As a nineteen year old I boarded a plane for the first time in route to Sierra Leone as a part of a University mission team who would be spending six weeks ministering alongside Youth For Christ in the capital city of Freetown. When we landed, the stairs led us down to the tarmac where we were greeted with a heat wave and the hustle and bustle of an international airport in a poor country recovering from its most recent coup d’état. There were way too many machine guns being toted proudly by men too young to know how to use them. The ferry boat to the capital was inoperable and we were met hours later by our Liberian host who loaded us into the truck. Toby and I (the only two male team members) rode in the back of the truck under the canvas canopy on top of the luggage on the late night trip around the estuary, slowing for the big holes in the road, filled with water, which showered the thin veil above our heads. We were stopped by military police at curfew and forced to spend the night at the checkpoint. My first night in Africa, I spent on the ground, looking at a moon that was larger than I ever imagined, listening to toads in the swamp, and battling the mosquitos.
When we woke up we found that we had been sleeping in the spot used as a latrine by the guards. As we drove the rest of the way to Freetown we waved at the villagers from the back of the open truck. Unknowingly, as we responded to the thumbs up sign given to us by the friendly people, we were signifying our support of the resistance movement. That was the second obvious error we had made. Later that day I settled into the home of a Korean missionary for my second night of inter-cultural experiences. I made so many mistakes in those next days as I tried to communicate with my gracious hosts in anticipation of moving into the house where the whole team would reside for the next six weeks. Those first few days brought a huge culture shock that dissipated over the weeks as my heart became entwined with the people of Sierra Leone. I would do it again in a heartbeat and love the challenge of these encounters. I count those days, twenty two years ago, as pivotal in my desire to engage inter-culturally and propelled me into ministry training. Sierra Leone continues to have difficult road ahead of it and my heart goes out to her people.