Saturday, December 24, 2011

Day 1--Christmas In Liberia

As you begin to celebrate Christmas with your loved ones, I just wanted to give you a glimpse of Christmas in Liberia. First of all, you people are amazing! Because of the generosity of others, there are 353 Christmas bundles ready to be delivered in Liberia! Deb and Matt have been hard at work--Christmas shopping, putting bundles together and then throwing Christmas parties at orphanages. Well, that last part isn't exactly hard work. But it is a very special time of year for the kids. They get their own bundle with candy, a small toy, school supplies, a new outfit and a pair of slippers. The most treasured thing inside each bundle is an apple! Apple's are a big deal in Liberia! First of all, the kids only get an apple on Christmas, but more importantly, an apple in Liberia is a symbol of love. So essentially, each child is receiving a bundle of love (and some fun things) for Christmas! Love from people half way around the world who bought the bundle. Love from their ORR uncles and aunties. Love from a Savior who came into this world for us. Sometimes I think...if only we would get this concept....a simple apple and Christ coming into the world because of His love for us. But instead we tend to get caught up in everything else--lights, trees, gifts, food, shopping, accumulating more, stress, a good parking spot, etc.

Here are a few photos from the Christmas deliveries that have already happened in Liberia. Look at the joy!

And if the photos don't say it all, then here's a look at Christmas in Liberia last year!
Christmas in Liberia 2010 from Orphan Relief and Rescue on Vimeo.

Please take the time this Christmas to slow down and to reflect on the true meaning on Christmas. Think about why we celebrate, and maybe challenge your family or friends to think about Christmas differently this year. Also, take a minute to pray for the kids in Liberia this Christmas. They don't have a Christmas tree or lights, but they have joy and hope and reason to celebrate! And if you forgot...just think about an apple--love.

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

Day 2--From My Heart & My Head

Just something that keeps coming up, so I’m just going to go for it...
If you’re ever around me, you probably know that I talk about Liberia. Alot. Sometimes I play alittle game with myself--to see how long I can go in a conversation without talking about Liberia. I especially try to play this game when meeting new people. There’s only been one time where I’ve won the game! I sat next to someone on an hour flight and managed to talk the entire time without mentioning in Liberia. I was so proud of myself! 
Here’s the deal. I talk about it so much because it consumes me. It invades my mind, it’s stolen my heart, it is my life. In a sense, I feel like I have sacrificed a ‘normal’ life, and instead have chosen an unusual life. Really, God has chosen this path for me, and I  just keep trying to listen to His voice. I mess things up, I am selfish, I am lazy, and some days I just don’t even want to get out of bed and face the world. I guess my point is that I’m not perfect, I’m not extra special and five or so years ago nothing like this was even on my radar.
Having said all of that, the reason why Liberia spews from my mouth is because I have fallen in love with a country and with the people. All I can say it that this immense love is God-given. But the other day, I think I came to another conclusion. The reason why I share stories so often is because I have tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Ps. 34:8), and I want other people to taste and see too! I want other people to realize that God can use them, right where they are. I want people to understand that God is real and alive and moving and working. He still performs miracles, answers prayers, and speaks. He is always good and always faithful. His love never ends. 
God doesn’t call everybody to Africa. I’m the lucky one; or at least that’s what I’m saying today (ha!). But God calls all of us somewhere--whether it’s to your family, a neighbor, your coworker, a classmate or a total stranger. Our command is to go when we are called. When you think you can’t do it or that you’re not equipped, think again! (I am in no way equipped to do what I do...and there are plenty of days when I know I can’t do it!) When God asks us to do something, He equips us and supplies our every need.
I know what you’re thinking-- ”well that’s easy for you to say.”  I hear you, I do. But that’s the thing. I know and I believe and I want others to know and believe. It takes so much to get up out of the boat and take that first step out on the water! It’s scary and uncomfortable. But I promise you, after you take that first step, and as long as your keep your eyes on Him, you can do it! But I feel obligated to also warn you--once you say yes the first time, that’s not the end of saying’s really just the beginning! It becomes a life of continual yeses. It gets easier, but sometimes it can still be scary or uncomfortable. That’s when I have to look back and keep reminding myself that God has brought me through everything, and that He has always been faithful. He has me, and you, in the palm of His hand! That’s so crazy to think about!
I think I might be prepared to preach a sermon now, and I feel like I could keep going, but I just wanted to share with you alittle bit that’s been on my heart lately. There’s actually been ALOT on my heart and mind, and maybe this post is more for my own self. At the end of the day, it’s not about me at’s about Him. And time and time again, He has my best in mind, and my job is to fully trust. My other job is to keep listening to His gentle whispers and to keep saying yes.
God, help me to hear your voice. Help me to trust you with everything that I am, and with all that I have. Help me to let go and to give up control. Give me the strength and courage to keep saying yes. Give me patience. Jesus, give me clarity and discernment. Enable me to be Your hands and feet to the world around me. Father, I want your best. Take my dreams and desires and make them Yours. Jesus, I need you. Thank you for your grace and mercy. You are so good. Thank you for your continued faithfulness. Father, help me to do everything for Your glory! Amen.

