Exactly four years ago today, I was running around like a crazy woman and staying up until 3am packing for an adventure of a lifetime. You see, on February 15, 2007, I boarded a plane for Monrovia, Liberia for the first time. February 14, 2007 is a milestone date for me. It was the last day of my so-called "normal life". This is what I wrote in my journal on that night four years ago:
I'm seriously going to just spew out love for 34 days straight. Everything is pretty overwhelming! Hopefully I will get some good sleep tonight; ready and refreshed for the longest, craziest day of my life. My life will never be the same again! That is what is exciting...and scary!"
I thought spewing out love for 34 days was difficult...but [mostly] spewing out love for 4 years is another story! I would have never guessed that four years later, I would still be in Liberia, and it would be called home. I know so much more about the country and culture; and I deeply love the people--especially the children that have so greatly impacted my own life. My life has not been the same since that February 14th four years ago.
Sometimes people ask me questions like, "when did you know that Liberia was your calling?" or "when did it click?". The single experience that made Liberia real and that made this all click happened just 5 days after I arrived in Liberia, and it has to do with a girl named Rosie.
[Rosie greeting me on my last morning in Liberia in 2007]
I remember Rosie so well. Cautious, skeptical, stern looks, the type to just sit back and observe. Rosie hardly said a word. One afternoon, we were sitting inside a thatched wall school, reading books and letting the kids play with my camera. I hadn't figured out how to have conversations with the children in the orphanage about their past. But for some reason, I started asking Rosie about her family, and her life at the orphanage. And for some strange reason, she began to open up and tell me her story.
Rosie had been at the orphanage for four years. She came from far away--"on the other side of the river"--but I didn't know enough about Liberia to know what she meant. She had two older siblings and two younger siblings; she's a middle child, just like me. She likes gospel music and she loves to sing. Both of Rosie's parents died during Liberia's civil war. Two of her siblings went to live with her aunt and the other two went to live with her grandmother. I asked if she got to visit her siblings and she put her head down and was holding back tears. The only thing I could say was, "you don't get to visit often enough, right?" She still kept her head down, without saying anything. Rosie has finally started to open up to me, even asking me about my family, but now she was completely silent. I sat back in my chair and my eyes welled with tears. I tried to watch the other kids playing through my tears, but then I just lost it. I put my hands over my face so the kids wouldn't see my crying and tried to compose myself. That didn't work and I just needed to get out of that room. All of the children became concerned, so I told them I was just going to go outside for a minute. I walked down the back steps and headed towards the lagoon to take a breather.
I wasn't crying because Rosie has lost her parents. Or because she seemed so sad. I was crying because I couldn't imagine her pain. Her siblings were at home and together, and she is the one who got let go of. If I were her, I'd be angry and asking God "why me?!" It was in that moment that I understood her silence. As I walked to the lagoon and back, I wrestled with God and asked why her?!
When I came through the line of coconut trees, all of the children who I had left inside were waiting for me. They all ran up and hugged me and grabbed my hands. I noticed that Rosie wasn't with everyone else. She came walking through the crowd and when she reached me I explained that it wasn't her fault and that she hadn't done anything wrong. I went on to explain that I was sad because she was sad. But that we shouldn't be sad because God gives us hope. The kids smiled and nodded and then we headed back inside to read more books.
That moment with Rosie forever changed my life. Hearing her pain broke my heart, but made me want to love her even more. In that moment, I realized that it could have been me. I could have been that middle child that nobody wanted. I could have been the one shipped off to the orphanage. It could have been me, but thank God that it wasn't. I also realized that I didn't have anything adequate enough to give these kids, but that I could be Jesus' hands and feet.
For the rest of my trip, every morning Rosie would be waiting for me in the driveway of the orphanage. As soon as I jumped out of the van, she was there with a smile on her face and would grab my hand. We would spend hours together under the plum trees, talking and laughing, and she would patiently teach me to crochet. To this day, whenever I show up at her orphanage, the children alert Rosie that I'm there, and she comes out with a smile and grabs my hand. Today, Rosie is a beautiful young woman.
It could have been me. Or it could have been you. But thank God that it wasn't. Thank God for Rosie--that her past and her pain were used to change my life. And that her story can be used to change all of our lives. Because of Rosie, four years later, I am still in Liberia being Jesus' hands and feet to those who need to feel His love the most.