It was a hot day in Freetown. Sierra Leone is normally a warm place to visit, but this day seemed hotter than usual. A team from CLC USA was visiting to help with some store remodeling projects, and Keith Beale was the team leader. Keith had never been to Sierra Leone before and, in fact, had never been on the African continent. His regular job is director of finance for the USA team, yet when the opportunity came up, he volunteered to lead the team to Africa. Little did he know how providential the timing of this trip would be. At that moment, he was simply focused on the project and helping to make sure that as much work got done as possible.
For several years now, the CLC USA team has been developing a special partnership with the CLC team in Sierra Leone. In 2012, a team of six went over to do a major remodel of the main CLC store in Freetown, which involved expansion of the store and installing all new fixtures. These fixtures had been generously donated by the CLC team in England. Their hard work paid off, and the store was completely transformed. Customers could not believe it was the same place, and sales increased immediately as people responded to this larger space and even wider selection of Christian resources. One member of that team, Dave Desch, was particularly impacted by the work they had done. This trip was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to do mission work in Africa, and he could not help feeling that more work needed to be done.
Dave was right. Not long after the team came back, the CLC leader in Sierra Leone asked if any member of the team would ever consider coming back to help remodel the two other smaller stores in the country. Right away, Dave Desch and Davy Montgomery volunteered to go back. They were joined by Dave’s wife, Dianne, and Keith Beale. As is often the case, things do not happen as quickly as we would like. They were not able to go in 2013 and instead began planning to go in 2014. In the early stages of the planning, the team seriously considered going in August when it made the most sense in everyone’s schedule. As they got closer to making a final decision about when to do the project, they decided that June was actually a better time frame, as it was before the rainy season, and the Sierra Leone team leader would still be available to give oversight as needed. He was about to transition out of the work and hand off the leadership to a new person. This decision made all the difference.
In March, Dave Almack, the CLC USA team leader, was in Liberia for a Pastor’s Conference that CLC was sponsoring and made a trip to Sierra Leone on his way home. This was a wonderful time of planning and dreaming about what the team would be able to accomplish in June. He was able to visit the inland city of Bo and discovered that the highway was finally completely paved. This made travel much easier and quicker and gave hope to the possibility that this shop could definitely be remodeled in the time allotted for the project team. The team in Sierra Leone was getting excited about what God would do, but they were also nervous as a news story was just breaking.
In the far northeast of the country, the deadly Ebola virus had just crossed the border from Guinea and nobody knew what to expect. Cases seemed few and far between at that moment, so planning proceeded for the CLC USA team to arrive as scheduled. In the following months, the outbreak got worse but was still not prevalent in the capital city of Freetown. In the weeks leading up to leaving, the team discussed this growing crisis but decided to go on faith and the fact that the US State Department had not issued a declaration for people not to visit.
The team accomplished far more than they could have hoped or dreamed. Both stores were completely remodeled, and Keith even had time to help do some badly needed reorganization of various rooms at the main store and headquarters building. No one got sick. They returned rejoicing in God’s faithfulness and were deeply impacted by the Sierra Leonean people they had met and interacted with, especially on the CLC team.
As we all know, things did get much worse in that part of the world. The Ebola virus spread into neighboring Liberia where CLC also has a bookstore, and many hundreds of people have died. The deadly epidemic did make its way to Freetown, and the entire country was shut down for three days in September. The World Health Organization has recognized this disaster as one of the worst world health crises in our lifetime, and things only seem to be getting worse. As of the writing of this article, none of the CLC teams in either country has contracted the disease, but they are very concerned.
Clearly, the CLC USA team had no idea how bad things would get. If their trip had been planned for August, it never would have happened. God’s timing is perfect, and He knew what was coming. Please pray for the people of West Africa during this time of devastating illness, and thank God for the work that has been done to make evangelical Christian literature even more available and accessible in these countries.