This picture is a little hard to make out because of the bright sun rays, but this is the day we loaded the tractor, the rocking chair, and the little green monkey. As the truck with the shipping container departed down our long, country driveway, I wondered if the little green monkey would crawl out of his box, jump into the rocking chair, and then up onto the tractor, proclaiming, “Finally! We are on our way to Africa!” Kind of like Toy Story where all the toys come alive when everyone leaves the room.
The little green monkey almost didn’t make it onto the truck. I didn’t want to part with him, and couldn’t believe our six-year-old son, Cruz had. When I found Cruz’s monkey while taping up the last boxes right before the container arrived, tears filled my eyes. I held that stuffed little green monkey in my hands and didn’t want to let him go because our youngest son had carried him around as a toddler, loving that toy.
I hadn’t wanted to part with the rocking chair either that I’d rocked our last four babies in. And for about a decade, Scott read the boys Bible stories in that rose-colored rocking chair each night before bed. The rocking chair was given to me by my dear friend, Patsy Nelson when I was pregnant with baby number four. I’m sure Patsy said a thousand prayers in that chair too because she so loves Jesus. Patsy helped bring me to Christ.
The Lulu Tree home for young mothers and abandoned children needs that rocking chair so I had our son, Luke load it into the container for me. Luke will soon become a father himself. Alex is due to have their baby boy in October. Nothing happens by chance, and I knew Luke loading the rocking chair and Cruz parting with his little monkey were a God thing.
This whole thing has really been a God thing.
As I was collecting donations for Africa two weeks earlier, our youngest boys asked me what I was doing. “I’m sending clothes and toys to the children in Africa because they don’t have much there,” I explained with our hallway stacked high with boxes of things people were donating.
Cruz’s eyes widened in surprise. “The kids in Africa don’t have toys?”
“Not like you and your brothers have toys,” I said. “Those little kids don’t have much to play with in Africa.”
Looking concerned, Cruz disappeared down the hall, and returned with his arms full of his toys. “I’m sending all of these,” he said, his eyes wide with compassion.
“You don’t have to send them all, just some of your toys will do,” I said.
Cruz thought about it for a moment, and then said, “No, I want all of my toys to go to Africa.”
“All right,” I said, “Let’s see what you have here.” My throat tightened as I looked at what Cruz had gathered from his room, but I didn’t see the little green monkey that day. Every couple of days, Cruz would collect more stuff, and tuck them in the boxes in the hall. I tried not to interfere and let him do his thing. I understood how Cruz felt. I’d gone through my own closet and parted with some of my favorite shoes and clothes and raided the boys’ closets too and also given away most of their baby clothes I’d kept in plastic bins in the garage because I couldn’t bear to part with them before this. For some reason the need to help the people of Africa had fallen on our household in a big way.
It all started with the request for a tractor from Emily Wierenga on Facebook. I loved Emily’s novel: Atlas Girl, but we’d never met in person. I didn’t really know Emily last winter when she first contacted me.
“I see you are a farmer in California. Is there any way you can help us get a tractor for a farm in Sierra Leone?” Emily messaged me one random winter night that turned out not to be random at all.
I didn’t even know where Sierra Leone was, but sensed pretty quickly what God was doing. I’d spent the day upset about a tax bill I’d gotten in the mail. The previous year, we’d signed our farm up for a government program where you turn in an old tractor and are given a grant to help purchase a new tractor. The purpose of the program is to clean up California’s air. Old tractors pollute the air. But the grant we got for the new tractor threw us into a whole new tax bracket. They considered the grant money a part of my earnings for the year, though the money went straight to the new tractor. I knew the day the letter came that our taxes were going to go sideways because of the grant and it would cost us money. And I was upset. And then I read about Sierra Leone. And Pastor Sonnel who needed a tractor to farm the land so he could feed his people in Africa. And my mission to get the tractor for Africa began.
