PK4A member from Sydney, Australia is currently volunteering at the mission; for the first few days I would receive long “Text Messages” of frustration like “No Water, No electricity, No internet, No phone service, cant send email, have been trying to send email for 5 days but keeps dropping out, send Helicopter and get me out of here”. I may have exageratted the helicopter part but I thing you understand the gist of it.
Finally today I received 3 emails, so I have combined them to give you the story of Tony Sklavos, Property Valuer turned missionary.
Freetown, Sierra Leone March 1 2012.
The heat in downtown Freetown is enough to make you want to shower five times a day, but I get told to toughen up and that the adjustment will only need a few days…. maybe a few weeks. I really enjoy my sleep in my self contained one bedroom “Flat” where I have my bedroom, bathroom and even a little kitchenette. Although our building is fairly new I need to remind myself that we are in Africa! Sometimes we don’t have water, sometimes we don’t have electricity but that’s only sometimes, as when we really do need things they are given!
I wake up in the morning in the wondrous location of Tower Hill, it’s no accident it’s called Tower Hill, a steep incline up into the hills of Freetown where the view belongs to a king. I stand out on the covered common balcony and look down upon the Freetown fiefdom and hear the call to prayer of our loved Muslim brothers and sisters, followed by the bell ringing bringing the voice of our Pentecostal Christian brothers and sisters in a wondrous harmony. Mind you its only 6.30 am!!!
Let me tell you what I actually see…. well its something like this… I’m in a huge stadium high up in the back seats and the show is Gods earth… in the distance the main show is Freetown harbour, around the stadium are the little shanty corrugated huts where the vast majority live, there are the numerous mosques with the minarets trying to touch the sky and the innumerable churches of various denominations all singing praise to our Lord and master Jesus. You see here in downtown Freetown nobody cares what your faith is as long as you love each other.. its true… after a very bloody war nobody wants anything to do with blood but grasp at every chance to love.
The war was real and its victims brutality massacred in a victory that belongs to the pages of history where pure dark evil become alive and ruled for a few years. Some remnants still remain.
“Good morning Fr Themi your blessing” I said. “The Lords Tony good morning to you, says Fr Themi, this is Kyriakos one of our young chanters”. Standing before me was a young man in his twenties dressed well by local standards, jeans a t-shirt and simple in demeanour. “Chant the troparion of St George for us Kyriakos”. Father said with instruction in his voice. Kyriakos with his kinda of vibrating voice did belt it out in Greek!!! Everything here is done in English but so great was Kyriakos zeal that he had learned it by heart in Greek. I could not believe it.
“Just so you know Tony” Father said ” we will be doing a memorial for Kyriakos’ sister Cleopatra this Sunday. Fr Themi explains that Cleopatra was burned alive last week in a “Virgin Sacrifice” type ceremony by the opposition, as people here believe Voodoo and sacrificing a virgin ensures prosperity & political victory. I saw tears well up in Kyriakos eyes, he was very close to his sister as he did not have a mother or father any more. Part of him was wounded.
What just happened? Voodoo! you’ve got to be kidding, this is not a James Bond movie! This beautiful morning, the view fit for a king, the peace of post conflict Sierra Leone… Voodoo, Virgin Sacrifices? what just happened in this little picture perfect city?
I had to remind myself TIA, This is Africa. Welcome to Sierra Leone.
Freetown Sierra Leone 3 March 2012.
The three amigos got to meet our regular waitress today at Catherine’s little tin shed eatery. The small colourful shed has the typical Sierra Leone cooker which comprises a metal cooker shaped like “like through the sands of time” egg timer whereby a type of partially burnt timber is placed in the receiving bay at the top. Its lit and during its life its heat is used to cook a plenty of delicious foods including a type of dark fried rice served with chilli flakes and bits of beef and the traditional splash of mayonnaise chilli tomato sauce with lettuce tomato salad. The salad mix and sauce accompanies every dish.
The chicken by far has been the tastiest which is a Portuguese style open chicken served by the piece with rice or salad. The typical dish has been couscous served with the salad during the fasting period. A very unique dish is the steamed rice topped with the local green boiled vegetable known as “Casava”. This I have observed has been the most popular served to the locals.
The eatery is absolutely a great escape for us. Mary the sister of father Themi (same father same mother) has made great friends with the main waitress Maria. A lovely young lady, who has a little girl. Typical in this country, is to have a child to a man who then leaves them for another woman. It’s amazing how many guys and girls are happy to have children outside of marriage and simply get on with things and literally be unhappy every day as each will tell you if enquiry is made of them.
“Are you happy Maria?” I ask. “No, no not happy” retorts Maria. To get this open response is familiarity and comfort with our faces. “Why are you not happy?” ask my new best friend Vas, ace teacher and smooth over man with problems belonging to others. How is that for Christ in action I think to myself. The problem is fixed and a warm smile returns to Maria’s stunning face.
