Sierra Leone Visit 2017 

Many regular readers will know that a group of 15 people have recently returned from a visit to Sierra Leone. One of those people was Chris Porter who is now the Senior Minister at Andover Baptist Church. Each day he posted a blog on the ABC web site and you can read it below. What could possibly go wrong.........?

Off to Sierra Leone

Chris Porter’s Blog by Chris Porter

Off to Sierra Leone

At 3am on Wednesday morning my family will be setting off on a 4,000 mile journey to Sierra Leone in West Africa. We shall travel by car, two planes, minibus and ferry before we arrive some 16 hours later in Freetown (the capital of Sierra Leone). We are going with 11 other people to visit various projects and organisations that I have been involved with for the last 8 years.

I have been to Sierra Leone 5 times before and can’t wait for this latest trip. This is the biggest team we have ever taken and for the first time several young people will be coming with us including my daughters. This is the first time that the rest of my family have gone and I can’t wait for them to meet all my friends in and around Freetown.

We shall be attending the graduation ceremony for the latest batch of students to have completed their training with the Dorothy Springer Trust which is run by our great friend Dr Abs Dumbuya and which educates disabled young people in IT skills. We shall also be visiting the Freetown Cheshire Home for children with disabilities and seeing our friends at Regent Road Baptist Church where I shall be preaching on Sunday morning as part of their special 225th anniversary service (which will last round 3 hours!)

Then we shall travel out to some more remote rural parts of Sierra Leone including a fishing community called Tombo where we shall visit a school we have helped to build and equip. We are taking some school teachers as part of our team who will be linking up with the teachers and the pupils.

Add in some leadership training, TV appearances and meeting a royal visitor to Sierra Leone and it should be quite a trip! Wifi allowing I shall be blogging here most days from Sierra Leone about the things we have been doing so if you want to know what we are up to keep checking the blog!

In the meantime we and all the team would value your prayers for a successful trip!

God bless Chris

Sierra Leone Day 1

Chris Porter’s Blog by Chris Porter

Sierra Leone Day 1

We arrived in Freetown, Sierra Leone late last night (Wednesday). We left home at around 3.30am to meet up with the rest of the team (there are 15 of us altogether) at Heathrow airport at 4.45am to check in for our flights. The first leg took us from London to Brussels and then after a change of plane we arrived in Freetown around 4.30pm (5.30pm UK time). The last few minutes of the flight were amazing, coming in over the country, seeing rural villages, great inlets of the sea and rivers all merging. Sierra Leone is a very lush country…green vegetation with bright orange dust tracks and road criss crossing the countryside.

As soon as you step off the plane you know you are in Africa. The heat hits you (34 degrees centigrade today) and you hear the crickets. Everything went really smoothly through immigration and luggage collection and then it was out of the airport to see our friends Abs and Pastor Tannie and the team of people who would drive us the next leg of the journey. We set off in our convoy of 4 vehicles the 30 minute drive to the ferry. The airport is the other side of a large estuary from the city of Freetown. By this point the team had the full on Sierra Leone experience - exciting driving, vehicles everywhere, honking horns, people all over the place and a two hour wait to get on the ferry.

At one point we were told we could get out of our vehicles (that were in the queue for the ferry) and make our way to a cafe where we could find a loo and a drink. It turned out the cafe wasn’t open so immediately people appeared from everywhere with chairs and benches to set up an inpromptu cafe for us in the car park. Then someone came and offered us drinks which we ordered. Then half the group set off for the loo (the VIP ferry building had been opened specially). Just then the ferry started boarding the vehicles and we had to up sticks and run back to our vehicles. The guy with the drinks just appeared around the corner and we had to shout our sorries as we legged it to our vehicles. People rushed out from the loo and leapt Indiana Jones like into the back of our minibuses. 2 minutes later the queue of traffic stopped and we were stuck for another 10 minutes…the run really wasn’t necessary!

