In April, I had the privilege of traveling with David Johnson to visit our Seventh Day Baptist brothers and sisters in Sierra Leone, Africa. They have had many struggles in their ministry work, particularly in recent years. I was originally scheduled to visit them two years ago, but an outbreak of Ebola in the region motivated the Missionary Society Board to postpone my visit. Seventh Day Baptists there were separated from their families by quarantine and sometimes death due to the disease. We helped by sending support received at the Society for necessary cleaning supplies to eliminate the virus in homes where there may have been contamination, thus preventing continued spread.
Leading their ministry is Francis Mattia, a pastor and their conference president. Mattia has faced steep challenges and even persecution in Sierra Leone for his convictions as a Seventh Day Baptist. His wife’s father was a pastor in another Sabbath-keeping denomination. That group in Sierra Leon received much more financial assistance from overseas. Before she died in a car accident, Mattia’s wife had gone back to stay with her family in protest of Francis’ commitment to our family of faith.
This is not the first sacrifice Mattia has experienced. About seven years ago, Kirk Looper planned to go to western Africa to meet in Guinea with a developing group of believers. A conflict of schedule forced him to change his plans. Mattia agreed to go from neighboring Sierra Leone to represent SDBs and encourage the new group in Guinea. While there, civil unrest erupted and Mattia was injured as the conflicts raged through the streets of the capital, Conakry.
Mattia recovered, but about two years later, the Sierra Leone SDBs went into partnership with the local government to establish and maintain a school for children. An SDB church member and the nephew of Mattia was appointed treasurer of the project and responsible for the finances of the partnership. The nephew and a friend succumbed to temptation when several thousands of dollars were provided by the government for support and administration of the school. They took the funds and fled. Being both the elder in the family and leader of the church that had been entrusted with the funds, Mattia was brought to court and threatened with incarceration until the funds were returned. Mattia reported that the presiding judge was part of the other Sabbath-keeping group and quietly advised Mattia that something could be worked out to avoid jail time if Francis would just agree to come back to the other group. After brief consideration Mattia decided to go to prison until the funds could be raised to pay back the government rather than compromise what he believed was true. Francis had come to conviction that if he were to preach another doctrine or beliefs other than those of Seventh Day Baptists, he would be living in his own prison of lies, separated from his family of like-minded believers.
Within a few weeks the debt was repaid by the Sierra Leone SDB Conference with some assistance from donations received through the Missionary Society and Mattia was freed. Today, he still leads the churches in Sierra Leone as they recover from the grief and economic struggles following the Ebola outbreak. The churches have combined forces to build a Conference Training & Worship Center in Bo. They have recently transitioned six orphans into SDB homes and are looking at other ways that they can continue to bring the Water of Life to the thirsty in their, and neighboring, communities in Africa. I ask that you keep Mattia and our brethren in Sierra Leone in your prayers for God’s glory.
By Clint Brown – Executive Director For this and other Sabbath Recorder Articles click – HERE