It’s interesting this same father same mother business. There are so many children to different parents that it’s a huge honour to have same father same mother. Why? If you do say the same father same mother as it was explained to me it means you have been the favoured offspring! Look at this! You create a class order without the intention. I hope we in West and the world in general are not moving in this direction.
The work here is to show people that it’s about “one love” using the Reggae rock god of Africa Bob Marley to help get Christ’s message of marriage and love out. The crazy thing is that the mood here is that people know marriage is right, support monogamy but are caught in the worldly struggle of finding love in an ever confusing environment with all its mixed signals. So what’s new?
The colourful eatery, located on the missions Tower Hill property, looks like one of those portable serving counters that can be moved as a trailer on the back of a car with a pop out awning revealing a counter. It has been clad with vertical multi coloured timber slats. A permanent tin roof off the front counter offers cover during the rainy season over plastic tables and chairs in “assorted colours and styles” arrayed over an uneven concrete slab. It was the amigos “CAFE” without the coffee.
The owner Catherine is a entrepreneur, she is a kind gentle lady and running a very successful micro business. Its located opposite the Sierra Leone department of Statistics and the Sierra Leone University school of management. It was suggested that an internet cafe would go well here. Any takers?
How do I feel now? I feel honoured to be here during a most historical moment. Orthodoxy has been in Africa since the Apostle Mark landed in Egypt and sent out the gospel throughout Africa some 2000 years ago . The seat of our Patriarch and “Pope”, yes Pope is the seat of Mark , the “Lion”. The Patriarch of Africa, located in Alexandria, Egypt was actually the first to be ascribed the title pope only to be followed by Rome. Not a big deal at all really but I found this a little interesting.
The Pope’s visit to Freetown was huge. We are talking the equivalent of the queen visiting Australia. The Government organised a formal reception, state car, motorcade through the streets over the whole period, schools of various faiths lined the streets. The Pope was here to open three churches, ordain two priests and two deacons. Pope Theodoros the second visited the clinics, schools and all our philanthropic works. The most startling fact about Rev Themi here, is since he started in 2008 he has not taken a collection at all! This is in huge contrast to all other Christian denominations. He actually feeds all who attend on Sunday regardless of denomination at no cost. He is very loved here as he offers unconditional love. The love that is only, repeat only possible in Christ.
The most striking event for the three amigos was we got to meet the president! We formed part of the entourage to meet the president with the Patriarch. I guess you could say we snuck in. It was an amazing experience to travel in a presidential motorcade with police escort. That’s what happens when three people come over for different reasons to give, they end receiving much more. The mystery continues today. Why don’t you come? “Write your own gospel”. Do it
Freetown Sierra Leone 5 March 2012.
“So Maria what do you earn a month as a waitress?”I asked. “Le80,000 ($18.00) a month and we get paid monthly”. Really, as a single mum also caring for your younger 13 year old sister how do you cope?”Its very difficult as it costs me Le3000 in travel each way. One whole chicken costs Le25,000 and I have never bought one, the most is a leg for Le 5000.”
“What hours do you work Maria?” I further enquired. ” I am at work at 6.30am and leave work about 8.00PM. It’s a long day by the time I get home.” She replied. “Well why don’t you ask for more money?”I persisted. “Toneeee its not easy, there are girls that would do it for much less.” I just kept quiet. A new reality just presented itself to me.
Vas and I finished our meal and our very open conversation with this very genuine hard working lady. Her comments were very real to me. “You see Tony, Sierra Leonians have black skin and a black heart….” The rest drifted on as I listened to the depth of wisdom of her short life. The darkness was about the selfishness that seems to be entrenched into their daily life. Their capacity to just take, never give. I formed an expression that everything has a 10% peoples tax. You go to the petrol pump they put in less than the currency that you give the attendant. 10% less. Why complain the next bike or vehicle has started pumping and your evidence has been cleared.
This manner seems to be part of all the people including those persons in our disabled village. The mission feeds them, clothes them, educates their children and yet it seems to be that it’s not enough!!! we want more. You are exploiting us as you get money but not us. We don’t trust you. Give more food, more more more.
Fr Stephanos, his wife Alexandra and children look after the school, disabled village and the church. Fr Stephanos was a Pentecostal pastor with a very thriving parish. As he says he always enjoyed the music, dancing and songs. It was fun. Yet as he witnesses an amazing transformation took place when he become aware that deeper worship was serious. Father Stephanos’ knowledge of the bible and thirst for the wisdom of fathers of the ancient church astounded me. As he puts he feels that he has been anointed by Christ to be a priest. Powerful, thoughtful conclusions. I reckon he has the hardest job in the world. Why? At one point they tried to kill him.
It’s a powerful soul enriching experience to travel to Africa and see something very new. It’s so new that I believe that whatever your financial troubles, marital troubles, career/job issues a trip here will be better than any session with a doctor or psychiatrist. I guess you need to come over and give it a go. Maria’s smile and laughter will stay with us for the rest of our lives.