With God’s help and the blessings of Their Eminences Metropolitans George of Guinea and Theoklitos of Florina , a journey to Sierra Leone in West Africa was carried out by a missionary team from the Holy Metropolis of Florina from May 23rd to June 9th, 2017. That team consisted of the writer himself, two nuns from St. Athanasius H.Monastery of Florina, and Mr. Constantine Christomanos, honorary professor at the University of Thessalonica.
The visit took place at the invitation of the missionary Rev.Themistocles Adamopoulos. The purpose of this mission was to offer assistance in a difficult and multi-faceted work that is carried out there, such as the clergy specialization or training in liturgical matters, given that in Sierra Leone there is no Orthodox ecclesiastical tradition, since the Orthodox Church has only had ten years of life there.
During our twenty-day stay there, we tried as much as we could to meet the purpose of our journey. Several lessons were given regarding issues on the value of the holy service, the performance of the sacred services of Vespers, Matins and of the Divine Liturgy, as well as the general order and the decency of the church. I must admit that the interest on the part of the indigenous priests was very big.
At the same time, the nuns tried to teach women how to knead prosphoro (altar bread) for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. Unfortunately, several times the priests in the African Sea are forced toperform the sacred mystery using common bread (loaf) that they buy from a bakery! The women were also instructed how to make koliva (boiled wheat). A sewing machine was also bought , which enabled us to make covers for the Holy Tables, altar boy robes and other ecclesiastical stuff.
Moreover, other activities were carried out, such as church preaching, catechetical classes to youth gatherings and lectures given at the Orthodox Pedagogical College by Mr. Christomanos.
During our stay we were hosted at the Orthodox Mission Center, which is situated in Freetown, the country’s capital. In this compound, apart from the residence center where we stayed, there is a sacred church dedicated to Sts. Constantine and Helen, which was built through the sponsorship of the Missionary Alliance «St. Cosmas the Aetolian « in Thessalonica. The compound also houses the College (Pedagogical School) which we have previously mentioned, project funded by the generosity of the same Alliance, a notable institution of our Church offering a high level – study and being attended by some 135 students. Also under construction is a kindergarten along with a boarding house for destitute and deserted children.
In Syke Street, another area in the center of the capital, there is the second Orthodox Center, which includes St. Eleftherios Cathedral , which was funded with donations from the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity of Thessalonica, as well as a School for 2,000 Kindergarten and Primary School children. In the same premises there is a school building consisting of 16 rooms, funded by the generosity of a lady from Athens through the same Fraternity.
The third Center is located in Waterloo, 20 km away from the capital. Within its premises there is the church of the Resurrection of Christ and St. Moses the African, also sponsored by the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity of Thessalonica. There is the second school unit of our Orthodox Church, which is attended by another 500 children. In the same compound there are small houses hosting disabled victims of the civil war, which plagued Sierra Leone between 1991 and 2000.
During our stay in Sierra Leone we made two important visits. One was to the School for Blind Children, a state institution for blind kids abandoned by their relatives. Their children attend classes at the School there and are hosted at a boarding house which is within the premises of the institution. The boarding house is supplied with food by the Orthodox Mission, since the state cannot meet all its needs. We were deeply touched by the blind children’s beautiful singing and the expression of their gratitude to all those who send food from Greece. Rev. Themistocles suggested that the Orthodox Church should undertake the school’s running and maintenance.
Visit at the school for blind children
The other visit was to a district of the capital, Kroo bay, which is considered among the poorest and most deprived areas in the world. This visit was one of the most striking experiences of our lives. There are no words to describe the living conditions in that slum. Humans live in sheds most unsuited for human shelter, without adequate access to sanitation and health services or drainage system, resulting in the entire region giving off an unbearable stench. It is considered to be the «Africa of Africa «. With a lot of difficulty and precautions, we walked on the muddy and dirty paths and visited the school and the clinic only to find them in an awful condition. We couldn’t believe our eyes. What we saw was really incredible. When we left, we had the feeling that we had come back from hell. Rev. Themistocles is considering asking the state to concede the school’s maintenance and operation to our Church.
Our journey left us with a lot of indelible impressions and conscience-shattering experiences. We experienced the miracle of the creation of a Church. We saw how the grace of God, without the human means and facilities employed by other denominations, attracts the souls to the only true Church, Orthodoxy, overcomes all obstacles, and opens up streets to spread the Gospel.
