“Who are those beautiful people?” asked the secular man behind the desk about the couple that had stopped by to pick up an apartment key. “There’s something different about them.”
Their names are Jared and Julie Landreth and they are truly stunning people. Well, yes, they are physically attractive, but when they picked up the key that day, they had been traveling. They were run down, hot, and tired. Yet the usually cynical man could not help but notice (and comment, might I add) that they were beautiful and different.
“…the Landreths are among the few Christians who recognize that besides love, the Bible addresses the poor more than any other subject.”
What makes this pair beautiful is that Jesus is alive inside them. Notice that I did not say that Jesus lives inside them, but that HE IS ALIVE inside them. See, the Landreths are among the few Christians who recognize that besides love, the Bible addresses the poor more than any other subject. They look at Jesus’ constant ministry to those in true need and emulate it. They “do” the Word, they don’t just hear it and then go on to live a self gratifying life. It is this kind of spirit in them that is so captivating.
Julie and Jared are currently serving in the poorest country in the world, Sierra Leone. Located in West Africa, this country has recently celebrated its one year anniversary of the end of a 10 year civil war in which thousands upon thousands of innocent people were either killed or gruesomely mutilated by rebel soldiers who chopped off hands and feet in order to instill fear and gain power. While an entire article could be devoted to the governmental, spiritual, and emotional damage that this war has caused Sierra Leone, let us again turn our attention to the Landreths, who day in and day out, struggle to make a difference for their God, in a place, that can many times appear to be God-forsaken.
Julie and Jared have had missions on their hearts for several years now. After serving for two years in India and Nepal with a missions organization called Word Made Flesh, Jared returned to the states to take classes towards his Masters Degree as well as work as the Missions Coordinator for Palm Beach Atlantic College. Though he knew education was important, he couldn’t help but feel that he needed to be back on the mission field. This desire was confirmed when he met Julie, the woman of his dreams who also had a strong desire to serve as a missionary. So much so, that she had been planning to leave PBA in order to attend a school that was known for its missions program. God, however, had another plan.
It didn’t take very long for Jared and Julie to see that they were meant for each other, and before long, they were engaged, and two weeks later they were married!!! Not a typo, simply an act of God. Soon after being wed, they spent a year in Maryland raising support in order to become the first Field Directors in Sierra Leone for Word Made Flesh.
On October 18, 2002, Julie and Jared arrived in Sierra Leone, where it seemed like the obstacles began immediately. Here is an excerpt from their one of their e-mails describing their first night there:
“We arrived at the airport at 8pm. We were finished with immigration by 9pm. We started driving, but then found out the ferry was closed, and then we had to find gas for the long drive. Unfortunately all the gas stations were closed at that time, so we took some random guy at the gas station that was closed and had him to take us to the residence of the people who owned the gas station. They did not have gas at their home, so they directed us to another residence. They too did not have gas. We went to a third house and finally they sold us gas.
By 10pm we were off again. We drove for about an hour before we ran into our next obstacle. First we should tell you that we were driving in a four door early 80’s Mercedes on the worst road either of us have ever been on. Jared would say it is the worst road in the world because it was much worse than anything he had been on in Asia, but there are probably a couple of more roads that are a little worse somewhere out there. This next obstacle was a flat tire. To add to the story, Pastor Bock left the spare tire back at the office…So here we are with a flat tire in the middle of the jungle somewhere in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Pastor Bock decided that we had no other choice but to go ahead and drive on the flat tire…(he) knew a Pastor in Port Loko and we could stay with him for the night and then fix the tire in the morning.
Seriously, this is a miracle! We drive two more hours for a total of 18 miles with 3 tires and 1 tire rim. Even more a miracle, I (Julie) was so tired, I slept most of the way! We were praying the whole way and then praising God!
Jared says that this place makes India and Nepal look advanced, speedy, convenient, efficient, easy, and fast. It’s sad, but true.”
What’s interesting about this story is that things got worse for Jared and Julie, before they got better. After spending a couple months in Africa, they realized that needed to raise more support in order to be able to stay for at least a year. You might be wondering why they needed so much money to live in the poorest country in the world. The problem lies in the fact that even though the war is over, there is still a strong presence of United Nations forces. Because vendors in the area know that they (UN soldiers) can and will pay for everyday items such as toiletries, they price everything extremely high in order to make money off of the soldiers, with no regard for the native people who could never afford $18 for a bottle of shampoo. (In fact, the average family salary for a year is about $140.)