Here is Sondra who works for the local emissions office, she didn’t have to help at all, but Sondra was so great helping us get the tractor. And Scott Thunen, the farmer who generously donated it instead of keeping the parts for his farm. Such big-hearted people. I am so thankful standing here with them in my sandals covered in orchard dust.
In the beginning, when I first got Emily’s message from Canada, I wondered why can’t they just get a tractor for Africa in Africa? That’s got to be easier than getting a tractor all the way from California, but it’s not. This small West African nation of Sierra Leone is still reeling from a civil war between 1991 and 2002 that claimed 50,000 lives and crashed the country’s economy. More recently, Ebola killed nearly 4,000. And Sierra Leone was recently hit by torrential flooding. Hundreds have been lost in horrific mudslides. Pastor Sonnel and his dear wife took in eight new orphans under the age of five years old who lost their parents in the mudslides. These are some of the children God’s tractor is going to feed.
Here we are the last week of August, my dad, Luke, Drew and me loading the tractor into the container that went to San Francisco to be shipped across the ocean to Sierra Leone.
After loading the tractor, we loaded all the donations. My daughter, Lacy came out and helped load too, and the truck driver jumped in and added his muscles to the mix. In no time at all everything was packed into the container. Thanks to everyone for being so generous! Especially the Gaisers for all the Bibles they donated for the Lulu Tree school, and to the teary-eyed mamas who parted with their beloved baby clothes and precious children’s things. Several mamas shared that they had to just close their eyes and stick things in the bags and boxes fast before they changed their minds. I did the same thing. I didn’t want to part with our sons’ baby clothes and especially Cruz’s little green monkey, but I reminded myself of the need.
This whole endeavor has been driven by need.
Pastor Sonnel’s need for a tractor. His people’s need for food. My need to trust God. That the Good Lord wasn’t going to fail us. That Jesus would help us get a tractor to Africa no matter how difficult it proved to be. And believe me it was difficult!
“I will lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121, I prayed on that first day that I went to see Sondra at the emissions office to ask for a tractor, and prayed it again many times over, Our help comes from the Lord, as we hit one wall after another.
I thought about this verse as I tucked Cruz’s little green monkey back into the box and taped it shut even though I badly wanted to keep that beloved toy with my eyes hot with tears. There was a little boy or a little girl in Africa who needs that little green monkey.
The last I heard, God’s tractor, the rocking chair, and the little green monkey are sitting in San Francisco, or there abouts, waiting to pass through customs. As with everything else along this way, we’ve ran into another roadblock. At first, customs said they weren’t going to ship the tractor at all without a title.
“Please pray for a miracle,” Emily messaged the Lulu Tree prayer chain last week. “Customs won’t ship the tractor without a title.”
California tractors don’t come with titles. So we’ve bombarded customs with legal papers and pleading letters, and they are slowly coming around. Please pray customs allows the tractor to be on it’s way soon. The planting season in Africa comes this fall, and Pastor Sonnel needs God’s tractor soon.
I began calling it God’s tractor about two months into this mission to rescue a tractor from being destroyed so it could go to Africa. When I talked to the tow truck owner who helped us load the tractor into the shipping container last week, he said, “Is this tractor going to be destroyed too? We’ve taken several good tractors to the scrap yard this summer. This is terrible.”
“Nope,” I said with a big fat smile. “This tractor is going to Africa to feed the hungry people there.”
“They should do this with all the tractors instead of destroying them,” said the tow truck man. “What a great thing you’re doing.”
What a great thing God is doing, I thought as he wrote out my receipt for loading the tractor. “I wish we could send all California’s old tractors to Africa,” I said before walking out into the bright sunshine and climbing into my car to return to our farm to help my family finish our harvest.
Thanks so much for all your support and prayers and donations along the way. You all are so awesome, and it’s true, our help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth and tractors for Africa.
P.S. The best news of all we just got yesterday. Customs has cleared the tractor! Soon is will be loaded onto a ship and hopefully will still make to Sierra Leone in time for planting season there, praise God!