Post by Paula Bicknell
On the last day of August, we loaded the tractor, the rocking chair, and the little green monkey. As the shipping container departed down our long, country driveway, I wondered if Cruz’s little green monkey would crawl out of his box, jump into the rocking chair, and then up onto the tractor, proclaiming, “Finally! We are on our way to Africa!” Kind of like Toy Story where all the toys come alive when everyone leaves the room.
The little green monkey almost didn’t make it onto the truck. I didn’t want to part with him, and couldn’t believe our six-year-old son, Cruz had. When I found Cruz’s monkey while taping up the last boxes right before the container arrived, tears filled my eyes. I held that little green monkey in my hands and didn’t want to let him go because our youngest son had carried him around as a toddler, loving that special stuffed animal.
I hadn’t wanted to part with the rose-colored rocking chair, either. I’d rocked our last four babies in that chair, and for about a decade, my husband Scott read our four youngest boys Bible stories in that rocking chair before bed each night. The rocking chair was given to me by my dear friend, Patsy when I was pregnant with baby number four (we have seven kids). I’m sure Patsy said a thousand prayers in that chair too. She loves Jesus more than most people. Patsy helped bring me to Christ.
The Lulu Tree home for young mothers and abandoned children needs that rocking chair so I had our oldest son, Luke load it into the container for me. Luke will soon become a father himself. His girlfriend, Alex is due to have their baby boy in October. Nothing happens by chance, and I knew Luke loading the rocking chair, and Cruz parting with his little monkey were a God thing.
This whole thing has been a God thing.
As I was collecting donations for Africa a few weeks earlier, our youngest boys asked me what I was doing. “I’m sending shoes, clothing, and toys to the children in Africa because they don’t have much there,” I explained with our hallway stacked high with boxes of things people were donating.
Cruz’s eyes widened in surprise. “The kids in Africa don’t have toys?”
“Not like you and your brothers have toys,” I said. “Those kids only have a few things to play with in Africa.”
Looking concerned, Cruz disappeared down the hall, and returned with his arms full of his toys. “I’m sending all of these,” he said, his eyes wide with compassion.
“You don’t have to send them all, just some of your toys will do,” I said.
Cruz thought about it for a moment, and then said, “No, I want all of my toys to go to Africa.”
“All right,” I said, “Let’s see what you have here.” My throat was tight as I looked at what Cruz had gathered from his room. But I didn’t see the little green monkey that day. Every couple of days, Cruz would collect more things and tuck them in the boxes in the hall. I tried not to interfere and let him do his thing. I understood how Cruz felt. I’d gone through my own closet and parted with shoes and clothes and raided the boys’ closets as well. I’d also given away most of our sons’ baby clothes I’d kept in plastic bins in the garage because I couldn’t bear to part with them before this. For some reason, the need to help the people of Africa had fallen on our household in a big way.
It all started with the request for a tractor from Emily Wierenga on Facebook. I loved Emily’s novel: Atlas Girl, but we’d never met in person. I didn’t really know Emily at all last winter when she first contacted me.
“I see you are a farmer in California. Is there any way you can help us get a tractor for a farm in Sierra Leone?” Emily messaged me one random winter night that turned out not to be random at all.
I didn’t even know where Sierra Leone was, but sensed pretty quickly what God was doing. I’d spent the day upset about a tax bill I’d gotten in the mail. The previous year, we’d signed our farm up for a government program where you turn in an old tractor and are given a grant to help purchase a new tractor. The purpose of the program is to clean up California’s air. Old tractors pollute the air. But the grant we got for the new tractor threw us into a whole new tax bracket. They considered the grant money a part of my earnings for the year, though the money went straight to purchase the new tractor. I knew the day the letter came that our taxes were going to go sideways because of the grant and it would cost us a lot of money, income we really didn’t have, and I was upset.
The next morning, I drove to the federal government farm office where I’d spent half of last year trying to get the grant for our new tractor. I asked the nice woman who’d helped us through the process if one of those tractors being destroyed to clean up the air could possibly be donated to Africa. She looked at me like I was a little crazy and said, “No, but you could try the state emissions office across town. Maybe they can help you.”
So I drove across town and spoke with another woman, Sondra Spaethe, who works to get old tractors off California farms. “I’m trying to find a tractor for Africa,” I told her. “Is there any way instead of destroying the tractors in the grant program, that one could be donated to Sierra Leone?”
Sondra stared at me for a long moment without saying anything. She has this calm, quiet way I really appreciate, and then she said, “It doesn’t hurt to ask. I’ll speak to my boss.”
Nearly six months later, when Sondra and I met on a Yuba City farm to see the donated tractor, Sondra admitted, “I didn’t think this would ever happen.”
“It has surprised me too,” I told Sondra. “It feels like moving a mountain, trying to get a tractor to Africa.”
