Today I celebrate my friend Janni Snider’s birthday, and all she brings to the world. She wrote the following after a trip to Sierra Leone earlier this year, and shared it at United Methodist Communication’s chapel service. As Ebola strikes at the heart of Sierra Leone’s people and their resources, may God bless the world with more Jallos…and Jannis.
In Sierra Leone, the official language is English…but outside of the city most villagers speak a tribal language; about 30 percent of the population speaks a language called Mende.
In this language, there is a name commonly given to children – either boy or girl – it is the name Jallo. J-A-L-L-O. In Mende it means “This one will stay.”
I discovered this when I met a beautiful little girl named Jallo – about 8 or 9 years old. Gorgeous smile – a leader among the girls gathered around her as they excitedly experienced their mirror-like reflections in the shiny black paint of our Pathfinder.
The more I thought about her name, I imagined what it must be like to live in circumstances where access to health services, good nutrition, transportation, education… all too frequently makes the survival of a child uncertain. Where the name Jallo is given as almost a plea to God…please…God…this one will stay?
As a mother who twice had the joy and anticipation of feeling life within my womb, of imagining who that growing being would become…of looking forward to sharing in childhood discoveries and accomplishments…it was sobering to realize that too often the anticipation felt by African mothers is accompanied by the fact that too many children die before the age of five.
Can you imagine having a name like Jallo in our culture? Can you imagine naming your son or daughter “survive” or “persevere” or “remain?” Please, God.
Most maternal and child deaths in this world occur in Sub-Saharan Africa…it’s a very dangerous place to become a mother…or to be a young child.
Our United Methodist Communication’s team experienced this first hand when we met a young woman named Adama…9 months pregnant…very ill…and not likely to survive the birth of her daughter without swift intervention from the nearby United Methodist hospital. What if we had not been there to help?
This very day, Wednesday, nearly 800 women will die due to complications during pregnancy…and 1 in 6 children die before the age of five. So, no wonder there is a plea…almost a demand…in the name Jallo.
But the efforts of by our denomination…and in fact…our agency, provide enduring hope for the people of Sierra Leone and all of Africa. The difference between our efforts and those of previous generations is the comprehensive and sustainable nature of the interventions we make today. What we are doing is having lasting impact.
The training and empowerment of community health workers like Henrietta Emmanuel – a woman who has become a leading light in her community through UMC mentoring and guidance…she has a lasting impact…this one will stay.
The communication training and skills we impart that enable colleagues like Phileas Jusu to get the word out whether it be about God’s greatness, a cholera outbreak…or a net distribution…what he does makes a difference…and, this one will stay.
The simple act of returning to a village years later by Mike Dubose…with his pocket full of pictures and a desire to re-connect and treasure relationships and people…It’s those kinds of acts that endure. This one will stay.
The establishment…and cultivation of…Imagine No Malaria.
In just a few days, we return to the Bo District of Sierra Leone for Imagine No Malaria’s participation in the redistribution of bed nets- replacing the old, worn nets that we had a hand in distributing in 2010.
We visited the area in April prior to this redistribution. The villagers we spoke with told us again and again how much it meant for the church to be involved in the first health campaign four years ago – how the efforts had saved lives…but, most of all they spoke of their appreciation that we were there to stay. Simply put, they were grateful that Imagine No Malaria was not a one-time deal.
This one will stay because of the efforts we are making as the People of The United Methodist Church and as the people of United Methodist Communications.
When you, Linda, pick up the phone to coordinate the details of an upcoming meeting or trip, you are contributing to this effort. This one will stay.
When you, Harry, organize a shoot in the studio or field to help us tell our story in a visual format. This one will stay.
When you, Amelia, connect an Annual Conference with the resources they need. This one will stay.
And when those of us go into Africa on behalf of our church and our agency, we bring you with us – all of your efforts and, I hope, all of your love.
We want you to know that you’re doing God’s work and it makes a difference in people’s lives.
The mission of The United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world. All of us have the great honor to be the hands and feet of Christ and the hands and feet of our denomination as we transform lives, societies, continents, and the whole world.
This week, as you weave all of your intelligence, and wisdom, and love, and handiwork into outcomes- small and large- for our agency, I hope you will remember to yourself,
Jallo – this one will stay.
Happy Birthday, Janni! Your post brought tears to my eyes. No, I can not imagine losing a child, particularly before they have even reached five years of age. And to hear the story behind the name “this one will stay” is tragic and heartbreaking. I hope some day for a planet in which all children have the opportunities to live into adulthood and receive the health care that a fortunate few take so much for granted. Your efforts and others like you are ensuring that we are moving in that direction. God bless you for all that you do!