While two weeks in Sierra Leone is not nearly enough time to make a spiritual analysis of the region, there are a few things that I did observe.
First some facts:
Sierra Leone is approximately 60% Muslim, 30% Animists, and 10% Christian.
Since animism is largely entrenched in society there is often some crossover into the Muslim and Christian populations. Despite what we often read in the news about sectarian violence around the world, there is a significant absence of that in Sierra Leone. One can often find Christians and Muslims intermarrying, working together and living side by side. They still observe many of the customs of Islam (praying 5 times a day, fasting for Ramadan, dietary restrictions) but cannot be described as fundamentalist in any negative sense of the word. Even during the decade long war religion was rarely pulled into either side of the conflict. Another common misconception involves the role of religion in female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) (AKA female circumcision). While FGM/C has been associated with Islam it is not a requirement of the religion and many women who do not practice Islam have had FGM/C. It is more of a cultural ritual, not a religious one.
While this amity between religions is fantastic when it comes to daily life it can make things a little more difficult to a Christian sharing their faith and trying to effectively convey the Gospel message to others. Many will say that Allah is the same as our God. This is a delicate issue that needs to be approached in a culturally sensitive manner with a lot of truth in love.
Now if you want to witness some great prayer and worship, visit a West African church! I have now gone to church in Benin and Sierra Leone and nothing matches it.The worship is lively with singing, drums and dancing all to the glory of the Lord. Listening to the prayers of the people puts my meager prayer life to shame. It is nothing for pastors to have all night prayer sessions.
And their faith is evident in their prayers for they have nothing else to fall back on. They cannot afford medications (no social agencies to help here) or to buy food so they pray. I will never forget a prayer session during my first trip to Benin. One of the members of our team is a type 1 diabetic well controlled using an insulin pump. Here in the US we would often pray for the doctors to have wisdom and for the medications to work effectively. These pastors in Benin prayed for the diabetes to 'pack its bags and leave'. How often do we pray for healing like this in the US? Probably not very often. Probably only when we have exhausted the knowledge of the doctors and tried many medications to no avail. Prayer takes on a different tone when you are in a situation where the only thing that will make the situation any better is an intervention from God.
I have a feeling that my prayer life will become more intense and focused when we get to Sierra Leone. My goal is to start that intensity and focus now because we need just as much God intervention now as we prepare for the trip as we will need once our feet hit African soil.