Ottawa GAT to Sierra Leone 2010

J o u r n a l

Tony   Laurie-Ann   Dwight   Richard

Get your wavin' flag!

All dates in 2010. Journal entries are by Tony unless otherwise indicated.

4 February. The first team meeting, in Starbucks at Pinecrest. And we have photos to prove it.

6 March. The first Ottawa GAT training, AND the Sierra Leone Dinner, a major fundraiser. Richard organized a silent auction at St. George's on 14 March, which was extremely successful.

18 March. Skype call between Laura Hardin at HTB and Tony Copple in Ottawa. Discussed accommodation, music, and the fact that the scripts we are using are new and HTB wants our feedback on them. Laura encourages us to write a journal as we go so that our feedback briefing is facilitated. This is it! She suggested that photos and videos taken during each day can be displayed during the summary sessions. They will like that. We can also put them on this journal. We need to set times for meetings when we first arrive to liaise with the local team. Our prayer requests throughout the trip will be sent to Lorna Brule and then distributed to our prayer team via FaceBook and e-mail, and this can be done from any Internet cafe.

13 April. In case you thought we have been hibernating this past month, think again. We had team meetings on 27 March and 11 April. I had allocated which talks would be done by each of us; an important task which turned out to have been done quite well. We have been beavering away at our talks, massaging them and making them Sierra Leone friendly. We have spoken in a number of churches, and on every occasion when we could whip out a prayer letter without seeming pushy. And our efforts have borne fruit. There are more than 100 "registered" pray-ers ensuring that our preparations have really gone smoothly. Not that it has been attack-less; Laurie-Ann was struck down for a week with an allergic reaction to a prescribed sulfa drug, and was in great pain. But international prayer prevailed and she is now fine. We are at 65% of our fundraising target, which is reasonable at this stage considering the relatively high costs. Best of all, we are a team that really enjoys each other, and I for one am looking forward to getting on our way, this Friday morning at 9. I have posted an itinerary on the web page so you can figure our approximately where we will be at. Once we leave UK on Sunday 18 April, WiFi hotspots will be in short supply, and this journal may not be updated except in batches. I will be writing it on a daily basis.

Fri 16 April. 90 minutes before we are due to leave home and the disruption of air traffic from the Icelandic volcanic eruption is extremely worrisome. Our prayer teams are mobilized and praying is about all any of us can do. Who knows where we may be by tonight?
3 pm. Waiting in Montreal airport for the possibility of switching our Swiss flight to Zurich, now cancelled, to the 8 pm Royal Air Maroc flight to Casablanca. Problem is, it is full, so we will only get on if there are cancellations. Dwight is expected here soon ... meantime I'm listening to Window of Opportunity on, hosted in our absence by Michael Munnik, and extremely well.

Sat 17 April. Noon. All four of us are in Ottawa. Judi McDougal drove to Montreal last night to bring us back. We are concentrating, prayerfully, on finding an alternative route to Freetown avoiding Europe, but we would like to keep the existing return trip in place or we risk losing refunds. We are passionate about getting to Freetown, even if late, and are ready to fork out funds for tickets if only we can find a way. You can help by praying that there is a way.
6 pm. I am increasingly despondent. A travel agent in Brandon Manitoba, Roseanne Day, daughter of Alpha friends Nigel and Angela Kilby came up with an alternate route via NYC, Dubai, Nairobi at $2158 each, but not arriving till Friday. There is a Royal Air Maroc flight from Montreal to Casablanca Tuesday, but RAM is not answering the phone. If their flight which we are still booked on actually leaves London tomorrow and we are not on board, they will cancel our round trip. For this reason, if we arrange an alternative, it needs to be a round trip. I am learning a lot and I am tired...but at least I am at home with a bed to sleep in, unlike more than a million other unfortunate travellers.

Sun 18 April 10:am. The cloud over Europe seems to be getting worse. See BBC update. Just got back from St. Paul's church and a strong ourpouring of support. Today we will make audio recordings of our talks and Dropbox them to Joseph in Freetown, so that at least he has the option of continuing with the conference without burdening his team with presenting material they are unfamiliar with. Eureka! - after trying for hours I just got through to the Royal Air Maroc call centre in Montreal. We are on the reserve list for tonight's flight to Cassablanca. They told me that if seats became available on that flight, we would be able to buy them at the airport. I believe we should therefore go to Montreal today. We did - L-A and I. However, we would only buy return tickets to Freetown; nothing less. At the RAM desk we were given a price of $6,300, but no availability. The clerk, Nadia, gave us the address of the Montreal RAM office. We called Dwight and Richard, and told them not to come.

Monday 19 April. We stayed overnight in Montreal with Jim and Janice Thomerson, friends of Laurie-Ann's mother, who we hadn't seen since our wedding! They were very gracious. We then visited the Montreal office of Royal Air Maroc - and they too were gracious, but quoted us a new price $7,500, with first avilable seats 29 April! We went for a meal; I had escargots, and Laurie-Ann had a brainwave. She realised that Roseanne's earlier itinerary was now looking relatively attractive. We reopened negotiations as we drove back to Ottawa ...the real hero of this project so far is Blackberry.