“…they have hearts that hear the Lord and they obey what He tells them. This is what makes them different, and consequently, beautiful.”
Though frustrated with yet another hurdle, the Landreths returned to the states in December of last year in order to raise more support. This is when my husband and I were privileged enough to have them stay in our home for a week. Friends, when Jesus is alive in you, it shows. We couldn’t help but be blessed in their presence. I just couldn’t wait to go home and just sit with them and chat. Why? Because Jesus is alive in them, and where He is, joy, peace, and love are also present. It’s not because Julie and Jared are superhuman and they have worked hard to perfect their image. No, it’s because they have hearts that hear the Lord and they obey what He tells them. This is what makes them different, and consequently, beautiful. They share God’s heart for the poor. Even through trial, they stay faithful to their call, knowing that God deserves our whole life, not matter what it costs us. Julie and Jared’s journey illustrates this quite well.
On February 21st, 2003, the Landreths returned to Sierra Leone. Hear the story in their own words:
“Returning has been somewhat of a struggle with readjusting and getting back into things. We have been faced with many frustrations, one after another. Housing was difficult to find, things are still expensive, Internet is still costly and somewhat slow (not bad), electricity is very inconsistent and just finding our place in general is hard. We have felt the loss of community, fellowship, and encouragement. Every day and all day we are bombarded by one frustration and complication after another. Furthermore, to get anything done here, there is almost always a bribe requested.
Nevertheless, we know that the Lord has called us here and we long to be obedient to what He has for us- difficulties and all.”
From here, things got worse, again. The apartment that they hoped to move into 3 months ago still isn’t available. About two months ago, we were informed that Julie had been very sick, ultimately coming down with malaria.
It’s easy to sometimes question why God would allow them to go through so much suffering after so willingly giving up every convenience they have ever known, in order to go serve Him. An answer to this is found in one of Jared’s most recent reflections, dated June 1, 2003:
“Julie and I expected life here in Sierra Leone to be difficult and we knew we would have plenty of struggles, but we never expected the cards to be so overwhelmingly stacked against us.”
“This morning I am overwhelmed. The past few weeks I have been overwhelmed with my own struggles, frustrations, and discouragement. I have repeatedly questioned our calling-the calling that seemed so clear-even amidst the need here, which is so great. Julie and I expected life here in Sierra Leone to be difficult and we knew we would have plenty of struggles, but we never expected the cards to be so overwhelmingly stacked against us. Yet as I think about this pastor, I cannot help but to concentrate on his suffering instead of mine. I cannot imagine losing Julie, but what must it be like to lose a wife and a son and not even be able to adequately provide for your family? My struggles are still real and present, but for a time they take a back seat to the sufferings of my brother in Christ who has just lost his wife and son.
This morning’s time of prayer and thought has brought me back to a basic fundamental of Christianity: whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:25)
…The past few weeks I have been trying to secure and save my life and it has only resulted in me losing my life and almost my sanity. This morning I have been able to lose my life a bit. This morning I am not the focus. To be honest, toady the pastor is not even the focus. Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God is the focus and that allows me to see everything more clearly. Today my prayer will not end in an “Amen.” Today my prayer will not end in a question mark. Today my prayer will be never-ceasing as it moves me to action… Today as I gain a Kingdom perspective on things, I see that I am able to not only endure my struggles, I trust that I am going to be able to use my struggles for the benefit of the Kingdom of God.”
Jesus is alive in Jared and Julie Landreth. Perhaps now more than ever. He desires for all of us is that we be so obedient to Him, that we lose our lives in order to allow Christ to occupy ALL of us and truly be ALIVE in us. It is only when His spirit is so present in us that the lost will be drawn to whatever it is that makes us beautiful. It is then that we have the blessed opportunity to tell them that it is none other, than Jesus Christ himself. (All Glory be to God!) Ω
Update: Things have begun to shape up for Julie and Jared. Please pray for them as they continue to discern where God is leading them. If you want to know more about them or about Word Made Flesh, please visit their website at wordmadeflesh.org, you can even e-mail them a note of encouragement…but please be patient with awaiting a response…their e-mail is (in the words of Jared) “like watching someone pour molasses in zero-gravity in slow motion”!