The band marches, batons twirl, and dignitaries rise as 44 graduating students enter, garbed in black caps and gowns sewn here in Sierra Leone.
I know, because a few days earlier I sat on a wooden bench in the tailor’s humble shop, black thread and strips of material everywhere, a single sewing machine servicing his work. Sonnel and I counted one hundred nineteen gowns and caps and carried them first into Guinea, now into Madina Town, Sierra Leone, and soon, we will take the rest into Liberia.
I’m witnessing one hundred and nineteen students graduating from the Harvestime Bible Institute. Each of these students has passed 21 theological courses accredited by the State of California and a number of Bible Schools in the States, offered for free, and developed by my friend Patricia Hulsey.
Harvestime is equipping men and women like Dominic in Sierra Leone, the son of a witchdoctor who, when given the unlikely choice to take Islamic studies or Catholic ones as a young boy, chose Catholic. From there, Pastor Sonnel Kamara took him into the folds of the evangelical church, and now he pastors a church across the river in the Forgotten Villages.
Then there’s is Korpo Zaza, a woman from Voinjama, Liberia, whose story makes me weep. She walked three and a half hours each way for the course, even after losing her husband halfway through. A week after he passed, she was back in class – this beautiful woman, so strong and brave, the only woman amongst the 20 graduates. We award her a Certificate of Valor.
The valedictorian for her class is Joseph Flomo. He stands, a slender man in black goatee and gold wire glasses, and tells us how he’s walked five hours each way for class, rising at 3 a.m. to arrive in time for the 8 a.m. course. Then he tells us about studying, how he’d risen at 2 a.m. to study the course before going to work at the farm at 6. He had earned 89% overall, on all 21 courses.
Others, too, had walked more than four hours each way, because as Joseph says, he had waited 20 years for such an opportunity, since graduating high school. He wasn’t going to pass it up.
In Bomi County, Liberia, the students have been waiting most of the day for us to arrive. In Africa, when there’s an event, people begin to gather early in the morning and simply wait, without food or water. And when we finally arrive after many hours crammed into a taxi, they are full of smiles and testimonies of how the program is changing them. One man stands and says, “Mama Emily, there’s fire in our feet. We want to take back West Africa for Jesus.”
Fire in their feet, and I feel like my own are standing on holy ground. So many sacrifices have been made to bring them to this day. I am dressed in a traditional gown for these graduations, but feel under-dressed in the presence of such men and women.
At the end of African graduation ceremonies, people in the audience throw money at the students and fan their faces like they are kings and queens. Steve, our director of finance from Burundi, turns to me and says, “Emily, in Africa we don’t have many opportunities to celebrate each other. So when we do, we go all out. We lavish the attention.”
They may be garbed in black, but as the graduates march outside to dance in the sunlight, I see garments of white – and I hear the angels rejoicing. Because with every step made towards completing the course, with every diploma earned, with every trained man and woman, they are pushing back the darkness, making room for God to lavish His love on His people.
With this fire in their feet, I believe by God’s grace and anointing, they will take back West Africa for Jesus. And that’s the biggest reason of all to celebrate.
The Lulu Tree would like to invite you to join a FREE online Bible conference, February 15-17. The Lulu Tree’s President Emily Wierenga will be doing a keynote presentation on Thursday, February 15 at 1 pm EDT for this conference. Her topic: “How to Hunger for the God Who Became Bread.” Sign up here for your free ticket: https://