A Study in Resilience
If you grew up in circumstances where adversity thrives, your confidence in the future can be undermined. Living perpetually in dire situations can lead to insulation from positive expectations. Something tells you nothing will ever change; nothing good will ever happen to you.
Yet, extended exposure to painful experience can elicit another response. It can fuel your courage, reinforce your determination and fire your zeal to overcome. You manage to dispel the thought of surrender to hardship, believing life owes you no favors and knowing you are a survivor.
Christians experience the way in which the Holy Spirit upholds children of God who trust when we can see no evidence of God’s beneficence. We do not ever feel truly abandoned; we do not experience real forsakenness. Instead, we have the capacity to cope with shocking disappointment and to withstand the violent trials.
Recently, I paid a pastoral visit to Baptists in Sierra Leone. I arrived in the community of Lunsar some nine months after the last case of Ebola was reported there. I wondered what triggered the desire for the Baptist Convention of Sierra Leone to choose as the theme for its assembly, “Finishing Well in the Lord’s Service.”
What left a deep impression on me, as I joined Sierra Leonean Baptists in worship, was the marvel of their joy, the strength of their confidence, and the exuberance of their praise. The catastrophe caused by the Ebola virus disease did not deprive them of the joy of living. Somehow, the Baptist Christians of Sierra Leone can still sing joyfully in the aftermath of their journey through the wilderness of pain. Perhaps, the history of the country has something to do with the people’s resilience.
When the slave trade was abolished, many formerly enslaved persons settled in Sierra Leone. Later, those who were released from enslavement, after agreeing to fight on the side of the eventual losers in the American Revolution, went to live in Sierra Leone. They did so after their evacuation to Nova Scotia, where they faced harsh living conditions.
Hundreds of Maroons from Trelawny Town in Jamaica also resettled in Sierra Leone. Filled with fear, resulting from news of the revolt that was taking place in St. Domingue (Haiti), the colonial authorities had deported them to Nova Scotia, their temporary home before the Sierra Leonean resettlement. Liberians also sought and found refuge from civil war in their homeland by fleeing to Sierra Leone.
Often, those who help people facing adversity know how to cope when adversity strikes. When their land was ravaged by an eleven-year civil war in which thousands lost their lives and a third of the population was displaced, they were able to cope. When Ebola struck, killing thousands, including people whose only crime was their unstoppable desire to save human life, they knew how to survive.
The worldwide Baptist family celebrates the witness of Sierra Leoneans who continue to smile and to laugh, to sing and to dance. A walk through downtown Freetown shows a bustling population looking toward the future. The young people in the Baptist church are among them. Their presentations on the closing evening of their convention meeting told the story of confidence, endurance and hopefulness. These young people, together with the adults from whom they have learned the lesson of perseverance, illustrate what happens when people put their trust in God and lean on the Holy Spirit. They become a study in resilience.