A motorbike means more to an evangelist in rural Sierra Leone than a way to get from one place to another.
For Hindowa Simbo, a United Methodist circuit minister in the remote Mondema Circuit of the Kenema District in eastern Sierra Leone, a motorbike means a revitalized ministry, easier and faster communication with local churches, savings of money and time and more frequent connections with his congregations.
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Bikes & Bibles provides motorbikes, bicycles and native-language Bibles to pastors in Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Mondema Circuit is a hilly terrain with bad roads, some impassable for cars or vans. So Simbo’s ministry got a big boost at the Sierra Leone Conference meeting in Bo, when he received one of three brand new motorbikes through a project called Bikes & Bibles coordinated by Joe Kilpatrick of the North Georgia Conference. Fifteen evangelists from remote communities where transportation is a challenge received three motorbikes, 10 new bicycles and 30 Bibles.
“For the shorter distances I used to walk. For long distances like Kamboma — 25 miles away — and Pondoru — 18 miles, I would hire a motorbike to visit congregations once in three months,” Simbo said.
The rainy season has started in Sierra Leone, and the muddy roads make travel even tougher. Simbo would normally wait for the rains to end and roads to dry up — usually a minimum of four months — before going to places like Kamboma and Pondoru. During those months, he got in touch with the congregations through letters and messages often hand delivered by commercial motorbike riders.
With the new motorbike, Simbo has more than doubled visitations to congregations in a month. He was in Pondoru on May 11.
“I told the Pondoru congregation that the motorbike has removed travel and communication barriers between us and that I’d be visiting them as often as I can, in or out of the rainy season,” he told United Methodist News Service.
The Rev. Francis Charley, Bo district superintendent, said motorbikes went to pastors with large circuits while the bicycles went to local evangelists in charge of churches.
Simbo said he has increased visitation from once a week to three times a week for congregations closer to Mondema village where he lives. More visits allow more frequent sharing of the word of God with the church communities. He hopes it will also improve the giving in the circuit because he will be able to remind people of their obligations to the conference.
Payment of apportionments by local churches to the Sierra Leone Conference is a challenge because of communication and transportation problems, as well as low income — especially in the rural communities.
“Reaching them with the word of God frequently will strengthen their faith continually. And this is more important to me than any other because the church loses members to other denominations when we don’t visit them frequently. That is going to dramatically change now because I am going to be in regular touch with the churches in the circuit,” Simbo said.
The Rev. Mohamed Deen, superintendent for the Kono District, received a motorbike for Dominic Jimissa. Jimissa was one of many not at the conference because Ebola restrictions reduced the number of those who could come. Deen said Jimissa regularly has trouble covering the whole circuit.
“It has also been a challenge for me and Jimissa to regularly hook up because of the bad roads and poor cellphone networks,” Deen said.
Kilpatrick introduced Bikes & Bibles to Sierra Leone after success with the project in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“This project began with my observations when in Sierra Leone, Liberia and the DRC teaching about General Conference issues. A ministry had provided bicycles in one episcopal area of the Congo, but not in the other three, and there was no program in West Africa that I could locate,” he said.
Beginning of relationship
While he was teaching a class in Sierra Leone on United Methodist General Conference polity, Kilpatrick met Charley.
The two connected again in 2013 when Charley was studying at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. They agreed to launch the program in Sierra Leone in time for the 2014 conference. An initial sum of $7,000 was provided by a layman in North Carolina, and wired to the conference treasurer.
Charley became the coordinator, purchasing bikes and Bibles and working with Bishop John K. Yambasu and other district superintendents who determined who got the bikes.
Kilpatrick said the lion’s share of the funding for the project has actually come from Crosspoint United Methodist Church in Niceville, Florida. The church has three campuses in Niceville and Crestview.
Kilpatrick said the Crosspoint pastor, the Rev. Rurel Ausley, accompanied him on mission trips to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“The Rev. Ausley sponsors a ‘Congo Christmas’ and raises significant funds for ministry in Africa,” Kilpatrick 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].