My heart will sing no other name. Jesus, Jesus.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Day 3--The Backbone

Lately you've been hearing about kids, orphanage directors, orphanages and my I thought I'd switch it up. I wanted to introduce you to the ORR field team backbone--our Liberian staff! They work hard, keep us going, sacrifice for us, put their lives on the line, cook, clean, do laundry, go on bread runs, act as a gatekeeper, get sent on crazy errands, love on kids and deal with endless strange 'white man' things (Legos, Trouble, Chutes and Ladders, baseball, composting, American chocolate, rice krispie treats, blueberries, pancake breakfasts, fried okra, ping-pong, surfing, rollerblading, computers, Skyping with someone in the States...I could go on and on). If it weren't for these amazing people, we would not be able to function! They mean so much to our team and the kids, but they really are my second family, my home away from home, my Liberia mother, brothers and friends--best friends. So without further adieu, here are a few beautiful, Liberian souls that bring joy to my day, make life in Liberia alittle easier and who truly are family.
I feel obligated to start the list with my best friend, Momo. If you've spent anytime with me, listening to my forever-long stories about Liberia, then you've heard plenty of Momo stories. I could seriously write a book just about Momo. I am also telling the truth when I say that he is my most favorite person in the world. I have never met anyone so full of life and laughter, innocence and wisdom, and he just makes me laugh...constantly! Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of frustrations that come along with Momo, but it's also pretty hard to get upset at the guy. Momo goes above and beyond on a daily basis; unless he's decided to just relax and think for the day. Momo is our Chief of Security and literally puts his life on the line for us and our safety. But Momo does so many other things! He gets bread and eggs or soft drinks, he helps me garden, he cuts the grass, he paints things, he fixes things, he breaks the things he's trying to fix, he pumps water, he negotiates deals, he finds parts, he sweeps the yard, he cuts down trees, he plants trees, he takes care of chickens, he's the dog whisperer, he sings and dances, he rollerblades, he's been known to use break fluid as lotion, he has an amazing fashion sense, he enjoys talking to my family on Skype, he takes care of visitors, he gets vexed if I'm still out in the neighborhood when it gets dark, he wakes me up just about every morning, he washes cars, he takes out the compost, he carries heavy bags of rice, he loads trucks, he unloads trucks, he translates, he loves giving guests a hard time, he loves telling guests about Liberia, he bathes in the ocean, he removes bottle caps with his teeth, he's a mean bamboo cutter, he can out garden anyone, he can eat 6+ mangoes in one sitting...I think you get the idea! Like I always say, "everyone needs a Momo in their life."
{Momo and Marthalyn's wedding day, with Momo's children}
Momo's sweet and beautiful wife, Marthalyn, is also a part of our Liberian family. Not only is she an amazing woman because she puts up with Momo, but she's pretty amazing because she washes our clothes and helps clean our house. This girl has some serious muscle! She is so giving and humble and hospitable. She works hard; she hardly makes a sound when she's cleaning, but she laughs alot. Some of my favorite times with Marthalyn are when I just go over to their house and sit on the front porch with her as the sun sets. We can spend hours talking and laughing, talking and laughing. We're the tag-team that keeps Momo in line. Marthalyn also takes care of two children (Momo's son and her younger sister), and she also has a small market table where she sells cookies, peanuts, and other snacks (which she somehow finds the time to make--I've seen her roasting peanuts over a fire at 11pm with a headlamp!). Marthalyn is a good friend, and I've really enjoyed watching her loosen up over the past few years. 
