December 3, 2011

My, how time flies!

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:58 am by annalisatodd

There are less than two weeks left until i leave sierra leone. As excited as i am to reunite with family and friends back home, there is a huge part of me that is definitely not ready to leave salone. Even in the past week or two, so much has happened that god has used to teach me, touch others, and show me how much he loves me. I’ll try to give just a quick overview of what i’ve been doing lately.
Tutoring has been going really well. I have so enjoyed building relationships with the kids i have been working with. They each have great, unique personalities and are always making me laugh. I work with Beshe (the boy who got burned in the accident last year) the most out of all the kids. He has been showing great improvement in his reading abilities. It takes quite a while to read a children’s book, but he never gives up and still has the same passion to learn that i first noticed in him four months ago.
Last week, i had the opportunity to help Beshe write a thank you / Christmas card to two teenage boys from Germany who are paying for him to go to school this year. He wrote a really sweet note thanking them and telling them a little bit about himself and what he likes about school. It was actually a really emotional moment for me as i thought about what i was doing. I sponsor children through compassion international and have always been glad to take part in a ministry like that through which kids are able to go to school. When Beshe and i were writing the letter, i was struck with the thought that i am now on the other side of that type of ministry. I am now the one helping a child for whom someone else has paid the school fee. It suddenly made everything more real and even more important to me. i am so incredibly blessed to be able to know Beshe and participate in the reaping of seeds sown by two German teenagers.
Because the kids have been working so hard during tutoring, we’ve taken a few days to just hang out and do fun things during the tutoring hours. We’ve played pick up sticks, Uno, and done crafts. I also at one point had 6 kids all braiding my hair at the same time! Needless to say, it was quite a unique hairstyle once it was finished. The kids love having their pictures taken, so we spend a lot of time being goofy and taking pictures. The kids are so full of joy and have definitely stolen pieces of my heart.
As most of you know, my birthday was November 24th, which was thanksgiving day this year. It was my first time celebrating either of those celebrations away from home. In some ways, it didn’t really feel like my birthday, but i was so blessed by the word made flesh community and my salone family. The Lord woke me up at 6:45 that morning and i looked out my window to see the prettiest sunrise i have seen in this country. Kristin gave me a sweet note and 4 bars of chocolate! We are both chocoholics, and chocolate is incredibly expensive in this country, so neither of us have had chocolate in over 3 months. It was such a wonderful gift! At office devotions, the staff all prayed over me and blessed me. For lunch, my supervisor, Dan had tried to find any kind of thanksgiving food for us to eat. As he discovered, sierra leone has no thanksgiving food at all. so we had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pringles, and coke. Certainly not a thanksgiving meal, but definitely an american meal! At the lighthouse meeting thursday night, all of the youth sang happy birthday to me. And when i got home that night after work, the whole Taylor family was waiting for me. They surprised me and sang happy birthday and had a time of prayer thanking God for my life. Then we all ate cookies and drank soda and watched a movie together.
Perhaps the funniest part of my birthday was that i ended up on national television! The main tv channel shows pictures everyday of people who are celebrating their birthdays. Dan, my supervisor, paid to have two pictures of me: a baby picture and a more recent picture, shown on television. It was really funny to see a white person in the slideshow of many many birthdays.
Monday, we had a staff retreat at the Charlotte Waterfall. We hiked for a little while to the waterfall and then spent the day relaxing, eating, encouraging each other, and playing in the waterfall. The weather has been really hot here lately, but on Monday it was a very (relatively) cool day, so the water was freezing! I almost didn’t get in, but then thought when else would i get a chance to swim in a waterfall in Africa? Once my body got used to the cold water, it was a blast! I really love the word made flesh staff and the close community they have built. It was so nice to be able to spend a day not thinking about work at all and just enjoying each others’ company.
I have a few more stories about recent events, but my internet time is up so I’ll leave you with these stories for now. I will hopefully update again in the near future. We have a lot of things packed into these next two weeks, and i am so excited to see what else God is going to do in and through me and the other servant team members. I am so enjoying my time here and am going to treasure every minute i have left! Thanks for the continued prayers; words cant describe how appreciate i am of your thoughts and prayers!

