Never Ignore Books! (by Liz Patten)

Article Date: 26/02/2009 16:32:01

In May I had the privilege of accompanying Phil Burnham on a visit to our team in Sierra Leone. CLC UK oversees the work there and Phil is the regional director for Africa. CLC Sierra Leone began in 1966 and is now comprised of three bookshops: two in Freetown and a third in Bo.

CLC Sierra Leone Team“If we can reach out more, lives will be transformed and it will change our nation."

In May I had the privilege of accompanying Phil Burnham on a visit to our team in Sierra Leone. CLC UK oversees the work there and Phil is the regional director for Africa. CLC Sierra Leone began in 1966 and is now comprised of three bookshops: two in Freetown and a third in Bo. In addition there is a mobile ministry, aided by a new van funded by a sponsor from Germany, which increases the accessibility of Christian literature by taking it to areas of the country where there are no shops. This is a very important and necessary outreach in a country of 6.1m where Islam is the predominant religion and evangelicals make up just 3.2% of the population. The team consists of six full-time workers and four volunteers, led by Jusu-wai Sawi, the Sierra Leone National Director. These I met at the 8:30am 'team prayers', a daily time of praying for strength for the day, praying for customers (often by name) and praying for greater effectiveness of CLC worldwide.

A look around the shop reveals a variety of titles on the shelves. Most of the stock comes from suppliers in the USA; however, there was also a good quantity of books from the UK at a noticeable difference in price, thanks to the tireless work of the Book Aid teams and their supporters. Alfred Kaikai, the CLC officer, told me: "Reading is not part of our culture. People want to read but they need to be encouraged. It's easier to buy gifts, CDs and cards rather than books, other than the essential Bible of course!" He shared that he had been tremendously encouraged a few days earlier by the visit of a 15 year old schoolgirl to the shop. She told him that a visitor to her school had addressed the students and given them the message: "Never ignore books!" Donald John, former field accountant, made the following comment: "I think people are reading more now than 10 years ago. We just need to be encouraged, even if a person buys a book and keeps it without reading it for five years." His thoughts reflect the faith nature of sowing into a literature ministry. It may speak in any place and at any time when it is picked up and read.

In the past, CLC in Sierra Leone was involved in a publishing ministry, but in recent years this has been in decline due to finance and personnel. However, Jusu is keen to get this going, including publishing again the Christian magazine Catalyst. At the time it was in circulation, it was the only magazine of any kind in the whole country. He would like to bring in a new look and format, majoring on testimonies and motivational articles in order to have a wide appeal. Another project in mind is the initiation of a DVD lending library with wholesome films to help communicate Christian teaching and values.

Phil and I had an opportunity to visit the staff and students of an Adult Literacy Programme in a school not far from the CLC Head Office. This Programme was the vision of Nelson Clemens, Jusu's predecessor. We arrived to find that four different levels were being taught simultaneously in two classrooms! The programme is sponsored by the CLC ministry, which pays a token salary to the three teachers who give sacrificially of their time and energy. Phil was encouraged as one of the students remembered him from a previous trip a couple of years ago: "That means he's still there and he's still progressing; he hasn't given up. Praise the Lord!"

It takes an early start to visit the CLC shop in Bo, a journey of about 150 miles. The work in that town started five years ago, and Beatrice Massaquuoi has been with it since the beginning. Beatrice also serves sacrificially, since at the moment she is the only CLC worker there, which often means that she can't spend as much time at home with her husband and three children as she would like. Nonetheless, she is happy in the work. In spite of the shop being located on a busy corner and there being a number of guests during our two hour visit, there was only one sale. No wonder Beatrice is relieved that the new location, moved into about six months ago, has a lower rent than the previous one! And no wonder that taking bookstalls to churches is such a necessary ingredient to the ministry! In this, Beatrice is helped by a 16 year old named Abdu. He assists her by running errands and by taking books to various congregations on Sundays.

National Director Jusu-wai Sawa and his wife DaphneAs the days went by we became increasingly aware of the vision of the team. One morning we were taken by Alfred to visit two schools, Cathedral Boys and Cathedral Girls, each with over 300 students. We met with the head teachers and viewed the library facilities, with the aim of CLC UK becoming involved. We received a warm reception in both schools, from teachers and pupils alike. Mrs Teigo, the girls' headmistress, showed us the library room and called some of the girls out from their classrooms so that we could take photographs of them reading. Their genuine love of reading became immediately apparent as they eagerly grabbed the books from the shelves and all began reading, some aloud to themselves or each other, forgetting all about us! Apparently some of the graduates from the school still return to borrow books.

In the boys' school it was a different story. There was a tiny room with shelves but no books. Another slightly larger room had been designated for library use but as yet had no furniture, shelves or books. Mrs Koroma, the head teacher, emphasised to us: "This is a Christian school and, above all, we would like to have Christian books". She explained that they were short of teachers but that a new teacher, Pastor Cole, was keen to get a library going again. Her request was: "Pray for him, that he may be able to get the boys interested in reading".

Before we left Sierra Leone, Alfred shared with us his joy in working with CLC: "I know deep down that this is the place God wants me and that's why I'm relaxed. I love my job. I never knew about the importance of books. Now they have transformed my life and they can do it for anybody. My vision and desire is that we go far and wide with this ministry. If we can reach out more, lives will be transformed and it will change our nation".

Keywords: Sierra Leone, Phil Burnham
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