She Volunteered in Africa and Lost Everything. How it Became a Blessing

03/31/16

In late January, at COTN’s ministry site in Sierra Leone, a small brushfire got out of control and destroyed one of our guesthouses. Carrie Hollingsworth, an education consultant working in COTN’s school, was living there. 

 
Thankfully Carrie was at school when the fire struck, so no one was harmed. But the blaze burned up all of her belongings, leaving her in a foreign country with no extra clothes or toiletries. And her home, where so many volunteers and staff members before her have stayed, was ruined.
 
           The fire destroyed the small guesthouse COTN uses to house long-term volunteers and staff members.
 
The response that followed was quite literally global. From Malawi to the US, to all over Sierra Leone, friends and strangers pooled their (sometimes scarce) resources to rebuild the home and resupply Carrie with all her needs.
 
Faithful supporters from the US gave generously, vowing to rebuild the little house even better than before. The day they heard about the fire, a church in Malawi that supports COTN’s Malawian ministry took up a collection to send across the continent. 
 
Reconstruction has begun on the guesthouse, thanks to the generous response from Malawi to the US, and everywhere in between. 
 
But the greatest response came from Sierra Leoneans themselves—those who live and work with Carrie, many of whom have few resources to spare. 
 
“God told me to do it,” said Aunty Gbessay after Carrie thanked her for giving money to purchase new supplies. Aunty Gbessay works alongside Carrie at COTN’s primary school and has a family of her own to support. Money is short, but she didn’t hesitate to share with her coworker and friend.
 
She even collected some clothes and took them to COTN’s skills center to have them altered to fit Carrie. The center generates its own income, paying their workers and charging their customers, but they made an exception for Aunty Gbessay. Knowing she was helping Carrie, they did the work at no charge. “We are in sympathy with Carrie after what happened,” said the tailor.
 
                Carrie’s coworkers, like Anuty Gbessay, gave money, food, and clothing to help after the fire. 
 
The generosity didn’t end there. Staff members brought clothes and meals, and the children put together bags of toiletries. Even the store in Freetown where COTN usually purchases supplies waived the cost of a box of goods they shipped to Carrie. The COTN administration staff pooled their resources to cover another box of supplies. 
 
As the construction crew worked to clear the site after the fire, Carrie asked them to keep their eyes out for three precious items. It was hard to imagine finding three small keys in the rubble and ashes, but the workers put everything they had into it. Finally they came back triumphant, with Carrie’s keys to her home in Oregon, her parents’ home in Florida, and a small storage box in Banta where she had some important supplies. One of the workers even cleaned the keys for her. 
 
Construction workers sorted through the ashes and miraculously found the keys to Carrie’s home in the US and to a box of her belongings in Sierra Leone.
 
“The gifts go on and on and to me are a burst of light and hope during what could have been a difficult time,” wrote Carrie after the fire. “Although the fire itself was very scary, God did not allow it to bring any of us down. In fact, it caused us all to come together. Everyone has been giving and encouraging with all their heart.”
 
“They are giving from a place that tells us how to respond when there is a need,” Carrie continues. “This is the same place in my heart that has brought me to Sierra Leone; that has given me a passion for teaching. And the same place that God asks all of us to share with others. It's times like these that He brings out the best of us and affirms the truth that we are all family, and that every single one of us plays an intricate part in caring for each other.”
 
                     Thank you for your part in caring for the children and all the volunteers who serve them!