"My African Adventure" – A Summer in Sierra Leone

07/10/09

This time last year, I woke up in another world every morning. It was a world I’d only seen in National Geographic or maybe on the Discovery Channel. A world just as real as mine here in America, but one I’d never experienced for myself. Sticky and sweaty from a humid night’s sleep, I would climb out of my mosquito net, eat food I’d never tasted before and venture out on a day in a foreign language with new people who looked and lived very differently than my norm. In the center of it all are children with a need for love, education, attention and a home, locals in surrounding villages who desire friendship and help, a school, a medical clinic, and a vision to raise children who will transform this nation. In the midst of it all is God using Children of the Nations in remarkable ways. Thus my summer in Sierra Leone serving as a Global Intern Leader with Children of the Nations (COTN).

It started the summer before when I joined a Venture Team on a trip to Malawi for ten days. I came back changed in ways I hadn’t expected—no longer satisfied with my writing job at a newspaper after such an experience. That led to my boyfriend Scott Cook and I serving the following summer as Global Intern Leaders in Sierra Leone—leading six college students in ministry for two months in the middle of the jungle. And just last month, I started working for Children of the Nations full-time as a writer in the Communications Department—with the desire to tell the stories of these children.

My time in Sierra Leone not only confirmed such a job change, but it allowed me to be part of what God is doing through this ministry in a tangible and extremely personal way. I taught in the classrooms of the new school, I worshiped at a growing village church, I held the hand of a malnourished child who was treated at the clinic. COTN’s burden for these children quickly became mine.

It wasn’t easy. There was the comfort side to get used to which involved bucket baths, no air conditioning and the interesting forms of transportation (“I feel like we’re in a movie,” Scott would often say to me.); there was the cultural side like a new language, different views about God and trying to communicate despite them both; and the emotional side full of stories of rebels killing parents and children, the realities of extreme poverty that you can literally reach out and touch, and the result of a corrupt government. No, it wasn’t easy. But they’re two months I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Susan is fifteen and a leader for her brothers and sisters in the COTN home. “I enjoy having the interns here because some things that we don’t know, they can come and teach us about it,” she told me last summer. “They encourage us, they play with us, they make us feel like we have parents alive so we’re happy for them to come stay with us every summer.”

Her friend N’Gardy chimed in, “They teach us about God and we grow in their teachings day by day.”

We led two weeks of camp, worked in surrounding villages, helped teach summer school and organized Bible studies. But that’s just a Venture outline—a Global Intern schedule of sorts.

That doesn’t tell you about the teenager we met who was dying from an unknown disease—how we prayed and raised money to help her get treatment. It doesn’t explain the friendship I formed with a girl named Katumu who now goes to the COTN school and church. It doesn’t tell you what it feels like to walk into a village in the middle of Africa and be greeted by name or what its like to tutor an orphaned child and see her grasp a phonics concept. It can’t explain an afternoon spent sitting around a pot cooking rice in a village or what it means to a COTN child to be hugged and tickled. How can you describe the experience of connecting with someone whose language you don’t share? Of sharing the love of God with someone whose never heard it? Of simply encouraging a young boy who provides for his family and still desires to go to school?

We experienced genuine friendships and relationships with the children, an appreciation for another culture, a reminder that God is the God of all nations and a realization that He can use us even when we feel incredibly inadequate. We were challenged to pray with greater faith, to deal with anger for newfound injustice, to accept lessons learned in humility, to grow spiritually as God showed us things we’d never seen.

This time last year, I was in the middle of Sierra Leone with six Global Interns – in a world we’d never experienced before. This time last year, I was changed for the better. Experience it for yourself. Become part of what God is doing through COTN: Discover Venture.