Tues 20 April. 1 pm. We have just confirmed a NEW FLIGHT SCHEDULE that gets us to Freetown this Friday, so we can take part in the second conference starting Monday 26 April! We will have with us with us our Dell D600 laptop, with 18GB and 2GB memory sticks, and Dwight has Judi's Dell Netbook. Both computers have WiFi capability. Laurie-Ann has her Blackberry, which allows communication within North America, but was handy after we left these shores particularly as a repository of e-mail addresses. All three devices proved extremely useful, and we would have been stretched with any less computing power. We also had our Flip Video camcorder and Fuji E500 digital camera. The Flip would be used for the movie, and also for snapshots (stills) without the need for flash. We will drive to Syracuse leaving about 4 am tomorrow, and travel via NYC, Dubai, Nairobi, and Accra. The ticket price is double our original price, but indications are good that we will get full refunds on the previous tickets. I will post the updated itinerary on our main page.

Wed 21 April. 10:30 am, In the departure area at Syracuse airport, after a pleasant drive in Richard's van through the beauties of the 1000 Islands region. We may have had our last Tim Horton's coffee. Dwight has settled in with his book of Sudoku brain sharpeners, a pastime he persevered with thoughout the trip.
9:30 pm, and we are through security and relaxing while we wait for our Emirates flight to Dubai at 11 tonight. I hope the pilot manages to miss the tallest building in the world. Best of all we have checked our bags right throught to Freetown! We weren't at all sure this would be possible. This afternoon Dwight and Richard went to Manhattan on the "air train," but got caught in a rain storm. L-A and I stayed in JFK even though there are no seats until you get through the departure gate. I am very happy that things have been hitchless so far; undoubtedly due to the torrent of prayer we can sense surrounding us.

Thurs 22 April. Dubai! 9:45 pm. 12 hour flight, leaving in darkness and arriving in darkness. Excellent service, food, and entertainment system, which included live cameras pointing ahead and down, Avatar, the remastered Beatles and every #1 song in Britain since 1954 (I listened to 1954 - 1975). We are waiting for the Kenya Airways desk to open. and surrounded by a variety of national dresses including niqabs, nomads and businessmen in ties. Fly Emirates at every opportunity!

Fri 23 April. Nairobi, in the WiFi area at Gate 14, 10:30 am. Refreshing ourselves with Tusker. NHL on the TV. Our final leg to Accra and then Freetown has been delayed 3 hours, so we should (may) arrive about 6:30 pm. My Hotmail e-mail has been hacked into by persons unknown, so you may have received bogus messages from it. So we will now be using as our main communications mode, which we can reach via
8 pm. Arrived at Accra too late for the final leg to Freetown. Apparently Kenya Airways won't land at Lungi airport after dark. So they took our passports in exchange for Ghanaian visas, and put us up in the Alicia Hotel, where we now are. We rise at 1:45 to catch the same plane at 4 am. We may be in Freetown by 7 am depending on the transportation from Lungi to Freetown ... Meantime, some horizontal sleep!

Sat 24 April. Freetown! Yeah! A good man from Pelican Water Taxis spotted us and made sure we had seats on the ferry. I was impressed that we were all fitted with life jackets for the 20 minute voyage from Lungi to Freetown. We had been travelling for 72 hours. We were met by a smiling Joseph Francis-Williams, who had been to Lungi to meet earler estimated times of arrival. And then we hit the gound running. What a day! Joseph took us in his Isuzu Trouper to the Catholic Guest House, high up one of the three main hills in Freetown. We saw many sights to get used to, including more women, men and children carrying all manner of items on their heads than I have seen in any other country. It makes for good posture - and these are proud people. We took an hour showering (delightful), unpacking and getting the stuff for the day. All beds had mosquito nets. The guest house was about 5 degrees cooler than the city, which was a blessing. It has running tepid water, as did all the bathrooms we visited, and the toilet seats had long since come off their mountings, which turned out to be normal in Sierra Leone. Joseph told us that for the first GAT they had used some of the audio recordings we had made - very satisfying for us to hear that. He drove us along narrow streets teeming with people, vehicles, dogs and chickens to the Agape Bible church in one of the poorest areas on the east side of the city, where the first Global Alpha Training was on its fourth and final day. In my brief "hello" I apologized for being late; Joseph had told them about our imaginative route. We each spoke briefly with words of greeting and joy at being there.

During the lunch break, I checked out the guitar situation, having inferred that in half an hour L-A and I would be leading worship. The guitar had only 5 strings, all loose, and as soon as I tightened another, it broke. Time to put on the new set I had brought. Two of us at once in a race against time! It is an excellent Legacy acoustic-electric instument, donated by the first GAT team from UK two years ago, but, as we now discovered, sending no signal out to the amplifier. I knew it was picking up the signal because the built-in tuner worked. This was a real blessing because my guitar tuner had been filched from my suitcase on the journey. (Moral: don't pack attractive items in the unlockable outside pockets of suitcases.) There were neither music stands nor microphone stands. So we marshalled two of the local music team who we were meeting for the first time to hold the two hand held mics; one for the guitar, and one for my voice. We were in business, and we started to sing Chris Tomlin's new version of Amazing Grace (from the movie), and something marvellous happened. The 50 or so in the room broke into inspired anointed voice - and I knew things would be fine musically.