When one is given the chance to have a close look at such difficulties, they feel it is their duty to pray more fervently for the work of our missionaries and support it in every possible way.
With the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan George of Guinea, I visited Sierra Leone, a country that has been tested by the deadly Ebola virus. The biggest obstacle was that I had to communicate with the Sierra Leoneans without knowing English. And yet, this was done without any difficulty at all! I remembered my English from school, although I was laughed at by the children. But with the language of love, I could talk to a child as if I were a child, to youth like a young person, to the elderly like an old man. A lot of people ask me how they can become missionaries. The answer is simple. You do not need to be rich to become a missionary, all you need is Will. If you want, you can make it.
During my stay there I was involved in the training of priests, because most come from Islam, the Methodists and the Protestants, and they need to learn about the liturgical life of the Orthodox Church. I also dealt with the youth who, with your help, will be the future members of the Church of Christ. The Mission is trying to relieve the people, by the saying of Jesus: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”. It builds training centers, takes care of the disabled and provides warm meals every Sunday after the Divine Liturgy, not only for the Orthodox, but also for everyone else, regardless of religion.
I was greatly touched by a girl when I asked her to meet her mother. “No, Father, you cannot meet her because she is illiterate and does not know English …”! At that moment tears filled my eyes! I told her: “My mother is illiterate too, and yet, she brought me into this world. I love her and I’m proud to present her without a shred of shame and say: This is my great love. “Her mother came. At the end of our conversation, this woman tells me with a touching voice: “Father, I may be illiterate, but I don’t want my daughter getting pregnant from a boy, I want her to study. Please help her, because both of my other daughters got pregnant and did not have the chance to go to school. “At this moment, these words are coming back again. I promised her that our Mission, which loves youth, would make every possible effort to realize her dream. This is our Africa … Can anyone save her? Only the Orthodox Christian would answer this question.
I saw how the people here- children and adults-would kill one another for a plate of food or for the clothes that they were given, and I could not bear it. This is why I am asking all readers to pray for this people and say “Lord, have mercy on them”. After all, St. Gregory the Theologian says: “What I consider to be the best is the love to the poor and the compassion and sympathy towards our fellow humans. Nothing is more pleasing to God than that sympathy and love. ”
Here you can see photos from everyday life in the Village of the Disabled, Waterloo, Sierra Leone. The Orthodox Mission created this village together with a school and a church to relieve the victims of the horrible civil war, providing them with housing, food and companionship.
Going through the most joyful period of the year, that is, the Easter period, my mind and heart cannot help overflowing with joy, hope and nostalgia, since they are still on the missionary division of Sierra Leone, just one month after my return. It’s there that I experienced the moving adventure of Faith, it’s there that the Chancellor, Fr, Themistocles Adamopoulos chose to follow the Crucified Christ to the corner of Africa, where reside the poorest of the poor.
By the grace of God, with the blessings of the Pope and Patriarch Theodore the II of Alexandria and all Africa and the financial contribution of the friends of the Mission from the little they have, within the last seven years the newly established but so fervently struggling Orthodox Church of Sierra Leone carries out in a wondrous way a diverse missionary, philanthropic as well as educational work despite the adversities and the numerous problems that can occur any time.
First of all, as regards the catechetical work and that of worship, I was greatly impressed by the spirit of freedom and love with which the Church embraces those souls that seek the Truth and come to hear the Word of God, which is preached in a simple, experiential way. The christening of the catechumens is not held roughly and hastily but after a long period of catechesis and a fully conscious decision on their part. Two highly emotional moments were when the priest knelt down in order to give the Holy Communion to some handicapped people in a wheelchair, and at the Vesper of Forgiveness, with the faithful exchanging words of sincere forgiveness with each other and the priests forming a circle of unity in an atmosphere full of reverence during the period of the Great Lent.
As for the part of charity, on the outskirts of the capital city, in the region of Waterloo, Fr Themistocles established what the Patriarch called on a recent tour to Sierra Leone ‘the pride of the Patriarchate’, the village of Saint Moses the Black for the war amputees. This compound of residences consists of lodgings for the disabled and their families, clinic, school, workshop and church, and offers its services to the most vulnerable and helpless citizens of this country: the homeless amputees. The recent fifteen-year-tragedy of the civil war in conjunction with diseases like polio, have left countless victims with mutilations or disabilities. Those people, stigmatized and marginalized, found a warm embrace of God to shelter their dreams.
