Thanks to the generosity of supporters including Tenth’s missions fund, and thanks to God’s providing us with work that we love, we live in Sierra Leone. We have just adopted two wonderful baby boys, Ezekiel and Nathaniel, who by God’s grace are healthy and bring us great joy.
Sierra Leone is a very poor West-African country. We’ve paid a lot of attention to babies and to education this year, so here are some statistics that are very palpable to us and that illustrate the country’s poverty: 11% of babies born die before their fifth birthday, and 4% of high-school finishers passed this year’s national college-entrance exam. Steve’s main job is with a global student ministry, IFES, where he leads the curriculum team for a mentoring program on how science and theology intersect, seeking to reveal the vast beauty of the Kingdom of God to scholars and societies. Jennifer’s main job is with Word Made Flesh Sierra Leone, where she manages staff and initiates programs to help prostituted women in the Kroo Bay slum that’s a five-minute walk from our house.
We’ve been thinking this year about American author Andy Crouch’s idea of redemptive leadership. A redemptive leader’s authority to accomplish meaningful change in the world keeps in step with their vulnerability, in other words their exposure to meaningful risk. You can learn about it in this video here or this short article here.
For the good of those who are being led and who do not have much authority, a redemptive leader absorbs their vulnerability, and they aren’t necessarily aware of this. To resist the lure of tyrannical, invulnerable power, which would control others, Crouch says the Christian leader frequently needs to follow Christ in relinquishing authority – i.e., to choose self-sacrifice rather than control.
Below are two snapshots of how we’re attempting to live this way. Crouch’s framework seems to work especially well in our cross-cultural situation, since it’s normal for those we work with not to recognize how much it costs us to work among them – leaving our families and comforts, making up for their deficits in formal and informal education, practicing patience when the pace of life and of change here seem unbearably slow.
The first example is one all parents know about: we make ourselves vulnerable to our children, choosing to risk our beauty-sleep so they can interrupt us when they’re hungry at night; choosing to risk our physiological health so they can have us hold them when they want to be held. Since Ezekiel and Nathaniel are adopted from orphanages where they didn’t have much affection or stability, we feel it’s particularly important that we absorb as much of their vulnerability as we can – though we realize ultimately only God can give them complete safety.
The second example is our “nannies” – vulnerable youth from Kroo Bay whom we hire to babysit for us two or three days each week so we can work. Actually, we get very little work done on those days because these youth, who are struggling with poverty, who often go hungry, and who are relatively inexperienced, sometimes take more work than they save us. And they need to be fed too! But they are improving as nannies, growing in love for our babies, and becoming more confident that they can count on us. They are also very happy that they can earn small income so that they can buy food, clothes, or even Christmas gifts for others.
“Angela” is one of the youth we invited to care for our children. She has been out of school for a few years and the last grade she completed was grade 8. Though she wanted to go back to school, she didn’t have enough money to pay for school fees. She is now twenty-one and we didn’t want her to delay any longer, so we decided to pay for her exepenses. She was beaming with joy on the first day when she attended her first class last month. This meant that we didn’t have help any more on Tuesdays when Angela was helping us, but somehow we are managing.
Angela continues to come to our house regularly, usually hungry, and we try to share her joy and excitement as well as her sadness and frustrations in her life. She also called us last week, right when we were putting the kids to sleep, weeping and begging Steve to come petition her teacher to let her back into class. She had been kicked out for eating! (This is a common routine in Sierra Leonean culture, where an authority figure petitions on behalf of someone in need.) Resisting the urge to tell Angela he was busy, Steve was able to take the small step of phoning the teacher and setting things straight.
To keep this short, we won’t give you more examples from Jen’s work with prostituted women in the slum (whom she’s helping to train as tailors so poverty no longer drives them to sex work) or from Steve’s work with student-ministry leaders and scholars across Africa. To learn more, sign up for Jen’s newsletters here and Steve’s here.
Steve and Jennifer are very dear to us at Tenth. Steve helped pioneer our Cambodia vision and served on our missions leadership team for many years. Jennifer has led Alpha at Tenth in addition to being a Missions Assistant at Tenth and helping lead a Cambodia Justice Journey.