After the worship, I plugged our memory stick into the computer provided by the local team, and taught the overview of demonstration sessions 11 - 15, followed by How to Start running an Alpha Course, & Action plan. Most of it seemed to be received well enough, though Joseph had to assist me with asking them to form into two groups, and taking a few minutes to discuss things within those groups was a skill that few of them were yet comfortable with. During my talk Laurie-Ann began suffering from the effects of heat exhaustion, but received wonderful support and lots of water from Joseph's wife Fatu and others, sitting out in a room at the back, and this was not noticed by by the congregation. Then came the commissioning. After music from the local worship team, who were just fine, Joseph invited all those who believed they would become involved in Alpha to come forward - most did. Our team then prayed with each of them, encouraging them and sending them out in God's name to fulfill the Great Commission. By this time, L-A had recovered due to the tlc and prayer. Joseph took us back to the Guest House through the most remarkable roads and traffic I have seen, a fine introduction to this city of 1.5 million which would be well populated with half that number. Many of the vehicles had Christian slogans painted on them, such as "God bless the owner," and "With God all things are possible." A smaller number were Muslim slogans. In Sierra Leone Christians and Muslims coexist in harmony, with some inter-marriage. Since atheism is rare, the government does not make any effort to curb the plethora of Christian symbolism. City of Ottawa please take note! There were also many signs advertizing the watching of British soccer on TV for a small fee. Dinner in the Guest house was remakably good, as all the meals there turned out to be. The generator was running only from 7 pm to 11 each day. We turned in after a good prayer session on our balcony with a spectacular view of the city.

Sun 25 April. In the morning we went to five churches, to greet the pastors, and in the fifth, Life Church, Goderich, to enjoy the service. This is where the second Global Alpha Training will be this week, when we will be able to play a full part. Almost all of the pastors were dressed in suits and ties, and some of the suits were double breasted. We also wore formal clothing to respect their traditions (and certainly noone was wearing shorts) and the resulting grin-and-bear-it heat was something to experience as an achievement. Laurie-Ann preached on "Ways to Grow with God - sponges and speed bumps." We all gave testimonies. The pastor, Samuel, and the music leader, his son Gabriel were marvellous. And there are three microphones on stands! Gabriel is building a recording studio, which he showed me. From church we went to Aberdeen for lunch, driving past a magnificent beach. Then back to the Guest House, for a rest till evening, when we all went to the radio station. For some years Joseph has been broadcasting weekly, and when he heared that Laurie-Ann and I are radio hosts in Ottawa he agreed to let us come. It is a Christian program on a secular station, Society for Radio Democracy 98.1 FM. We were joined by "Uncle" Modu, the Chair of Alpha Sierra Leone, and his wife "Aunty" Ollie, both with huge experience in ministry, and what unfolded for the audience of several hundred thousand was akin to an Alpha small group discussion on Luke 24, delving into the motivations of the thieves on the cross. All four of us participated, and I felt this was very special Christian broadcasting, the way Joseph led and moderated it. My first statement on air was to greet Emma and Albert Dupigny if they were listening. (It turned out they weren't.) Joseph ended the program telling the audience about the GAT training.

Monday 26 April. GAT Day 1. Joseph collected us at 7:45. He had only got to bed at 4. Fatu was with him, insisting on riding in the back. We got to Life Church Goderich by 8:30 and Joseph and Fatu then went off for the morning to arrange their UK visas for the Alpha International Conference in July. Dwight laid out on display a selection of Canadiana he had brought that during the next few days would serve as prizes, giveaways and inducements to arrive early. Canadian flags proved very popular. In Joseph's absence this morning, Eleanor assumed his role, welcoming us and all the guests. Not too many of them - more expected tomorrow - but at least 10 pastors among them. The local music team did the opening worship, and then we were on to the teaching sessions, by Eleanor, then Richard, then Dwight, then me. I am very proud of the team; all spoke very well and had clearly diligently studied their presentations. The atmosphere was lighthearted, yet serious, since the information being given was clearly valuable to this audience. After my talk on Why did Jesus Die, Pastor Faithful (great name) came over and begged for a copy of my notes. He got them, plus my model gallows! The reception and book table was headed up by Professor Leonis Morgan, who never lost his welcoming smile throughout the week. We had local snapper for lunch, served gracefully to us by the local team. The testimonies and Q & A sessions were responded to with gusto. Finally, Joseph handled Apha in a Wider Church Context, with such supreme spirit-filled skill that Laurie-Ann compared him with Patricia King for his apostolic power and encouragement to the pastors present. We ended laying hands on them all.

