In my last post I described what happened at Binkolo on our second night in Sierra Leone, September 3, 1969. It seemed that I was the one to whom other funny and embarrassing things happened over the next three years as Rosa and I completed our first term of missionary service. Maybe I’ll write about them another time. In this post, however, I’m not going to talk about the funny or the embarrassing, but about how the life of Jesus shines through our weakness and suffering.
In 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (remember, I’m teaching 2 Corinthians this semester!) Paul uses the following words to describe his life as a minister of the New Covenant: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (ESV).
On September 4 we went up-country from Binkolo to Kamakwie (yes, for those not familiar with Sierra Leone, Kamakwie is more “up-country” than Binkolo—but not as many ants). For the next three years I was to be chaplain and Bible teacher (Bible Knowledge was a required subject) at Kamakwie Secondary School. I was straight out of seminary and so green that I made the grass look red, and I was the only missionary at the school. Those who had been there the previous year had either gone home or been transferred. There had been a big brouhaha (or, as we say in Sierra Leone, a “palaver”) that necessitated their untimely departure.
The school was in disarray. As far as I could tell that first year, there was no other committed Christian teacher for the 450 or so students in attendance. During the next two plus years the school was characterized by gross misuse of funds and by immorality of various kinds. I once found the boys in the boarding department drunk with wine given them by a respected person in town. At another time the walls of the senior prefect’s room were covered with porn given him by one of the school authorities. It appeared that everything was being done to intentionally corrupt the students. There was still tension among missionaries.
There was also anguish in our personal lives. During these years our first child died twenty-four hours after birth and Rosa all but died at the birth of our second. Throughout much of the last year I was suffering from recurrent intestinal cramps, fever, and chills, all the while endeavoring to stand as a witness for Christ in the midst of a godless mess. At one point my life was threatened and I have no doubt that at other times I was in physical danger. Although I had not been beaten five times with “forty-stripes save one” (2 Corinthians 11:24 KJV) as had Paul, I certainly felt “afflicted . . . perplexed . . . persecuted . . . struck down.” Yet, by the grace of God, “not destroyed.”
Paul thought his sufferings were necessary. He described them as “being given over to death for Jesus’ sake.” They were necessary “so that the life of Jesus also” might “be manifested in” his weak “mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:11 ESV). And so it was at Kamakwie. By the time we left God had given us a strong Christian principle, several Christian teachers, and a youth center in town for the students. But the long term results were even more important. Many of the students to whom Rosa and I ministered during that time became strong Christians and leaders in the church—one became National Superintendent, another the Principal of The Evangelical College of Theology, and another the Principal of Gbendembu Wesleyan Bible College. We never know how, when we are faithful, the “life of Jesus” will shine through our human weakness.