Sierra Leone—Unearthing Its Most Precious “Diamonds”
IN THE year 1462, a group of intrepid Portuguese sailors pushed their way down the West African coast to a point 550 miles [890 km] north of the equator. They were not frightened off by legends of a dark sea full of monsters that supposedly lay south of Morocco. Moreover, they did not accept the prevailing belief that the sun blazed so hot near the equator that the ocean boiled.
Just as those mariners hoped, their wooden ships did not burst into flame, nor did they see the headless monsters of legend. Instead, they found beautiful white-sand beaches beyond which soared dark-green mountains, lush with forests. And when the tropical rains deluged the earth and lightning ripped the sky, the thunder boomed and rumbled in those mountains like the roar of some immense beast. Interestingly, those seamen named the place Sierra Leone—“Lion Mountains”!
As the years passed, men learned that the richness of Sierra Leone was not limited to beauty. There were also minerals: iron, bauxite, rutile, chromite, platinum, and gold. But not until 1930 was there a discovery that made the commercial world take note of this tiny land. Diamonds were found! The supply of these valuable gems proved to be abundant, luring prospectors by the thousands.
Some have literally picked up diamonds from the surface of the ground. One woman found a massive diamond while washing her clothes in a stream. A man unearthed a 153-carat gem while planting sweet potatoes in a field. For the most part, however, finding these precious stones has required great effort. For example, some diamonds are buried deep in the earth, embedded in kimberlite, a type of stone. Claiming them involves digging, blasting, crushing, and sorting. It also requires skill, knowledge, and patience.
While extensive diamond-mining operations continue to this day, a search for gems of a different sort—spiritual diamonds of far greater value—has been going on in Sierra Leone since 1915. In that year, a man named Alfred Joseph left Barbados and traveled to this land by steamer. Here he began a work of “prospecting,” not for diamonds, but for people who desired to serve the true God “with spirit and truth.” (John 4:24) This search was conducted in the same way as that carried on by first-century Christians—“publicly and from house to house.” (Acts 20:20) Seven years later, Alfred Joseph was joined in this work by William R. Brown, also from the West Indies.
By the end of 1923, a small congregation had been established in the capital, Freetown. That congregation included 14 newly baptized ones. Today, 632 individuals in 30 congregations actively share in the public preaching work as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their efforts in finding and unearthing what might be called Sierra Leone’s precious spiritual diamonds continue to meet with great success.
Active Seekers of Truth
Some new disciples of Jesus Christ have proved to be like diamonds easily picked up from the surface of the ground. They have actively sought out Jehovah’s Witnesses. One of these was a hairdresser named Joan. She phoned the local headquarters of the Witnesses in Freetown and requested a Bible study.
What prompted Joan to make that telephone call? “I cannot remember a time during my life when I wasn’t looking for God,” she says. “Since childhood, I have joined many churches and religious groups but could never get spiritual satisfaction.
“About ten years ago, I became aware of the Witnesses, but for no reason at all, I formed the opinion that these people were to be avoided at all costs. When a friend of the family became a Witness, I subscribed to the Watchtower and Awake! magazines. I did it just to please her; I never bothered to read them. In fact, I used them to clean my windows! Then an Awake! came that caught my attention. The cover article was about our need for love. [September 22, 1986] I read it and was deeply impressed. It was that magazine that moved me to ask for a Bible study.” Joan made rapid progress and soon was a baptized Witness of Jehovah.
Another person who sought out the truth was a young man named Manso. He wanted to be a priest and went to a seminary. But when he observed the hypocrisy of his teachers, he became discouraged and quit. Next, Manso began to attend other religious meetings. One day while on his way to visit an uncle, he saw a book published by the Watch Tower Society—Is the Bible Really the Word of God? It was on the ground in a muddy puddle of water. Since the title interested Manso, he fished out the book, dried it, and read it. Here was the truth he had been seeking! The book encouraged readers to attend meetings at the local Kingdom Hall. So Manso went, began to study the Bible with the Witnesses, and was soon baptized. Now he serves as a full-time pioneer evangelizer!
Responding to Patient Assistance
Other new disciples, however, have proved to be more like diamonds locked deeply in stone. Real effort has been needed to “unearth” them. Donald, a Christian elder, recalls the patience needed to help a woman named Martha. He states: “Although she agreed to study, she always made us wait a long time before getting down to it. Sometimes she would deliberately save jobs that could have been done earlier. Then she asked us to wait until she did them. Sometimes we waited for more than an hour. She hoped we would become discouraged and go away, but every week we tried to cover at least a little meaningful material. The result? In time her appreciation grew.
“Another difficulty was getting Martha to the meetings. I would bring other Witnesses to her Bible study so that she would feel at ease when she came to the Kingdom Hall. But she delayed and delayed so much that when she finally did come, she knew practically the entire congregation!” Patience paid off. Martha is now baptized and has a fine standing in the congregation.
Pius initially resisted the truth. By the time a missionary couple started a Bible study with him, Pius was in his 70’s, was a staunch member of a political party, and was the treasurer of his church. “He argued bitterly about every point we discussed,” said the missionaries. “Every week he started off calm, but gradually he got heated up. It was a real battle every week, and often we felt like throwing up our hands in dismay and giving up on him. The main thing that kept us going back to him was that he always prepared the lesson so thoroughly.
“After about a year of this, Pius announced that he had decided to do some independent investigating. Since he was a retired teacher, he knew how to do research. Every day for two weeks, he climbed the mountain to the university library, where he immersed himself in Bible commentaries and reference books. Afterward he announced: ‘I am now convinced that everything you have been telling me is true. God is not a Trinity, there is no hellfire, and the soul is not immortal. Even some people in my church admit this to be so.’ After that, Pius made rapid progress, resigning from both politics and the church. After being baptized, he served as an auxiliary pioneer, spending 60 hours a month in the preaching work, as often as he could until his death in 1987.
“One thing we did not know for a long time,” recall the missionaries who taught Pius, “was that his mother had been associated with Jehovah’s Witnesses. He recalled attending meetings with her when he was young. But after she died, he went his own way. After his baptism, Pius said: ‘My only regret is that my mother can’t see me now.’ Then his face lit up, and he added: ‘But she will see me in the new world!’”
To this day, the search for diamonds and the search for disciples continue. Glossy advertisements boast that “diamonds are forever.” Nevertheless, the owner of such an exquisite gem does not get to enjoy it forever because apart from God’s provision for salvation, death is the lot of all sinful humans. (John 3:16, 17) The work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Sierra Leone is thus yielding a treasure far more valuable than mere diamonds: servants of God and disciples of Jesus Christ! And Jehovah’s Word promises: “He that does the will of God remains forever.”—1 John 2:17.
[Map/Pictures on page 22, 23]
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Amid scenes like these, Kingdom proclaimers find spiritual diamonds in Sierra Leone