“I will lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.” This is one of my favorite scriptures from Psalm 121 and I’d prayed it on that first day when I drove to town to ask the state of California for a tractor. “Lord,” I said, “You made the heavens and the earth. You parted the Red Sea. A tractor for Africa is easy for you. Please help us get one.”
A few weeks later, the odyssey of a tractor for Africa became even more near and dear to my heart.
In February, Luke, a freshman in college who lived an hour away, came home unexpectedly on a weekday morning. “Aren’t you missing class?” I asked when I walked over to his car. Luke didn’t get out of his vehicle. The look on his face made my stomach drop. I opened his passenger door, and moved his backpack out of the way. “What’s wrong. Are you okay?” I asked as I plopped down in the passenger seat with my knees shaking.
“Alex is pregnant,” he admitted.
Tears filled my eyes and I kind of just laughed, relieved no one had died. “Children are a blessing from the Lord. A reward from God,” I said after taking a few deep breaths.
“I knew you’d say that,” Luke said, and I could see the relief on his teenage face. We hugged and I cried.
That night Emily sent me a video of pregnant teenagers with happy grins on their faces. The Lulu Tree farm in Sierra Leone will become a home for these girls and their babies. I’d spent the day worried about Luke becoming a dad so young. Having a baby at his age wasn’t going to be easy, but in light of these pregnant teens in Africa, our problems in California seemed so small.
After this, I was determined to get that tractor for the Lulu Tree farm. Every day I prayed God would open the doors for a tractor for Africa. But things moved very slowly. Disappointments came and went at the emissions office. Some days it looked like we might get a tractor. Other days it seemed impossible. Emily and I became dear friends, working together to help the Lulu Tree get the tractor.
Sondra at the California emissions office did everything she could to help us get the tractor. And the farmer, Scott Thunen was so generous to donate his tractor to us, instead of keeping the parts off the tractor for his farm, like the farmers are allowed to do.
Finally, at the end of August, our family loaded the tractor into the container that went to San Francisco to be shipped to Sierra Leone. After loading the tractor, we loaded all the donations. So many donations of children’s and baby things and books and Bibles for the Lulu Tree school. So many people donated things and teary-eyed mamas shared with me that they had to just close their eyes and stick their precious donations in the bags and boxes fast before they changed their minds. I did the same thing. I didn’t want to part with our sons’ baby and toddler clothes, and especially Cruz’s little green monkey, but I reminded myself of the need.
This whole endeavor has been driven by need.
Pastor Sonnel’s need for a tractor. His people’s need for food. My need to trust God. That the Good Lord wasn’t going to fail us. That Jesus would help us get a tractor to Africa no matter how difficult it proved to be. And believe me it was difficult!
Our help comes from the Lord, I reminded myself again and again as we hit one wall after another trying to get this tractor for Africa. And
I thought about this Bible verse as I tucked Cruz’s little green monkey back into the box and taped it shut, my eyes hot with tears because I badly wanted to keep it. There was a little boy or a little girl in Africa who needs that little green monkey.
The last I heard, God’s tractor, the rocking chair, and the little green monkey are sitting in San Francisco, waiting to pass through customs. As with everything else along this way, we’ve ran into another roadblock. At first, customs said they weren’t going to ship the tractor once it arrived at the port.
“Please pray for a miracle,” Emily messaged the Lulu Tree prayer chain last week. “Customs won’t ship the tractor without a title.”
California tractors don’t come with titles. So we’ve bombarded customs with legal papers and pleading letters, and they are slowly coming around. Please pray customs allows the tractor to be on it’s way soon. The planting season in Africa comes this fall, and Pastor Sonnel needs God’s tractor soon. *
I began calling it God’s tractor about two months into this mission to rescue a tractor from being destroyed so it could go to Africa. When I talked to the tow truck owner who helped us load the tractor into the shipping container last week, he said, “Is this tractor going to be destroyed too? This is the fourth good tractor we’ve taken to the scrap yard this summer. It makes me sick.”
“Nope,” I said with a big fat smile. “This tractor is going to Africa to feed the hungry people there.”
“They should do this with all the tractors instead of destroying them,” said the tow truck man. “What a great thing you all are doing.”
What a great thing God is doing, I thought as he wrote out my receipt for loading the tractor, knowing our help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth and tractors for Africa.
*Update: Customs has approved the tractor for shipping! The process took quite a while and the delay caused a large unexpected expense. However, within days our need was covered by a generous donor and the tractor is free to go. Praise God! Please pray with us that the tractor arrives safely in Sierra Leone, and for our Lulu family there as they embark on the journey to sustainability that the Lulu tractor is making possible. Please also pray for Mommy Emily and board member Jeanne Damoff as they prepare to travel to Sierra Leone with a Canadian maternity nurse, Nov. 21-30. And finally, please pray for Pastor Sonnel has he’s welcomed three previous orphans into Bethel Home this month. ((Thank you))