November 16, 2011

My recent activities

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:20 pm by annalisatodd

It’s hard to believe that it has been three months since I left the US. That means I will be flying home in 1 month! 29 days to be exact. I would first like to thank you for the many, many prayers concerning my physical health. I got over the malaria within a week or two, but then got a pretty bad cold and sinus infection, probably because my immune system was still weak. Even though I had so many people praying for me, I started to think that maybe I would just have to deal with physical illness for the rest of my time in Sierra Leone. But, I am happy to say, God has healed me! I feel really great, my body is stronger, my congestion has gone away (for the most part), and an ear infection that I thought I was getting went away without any antibiotics. Praise God!
These past few weeks have been quite “normal” and routine. I’ve continued tutoring, walking through Kroo Bay, and doing children’s outreach. School has finally started for most of the kids, but they haven’t actually had any instruction yet because they have all been having orientation. It’s just crazy to me that the schools were supposed to open in early September, and it has taken until the middle of November to actually open them. I’ve been helping Beshe (the boy who got badly burned when he was younger) during the tutoring time, and he has been improving in his ability to read and sound out difficult words. I’ve also worked with a girl named Fatu. Fatu is 19 and took the college entry exam last year, but failed the English portion so she has to take it again. I have been helping her with her grammar and reading comprehension. She is very smart, and I think she will do fine on the next exam if she just practices a little more.
The weather here is gorgeous! Rainy season is almost over, so it usually only rains at night. The rain at night helps cool the air and makes the days warm, but not too hot. I do sweat here all the time simply because it is so humid. Kristin and I go to the beach every Friday, which is our day off. It’s about a 30 min drive with public transport. I have loved soaking up the sun and being in the ocean in the middle of November! I fear that it will be quite a shock when I am hit with the bitter cold of winter when I return home. So I am enjoying the warm weather while I can!
Last Wednesday, I took the day off from work so I could do house visits with another missionary, Sarah, and her sister, Esther. Sarah works with an organization called Enable the Children and does occupational therapy with kids, many of whom suffer from cerebral palsy. Esther is visiting her for two weeks and is a speech-language pathologist. They invited me to go with them for a day because I am very interested in possibly going to graduate school in the future to pursue speech-language pathology. A few weeks ago, I had been chatting with Sarah, and she mentioned that her sister was coming. I jumped at the opportunity to observe Esther work, and I really enjoyed the day. We first visited a 5 year old girl who could not move her lips and tongue correctly in order to make many of the sounds (like pa, ba, ma). She can only make sounds with the back of her throat (like ga). I loved watching Esther play simple games with her to help her practice manipulating her lips correctly. Next, we visited a toddler boy who has a really bad breathing problem. He sounds wheezy when he breathes and coughs and chokes a lot. Esther watched him swallow water and gave his family some advice on how to help him drink more easily. Finally, we went to an orphanage. Instead of watching Esther work with the two speech therapy kids, I played with the other orphans. At one point, I had 7 girls plaiting (braiding) my hair at once! They had a blast trying to braid hair that is so different from their own hair. I had so much fun just loving the kids and spending time with them. The whole day was a great experience and made me even more interested in the field of speech-language pathology. I am praying that God gives me wisdom and directs me if this is the field he wants me to pursue.
This past Saturday, some other international missionaries and the four of us interns went on a hike in some nearby mountains. We drove about 20 minutes to the US Embassy and started our hike there. It was supposed to be a 2 hour hike, but ended up being 4 hours because we kept getting lost along the way and had to double back a lot. So it ended up being quite a work out. The scenery was beautiful. I especially loved looking out over the busy city of Freetown and seeing the ocean and other mountains all in one glance. And I really enjoyed spending time with some other missionaries and getting to know their stories and their type of work here in Sierra Leone. We’re all from different countries, so the conversations sound beautiful because of all the great accents!
As I come into the final month of my trip, I look back and realize that many things have turned out much differently than I thought they would, specifically in areas of ministry. I assumed I would be coming to work with Word Made Flesh and would find most of my ministry opportunities through that work. And while I definitely think I have been used by the Lord in Word Made Flesh, I do not think that is my main place of ministry. I have come to believe that God called me to Sierra Leone so that I would live with the Taylor family. Building relationships with them is my main ministry. Two people in particular have been on my heart the whole time I’ve been here.
Bosedeh is a 16 year old boy who lives with us. He is incredibly intelligent and is very friendly, but he has a lot of self-esteem issues. He often complains that he has no friends and that people do not like him. While he is somewhat socially awkward, there are definitely people who like him, but he does not recognize that. He puts himself down a lot and never seems to be happy with himself or his accomplishments. Seeing him takes me back to high school days when everyone is trying to figure out who they are, and they are all trying to measure up to each other. I believe that God has put Kristin and me in Bosedeh’s life to simply love him and spend time with him. I often help him with his English schoolwork and try to affirm him in his intelligence. Sometimes it is hard to be around him when he gets so down about himself, but Jesus always gives me the grace to speak words of love over Bosedeh. I hope and pray that these past few months of our relationship will have set a foundation for Bosedeh to grow into a mature and confident young man.
Princess is the only girl in the family, other than Ma Taylor. She is 19, but is just now starting high school. She is a niece of Ma and Pa Taylor, but lives with them because her parents live far away in a province. Princess is an incredibly energetic girl who loves to laugh and is one of the hardest workers I have ever met. She cooks every meal for the family (which is about 10 people minimum), fetches water from a nearby water pump, washes clothes, helps sell in the market, helps pack up the market supplies each day, and keeps the house clean. Basically, Princess runs the house. Without her, I’m pretty sure the family would fall apart. It’s great that Princess has such a good attitude about work, because I often feel like the amount of work she has to do is very unfair compared to the small amount the boys have to do. But apparently, that is life in Sierra Leone; the women do all the work. I think Princess is smart but does not live up to her potential, probably because she is often told that she is a stupid fool. I hate hearing the family pick on her like that, and I know that it really bothers her. She does not have many social graces, and often acts much younger than her age. I love living with Princess and getting to know her, but it is usually very hard to love her and be gracious towards her, especially when she is intentionally instigating us. In this culture, if someone is upset or annoyed, they usually react violently or start yelling. Kristin and I have never once responded that way to Princess (even though sometimes we get so upset that we want to yell at her). Karoline, the other female employee at Word Made Flesh, told me that if we manage to make it four months living with Princess and never having yelled or lost our temper, that in and of itself will make a huge impact on her life. I know that God loves Princess so very much, and wants her to realize how valuable she is. God has placed me in Princess’s life to love and listen to her, and to treat her with dignity and respect.
Living with a Sierra Leonean family, especially such a big one, is very difficult because of so many culture differences. But I fully believe that God knew exactly what he was doing when he placed me in the Taylor family for these four months. I have learned a lot from them, and hope that God has and will continue to speak his love into that family. God places each of us in particular communities for very specific reasons, and I am so glad that he put me in the Taylor family to love them and to reach out to them. I would really appreciate if you would pray that the Lord continues to give me supernatural patience and graciousness as I live with the family. Please pray specifically that Princess and Bosedeh will come to understand their worth and value.
Well, that’s all I have time to write about for now. I hope to update at least once more within the next month. Thanks for your continued support and prayers!

October 29, 2011

Update!

