Sierra Leone

   Both the country of Sierra Leone and its Protestant community emerged out of the 18th-century anti-slavery crusade in England. In 1784 William Wilberforce (1759-1833), a member of the British Parliament who belonged to an evangelical group within the Church of England, was recruited to the antislavery cause. He joined with Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846), Granville Sharp (1735-1813), and others to found the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787. Among its first acts was the purchase of land in Sierra Leone for the settlement of repatriated slaves.
   In 1792, the society brought the first pioneers to the colony, a group of some 1,100 Africans who had sided with the British during the American Revolution and had been resettled in Nova Scotia. Among the settlers were a number of Methodists and Baptists. The 200 Methodists were led by Moses Wilkinson, a blind and crippled preacher, who organized the first Methodist church in sierra Leone and led it until the British Methodists sent a minister, George Warren, and three schoolteachers in 1811. The arrival of British missionaries began an era of schisms, and four separate Methodist bodies emerged. With time, however, the groups reunited into a single church aligned with the Methodist Church in Great Britain. With the arrival and growth of American Methodist bodies, the Methodists eventually became the largest segment of the Protestant community
   The Nova Scotian Baptists were led to Sierra Leone by David George (1743-1810). Shortly after arriving in Sierra Leone, he built the first Baptist church building in Africa and organized the first Baptist congregation. Representatives of the Baptist Missionary Society from England arrived in Freetown in 1784, but were expelled three years later. A second Baptist congregation, composed primarily of ibo people, was founded in 1838. The Baptist community struggled through the next decades, though receiving some input from the Southern Baptist Convention just before the American Civil War. They were primarily confined to Freetown until the 1960s; it was not until 1974 that the Sierra Leone Baptist Convention was constituted.
   The most expansive work by a protestant group in Sierra Leone did not begin until the 1960s with the arrival of the German-based New Apostolic Church. With some 75,000 members by the end of the 20th century, it is the largest non-Catholic group in the country and larger than any of the individual Methodist groups. The Anglicans established work in Sierra Leone in 1804 and now have some 25,000 members.
   Beginning in 1991, Sierra Leone has been the scene of a brutal civil war that has left thousands dead and 2 million displaced. The United Nations stepped in in 2002, though stability was not immediately achieved. Neighboring Liberia has also experienced civil strife, and at times the conflicts have spilled over between the two countries.
   The older ecumenically oriented churches are members of the Council of Churches in Sierra Leone, which is affiliated with the World Council of Churches. Of the locally based groups, only the Methodist Church of Sierra Leone is a full member of the World Council. The Evangelical Fellowship of Sierra Leone is the local affiliate of the World Evangelical Alliance. The Protestant community remains small, constituting only about 7 percent of the population, which is mostly divided between Muslims (45 percent) and adherents of traditional African religions (40 percent).
   See also Africa, sub-Saharan.
   Further reading:
   ■ Joe A. D. Alie, A New History of Sierra Leone (New York: St. Martin's, 1990)
   ■ Gilbert W. Olson, Church Growth in Sierra Leone: A Study of Church Growth in Africa's Oldest Protestant Mission Field (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1969)
   ■ Lamin Sanneh, Abolitionists Abroad: American Blacks and the Making of Modern West Africa (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999)
   ■ Eric Wright, Behind the Lion Mountains: The Methodist Church in Sierra Leone Today (London: Cargate Press, 1962).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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