After bitterly fought multi-tier elections that left Sierra Leone divided along tribal and regional lines, United Methodist Men of Bishop Baughman United Methodist Church in Freetown are evangelizing in new ways to bring the country together.
Last month, the men organized “Waka for Jesus,” or “Walk for Jesus” translated from Krio. The men walked from the church compound in Brookfields to Lumley Beach, covering about four miles across communities in the metropolis.
Men from Bishop Baughman were joined by marchers from nearby United Methodist churches, and men from other denominations. More than 30 people, including women who said they came to “bato” or “support” the men, took part in the march to the beach.
The group held hands and prayed for a successful program before departing from the church compound. Two huge speakers mounted on a Mitsubishi truck blared Christian music interspersed with messages from the men. Behind it, two lines of men and women walked neatly in one lane of the four-lane road so that traffic wouldn’t be blocked.
Leonard Ben Gbloh, Western District lay leader, and Clifford Jones, a member of Bishop Baughman Men, introduced the group and the purpose of the walk as people rushed to the road to find out what the blasting sound was about. The people of Freetown had been accustomed in the past couple of months to hearing people speaking from public address systems mounted on trucks on behalf of various political candidates.
“We are the men of Bishop Baughman at Brookfields,” Jones told the crowd. “We have organized this Waka for Jesus because we want you all to come together. Elections are over and it is time to unite. It is only when we are together that we can serve God in love. Waka for Jesus is meant to draw you closer to Jesus. We want everyone to come together. So join us tomorrow at Bishop Baughman United Methodist Church,” he said.
A lady shouted out from among those who rushed to listen and waved as she called a neighbor to say, “Na we church so; na UMC” — “This is our church, The UMC.”
More and more people gathered as the group moved on, some dancing to the music, others stretching out arms to listen.
Sierra Leoneans went to the polls on March 7 to elect a president, parliamentarians, local council mayors and councilors. President Ernest Bai Koroma’s second and final term of office had come to an end. His ruling All People’s Congress candidate, Samura Kamara, was running against 15 others in an election centered around the deteriorating economy — inflation is in double digits — education and national cohesion.
The Sierra Leone People’s Party candidate (Julius Maada Bio) won the presidency by a small margin in a March 27 runoff election, while the All People’s Congress maintained majority in the single chamber parliament.
Political violence preceded the runoff and followed after the results were announced. A tense atmosphere remained after a campaign that was dominated by accusations of tribalism and regional divisions.
“It is only when we come together as a nation that God can bless our country and bring prosperity to the land,” Gbloh shouted, as more people poured into the streets. “He does not care whether you come from the north, south, east or west. We’re talking about the Jesus who opened the eyes of the blind without asking them where they were from.”
“We need to be going out and not limiting ourselves in our church buildings. Today, we received two blessings from God — one is physical and the other spiritual. We will take this message back to our local church that there is a new way to take Christ to others so that our men, too, will do a similar thing like this,” said Milton Sao Babadi from Asbury United Methodist Church in Wellington, eastern Freetown.
Victor Foday Amara said he also would share this message with his church, Price Memorial United Methodist Church in western Freetown, where he serves as president of the men’s group.
“I’m going to tell my men what I’ve seen today. This kind of program unites us as United Methodist Men. The exercise is good for our health,” he said.
The men of Bishop Baughman also organized an open dinner later in the month, where messages of reconciliation and national unity were shared.
“(This was) a wonderful initiative by men of great wisdom. We’ve been lazy a bit. An exercise like this is good. Doing it in the name of Jesus just adds more blessing,” said Gbloh, a member of King Memorial United Methodist Church.
“This is really good for evangelism because there are very few moments we have time to talk about our church and what we do.”