Papanie’s kind and buoyant disposition is especially amazing when you consider the trials he has faced in his life. Prior to joining Mercy Ships as a day-worker in Sierra Leone in 2011, Papanie endured incredible hardship. Yet, he never abandoned hope nor his mission to “serve with all of my heart.”
Two of his brothers died in infancy before Papanie was born. Then, when he was two years old, his father died. People said that Papanie’s mother was cursed and that she would kill her infant son, Papanie, too. She believed the superstitious gossip. To save her son, she gave him to her sister Fatu, who did not have any children.
Life with his aunt was harsh. Papanie began work as a laborer at a very early age to help feed the family. The extremely heavy loads he carried caused excessive strain on his growing joints, particularly in his right hip. But Papanie could not afford to stop working, and the pain in his hip grew worse.
The remedies from the traditional doctor in his village offered no relief. Wrapping his legs in steamed leaves made no difference. In desperation, Papanie spent precious resources to get advice from the nearest clinic. The news was distressing. Papanie would have a permanent limp, and he must stop carrying any heavy loads to keep from completely losing his ability to walk.
At age fifteen, Papanie came to a Mercy Ships patient screening. The sad news Papanie had received from the clinic was confirmed. There was no treatment that could heal Papanie’s hip or limp.
Because he could no longer earn money as a laborer, Papanie knew he would be an unwelcome burden on his aunt and her family. He left their village and began living on the streets in Freetown.
With his visible limp, Papanie bore the brunt of ridicule and discrimination in addition to continuing physical pain. He said, “My life was survival of the fittest. Any money I earned I had to spend right away or bury. Otherwise it would be stolen from me. I went to school, but I had no lunch, and I could not afford to buy the uniform.”
The only family that Papanie had during these dark years was a group of teenagers who lived in Victoria Park in Freetown. While many street kids turned to theft to survive or to drugs to escape, Papanie did not choose that path. “I wanted a good way for my life, not one that was wrong or would cause the harm I had seen done in others who went this way,” he explained.
When Papanie was first approached by a Christian organization called Word Made Flesh, he resisted the invitation to join their support program for street youth. “I was from a Muslim family and was taught to mistrust Christians,” he stated.
Cami, a warm-hearted Word Made Flesh volunteer, caused Papanie to have a change in heart. “Cami showed me so much love and care. My family never gave me love, and when Cami, who did not know me, gave me what I had missed so much in my childhood, I began to feel differently. I watched how everyone at Word Made Flesh gave love to others, and I decided I would be a Christian, too.”
In 2011, Papanie had his second encounter with Mercy Ships, thanks to his involvement with his local church. His youth pastor suggested that Papanie become a day-worker onboard the Africa Mercy. “I wanted to become a missionary, and I didn’t think I would have time for a full-time job. But I listened to my mentor’s advice, and, after working with the hospital housekeeping team, I was so glad. I discovered that the mission of Mercy Ships is also my mission. The work is hard, but I am able to serve with all of my heart,” he said.
Papanie’s family thinks that it is a great blessing for Papanie to be part of the Mercy Ships team. He agrees. “I have learned to serve others, and I have so many good friends in my life. I have put down my pride for a new way – I help others get up.”
A wonderful step in Papanie’s missionary journey was completing the Mercy Ships Gateway training in Ghana. “I learned a lot about leadership, God’s Word and how to work cross-culturally,” he remarked.
Papanie is now working diligently to raise the support needed to continue his service as a volunteer crew member onboard the Africa Mercy. He welcomes the opportunity to serve and to grow in his ability to be a servant leader.
“In my community, I help young children, especially girls, with their education. I led a Good News Club, and every Saturday morning children came from everywhere to worship, sing and share food. Now, I am talking to others to also start Good News Clubs in their communities. Everything I gain as a volunteer with Mercy Ships will help me be of more help to others,” he said.
Papanie has absolute confidence that his path with Mercy Ships is what God has in mind for him. “God has given me a lifetime supply of joy and the will to help raise others up through education, through mentorship, and through showing love. I am blessed to be His servant, and I know I will be blessed with the support to do the work He calls me to,” he said with great assurance.
March 13, 2012 Story by Joanne Thibault; Edited by Nancy Predaina; Photos by Debra Bell
Note from Tori: I had the great privilege to meet Papanie about a week ago. My other Sierra Leonian friends introduced me over dinner. The most exciting part is that Papanie became a crew member earlier this week! He is now Hospital Housekeeping Coordinator. Papanie lives down the hall from me and is such an amazing man. He is so joyful, friendly, and praises God for everything. I am honored to know him.