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:42 pm by annalisatodd

Sorry it has been quite a while since I’ve updated the blog. Life has been ridiculously busy. This blog post might end up a little random, but I’ll try to share some stories of things that have happened over the past month. First, tutoring has been going well. Some of the kids, especially Beshe, have been improving tremendously with their reading. I just started working with a 13-year-old girl named Awa. Awa has never been to school. Ever. She only knows the alphabet when she sings the song that she has heard other kids sing and has absolutely no letter-sound recognition. It really is appalling to think that, by age, she should be in 7th grade writing essays and preparing for high school, not just starting to learn the alphabet. I have never had to teach the alphabet to someone before, so it has been very challenging for me. But after two weeks, we have actually made progress and are working on putting sounds with the letters. There have been many days that I have been so discouraged and have thought that there is no way I will ever be able to teach her anything useful in the next month. But God reminded me that the point is not even that Awa learns to read. The point is that Awa learns that she is a unique and special girl who is loved, by us with Word Made Flesh, and more importantly, by her Creator. My point of view has drastically changed since making that realization. Now, I still want her to learn to read, but my greatest desire is that God will use me to speak love into her life and that she will one day enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
After being in Sierra Leone for two months, I went on a retreat with the other servant team members to a small village about 3.5 hours away from Freetown. We spent the weekend there relaxing, enjoying the beautiful scenery, and processing what God had been doing and teaching us. We visited a rice farm and learned how to use a sling shot. We swam in a river and the boys and I had a blast climbing up trees that were growing in the middle of the river and jumping off of high branches into the water. We ate countless fresh grapefruit and oranges. We also got to meet the paramount chief of the village and took a tour of the village. On our way back to where we were staying, we got to meet a pet monkey who was petrified of white people. I also rode an okada (motorcycle) for the first time. Overall, it was a wonderful and restful weekend.
Since the diet here consists largely of starch and fat, I have been feeling very unhealthy lately. So Krisitn and I decided we would try to incorporate running into our schedules. We started waking up around 7 to go to the national stadium (where the Sierra Leonean soccer team plays) to jog. It is kind of incredible how much better it has been making us feel! And it’s pretty cool to say that we run at the national stadium 🙂
Last weekend was the long-awaited wedding! I have discovered that regardless of the culture, wedding planning is always stressful. The week leading up to the wedding, our house was full of random strangers coming over to drop things off, discuss wedding details, and give opinions on just about everything. Kristin and I had tried on our ashobis (African style dresses) and were planning on wearing those to both the ceremony and the party afterwards, but the family wanted us to wear two dresses. Thankfully, I was able to borrow a really cute black and white sundress from a missionary friend, and Kristin decided to wear a dress I had brought with me from home. We also borrowed sandals from another friend, but the family said they were not fancy enough. So the day before the wedding, we went to town to go shoe shopping with Florence (the sister of the groom). I hate shopping when I’m in a time crunch, and shopping in a busy market in Africa makes it even worse. We have such small feet that almost every pair of shoes we tried on was way too big. I finally found some shiny gold 4.5 inch high heels that I bought because they were the only ones that fit me. They are really cute, but incredibly painful.
On Saturday, the day of the wedding, the house was crowded with people getting ready. The wedding party left pretty early, but Kristin and I felt awkward going with them, so we went later with Walmsley (one of the brothers). Traffic was so bad we had to get out of the taxi and walk. In high heels. Through pot-holey, cobblestone, rocky, uneven roads. I am honestly quite surprised I didn’t break an ankle during the treacherous journey! We made it to the ceremony 45 minutes late, but that wasn’t too bad considering that 4 of the other family members never made it! The ceremony was pretty typical of an English wedding and was honestly quite boring. After the ceremony, we went to the reception hall for the reception. It was also rather normal and English except they served Sierra Leonean food. Oh, and they had dancing comedians for entertainment, one of whom was a cross-dresser. Kristin and I have decided that we really do not understand Sierra Leonean humor. After the reception, we went back to our house and changed into our ashobis for the after-party. We ate more food and danced until early in the morning. I had a blast! All in all, it was a great day and I had way more fun than I thought I would.
Now comes the not-so-fun part of my update. The Thursday night before the wedding (last Thursday), I very suddenly got a fever of 100.6. After much deliberation, I agreed to get tested for malaria, which means I had to get my finger pricked. As most of you know, I have a very bad history with needles. But Kristin (who is a nurse in America) did a great job in administering the test. Right before she was going to prick me (I was laying down on the sofa), Dan, our servant team coordinator, came over and held my hand which I though was very kind of him. Next thing I know, he is biting my finger! Hard! I was so surprised, which was the point, but so was Kristin. So much so that she forgot to prick my finger! So Dan’s plan kind of backfired, but it sure makes for a great story. The test came back negative, so everyone just prayed for me, gave my Tylenol, and sent me home. I still did not feel good on Friday, and by a miracle of God, felt good enough on Saturday to make it through the wedding. Sunday, however, I was back to feeling really crummy and my fever was back. Monday we did the malaria test again and it still came back negative. So Karolina took me to a good doctor who told me that he thought I did have malaria. Because I take a anti-malarial prophylaxis, it can make the test show up negative, even if I do have malaria. He gave me a prescription for a malaria treatment and sent me on my way. I was going to start the treatment Monday night, but discovered I am allergic to one of the drugs in the medication. So Tuesday morning, I got another brand and started taking that. It was 4 pills I had to take morning and evening for 3 days. Instead of feeling better, I started feeling worse. Everyone who has had malaria before told me this was normal. I took the whole week this week off from work and finished the treatment on Thursday night. Thursday and yesterday, I was too weak and nauseous to even get out of bed. Today I am doing a little better, although I am still feeling incredible weak. The doctor’s conclusion is that I did have malaria, and should be feeling better within the next couple of days. I essentially had malaria for 6 days without taking treatment, so no one is surprised that I feel so terrible. Malaria is quite an obnoxious and painful parasite! I cannot even begin to imagine the level of pain people who don’t take daily malaria medicine must be in when they get malaria. I am so thankful for all of you who have been faithfully praying for my healing, and ask that you continue to pray that God renews my strength as I have heard that malaria can leave the body really weak for quite a while. I am just so amazed at God’s miraculous protection of my body during the wedding and that he allowed me to participate and enjoy the wedding. I do find it funny that out of everything I thought could happen here, I never expected to get malaria. I take medicine every day, sleep under a mosquito net, and don’t even remember getting bit by mosquitos. But I am thankful that it seems to have been malaria and not some other condition that would have required more doctor visits and blood-work.
There have been two major blessings in all of this illness. First, my roommate Kristin has been absolutely wonderful to me. Like I said, she is a nurse in America, so I always felt like I was in capable hands. She gave me medicine, took my temperature, brought me food, made sure I was staying hydrated, and covered me with blankets when I woke up with chills in the middle of the night. She also shielded me from the family’s well-intended but annoying inquiries about my health. It has been so nice having her around to keep me company and take care of me. Other than Kristin, the Sassenberg family has been a huge blessing. They are the German missionary family working with Word Made Flesh who have 3 young kids. They took me to the doctor on Monday and completely opened up their home to me, even giving me a house key to come and go as I please. I have spent more time at their house this past week than I have spent at mine. I even spent the night there last night to get away from the noise and stress of my house at Congo Market. They have fed me, made me coffee, given me warm bath water, and let me watch movies on their laptop. They are incredible in keeping me company when I want to talk and also giving me space to be alone and sleep. On Wednesday, I was particularly discouraged about my illness and Karolina put on a cd for me to listen to. It was a worship cd of songs and prayers, and the words and music spoke to my spirit in a very powerful way. It was exactly what I needed to hear to encourage me and allow me to have some very honest time with the Lord. I have been blown away at the hospitality they have shown me. I have always thought that I was a hospitable person, but seeing this level of hospitality has challenged me to be even more giving and hospitable with my time, space, and belongings. I know firsthand how much of an impact hospitality can make on people, because it has made a huge impact on me. I want to be able to do that for other people when I get back home and share the lifestyle of blessing and hospitality that I have experienced here.
Throughout this past month, I have seen God moving and teaching me things so clearly. I have seen how he has provided for me emotionally, spiritually, and physically. He has blessed me immensely with the people he has put in my life and the community he has placed me in here in Sierra Leone. And I have been so encouraged knowing how many of you back home have been in constant prayer for me. I will hopefully update the blog again soon, but until then, know that God is good and His love never ends! God bless!

