Early in 1963, during his second visit to Sierra Leone, Milton Henschel addressed a need that the branch had been trying to tackle for some time. He urged the brothers to intensify their efforts to combat illiteracy.
Some congregations were conducting literacy classes in English. But after Brother Henschel’s visit, the brothers began teaching students to read and write in their mother tongue. Some congregations held classes in two or three languages. These classes were so popular that a third of the publishers in the country enrolled in them.
In 1966, brothers in Liberia developed an illustrated Kisi-language reading primer. When they showed the primer to the Liberian government officials, the impressed officials decided to print the booklet and to distribute it without cost. The primer was distributed in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, and it helped hundreds of Kisi-speaking people to learn to read and write. Later, primers were developed or adapted for other language groups, helping many more people to become literate.
Sia kept track of her witnessing activity with black and red strings
The literacy classes not only taught people to read and write but also helped them to make spiritual progress. Consider Sia Ngallah, a 50-year-old unbaptized publisher who was illiterate. Sia kept track of her witnessing activity with black and red strings. After preaching for an hour, she would tie a knot in the black string. After making a return visit, she would tie a knot in the red string. Sia attended literacy class, which helped her to keep better track of her ministry. She also progressed to baptism and became a more effective preacher and teacher.
Today, many congregations in Sierra Leone and Guinea still conduct literacy classes. A senior Sierra Leone government official told brothers at the branch office, “In addition to your Bible educational work, you are doing a meritorious work by helping people in this society to become literate.”
“Stones” Cry Out
As more people from various ethnic groups learned to read, the need for translation increased. Most tribesmen had little, if any, secular literature in their own language. Educated people in Sierra Leone read English, while those in Guinea read French. What could be done to provide Bible literature in their native tongue?
In 1959, two Gilead graduates translated a tract and a booklet into Mende, but only a limited number of copies were distributed. Ten years later, the booklets “This Good News of the Kingdom” and Living in Hope of a Righteous New World were translated into Kisi. About 30,000 of these booklets were distributed and used to conduct Bible studies.
In 1975, the branch office began publishing Watchtower study articles in Kisi. The Kisi publishers were thrilled! One brother wrote: “Jehovah has performed a great wonder in our behalf. None of us have ever been to school. We were like stones
Today, most people in Sierra Leone and Guinea still read our publications in English or French, which are the languages used at congregation meetings. But recently the number of vernacular publications has dramatically increased. Bible literature is now available in Guerze, Kisi, Krio, Maninkakan, Mende, Pular, and Susu. The brochures Listen to God and Live Forever and Listen to God are available in all these languages. These easy-to-use teaching aids are helping many people with limited reading ability to grasp and appreciate the Bible’s marvelous message.
Building a Branch Office
During the early 1960’s, the brothers in Freetown had been searching for land on which to build a new branch office. Finally, in 1965, they acquired property on Wilkinson Road. The land overlooked the ocean in one of the finest residential areas of the city.
The final design combined a Kingdom Hall, a missionary home, and work offices into one attractive building. During construction, heavy traffic along Wilkinson Road often slowed down almost to a standstill as drivers and passengers tried to get a better view. The building was dedicated on August 19, 1967. Nearly 300 people attended the program, including local dignitaries and several old-timers who were baptized by “Bible” Brown in 1923.
The new branch building elevated the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the minds of many people. It also answered some religious critics who said that the Witnesses would not last in Sierra Leone. The new building clearly proclaimed that Jehovah’s Witnesses were here to stay.
Zealous Missionaries Stimulate Growth
From the mid-1970’s onward, a steady stream of Gilead-trained missionaries boosted the work in Sierra Leone and Guinea. Some had served in other African lands and quickly adapted to the local conditions. Others were new to Africa. How would they cope with the “white man’s graveyard”? Consider some of their comments.
“People were humble and spiritually starved. Seeing the truth improve their lives brought me great satisfaction.”
“Dealing with the tropical climate and disease was a challenge. But the joy of helping honesthearted ones serve Jehovah was worth it.”
“I learned to develop patience. When I asked a sister when her visitors would arrive, she replied: ‘Maybe today. Maybe tomorrow. Or maybe the next day.’ I must have looked shocked because she insisted, ‘But they will come!’”
“Fourteen missionaries from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds lived in the Freetown missionary home. We shared two toilets, one shower, one washing machine, and one kitchen. Food supplies were limited and of poor quality. The electricity would fail unpredictably
—sometimes for days. Most of us suffered from malaria and other tropical diseases. Though this may sound like a recipe for disaster, we learned to live together, to forgive, and to find humor in difficult situations. Preaching was a delight, and the missionaries forged close bonds of friendship.” —Robert and Pauline Landis.
“Our time in Sierra Leone was among the best days of our lives. We have no regrets and no complaints. We just miss it very much.”
—Benjamin and Monica Martin.
“Once, we stayed with an interested woman who offered us a strange-looking meal. ‘It’s viper,’ she said. ‘I’ve removed the fangs. Would you like some?’ We tactfully declined, but she insisted. As daunting as such experiences were, we appreciated our hosts’ warm hospitality and grew to love them very much.”
—Frederick and Barbara Morrisey.
“During my 43 years of missionary service, I have lived with over 100 other missionaries. What a privilege it has been to come to know so many people, all having different personalities yet all working with the same objective! And what a joy to be a fellow worker with God and to have a share in seeing people embrace Bible truth!”
“What a joy to be a fellow worker with God and to have a share in seeing people embrace Bible truth!”
Since 1947, 154 missionaries have served in Sierra Leone, and 88 in Guinea. Many other Witnesses came to serve where the need was greater. Today, there are 44 missionaries in Sierra Leone and 31 in Guinea. Their tireless efforts and selfless devotion have touched the lives of countless individuals. Alfred Gunn, a longtime member of the Branch Committee, says, “We think of them with great fondness.”