The history of Word Made Flesh Sierra Leone is primarily a story of God’s grace and faithfulness. God has indeed chosen the weak things of this world to confound the wise. Over the last ten years the community, a group of bumbling yet courageous and hopeful people, have endured much. They have been hurt by those they have joined in service, and at other times they have deeply wounded those they came to serve and even each other. They have seen the ways brokenness is perpetuated through imperialistic tendencies and agendas, pride, fear and by misunderstanding the deep historical, emotional, and cultural factors influencing interpersonal dynamics.
Saving grace in WMFSL has been just that: grace. God’s love has helped the team to get up, again and again, when others have failed, or when the team has failed others. As WMFSL clings to Jesus’ promise that his grace is sufficient, and his power is made perfect in weakness, the community is filled with hope. WMFSL trusts that God is gently and tenderly working everything together for good.
God was present with healing grace, calling each of the community members from very diverse contexts from the beginning of time. Just like the intricate African braids that so elegantly grace the heads of women in Freetown, God started to weave the separate stories of the team’s lives together in 2001. During the gruesome rebel war, a WMF leadership made a brief initial exploratory trip to Sierra Leone. They met with local pastors, visited refugee camps, and made new friends. Jared and Julie Landreth arrived in Freetown in 2002 to establish the first WMFSL community presence. Endeavoring to incarnate God’s compassionate love to the poor, the Landreths began to assist an eager young man named Noah Tullay with a Saturday afternoon Bible club for over 200 children in the impoverished Kroo Bay neighborhood. Jared and Julie also spent their time among youth living on the streets with a local Christian initiative called Lighthouse.
Cami Sigler joined Jared and Julie in July 2003. As she shadowed the Landreths, Cami soon became involved in the Kroo Bay Good News Club with Noah and befriended the Lighthouse youth. Before the Landreths left for the US four months later, the Sierra Leonean Lighthouse leadership and Jared began to transform the drop-in center format into a tradeschool accompaniment program for at-risk youth. Cami continued these efforts, and has had the privilege of interlacing journeys of grace with these young men and women ever since.
Noah and Cami began to work more closely together, and over time God generously and consistently provided the means to bless the children in the slum through the obedient giving of Christians all over the globe. The growing little ones have enjoyed much-needed protein-rich eggs and basic first-aid along with fun Bible stories, songs and fellowship almost every Saturday since. For many under seven, this has been a welcome break from the norm of selling water, coal, oranges or other simple wares amongst the congested traffic. In recent years, the Lighthouse teens have enfolded their lives with these youngsters, honing their leadership skills. Now, with Noah’s guidance, they facilitate everything from worship to wound care.
God began to more intimately plait a few of the children who regularly attended Kroo Bay Good News Club into the WMF community when Noah in 2004, suggested sponsoring some of them to go to school. Emulating God’s compassionate heart, Noah even welcomed some of them into his own home. Can you imagine? Noah, talented young man, barely an adult himself, having himself endured much suffering and trauma, and who had other opportunities, chose instead to be “daddy”. Day after day after day for the past seven years he has reaffirmed that commitment. While many his age run after degrees, entertainment and convenience, Noah has chosen instead to stay in the despised area and simply make himself available to comfort, encourage, discipline and teach some boys who are “all boy.” His efforts have not been in vain. Like the transformation of a butterfly, theirs has been literally awe-inspiring. One came to WMFSL orphaned, grubby, skin-and-bones, and covered with scabies. His internal suffering caused him to be quite unsteady and difficult. Now he is a teenager, still struggling in many ways, yet making great advances as he learns how to read. He is tall and strong, loves gymnastics and his bright smile lights up a room.
Over the years, God has intertwined many individual stories of grace into WMFSL. Keith and Laura Padgett and Joe and Mindy Eichorn were a vital part of the community in 2005. During this season these humble couples were a huge support to youth coming off the streets in the Lighthouse program. Not only did they befriend, teach, and play with the teenagers, but also tirelessly trekked all over frantic Freetown to encourage them at their shops, schools and homes.
Faye Yu and Stephanie McGuire have also been dynamically knitted into this story as they served for five and three years, respectively. These vivacious women shared their wisdom and hospitality in many ways, including hosting servant teams and helping the Lighthouse tailor graduates improve their skills and build up their businesses. Faye and Stephanie also devoted many hours to the Lighthouse ladies, mutually encouraging one another. Faye and Cami also initiated the first Sierra Leonean Servant Team that included Sally Kamara, George Pat-Davies, Florence Taylor, Pastor Sulaiman and Noah Tullay.
Chris and Erin Harrell served the community in a plethora of ways during their three years here, providing administration, community care and mentoring. Chris also played an integral role in finding and developing our home, Alé Alé House of Hope, on the edge of Kroo Bay. Now Lighthouse groups, tutoring, Kroo Bay VBS clubs, staff and board meetings are all hosted in this beautiful facility. The most precious way the Harrell’s story is interlaced with WMFSL is through their adopted daughter, Keyara.
Hailing originally from Germany, Jan and Karoline Sassenberg currently serve along with their beloved children Talita, Elia and newborn Noah. Their worshipful, thoughtful and fun demeanors enlighten the WMFSL community in so many ways. Jan devotes many hours talking and praying with his friends in Kroo Bay, while Karoline makes herself available to the young Lighthouse ladies.
Dan Henry has very tightly bound himself to Jesus by living very simply in the Kroo Bay slum. Gbatima (Dan’s Mende name) has strongly supported the WMFSL community by hosting two interns (one was the second from Romania) and temporality leading and permanently restructuring the Lighthouse program.
Alafia Cole and Francis Davies (2011-present) are the two most-recent strands to enter the community tapestry. These vibrant Sierra Leoneans encourage WMFSL to be grateful and praise God enthusiastically as they accompany the Lighthouse youth.