Tuesday 27 April.   Written by Dwight and Tony. Day 2. Joseph & Fatu came for us at 8:00 this morning, and in a great act of generosity, lent us his laptop computer! Again Fatu insisted on riding in the back. When we started there were very few present - seems nobody likes to arrive too early, but they did eventually show up. Tony and Laurie-Ann led the opening worship, using a lectern since there were no music stands. They played Amazing Grace My Chains are Gone, There is a Redeemer, Spirit Song, and finishing off with Great Big God, which was an instant hit. Tony then gave a summary of yesterday's talks - which was particularly useful for about 10 newcomers. It included video footage that he had shot during the day. Then Richard followed with his talk on hosting small groups. After that Dwight did the Facilitation presentation, which allowed the team (and a few of our guests) to showcase their incredible acting skills! Tony excelled in demonstrating how NOT to pray and how NOT to host a small group - he's a real natural! It was then time for lunch ... but since lunch hadn't arrived we continued. Our jokes don't seem to go over very well, so just to avoid the embarrassment of not having anyone laugh at his joke, Dwight was able to coach them to laugh loudly when he raised his hand - and amazingly everybody laughed at his joke! Richard gave a good demonstration talk on "How Can We Have Faith". Lunch had now arrived! This being the year of the soccer world cup to be held in South Africa, Tony played the theme song Wavin' Flag by Canadian Somalian K'Naan which he had put on a CD of African related music. Click on the flags at the top of this page to hear the song. A second song by K'Naan on the disc is called Fire in Freetown. Gabriel became the owner of the disc. After lunch, Joseph did a session on "Localising Alpha". During this session the groups needed to identify obstacles to running Alpha. They mentioned a number of things that would be similar to us, but the one that really stood out to me was cost! To think that a cost of approximately $1 per person per week could be a major obstacle seems shocking and something that we should ensure never keeps an Alpha from running here!

There were several opportunities during the GAT for the delegates to ask questions of the panel: us + Joseph. Some questions were on the finer points of Christian theology, but Tony suggested that they instead home in on matters that had been raised during the talks. A lady then countered by pleading that theolgical questions were of great importance. Tony took the opportunity then to give a brief history of Christianity in Africa, reminding us that although the Church Missionary Society, CMS, had brought the Word to Sierra Leone in 1804 (the first African country to receive it), for the last half century the mainline western churches had adopted increasingly liberal stances, so much so that nowadays numbers of the more orthodox churches in North America have opted to come under the authority of African Christian leaders, and the West has been receiving missionaries from Uganda, Nigeria etc. Meantime the march of liberalization in the mainline Western Churches continues apace, with pockets of othodoxy growing in response, such as the Anglican Church of North America, and Alpha. He reminded the delegates that none of our team was ordained, and that our impression of their own local clergy was that they were emminently more qualified than us to answer the theological questions that had come up. Professor Leonis Morgan then stood and strongly endorsed what had just been said.

Laurie-Ann finished the day with the demonstration session "Why and How do I Pray". She used many personal stories which the guests really seemed to appreciate. Today was Independence Day in Sierra Leone, so after we finished, Joseph took us to the beach! Tony, Richard and Dwight swam several (between 0 & 10) Kilometers while Joseph, Fatu and Laurie-Ann looked on in awe! We drove "home" for an evening of thunder and lightning! Laurie-Ann had been praying for the temperature to fall a few degrees. In fact it rained for the next three nights, but never in the days, cooling us down quite considerably. Tony got to grips with Joseph's computer which has mobile broadband, ideal for this country where WiFi hotspots are rare. This enabled us to do e-mail and uploaded the journal. Our friends in Canada and elsewhere hadn't heard anything from us since the Gate 14 restaurant at Nairobi. We are worried that Joseph may get a large bill from Sierratel, not for our usage of his machine, but for the earlier transmission of large audio files via Dropbox, since with mobile broadband, as with a smart phone, costs escallate with large data transfers.

Wednesday 28 April.   Written by Richard. Day 3. Our day began 9:30a.m. with fewer than 20 delegates present. But by 10:00 a.m., there were approximately 40 in attendance. Songs of praise to start the day included Praise God, He is Lord + I love you Lord, and Grace like rain. By popular demand, Tony and L-A gave an encore rendition of Great Big God, which is evolving as the theme worship song for GAT II. Richard summarized the last day's sessions, again including video clips mainly of the delegates relaxing between sessions, followed by detailed instruction techniques on how to present the teaching sessions on Alpha by Tony. Before lunch we heard a short demonstration talk on Why and How Should I Read the Bible and How Does God Guide Us by Dwight and L-A, respectively. The audience paid close attention to both these presentations and some commented how much they appreciated the personal sharing of the speakers concerning their experience with Alpha. At the beginning of How Does God Guide Us, Dwight demonstrated another, more random method of guidance with the game rock, paper, scissors. After explaining the basics, he then held a knock-out tournament involving everyone to determine the champion. This was engaging and hilarious, even though rock was disproportionately a popular choice. All the participants willingly engaged in a very fruitful small group discussion time, so much so they they seemed reluctant to break off for lunch. They are truly a cooperative and an eager audience who are anxious to learn all they can on how to conduct and administer an Alpha Course! After a lunch break and a friendly time of fellowship with some of the delegates, we reconvened to hear three encouraging and positive personal testimonials from members of the audience who had been on an Alpha team before. L-A led us on How to Pray for People on Alpha, using a few skits on how best to do it. Then we entered into the highlight of the day's agenda by looking at Who is the Holy Spirit (Tony), and What does He Do (Richard). L-A then demonstrated the key Alpha session How can I be Filled with the Holy Spirit. This led to the invitation for the Holy Spirit to come among us in power, and ministry time. We had reminded those present that unlike previous sessions when they were asked to imagine that they were guests on an Alpha course, for this time of personal prayer, it was for them as they are. Many came forward for ministry although the Sierra Leonian way is somewhat more lively and loud than what we in Canada are used to. At the conclusion of the day, we parted with joy in our hearts sensing that we had further strengthened a bond with our Sierra Leonian brothers and sisters in Christ.

