When you journey 5500 miles east over the deep, blue Atlantic toward the old world, you’ll reach the small, tropical West African nation of Sierra Leone. A hotbed of distress for decades, this predominantly Muslim country is experiencing revival! Today when you arrive for Sunday service at Fresh Hope evangelical church in Bo, the members are dancing up and down the aisles in their Sunday best—a sea of bright, happy colors and dizzying patterns—a welcome contrast to the not-so-distant memories of barbaric terror, a deadly epidemic, and last year’s tragic mudslide. On any given Sunday you’ll find smiles and joy-filled hearts spilling out into overflow from the roughly constructed little church. Gateway Ministry Partner and Fresh Hope Pastor Alusine Massaquoi says, “This is Africa mentality. You put on your best to come meet God.”
When asked why people go to church in Sierra Leone, Gateway Outreach Pastor Chase Willsey says, “They are hungry for God’s Word.” And with 163 churches planted by Pastor Alusine (36 of those with Fresh Hope since he started in 2012), they are being fed. “But we need to keep planting churches and harvesting believers,” Pastor Chase says. “Each person has a purpose to advancing the kingdom in the nations.” We can’t ignore the roadblocks to winning hearts for Christ. And in Sierra Leone, there are many.
Sierra Leone’s constitution allows for freedom of religion, but for generations, families have been indoctrinated in Islamic and voodoo beliefs, ranging from taking multiple wives to visiting the witch doctor for what ails you. Islam blankets the local landscape, but light is piercing through: Muslims are dreaming of Jesus. Pastor Chase elaborates on this phenomenon, “We’re hearing about this more and more. It’s happening all over. The dreams often share common themes, like Jesus appearing in white and asking dreamers to follow Him, or He reveals Scripture to them.” In 1984, at age 14, Alusine dreamed of Jesus.
He was born into a Muslim family. His father had 7 wives, and he is the 13th of 24 children. He began formally studying the Quran at age 8 and started advanced studies at age 14 when he was selected to do the Hajj—the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. He was already deemed a sheik (assistant pastor), and the Imams (mosque leaders) were preparing him to be a key leader. “I was the youngest person in my country’s history to ever advance like this,” he says. “My fame spread like wildfire during the dry, dusty Harmattan season. I was at the top of the world and aspiring to be the leading Islamic scholar of my time.” But little did he know, God had His own agenda for Alusine.
Just two weeks before the Hajj, he had a dream. “I dreamed of Jesus,” he says. “He was wearing a shiny white robe and gave me two Scriptures: John 3:16 and 14:6. I was stunned. Then I heard Him say in an audible voice, ‘Follow Me.’ I’d never heard these Scriptures before in my life, but amazingly, I could recite them when I woke up from my dream.”
Confused, he didn’t go to the mosque that week. He couldn’t stop thinking of meeting Jesus and wanted to know more about Him. His father was a radical Islamist, but Alusine thought back to when he allowed a Christian pastor to visit their home several times. “I mistook this hospitality by my father for tolerance,” he says. “A grave mistake.” When he confided in his father, he called the Imams to intervene. During the meeting Alusine’s father became so enraged by his betrayal, he lunged for his machete and chased him. “I fled to avoid being killed by the hands of my own father,” he says. “I felt so abandoned.”
His father reported him to the mosque as a wanted man so Alusine went into hiding. Shedonkah Johnson, the same pastor who visited their home, lived in Alusine’s village. He planted a church there. “I ran to him, and by God’s grace, no one ever found me there,” he says. “He took me in and became my lifelong spiritual father, and I became his son.” Shedonkah explained the Scriptures in Alusine’s dream, and he accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior.
A miracle came six months after his escape. His father’s heart softened. He went to the mosque and told the Imams he wanted his son back—he said he accepted Alusine. Consequently, he was thrown out of the mosque. Alusine’s mother, who had secretly been in contact with him, got word to him that it was safe to return home. “My mother and father became my first converts, and today, almost all my siblings have come to know Christ too,” he says. “Our family’s legacy was changed forever.”
You might wonder what happened to the other wives. With revival occurring in Sierra Leone and elsewhere in Africa, many pastors are wrestling with the same question. Originally, the context for a man taking multiple wives was rooted in compassion. Wars left many widows and orphans behind without anyone to take care of them. Today, the local churches are trying to account for that compassion. Often when Muslim men convert to Christianity, their wives abandon them. But, when they stay, the church sees no good in turning them away. However, the men cannot hold leadership roles in the church if they have multiple wives. Alusine’s mother stayed and converted with her husband whereas his other wives left him.
Alusine says he developed a great passion to “win the lost at all cost.” In 1994, he felt God urging him to become a pastor. Since continuing his studies, becoming a pastor, and training up other pastors, he’s planted churches in six African nations and brought many souls to Christ—including a dozen Imams! When asked how he does this, he says, “It helps that I have preexisting relationships with many of them from my days in the mosque. Often, I’ll call old acquaintances first, to reenter their lives. It’s a simple starting point to begin communicating. Once we start talking, they have a lot of questions. This dialogue helps lead them to Christ.”
There is a lot of need in Sierra Leone. Everyone has that in common. When Pastor Alusine plants churches in outlying villages, he uses what he calls “Access Ministry.” He explains this approach: “We don’t want to go to a village under the pretext of starting a church, instead we try to fill a need. Often, we’ll call the village chief and ask if we can come play football with them. We’ll go several times, and then we begin answering questions. It springboards to a discovery Bible study and then some money to get a church started. We train them to sustain their church, and eventually, the locals agree on a leader for their church. It might surprise you to hear, sometimes it’s the former witch doctor. If you think about it, he’s often the natural leader in a village, someone the locals already trust and respect.”
Simeon of Cyrene was an African man who carried Christ’s cross to Calvary. Pastor Alusine believes God is looking for Africans to take up the cross and carry the gospel to the world. By God’s grace, he is carrying out this charge in Muslim-dominated villages in the heart of Africa. Let’s pray for his mission and for Fresh Hope.
The first 15% of your giving to Gateway supports outreach initiatives like Gateway Ministry partner Fresh Hope, which provides safety to abandoned and orphaned children, offers skills training and support to those in immoral occupations, and equips young disciples for kingdom service. To learn more about their mission, visit fresh-hope.org. Gateway Men will be traveling to Sierra Leone in early 2019 to partner with Pastor Alusine and Fresh Hope. Visit trips.gatewaypeople.com to learn more about upcoming ministry trips.