Then at last we were on the ferry, only to sit at the docks for another 90 minutes waiting to leave…apparently another flight had landed at the airport and the ferry decided to wait for them. Eventually we set off and 45 minutes later landed in Freetown. Then there was the excitement of trying to get the cars off the ferry - roll on, roll off it was not! There are several different ways to get across the estuary including this ferry. We hadn’t used the ferry before…not sure we will use it again!

By this time everyone was exhausted…we had been up for nearly 20 hours, travelling for most of that time and it had taken virtually as long to get from the airport to Freetown (about 15 miles) as it had taken to get from Brussels to Freetown (about 4,000 miles)! Eventually after a drive through Freetown we arrived at the hotel and collapsed into bed at around 11pm local time, midnight in the UK. The team were brilliant, spirits were kept high and no one moaned or complained. It was a brutal introduction to life here, but very normal for Sierra Leone. One of our phrases that we use when telling people what to expect on these trips is “embrace the chaos” and that is certainly what they did! Amidst the chaos are moments of real delight…a beautiful sunset, amazing people, gorgeous smiling faces from children, conversations with people you have never met, laughter and colour.

Today (Thursday) has been a fabulous day. A graduation ceremony at the Dorothy Springer Trust, followed by half the team heading off to a local school and the other going to source provisions for the next few days. The graduation was fabulous and great to see the DST students being honoured for their hard work. DST provided high quality IT education and training to disabled young people and an employment agency to get them into work. Discrimination is rife in Sierra Leone against people with disability and DST is doing an amazing job to fight that. The ceremony was led by the head of the British Council and included speeches and prayers as well as the presentation of the awards.

The team were all back at the hotel by 4pm, tired, but buzzing with all the experiences they had enjoyed. Sierra Leone has that affect on people, you can’t help but fall in love with it despite the chaos, traffic, noise and heat. After a refreshing swim in the hotel pool tonight we have our team meeting followed by a meal out at a local restaurant.

More updates tomorrow (wifi permitting!)

God bless Chris

Sierra Leone Day 2

Chris Porter’s Blog by Chris Porter

Sierra Leone Day 2

Our second full day here in Sierra Leone (Friday) started bright and early with a 6.30am breakfast, followed by the minibuses picking us up at 7am to travel right across the city of Freetown from the west end where we are staying to the east end where we were visiting the Freetown Cheshire Home.

The traffic was awful - which is quite normal here - and we arrived at the home at about 8.45am - a trip of 10 miles taking us 90 minutes!

The home is where our friend Abs Dumbuya grew up and now has 17 resident children with different disabilities and a number of other children who come in each day to the school. When we were last here the home was in a very sorry state, but Abs has taken over the management committee and since then things have changed very quickly. It is now looking really good and Abs and his team have done an amazing job. Today they were having a royal visitor - Princess Anne came to visit as part of her 2 day trip to Sierra Leone. She arrived about 9.30am and we had the chance to join with the children in welcoming her to the home and Abs took her and her party around the home. She then officially opened a new play area for the children that has recently been built. It was great to see the children at the home again - we have visited lots of times, and in particular to see Natalia (Florence) and Abdulai who we met on our last trip. When we last saw them they were in a terrible state - they are ebola orphans and were really traumatized. No one knew where they came from or wanted to look after them. Now 15 months on and after lots of help and support from people in the UK and the amazing team at the home, they are doing so much better. To see them laughing and smiling was fantastic. They still have lots of needs, but the change is wonderful.

After she left the group split and half of us headed out to Tombo (about 40 miles into the more rural areas) and the other half stayed at the home where they played lots of games, sung songs and generally had a load of fun! The children loved it and our team were overrun!

The team who went to Tombo met up at the school that we have partnered with Regent Road Baptist Church in Freetown to build. We officially opened the school on our last trip and it is doing really well. It was great to see the children and there was lots of singing and laughter! The teachers are doing a brilliant job and lots of the children are passing their exams which enables them to head off to secondary school.

So all in all a long, tiring, dusty and traffic laden day, but it was absolutely fantastic to see the progress that is being made at both the home and the school in Tombo. It is making a real difference and down to the great support we have from the UK and the brilliant teams that Abs and Pastor Tannie are leading here in Sierra Leone.

