PIEDMONT — Sharon Allen prayed for a way to aid the impoverished people she met during mission trips to Rwanda.
Her prayer to aid her new friends bore fruit in an unusual way.
The Piedmont woman said she was divinely inspired to plant apple orchards in Africa, despite the tropical setting that made such a venture improbable.
Today, as founder of Apples for Africa, she is known as a modern-day Johnny Appleseed.
And she doesn't even like apples.
“I knew nothing about apple trees, and I don't particularly like apples, so this was definitely God's idea,” Allen said.
“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”
— Martin Luther
Allen has helped plant numerous apple orchards in 13 countries, including Mozambique, Uganda, Zambia, Kenya, Congo, Sierra Leone and Burundi, in addition to the first orchard inspired by her Rwanda trip. She said her first orchard was planted in 2009 on a widow's land in the Banda Village near the Nyungwe Forest National Park in southwest Rwanda.
Allen, 49, said she never promoted that first orchard, but word quickly traveled throughout Africa about a woman called “Mom,” who was planting trees that bore the fruit many Africans long for.
“I planted the first orchard, and within weeks, there were people who knew where Banda was who hadn't known about it before,” she said.
Allen, an insurance adjuster and longtime member of Crossings Community Church, said she was a single mom who simply wanted to make a difference when she visited Rwanda during her first mission trip in 2005. She said she was part of a mission team that traveled to Rwanda over the next several years to train pastors who had planted churches.
She said one of the Rwandans she met was extremely curious about apples in America. Allen said she was puzzled when he wanted to know the kinds of apples she ate and if she had access to them all the time. When she described the variety of apples at her local supermarket, he was shocked. He told her apples were rare in Rwanda and very expensive — about $1 each — when they were available. Allen said most of the apples in the Rwandan marketplace she visited were imported from China, tiny and not necessarily sweet.
The determined Oklahoman said she returned home feeling the Lord had answered her prayer to help the Rwandans. She wanted to plant the apple trees in areas where widows and orphans could harvest and sell the fruit for much-needed income.
She said she had no idea her idea was highly unlikely — some said impossible.
She began researching and learned that planting apples in Africa wasn't so simple, because African countries basically have no winter season.