The year is probably 1993, I am not 100% sure, but thereabouts. It was a Sunday morning and as usual, my mother was taking us to church.
She had just joined a new Pentecostal church called Mount Calvary and this new church was very far from our home. Probably about 20 miles away.
I wasn’t too excited about going to church today because this new church is loud and they stay too long in service. So this would be an all-day event.
We got dressed to leave and just as we crossed the junction leading up to the Cuttington campus, our jeep started jerking and stopped. I heard my mom say something under her breath and then lay her head back against the drivers head rest. “oh Suzy”. Suzy is the name she has given to the car. I still do not know why she named the car Suzy.
After a few minutes, she gets out of the car and stands by the side of the road and not long after, I get out the car and asks her hopefully “will we go back home?”
She looks at me and shakes her head no and says “ Jesus will send a car to take us to church”.
I mentally roll my eyes at her response and carefully lie against the dusty car and stare down the road to see if any car was approaching. None. Not even the distant sound of a car’s rumbling engine.
We stand in the blistering sun for a few minutes and I hear my younger sister start to wail in the car. She is about 3 years old and probably uncomfortable with the heat and inactivity.
Just as I am about to get into the vehicle to console my sister, I hear a car approaching down the road and turn to see if it’s a commercial vehicle or perhaps the vehicle of a friend of my family. The car gets closer and the first thing I recognize is an automatic gun mounted on the rooftop of the pickup and the back of the pickup is fill with “freedom fighter” looking guys.
I shrink against our vehicle and hope they wouldn’t notice two well-dressed light skinned females standing by the side of the road in a somewhat isolated area.
No such luck and before I could ask mama what to do, the pickup pulls up alongside our car and stops. Two “freedom fighters” alight with guns raised, looking all fierce and angry. My heart skips a beat and I sneak a peek up at my ma to see her reaction to all this.
My ma is about six foot tall and about 200 pounds, yellow butter complexion and a beautiful woman. Probably a sight for those fighters weary eyes.
A man is sitting in the front seat with a crinkly face that is mostly covered with beard. I hear him say to my ma “ Kushe”. I don’t recognize the dialect but I hear my ma reply “hello, how are you?” I later learned it was the creole dialect of the Sierra Leoneans meaning “hello”.
I don’t hear his response, but I see her hesitate a bit before responding “yes, thank you” and then turns to me, “Brenda, let’s get the children in this car”.
I look at her in astonishment and with a look that says “get in that car with all these men and all those guns?” And as if reading my thoughts, she gives me a reassuring look and smile.
I turn to lift my sister from our car, grab my Bible and then I hear the bearded man say “ Oh na no go help dey woman and the pekin them?” in the Sierra Leonean broken English creole dialect “ won’t you help the woman and the kids?”
His accent isn’t Liberian to my ears and I have never quite heard any one speak like him, so I am a bit fascinated and still scared at his appearance which is a bit unkempt and sinister looking although he is smiling.
By now, my mother has locked our car and grabbed my younger brother and is headed towards me. The bearded man speaks more of his strange dialect and the soldiers in the cabin of the pickup get out and get to the back of the car, thus making space for my mother, me and my siblings.
We get into the car and I am right behind the driver which makes it easy for me to sneak peeks at the beard man up in front.
He turns and smiles at me and after my mom slams the car door shut, the car moves off with a jerky start.
I sneak a peek at my ma’s face and I see her eyes closed, like she is praying. My younger siblings are surprisingly quiet. Probably fascinated by the whole thing as I was.
I sneak a peek through the back glass of the car and see the “freedom fighters” in the back staring straight ahead. Somehow, these fighters look fiercer than the ones I see around the city and they are even dressed slightly differently. I noticed they are wearing a lot more “zay-gay” as they call their voodoo charms that are supposed to save them from gun bullets and enemies. Their hair seems longer and dirtier and there is just this air about them that seems a bit more sinister and scarier.
The beard man turns to my mom and I think he asks her for directions to our church. She tells him and he smiles and I hear him say “ na dey I dey go sef”. That’s where I am headed anyway.
My mother’s new church is located in part of Central Gbarnga city, Liberia, called Jukbamu. In order to get to the church, you have to pass right by the residence of Charles Taylor, the leader of the Freedom Fighters.
I suspected the beard man up front must be a General or a “big man” because he is saluted at every rebel check point and our vehicle isn’t searched as all others are, even when we turn into the lane leading to Charles Taylor’s home. I try to observe this strange man better but can’t as he is facing front and most of his face is covered with black beard that is generously sprinkled with gray. Same with his head.
I hear my mother giving directions to the church and before long we are swerving in the church yard in a hail of dust and pomp. As is the style of the “freedom fighters’, they jump from the vehicle before the car pulls to a final stop and are looking around all fierce like, guns pointing.
My mother says thanks to the beard man up front and asks him “would you like to worship with us?” and he shakes his head, smile and says “no”.
She thanks him for the ride when we are all out of the vehicle shoos my siblings towards the church and sort of pulls me to her side, partially behind her, almost like she was shielding me and again says thanks and wave, but not making a move to turn her back and walk to the church.
The pickup restarts and in another hale of dust and pomp, pulls away.
Even in all the noise from the church and the vehicle, I hear a deep sigh from my ma, so I lift my face to hers and ask ‘ mama, who Is that?”
She responds ‘ Foday Sankor”
Of all the many generals names I have heard, his is strange so I again ask “ who’s that?”
She turns to me and says “he is the Sierra Leonean rebel leader”
I am about 13 years old and I still didn’t know who he was, so I shrugged and pulled away from her and walked towards the church.
I forgot all about this incident until many years later when I heard that Charles Taylor was being accused of being in cohorts with Foday Sankor. That’s when my mind ran back to my encounter that hot Sunday morning when my family was given a ride to church by a rebel named Foday Sankor.