Thursday 29 April.   Written by Laurie-Ann. Day 4. This was our last morning in the RC Guest House on Leicester Peak (called Javohey House), and we had a wonderful breakfast of banana fritters and spam (didn't know they still served that), coffee and water. We decided to eat on the balcony while enjoying this particular view of Freetown for the last time. To now, it's been a favourite prayer spot for team prayer. We were ready in time and we loaded up the whole van with suitcases, computers, musical instruments and everything else. Fatu still insisted in sitting in the back as she always does, since she is so humble and ready to serve. It was another hot day but Fatu made sure we were hydrated with water and squash. Pastor Samuel had taken up Tony's suggestion to buy a music stand, which Tony paid for and then donated to the church. African musicians seldom use music stands, or sheet music, but music stands have many other uses in addition to supporting sheet music. This was a heavier day for Tony, Dwight and Richard, since I had done all my talks, and all went well. We had started some very special friendships with the people - Edwin - the pastoral worker with colourful clothing and long dreadlocks, Mildred, who came up to me and wanted to sing "Our God is a Great Big God" yet again, Pastor Faithful with his questions and always wanting our notes (and Tony's music) and many others. At the lunch break today, Tony was giving a guitar lesson to Pastor Faithful, who has been attempting to play Awesome God for a long time. I had a few little girls latch on to me calling me Aunty Ann and wanting me to take them with me to Canada.

Our final worship session incuded Crown him with many Crowns, Awesome God, Days of Elijah and Great Big God. This song was now generating spontaneous renderings by delegates during break times, one of which is captured on the movie which Tony was making. Almost all of the songs we had chosen were well known to the enthusiastic and music-savvy audience (except Blessed be your Name).

The commissioning that followed, led by Joseph, was a very special time and people were visibly moved. Delegates intent on their calling had taken their training very seriously, and now embraced this commissioning as a powerful culmination of it. There was music and much calling on the Lord. Some of the people we will probably miss the most are the pastor of Life Ministries, Samuel Neufville, and his son Gabriel, who is a highly gifted keyboard player. I asked Gabriel to record some of his music for the Over My Head radio show and he came up with a VCD, which hopefully Tony can work into an MP3 for the show.

Our suitcases, backpacks and the guitar were loaded on top of the Isuzu Trooper. Shortly after we left down the pot-holed street the guitar slipped partly off at a particularly vicious bump in the road, so we had to stop and re-load. Good thing, since we didn't want to lose anything! A friend of Joseph's, Victor, had offered his appartment for us to stay free of charge, in the busy Congo Cross neighbourhood near to the stadium. The flat is above a church so we were greeted with some singing and preaching as we moved into our host's place. We have a kitchen, living room and dining room, and separate toilet and bathroom. Tony was given a course on how to lock, unlock and otherwise secure the door, which has four independent locking systems. Joseph offered to drive us to a restaurant but Tony wanted to experience walking the streets of the area. Joseph reluctantly agreed, and James Showers helped lead us to the Delightful restaurant which we have come to know very well. Chicken and chips is pretty well the safest option unless you like lots of spice. Even the spagetti tasted like it had been super-soaked with hot sauce! We were given a ride most of the way back by a driver who spotted the Canadian flag that was still protruding from James's pocket. He wouldn't even take any Leones for his kindess. Then it was prayer time and off to rest before our journey upcountry on Friday to Makeni prison. We again had bednets, but at least the fans made the heat bearable.

Friday 30 April.   Written by Laurie-Ann. Upcountry visit to Makeni. Joseph came to pick us up in the newly owned Alpha Sierra Leone Jeep, donated by an Alpha supporter. Finally a vehicle of their own! Ever since James Showers told us that the team may be separated according to gender at the Makeni prison, I had a little fear hiccup, similar to the hesitation I had in Pakistan before I spoke before 15,000+ people in Lahore. I really wasn't sure, but decided that since Eleanor James was coming with us, it would be fine - she would be team leader in the ladies' section of the prison and I would speak with her. So I was at peace. The next morning, we had breakfast, loaded up our cold water bottles, and I brought my little Bible and sponge just in case I would give a little devotional talk to the women. I asked Joseph where Eleanor was, and was told that she wasn't coming but that I would work with the wife of a local Makeni pastor. I sighed and explained that since Tony and I always do Prison Alpha together, I've always worked with the men - not the women - and that this is a couple ministry for us. Didn't matter - and Joseph told me not to worry, because I would not be alone. Even if I just shared and gave testimony that would have been fine. So all along the journey I was praying that all would go well and that I would be able to bond quickly with this Makeni lady.

