In Scripture, Jesus described the Kingdom of God in various ways: The Kingdom of God is like yeast that a woman works into dough, which she waits on to rise so she can bake bread (Matthew 13:33). The Kingdom of God is like a treasure hidden in a field, which someone finds and then gives all he has so he can keep it (Matthew 13:44). The Kingdom of God is like a merchant who finds a perfect pearl and then sells all he has so he can own it (Matthew 13:45-46). The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that grows into a large tree (Matthew 13:31).
People have interpreted these parables in various ways, but one thing they seem to have in common is that the only people who see the Kingdom are those who keep their eyes open and pay attention. The treasure was hidden. The perfect pearl was a once-in-a-lifetime find. The mustard seed was tiny. The woman had to wait and watch to see the dough rise.
In Freetown, Sierra Leone, you can find hundreds of makeshift houses squeezed together along a concrete labyrinth of narrow walkways where two large streams converge. The water collecting there had turned into a giant sewage pit, where children played and bathed alongside pigs that rooted in the muck.
The area is called Kroo Bay, and it’s the largest slum in Sierra Leone’s capital city. It’s certainly not a place where you would expect to see the Kingdom of God. That is, unless you’re paying attention.
Theoretically, the streams crossing the community should flow easily to the Atlantic Ocean, but when other communities above Kroo Bay throw garbage and sewage into the narrow waterway, it becomes a stagnant, filthy problem. Not only does the water carry disease, but it also becomes a breeding ground for swarms of deadly mosquitoes that spread malaria.
Kroo Bay is an area most people in Freetown try to avoid, although it’s home to 14,800 people who have no other options.
When a church decided not to avoid the community and to open their eyes and pay attention, a glimpse of the Kingdom of God appeared.
The pastor and others from the church met with leaders from the community to find out how they could come alongside Kroo Bay. The leaders said the problem they wanted to address was malaria. Then that seed of a conversation turned into a collaboration that resulted in bed nets to prevent malaria and a plan to clean up the waterway.
Yet young adults from the community spend hours and hours and barely made a dent. We wrote an article about the project, and I was hopeful. Yet I also doubted they could clean it up quickly. I thought it would take a long, long time.
But then I was reminded that the Kingdom of God is seen through the veil of faith. In fact, just after the article was published, we got news that the waterway is clear. I was reminded that miraculous things happen in the Kingdom of God.
As it turns out, God used the church’s engagement in the community to shine a spotlight on the problem. People started talking. They’d never had a church work with them like this before. Soon, they started asking if the local government could do something, too, and officials stepped up to provide equipment to dredge the waterway.
Kroo Bay’s problems are a long way from being gone altogether, but the community is so much closer to their goal of taking the sting out of malaria. A few community members have even started a small church there in Kroo Bay.
N.T. Wright has written that “in God’s kingdom, humans get to reflect God at last into the world, in the way they were meant to. They become more fully what humans were meant to be. That is how God becomes king.”
In Sierra Leone, church members are reflecting God in a slum called Kroo Bay. And the kingdom of God is in their midst.
To learn more about the church’s work in Kroo Bay, visit ncm.org/kroobay.
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To learn more about the church’s work in Kroo Bay, read the current NCM Magazine.