The true backbone of our house is Ma Mary! She is one of the most humble, Godly, sincere, hardworking and honest women I know! Ma Mary is just that--she's my Liberian Ma! She also keeps the ORR team running by filling our food baskets. She cooks dinner for us during the week--every single meal is cooked full of love, pepper and amazingness! She works her magic in the kitchen, but she also helps me run the relief program. She keeps up with the feeding schedule, buys the food in the market, counts cups and cups of rice and beans, and sneezes away as she counts. She also LOVES the children! We finally figured out a way to get her out of the kitchen and with the kids, so she helps me with the CDP program too. She is a woman so full of God! While she's slicing onions, pounding cassava leaf or slicing pumpkin she is usually praying or singing hymns. It makes my day to hear her praying for the children or humming 'How Great Thou Art'. She has endured and survived the war and loosing her husband, but because of her determination and business sense, she runs multiple businesses so she can put her two sons through college! Pretty much if you have a question or need advice, you ask Ma Mary. I LOVE this amazing woman!
Ma Mary's partner in prayer is Piko! These two women have been friends since they were children, and I always love to hear their stories from growing up together. Piko is a firecracker and so full of laughter!  We spent alot of time laughing together. Piko has worked for me every since I started with ORR, and has done an excellent job monitoring our orphanages. She is basically our eyes and ears in the orphanages on a consistent basis. She can tell you who's sick, who's misbehaving, the meals that were cooked, the whereabouts of the children or orphanage staff--she knows it all! Piko also helps with the CDP program. Like Ma Mary, Piko is a Godly woman who enters her prayer closet, for ORR and the children we serve, on a daily basis. On Friday mornings, I make her tea (unless it's just too stinkin hot), we talk about the kids and then we pray. Piko is a giver, and she's been through alot in her life, but she has joy in Christ. She is such a great friend and an amazing woman of God.
Amma is a newer member of the ORR family. He's our weekend daytime security guard. When he was first hired, he was always very serious. We also had some difficulty communicating, because his English isn't the best. But, now we communicate much better and Amma has really blossomed into a very funny person! He laughs and jokes and is quite the character. He discovered rice krispie treats and absolutely loves them! Amma is also a serious gardener, but he doesn't quite get the science behind it all. He frequently dumps entire seed packets into one small pot or covers plants up to protect them from the rain but doesn't uncover them to get some sun, but it's so cute, so I just leave it that way. He loves to just help out in the yard and to learn new things about gardening. I also had the hilarious privilege of introducing Amma to American baseball--the baseball eventually turned into a soccer ball and the car tires became his goal--but he's a die-hard Braves fan (aka he's always wearing the Braves hat that I gave him!). Amma has a sweet daughter, Sinoe, who comes to visit sometimes, and that's when we pull out the coloring books. Amma colors with us too. Amma works hard to try to provide what he can for his daughter, and he was so proud when he was able to register her for school this year--she's 12 years old and it was her first time going to school! Amma's got a big heart and plenty of laughter to go around!
And finally, our driver Joseph. Like Amma, Joseph took awhile to come out of his shell. But once he came out, there was no stopping this guy! He's a true comedian. So much so, that you start to get confused if he's still joking because he thinks it's so funny or because he's actually serious. Not only does Joseph drive us around and take care of our vehicles, but he runs errands, he negotiates for us, he sometimes is like an ambulance driver, he hauls construction supplies, he mentors the older boys and he helps out with the CDP program. If you can't find Joseph, you can usually find him in the garage with his headphones in trying to catch some quick zzz's. He also loves to eat! Whenever I bake with the girls, he always tries to get an entire pan for himself. Joseph enjoys alittle friendly competition, but I've only lost 100 LD (about $1.38) to him. He's a pretty amazing man--he's got three daughter, but has a house full of children that he takes care of by himself. He's a deacon at his church and has a heart to work with the older boys in the orphanages, but he doesn't mind playing Chutes and Ladders or football with the smaller kids. He gets us where we need to be, and provides laughter along the way.