We stopped for a short while in the Freetown suburb of Waterloo, original home of James Showers, and vendors came up to the van. Joseph bought fried fish and cassava bread, Dwight bought boiled peanuts, and Tony some bread, which we shared with the newly discovered apple soda that was so delicious. One of the first places we passed through on our way east was Newton, named for the writer of Amazing Grace, where Joseph owns a small farm which he hopes to establish a retreat centre. We stopped for lunch at the Makeni hotel, where we shared two huge plates of spicy rice and fish or steak, and it was off to meet the chaplain and local Alpha workers.

We found the Alpha prison volunteers very friendly. We chatted with the prison Chaplain who is clearly a strong fan of Alpha. I was introduced to Faith, the wife of one of the pastors. Joseph passed on to them our gift of $300 USD towards benches for the inmates so they would have a place to sit for their Alpha programmes. They are to be engraved "From Alpha Canada." We were all given an enthusiastic thank you, and we all prayed together before entering the prison. Inside we met the superintendent of the prison, whose office equipment appeared to be limited to a typewriter. (Until after our return from Sierra Leone we had never spoken with the superintendent at Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre.) Tony, Dwight and Richard went with Joseph to the men and they all spoke to a very enthusiastic crowd of about 100, after it had calmed down following some energetic singing of Christian songs. Tony brought them greetings from our inmates in OCDC, and received their greetings back. Then the chaplain took Faith and me to the ladies along with two chairs for us. We were led to a very small room, where seven women were singing quite loudly and a little girl sat playing on the floor. They were singing about being remorseful, that they wouldn't sin anymore since they were spending their life in prison. It sounded and felt like church. Faith and I were given honour and I greeted the women, and gave them greetings from the inmates that Tony and I work with in OCDC.

Faith didn't say a single word but I know she was praying. I was led to ask them if they wanted to write their own songs to the Lord similar to the one they just sang. I spoke on God's creativity and of Tony's songwriting with the OCDC inmates. I spoke about turning your life around in faith and that most of the great people in the Bible all made mistakes but that God redeemed them. And I was able to share about soaking prayer - using a sponge as a prop, and read to them from Psalm 42. The women seemed encouraged and the chaplain was pleased. I ended by teaching them the song that many people loved at our GAT training - Our God is a Great Big God - and they also loved it. Even the chaplain was laughing. At this point, Tony and the rest of the team were right outside our little chapel and could see what was going on! I'm sure Tony was thinking, "and this is the same lady who was afraid?" We ended in prayer and I shook hands with each woman and told them that I would never, ever forget them. Of course I won't, it was my first time in the female section!

One of the problems here was fairly obvious to us, though not necessarily to the prison staff: the lack of any aftercare for released offenders. We raised it with them as we chatted before leaving.

On the way back, we stopped in Lunsar to spend some time with a family that is very dear to Joseph. They had just lost Winnifred, a beloved family member. Tony and I felt moved to contribute to the funeral costs. Decades before, this family had taken Joseph in when he was a struggling young pastor. We drove back to Freetown. On the way we talked about the number of pastors in Sierra Leone, some 2,600, 90% of whom Joseph knows personally since he is seen as pastor to the pastors. Of these about 80 are Anglican. Many Sierra Leonians now would attend the mainline church of their upbringing (Anglican, Methodist) first every Sunday, and then go to a Pentecostal church, because that's where the healings are happening. But they would not break the original church allegiencies, wishing to be buried by them.

Saturday 1 May. Written by Laurie-Ann. Today was the day that Tony was waiting for - the ending of a 24 year separation between Tony and his friend Emma Dupingy. She had seen him off at Norwich airport when he emmigrated to Canada on 6 April 1987. She is now the principle of the second largest school in Freetown. It was the national day of examinations for school children across the country, so Emma was working. We were to have a scheduled hour with her between exam times. Joseph and James Showers picked us up and took us to east Kissy, where we were taken in to Methodist Boys High School. Tony did not at first recognize Emma; the lady behind the desk in the principal's office looked too young. But it was indeed she! Hugs all round. Emma insisted on my taking her principal's chair. Tony said that Emma looked like a film star - actually Woopi Goldberg - and that she had not aged since he last saw her. She gave us a very warm welcome and then we gave her gifts from Canada, USA and Kenya. I think her favourite was the Message Bible, since she kissed the cover a few times with oohs and aahs. She also loved the visit with James, since he used to be one of her students, and she insisted that we all sign the school guest book. On one of the earlier pages, was Prince Charles' signature from his visit November 2006. After we had our photos taken beside the commemorative plaque of Price Charles' visit, Emma gave me a talk on being good to Tony, or else I would answer to her! She also told us that she would be happy to see us in Agape Bible Church, where I would be speaking and Tony would be ministering alongside me the next day.

During the afternoon, we were taken to a restaurant on Wilberforce Street and three of us played it safe by eating chicken and chips, while Tony enjoyed a liver sandwich. Afterwards, we were taken in taxis to a supermarket, since I wanted to see some of the local foods and buy a few things. The selection on the shelves bore quite a resemblance to what might be found in a small supermarket in a small English town. Then on to Lumley beach for swims for the men. Again I did not have my bathing suit with me, but I was promised by Eleanor that there would be another opportunity to swim while we were here in Freetown. Then the taxis which we had chartered for an hour for about $4 took us to the famous Cotton Tree in the centre of town, which was already mature when the freed slaves first returned to Freetown in 1792. The time at the Cotton Tree was special and strategic. Richard and Dwight did a prayer walk of blessing around the tree, while Tony filmed me praying for the people of Sierra Leone while stretching my hand out in blessing towards the tree. We were not allowed to come and touch the tree since there are barriers between the edges of its surrounding circle and onlookers, but it was close enough. The huge tree is in the centre of a traffic roundabout so there were also various cars and trucks zooming past us at any time.