October 1, 2011

Meet some of the Lighthouse kids

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:00 am by annalisatodd

We started tutoring a couple weeks ago, and I have been able to meet some pretty amazing teens. The kids we tutor are part of a Word Made Flesh (WMF) program called “Lighthouse.” It’s a discipleship program for fifteen youth, ranging from 14 to 20-something years old. The Lighthouse youth all attend school, and most of their school fees are paid by WMF because they are too poor to afford it. They have small group Bible studies on Tuesday nights and a larger Bible study and worship meeting on Thursday nights. They also come to tutoring Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday afternoons.
At first, I was disappointed with tutoring because it is very unstructured (as is everything in Africa), and I do not understand the educational system here at all. It is inconsistent, unreliable, and confusing. The kids come to tutoring for help, but sometimes they don’t even know what they need help in. So basically what I have been doing is helping them read in English, since that is what they are all struggling with. They must speak English in school, and they are beaten if they speak their native language, Krio. Most of the students are way behind in their reading. Some of them are in their late teens, but are only reading at a second grade level. I would love to tell you about some of the kids who have already become very dear to me.
Joseph M is one of the two boys who just graduated from the Lighthouse program last week. He is 22 years old. He had a very difficult childhood and often ran away from home. When he was home, his mom made him walk through the streets selling fruits and vegetables to support his family. In 1999, rebels came to Freetown and captured Joseph, taking him to a rebel camp where he was held captive for two years before escaping and traveling through the bush until he finally made it back to Freetown. From that time until 2003 when he joined Lighthouse, Joseph roamed the streets trying to find jobs and sleeping wherever he could find a place to put his head at night. Now, Joseph works as an apprentice with a carpenter and is learning it as his trade. From talking with him, you would never know just how difficult of a life he has had. He is so full of joy, and there is an evident spirit of the Lord’s peace in this man. He has a heart for God and for others. Please pray that he will continue to seek God’s wisdom as he learns to survive on his own without the aid of Lighthouse and that God will bring a community of believers to support and encourage Joseph.
Papanie is also 22 and grew up an ardent Muslim and vocal opponent of Christianity. He was introduced to the Lighthouse program in 2003 from some other Lighthouse boys. After attending the Bible studies more frequently, he became a believer in Jesus Christ and now wants to be a missionary. He has a heart for the poor and the broken. He is currently serving as a volunteer with Mercy Ships while finishing his education. Papanie is very friendly and outgoing and has been a great help in showing me and the other interns around the city.
Santos is a 19-year-old boy who has been going to school for only the past four years. His family did not permit him to go to school as a young boy (children are supposed to start school at age 6 here in Sierra Leone), and he ended up on the streets when he was eleven years old. Because of the grace of God, he was found by Lighthouse staff and is now doing well in school. He is an obviously gifted leader who holds a lot of influence in the younger boys’ lives and is thankfully using that influence to point them to the Lord. He has such a servant’s heart and is always the first one to offer to help with anything from carrying heavy loads, to serving food, to cleaning dishes.
Beatrice is 17 years old. When she was a small child, she was returning from Guinea when she got lost from the woman traveling with her. She arrived in Freetown completely alone. God protected her from some very bad circumstances before she met Papanie, who brought her into the Lighthouse program. Beatrice struggles in school so much that she had to drop out. She never even made it past one grade. Someone suggested she try catering, and she has found that she really enjoys catering. She is currently learning to do that and hopes to cater for a hotel or business.
Fatmata is a 20-year-old single mother. She grew up in a Muslim family, but became a Christian in 2002. She is finished with secondary school and is currently trying to pass the national exam that will allow her to attend university. Please pray that God will give her a quick mind as she tries to retain all of the information she has been studying for the exam. Also pray for her as she tries to be a student and still provide for herself and her son, Samuel.
Joseph T is one of the boys I have been working with a lot during tutoring. I’m not sure how old he is, but I would guess late teens or early twenties. We have been reading a children’s Bible together so he can practice his English. He is doing much better than I thought he would, and he seems to enjoy it a lot. Last week, we read for two straight hours and the only reason he stopped was because I had to leave to go eat dinner. My favorite part of reading with him is when we discuss each story after we read it. We started with Adam and Eve and have made it to the story of Joseph. My supervisor, Dan, was very surprised when I told him that Joseph had been discussing the Bible stories with me. Dan said that Joseph has shown almost no interest in any of the Bible studies and seems to not care about spiritual things at all. Dan has asked me to keep reading with Joseph and looking for opportunities to talk about God and how much God loves Joseph. I’m not sure why Joseph has started opening up with me, but I pray every day that the Holy Spirit will lead our discussions so that we can begin to talk more deeply and specifically about Joseph’s life and having a relationship with Christ. Please pray that Joseph will continue to learn about Biblical truths and that he will start applying the lessons he has been learning to his own life. Also pray for me, that I will have wisdom in when to talk and when to listen as I spend time reading with him.