All of these people are integral to ORR's work in Liberia, but more importantly, they are my family. Please pray for our Liberian staff members--that God would bless them and that He would keep them healthy and safe. Pray that God would provide for their families and that He will meet their needs. Pray that God would strengthen them so that they can press on and continue the work that He's called them to. Pray that they would come to know Him in new and fresh ways. Pray that they would be blessed for all of the sacrifices that they make, and that their hearts would continue to be burdened for their fellow Liberians. Pray that they would know Him and make Him known.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Day 4--The First Day

{February 19, 2007)
This is one of the very first photos I have of myself in Liberia--wasting no time at doing things the Liberian way. I can remember everything so clearly. The smell that infiltrated the plane as soon as the door opened. The sticky night as I walked across the runway. The cramped and HOT immigration area. The chaos outside, trying to get all of our bags loaded into the waiting vehicles. That first drive down the highway. Everything pitch black, with an occasional flicker of a lantern. I was amazed and wondered where the people came from and where they were going. Pitch black. The breeze that smelled of charcoal. Crickets. A gathering of lanterns--friends, meeting for conversation, a drink or perhaps to watch the airport traffic go by? And that's when I heard it loud and clear, in the smoky, humid black night, "welcome home. stay awhile."

That was almost 5 years ago! Liberia is home, and I have stayed awhile. I would have never thought on that night that I would still be there all of this time later. I would never even be able to imagine all that I have seen, done and been a part of. I couldn't even begin think of all of the ways that God would prove His faithfulness; time and time again. It has been quite the adventure, and I can't wait to see what God has in store for the next 5 years! (Or better yet, for the next month!)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Day 5--On the Fringe

There are some kids in Liberia that stick out to me. Most of the time, it’s the cute and cuddly ones, the trouble makers, the outgoing or funny ones, the ones who are always sick or maybe we shared a meaningful experience together. And then there are the other ones that stand out--the kids that are on the fringe. The problem is that when you’re one of 30+ kids you don’t always get the one-on-one attention that you need. It’s not so bad at first--you don’t do your chores or you stay out late. But then things change--you stay out all night, you refuse to go to school and you even run away.
The kids on the fringe are typically quiet and if given the choice, they don’t want to participate in things. They pop in and out, and some days you never see them. Usually it makes perfect sense to me why a kid is on the fringe--they’re behind in school, they can’t read, they feel like an outcast, or they are made to feel stupid. They’re getting older and becoming teenagers. They test the boundaries. They don’t want to go to school and they’re for sure too cool for our study class time. They want to find friends outside the orphanage, and really they are just going through that teenager stage. It’s funny, kids in Liberia have that awkward, rebellious stage too!
Ever since I first went to Liberia in 2007, the fringe kids tugged at my heart. I think it’s mostly because I felt like I could relate to them. But, I also want them to know that they are loved and that it matters if they are there or not. I make a special effort to acknowledge the fringe kids whenever I visit their orphanage. I want them to know that I realize when they are there. They matter and they are a part of the family.

Please join me in praying for a few kids who are on the fringe. Pray specifically for Patricia, Moses and Robert Lee. But there are other kids on the fringe too. They need to know that they are loved--not just by their caretakers or the ORR team, but more importantly, that God created them just the way they are and that He loves them. Pray for hope--there is hope! Pray for motivation when it comes to school, studying, chores, and that they would realize that the younger kids look up to them. Pray that they would know that they belong. You can pray for the kids who have given up, run away, started hanging out with the wrong crowd, gotten involved in alcohol or drugs...pray for safety, protection and for a change of heart. Pray that God would grab hold of them and that they would know that He loves them like crazy. Pray for us, that we would be able to recognize more kids on the fringe and that we would be able to love on them, and that they would experience His peace, love, joy and hope.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Day 8--Emmanuel

{Emmanuel wants his children's dreams to come true!}

Yesterday I shared the story of Jogma with you. Today I’m going to share the story of her father, Emmanuel. Emmanuel and his wife Evelyn are the directors of an orphanage that houses 33 children. They have three biological children (Jogma and two younger daughters), but their huge hearts enable them to love and nurture 30 other children as well! I don’t know how they do it! They have also endured alot--two armed robberies, children becoming teenagers and making poor choices, the death of Emmanuel’s mother--but they press on. They also are very familiar with plenty and want. They know hardship, hunger, terror and suffering; but laugher, joy, hope, determination and love abound!

{Emmanuel teaching a computer class in the school building that he built with dirt, mud, rock and his hands}
Emmanuel is the hardest working orphanage director that I’ve ever met, by far. Not only is he a parent to 33 children, but he also juggles running a school for more than 100 community children, running a successful cold water business, up keeping a large garden, and his hands are always dirty because you can usually find him making mud blocks for another one of his construction projects. Oh yeah! He also teaches adults about computers and wants to start a driving school. And, he coaches and plays on a community football team with young men and kids.
{One of my favorites...a father watching over his children}
Emmanuel and Evelyn don’t just sit back and wait for free handouts. They are constantly doing things for themselves. We dug them a clean water well about two years ago, and Emmanuel decided to start a cool water business. When I left Liberia, he was making a new building to house the generator and freezers for his business out of handmade dirt blocks. He is such a hardworking man! 
{Evelyn and I sorting out seeds for their garden}
Emmanuel isn’t the only entrepreneur and hard worker. His wife Evelyn is the main caretaker for the kids--she lines them up everyday for baths, medicine, lotion, powder, fixing hair, brushing teeth and meals. She is the master gardener--they grow enough vegetables to eat at least a few meals a week from the garden. Evelyn also in the charge of the cool water business. She fills bags, ties them, loads up coolers of people who sell their water and handles all of the finances. She also holds sewing classes for the girls in the orphanage, but also teaches women in the community how to sew. And, four months ago, Evelyn added grandmother to her list of duties.

