The Long Winding Roads of Africa (Emily’s Trip, Part 4)
By Mommy Emily
It’s night in Kamassaralie Village, and the ants are crawling up my legs. They’re tiny and red, and apparently they like white skin.
I discreetly try to rub them off my calves while sitting on the front porch of the farmhouse with Pastor Sonnel Kamara and Mommy Christiana. We occupy one of two houses that have electricity, so the village has gathered — grannies with gap-toothed smiles and school children doing their homework under the hanging bulb, along with Pastor Ezekiel, Pastor Jeremiah, Pastor Dominique, Sonnel’s brother Daniel, and others. We meet like this every evening after days of treading the red earth of Sierra Leone’s villages.
Beyond the dangling bulb on the porch, frogs croak and cicadas sing, and from next-door — the other house with electricity — I can hear a small handheld radio. I know I’ll hear it later tonight as I lay down by the open window in my room.
I’ve been coming to this tiny west African country since the fall of 2016, and I have friends here now. Friends like tiny Musu who never used to smile or talk, but would cling to me and suck her fingers, stealing my water bottles and getting angry with any child who tried to take a bottle from her. Now she talks and laughs as loudly as any of them — but she still steals my water bottles.
I joke with Pastor Sonnel that they’d promised to make me a chief if I slept in the village more than once, since I’m the first white to visit them. This will be the fourth trip I’ve made to this tiny village, and the fourth time I’ve slept in Kamassaralie.
Glancing up the hill, I see Elizabeth’s house. She’s the nurse who walked with me down to the birthing clinic to show me its completion, explaining that all they need now is an apartment for the nurses and then they can begin to care for upwards of 18 villages. Even since returning home from this trip, God has provided for this nurses’ apartment. He is so faithful.
Next to the birthing clinic is the newly completed church which we celebrated yesterday. Twenty-one people from other villages arrived the night before to join in the celebration, sleeping on the floor of the church and the pastor’s house. I had 21 granola bars I’d brought with me, so I donated them, and Pastor Sonnel gave them some cassava to eat. A blind man — the only Christian in his village — even made his way by canoe and on foot to participate. It was a day-long party of sermons and worship and eating together. I held many little ones in my lap that day. The heat clung.
The day before that we’d taken the motorbikes down red dirt paths to Lil’ Scary River, where we’d met villagers who carried us (and the bikes) in hand-hewn canoes. Then we’d continued on by bike to one of the 7 newly planted churches. There we’d encouraged the children who are being schooled by pastors in the church building during the week, and we’d sung together, the village gathering, the sun beating down, the air heavy with the smell of coconuts and palm and rainforest.
Oh the thrill of the village life. Of eating fresh fruit, the juice dripping down my chin. Of being in my quiet little room with its bucket-shower and the tarantulas which I smack with my flip-flops and the crates of mango juice which Mommy Christiana has bought for me. Of walking outside and immediately being surrounded by the wide smiles of children who just want to touch my hair and laugh together.
And this night, my final night, the chiefs and elders have gathered. They’ve been watching me for four years now, and they’ve come to the front porch with a purpose. They select one and he approaches me and greets me and then, in the native language of Krio, through the interpretation of Pastor Sonnel, he tells me that they want to ask me for a community hall — for a place where the leaders of the village can gather and make decisions, because right now they just meet on a bench under the trees, and when it rains — as it does in Africa, a torrential downpour — the meeting is canceled, and they walk home drenched.
How I love this man. I hope my eyes tell him so, even as I pray for wisdom. I tell him how honored I am that he would come to me with this request, and how I can definitely understand the need.
But, I tell him, it is in fact not our decision as The Lulu Tree, nor our place, to enter into such plans, for since the beginning, we’ve only ever sought to partner with Pastor Sonnel and the vision God has given him for his people.
Our desire, from the beginning, was not to come as so many other western organizations and dictate the program, but rather to join in with what God was already doing through the people on the ground.
I even go so far as to tell him that we have a five-year plan (https://thelulutree.com/sustainability-for-sierra-leone/) towards sustainability with Pastor Sonnel — that after the five years are up, our hope is to have helped him establish enough income-generating projects to be able to help Sierra Leone without our involvement. But even after that, I told him, we would still come. Only we would come just as friends, as witnesses to see all that the Lord had done.
With this the chief smiled. It was the first time I’d seen him smile. And then all the elders and the chiefs were smiling and they were bowing and the chief said in Krio:
“Thank you. Thank you for loving our people like this. We love this plan. Thank you.”
If only they knew how I wept later. How I wished I could just say Yes and give them everything they needed right now. But even then, it is not I who would give it, but the Lord, and He desires to do it fittingly and with order (1 Cor. 14:40) — to do it through the vessels He’s already established, to do it in season, and with utmost humility.
And even as I wave goodbye the next day, Sonnel’s car taking me down the long red path, the children chasing us and my hand a flimsy white flag out the window, I know I’ll be back. Hugging Musu. Walking with Elizabeth. Canoeing Lil’ Scary. And listening to the frogs croak.
I’ll be back, not as the one with the answers or the resources, but because they are family now, and it is my humble joy to watch God smile on Kamassaralie Village.