Mohammed Ali is also in his late teens and has quickly become one of my favorite people in Lighthouse. Noah, one of the Sierra Leonean staff workers, found Mohammed Ali on the streets quite a few years ago and felt called by God to take in Mohammed Ali. He and his wife, Florence, have been providing food and shelter for Mohammed Ali since that time and have paid for him to go to school each year. Mohammed Ali is very bright and excels in his schooling. I obviously did not know him until now, but from the stories I have heard about him, he has apparently transformed into a completely different person due to God’s grace and Noah’s Godly influence. Mohammed Ali is very respectful and quick to help others. He always has a smile on his face. He has been so helpful in explaining things to me about the Krio language and Sierra Leonean culture.
Noah has taken in two other boys, Remie and Saidu. Hearing Noah talk about Mohammed Ali, Remie, and Saidu brings tears to my eyes every time. Their lives are testimonies of what love can do. Noah obeyed God and took these boys, who when he met them were unruly, uneducated, disrespectful street kids, out of bad life circumstances and influences. Simply by loving them, feeding them, and telling them about God’s love for them, Noah has been an instrument in transforming the lives of these boys. I am blown away by how much of an impact it has been, and it has challenged me to be more open to how God could be calling me to “take in” people like that, either here or back in America. I could go on and on about the lessons this has taught me about the importance of community, but I’ll save that for a later post.
I think the one person who has touched my heart the most is a young boy named Beshe. Beshe is about 14 years old and has an incredible (although terribly sad) story. When Beshe was younger, he worked at a pottery shop. These potters melt aluminum to make cooking pots. The process involves a lot of dangerous steps of heating metal to extreme temperatures. Beshe was involved in an accident and got horrible third-degree burns all over both of this legs, feet, and parts of his hands. Because his family lived in Kroo Bay and had no money, they could not seek any medical treatment for him whatsoever. They laid him in a hammock and tried to feed him, but there was really nothing they could do for him. He laid in that hammock for months. His parents were the only ones who would enter the room because his wounds smelled so bad. During the rainy season, Kroo Bay floods since it is the lowest part of Freetown, so his family had to raise the hammock up higher and higher every time the floodwaters came. Essentially, Beshe just laid in a hammock for months, waiting to die. But God had other plans for this boy. By some miracle, Beshe’s burns healed enough for him to still be able to walk, and his body stayed healthy enough for him to survive through all of the pain, infection, and sickness. Looking at him now, you would never know that he had come so close to death. Most of his wounds have healed, and while there are a few that still get infected sometimes, the pain is much more manageable, and Beshe never complains about it. I cannot imagine the amount of physical suffering that Beshe has lived through. Because he worked as a child and then had the accident, he had never been to school. When Lighthouse took him in two years ago, they paid for his school fees. Unfortunately, both years Beshe had teachers who beat him a lot because he was not performing up to par. This year, Beshe will hopefully get a teacher who will be more gracious towards him.
The first time I ever read with Beshe, I quickly realized that his ability to read English is severely lacking. The boy can barely speak English, so I cannot begin to imagine how hard it must to learn to read it. But Beshe is the most persistent young man I have ever met. We read a children’s story the other day, and it took Beshe two hours to read what should have taken about fifteen minutes. Every time he flipped a page, he would exclaim “Bocu, bocu!,” which means “much, much!” I kept wondering when he would quit and even occasionally asked him if he wanted to take a break. But he just took a deep breath, turned the page, and kept reading. I was completely amazed. I do not know a single American student who would care so much to spend that much time struggling with any subject, not to mention simple reading.
From reading with Beshe, I have learned that he is actually really smart. He is an auditory learner, and not a visual learner, which makes reading very difficult. So our solution to that problem is that he spells words out loud when he does not know them. He is usually able to figure out how to say the word once he has spelled it out to himself. However, there are a lot of sounds he still struggles with, like ch, wh, ou, gh, ph, and th. These letter combinations and sounds are not really in the Krio language, so it is very difficult for him. Last week we worked on learning the sound that wh makes. I cannot explain how proud I was when he finally learned it and was able to apply to multiple words! He connects concepts pretty well and is able to translate one spelling rule to many words, which is going to help him a lot more than he realizes. It has been challenging for me to try to think of ways to teach him because I learned to read in my native language more than 15 years ago. But it is my goal to have him reading at a more appropriate level by the time I leave in December. With his level of persistence, I am sure that he will make great strdes with some positive, individual attention.
Beshe has had, and still has, so many things stacked against him. But I cannot dismiss this feeling I have when I think of him that God has something huge planned for this boy. We at Word Made Flesh have been praying that God will raise up a generation in Kroo Bay to bring about restoration and redemption. I have a very strong sense that Beshe is going to be used by the Lord in a very specific way in his community in Kroo Bay. I ask that you join me in praying for Beshe. Please pray that God will guide him in wisdom and truth. Pray that Beshe will never lose his spirit of perseverance, in his education and in his relationship with God. I do not know what God has in store for this young man, but I am confident that he is going to be a mighty instrument of God’s restoration of Kroo Bay.
I hope these stories give you at least a glimpse into the lives of some of the kids I have met so far. I humbly ask that you commit to praying for one, if not al of them, by name throughout these next few months. Pray for protection, wisdom, health, joy, and peace. Pray that these kids and teens will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are loved by their Creator and that they are equipped to lead their friends and families into saving relationships with Jesus Christ. Thank you in advance for your prayers as we all intercede before the throne of our King through the power of the Holy Spirit. God bless you!

