A tractor for Africa wasn’t my idea. I was minding my own business in the United States when a writer from Canada I didn’t really know contacted me out of the blue on Facebook. It sure seemed out of the blue the night Emily Wierenga’s message hit my inbox. I loved Emily’s novel: Atlas Girl, but we’d never met in person.
“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 that night.
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, I guess.
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. Ultimately, we had to pay several thousand dollars more on our Obamacare, plus our daughter could lose her financial aid that helps her some with nursing school, and Lacy didn’t get her tax return back either, which was quite a bit of money, because of the Obamacare mess caused by the grant. Our daughter’s tax return is still frozen, probably while they comb through our taxes. Under Obamacare, everyone’s earnings in the household are counted as income.
When I logged onto Facebook that night, and saw Emily’s message, I was wishing we’d just kept our old tractor and avoided the tax mess. But I messaged Emily back, and said I’d see what I could do. “Farmers help each other,” I told her. “I’ll try to help you find a tractor for Africa.”
After looking at the Lulu Tree farm website and investigating Sierra Leone, I ended up in tears. The Lulu Tree farm was run by a childless Pastor Sonnel and his wife, Christiana, who wanted to feed children and their families in the surrounding villages and help orphans and widows. Sierra Leone is a country torn by civil war from 1991 to 2002. One quarter of the soldiers serving in that war were under age 18. Recruitment methods for these child soldiers were horrific. Boys were kidnapped and sometimes forced to kill family members to be made into hardened soldiers. Mass rape, sexual slavery, and forced marriages were commonplace during the war. Today, orphans and widows walk the country. Government corruption flourishes. And Ebola has taken its toll.
No longer was I thinking about our tax problem with our new tractor after Emily contacted me. I was thinking about the people of Africa. The next morning I drove to the federal government farm office where I’d spent half of last year trying to get the grant for our new tractor. I asked the nice woman who’d helped us through the process if one of those tractors being destroyed to clean up the air could possibly be donated to Africa. She looked at me like I was a little crazy and said, “No, but you could try the state emissions office across town. Maybe they can help you,” she kindly said.
So I drove across town and spoke with another woman, Sondra, who works to get old tractors off California farms. “I’m trying to find a tractor for Africa,” I told her. “Is there any way instead of destroying the tractors in the grant program, that one could be donated to Sierra Leone?”
Sondra stared at me for a long moment without saying anything. She has this calm, quiet way I really appreciate, and then she said, “It doesn’t hurt to ask. I’ll speak to my boss.”
This past week when Sondra and I met on a south Yuba City farm to see the donated tractor, Sondra admitted, “I didn’t think this would ever happen.”
“It has surprised me too,” I told Sondra. “It feels like moving a mountain, trying to get a tractor to Africa.”
This past winter as I drove to town the first time to see if there was any way one of these California tractors set to be destroyed could be donated to Africa, I passed through the Sutter Buttes. “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.” This is one of my favorite scriptures, Psalm 121, and I prayed it while driving through the buttes that day. “Lord,” I said, “You made the heavens and the earth. You parted the Red Sea. You made the Sutter Buttes. A tractor for Africa is easy for you. Please help us get one there.”
A few weeks later, the odyssey of a tractor for Africa became even more near and dear to my heart.
In February, our 19 year old son drove into our driveway. It was early in the morning, and Luke should have been in Chico. “Aren’t you missing class?” I asked when I walked over to his car.
Luke didn’t get out of his vehicle. The look on his face made my stomach drop. I opened his passenger door, and moved his school backpack out of the way. “What’s wrong. Are you okay?” I asked as I plopped down in the passenger seat with my knees shaking. I knew something had happened.
“Alex is pregnant,” he admitted.
Tears filled my eyes and I kind of just laughed, relieved that no one had died. “Children are a blessing from the Lord. A reward from God,” I said, quoting the Bible after taking a few deep breaths.
“I knew you’d say that,” Luke said, and I could see the relief on his teenage face. God’s love filled the car. We hugged and I cried.
Around this time, Emily, who’d messaged me about the tractor, sent me a video of pregnant teenagers with happy grins on their faces. The Lulu Tree farm will become a home for these girls and their babies. I’d spent the day worried about Luke and Alex. Having a baby at their age wasn’t going to be easy. Now here I was hearing about pregnant teens in Africa. How these girls have lost their worth because there will be no bride price for them now. Starvation and death are real possibilities for these girls and their babies.
In the light of these pregnant teens in Africa, my problems in California seemed so small. After this, I was determined to get that tractor for the Lulu Tree farm. A tractor would be a small miracle for Pastor Sonnel, who farmed the land to feed orphans, widows, and now pregnant teenagers.
Every day I prayed God would open the doors for a tractor for Africa. But things moved very slowly. Disappoints came and went at the emissions office. Some days it looked like we might get a tractor. Other days it seemed impossible. Emily and I became dear friends on Facebook, working together to help the Lulu Tree get the tractor. Emily is a talented writer and busy mom of three young children. She gave up her writing career to run the Lulu Tree foundation. Now she pours her heart into helping the people of Africa.
Isn’t she precious, along with that baby in her arms?
We hope to pick up the tractor soon and take it to a mechanic for maintenance. In the meantime, I’m searching for a used (or new if someone would be willing to donate it) three point broadcast seeder to ship along with the tractor. Rice will be farmed. Right now the fields are seeded by hand.
And we’ve decided to fill the shipping container with children’s clothing and shoes and baby stuff for the Lulu Tree. Emily tells me the pregnant teen mamas and orphans come to the farm with nothing. They don’t even get to keep the clothes on their backs, which are burned because of bed bugs. Of course the farm doesn’t want bed bugs. Another thing to be thankful for here in California. That we don’t have bedbugs in our beds. Or in our clothes. Or in our homes.
And most of us have homes. Many people in Sierra Leone don’t. Hunger and famine lurk everywhere there.
This tractor for Africa has changed me. Life will always have its problems. It’s how we face our difficulties that really matter. Helping others lift their burdens makes life more meaningful, that’s for sure. I can’t wait to see Pastor Sonnel on this tractor in Africa come autumn, God-willing.
Please pray the California government finishes the paperwork quickly so we can pick up the tractor from Scott Thunen, the farmer who has so graciously agreed to donate his tractor instead of keeping parts from it for himself. And please pray for my dad who is helping me get the tractor to a port in San Francisco, where it will be put on a ship, hopefully in August. We don’t want to pull a tractor on a trailer in Bay Area traffic. I can’t imagine getting it across the Bay Bridge, but God knows. And God is able. We so appreciate your prayers for moving this mountain!
If you can help with the clothes drive or baby supplies or the broadcast seeder, or anything else, please message or email me. Thanks so much!