{Evelyn holding a sleeping Eddy}
Emmanuel and Evelyn truly care for their children, and it is so evident. Their living situations are modest, at best. They take care of what they’re given. They have managed to create a warm and inviting home for their children, and for the constant stream of visitors who want to see an orphanage director doing things right. Emmanuel and Evelyn have high expectations, hopes and dreams for their children. Emmanuel never finished college and has spent his life working very hard. He wants his children to have the opportunity to go to college and to have a job. That’s why he opened a school for the community--because education is so important to him! 
{An afternoon under the plum tree with Emmanuel} 
Those hot afternoons under the plum trees that I talked about yesterday...Emmanuel and Evelyn are frequent participants in the dancing, singing and laughing. Emmanuel will take a break from back-breaking work to sit down and laugh. Some days, he just can’t stop laughing and it makes me giggle to watch a grown man turn into a child! Emmanuel is not just an orphanage director, but he is a friend. We share rice, stories, joys and hardships together. And he loves my cake! Emmanuel greets me with a hug on every visit, and loves to grab my hand (or if he’s covered in dirt, then he extends the top of his wrist--the Liberian way) and show me what he’s working on that day. 
We have big dreams in the upcoming year for Emmanuel, Evelyn, Jogma and the rest of the children! We have a dream for a new combined school and dormitory, along with a new security fence. Construction began on the security fence a few weeks ago, and we can't wait until it is complete. We are currently raising funds to start on the school and dorm. You will see below what their current school looks like, and what we hope to provide for them.

Your action steps for today are: PRAY. Pray for Emmanuel and Evelyn--for strength, energy, wisdom, rest and renewal. Pray that God would reign in their home. Pray for safety, security and good health for them and their children. Pray that God would bless them for their sacrifices and that He would bless them beyond measure for their genuine love and care for their children. Pray that God would enable us so that we can better empower Emmanuel and Evelyn--for their sake and for the sake of their children. Join us in making Emmanuel's dream come true by clicking here to donate.

{Rendering of orphanage property and the dreams we have for Emmanuel, Evelyn and their children}

Friday, December 16, 2011

Day 9--Jogma

{Name: Jogma        Dream: Go to college}

Let me start off by saying that when I first sat down to write about Jogma, I ended up writing 7 pages! I'll save you the long version (that's for the book, HA!), and give you the short(er) version.

I can remember my first few interactions with Jogma, nearly four years ago. I couldn’t get over her creativity, intelligence, imagination and high-pitched giggling. I remember thinking that her life must be interesting--she has 32 siblings because her parents run an orphanage in Liberia. Jogma’s parents treat her just like the other children--she shares her bed, she eats out of the same pot and she has just as many chores. Jogma’s the oldest child; a big sister and role model to all of her siblings. She’s also the ‘entertainment coordinator’. We have spent so many hot afternoons under the shade of the plum tree, with Jogma creating the afternoon’s program off of the top of her head. She would giggle as she introduced the “children’s choir all of the way from Sierra Leone” or “performers from America” and then some of the children would jump up and sing a song or dance themselves silly. So much laughter has occurred under those plum trees!
And then Jogma was suddenly a teenager. She was attending school outside of the orphanage. Her friends began to hang out at the orphanage, and then only sometimes would they sit under the plum trees, because most days they were typical teenagers--too cool for that kid stuff. Thankfully, Jogma and I had formed a special friendship, and she would still sit and talk with Aunite Ashley, and we spent hours on the front porch sewing together. Once I began to realize that she was no longer a child, I started giving her responsibilities and including her in the planning of lessons for the older girls. Lots of sewing, baking and more laughter occurred!
When I had to suddenly leave Liberia last year because of malaria and a broken foot, I remember saying goodbye to Jogma. She was in tears. Seeing her tears told me that she really did enjoy our time together, and it was more than a child/adult or student/teacher relationship. We were friends...good friends. I was away from Liberia for nearly 8 months while I regained my strength and while I practically had to learn how to use my left foot again. I longed to be under the plum trees laughing, or sitting on the front porch sewing with Jogma.
When I returned to Liberia, one of my biggest fears became a reality. You see, Jogma was one of the few teenagers, especially when it comes to girls, that I work with that are on track with their education. She was 16 and in the 11th grade. She had excellent grades at a local Catholic high school. She studied, read books (Harry Potter!), helped her parents run their businesses and was essentially a caretaker for all of the children. Jogma had also become good friends with classmates and neighbors...and Jogma was pregnant. I returned to a Jogma that I didn’t know. She stayed inside all day, she was failing her classes, her smile and laughter ceased to exist and that sparkle was no longer in her eyes. I began to fear the absolute worst--her sudden personality change was because something terrible happened, like rape. 
She would call me in tears. But when I would come, she didn’t want to talk and would quietly sob. She was kicked out of school, and she no longer had friends Her parents were extremely disappointed and angry. Neighbors were talking and spreading rumors. She couldn’t do it anymore. I didn’t know how to fix things, or what I could even say to make things better. But I would go, and sit, and listen. I would try to dance around the whole baby thing because she would never talk about the baby and she didn’t even seem to acknowledge the fact that she was even pregnant. I would try to talk about names or if she wanted a boy or a girl. I feared that she didn’t want the baby because she was silent. But, one day, I got a call from Jogma--she was so distraught that I couldn’t even understand her. All that I knew was that she wanted me to come. 
That was the day I believe things changed. There were alot of tears. She was disappointed in herself and ashamed. She knew that she had let her parents down. She just needed her parents to stand by her during this difficult time. She needed to know that she was still loved, despite her poor decision. She felt isolated and she felt useless because she wasn’t in school. That’s when I let her know that, no matter what, I would love and support her. If she needed to talk, ask questions, or just get away, I would be there. 
{Jogma and I sewing on her porch one Friday morning}

