Synod 2017 accepted a request from its daughter church in Sierra Leone to forge an ecumenical relationship. As a “church in dialogue” with the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), the Christian Reformed Church of Sierra Leone is still a step away from the closest level of ecumenical relations, “ecclesiastical fellowship.”
CRCNA missionaries and relief workers jointly planted a church in Sierra Leone beginning in 1980. Despite many setbacks, the church survived Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war that began in 1991. In 2005, the CRCNA passed on its work in Sierra Leone to nationals.
“It’s a gift of God to be here making this decision,” said Kathy Smith, Classis British Columbia North-West, a former missionary to Sierra Leone. “It’s a gift to see how God has protected and blessed the church.”
But Smith and other delegates wondered why the ecumenical and interfaith relations committee (EIRC) did not recommend the closer category of “ecclesiastical fellowship”—since this church was actually birthed from the CRCNA’s work.
“This [Sierra Leone] church is quite young, 10 to 15 years old,” answered Jim Payton, chair of the denomination’s Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee (EIRC). “It seemed a wiser course of action to establish a relationship that would not expose us to criticism if there were any problems in their churches.” Such problems could include matters like polygamy, which is quite common in Africa, he added.
Original missionaries Paul and Mary Kortenhoven and their son Aaron stayed through the country's civil war and came under repeated gunfire and bombing. "Only God saved our lives as we got caught in machine gun fire," Kortenhoven said. He said they lost three staff members who were helping those who were attacked.
“Let’s give thanks for God’s grace in spite of setbacks and even the horrors of civil war,” said Phillip Leo, who reported to synod on interfaith matters. “This is a success story.”
Synod 2017 is meeting at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill., from June 9-15. For continuous coverage, download the Banner app on your mobile device or follow The Banner Magazine on Facebook or @crcbanner on Twitter. You can find more tweeting by following hashtag #crcsynod. News stories will be posted at thebanner.org several times daily. For CRC Communications releases and the webcast, please visit crcna.org. Unless noted otherwise, all photographs are by Karen Huttenga.