“Friendship: A True Story of Adventure, Goodwill, and Endurance” shares the remarkable life journey of an African boy from the region made famous by the movie “Blood Diamond” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, which was nominated for five Academy Awards. That movie brought attention to a rebel war in West Africa in which “blood” diamonds, also known as “conflict” diamonds, were used to finance warlords and their activities.
Two decades before the rebel war Thomas Johnson, a pilot from Minnesota, was employed to fly boxes of gems and alluvial diamonds in Sierra Leone from Yengema to Freetown, where a British Airways jet would fly the gemstones to London. This pilot met and befriended young Francis Mandewah, an impoverished Sierra Leonean boy, and gave him generous support that opened a new life of opportunity, which would eventually take Francis to America.
Along the way Francis had many harrowing experiences, including crossing the Sahara Desert, which almost cost him his life. His challenges continued in Italy, Greece, and finally in America. In the end, Francis became aware that his real voice that has emerged through all his trials and tribulations is one of deep faith, and gratitude for God’s miracles and wonders in his life.
“On my way home I walked in a haze. I was in shock over the miracle that had just happened in my life. That night as I settled down to sleep on my mat on the floor of my cousin’s house, I lay in the dark and prayed, 'Dear God, I can’t take any more heartbreak. Please let this be real. What did I do to deserve such a blessing? I promise to do well in school and make You proud. Please don’t let me die in my sleep tonight.’”
“Dreams are peculiar things. They come to us both when sleeping and awake. They mix imagination and memory to project vivid images in our minds of what could be. Sometimes these images are delightful, remarkable. Other times they are horrific and unsettling. I have had a reoccurring dream since I was a child. In the dream, my family and I sit down to a grand feast. At the end of the room is a small stage. I walk across the room smiling as my family applauds. I step on stage and into a small steel cage, not much larger than I am, and the door locks behind me. A blindfold appears on my face. I begin to panic, but I hear the sound of my mother's voice, which calms me. Instinctively I feel my way along the bars to the lock. I slip a pin out of my pocket and open the door. My mother and sisters rush to me and shower me with hugs and kisses.
In the dream I have passed a test and my reward is a journey. “Where are you going, my son?” I can hear my mother say. I become nervous about not having an answer for my mother. I go around the room frantically trying to find someone who will tell me my future. No one answers, and then the door to the room opens, flooding the room with white light. I instinctively walk towards the light then through the door. I always awaken with the urge to know where I am going.
I suppose this dream has been the script for my life, because even as I sit, no matter where I am or what I’m doing, I always feel a tinge of uncertainty, as if I’m eternally looking for a flight itinerary. I have lived a life filled with the adventure of being ushered onto stage and the turmoil of being blindfolded and locked in a cage. Through my travels, my willingness to walk to and through the door, I discovered within myself a will to not just survive, but to thrive, no matter the circumstance.