The Lulu Tree’s founder traveled in November to meet with Pastor Sonnel Kamara, Lulu’s national director in sierra Leone. Emily Wierenga writes about her experience:
They gave me a goat.
I’ve never had goat before, let alone had a village gift me one.
Then again, I’ve never been to Sierra Leone before.
Snow covered the floors of Canada’s November and I kissed my babies goodbye to set foot in West Africa.
I flew into the sun, into red dirt roads winding through palm and coconut trees, cassava plantations and rice fields. I flew into a city birthed by once-slaves, a city called Freetown. I flew into iron-sheet roofs and unpaved roads, pigs and dogs and chickens and a proud people carrying sorrow in baskets on their heads.
The boys were very helpful off the plane, wanting a tip, carrying my bags, and I met with a pastor whose life is the gospel, who gives more than anyone I know and is paid less than any pastor I’ve ever met. A pastor who’s had 52 years and only one birthday—the year he turned 50. Who’s dedicated the home he built for himself and his wife to The Lulu Tree for the Lord’s work because God gave him a vision. A vision to love the abandoned children of his country.
We drove to the village, him and me and his wife, Mommy Christiana, Pastor Sonnel at the wheel, gospel music and many “troublesome drivers” veering near and around us, boda-boda vans as full as my stomach every time Mommy cooked me meals of plantain and rice and fish and bread, people pouring out of van and window and the red road beneath our tires. The taxis all have words painted on their windows. Some say “Mother’s Blessing.” Others, “We Will Overcome.”
It was windy, our way to Kamassara, where Sonnel’s father spend his child-years and Sonnel grows The Lulu Tree Farm.
Children in school uniform walked flattened trails along the road, at most 3 miles to their schools, waving at us, my white hand flailing awkwardly in this vibrant land.
Pastor told me about living through Ebola and the war, about selling water on the beaches in order to eat at night but “God has never failed us,” he says, driving a jeep the Lord gifted him. And the home he’s built, The Lulu Tree Bethel Home, has the same story. A story of miraculous provision for this man whose salary doesn’t even cover his monthly needs and yet, each month, his needs are met, because he takes in orphans and gives his life away. This is a land full of children without shoes or parents, whose eyes are wide with grief but when they see us, their smiles break like day.
A boy named Alfred meets us on the road a mile from the village, on his motorbike; grins and turns, leads us forward, and all of a sudden schoolboys in red soccer uniforms Sonnel purchased for them appear, marching, singing, and then schoolchildren in blue uniform led by a stunning woman in a long blue dress—their teacher, and the village nurse—singing, dancing, and we’re moving along the road together, as one. From the bush come the women, dressed in bright color and bead and whooping and swaying and Pastor is holding back tears. He didn’t know.
“I knew they would do something,” he says quiet. “You’re the first white person to sleep in our village. But I didn’t know—this.”
We arrive and there’s a ceremony of speeches from local leaders and pastors and then, a goat. A goat which these people (who eat one bowl of rice a day, who hand-wash their clothes daily because otherwise they have none for tomorrow, and these, not even secondhand clothes but third and fourth and fifth hand, discarded from our thrift stores across the ocean; whose children squeeze four or five to a bench in their schools, who when they get sick, sometimes die because the nurse has no medicine because the world has forgotten that life exists beyond the city), these people have gathered together to put pennies together to buy me a $50 goat. A long stem of bananas. A glass full of water and nuts.
They wait for me to speak.
I stand, and I think how wrong we are to think we as westerners could ever bring anything to anyone. All we can do is ever be something to somebody. A brother, a sister, a mother, a father, a child, a friend. They look at me and I see a village that has struggled together to stay alive for decades, just to know they are loved.
It’s all any of us ever wants.
There is no Them. Only Us.
“God has not forgotten you,” I choke.
The village cheers.
Later, their Muslim imam will tell me he’s been wondering that for some time: if God only lived in the city. If He remembered they were in fact, alive.
And this, why we come. Why The Lulu Tree grows in the unseen parts of Africa. To let the poor know that God has not forgotten His people.
To learn more about our vision for The Lulu Tree Bethel Home and The Lulu Tree Eden Farm in Sierra Leone, please go HERE. Thank you.