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Dea Lieu prepares for his return home

Dea Lieu left his hometown in Ivory Coast when it was invaded by rebel troops. For four months, he and his wife and five children lived in the jungle to be safe, leaving their home behind.

“If you had a good position in the community, they thought you had money. They would kill you if you didn’t give them money,” says Lieu, a senior agriculture major. But after four months, the family could not live in the jungle any longer. Rather than go to a refugee camp, Lieu decided to use the time to prepare for “when things got better” in Ivory Coast. He began looking for a school where he could study both agriculture and theology. His wife and children went back to the city, but still face very unsettled conditions. He prays for them and worries about them daily.

Dea Lieu

Dea Lieu

At home, Dea ran an agriculture ministry for his church. “We have a responsibility to people in our community who don’t have enough to eat, to help them grow the food they need,” he says. Dea, who lived in a rural city, has some farming experience. He took a one-year program at a local agriculture institute and worked closely with agricultural missionaries in his country. When he graduates in May he will return to his country to continue his work and try to put to use some of the things he’s studied.

Dea came to the United States four years ago and began attending a junior college in Tennessee that offered him tuition and told him they had some theology courses he could take while he took agriculture courses. Once there, he began searching the internet for a place to finish a four-year degree.

“Dordt College was the only college I found that offered both an agriculture program and theology,” he says, adding, “The teaching is good here. I’ve learned more about some things I knew a little about, and I’ve learned about many things I knew nothing about.”

He’ll go back to Ivory Coast eager to try to share what he’s learned with his community, so that they can better support themselves and so that he can a witness to the gospel through his agriculture ministry.

One thing he’s learned, in particular, will shape his work.

“My people use fire to burn stumps and debris from their fields,” he says. He’s learned that fire depletes the soil of crucial nutrients. Every year small farmers move their fields from one area to another, clearing more and more forest to find soil fertile enough to produce what they need to feed themselves.

He knows that changing practices used for hundreds of years will be difficult. But he is committed to helping his people see that there is a better way—using compost and replenishing the soil rather than depleting it. He hopes to entice them by convincing them that they will be the first ones to benefit from a new approach.

“Farming is difficult in Africa,” he says. “We don’t have machinery to help clear and farm fields.” That is why people resort to burning as the easiest way to clear the land. Dea hopes that by improving soil fertility and increasing yields, farmers will be able to do more than barely feed themselves—they will be able to sell food in the cities and better support themselves.

Rice is a staple food in Ivory Coast, but small farms are not very productive. People in his country prefer the rice they can grow themselves, but they cannot grow enough. He hopes to find ways to help his people improve both rice production and other crops. He also knows that the civil unrest will make it difficult to bring change.

Although he’s eagerly looking forward to rejoining his family and praying for things to improve, life is difficult in Africa, he says.

“People in your country can’t imagine what we face every day in Africa,” he says in his quiet, calm way. Yet he believes God has put people in different places, and they must find ways to serve him where they live. His firm faith and his love for his family and community make him eager to return— even though the danger is not over, despite improvements due to U.N. peacekeepers.

Even though he has been living in safety, he worries daily about his family. It’s not easy to live in an affluent society without money, especially money to call your wife and rapidly maturing children. Yet Dea’s strong faith and hope in God’s promises give him peace and a ready smile to those he meets.