If you are familiar with the efforts of the United Methodist Church on the continent of Africa, you might already know Kip and Nancy Robinson. In June of 2013, the Robinsons were commissioned by the General Board of Global Ministries to serve as career missionaries in Sierra Leone. At the time, many people outside of the continent had barely heard of this little country in West Africa, and certainly the word “Ebola” was still relegated to Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone.
Less than a year into their placement, a piece of correspondence from the Robinsons came across our desks here at UMVIM. They talked about how they were no longer shaking hands or hugging, but rather crossing their arms over their chests and bowing as a greeting. A few weeks after that, we had a follow-up email informing us that all of the teams scheduled to visit had been cancelled.
We certainly don’t have to tell you the rest. The Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia has dominated the headlines the latter part of 2014. These tiny countries that together only comprise less than 2% of the entire continent of Africa are now household names, although few know anything about them besides the horrors that this virus has left in its wake.
But “before Ebola” the Robinsons spent their their time in Sierra Leone serving its wonderful people. Nancy trains pastors, evangelists and lay leaders in many areas, including theology, worship, stewardship, preaching, and children’s and women’s ministry. As the Conference Engineer, Kip oversees the numerous building efforts of the Sierra Leone Annual Conference, including wells, schools, and hospitals. He also coordinates UMVIM teams, totaling around 2 dozen annually.
In fact, the United Methodist Church has been working in Sierra Leone for over 150 years, operating a wide network of schools, hospitals and health facilities, and West Africa University is still on schedule to break ground this year.
The Robinsons have continued to be in touch with their friends in-country. They say that even in the chaos, devastation, and stigmatization that the last few months have brought, the church remains strong. A UM church in the capital of Freetown donated $2500 to the effort and presented it to the First Lady of Sierra Leone...who herself is a United Methodist! Sierra Leone Annual Conference Bishop Yambasu and other UMC leaders around him are out in the country, preaching the Good News, encouraging the sick and heartbroken, and teaching preventative measures.
Eventually, Ebola will be a thing of the past, although ever-present reminders will remain for generations to come. The grief will continue for quite some time, but the church will continue its relentless effort to build up this small but strong country as they recover. The Robinsons have communicated to us that medical professionals will be needed, schools will reopen and its teacher will need salaries, and Ebola orphans will need families. When they return to Sierra Leone later this year, they will continue in the same capacity they have been serving, but Nancy will also become the Dean of Students and Registrar at the new university.
As this country that the Robinsons love so dearly has been catapulted into the international spotlight, and as GBGM has kept them stateside for the time being, they are seizing this opportunity to tell the story of the good works happening in Sierra Leone–and what it means to be a global church–to anyone they can. They have spent the last 4 months on the road, talking to clubs and congregations, and would love to talk to yours. Before they are called to return to Freetown, perhaps you feel led to invite them to speak to your group. To contact the Robinsons, please email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Please join us in continued prayer for Kip and Nancy. We are so grateful for their humble hearts and that they answered the call to serve the people of Sierra Leone. Please also pray with us for the countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia: their leaders, citizens, healthcare workers, missionaries, and churches. At this time, UMVIM, SEJ does not have any active short-term mission opportunities in these countries, nor are we offering health insurance to anyone traveling for mission purposes.** However, when travel restrictions are lifted and active cases of Ebola cease to exist, we look forward to being part of the recovery effort in the ways we know how: through the training and equipping of teams and their leaders, and connecting those with a calling into viable projects where they can serve in educational and empowering capacities. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or further information.
**Effective May 15, 2015: With the return of our Global Ministries missionaries to Liberia and Sierra Leone, we have reinstated our insurance policies to teams that travel there to serve. We are thankful for the missionaries that continued to serve during the Ebola crisis and will remember all of those affected in our prayers.
Words: Malinda Kay Nichols | Photos: Courtesy of Kip and Nancy Robinson