This May, Catherine Crum will pack her bags, leave behind her busy Jefferson City salon and spa and depart for a 12-day mission trip to Sierra Leone, Africa. The long journey alongside other parishioners from Memorial Baptist Church is a familiar one for Crum. Last June, she participated in a similar mission to the poverty-stricken West African country.
“I can hardly stand to wait until the first of May,” Crum says.
Crum’s intense connection to Sierra Leone began while attending Memorial Baptist’s annual Call for Missions service highlighting Memorial’s local, national and international missions work. She was so moved by the photographs and stories from Sierra Leone that she was brought to tears. In the days following the service, Crum says she couldn’t shake her heavy heart and the feeling that she was being called to make a difference.
“I could no longer think of helping as someone else’s problem,” she says. “I know the Lord was commanding me to obey and do something to help and share the love of Christ.”
While in Sierra Leone, Crum and the eight others on the mission worked alongside Margaret Tucker, a widow of Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war who has taken in 23 orphans and provided them with food, water, shelter, medical treatment and the opportunity for an education.
“Projects included working on pouring footings on a latrine at Margaret’s Orphans, sharing God’s love with the children, taking necessary supplies and clothing to the children, visiting Hosetta Special Needs School and establishing relationships with some of the thousands of orphans at a drop-in center in the most poverty-stricken area of Sierra Leone,” Crum says. “When our team returns in May, our goal is to continue working toward the completion of the latrine to ensure these orphans can enjoy their privacy and no longer have to use the countryside to bathe or go to the bathroom.”
According to Crum, recent estimates indicate that more than 53 percent of Sierra Leone’s population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 per day, and nearly 3 million people live on an annual income of $450 or less. Hunger, malnutrition and disease are widespread effects of the nation’s poverty. Yet, Crum is hopeful that the day will come when Sierra Leone’s children won’t have to wonder how they’ll get life-sustaining basics such as food and water.
“Additionally, I desire to see the day when medicine is readily available to children for preventable diseases that are killing so many,” she says.
Memorial Baptist’s Nations Team collects money and supplies to help with projects in Sierra Leone. Crum also says prayer, for both the citizens of Sierra Leone and for those involved in the missionary work, is tremendously helpful as they work together to rebuild the country.
As Crum and the Memorial Baptist team worked to make life better for the children of Sierra Leone, Sierra Leone carved a permanent spot in Crum’s heart, leaving her with a renewed sense of purpose and a stronger belief in the beauty of the human spirit. That’s not surprising to mission leader Sarah Anderson.
“It’s not an easy place to get to, but it’s even harder to leave behind once you’ve been,” Anderson says. “She left a piece of her heart there, and there is much work still to be done.”
Anderson says Crum’s utter conviction and determination to serve the people of Sierra Leone are remarkable.
“There is a lot of risk involved in making the decision to fly across the ocean to love on a group of people you don’t know much about,” Anderson says. “Many people might consider the biggest risk to be a monetary one or perhaps one’s own personal safety. I would say it’s riskier yet to go, knowing you could come home so changed and with such a different perspective of your world that there’s no going back to life as it was.”
That’s something Crum has learned firsthand. Although she returned to daily life in Jefferson City, she says she now sees a greater meaning and purpose.
“My heart is forever changed,” she says. “This experience has been life altering, faith strengthening and has refined my heart to make me realize what is truly important in life — sharing God’s love with others.”