrhea and vomiting were a leading cause of death in the community.
The nearest health facility to the village used to be the United Methodist Health Center in Manjama, about 5 miles away, but the facility closed three years ago. Now, the villagers walk nearly 10 miles to Bo for medical care.
“The villagers manually constructed the road leading to Levuma when we wanted to do the projects for them because we needed to transport the building materials. But the road gets so terrible in the rainy season that only motorbikes go there,” Momoh said.
Health emergencies are difficult to handle in the rainy season because commercial transporters are unable to navigate the route, he said.
During the visits, Community Empowerment for Livelihood and Development also provided training for the community on environmental management and issues such as gender abuse.
“They now know that they must use the trees responsibly and should not destroy them. We have volunteers who monitor the community and report to us on regular basis,” Momoh said.
Jusu is director of communications for The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone.
News media contact: Vicki Brown at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.