Edmond Missionaries work to restore Christmas in Sierra Leone

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Edmond missionaries work to restore Christmas in Sierra Leone

Couple hopes to bring joy to children in two orphanages

By Sandi Davis

It’s Christmastime and everywhere you look you see colorful lights, decorated trees and people bustling around buying gifts and planning which parties to attend.

On the other side of the world is Sierra Leone, perhaps the poorest, most corrupt country in Africa. Eighty percent of the more than six million people are Muslim and it was home to an Ebola outbreak that was so bad last year the government canceled any celebration around Christmas to keep people from getting together in large groups.

An Oklahoma-based ministry runs two orphanages there, one full of the orphans left from the Blood Diamond wars, the other, newer one, for children made orphans by Ebola.

Still, Christmas was canceled. Children, especially the ones in orphanages, didn’t sing carols or open gaily wrapped gifts. They were kept inside the walls of their orphanages or inside their homes.

This year, an Edmond couple is determined to change all that and bring Christmas – and Jesus Christ – back to their mission and the two orphanages they run.

Jerome and Shana Crawford are preparing to make a three week visit back to Sierra Leone during the holidays, bringing with them “Restoring Christmas,” a project made possible by Komeo International Ministries.

The Crawfords have traveled between Edmond and Sierra Leone for the past eight years. Sometimes their six children come with them, sometimes they stay in Oklahoma with friends and family.

Jerome Crawford started out playing in bands and doing stand-up comedy in Bricktown while working with a charity called Oasis.

When he found out about the first orphanage in Sierra Leone, one founded for the orphans left during the Blood Diamond wars, he felt he was called by God to take care of those children there and founded the non-profit Komeo.

It was his wife, Shana, who first visited Sierra Leone.

Before she left, the couple were talking about adopting a child through Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services.

“I called Jerome and told him we were not adopting children now, we were adopting an orphanage” Shana said, seated in the living room of their Edmond home.

When Ebola broke out in that poor country, it left enough orphans that a second orphanage was opened, called “Ebola Refuge.”

“God provided,” Jerome said. “When the sickness first started, we were able to move the children into an ex-United Nations facility and we tried to keep the kids inside the gates the entire time.”

While some of the children lost both parents, some children would come and go, and those were the children who got sick.

Even with that, only one died.

At one point, the Crawfords lived in Sierra Leone for a year and a half. Since their return, they have made at least four trips a year to their compound, a three story building complete with a guard shack.

“We live on the top floor,” Jerome said. “The staff live on the second floor.”

They visited in late 2014 when Ebola was everywhere, but they went despite criticism about their timing.

“We brought 30 tons of food and medicine,” Jerome said. “We traveled to villages handing it out and we went to places that had never received aid.”

Sierra Leone is about 80 percent Muslim, but they like Christmas. They shoot off fireworks and have parties.

It was the Christian president of the country who ordered Christmas canceled to try to stop Ebola’s spread.

The Crawfords returned to their Edmond home from their latest trip in April, and the U.N. has declared the country Ebola free.

That’s when the idea for “Restoring Christmas” started.

There are 87 children in the Ebola Refuge now. The youngest child there is two.

There aren’t enough beds to go around so about half sleep on mattresses on the floor.

The Crawfords hope to raise $50,000 before Dec. 20. They’ll be taking food and medicine to share with the villages but also hope to hire a full-time nurse for the orphanages, buy 45 beds and food for a year.

On top of that, there will be two Christmas gifts for each orphan.

“We’ll have a Christmas tree at each orphanage. We want to show them an American-style Christmas so they will have a gift from Jesus and one from a sponsor, hopefully with a letter from a sponsor,” Shana Crawford explained.

The orphanages are operated by Christians and the children are educated there and taught to be Christians.

Many of them go on to college, a rare feat in Sierra Leone.

“We have 45 of the orphans in college now, from the orphanage started during the Blood Diamond wars,” Jerome said. “Ten will graduate this year and about 30 next year.”

A few who have their degrees now work in the mission and with fellow orphans.

The Crawfords are trading Christmas with their six children – three adopted, three biological – for the orphans.

“The kids don’t mind,” Shana said. “They are home schooled and Jerome works at home so we are together all the time. I imagine they all will be spoiled during Christmas while we are gone.”

Jerome is a programmer, so he can work anywhere.

One of their daughters gave them $35 she had to help the cause.

During this interview, Jerome was checking with their travel agent to see if flights had become available in the dates they had specified.

Donations are welcome.

They need clothing, over-the-counter medicines, hygiene products like toothpaste and deodorant.

“A tube of toothpaste can cost $9 over there,” Shana said.

“A good deal of those items get shipped to Sierra Leone in big barrels to our mission,” Jerome said. “They don’t care about the weight of barrels. We will pay $200 a suitcase for the gifts we’ll be bringing. We can’t mail anything because the country doesn’t have a reliable mail system.”

Any type of clothing will be welcome.

“Over there, any kind of clothing is better than being naked,” Shana said.

To find out more about Komeo, visit its Facebook page or its website at www.komeo.org. To follow “Restoring Christmas” follow Shana Crawford’s Facebook page. She will update everyone with her posts during their trip.

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