President of Sierra Leone Sends Representatives to COTN's Five-Year Celebration

12/23/10

It was a big celebration in Sierra Leone—big enough to attract the attention of the country’s president, Ernest Bai Koroma. He, along with about two thousand other people, planned to attend. Children and grandparents, government workers and village chiefs, staff and pastors—they were all invited to celebrate the five years that Children of the Nations (COTN) has been doing ministry in the Banta Mokelleh chiefdom of Sierra Leone.

It was more than fifteen years ago when COTN began caring for orphaned and destitute children in Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown, where the ministry first started. There, COTN built a building with one floor of classrooms and two floors of living space for the children in COTN’s full-time care. One day COTN–Sierra Leone Country Director Rev. Angie Myles spoke about COTN’s ministry to an old friend, who happened to be a head chief in Banta Mokelleh. He was so interested in what COTN was doing for children that he offered to give COTN fifty acres of land in Banta Mokelleh. The area is more than six hours away from Freetown, and much more rural. Later, another fifty acres were donated as well. God had opened a door for the ministry to expand and provide more for our children. Construction soon began on children’s homes, staff housing, a few offices, and a school, and soon our children had found a new home in the country, where they could run and play away from the city. That was five years ago.

Since then, Banta Mokelleh has changed drastically. God has used this ministry to reach families, children, and entire villages with His word. COTN’s move has brought education, commerce, jobs, and helped unite the community. All these things deserved to be celebrated at its five-year mark. And that’s why even Sierra Leone’s president wanted to see for himself how rural Banta Mokelleh had changed for the better.

People from every surrounding village where COTN has a presence gathered at COTN’s ministry center on November 16. Several government officials attended as well, many of whom had never seen COTN’s ministry site before. Also joining the festivities was a COTN Venture Team from Washington State, which included COTN founders Chris and Debbie Clark, who helped host the program. Though in the end President Koroma wasn’t able to attend, he sent his representatives to hear about COTN’s accomplishments in Banta and to encourage the positive change taking place.

“To understand the significance of this event you need to understand both the widely held perception of this part of Sierra Leone and the reality of this place five years ago,” says Mark Drennan, COTN–International Sierra Leone Liaison. “To be in a position to show significant national figures the progress that has been made in so many different areas was a moment of real pride for the people of a place known all too often for the negatives of poverty, illiteracy, witchcraft and a sense of rural backwardness. This event is a great moment in the story of where we have been and where we are going.”

The focus of our ministry in Banta Mokelleh has always been the same: the children. And that was evident at the very start of the Five Year Celebration. As dignitaries and guests settled into their seats, a processional began outside the COTN gate. The hundreds of children who attend COTN’s schools in Sierra Leone marched proudly in, singing along with a lively band. The program began with speeches by village leaders, all excited to share how God has used COTN to change Banta Mokelleh. One of the paramount chiefs shared the following: “COTN is determined to make the most backward chiefdom a few years ago become a fast developing chiefdom,” he said. “People before now were afraid to come here, believing that they would die of sickness or [be] killed by juju [witchcraft], for which Banta was known and famous. That fear has been dispelled; people are now flooding Banta as a result of COTN’s presence. I feel much honor and am very much grateful to God and COTN for this development. The people of Banta have not regretted providing you with 100 acres of land and space. [There will be] many more success stories to come in addition to the visible development we can all now see and enjoy. I am proud of COTN.”

For founders Chris and Debbie Clark, seeing so many nationals come together to celebrate and witnessing their commitment to serving the children in Sierra Leone was encouraging, to say the least. “There was this feeling of accomplishment—like look what’s come out of the ground,” Chris says. “It’s quite astonishing to see what all the toil has produced. It was rewarding as well—we felt proud of the staff. Overall, there was excitement and a feeling of accomplishment. The guests were all amazed that so much has come to be through COTN.”

After the speeches and a word from Chris, Rev. Angie Myles handed out certificates to all who had helped pioneer COTN’s ministry in Sierra Leone. Then it was the children’s turn to give a few presentations—a song, a skit, a Bible verse. Next came native Sierra Leone songs and dances performed by villagers. And finally, food, which was prepared by President Koroma’s sister who attended despite the president’s absence. The event continued for hours, which reflects the partnership that God has enabled between so many people in Banta for the sake of their children. “There was definitely an excitement in the air,” Chris says. “They were all just overjoyed.”

Click here to find out more about partnering with COTN in Sierra Leone!