I’m the first white to sleep in this village.
I lie under a cloud of mosquito net, an open window behind my head and the sound of men’s voices speaking Krio, the hum of ancient men and young boys, cracking nuts and seated on stumps, singing through the screen-less opening.
I’m 36 but there are days I still feel I’m in pig-tails and when I stop to think about it, I wonder how I got here, two hours from Freetown down a winding red road in the jungle of Sierra Leone.
My hands still smell like the goat meat Mommy Christiana cooked me at lunch, the same goat the villagers gifted me, along with a stalk of bananas—more than they’ve eaten in years, this village that survives off one bowl of rice a day.
It’s a mid-afternoon lull of a Sunday, just minutes before we drive in Pastor Sonnel’s jeep to visit the fields he and the villagers have planted to stave off another famine season.
“Emily, are you comfortable?” Pastor Sonnel calls from behind the door before heading outside. These are his countrymen, the ones his father grew up with and he’s built this simple home to live among them, to farm among them, to feed them and their children and the men who follow him. This humble pastor who never made more than $100/month overseeing 40 evangelical churches before joining The Lulu Tree.
“Yes, Daddy,” I say, for it’s a term of a respect here—Christiana, his wife, is Mommy, and Sonnel is Daddy, and we are family here in this land of the sweetest pineapple.
I step into the bathroom, wash my face from the rain barrel. In the mornings, I shower using a bucket. Two furry spiders eye me suspiciously and I’m relieved to see they haven’t moved since last night. They’re slow and fat, and I quickly close the bathroom door and step into my hiking boots.
Outside I see Sonnel, his signature towel slung across his shoulder, surrounded by villagers—the men leaning in to hear him speak, the women dancing as they’ve been doing since we arrived and the children standing so still you can barely see their shadows, shirts hanging off bony shoulders, their feet hardly making prints in the red dirt. But Sonnel sees them, and he touches them on the head—this one here, then another, asking them about their schooling—and they smile and their footprints deepen.
If you look far enough into this man’s kind eyes you can see the sorrow—not just of years of civil war and Ebola, but of barrenness. He and Christiana haven’t bore children so he tucks the world’s people into his heart and they call him father.
We climb into the back of the jeep and he takes me to see his farm—the farm he shares with all the village men who follow in the backs of pickup trucks and we walk through acres of millet and rice and fruit trees, of cassava—with dreams not just of feeding this village, but the 14 surrounding ones, too, because each goes through a famine season here. And Sonnel’s heart is the heart of God, a heart that holds the nation.
He tenderly touches the fruit trees, the ones he and Christiana planted, mango and papaya, avocado and passion fruit, and I recall the vision God gave us both separately when we knew nothing of each other, a vision of children growing tall like plants in a field. A farmer walking amongst them, tending gently to his seedlings.
It’s November and in a few months, we’ll learn that the government of California is miraculously going to donate us a tractor, helping Sonnel to fulfill his dreams of feeding Sierra Leone’s hungry.
And in a few months the home he and Christiana originally built for themselves, as a family retirement home (and then decided to donate to The Lulu Tree, because God asked them to give it to ministry), will be complete (*see photos below–note, the house I stayed in, in the village, is different from Bethel Home–the former is in Kamassarlie village; Bethel is located in Mambo Region), and its doors, opening—June of 2017—to orphans, who will be cared for by abandoned widows. Not only will Sonnel donate his home, but he will spend hours working tirelessly on everything in the home, ensuring the children coming will be safe—“Emily, we must make sure nothing can hurt them,” that this will be a haven, with him and Mommy watching over them all.
He’ll tell me he doesn’t want to be paid—just his expenses covered–because as in everything he wants to be obedient to God and to do this for Him alone.
We drive back to the village, now, and I think of how God turns our sorrows into dancing, like filling barren homes with the sound of children’s laughter, like filling emptied children with the hopes of tomorrow, like filling widows’ unlit windows with the candles of a thousand orphans.
“That the world might know Jesus, Emily,” Sonnel says quietly, wiping his brow with his towel. “That the world might know Jesus.”
We’re praising Jesus, dear Lulu partners, and we invite you to, as well!
*The Lord is opening Sonnel’s home which we’ve named The Lulu Tree Bethel Home—everything is complete (including a water tower — see above), and stunningly beautiful, and ready to welcome the homeless children and grandmothers of the slums of Freetown. Would you pray for Sonnel’s brother, Daniel Kamara, who will be searching for these children and widows?
*Would you join us in praising God for the provision of a tractor through the California government, and pray for the safe shipment of it to Sierra Leone?
*Would you pray for a hedge of protection over Sonnel and Christiana and Bethel Home and all of their endeavors?
*Would you pray for the women, men and children of Kamasarralie village, as they complete the building of the storehouse, of the school benches for 70% of their children who currently sit on the floors, and of the school bathrooms to replace the dirt pit they were previously using?
*Please pray for Sonnel and Christiana as they work now on completing the birthing rooms, on the first level of the home, to be prepared for taking in pregnant women from the surrounding villages
*Finally, would you pray for these villagers as they enter into another season of famine that they would be able to use the Lulu soap machine to help supplement their income and that God would make provision through other means?
Bless you all, and thank you for joining us on this journey to west Africa’s Sierra Leone, tucked deep in the heart of our Heavenly Father.