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Sierra Leone church leaders: “Please continue to pray with us”

Sierra Leone church leaders: “Please continue to pray with us”

©Methodist Church Sierra Leone

22 August 2017

Sierra Leone has been burying hundreds of victims of a mudslide that swept away homes on the edge of the capital Freetown. “Please continue to pray with us”, asked Bishop Arnold Temple, from the Methodist Church Sierra Leone.

Temple is a member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the co-chair of the WCC's Ecumenical Water Network (EWN) International Reference Group. The bishop joined church leaders from other denominations in a visit to the disaster area at Sugar Loaf Mountain on 16 August.

“We appreciate the solidarity of the global church and partners”, he added. Temple is one of the key local church leaders involved in the humanitarian and pastoral work after the tragedy.

Food aid is reaching thousands who survived the disaster. The United Nations World Food Programme is distributing two-week rations of rice, grains, oil and salt to at least 7,500 people. More than 3,000 people have been left homeless and in urgent need of food, shelter and healthcare, while another 600 are still missing.

Hundreds queued on 17 August outside a mortuary in Freetown to search for their loved ones, following a mudslide on Monday that has claimed at least 500 lives.

United Methodist Bishop John K. Yambasu, president of the Sierra Leone Council of Churches, mourned the loss of life “in this needless and preventable disaster”.

The council, the largest Christian organization in the country, issued a statement expressing empathy with the thousands of people, including mainly women and children, who survived the disaster and now live under life-threatening conditions. The bishop noted that the city lies below the slopes of surrounding hills and lives are lost to flooding every year, but said this disaster is unprecedented.

“Never in the history of the city have we experienced such a magnitude of sickening and horrifying disaster with houses buried, whole families missing and bodies discovered with dismembered parts,” Yambasu said.

He said massive destruction of natural vegetation for farming, fuel wood and for building houses, as well as stone mining, had laid soil bare, making it vulnerable to excessive water runoff and mudslides during the rainy season. “We give thanks to God for those who survived the disaster and pray for the many others who lost their lives. As a nation, our most urgent responsibility now is to be in solidarity with the thousands of those who survived the disaster,” Yambasu said.

On behalf of the Sierra Leone Council of Churches, he called on government officials to expedite the identification and burial of bodies to prevent other unintended health consequences.

Registering survivors and providing temporary shelter will allow other agencies to distribute relief items to the survivors, he said.

Yambasu called on member churches to donate food, clothing, blankets and other needed items and to observe three days of mourning, fasting and prayers beginning on 18 August.

Churches across Sierra Leone held special services Sunday 20 August in memory of those killed in mudslides and flooding, as hospital officials announced the toll had risen to nearly 500 bodies collected.

The Inter-Religious Council called for the services to be held in honor of the deceased, as special prayers and recitals were offered in mosques Friday and Sunday.

A week of national mourning commenced on 16 August, with a minute’s silence held at midday in memory of the victims.

Recovery work is being hampered by the country’s dangerous terrain, lack of equipment and the sheer scale of the tragedy.

Links:

"WCC extends condolences to Sierra Leone" (WCC news release from 18 August 2017)

WCC member churches in Sierra Leone

WCC's work on Care for Creation and Climate Justice