September 16, 2011

Cooking breakfast

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:56 pm by annalisatodd

Food really is a huge part of the culture here. Women spend hours and hours preparing meals for their families. Today, Kristin and I learned how to fry eggs for our breakfast. It was quite an experience! First, we had to go to the market (which is conveniently right outside our front door) to buy the ingredients. We took Princess with us because she fares much better in the market than we white people do. Kristin and I are usually ripped off if we shop alone, so we always take a local with us. Princess definitely knows her way around the market! She was all over the place, buying eggs at one place, arguing with a woman selling pepper somewhere else, and so on. We bought eggs, magi (seasoning powder, somewhat similar chicken bullion), onion, and peppers. Buying the peppers was especially funny. The woman wanted to charge her 500 leons for a handful of peppers. But Princess insisted that she charge us less because we can only handle “small small pepe.” She gave the woman 300 leons and ended up walking away with more peppers that she would have gotten for 500! We’ve learned that Princess is the person to go shopping with when we want to get good deals. After we gathered all of our ingredients, we began the cooking process. I cracked the egg in a small bowl while Princess started the fire with coal and some old paper. She poured a very generous amount of oil into a small frying pan/pot while I chopped peppers and onions. I stirred all the ingredients together and poured the concoction into the pot. Within about 1 minute it was completely deep fried! We then enjoyed our deep fried eggs with bread, bananas, and tea. So I can officially say that I have cooked like a Sierra Leonean woman! It’s actually really fun to learn their ways of cooking food, and I’m excited to see what I will learn next. So that’s my random story of what I did this morning.
This week we will start tutoring and getting more involved in the “ministry” side of things, so hopefully I will start having stories of people I am meeting and ministering to soon. But I have so enjoyed having these past few weeks to learn about the culture, spend time with my family, practice speaking and understanding Krio, and just experiencing life. Last week, the servant team discussed the topic of simplicity and what it can mean to live with simplicity. I have so clearly seen that the Sierra Leoneans live such simple lives, but the live with abundant joy. When simplicity is a way of life, it fosters the building of community in a way I can’t really explain. People here really know how to give and share with each other with open hearts and with great love and joy. It is so encouraging and challenging to join with them in living this way. I thank God every day for the community he has put me in for these next few months.
I hope that you are doing well, and I praise God that he has given me such a wonderful support system like you to pray for me and journey with me. Thanks so much for all of your love and support!

Random details about life in Sierra Leone

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:54 pm by annalisatodd

A lot of people have been asking for more details about where I live and what life here is like, so I’m going to try to describe a little more of it for you. Like I said in the last post, I live with a Sierra Leonean family named the Taylors. There are 10 of us who live in the house together. Ma and Pa Taylor are older (like in their 60’s). Ma Taylor sells in the market and Pa Taylor works at a pharmacy. Francis and Harry are guys in their upper 20’s who have full time jobs, so I don’t see them as much. Walmsley is a 24 yr old guy who Kristin and I have gotten to know really well. He has such a gentle spirit and is very intelligent, both scholastically and Biblically. Next is Princess, who is 17. She spends most of her time at the house, washing clothes, cooking meals (which basically takes all day), and doing other housework. Bosedeh is a 16 yr old boy who has been a huge help in teaching Kristin and me Krio. Conya is a 12 yr old girl and Sinava is a 6 yr old boy. They are all related somehow, although I still have not quite figured it out. The familial structure here is very loose and relatives tend to open up their homes to extended family members who have no place to stay. I absolutely love my family! They have been a really big part in helping me adjust to life in Sierra Leone. They are so willing to help and teach us and we all have a lot of fun together.
Now for some random thoughts about life here and what I have done and experienced so far. First of all, it rains a lot. The skies just suddenly open up and dump tons and tons of water on the city. It’s impossible to walk anywhere during the rain without getting completely soaked. But the rain does bring a wonderful breeze with it that cools us off. However, I have realized that I have yet to learn how to walk in the rain without flipping up mud all over the back of my pants. I wear flip-flops every day, and they are always causing little spots of mud to speckle every skirt and pants I wear. I still wonder how the locals manage to keep their pants so clean. Maybe by the end of the four months, I will have learned how to walk neatly in muddy rain.
There is no running water in my house, or really anywhere in Freetown for that matter. We bathe outside in a little shed with one bucket of water. I have only bathed a few times because it can be kind of a hassle to take “bucket baths.” The toilet must be flushed by pouring water from a bucket straight into the toilet bowl. Sierra Leoneans do not use toilet paper, but Kristin and I were able to buy a couple rolls to use. Needless to say, we are being very conscientious about conserving such precious toilet paper! Late at night, the family does not want us to go outside once they lock the doors, so they gave us chamber pots in case we need to use the restroom during the night. Washing clothes is also quite a different experience. In Krio, the word for washing clothes is “bruk.” We start with a big bucket of water and pour detergent into it (the detergent they use is incredibly concentrated, and they tend to go crazy with the amount they use!). We scrub all of our clothes by hand and can use a brush to scrub the mud splatters which always cover our pants. Then we ring out the clothes and put them into a second bucket that is full of clean rinsing water. Depending on how much detergent we use, we either have to rinse our clothes once or twice. Then we ring them dry as much as possible, turn them inside out, and hang them over the clothes lines outside. I have come to realize just how amazing the invention of a washing machine and dryer really is! Washing clothes takes quite a while when you have to do it all by hand with no running water. And then, of course, line-drying is never simple because it rains so much here. As soon as it starts to rain, we have to run out, grab all of the clothes, and fold them in piles inside. Once the rain stops, we can go back outside and hang them on the lines again. Kristin and I did discover that things can dry in our bedroom fairly well, so our bunk beds now also function as drying racks, with clothes hanging on every side of the bed.
As I mentioned in the last post, sleeping has proven to be quite difficult because of all the noise that continues all throughout the night. Sierra Leoneans stay up late, often until 2 or 3 am, and they have no concept of whispering. Loud arguments, excited discussions, and blaring music are very common every single night. There is also a huge population of stray dogs who roam the streets. The dogs bark and fight with each other every night. Sometimes, the dog fights get so loud that they wake us up in the middle of the night. But, the funniest (and sometimes most obnoxious) noise is from a person whom Kristin and I have named “Miss wake up and pray.” Every single morning, at 5:45 am, she goes up and down the street yelling into a megaphone “Wake up and pray, wake up and pray!” Well, I definitely do wake up. And I pray, “God, please help me go back to sleep quickly!”
The food here is very spicy and almost always involves rice. I have also learned that everything they cook here is fried. I never thought I would find a place that likes fried food more than the southern US, but Sierra Leone beats the south by a mile. They fry fish, chicken, beef, bread, peanuts, onions, potatoes, cassava, garlic, plantains, greens, spaghetti, and the list could go on and on. The oil they use is really thick palm oil, which just might give me a heart attack while I’m here! A lot of the fruit is not in season, so we basically are left with bananas, guava, and plums (very different from American plums). Some of you may know that I absolutely hate bananas. I usually gag at the smell of them. But by God’s grace, I miraculously love bananas now! I eat at least one a day. As for the strangest food I have tried so far: I ate fried fish eggs a few nights ago (I think it’s called caviar in the US). I was seriously concerned about it, but the fact that it was fried made it pretty easy to eat. The water here is not safe for us to drink, so we drink “packet water.” The purified water literally comes in plastic pouches (kind of like those packing materials that are filled with air). In order to drink it, we have to bite off a corner and then squeeze the water into our mouths. I spilled a lot when I first tried drinking that way, but I kind of enjoy it now.
The women have let kristin and I watch them cook and even let us help out a bit. I have ground up beans with a mortar and pestle type thing. It’s a big metal bowl with a large stick in it. We use the stick to pound the beans (or whatever we want to grind). It’s quite a workout! I have also fried fish over a small stove fire outside and made a sauce with onions, garlic, tomato sauce, seasoning powder, ground nuts, and oil. I am continually amazed at the women’s abilities to cook such amazing meals over a simple flame.
One thing that I am really looking forward to is a wedding in late October. The first day we arrived, our family announced to Kristin and me that we would be going to a wedding. Never mind that we have no idea who is getting married, and will probably not meet them (until the wedding day). We’re considered family now, so we’re apparently automatically invited. One day soon, we are going to a tailor with Florence (Ma and Pa Taylor’s daughter) to get fitted for an ashobi, which is a wedding garment worn by wedding attendees. The fabric pattern is the same for everyone, but the dress style may vary. The fabric is really beautiful! We’re very excited to get our very own African dresses handmade for us!
Well, that’s all I can think of for now. All in all, I am loving life here! It took me a few weeks to adjust, but I am so glad to be here and love so many things about the culture in Sierra Leone! I know that God has great things in store, and I can’t wait to share them with you. God bless!

