One of my experiences in Sierra Leone that blessed my heart was all of the singing, both by the children and the adults. We woke up in the morning to the sounds of the home children singing during devotions; we watched as the students started their day praising the LORD; we listened as the aunties sang for their devotions together; we joined the Freetown national teachers in a praise and devotion time; and we worshiped our Father together on Sunday morning. I was able to capture a few moments of the children singing that I wanted to share with you. I was reminded of their singing this morning while reading Isaiah 55-
"For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing; and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands."
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
One of the things, Eric and I enjoy doing together is cooking and baking. This really started in Alabama after we became inspired by all the recent "cooking" movies that have popped up and because needed something to do for fun. This is our 3rd apple pie... but it is also our 1st "criss-cross" pie crust. (Before we just did the boring, flat crust.) The pie crust recipe was from my mother-in-law (so easy!); I cut the strips, and Eric laid them. We shared our pie with our good friends Susan and Al... along with some vanilla ice cream of course!
For better or worse, in most ways I did not experience "culture shock" while in Sierra Leone. I have a couple of theories for this, which I can bore you with in person, but they are not the point of this post. In two specific things, however, I did find myself in shock when I learned of the sins and misconceptions that plague this culture. I will write about one of these things today.
In the above picture, you are looking at a picture of the well in the village of Ngolala, about a 20 minute walk from the COTN property in Banta. After hearing throughout college, in churches, and in the news about projects to build wells to bring the people of Africa clean water, I was excited to see a well capable of use for the people there. I thought of it as a real life picture of the good that is happening. This idea was soon deflated, however, when I was informed that the people of Ngolala actually don't use the well that is in the center of this community, but instead walk to the edge of the village to a small, dirty river to collect water needed for drinking, cooking, cleaning, etc. Incredulously, I asked why. Two main reasons were given that I will paraphrase: 1) There is a strong cultural misconception that running water (even if used for bathing and other things) is cleaner than the standing water of a well and 2) the people of Ngolala had no ownership/leadership in building the well and so therefore they have no ownership/leadership in using it. This bothered me for the duration of the trip. Even if the reasons made "sense," it still seemed so simple. Just drink the clean water- it's what you need and it's what is good. My American sense of "I'm smart and know what's best for you" was elevated.
On our last day in Sierra Leone, we were asked to write a letter to ourselves. As I started to write in a stream of consciousness (you know, "Nicole-style"), I found myself writing about this well issue. And God in His mercy spoke to my heart. Again and again as I interacted with the Christian nationals, I had been observing and learning from their passion for the Lord and the way that they put Him first and knew He was most important. That even though they had little, they also had everything. And again and again, I was convicted of this in my own life. That even though I know and have within me the source of Living Water, I continually go to the dirty river of American consumerism, entertainment, and the all-consuming outward impressions to try and satisfy. That to go the well is so simple and in my sin I am blinded by the truth.
I was reminded of this as I read Isaiah 12:
With joy you will draw from wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call upon HIS name, make known His deeds among the peoples,proclaim that His name is exalted. Sing praises to the LORD for He has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. (vs. 3-5)
LORD, may we become unblinded by the cultural misconceptions that our sin promotes. May we drink from your clean and living waters. May we not give up on our American neighbors who drink from the dirty river nor our African neighbors who do the same. May we engage with them and point them towards the truth as we walk in it in humility. Amen.
About a week after returning from Sierra Leone, Eric and I were off on some traveling adventures!
Our first stop was a B & B up near Winter Park. Eric secretly arranged this while I was away, and it was nice to celebrate our second year of marriage, even though we spent our anniversary apart. It was relaxing, which was just what we needed- and of course the scenery was beautiful.
After our time in Winter Park, we did a quick turn-around in Denver, grabbed the kittens, and head down to Sedona, Arizona where my dear grandparents live. We spent about a week there- hiking, exploring Indian ruins, playing mini-golf (my grandma won!), and just enjoying our time together.
Hiking near Bell Rock
Eric went fishing for the first time with my grandfather. (Disclaimer: My grandpa caught the fish. )
I feel blessed to have such a great summer break as a teacher- to be able to travel, serve, and relax. I am excited to start a new school year in a new grade at a new school, but for now I am content to soak up the luxury of summer.
I wanted to share some thoughts with you- a page torn out of my journal if you will. While in Sierra Leone, I felt like a sponge soaking up all of these experiences and images but unable to do anything else with them. Since returning, the LORD laid it on my heart to begin reading Isaiah, a book I read several years ago but failed to really connect with. This time, however, reading it has been an opening of my thoughts to really begin to process and wrestle with how to take my life in America and my experiences in Africa and contemplate hope, injustice, and how I should live accordingly.
You might disagree, but for me, the parallels between American and Sierra Leonean needs has been very striking. Though the problems might be different on the surface level and though we may fail to understand how the other nation can struggle with such things, our needs and sins are fundamentally the same. Here are some slightly paraphrased thoughts that I wrote after reading Isaiah 1 my second morning back...