Mr. Georgiou examining an amputee’s family
Divine Liturgy in St. Moses’s village
Catechism in the amputees’ village
Syke street school
In such an exceptional place is the clinic of Saint Mary Magdalene and Saint Olympia, where for a week, along with a local cardiologist, we examined more than 350 patients from the surrounding areas and helped them with the right medical treatment. Apart from malaria, undernourishment, tropical and skin infections, we observed increased percentages of hypertension due to the psychosomatic impact caused by the war. Next step is the construction of a special clinic for the creation of prosthetics for the amputees, a worth-supporting effort.
Fr. Themistocles lays special emphasis on the part of education, mainly of those children that have exceptional educational capabilities. The capital city of Sierra Leone has been named “the Athens of Africa” due to its tradition in the field of education. The school of the Orthodox Church in Syke street offers free education to more than 1,500 children with primary and secondary schools. Unforgettable will be the memory of the school wall, where in clear Greek letters stands out the phrase “Love God, love Knowledge”. Within the school premises we gave the students a dental examination and lectures on oral hygiene, preventive hygiene and medical emergencies. The same place hosts the activities and events of the Orthodox Youth Fellowship, where we had a catechetical class and a video projection with pictures from the Orthodox tradition. Also, there is a college for students operating with distinguished professors from all over the world.
Before leaving for Sierra Leone, I filled my overweight luggage with little holy icons and crosses, books, school stuff, balloons and the communion bread that my mother kneaded for the Divine Liturgy. On my return, the same suitcases were carrying some solid diamonds from the bloodstained land of Sierra Leone. Those were the sincere and guileless communion of love with the brother there, the pure smiles on the children’s faces, the chances for ritual services in the Orthodox Churches, and Fr. Themistocles’s phrase “It’s God we should glorify, not grumble”. Unconsciously came to my mind one of Saint Symeon the New Theologian’s sayings, which fits this humble Orthodox missionary division: “There is a little joy that laughs at death”. Christ is Risen!
Doctor, Dentist, Regular member of the Fraternity
Please, turn the subtitles on manually, if they don’t appear.
Thousands of people have been infected with Ebola virus in Sierra Leone. Pestilence and famine have taken over the country, since food prices are skyrocketing.
Responding to an urgent appeal by the missionary Fr. Themistoklis Adamopoulos, caring people from Greece and abroad financially supported our Fraternity’s efforts for one more shipment of humanitarian aid to Sierra Leone.
25 tonnes of rice, milk, oil, pasta, salt, clothes, toys and ecclesiastical items were bought, gathered and wrapped up at our warehouse in Philyron.
On Sunday, October 19, a notable turnout of young people joined us for loading the container that left for Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone.
We want to thank all of you for the immediate financial, material and spiritual support you provided for our suffering brothers, especially our donors from Florina and Australia who contributed richly.
Tuesday 23rd May 2013, memory of the Holy Equals-to–the-Apostles, Saints Constantine & Helen. With the wishes and blessings of His Divine Beatitude Theodore II Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, I arrived in Guinea after a 29-hour-journey. At the airport I was greeted by the members of the first Orthodox nuclei in the country.
Wednesday 22nd May. In the car that was donated to us by the Saracakis Bros Company, we set off on our road trip for the city of Kindia, which is situated inland about 135km from the capital (city of) Conakry. It took us more than 5 hours to cover this relatively short distance. I got thirsty on the way so I asked if we could stop for a while in order to have some sort of refreshment and quench our thirst. “Such things do not exist here,” said my fellow travelers. I wondered how that was possible, since I saw little tables with bottles of popular western soft drinks throughout the way. “No, Your Eminence,” they told me, “these are not soft drinks but gas; here we buy gas in bottles of soft drinks and beer and only the richer in jerry-cans.”