September 7, 2011

The first 2 weeks!

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:26 pm by annalisatodd

Wow, life in Sierra Leone has been an adventure already, and it has only been two weeks! My flight to Dulles was delayed due to bad weather on the east coast, which in turn made my teammates and me miss our connecting flight in Brussels. We were able to switch airlines, and after another stop in Morocco, we finally made it to Sierra Leone at 4 am on Tuesday morning. We originally were supposed to arrive in the afternoon on Monday, so we were quite late. But it turns out that all of the airline chaos was God’s way of providing for us because the Brussels flight that we had missed actually broke down and had to land in Gambia. Had we been on that flight, we may not have made it to Sierra Leone for days. Praise God for his provision, even when we had no idea what He was doing!
The first week was mainly orientation and introductions. First, let me tell you about the other interns. Jonathan is 25 and is from Tennessee. Brandon is 19 and is from Vancouver, Canada. Kristin is 26 and is from Alabama. We have already connected and seem to work together very well. Kristin is a wonderful girl, and I know that God has blessed me greatly by putting the two of us together on this trip. The Word Made Flesh staff members in Sierra Leone are also wonderful. Dan is our servant team leader, so we will be primarily working with him. The Caroline and Jan (pronounced yawn) Sassenberg are a German couple who have lived in Sierra Leone for 2 years. They have three precious children: Talita is a 6 year old girl, Alia is a 4 year old boy, and Noah is a 13 month old baby. The other staff members, Noah, Francis, and Alafia are Sierra Leonean men with hearts for serving the Lord by serving the poorest of the poor in Sierra Leone.
Kristin and I live with a Sierra Leonean family (the Taylors) in the middle of the second biggest market in Sierra Leone, called Congo Market. It is in the heart of the capital city, Freetown. Our bedroom is tiny with bunk beds and no furniture, but we have actually been living in it quite well together. Our room is on the second story, overlooking the market. During the day, the street is filled with many people, different meats, fruits, vegetables, cloths, and other odds and ends. It is incredibly noisy, which has proven to make sleep quite difficult at night. I would certainly appreciate prayer that God will miraculously help Kristin and myself to get restful and restorative sleep each night as we have both been having trouble sleeping the whole night through due to so much noise. They Taylor family is wonderful! They have been so gracious in helping us learn the ways of Sierra Leone. Ma Taylor cooks really, really good food too! Rice is a staple here, as is potato and cassava. Sierra Leone has one of the hottest peppers in the world, so the food here is very spicy! But Ma Taylor often cooks with less pepper for us Americans who have weak stomachs 🙂
The second week, we spent in a province about 2 hours away leading a camp for about 50 kids from the poorest areas of Freetown. The interns were in charge of leading the teambuilding time and the craft time. The days were full with team games, Bible teaching sessions, small group time, crafts, eating meals together, and various activities at night. We had a few dance parties and a talent show! The kids all spoke English, although some are very difficult to understand. I really enjoyed getting to know the kids (between the ages of 12 and 22.) It was an exhausting week, as most camp counselors can relate to, but God gave me strength every single day to have joy and patience as I interacted with the campers. One of the days, we went to a groundnut (kind of like peanut) farm and rooted peanuts, which the camp cook later washed and used to make groundnut stew (a sauce that is poured over rice). We also spent a few hours at a local hospital praying for the sick. It was a wonderful experience to be able to pray for those in the hospital and give them some hope. Many of them had malaria, many had been involved in motorcycle accidents, a few had skin graft complications, and some women had lost babies after unsuccessful c-sections.
This week is going to be a slower-paced week as we recuperate from the exhaustion of camp. We interns were able to go to a beach yesterday! It was not as well-kept and pretty as the tourist beaches that are farther away, but it was quiet and restful. I spent the day simply marveling at the greatness of God as I looked out over the ocean. The water temperature was perfect, so we played in the water too!
Learning the language, Krio, has been more difficult than I expected. It is basically broken English, but there are quite a few differences in grammar and sentence structure. Our family helps Kristin and me a lot though, and I hope that I will be able to speak it a little bit more as time goes on. Just to give you a small idea of what Krio sounds like, here is a sample sentence: a de go na mi os fo it chop (translation: I am going to my house to eat food).
The degree of complete poverty in this country is indescribable. Even the “rich” in the community are very poor. The population in Freetown is more than 50% of the population in the whole country. That is a whole lot of people jammed into a very small area of land. The civil war really did destroy the livelihood of an already poor country. People are trying to rebuild their lives, but it will take many years to actually accomplish that. Very few people I have met actually have what we would consider careers; most women sell in the market every day from 7 am to 7 pm. I honestly have no idea how they manage to live and feed their families off of the minimal amount of money they make. The city is the dirtiest and most impoverished city I have ever seen. Trash and sewage run down the roads to the bay nearby. Many people also live in slums near the bay, so the water they are using is very unsanitary. Despite the poverty, the people I have met are so proud to be from Sierra Leone, and live with joy despite their physical circumstances. I know that I have much to learn from them while I am here, and am going to try my best to keep an open heart and mind to any lessons God wants to teach me through the people in Sierra Leone.
My schedule for the month of September consists of work with the ministry for about 35 hours each week. We will be tutoring kids in Kroo Bay (the poorest slum in Freetown) three afternoons a week. I have no idea how structured the tutoring time is, but I am excited to use my abilities of teaching and explaining concepts to help these kids succeed in school so that they can get the scores to pass to the next level of schooling. We will also be helping with the Light House program, which is a Bible study for a select group of teenagers from the Kroo Bay and Freetown area. We will also be doing ministry in Kroo Bay through personal evangelism and building relationships as well as helping with the weekly Good News Club, which is a children’s church type of program that is every Saturday afternoon. There are about 150 children who attend, so it can be quite chaotic, but is such a good opportunity to reach out to kids who need to know how much Christ loves them. Finally, we will be having Krio lessons three days a week, so hopefully they will help us to be able to communicate more by the end of the month.
So far I think the biggest lesson I have learned is just how much I need Jesus every single hour. It has been a much bigger challenge moving here than I expected it to be. I expected to have a “honeymoon period” where I just loved everything about being here, but I honestly have not experienced that at all. I fully believe that this is where God wants me for the next four months, but it has already been much harder than I anticipated. I struggle with missing friends and family and my life back in America. I sometimes question if my being here will even make an impact at all. But every time I have those doubts, God reminds me that it is not about me at all. My being here is an opportunity to be used by God so that he can make his name famous in the country of Sierra Leone. God has been showing me that I cannot serve him on my own strength. I desperately need him every day to give me a Christlike attitude. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that I have had the strength every day to reach out to people and to begin investing in this community. Please pray that God will continue to humble me so that I may become less and he becomes greater in my life, my words, and my actions. I have been studying John 15 where Jesus talks about the vine and branches. Verse 4 says, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” Later, in verse 9, Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” What a great reminder that we must not only decide to believe in Christ, but we must also remain in him every day in order to bear fruit. I pray that we can all learn what it means to remain in the love of Christ.
Thanks for reading my lengthy blog post! I don’t know how often I will be able to update the blog, so the posts may come through rather infrequently, so please bear with me if they get really long. Words cannot express how much I appreciate your support and prayers as you partner with me in reaching out to the people of Sierra Leone! I miss you all and love you!