We were picked up by the tree to go to Uncle Modu's for a visit, which turned out to be a three course dinner. We shared, sang, prayed and enjoyed each others' fellowship and we were glad to have food that had the pepper seasoning on the side for a change. Uncle Modu was very keen to hear our impressions and feedback, and Tony took the opportunity to emphasise the matter of the lack of ex-offender care, and the need for a half-way house in the vicinity of Makeni prison. Earlier in the day Fatu had also brought over dinner for us, not knowing Uncle Modu's intention to feed us so well. So her food was put in the fridge for the next two days, when we feasted on stew, rice, pasta, fish pepper soup (a milder version), plaintain and ginger beer.

Sunday 2 May. Written by Tony and Richard. We were picked up by two cars for two churches, Agape Bible Church where L-A was to preach, and Open House Global Missions where Richard was to preach. Both were by request of their respective pastors. Joseph came with Laurie-Ann and me, While Joseph's son Harry accompanied Rich and Dwight and Showers. On the way we all stopped off to give greetings at the church of one of Joseph's students, Pastor Bock, where we all gave testimonies to the large congregation. At Agape, we were first ushered into the small office where Laurie-Anne had recovered from the heat eight days earier. I read the lesson, and spotted Emma seated in the congregation, so I joined her, rather than L-A and Joseph who were at the front. L-A had problems with her microphone but by now had the experience to soldier on regardless, and the message went very well and did not need translation. Emma was impressed! I think this was when she decided that L-A really was a suitable wife for me! She asked if L-A was a lecturer. Unfortunately the congregation did not at first understand that L-A was making an altar call for anyone to receive a touch from God, except for Emma, who did come. When they saw what was on offer, they all came forward, and the two of us were very busy for a time ministering to them.

Meantime Dwight and Richard had been whisked back into town and arrived at Open House Global Missions to hear Pastor Steven lead a discipleship study series that focussed on original sin. While God the almighty is present all the time, the snake (devil) only shows up when there is an opportunity to inflict temptation and cause sin for us. At 11:00 the service began, which included a half hour of worship led by Youth Pastor Paul, an attendee on the GAT in Goderich, and Joseph's computer specialist. After having shared a scriptural passage and some teaching from one of two assistant pastors, we were introduced to the congregation of 45 members. Dwight introduced himself and shared our purpose in coming to SL for Alpha. He mentioned his personal reasons for being involved in Alpha and how he had been touched by the welcome we have received from everyone we have met and especially Pastor Joseph and his wonderful local Alpha team. Richard echoed Dwight's sentiments and expanded on his involvement in Other missions abroad. His message, which was translated into Krio, was based in the parable of the lost or prodical son, emphasizing the amazing vastness of the father's love for his children. He paralleled the story in all our lives and shared several personal examples in his own experience. This seemed well received as he concluded with the story of the portrait of the deceased son, dearly loved by his wealthy father- 'whoever takes the son gets everything'. Richard led the congregation in a prayer of commitment used by the Alpha Course - thank you, sorry, please. Pastor Steven thanked us for our presence and our sharing and called for a special offering to be personally given to us. We gratefully accepted and donated the amount to assist the growth of Alpha in Freetown.

After the two services we four joined together again and were given fresh coconuts to drink plus fresh coconut meat, before persuading Joseph to spend the afternoon with his family, while we rested at Victor's house till the evening. At 7, Joseph picked us up for our second visit to Radio Democracy, where we were joined by Moses, one of Sierra Leone's eight Alpha advisors. We felt like veterans! Most of the program was devoted to our impressions of the GAT, and the visit to Makeni prison. I took the opportunity of mentioning the Global Day of Prayer, and at Josephs' prompting, the lack of a half-way house in the vicinity of the Makeni prison.

Monday 3 May. Written by Dwight. We started the day with Joseph taking us to the Alpha Sierra Leone Alpha office. By Freetown standards it is quite respectable; however Canadians would never expect someone to work in a facility like this. Very little furniture - a couple of tables, a couple a couple of computers and a few chairs and a small bookcase. No air-conditioning. Yet Joseph and his staff are very happy with it, and are in the process of opening a second office in Bo, a city about 300 Km east of Freetown.

Joseph then took us to pastor Faithful's home in Angola Town. Pastor Faithful had attended the GAT course and wanted to show us his appreciation by having us for lunch; groundnut soup with meat. His wife was away and he and his children worked hard to be hospitable. He has a gentle heart. His eldest son is away for 2 years in Bible college in Ghana. After lunch, Joseph took us to the offices of the Evangelical Fellowship of Sierra Leone to meet Rev Jonathan Titus-Williams, General Secretary of EFSL who is organizing the Global Day of Prayer here. Tony talked to him about the approach used in Ottawa, which Tony helps organize, and left him with Graham Power's book Not by Might, Nor by Power, and the Ottawa GDOP DVD. Rev Titus-Williams has a very impressive office for Freetown - it even had air conditioning! The only other place we had experienced air conditioning was at Freetown largest supermarket. (Tony cleverly prolonged our stay as long as possible by telling Rev Titus-Williams pretty much everything he knew, just so we could stay in his air conditioned office! Good thinking Tony!)

