It is very difficult to secure a suitable place for holding meetings in the larger towns in Sierra Leone, West Africa. There are no public halls except the court barrie, which not only is inadequate in size but because of the unfavorable association in the minds of the people repels an audience rather than attracts.
Weather conditions make the use of a tent prohibitive winds of hurricane velocity come suddenly and without warning, followed quickly by torrential tropical rains. Unusual skill of more than one good tent man would be required to keep the tent undamaged. Storage when down also presents a great problem. During the rainy season everything molds. We have to take advantage of any hour of sunshine for airing clothes and bedding so as to pre serve them from destructive molding.
There are two well- defined seasons in the year. During the rainy season, which lasts from May to October, the heavens seem to open up ;md let the water pour down, with only an occasional dry period to break the monotony o£ rain. During the dry period, from November to April, there is a real drought, with only a few terrific storms as mentioned above to bring any relief from drought and heat.
Hence public evangelism is for us essentially a dry-weather program. Only then can a continuity of meetings be secured. With this in mind, a place for holding open-air meetings was prepared in Bo, the largest and most important city of the protectorate of Sierra Leone, the center of government for the whole protectorate. An area 135 feet by 80 feet was enclosed by a bush-stick fence four feet high, with an entrance at one end only. Bush-stick seats with backs provided seating for nearly a thousand people.
Just inside the en trance a book display was attractively arranged. Here ushers and usherettes met the people and helped them not only to find seats but also to fill in their names and ad dresses when these were needed.
At the far end opposite the entrance stood the platform, twenty- four feet long, twelve feet deep, and two feet high. A portion of the platform was enclosed by walls that hinged upon themselves and were supported by rollers in such a way that each half of the front and attached side would fold against itself to the back of the stage, completely opening the whole platform for meetings.
In this room we kept the equipment used during the campaign. The electric reed organ and public-address system never had to be moved. Other articles such as books, papers, cards, and offering plates were stored in this room. Everything was well guarded at night, for there was sufficient space to put up two camp cots, on which two young men slept during the time of the campaign.
Construction and trim of corrugated aluminum sheets on a wooden frame gave a quite pleasing appearance. Especially at night it looked rather modernistic under artificial illumination.
Economy was practiced throughout by avoiding the making of holes in the aluminum as much as possible. If they had to be made they were put only in such places as would not cause the sheets to be unusable for roofing afterward. Except for the legs on the horses supporting the plat form, none of the lumber needed to be cut, but was used in the standard lengths and sizes available for building.
Advertising and Methods
Advertising for the meetings was confined wholly to the use of sound equipment on a car. Before each meeting the car was driven through all parts of the city. Every home came within sound of the music and announcements. Such a thing had never before been heard or seen in Bo. It created a real sensation. People spoke of it as the talking car. A crowd estimated to be from four to five thousand came out the first night. On the seventeenth night, when the meetings closed, by actual count there were 3,986 present. Bo has a population of only ten thousand, hence more than one third of the population attended each meeting.
The whole program was carried out in the vernacular, except for some vocal recordings that were used preceding the meetings each evening. The song service was highlighted by illustrated songs on the screen and interruptions from time to time to make a gift offer. The lecture for the evening was illustrated by one of the Shuler films.
Gift offers were made in different ways. At times it would be for coming to the microphone to answer a Bible question. At other times it was for turning in a good question, which Pas tor Wilson, the evangelist, would answer. One night when the offer of a book was made to the man who was present with the largest family, the one who received the gift brought more than seventy to the front with him. It does not take more than a few families of this size to make a large audience.
One of our problems was to adapt modern methods of evangelism to the illiterate people who quite largely made up the audience. Even though these people may not be able to read themselves, most of them can have someone read to them. So when the subject of the Sabbath was presented, printed sermons were offered. The ushers and usherettes had already assisted the illiterate to write their names and addresses on slips of paper. These slips were 'held by the individual until the close of the sermon. When the call was made for each one to make a decision, he was asked, because he could not write and had no pencil, just to tear a corner of the slip. We were able when the slips were gathered to know who had made a decision by this method just as easily as if a "blank had been filled or an X placed on the card.
We rejoice that from a predominantly Mohammedan audience fifty-three people have en rolled in the hearers' class. Thousands, besides, have heard the message who never would have, 'had not modern equipment and methods been adopted in this effort.