To my friends, during this difficult time

Former missionary reflects on crisis of belief during civil war in Sierra Leone

As I think of the many times my plans have been changed, I find myself in an array of emotions: sadness, fear, frustration, doubts, and sometimes true anger. I can only imagine the roller coaster ride of feelings you are experiencing during this pandemic.

Let me share a time when I had a crisis of belief in my trust in God. I hope it will encourage you.  Civil war was taking place in Sierra Leone and I was so mad at God for all the atrocities happening. Daily through His Word He would ask me, “Do you trust me?”

The Sierra Leone Civil War began in 1991 and lasted until 2002. Peace-keeping forces sent by the United Nations set up roadside checkpoints that remained long after the official war ended. Many in the country continue to suffer the effects of the war.

I would answer with a ‘yes,’ but my heart was not really in that answer. Finally, I cried out and was honest with God about my feelings. After all, He already knows what I am feeling. I learned He wants to hear it from me.

My biggest lesson learned was how I was not trusting God at the time. I wish trusting God could be checked off the to-do list, but I find it a process and a daily surrender. Each day we were in the war of Sierra Leone, God would address the trust issue with me. I wanted to trust God, but I was so upset! I had such doubts. Everything was out of my control. I was grasping for control by praying or more like telling God how things should be or how I wanted them to be. I think it was important that I kept saying ‘yes,’ that I trusted God even though I wasn’t totally feeling it. It was the anchor that reminded me who He is and helped me focus on the eternal in the midst of the chaos of a temporal, fallen world.

God used a refugee as the hinge pin that not only swung me back but jolted me into real focus.

A few months after the rage of my trust issues and the war, I was asked to go to the refugee camp in another country where a young man from Sierra Leone came after he escaped a rebel attack on his village. He had seen his mother, father and brother killed before he ran.

I will never forget the joy on Alusine’s face when I greeted him in his language and asked him to share his story with me. The Lord gave me great listening and language ability as Alusine quickly spoke about all that had happened to him. As he ran, he kept saying, “Allah, I think I am on the wrong path of life. I need to find the right path.” He was Muslim and although he ran all the way from Sierra Leone to a neighboring country, he was not talking about the 400-plus miles of path he traveled on foot. He was talking about the path of life and purpose.

He shared how he arrived at a Baptist center. He added, “I had no idea of what ‘Baptist’ meant.”

At that center, Christian workers gave him a blanket and rice and told him he could come any day to hear a lesson from God’s Word. Alusine did come for the Bible lesson, but he could not understand the language of that country. He did say he had learned some English in his village, but he could hardly remember it until the center director read him John 14:6 in English.

He repeated to me the words he heard her say, “Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, no one can reach God unless he walks Jesus’ path.”

Alusine expressed to me how this truth hit him to the core of his being (literally translated in Krio, “it goes to the bone”). With enthusiasm, he proclaimed that the true and living God had answered what he was seeking in life on his path of escape from the rebels.

We had a great time of rejoicing! As if that wasn’t enough, he turned to me with the sincerest heart, eyes and words: “Mommy Swanson, if it wasn’t for the war in Sierra Leone, I would still be walking the wrong path.”

It was like a knife that pierced my heart—the hinge pin that jolted me back, as the Father said once again, “Do you trust me?” This time, with every fiber of my being I said, “yes!” It was humbling.  It was hard.  It was a turning point of growth toward fully trusting God.

Lessons I hold on to:

  • Trust God even when you are not feeling it.
  • Always let Him know how you feel even though He already knows. He wants to hear it from you.
  • Look for how He is working the good and eternal things in your life and others through the chaos of a fallen, temporal world.
  • Humble yourself and praise Him each time you grow more in your trust in Him.
  • Know that God has your perfect plan to fulfill His purposes!

May God use this time to build your trust in Him,