The plane ticket that changed a cadet couple’s lives
Fleeing a worn-torn country, surviving a cramped refugee camp, boarding a plane to new-found freedom and being embraced by the Great Southland all form part of Beola and Edward Conteh’s remarkable life history thus far. As they prepare to be commissioned as Salvation Army officers, Salvos Online writer LERISSE SMITH sat down with the couple to talk about their hopes, dreams, resilience – and how just one plane ticket literally changed their lives.
Beola and Edward will never forget boarding the plane. It was to change their lives forever.
As the couple prepared for take-off with seatbelts fastened, overhead lockers firmly shut, and air safety procedures completed, Edward looked up to the ceiling to notice something he had never seen before. Air-conditioning on a plane. As the breeze flowed gently through the vents to the cabin, he couldn’t stop looking up, fascinated with what he was witnessing.
For Beola, she was pinching herself to ensure she wasn’t in a dream but was actually on a plane. It was then, at this moment, the couple experienced the greatest epiphany of their lives.
“We are free. We are free. We are actually free!” Beola recalled.
“The Salvation Army saved our lives. It was emotional. It was joy ... we saw the plane trip as a living testimony that God could rescue people. We had been through being persecuted, everything taken out. But we were alive now.”
And as the plane landed, Beola remembered saying, “Oh God, thank you!” She couldn’t believe it was herself and her husband coming from so far away.
“We never knew we would be in Australia,” she said. “I said to God, ‘Your will be done it for us. Thank you, Holy Spirit.’ We were saved.”
The incredible story behind how they got to board the plane to freedom was a miracle in itself. After fleeing the civil war in Sierra Leone and then spending years surviving refugee camps “one day at a time” in Guinea Conakry, a West African country bordering Sierra Leone, someone met the couple at a Guinea church one day who informed them they were a friend of Beola’s aunty who lived in Sydney, Australia. That person connected the couple to her aunty – and the rest is history.
“Our aunty said, ‘Come, live with me’,” the couple said.
“She was affiliated with The Salvation Army, and that’s where we learnt about the Army. So, they organised sponsorship for us, and the next thing we knew, we were on a plane with a small suitcase.
“When we walked out to the airport terminal in Sydney, we were greeted by The Salvation Army and a large group of people that we had never met. They had flowers for us and were singing. We cried tears of joy. It was unforgettable.”
Thus began a journey for the pair that would lead them to Sydney and then to Melbourne, changing the trajectory of their lives forever.
Since planting their feet firmly on Australian soil in 2009, Beola and Edward couldn’t be happier. Chat with the spritely duo, and it’s immediately apparent they are with The Salvation Army for life. It’s their family.
The couple thrive on being part of the missional organisation, serving and loving others, and continually emphasise how much they always want to give God the glory – and how grateful they are at being given a second chance at life.
“We are very excited to become corps officers; it’s a dream come true,” Edward said.
“We need to share the love of God, the Word of God, with his people. Sometimes people lose their direction in life. We want to be an example. I’m sure some people walk in and wonder if The Salvation Army will ever get black officers or Africans or people from overseas to become commissioned officers. We thank God we are leading the pace, making this huge step in the sand. The Salvation Army is our family and has been a huge blessing for us. They don’t discriminate.”
Both Beola and Edward emphasised how much they loved studying at Eva Burrows College and look forward to being commissioned this coming Sunday.
“We came in with all this zeal and a mind ready to study, to learn,” Edward remarked.
“It has been the best experience for us. The staff have always been encouraging, supportive and available anytime to help.”
Journey to officership
Beola and Edward’s journey to officership started as soon they migrated to Australia. Upon their arrival, they immediately joined The Salvation Army and felt the calling to minister to others.
They became senior soldiers, with Edward becoming a concierge at the door for NSW/ACT Divisional Headquarters and later as a ministry assistant at Auburn Corps in Sydney. In 2017, Edward became an auxiliary-lieutenant. They entered training college as cadets of the Defenders of Justice session.
“There is no treasure bigger than the desire to achieve the good things … to love and care for others.” – Edward Conteh
Beola has undertaken many years of voluntary work and has been involved in church leadership, women’s, children’s and youth ministries, the Red Shield Appeal, the church greeting team, and general daily support. On top of this, Beola loves to listen to people’s stories, especially women, and to encourage them to speak up about their lives. She loves to encourage women, too. Edward has also led many programs, including in the areas of multicultural, homelessness and mental health.
A key driving force in their lives is to fight for justice. Beola and Edward have built much resilience due to the great suffering endured in the past, plus endless reserves of empathy and compassion for those undergoing difficult times.
“Our heart is about the people,” Edward said.
“We are about justice, and we will fight for justice. God said, if you do this to the least of my brethren, you have done it to me. Our desire is to give back to the loss, to the suffering, to the addicted, to people who are mentally disturbed. There are people who don’t see life in any feature anymore. Life can be derailed, right? But it does not necessarily mean that it is your fault, or my fault or their fault. Things happen. We want to show the love of God to people who need it the most.”
And the future is clear for Beola and Edward – they want to grow many disciples and dream of travelling to the Holy Land one day.
“There is no treasure bigger than the desire to achieve the good things … to love and care for others,” Edward said.
“The Army has invested a lot not only in us but the call of God upon our lives. They have given us reassured hope. So, God is working immensely in The Salvation Army, and it’s not about Bible-bashing people.
“It’s about giving hope that is so desperately needed in this world.”