Jogma and I had a standing Friday morning date--we would either sit and sew or shop for supplies together every Friday. I knew she looked forward to this time every week, and she loved riding around in the pickup truck to shop with me. We went to doctor appointments together and went to the market to get sewing supplies or things that she would need for the baby. We looked through old magazines for quilting ideas and flipped through cake decorating books. She’s my kind of girl!

We were waiting...and waiting...for any signs that the baby was on its way. We had bets and predictions--when would the baby come, and would it be a boy or a girl. Jogma was pretty miserable, and we joked that that was the sign that the baby was almost here. I took her on bouncy truck rides to ‘bounce the baby right out of her’ and told her to walk walk walk! We (Deb and I) got a call one night that it was time! We went to pick Jogma up from the orphanage and took her to the clinic. They checked her in and got her set up in the birthing room. Once we knew that things were not going to progress quickly, Deb and I went home to get some sleep. Jogma paced back and forth in that hot room all night long. We went the next morning to check on her--she was exhausted because she literally walked around all night long--but still things were not progressing as quickly as we had hoped. We went back later that night for visiting hours, and when we were one our way home, her mom called us to let us know that her water had finally broke! That was just the beginning.

We got an early morning call (like at 4am) from Jogma’s mom to tell us that the clinic was discharging her and wanted us to take her to another hospital because the baby was breech and they weren’t prepared for c-sections. We picked up Jogma and her mom and took the quick 5 minute drive to the nearby mother/baby hospital. When we walked into the maternity ward, it was clear that Jogma had just entered birthing hell. It was dingy and dirty, women were screaming, there were used medical supplies under our flip-flopped feet, there was an ant parade going across the floor and to top it off the staff didn’t have the supplies they needed, they were tired and most didn’t have a bit of compassion in their body. We left Jogma there a few hours later and went home for some sleep and to wait until visiting hours. This cycle continued--morning visiting hours, home for sleep or to get other things done, taxi service for family/friends, night visiting hours, late dinner and late to bed--for the next 2 days! 

By the fourth day, we had had enough. Jogma was exhausted and in a terrible amount of pain. I remember one time I went to visit her and they had her sitting out in the middle of the room (where everyone was shuffling in and out), and if she cried out in pain, they quickly told her to be quiet and not to cry. I was furious, so I told her that she’d earned the right to cry and for her to let everyone know that she’s having a baby! I don’t think the nurses appreciated me. By this time, Jogma had been in labor for around 72 hours. Her water had broken two days ago. She wasn’t progressing and she hadn’t eaten or slept in 4 days! Deb and I met with the doctor and practically begged him to put her out of her misery. He straight up told us that he didn’t want to do a c-section because “surgery in this country was risky” and he wanted to wait a few more hours to see if things changed.

