One cannot dispute the fact that the mystical teachings of jesus has responded to the suffering of the people in Sierra Leone. The extent of the response is however worth mentioning.
The churches’ role in providing conflict resolution programs is vital. Forgiveness and reconciliation are essential teachings that are not reasonably been explored by the church in Sierra Leone. Most churches organize a one-time program on forgiveness instead of making it a priority since it is one of the most important virtues needed in Sierra Leone today. A dangerous culture developing in Sierra Leone today is that of revenge. If raped victims fail to forgive their aggressors, they would eventually grow with hatred, quietly waiting for every opportunity to revenge. Some people who were infected with the HIV virus during the war believe they should retaliate by engaging in immoral sex through which they also spread the virus. This underscores the critical need of community based health care which is a priority as is HIV/AIDS awareness. Many child soldiers joined the rebel movement (even though under duress) with the conviction that one day, they would grow up and track down their perpetrators.
A realistic observation is that forgiveness is relatively easier when the individual has a close relationship with Jesus Christ. This is the background against which the researcher assesses the evangelistic work of the church as far below expectations. The populace needs to be evangelized and properly discipled. Subsequently, the principle of forgiveness would be meaningful taught in the local church assemblies. Perhaps this is one of the most important ways to arrest the dangerous culture of hate which, if not properly arrested, will rear its ugly head in the not-too-distant future. Realistically, forgiveness and reconciliation could only be meaningfully realized when evangelization and pastoral care are major concerns of the church. For these and other related programs, the church in Sierra Leone needs to spend financially if any reasonable degree of success could be recorded. The suffering of the church “now becomes the work of love, the work of redemption, saving those we love” (Kreft 1986, 138).
On a positive note, the history of the end of the rebel war cannot be complete without chapters on the role of the church which played an active role in reaching the peace agreement of Lome on July 7, 2000, between the rebels and the government. By bridging the gap between both sides, it was able to convince the government to start talking to the rebels. Humanitarian assistance was rendered to both government and rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces (RUF) groups. With the support of Norwegian Church Aid (NCA), the Inter Religious Council for instance provided food for both fighting forces. Through this intervention the cases of looting have been reduced.
The above notwithstanding, there is need for more input from the church in Sierra Leone in the areas of relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and resettlement programs. The parsonages, churches, schools, clinics and other institutions destroyed, vandalized or ravaged by rebels need to be renovated or reconstructed for them to continue to serve the people. In addition, the programs put together to address the problems of ex-combatant child-soldiers as well as adults, orphans, women widowed by the rebel war, and counseling for traumatized people not only in the church but also in the communities at large are insufficient. A major fault of both the government and the church is the provision of assistance to the citizens in the capital at the expense of those in the other regions of the country where over seventy five percent of the population lives.
More programs are urgently needed to address the issues of children and women. The chauvinistic society is often insensitive to the needs of women in particular who suffered most during the war. When husbands were killed, they took over the running of the family which, in an African setting, is often very large. Most of these families were rendered homeless. They were also victims of rape and other violent physical abuses like amputation of their arms and limbs. Until the church addresses the realistic needs of women and children, the effects of war would be clearly evident for decades to come.
The church in Sierra Leone must identify itself with the suffering of the people. This was exactly what Paul did in the passage of II Corinthians 1:3-7. In the midst of suffering, the Sierra Leonean church must still be thankful to God, rendering praises to Him. This is clearly demonstrated by Paul in the pericope studied. He begins the section with an outburst of praise. This is teaching the church to always praise God in spite of and not because of. When Paul and Silas were imprisoned, the circumstances were not humanly conducive to praise God but their eventual praise demonstrated they were aware of the fact God should be praised at all times, a theme David echoes in Psalm 34:1. There needs to be a serious intimacy with God to such an extent that, like Paul, God is called ‘our Father’ in the greetings (II Cor. 1:2). The church should not be unmindful of the encouraging Scripture that observes that “the Lord is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation” (Exodus 15:2).
A big lesson for Sierra Leoneans is Paul’s use of the word comfort. The extreme poverty of the church in Sierra Leone, (which in reality reflects the general situation in the country), coupled with the untold misery of the rebel invasion, all reinforce the intensity of comfort. Although there are different degrees of trouble, God’s comfort is always available. This realization is sufficient to bring hope to a hopeless church. The burning of church buildings is not the end of the church. In fact, the true church is the assembly of saints and not the physical structures. Some Christians who were members of a famous church, Holy Trinity Church, one of the assemblies of the aristocrats in the society, ceased going to church after the rebels completely burnt their cathedral during the rebel invasion. Some, like the Jews, could just not comprehend how God allowed it to happen.
Paul did not promise the church a Christian life devoid of suffering. The reality is that it is part of the Christian’s training program. In fact, he concentrated on the inevitability of it. Suffering to the Christian, is Christ’s invitation to follow Him. Christ goes to the cross, and we are invited to follow to the same cross. Not because it is the cross, but because it is His. Suffering is blessed not because it is suffering but because it is His. Suffering is not the context that explains the cross; the cross is the context that explains suffering. The cross gives this new meaning to suffering; it is now not only between God and me but also between Father and Son (Kreft 1986, 137).