Then, to the beach - it took a long time to get there via elaborate detours up and down side streets. Traffic in Freetown is pretty congested a lot of the time. This time even Laurie-Ann swam (she had cleverly worn her bathing suit under her clothes). Actually Tony would dispute that Laurie-Ann went swimming - he would clarify that to "she stood in the water". She did manage to get knocked down by the waves so did get completely wet! Again there were very few people on the beautiful beach which would be completely crowded and developed if it were in Canada or the US.

Joseph then took us back to the flat to get changed before taking us to his home for a farewell banquet. We also returned his laptop at this point; how incredibly useful it had been to us. All of the Sierra Leone Alpha team was there as well as several guests including Joseph's spiritual mother Rev. Mrs Rexina Johnson, who made the best entrance to a room full of people I have ever seen. After rising high in the police department she had given it up to become the first female Anglican priest in Sierra Leone. Before eating we joined in joyful choruses of praise to God. They had lots of good food (no fish) and we had a fine evening, with Joseph, Eleanor, Victor and others expressing their appreciation and gratitude for our coming to Sierra Leone. They also gave each of us generous gifts of local music DVDs, a craft of a map of Sierra Leone and handsome African shirts for the guys and an African dress for Laurie-Ann. Each of us thanked them for their hospitality and expressed what the trip had met to us. It was a great evening.

We got home about 11 pm. Still hot and the power was still off - has been off for most of the day. Fortunately Joseph had the generator from the office so we could use the lights and more importantly be able to use the fans for sleeping. This was our last full day in Sierra Leone.

Tuesday 4 May. Written by Dwight. As usual everyone slept in, except Dwight, who gets up early to get all the house work done. This is accomplished by unlocking the door to let Ahmed in who does all the house chores. (Ahmed comes with the house; he is Victor's servant.) Everyone finished packing, then Dwight went to the Internet cafe (which was actually open AND operating). Tony and Richard and Eleanor met Dwight on the way back and Dwight and Richard then took a taxi down town with Eleanor to get some souvenirs. It didn't take Dwight & Richard long to select items, then Eleanor would do the bartering for them. This system worked very well! (Richard wants Eleanor to come to Canada to help him with his shopping!)

Fatu spent the morning at our place doing everything she could possibly think of for us - if it looked like you were going to do something, Fatu would race over to do it for you.. She has been like this all week (she must really spoil Joseph!). At about 1 pm Joseph came, and we packed up our luggage and headed for the water taxi, with a detour to "Delightful" fast food restaurant. Showers and Eleanor met us at the water taxi. We said our good-byes to Joseph, Fatu (who was crying) and Eleanor and set out on our 20 minutes water taxi ride, followed by a 10 minute ride to the airport. At the airport after checking in, Tony and Dwight went to check out the VIP lounge and Internet cafe. Was not entirely successful - the VIP lounge is just for first class and the Internet cafe only exist on the sign! Tony was lamenting the loss to the security staff of his roll of duct tape, which apparently is not allowed in hand luggage these days. Luckily it had been in a checked bag on the outward trip, since it had proved essential to repair his new Intellipoint mouse, which had broken when its batteries had been replaced at Syracuse. (By the way, Duct tape adhesive melts in tropical climates.)

We boarded our flight at 5 pm and flew to Accra, Ghana, where we sat in the plane for an hour then took off for Nairobi. During the flight we lost two hours and flew right out of Tuesday and into Wednesday!

Thursday 4 May - Thursday 6 May. Our return journey was according to schedule: a mere 59 hours. From one of the poorest countries, Sierra Leone, back to one of the richest per capita, Dubai, is quite interesting. Judging by the goods in the duty free mall at Dubai airport, frequent fliers seem to have difficulty finding thigs that are expensive enough to dent their wealth. Some of the goods might satisfy for a while. Sierra Leonians know none of these stresses. With the poorest living on $1 a day, some crushing rocks one by one with a hammer for a living, concerns about choosing what to buy are unknown. Yet most have a ready smile for strangers, with teeth unmarred by sugar. There are of course a few rich people, and there is bribery, but this is a nation recovering well from the war of atrocities that ended 2002, and they have realized that education is paramount. The children are well cared for and teenagers know that listening to their teacher is the only rational option. If Showers, Eleanor, Margaret, Abdul, Mildred, Gabriel and Edwin are anything to go by, the school principals are doing a good job, and not neglecting Christianity in their classrooms. One of them is Emma Dupigny, and I can vouch for her unswerving faith and her wish to share it.

Video: GAT - Sierra Leone - 30 minute version
Video: GAT - Sierra Leone - 5 minute version, and Reunion with Emma Dupigny
Rev. Joseph Francis Williams - interviewed during Alpha International Week in London June 2010
Sierra Leone GAT 2010
Alpha Canada