Thursday 23rd May. Visit to the Technical School which is under construction in Kindia. At this Technical School there will be bakery courses and among the facilities, there is provision for the installation of a professional oven so that apart from their practical training, the students will be able to bake bread for the benefit of the local society. Next we visited local schools, where we distributed to the pupils stationery and sweets which had been sent in a container by the Limassol Co-operative Savings Bank. Wherever I walked, I heard the people call me ‘Fote’, especially the little children. I asked my fellow travelers what ‘Fote’ means, and they said ‘White man’. “Keep in mind, Your Eminence, that the majority of the people here have never seen a white man before except on TV, let alone one walking among them.”
Friday 24th May. We visited the parking lot of the 50- seat- bus which was donated to us by the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity and discussed with local agents the best possible ways this bus could meet the transport needs of the local community. It is worth pointing out that such a bus has never been used before, not only in Kindia but also in the whole of Guinea. Next I visited the three wells which are being drilled thanks to the good offices of the Metropolis, so that 3 of the poorest city districts can have access to water. “The poorest” is just a figure of speech, since 99% of the inhabitants live below the poverty line. Privileged are the ones who have a relative that works abroad.
Saturday 25thMay. I visited the local University. There I was given the opportunity to meet with the representatives of the students’ association and discuss their needs, which were focused on the creation of a lending library and the accessibility to the internet, and I could not help thinking how many books we throw away in the western world without even bothering to recycle them. We distributed stationery there as well.
Sunday 26th May. Divine Liturgy celebrated in a private venue provided by a family of catechumens. Cantor, Sacristan, Deacon. Priest: all in one person. The catechumens have a thirst for religious books. They said to me: “Your Eminence, send us whatever you can.”
Monday 27th May. Departure for Sierra Leone.Despite the very bad weather, the person in charge of the Mission in Sierra Leone, the Very Reverent Archimandrite Fr Themistocles Adamopoulos, managed to get to the airport in order to greet me. We were able to reach the Mission premises around midnight.
Tuesday 28th May. Accompanied by Fr Themistocles and all the clerics I went toWaterloo region, where I visited the Missionary center of Saint Moses the Black, which was inaugurated by the Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria on 23rd February 2012, and comprises the Holy Church of the Lord’s Resurrection, Presbytery, Primary School, Clinic, workroom for the creation of artificial limbs (prosthetics) and housing for the accommodation of the mutilated by mines children. Inside the Holy Church the pupils sang songs and recited poems. Next I told them words of (parental) love and gave them advice. Then I laid the foundation stone for the erection of the (Junior) High School.
In the afternoon I was shown around the Orthodox Pedagogical Academy, where I marveled at the work being done there. I visited the classrooms, the rich in the collection of materials library and the computer lab, and I also had the chance to talk with the students as well as the teachers.
In the evening I officiated at the Vespers service for the feast of Mid-Pentecost at the Holy Church of Sts Constantine and Helen, which was erected next to the Orthodox Pedagogical Academy, and I preached the Word of God to the congregation, which was mainly composed of the male and female students of the Academy.
Feast of Mid-Pentecost. We conducted a vigil at the Cathedral of Sts Eleftherios and George in Freetown. During the Divine Liturgy, I ordained Deacon Vaios Hancile to a Presbyter, Subdeacon Aaron to a Deacon and finally I confirmed Fr Eleftherios Edmonson to a Protopresbyter (Archpriest) through imposition of hands, whom I appointed Dean of the Cathedral on Fr Themistocles’ recommendation. I preached the Word of God mostly referring to Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, and in the end I congratulated Archimandrite Themistocles Adamopoulos on his multifarious, God-pleasing work in Sierra Leone, which he carries out under very difficult conditions. I also thanked all those who contribute to the fruition of the Missionary work in one way or another, making special mention of the contribution (material, moral as well as in human resources) of the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity.
Wednesday 29th May. I conducted a blessing of the waters for the beginning of the new school term, which was attended by the teachers as well as the schoolchildren of the Orthodox schools (Primary-Junior High), which are situated beside the Cathedral, and which were inaugurated by the Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria in February 2012.
Next we returned to the Missionary center where I chaired the clergy gathering. There I had the chance to meet with all the clerics, the volunteers and the Mission staff and give them the proper parental admonitions; we also discussed the various issues that concerned them.
In the eveningI departed for Senegal. Despite the bumpy journey, we managed to reach the airport in time and bade farewell with emotion and spiritual exultation, glorifying the Holy One for all the things He makes us worthy to experience daily in our humble effort to evangelize our African brothers in Western Africa.