Let me tell you more about the reason we spent (what we've been calling) a long weekend in Africa. We left the US on Wednesday and we'll be home by Tuesday (I'm typing these on the flight home). That essentially gave us Thursday night through Monday morning in country. It was a very quick trip, but it was a great trip!
In my last post I referenced our missionary friend, Rick. [In my brain, I call him "Ricky," but I never found the courage to call him that this week. ;)]
Rick Miller works with lots and lots of native pastors, and they love to tease. They are always trying to give Rick a title. He hates this practice, so of course that encourages them. The pastors referred to him as "Reverend," "Bishop," "Arch-Bishop," and even "Pope."
Despite the fact that Rick is really none of the above, he definitely commands respect - not for his degree or his ordination, but for his wisdom and experience. Rick is a very thoughtful man. He is slow to speak, but when he does speak, he is a clear communicator. Chance, Tyler, and I learned much from this man of God - in just a long weekend.
Rick (and his wife Paula) are from Athens, IL like us! Our church supports their mission work financially every month. Many members of our community also support their work through prayers and giving.
They are so grateful for any bit of support they receive. They humbly give much of it away to help the less fortunate or new pastors. Many months, they give until it hurts. Previously, they lived in a location where a tree had died and fallen in the yard. When new pastors or others in need would come to them, they would joke that their money tree had died and fallen over. They give as much as they can, but sadly they don't have enough to meet all the needs around them. They never could. There is so much poverty and desperation.
Rick has established many ministries during his time in Africa. As I mentioned, he trains and supports pastors who are planting churches. I believe we met around eight pastors with which Rick networks. These men have such hearts for God and His word. They live in villages and cities where crime and abuse are prevalent, but they do not fear. They trust God and His calling on their lives.
Rick has also started The Bible Telling School ("like" them on Facebook to read the wonderful stories of the blessings that God has rained down on them). In Sierra Leone, the illiteracy rate is VERY high. This is especially true in the villages. Rote memorization is taught in the schools, as opposed to skills like phonics or spelling. Many people can recognize "sight words," but they cannot read a verse from the Bible. For this reason, The Bible Telling School is important. The school teaches pastors to relate the bible in story form so that the people can understand it. The hope then is that common church attenders will learn these stories and repeat them throughout the villages.
When we attended church on Sunday, (in Bridgette Village) there were mostly women and children there. Jobs are not hobbies in this community - they are survival. The men spend most of daylight on the beach catching fish. They live in an environment of distrust, and appear very stand-offish.
Men may never darken the doorway of a church, but the Bible-Telling School might reach their souls through the sharing of oral stories.
Back to our reason for going to Africa for a weekend getaway - Chance led a missions team from church to help support Rick and Paula's ministry in August. While there, Chance was introduced to many pastors and other God-fearing men who network and partner with Rick. One of these men is named Frank.
Frank is a 29-year-old man who grew up in a village in Sierra Leone. Since he was very young, his mother was not in his life. He lived and survived with his father. When Frank was twelve, his father passed away. This left Frank fatherless. He was an orphan.
Frank was placed in an orphanage. He spent the rest of his childhood years without someone to call "Mom" or "Dad". Frank found the Lord though. He grew up as a strong Christian man with a heart for boys and girls in a situation similar to his own. Using the few resources he had, Frank opened an orphanage. Word travelled, and Frank now has ten children under his care. He works diligently to provide for his own wife and children and the children entrusted to his care. Many months, these children are barely fed. They scrape by on a few donations and sometimes the income raised from Frank's wife's peddling of fish and nuts.
Because of the sometimes dire circumstances, Frank has said he could only accept ten children into the orphanage. He regularly attempts to visit and support eight other children who are orphans being cared for by communities or extended families. There are also three new orphans who have not yet been connected to Frank, but hopefully will be soon.
Again, back to one of the reasons to fly around the world - we want to help.
While Chance was in Africa in August, his heart was broken for Frank and all the children under his care and guidance. Chance began to pray about what we could do to help.
So, Chance put me on a plane, flew me around the world, and introduced me to God's servant, Frank.
Chance, Frank, and I spent time praying, brainstorming, visiting with the children, and casting visions for the future.
By the grace of God, we've come up with a plan!
I'll share it soon, but in the meantime, be praying for Ricky, Frank, and the children of the orphanage.
(This was part two of a series on our trip to Africa.)