A female doctor from South America showed up out of nowhere and basically told us that they would wait two more hours, but that ultimately she believed that Jogma would need a c-section. Then we started talking about what that meant--we needed people to donate blood. Her parents wouldn’t donate blood; they thought the hospital would just sell it. So Deb and I had our blood tested. I’ll admit, I hate giving blood! I haven’t done it since high school because it took me hours to recuperate and I struggled to fill the pint bag up fast enough. Combine that with being in a third world country, not really knowing if the lab tech knew what he was doing, not fully trusting that the needle or the process was safe and knowing that I had bought two sugar donuts on the street for my breakfast. 
Because God has a fantastic sense of humor, I was a perfect match for Jogma and Deb was a universal donor. We explained that we didn’t have an adequate breakfast, so we needed to go find something to eat. We headed downstairs to the outdoor market stalls by the hospital gate. Cookies, crackers, water and Coke were the choices--we loaded up on chocolate biscuits, glucose crackers and each had a bottle of Coke. We sat outside and stuffed our faces with the cheapest, worst junk possible (everybody was starring at the white women who were downing chocolate cookies at 9am) and shortly after we were told that the doctor had called for the c-section. We hiked up the 4 flights of steep stairs to the lab.
{The first glimpse of Joshua!}

About 45 minutes later, we went back to the maternity ward to check on the progress. Deb walked into the maternity ward, she popped her head back out and motioned for me to come. There was a tiny, beautiful bundle wrapped up and laying on Jogma’s bed! Big dark eyes were just looking around the room, taking everything in. There was no crying, just contentment. The baby was not wrapped in the girl lappa that Jogma and I had purchased together, but instead, the baby was wrapped in a yellow, blue and green lappa. One of the nurses came out and handed me the fuzzy pink baby blanket that Jogma had bought, and that’s when I realized it was a boy!

Because we had become a spectacle around the hospital over the past 4 days, everyone congratulated us and they wanted to know if it was a boy or a girl. Practically the entire yard was celebrating--security guards, nurses, fellow patients, visitors, women running their market stalls outside the hospital gate--but the best celebration was being able to go back to the orphanage and share the news with all of the kids and show them the baby’s first photo. The front yard was full of complete joy and celebration! So much celebration that half the neighborhood came running! Everyone wanted to see the photo, made a comment about ‘the old man’ and proceeded to thank Deb and I with a very Liberian “tank you, yeah?”.

The next few days were spent visiting Jogma from 7am-8am and 5pm-6pm during the visiting hours. We were usually shuttling people to and from the hospital, and then we’d just sit in a big room and pass the baby around. We kept asking about the name, and just referred to him as Small Joshua after one of my fellow teammates. Hopefully Jogma was decided on Joshua because Small Joshua stuck! After four days of labor and nearly a week recovering in the hospital, Jogma was finally discharged! She was getting around slowly, and was still in quite a bit of pain, but she was sick and tired of the hospital with the constant noise, crammed rooms, people extremely sick and some even dying. 
Bringing her and Joshua home from the hospital was a great celebration! I had to take every pothole and turn as slow as possible, which is difficult to do in Liberia, because the smallest bump put Jogma into a terrible amount of pain. When we pulled into the orphanage yard, the kids came running out, singing and dancing, and the neighbors started to gather to get a glimpse of ‘the man that hammocked Jogma plenty’. I’m pretty sure Jogma was just ready for bed!
Because my departure from Liberia depended on Joshua’s arrival, once Jogma was discharged from the hospital, I began to make plans to travel home. I was set to leave Liberia on August 24th--more than a month after I had originally planned on leaving Liberia, and just a week or so away. I would go and visit Jogma and Joshua every day--to check on her pain, to make sure she was taking her medicine and to see if Joshua was eating. We would sit on the bed and oogle over the sleeping baby, talk about her hospital experience and just be silly girls. I got the insider’s scoop from Jogma, and I gave her the scoop on what all was going on outside the maternity ward while Jogma was in the labor zone. Jogma continued to have a good amount of pain and was getting around very slowly. 
On the morning of my departure date, I went to the orphanage to spend some time with Jogma. She ended up going to the hospital to get her stitches taken out, so I arrived to Joshua crying. I asked questions and figured out that Jogma had been at the hospital for a few hours...and Joshua was hungry! I called Deb to see what was going on, and Deb informed me that they had to cut Jogma’s wound open and drain the infection and that they were readmitting her. We were to pack up her and Joshua’s things and our driver would come for Joshua, Jogma’s mom and her things. I was disappointed and I really felt for Jogma--more pain, more time in the hospital--and I knew I wouldn’t be able to see her before I left for the airport. I ended up having to call her from the departure lounge to say goodbye. I told her I would be praying for her and that she needed to keep her head up and do what the doctors told her to do. She needed to focus on getting better and taking care of herself and Joshua. She needed to slow down and let her body recover. I also told her that I would leave a large amount of sewing supplies for her so that once she was able, she could get back to sewing! 
I came home and, about a week later, got the first report that Jogma and Joshua were not well. These reports were in my inbox for the next three weeks. I was worried and so I called Jogma. It was so great to hear her voice! She sounded more like her normal self. She told me she was ‘trying small’ and I was just hoping that was the truth. Then I started asking about Joshua. I asked if he was doing fine, to which Jogma replied, “oh, Auntie Ashley, he doing fiiiiine. He big-o!” That’s when I knew everything was ok.
It’s like she suddenly went from a young girl to a strong and beautiful woman. I guess that’s what motherhood does to you. I loved watching her interact with her son. I laughed when someone else was holding Joshua and Jogma would watch to make sure they were taking good care of him. 
I cannot wait to get back to Liberia and watch Mommy Jogma in action! At first she was hesitant and wasn’t sure what to do. I would encourage her and tell her that she will figure out things along the way. She will learn what Joshua’s cries means, she will figure out what makes him comfortable and she will learn what works best. I also can’t wait to see how God uses Jogma. Not only is she a dear friend to me, but she is a dear friend to so many of the girls in her orphanage, as well as to the girls in the orphanages that she’s taken the time to teach sewing to. 
Sometimes there are people in your life that teach you lessons. Jogma is one of those people. She is smart and determined. She perseveres. After seeing her suffering in labor for four days, in a great amount of pain, and with silent tears streaming down her face, I realized that Jogma is strong! Stronger than me. She has so many hopes and dreams, and she is ready to work hard to reach for the stars.  She is caring and compassionate. She is talented and uses her abilities purposefully. She is full of life, love and laughter. I don’t think I can say enough good things about this beautiful woman.

