An Aug. 14 mudslide that left more than 500 dead and 810 missing in Sierra Leone hit the majority Muslim nation’s small Baptist community particularly hard, according to the Baptist World Alliance.
Samuel Conteh, coordinator of the social ministry department with the 190-church, 25,000-member Baptist Convention of Sierra Leone, told the international Baptist body based in Falls Church, Va., that mudslides triggered by heavy rainstorms seriously affected western and central parts of Freetown — Sierra Leone’s capital and largest city — where a majority of Baptist churches are located.
Conteh said 60 members of Bethany Baptist Church in West Freetown have died. Hillside Baptist Church in Central West Freetown lost two members.
Brickson Sam, pastor of Together in Christ Ministries in Charlotte, N.C., a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina-affiliated congregation, said about 20 members of Victory Baptist Church in Freetown also perished. Sam was pastor of Victory before emigrating to the United States in 2009,
About 400 Baptist families are among 3,000 left homeless in the city with a population just over 1 million.
Conteh told BWA officials that Baptist Convention of Sierra Leone leaders and volunteers have visited the affected area to assess needs. The Baptist World Alliance is collecting donations for relief efforts through Baptist World Aid, the BWA’s relief-and-development arm.
The mudslide is the latest tragedy to hit Sierra Leone, a tropical country located on the coast of West Africa and long accustomed to heavy rainfall. The 1991-2002 civil war in Sierra Leone left 50,000 people dead, destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure and displaced more than 2 million refugees into neighboring countries.
The 2014 Ebola outbreak killed 3,590 in Sierra Leone, alongside a combined 7,300 deaths in neighboring Guinea and Liberia.
Sierra Leone, with a population of 6.1 million, is about 60 percent Muslim, according to the U.S. State Department, and 20 percent to 30 percent Christian. Others follow indigenous religions, a mixture of beliefs, or other faiths including Jews, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Most Christians in the country are Protestants, with Methodists comprising the largest group.
The Association of Religion Data Archives describes Sierra Leone as one of the most religiously tolerant nations in the world. Muslims and Christians collaborate and interact with each other peacefully, and religious violence is very rare.
Sierra Leone is known for its mining, earlier this year uncovering a 706-carat diamond valued at $50 million. It is also among the largest producers of titanium and bauxite and a major producer of gold, and has one of the world’s largest deposits of rutile, a mineral used as a pigment and in the manufacture of metal alloys and ceramics.
Despite its natural resources, 70 percent of people in Sierra Leone live in poverty. The national per capita gross income is equivalent to $1,430 a year.
Sierra Leone has the 12th largest annual rainfall in the world. Mudslides are caused naturally by gravity when the ground becomes saturated by rain, but they are exacerbated by environmental factors such as deforestation, construction and mining.
Africa’s deforestation rate is twice the average in the rest of the world, and some experts say extra drainage caused by removal of trees and construction on hilltops may have played a role in the Freetown mudslide.