To all of you we say ‘plente tenke’ which means thank you so much.

God bless Chris

Sierra Leone Day 3

Chris Porter’s Blog by Chris Porter

Sierra Leone Day 3

Day 3 here in Sierra Leone (Saturday) started with a lie in which is pretty unusual for our trips. We didn’t need to be going until 11am so we all enjoyed some extra time in bed and then a later breakfast.

Then we headed out in our two vehicles to Bureh Beach. The beach is down the peninsula from Freetown, not far from Tombo where some of us spent some time yesterday. The traffic was appalling, Freetown, Hastings and Waterloo were really busy. We arrived at the beach two hours later, but it was so very worth it!

Bureh Beach is spectacular - one of the best beaches in the world. With mountains and lush greenery surrounding it and gorgeous sand and a very warm Atlantic ocean to swim in it is fabulous. Not long after we arrived the 17 residential children from the Freetown Cheshire Home arrived with staff from the home. Abs and his family were there as were Ian and Heather - a fantastic couple from the UK who are doing a huge amount of work at the home.

What an afternoon we had together. There are tears in my eyes as I type this remembering our time…it was so special. The children have various physical and learning disabilities and live in a country that discriminates against them and believes they have little or no value. Today we had the most wonderful time swimming, paddling, playing games and even a game of football - the Freetown Cheshire Home team vs the ABC/EBC team. For those interested the final score was 6-5 to FCH! Turns out Abs is very competitive and an excellent goal keeper! I hope that in a little way we were all able to show the children that they do matter and that there are people who value them. Abs, Ian, Heather and the staff at the FCH are doing that every day, loving and valuing the children and it is humbling to see all that they do.

To see these lovely children having such a great time and displaying such determination to make it across the beach to the water was a real privilege. I had a great time with Hassan who insisted on splashing everyone and with Sas who was so funny and witty. Also there were Natalia (Florence) and Abdulai who we first met 18 months ago in the home in a terrible state. To see the difference was remarkable and to see our team playing with them in the sea was a joy.

I am struggling to find the words to express how great a day it was and I am so grateful to have been there and to all those who made it possible and to our fabulous team who are here with us who were brilliant with the children. A very special day and one I shall remember for the rest of my life.

Sometimes we may wonder if we can make a difference in our world where there is so much need and in a country like Sierra Leone those needs often seem overwhelming. After days like today I realise again that good people doing good things really does change the world and I am thankful that God would call us to do that and what an adventure it is.

God bless Chris

Sierra Leone Day 4


Chris Porter’s Blog by Chris Porter

We left the hotel at 8.15am this morning for the morning service at Regent Road Baptist Church. It was a specialservice to mark the 225th anniversary of the church. RRBC is the oldest Baptist church in Africa.Traffic was light this morning and we arrived just after 8.45am. A 9am there were Bible study groups - one for adults and one for young people and then at 10am the service started. And what a service it was - 5 hymns, a 20 minute anthem from the choir, prayers, singspiration African worship (with lots of dancing - mine was not pretty!), Bible readings and a sermon. The whole thing lasted 2 and a half hours and was full of colour and vibrant worship. I had the opportunity to preach and the whole team were introduced to the congregation.

After the service we had a meeting with the leaders of the church before heading back for a team lunch in our room at the hotel at around 2pm. We shared our memories and feelings about our experiences at the service and there was an excited buzz of conversation that carried on throughout the day.

It is interesting to chat to various members of the team as they begin to reflect on their time here. I am so proud of all of them, they have been great and Sierra Leone is beginning to work its magic on them! You can’t help but give away pieces of your heart to this place!

God bless


Sierra Leone Day 5

Chris Porter’s Blog by Chris Porter

Today we left the hotel at 8am to travel out to Tombo once again. This time the whole team came with us. We arrived 90 minutes later and after introductions with the team and the school staff we left our teachers to spend quality time with the teachers from the school in Tombo. They had a great time sharing ideas and talking about how things work in the different schooling systems. There were some eye opening things on both sides and some different things for both sets of teachers to learn from one another which was great.

