I am certainly not being an original thinker when I observe that the people of Sierra Leone, at least those at the Child Rescue Center and Mercy Hospital, are filled with extraordinary faith and hope. In fact, that’s probably the most common comment I’ve heard team members make. Each of their meetings begins with a devotion including song, prayer and devotional thoughts.
We’ve also attended a vespers service at the CRC and experienced a short devotion in a small village before the start of a medical outreach clinic. These events were unlike a typical US worship service in many ways, but perhaps the one that struck me the most is how democratic and participatory they are. It’s a bit like the scene in a bar in Spain my husband recalls where each patron, in turn, took the guitar being passed around and played a beautiful tune as the rest of the crowd sang along. In these worship services the microphone is passed from person to person, as one leads a song, another shares a prayer, and yet another delivers a message. Men, women and children participate fully and equally.
In the beauty and joy of their singing, their faith and hope shine through. In the sincerity and assurance of their prayers, their faith and hope shine through. In the strength and depth of their thoughts, their faith and hope shine through. As a neophyte missioner, I naively thought the goal of the mission trip was to share faith and hope with the people here. Nope. I’ll stick to sharing my knowledge of teaching reading and math, because they clearly don’t need me to give them hope or teach them faith. Quite the contrary, I’ve gained far more than I have to give in those regards.
The Bible tells us that “… faith comes from the hearing of the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” (Romans 10:17) The people of Sierra Leone have undoubtedly heard that message! From where, then, does hope arise? And how is it that these people who have suffered greatly – and often are still experiencing significant obstacles – are so filled with hope? Shouldn’t we, who by comparison have suffered little, be able to give them hope? According to Romans 5:3-5, that’s not how it works. “And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
It makes sense, then, that I, who have had a scant thimbleful of suffering in my life, have little to offer in the way of endurance, character and hope. I guess I was right that the mission of this trip is to impart faith and hope. I just misunderstood who would be doing most of the giving and who would be doing the receiving.