By Pam Horne, Managing Editor
Mission team members from Christ United Methodist Church visit an amputee clinic in
Sierra Leone this summer. SUBMITTED PHOTOS
Below: Honour McDaniel has plans for a future in social work at Hendrix College in Arkansas.
Elizabeth Ayers, Matthew Minor and Beth Stuckey will never see the world the same again—nor do they want to.
These three teens tried to absorb just how the ravages of civil war cost the people of Sierra Leone while on mission in West Africa with the United Methodist Church.
To say their collective consciousness has been raised is to understate reality.
All three are exceptional students from financially blessed families in Franklin.
But neither money or textbooks and apps could prepare them for this paradox.
Material possessions are as scarce as food in Sierra Leone, but Minor immediately noticed how happy and joyful both adults and children seemed.
He asked, Is wealth of spirit possibly more valuable than wealth of possessions?
The children answered this question.
The trip quickly became more than learning about sustainable agriculture in an underdeveloped world.
In between working the farms, trying to understand how the villagers balance intense physical labor and mental sanity, these suburban students watched and waited.
Stuckey had a “moment” one day when on an unplanned trek tool them to an extremely remote farming village, accessed through a brush path.
“You had to drive through the woods…we crossed a bridge and climbed a hill and then it was like National Geographic.”
Curious villagers met their visitors with dancing, but also timidity, Stuckey recalled, describing a breakthrough.
“This little girl just reached out and took my hand. She spoke no English, but she understood somehow what the leader was talking about when he said we were all going to become new friends.”
Learning Sierra Leone culture ahead of time proved vital.
Shared meals, shared worship, shared work experiences, and shared sorrow were all part of the daily routine.
“It really taught us a powerful existence of co-existence,” said Minor, recounting blessing meals using both Muslim prayers in Arabic and The Lords Prayer. “We couldn’t tell a difference between the Muslims and the Christians.”
Ten plus years of chaos and brutality still hovered. In fact, war amputees are still socially were scorned, Minor said.
“It’s called long sleeve, short sleeve. The warriors would take young men in the villages and say ‘now you need to come and join us (in fighting).’” Refusal led to a horrific question, Minor explained.
“‘Would you like a long sleeve or a short sleeve?’ and then they would cut off the limb in one of two places,” he said, gesturing to his own left arm.
“Little did they know that ten years down the road these people would have to live an ostracized life.”
The trio, all of Franklin’s Christ United Methodist Church, adopted a mantra during the trip; one they say kept them from buckling when culture became intense.
“It’s not wrong. It’s not strange. It’s not weird. It’s just different.” Ayers said.
Echoed over and over by the team, this became a strategy for accepting what they could not change.
Limited food means a strict pecking order. Visitors eat first, Ayers explained. Then watchful, eager men move in like vultures to take the leftovers, leaving the rest for women and children, Ayers explained.
At one point, Ayers said, an aggressive dog entered the equation. A villager’s swift hard kick to the animal was unsettling.
“I just remember putting my head down and trying to say, ‘It’s not wrong. It’s not strange. It’s not weird. It’s just different.’”
One of the most surprising feelings that emerged from this group was their own sense of poverty in the midst of this extreme material poverty.
“They wanted to help me, someone like me who doesn’t need help by my standards,” Stuckey said of the village women who taught her farming. “It was because we were their guests.”
Stuckey, who is headed to Ohio State University next week, said she does not want to slip back into her pre-trip materialistic mind set .
“The greatest poverty is the poverty a child might have so that I can live as I please.”
For Minor, a Battle Ground Academy sophomore, it is basic.
“It’s not what kind of car you drive, where you go to school or the brand of clothes you wear, it’s how are you going to leave the world and how do you treat people.”
Arkansas’ Hendrix College awaits Ayers.
She believes peace and understanding are rooted in respect for language.
“People started teaching me words in Mende. My favorite thing to do was to learn more words day after day and try them in each village we went to. It was the best way to connect.”
Posted on: 8/14/2013