What does freedom mean to someone who hasn’t had it? How does forgiveness and knowing God play a part in feeling free? We interviewed Mariama Kallon, a woman and TOFW presenter from Sierra Leone, West Africa who endured years of hiding, suffering, and losing family and friends to a war torn country.
What did freedom mean to you as a young girl growing up in Sierra Leone during a time of war?
During the war it was hard and I don't feel I ever experienced freedom. You can't do what you want or even live where you want. Many times you have to leave your home right away, running to escape the rebels, leaving all you own behind. You’re running and you just take yourself. You can’t go back but can only move on to where life takes you. The lack of freedom was all because of the greed of men --people thinking they could take advantage of others, which wasn’t right.
One of the many freedoms taken away from women was the freedom to take care of yourself. You tried not to be attractive to the rebels. If they found you attractive they would take you with them. During that time, as much as I could remember, we would leave our hair undone and go without make-up. We wouldn’t take care of ourselves out of fear of them; over time, that damaged our feelings of self-worth. We couldn’t be what we wanted but had to protect ourselves and live with the fear of even our virtue being taken away. The rebels thought they could take whatever they wanted.
How did you learn about the gospel?
I learned about the gospel through a lady whose daughters were taken away by the rebels. She shared the hope, courage and joy she found in the gospel during such a hard time. It was the thing that kept her going. So through that invitation I went to church and loved what I saw and mostly what I felt. The feeling that I had is what converted me. I joined the church and it has blessed my life so far. It is my way—my only way of life.
How has being able to forgive helped you?
Being able to forgive has helped me to be free. Heavenly Father has commanded me to forgive everyone and I trust that He will do justice where He feels it should be done. I know that I cannot feel that forgiveness towards others just like that. It doesn’t just come naturally. You have to work for it and be willing to submit to what the Lord wants. Pray. Fervently pray. I pray every day for a heart of forgiveness. And one thing I’ve come to find out is that He sees into our hearts. If you have an honest desire He will grant it to you. Without a heart of forgiveness you can’t move forward. You can’t be free. It doesn’t come easy. I pray and I fast and I ask Heavenly Father’s help. I want to forgive. I want to see the light of Christ in others. And it amazes me that He really helps me.
How has living the gospel given you freedom?
The gospel gives us freedom to hope no matter what happens in our lives. When I didn’t have the gospel there was no hope. Especially during the war. You’re ready to die because there isn’t anything more to live for. Through the gospel I now know there is life after this life and I can be with my family and see them again. As long as I try my best to live the way the Lord wants me to, I will be able to be with my Heavenly Father again. You can have those promises, those blessings that he has promised. It’s a very hopeful thing and makes life worth living every day. No matter what happens, with the gospel, you know there is something to live for. It’s a precious thing.