Three representatives of Huntersville United Methodist Church boarded a flight recently for Sierra Leone to spend two weeks working to establish a permanent mission.
Church members Mona Kita and Scott Fletcher and Associate Pastor Byron Alexander planned to join Judith Banya, a native Sierra Leonean, in Free Town on the west coast and then travel east, into the heart of the country.
Their final destination is Baiwalla, a village roughly 250 miles east, near the Sierra Leone-Liberia border. Banya, a United Methodist minister and a native of Baiwalla, has been in the country since Dec. 17.
Alexander said the purpose of this mission trip, which left Charlotte Jan. 7, is to "get the lay of the land." He said the four-person scout team will observe the village and investigate the possibilities of digging a well and building a dormitory for girls at a nearby Christian school.
Currently, girls from the village walk several miles to school every day.
The ultimate goal is for Huntersville United Methodist Church to support Banya while she lives in Sierra Leone, ministering to children and women in Baiwalla by teaching them about Christianity and trade skills, such as sewing.
These are long-term goals, however.
"We're not going to meet every need (this time around)," Alexander said. "We want to do what we can and come back and put together an action plan."
The inspiration for this mission came one Sunday when Banya was attending the church's services in Huntersville. She witnessed a presentation about church members' participation in the 30 Hour Famine program, in which participants conduct fundraising and community service projects over a 30-hour period during which they don't eat.
Banya realized that, at one time, she would have been one of the African children the 30 Hour Famine program would have helped. According to Alexander, she approached Senior Pastor Billy Rintz, and the idea for a new church mission was developed.
The relatively short two-week trip won't be without its challenges.
Alexander said the trip is "out of his comfort zone," and he expects a total immersion experience in a land and a culture that are both quite foreign.
"I've never done mission work in a tribal setting," he said. "And this truly is in a tribal setting."
The village of Baiwalla is about 10 miles from the closest major town, Pendembu, with a population of about 7,000.
Alexander said Banya also told the team members their rural travels would meet roadblocks along the way.
"You basically have to pay off (the authorities)," he said. Fortunately, the going would be easier with a native Sierra Leonean who knows how to handle such situations with her countrymen, he said.
As the team readied itself to depart, the members knew that, while the trip might be long and rough it would be worth the trouble.
Alexander said he's been reminding himself to be flexible, to adapt to whatever curves in the road appear.
"I'm going to be totally flexible to what God wants to teach me," he said.