The rest of the team played games with some of the children from the local community who came when they saw us arrive (the schools are on their Easter holiday).

Then we headed off to the see the church which is a stones throw from the school and it was lovely to meet up with the Pastor of the church Jonny Paul who we have known for a long time now.

Then we set off for Morcombay - a small village about 25 minutes drive from Tombo in an even more rural area. We traveled down dust roads full of lumps and bumps and when we arrived in Morcombay we were met by the school children and the head teacher who had come especially to meet us. They sang songs of welcome and happiness.


I couldn’t believe my eyes. Last time I was here 18 months ago the school/church building still needed a floor and there were a few children (most of who belonged to the chief of the village who at that time had 17 children and who since we were last here has had 2 more!) They were a rag tag bunch, clearly desperately poor. Now there must have been 40-50 school children all dressed in their school uniform. The building has been finished and whilst still very basic and desperately short of furniture and equipment was also clearly being well used. The whole community had changed a lot and mud huts were being replaced by more robust buildings made out of concrete blocks. There is still a long way to go but it was amazing to see the progress in just 18 months.

We had a great time singing songs to one another, playing games, using a skipping rope for skipping, jumping and limbo dancing. There was lots of shared laughter. It was also incredibly hot - the hottest we have experienced on this trip - a baking sun beating down on dusty ground. It was also incredibly beautiful - palm trees and tall grass waving.

Then it was a 2 hour drive back to Freetown and the end of another wonderful and compelling day. The team were buzzing again tonight and are talking about lots of ideas they have to keep the partnerships going and about how they can help in the future. The poverty is still shocking and all around but it is so rewarding for all of us who have been involved here before to see new people coming and catching the same passion for this wonderful country and for helping wherever they can.

God bless Chris

Sierra Leone Day 6

Chris Porter’s Blog by Chris Porter

I write this on our last evening in Freetown and I have to confess to feeling quite emotional.


We left this morning at 8am for the usual traffic filled ride into the centre of Freetown. It is a tradition here for Godparents to take their Godchildren to school and so my friend Rob and I (who are Godfathers to Abs’ son Isaac) got to take him to nursery with his mum Maybel. There was quite a lot of bottom lip quivering as we left him, but I soon recovered!

Then we were on to the Freetown Cheshire Home where we met the rest of the team. We had a wonderful morning playing with the children, chatting to the young people. Our teaching group had another workshop with the teachers at the home and another team painted the lounge in the boys dormitory. Leaving was horrible. It was so sad to have to say goodbye to these wonderful children and the amazing staff who work with them especially Ian and Heather. There were plenty of tears.

Then we headed to the Dorothy Springer Trust office where we met up with Ali - another member of our team who had been doing some work with the DST students. We had a quick sandwich before heading off the Big Market to buy linens, clothes and souvenirs. The Big Market is quite something - a large building with two floors filled with all kinds of things. It is very hot and there is a lot of haggling and banter. I think the team loved it - they certainly came back with lots of goodies to take home. I received one offer of marriage (when I pointed out my wife Ruth was there with me the lady concerned said that didn’t matter I was allowed more than one wife!) and I also received the promise that a child would be named after me when I bought something from a woman who was 8 months pregnant!

Then it was our last team meal back at the restaurant just outside the hotel. Tomorrow we head off at 1pm to catch the speedboat back to the other side of the estuary to get to the airport to catch our flight home. It is going to be a long and tiring journey - we fly from Freetown to Monrovia in Liberia then to Brussels and then to London. But it has been so very worth it!

God bless Chris

Sierra Leone Day 7 and 8

Chris Porter’s Blog by Chris Porter

Sierra Leone Day 7 and 8

Travelling day dawned on Wednesday and after a lazy morning stroll on the beach at Lumley we packed up and headed off in our minibuses and cars to head back to the Seacoach jetty at Aberdeen bridge at 1pm.

