Window on the World - Sierra Leone (Jackson)

During the past two years Cliff College through its International Learning Centre has been involved in giving further training to large numbers of ministers and lay-people in Sierra Leone at a cost of just £500 per student per annum. This exciting and innovative pioneering project was initiated in response to an invitation from the Christian Council of Sierra Leone (CCSL) and is being implemented in partnership with the churches of Sierra Leone and the principal and staff of the churches’ own theological college in Freetown.

The well-documented tragedy and brutality of the ten-year civil war in Sierra Leone devastated the church as well as the country. A stated aim of this project was to provide church pastors and community leaders of all denominations in Sierra Leone with a practical and culturally oriented part-time two year level-two further training course leading to an International Diploma In Applied Ministry and Mission (IDIAMM). Utilising experience of providing such courses at Cliff College we have undertaken a practical course in ministry and mission that is relevant to the local context.

Two-year programme

Our two-year programme is made up of ten modules linked with biblical studies, ministry and mission. Ecumenical teams of five academically qualified visiting lecturers were recruited for the July 2002 and 2003 ‘Two Week Residentials’ based at the theological college in Freetown. The visiting lecturers partnered qualified local tutors of different denominations in providing ten sessions, with study notes, on each of five themes covering ten modules in all:

July 2002

  • Reconciliation following Conflict (Rev Dr Dennis Cooke and Canon Emerson Thomas)
  • Spirituality in Ministry (Mrs Susanne Garnett and Mr Samuel Forde)
  • Church and Mission Theology – NT (Rev Dr Walter Klaiber and Rev Vidal Kamara-Cole)
  • Religion and Mission Theology – OT (Rev Dr Michael Thompson and Rev Dr Leopold Foullah)
  • Church History and Mission in Africa (Prof Andrew Walls and Rev David Cole)
  • Study Skills (Rev Richard Jackson)

July 2003

  • Being the Church: Evangelism (Revd Dr Martyn Atkins)
  • Adult Learning (Mrs Margaret Baxter and Rev Vidal Kamara-Cole)
  • Being the Church in the World: Contextualisation (Rev Dr John Cree and Mr Samuel Forde)
  • Being the Church: Worship and Preaching (Rev Achim Haertner and Canon Emerson Thomas)
  • Being the Church: Ministry (Rev Richard Jackson).
  • Joining the Church: A History (Rev Dr Sahr Yambasu and Rev David Cole)

Students have led worship and in groups shared personal experiences of traumatic times when many lost members of their family, their homes and belongings (including books) and some spent years living in displaced persons camps. Locally invited speakers such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Special Court have conducted seminars.

The current two-year pilot project will conclude with a graduation in July 2004. Students have attended ‘Residentials’ of two weeks in July (the rainy season) each year. At roughly two-month intervals they have submitted written assignments and portfolios of practical work undertaken which are marked by the local tutors. Following the ‘Residentials’, the co-ordinators meet with students in regional groups where Aids awareness courses are conducted, progress is assessed and further guidance given particularly in relation to the ministry-related dissertation. Marking already done locally is moderated by the visiting co-ordinator from Cliff College. At the end of two years, when successful students have received their Diplomas, consideration is being given by the churches to some of them becoming local trainers for specific ministries. The developing relationship between the ILC of Cliff College and a strengthened theological college of the CCSL in Sierra Leone is prompting thoughts of a longer-term ‘formation in ministry’ programme.

In July 2002 ninety-nine students were enrolled on the course, of whom ninety continued into the second year. Only applicants supported by their own church were accepted and included students from Methodist, Anglican, Lutheran, Baptist, Deeper Life, Pentecostal and Roman Catholic Churches. There were 77 male students and 22 females of whom 68 are ordained and 31 are church and community leaders. 69 students live in the capital Freetown and surrounding districts; 30 live in the provincial districts.

Aims

We began with modest aims in the context of Sierra Leone’s need, namely:

To encourage

With 95 very positive evaluation forms returned from the 99 students who attended the first ‘Residential’ and 80 out of 90 returned from this year’s, this is clearly being achieved. One brief comment sums up the general response, ‘Rich, motivating and inspiring’.

To resource

This initiative undertaken with a pump-priming £20,000 a year grant from the World Church Office of the British Methodist Church, has attracted increasing funding from Feed the Minds and other organisations. Students or their sponsoring churches pay a nominal enrolment fee of £50 per annum. Publishers have provided new books at such reduced prices that in return we have been able to supply free to every student (and Sierra Leonean staff partners) more than 40 new books for the course retailing at approximately £700. These include a number of SPCK International Study Guides and several larger commentaries and theological/Bible dictionaries resourced through the Evangelical Literature Trust. Writing and other materials were supplied free by the Irish Methodist Church (MMS) who organised and paid for a ‘Course Container’ filled with everything from pens to filing cabinets to be shipped to Sierra Leone. Presentations have been made of course books, new books donated by SCM, and large numbers of second-hand books to the libraries of the theological college and Fourah Bay University in Freetown.

To refresh

The excitement and enthusiasm generated by visiting lecturers and their Sierra Leonean counterparts in two weeks of concentrated lecturing, sharing and worshipping together impacted not only those present, but also the churches and others who heard about the course through local radio. A waiting list in Sierra Leone largely made up of United Methodist and Anglican applicants who ‘missed out’ is indicative of a demand for a ‘rolling programme’ beyond the first two years and/or for some alternative training.

A personal reflection

In the setting up of this course and its delivery, we have borne in mind both academic requirements and the potential practical benefits to those (lay and ordained) working in ministry. Already, the indications are that most of the students have completed the required written work, including their first draft of 8,000-8,500 word dissertations on a variety of subjects, many linked to understanding traditional beliefs and post-conflict reconciliation and reconstruction. We anticipate that at least three-quarters of the students who began the course will complete. Even those who do not will have been resourced in ways that would have not been possible for the local churches to do alone.

As initiator and co-ordinator of this pilot project based at Cliff College, I am wary of claiming too much for it, but there is much that has happened in a largely trouble free initiative for which we can give thanks. The local and international partnership has worked well, giving the project a ‘From Everywhere To Everywhere’ dimension. On being asked to sum up what is different about this approach, I responded almost without thinking, ‘Doing it there!’ With primary funding being provided by the Methodist Church, we have ‘done it there’ in Sierra Leone for students of all denominations. Any continuation of the project in Sierra Leone, or indeed development elsewhere, will depend on there being a positive response by church ‘mission’ agencies (and others) to the vision behind this highly successful pilot project.

Utilising the untapped resources of short-term staff for general and specialist courses, we can help train large numbers of people by ‘doing it there’ in partnership with local churches for large numbers of people. This costs much less than if one or two students were to receive scholarships to do less focussed training in the UK, a culture that is not their own. Our hope is that this developing programme will now attract further sponsors – perhaps including you?

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