PICTURE EDITION 42: THE CHURCH IN SIERRA LEONE: A MISSED OPPORTUNITY THAT ISLAM FILLED

History

Sierra Leone is a small tropical country on the south west coast of West Africa. It has been inhabited for at least 2,500 years and for most of that time it was isolated from much of the world due to its impenetrable rainforests. Sierra Leone was host to the tsetse fly, which carried a disease fatal to horses and the zebu cattle used by the Mande people to the north. This protected the people of Sierra Leone from conquests by the Mande and other African empires. This also reduced the Islamic influence of Islam. It was only in the 18th Century that Islam became widely adopted along the coast.

In 1462, Portuguese explorer, Pedro de Sintra, mapped the hills surrounding what is now Freetown Harbour, naming the hills Serra da Leoa, or Lioness Mountains, which eventually became the name of the country. In later centuries many of its people were deported to the Americas as slaves. However, after the American war of independence, the British took thousands of freed slaves to Canada and London, and eventually established a colony for them around Freetown. Freetown later became the dropping off point for any slave ships intercepted by the British navy after that empire abolished slavery in 1807.

These returning Africans were from many areas of Africa, but principally the west coast. Along with many black migrants from coming from the USA in the 19th Century, these peoples created a distinct hybrid African/Western ethnicity called the Krio people (creole people) and a trading language called Krio which became commonly used among many of the ethnicities in the country. The Krio people were black but Western in outlook because they had lost their African language and cultural roots. They were English speaking, and often Christian, so considered themselves above the indigenous peoples. In time this would create a huge barrier to the spread of the Gospel.

In 1896 the British annexed the interior of Sierra Leone and so began the conquest of the local peoples. As more locals were educated they began to push for more autonomy and the country was granted independence in 1961. This was sadly followed by a succession stupid wars and brutal anarchy which cost 100,000 lives and culminated in the return of British military forces which finally brought about a restoration of democracy in 2002.

Today

Sierra Leone’s seven million people are at or near the very bottom of the global HDI index. It has a life expectancy of less than 50 years and literacy levels are abysmal. The average income is a dollar a day but for two thirds of the population subsistence agriculture is the only option. In addition, corruption is endemic and the country’s infrastructure lies in ruins because of the war. Sadly however, there seems to be very little urgency on the part of the government to tackle any of Sierra Leones many pressing problems.

Satan has this country firmly in his grip and this can be seen in the enormous influence of secret societies, the Freemasons and the occult have over the lives of most people. This is the prime cause of the country’s profound social darkness. The casualties of war are everywhere, from the countless orphans, to the countless amputees, to the countless child slave soldiers and the countless victims of rape and torture. Then there is the mental trauma that most of the population suffer through in silence. Sierra Leone needs our prayers as few other countries do.

True Christianity

In 1785 Freetown built the very first Protestant church building in West Africa and at that stage there were virtually no Muslims anywhere beyond a few traders on the coast. This region was open for the Gospel. Yet after 235 years Christianity has not penetrated the culture to any great extent. Sadly the country is now 70% Muslim, about 13% Christian and the rest animist. Only around 4% of the population know Jesus.

The historic Christian denominations have grown impotent while the newer denominations are shallow and infected with prosperity teachings, animistic practices and Freemasonry. And the true church that loves Jesus is being overwhelmed by the size of the task of ministering to a wounded society, especially as most evangelical church leaders have only a rudimentary education.

Islam was followed by a very small minority of the population when the British arrived, yet it is now the dominant religion. Its growth was spurred along by the opening up of the interior to trade with countries to the north who were Muslim, the many Muslim evangelists coming to the country from the Middle East, and in recent years by the mosque planting efforts of the Pakistani and Bangladesh UN peacekeepers who proved to be very effective evangelists for Islam.

Sierra Leone is therefore a major success story for global Islamic evangelism, and this has happened right under the nose of British Protestant Christians. This is largely because the pride and arrogance of the Krio ethnic peoples who saw themselves as superior to the indigenous Africans. In response the locals have rejected Christianity and embraced Islam.

Prayer Points

For a heart of love, humility, compassion and service to enter the Krio Christians

For the millions who suffer because of the mindless atrocities committed during the war.

For 250,000 evangelical Christians to get a heart for the Kingdom’

For the spiritually shallow churches to begin to serve and love the lost

For the many Christian humanitarian aid agencies who labour faithfully among the suffering

For a discipleship multiplication movement to come to Sierra Leone, it’s the only way we will see a multitude come to him, the old wineskins are leaking!

For a breakthough!

 

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