We unloaded our luggage and sorted our tickets with the seacoach. It was then time for our goodbyes to Abs, Maybel, Edmund (one of our drivers) and Pastor Tannie. After Tannie prayed for us we sang them a chorus of the Krio song “Tell em tenke” which goes something like this:

Tell em tanke, tell em (tell him thank you, tell him) Tell papa God, tenke (tell Father God, thank you) For wot he done for we, tell papa God, tenke (for what he has done for us, tell Father God thank you) Tell em tanke, tell em Tell papa God, tenke

After our emotional goodbye, we got on the seacoach speedboat for the trip across the estuary to the airport. Seeing Freetown disappearing into the distance is always very sad.

Then it was into a minibus to travel the 10 minutes down dirt roads to the airport where we collected our luggage and checked in to our flight. The plane took off at 6pm and headed to Monrovia in Liberia for a stop and refueling. Then it was back to Brussels where we landed at around 5am (Brussels time, 3am in Freetown). Everyone was shattered and we had a four and a half hour layover. We all crashed out on the floor and seats in the airport. Finally we boarded our flight to Heathrow and landed at 10.30am (London time, 11.30am in Brussels and 9.30am in Freetown). We collected our luggage and had one final team photo and said our goodbyes as we made our different ways home. We finally got home at 1pm, 23 hours after we had left the hotel in Freetown.

What a week we have had. It has been joyful and heartbreaking in equal measure. Sierra Leone has this way of getting to you, you can’t help it. It is colourful, vibrant, exciting, noisy, dusty, dirty, chaotic, beautiful, hot, humid and utterly, utterly wonderful. I know it is a cliche but the people are what makes it. Most of the people are very poor and have very little and are struggling just to get food for each day, but they are the most beautiful people I have ever met. Their spirit, passion and determination is infectious. Abs, Maybel, Tannie, the students, the teachers that we met, Heather, Ian, the children, the pastors, the villagers, house mothers, market sellers, and drivers are inspirational. I have never felt unsafe in all my visits to Sierra Leone and I love that you can chat to total strangers as if you were best friends. It is my favourite country in the world and I feel a love for the place that I can’t adequately explain.

Part of the joy of this trip has been to see the progress that is being made in places like the Freetown Cheshire Home, Tombo and Morcombay as Abs, DST, Regent Road Baptist Church, Heather and Ian all work so hard and it is a privilege just to be a small part of it and to help in some way. Things really can change and people can be helped and supported in a sustainable way. Just a couple of examples: last time I was in Sierra Leone was 18 months ago and we met two children - Abdulai and Natalia who were in a terrible state. They are ebola orphans who had been dumped at the Freetown Cheshire Home because no one wanted them or knew who they were. They didn’t even know their names or their ages. Now 18 months on with the care from the FCH team and some financial help and support from lots of lovely people in the UK they are completely different. They still have lots of issues but they are happy, cared for and loved and you can see the joy in their faces. Secondly it was lovely to meet Sylvester again. I first met Sylvester 6 years ago when we first went to Sierra Leone - he was in the first batch of students in the DST training programme. He completed the training and got a job with a government ministry - virtually unheard of for a young man with a disability. Now he is providing for his family and extended family and doing really well.

Finally I want to say a massive thank you to Abs and Pastor Tannie who hosted us so well and who organised our trip from the Sierra Leone end. I also want to say a massive thank you to our team from the UK who were amazing. They threw themselves in to every experience and ‘embraced the chaos’. They were fantastic with the children and teachers and everyone they met. Our teaching group were brilliant and had some great workshops with the teachers in the schools that we visited. The young people in our team were brilliant with the children that we met and threw themselves into everything with gusto - I hope that this has been a life changing experience for them. Spirits in the team were always high and I know that Sierra Leone has worked its magic on all of them.

Plente tenke

Thanks for this Chris! Of course, there are many stories that Chris didn't record, but "some of what happens in Sierra Leone stays in Sierra Leone". However, I could be persuaded to tell you ..........

Rob Lea, 14/04/2017