Reading Isaiah 1, I continue to see the parallels between SL and the US. The physical desolation described is a timeline for the past 15 years of SL but the spiritual desolation described is rampant in America.
For Sierra Leone: "From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil. Your country lies desolate; your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence foreigners devour your land..."(vs. 6-7)
For the United States: "Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Isreal, they are utterly estranged. Bring no more vain offerings... I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly, they have become a burden to Me. I am weary of bearing them..." (vs. 4, 13-14)
These things, reading them, is so overwhelming to me. How do I help with the burdens of Sierra Leone, the sin of the US so that you Lord do not hide your face from us? I have no answers, and I cannot save the America, Africa, or even myself. And then you bring hope:
"Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of Your deeds from before my eyes. Cease do evil. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Correct oppression. Bring justice to the fatherless. Plead the widows cause. Come now, let us reason together says the LORD. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient You shall eat the good of the land..." (vs. 16 -19)
Lord, you are our hope. In Your salvation whether "pumwei" or black You offer new life- fullness in your redemption. Fullness of spiritual and physical significance. This is what joins us as brother and sister across the Atlantic. We are in the same boat (or sinful world), and we need Christ and we long for your kingdom. We long for when...
"Zion shall be redeemed by justice and those in her who repent by righteousness." (vs. 27)
Those two things spring from the LORD- justice and righteousness. This is what I am called to seek. May I have the wisdom and a heart that will seek those things.
Up until now I have always been on the receiving end of stories and pictures from friends' international and mission related travels. Looking at pictures, I think that it can be hard to understand that these are just as real of people as myself with the same basics desires and needs, including the ultimate need- Christ.
I wanted to share some of the Sierra Leonian people who became more than faces to me. While I miss the children and teachers in general, these are people who I miss on a deeper level...
Kfala This little boy in Prep Four gave me my African name, Aminata. He was my special buddy throughout my time there.
George and Moses George and Moses are in JSS (Junior High) and live in Ngolala. I met George my first day in Banta; he is incredibly friendly and confident. Moses can do a good Michael Jackson impression and was my Mende teacher.
Augustan Daniel To Augustan Daniel it was very important that I remember his name. He was a pensive child with a very giving spirit.
Aunty Mariama She is one of the auntys for the girls in Strength house. She has two teenage daughters and a preschooler named Kadijah. She loves the girls of her house well, and she took the time to teach me how to "chook-chook" (a needlework). She was very patient. She trusted me with her only needle to practice.
Elijah Elijah and Eric would have made great friends. Elijah is a 32 year old Liberian national intern for COTN this year. His story is a difficult one but one that reflects God's grace. He is training to be a pastor and has a deep passion for the hurting whom he meets.
Gee Thinking of Gee, I can't help but smile. Gee is my age and was the other national intern who was actually from Liberia as well. When I was attending elementary school, Gee was running for his life with his family. He has experienced difficult things, but his joy overflows upon those whom he meets. The boys at the home look up to Gee. It was special to see Gee mentoring those boys.
Aunty Christiana Aunty Chris is an amazing woman. The fact that no one on our team got stomach sickness is credited to this woman (and of course to God's provision). She used to be the head mother for the children's home when it was in Freetown and took the time to come and serve by cooking for us this summer. She let us "help" her and was always willing to talk with us.
Aunty Esther Aunty Esther was the Prep One (first grade) teacher in Freetown. She had such a learner's spirit and welcomed me into her room.
Janet Nicol Janet is in Prep Two and lives in Ngolala. She attached herself to me the first day in Banta and from then on I could count on her to be holding my hand. We are going to sponsor her.
The Nicol Family This is Janet's family who I spent time with on each of my visits to the village. She has a preschool-aged sister name Mangela, her mother Margaret, and a two week old brother. They welcomed me, invited me to eat with them, and shared their lives with me. I truly miss them.
Aminata Aminata is also from Ngolala. She spoke little English; I spoke little Mende ;but it didn't stop us from laughing together. I taught her American dances, and she taught me Mende ones. I would leave the village walking hand in hand with her.
Just in case you were worried, or wondering, our new renter's insurance policy does in fact cover volcanic activity, civil riots, and airplane damage. We would be in trouble, however, if our apartment were to be damaged by war, earthquakes, or nuclear meltdowns.
Yes, I am back. I arrived home early Tuesday morning at 7:30 a.m. Denver time after a total of 6o hours of traveling. After going to bed at a time that rivaled that of my preschool years, I am refreshed and ready to begin processing my time in Sierra Leone. I really have no idea where to start... so I'll start with some pictures. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I feel that even pictures are inadequate to express the beauty of the people and the country. But I'll try...
The Pumwe* Girls
Teaching reading in Freetown
The village of Ngolala in Banta, one of my favorite places to be
Aminata, a friend from Ngolala
Just a few of the faces I'm missing a lot
* Mende for "white man." We heard this a lot :) Also, all Mende/Krio spellings are aproximate