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Partnership celebrates African church

 
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1:00 P.M. EST Dec. 14, 2010 | PANGUMA, Sierra Leone (UMNS)

A partnership between congregations in Panguma, Sierra Leone, and Camp Hill, Pa., has resulted in a refurbished church, a new name and stronger relations across the global church. UMNS web-only photos by Phileas Jusu.
A partnership between congregations in Panguma, Sierra Leone, and Camp Hill, Pa., has resulted in a refurbished church, a new name and stronger relations across the global church. UMNS web-only photos by Phileas Jusu.

Out of the rubble of civil war, a rehabilitated church stands as a symbol of peace and hope.

And that is a reason to celebrate – for Muslims and Christians in this violence-plagued nation and for a group of United Methodists from the United States who helped make it possible.

On Nov. 21, United Methodists from as far away as Camp Hill, Pa., joined Christians and Muslims in the African nation to dedicate the Lower Bambara United Methodist Church.

Market women neatly attired in their blue, yellow and green Ghanaian-styled Kente uniforms stood next to community elders and politicians, including Sierra Leone’s ambassador to the United States, filling the 200-seat church to twice its capacity. Still more people sat on benches outside the church.

Inside, participants danced in circles on the glittering silver- and gold-colored marble tiled floor of the church, praising God in Mende: “Ndoma neneh ndomah ile, Yesu pia wor a nge; I hai lor nya va, nya beh nga ha lor ngi va.” The English translation is, “Christ loved me so much that he died for me. I will in turn love him forever more.”

The joy transcended all boundaries.

“It’s a day that I will never forget—a day filled with much joy and celebration,” said Fred Clark, who led a delegation of five people from Camp Hill United Methodist Church to witness the celebration. “On our first trip here, we saw that the church had been desecrated by the rebels. And now to see it in its refurbished state is very rewarding.”

Brian Sweeney (left), pastor of Camp Hill (Pa.) United Methodist Church, and Amadu Ndoeka, president of the conference council on finance and administration for the newly renamed Lower Bambara United Methodist Church, exchange a greeting.
Brian Sweeney (left), pastor of Camp Hill (Pa.) United Methodist Church, and Amadu Ndoeka, president of the conference council on finance and administration for the newly renamed Lower Bambara United Methodist Church, exchange a greeting.

Labors of love

Panguma, a once-prosperous community endowed with diamonds, coffee and timber, became a target for rebels during the civil war. They burned the town in the late 1990s and camped in the church, using pews for firewood. Power lines were torn out.

Many of the houses ruined by the war lie empty after homeowners fled the area. The war ended in 2002, and many traumatized residents vowed never to go back to Panguma.

But not the church.

“When it rained, the choir and the pastor would all cram in one place and would be struggling for where the church was not leaking. Why: because our own brothers came here and were shooting bullets all over the place,” Bishop John Yambasu recalled during the rededication service.

The rehabilitation of the church was done in partnership with Camp Hill United Methodist, which raised more than $30,000 and sent work teams to Sierra Leone.

Only love, compassion and passion for the work of God would give the Camp Hill United Methodists the spirit to have done such wonders, Yambasu said.

A crowd fills the normally 200-capacity church to overflowing during the rededication ceremony.
A crowd fills the normally 200-capacity church to overflowing during the rededication ceremony.

Looking to the future

The partnership is only beginning.

Camp Hill plans to continue both to work on community projects in Panguma and nurture the bond between the people of the two nations, Clark said.

“It’s just hard to believe that God would use me to be an instrument for him to see the completion of the work,” Clark said at the end of the celebration. “My prayer is that this would provide hope for the people here in the village that will see that we are able to start with the church and move from there.”

Yambasu also marveled at the speed with which the ministry is growing.

Quoting Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Yambasu said, “Every generation has its peculiarities and challenges, but God is so gracious that for every generation, he always raises men and women whom he can use to respond to the challenges of their times.”

*Jusu is a United Methodist communicator based in Sierra Leone.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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