August 21, 2011

How it all began…

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:25 am by annalisatodd

Hi! Thank you so much for taking time to read my blog about my mission trip to Sierra Leone. I am flying out of the Richmond airport in just a few hours! I am so excited about this opportunity to serve God in Africa. Before I leave, I would love to share the story of how the Lord has been directing me towards this trip long before I was even aware of it.

My story begins in December of 2010. I was at college (Christopher Newport University) preparing for exams and looking forward to over a month of Christmas vacation. Through a chance meeting with a pastor at a church I do not attend (Liberty Baptist), I was told about a mission trip Liberty’s college ministry group was taking to Toronto, Canada. As the pastor gave me details of what the goal of the trip was, I felt very strongly led to ask if I could go with them. Within two days, I was signed up to go on this mission trip in the end of December. The trip consisted of one week in Toronto, as well as a weekend in Atlanta, GA to attend the Passion Conference. Well, the day after Christmas, my mom drove me to Newport News so I could meet up with my team. To make a very long story short, after two whole days of canceled flights due to a heavy snowstorm in Virginia and up the east coast, our mission trip to Toronto was canceled altogether. You can imagine the disappointment and confusion I felt since I had been so confident that this trip was something God had intentionally put in my life. Even though the Toronto part of the trip was canceled, we were still able to attend the Passion Conference. I had an incredible weekend full of reading Scripture, learning from amazing Bible teachers, and worshiping the Lord with thousands of other college students. It was at that conference that I heard about a small missions organization called Word Made Flesh (WMF). Passion was partnering with them along with dozens of other ministries to help hurting and forgotten people all over the world.

Months passed as I continued my education at CNU. I fully believe that education is important, but I could not ignore the feeling that I was not supposed to attend school in the fall of 2011. I felt as if there was something else God had planned for me, but I had no idea what that could be. A few days later, I came across my notes from the Passion conference and saw the pamphlet about Word Made Flesh. On a whim, I went to their website to see what they were all about. Hours later, I was still on that website crying my eyes out from the stories told and the need this organization had uncovered in several countries around the world. I spent a lot of time in prayer, and decided to apply for a program called “Servant Team” with Word Made Flesh. It is a four-month long internship offered in six different countries. Now, as you may know, I have had a heart for Africa for quite a few years now and was immediately drawn to the internship in Africa. But for some reason, my spirit was not at peace when I considered asking to be placed in Africa. The Lord was instead telling me to apply for the internship in India. Now, I think India is awesome, and I would love to visit one day, but I have never, ever felt a desire to do ministry over there. But I knew that I needed to obey the Lord and serve wherever he wanted me.
I applied to the internship program and asked to be placed in India. A few weeks past as I waited to be accepted, and I got more and more uncomfortable about living in India for 4 months. I prayed that God would give me peace. When I got my acceptance letter, I was very surprised to see that I was accepted to go not to India but to Sierra Leone, Africa! I truly believe God wanted me to apply for India out of obedience and to make sure that this mission trip was because of where God was leading me and not where I wanted to go. I hope that I will remember this lesson throughout these next four months as I come to the end of my strength and learn to rely completely on the power of the Holy Spirit.

I know that these next four months are going to be exciting, challenging, and rewarding. I hope that I will be able to update this blog every week or so, but that depends on how often I am able to get internet. Thanks for all of your support and prayers!