IN HIS OWN WORDS - HEAD OF THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH NARRATES HIS EXPERIENCE OF JANUARY 6 AND AFTERMATH
Bishop Humper said he was near death five times, but God kept him.
" It seems our blessing in SL has become our curse". The country is blest with natural resources -- and they could be a blessing if these would be used for the good of the nation, but instead they are used to victimize the SL people.
He said it was necessary, in telling the story, to go back to May 25, 1997, when the coup took place. This became his first real challenge in leadership. Three times the rebels attacked his home, took away his car, went into his office, and took out everything that was valuable. He led the Religious Council to condemn the coup. Because he was so outspoken against the coup, it became necessary for him to escape in October, 1997.
He returned to Sierra Leone in August, 1998, and began to work to get the church back on track. Things were progressing, but on the 23rd of December, 1998, the rebels struck at Waterloo. Mr. Moss, leader of this group of rebels, died. This created a vacuum in leadership because there was no key leader to take his place. Everyone began to do his own thing.
On December 27 Bishop Humper went to Bonthe, and came back on the 31st. On January 3 preached at King Memorial and the service was broadcast live. He tried to appeal to the nation and warn them that trouble was in sight, and unless the rebels and civilians came together and had a national conference there would be disaster.
On January 6th the rebels invaded Freetown. January 6 is Epiphany. (It seems the rebels always choose a religious holiday to invade or cause some kind of trouble.) At 1:30 am his daughter came to his room and cried out, "Daddy, daddy, the rebels have invaded Freetown." They both stood by the window, and watched hundreds of women with children, carrying bundles on their heads, hurrying to escape the fighting. Some of the rebels dressed in civilian clothes, some even in women's clothes, so they could blend in with the crowd heading toward the western part of town. ECOMOG had retreated.
As he watched the events the Bishop had to decide, "What should I do?" His major concern at that moment was for the children. He decided to put the children in a car and send them to a safer area. They took anything they could take along. His nephew drove them to the home of Dr. Dennis Marke.
Three minutes later the rebels came to the gate of his episcopal residence. He could not move out, for that would be instant death, so he retreated to his room, closed the door, and hid. After that, "All Hell was let loose." He stayed there, alone, from January 6 to 21. No one knew where he was. Rebels stayed nearby, in the East End of Freetown, because they had family members keeping them. Bishop Humper's food supply lasted two days; he had nothing to eat for the rest of the time. During this time the rebels returned to the house several times. They tried to shoot the locks off the door and could not so they used an ax to break in.
Bishop Humper was in the library of the house on the day they succeeded in breaking in. He hid from 6:30am to 6:30pm, watching the rebels carry away everything he owned, and vandalize the house which he had just renovated. Finally he called for help and the rebels came. They asked if he saw anything. He re-sponded that he had been hiding. (He knew that if he had admitted he had seen them they would kill him.) The rebels said they would protect him, and took him to another house. They came back to talk to him, discussing the politics of the country and why they were involved in the rebel cause. They informed him that they had taken the archbishop, and he, Bishop Humper, was second on that hit list.
At 5:30 the next morning Bishop Humper slipped away, and began a journey to places he had never been before. He took cover in four different houses, eluding the groups of rebels who searched nightly for him. When he was in the fourth house, a 10-year-old boy and two other rebels discovered him, then undressed him, took all his money and his episcopal ring, and left.
Early the next morning the Bishop left that house and found another place of refuge. Although they searched as many as 40 houses in that area, the rebels did not find him. By nightfall 30 other persons had taken cover in this same house. One man was lying there in extreme pain and shock; the rebels had cut off both his hands with a machete. More than 50 houses in this area were burned, and other atrocities were taking place that night.
In the morning (January 31st) he left the house and joined more than 50 people heading for the mosque near the urban center to seek refuge. They believed that they would be safer there, as did about 250 others who had already taken sanctuary. The Bishop remained there for about a half hour, when he was told that the rebels were actively pursuing him. He prayed for guidance, then said, "Let us go to the ferry junction." About 200 left with him and, to their great relief, encountered ECOMOG soldiers and Kamajors (traditional hunters who were acting as militia). They disguised the Bishop and took him by truck to the west end of Freetown, where he was given food and shelter by some of the Kamajors. From there he went to stay with his friend, Rev. Renner, until conditions in Freetown had settled.
Word came to Bishop Humper afterwards that a few minutes after he and the 200 others had left the mosque, rebel soldiers came in and shot many of the people still taking shelter there.
Though they took all his material goods and seven conference vehicles, the rebels were not able to take away his life. Bishop Humper is very grateful, and praises God for his protection.
The Effects of the January 6 invasion of Freetown:
6500 lost their lives between January 6 and 28th
2500 houses were burned
Post office and police stations were burnt
300 police officers killed
More than 350 suffered amputations and other serious atrocities
40,000 displaced took refuge at the national stadium
(20,000 had been there since May, 97)
Telephone communication was cut off
Over 2000 women were raped
Some churches and mosques were burned down
(Only minor damage to UMC churches)
Other statements about the war:
No UMC pastors were killed. However, some church members were killed.
Refugees fled to Guinea; some drowned in the process.
Educational institutions were closed down.
Some teachers, nurses, have left the country; some may not return.
It will take 20 years to build back an economy.
All roads leading out of Freetown are blocked.
Rebel leaders took over what was left of the Bishop's house, and Kissy Clinic, across the street, became their hospital.