Pray for Jogma. Pray as she continues to adjust to motherhood. Pray that she would find rest and that she would just enjoy being a mom. Pray for the relationship between Jogma and Joshua’s father. When I left Liberia, he was still very much a part of Jogma and Joshua’s life. The poor guy was a sleepless, hungry and nervous wreck during those four days of Jogma’s labor. They want to make things work, and I pray that they really can make things work, and that they will become a family in the future. Pray that Jogma is able to reach her dreams--she wants to finish high school and go to college. Above all, pray that Jogma would feel God’s presence in her life and that she will know Him as her Father and Savior.
{Jogma and Joshua last week. He's already SO big!}
If you would like to support Jogma, take a look at Jogma's sewing creations in the Good Gifts Market! All of the money raised from her headbands and clutches will go directly back to Jogma! You can also keep an eye out for more beautiful creations from Jogma once I get back to Liberia!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Day 10--The Puzzle

I'm just going to say it. There's alot going on inside my heart and head. There has been alot going on over the past few months, in case you haven't noticed. I am constantly thinking about things, brainstorming, and trying to plan for the future. Some days, it consumes my mind. Life has been plain weird the last few months. And I'll just go ahead and say it--it's not easy to process. It's also not the easiest thing to talk about with others. I think through conversations, or how to answer certain questions. Sometimes, it's almost like a game.

The best way to describe my life right now is like this:

Yeah, remember those stupid sliding puzzles?! 
Those things still frustrate me sometimes!

I feel like over the past five years, God has been placing different pieces into my puzzle. I feel like over the past 6 months or so, alot of pieces have been quickly placed into my puzzle. But, the pieces are scrambled. It's like I know I'm supposed to create a beautiful picture with all of these pieces, but the problem is that I don't know what the final picture looks like. The past few months have been part of the process--which is sometimes slow, painful, uncomfortable or confusing--of sliding those pieces around. I'll admit, I'm starting to get impatient about finishing the puzzle, but I'm really looking forward to the moment of placing that final piece into it's place and taking a step back to look at the masterpiece.

Maybe I'm just speaking in metaphors, and I'm not making much sense. That's ok. Most of it doesn't make much sense to me either. That's why I'm sharing this with you...I need your help. I'm asking that you join me in prayer. Pray for wisdom, discernment and clarity. Pray that the clutter and distractions will go away. Pray for His perfect peace. Pray that I will not grow weary during this 'sliding around' time. 

I'm also asking that you come along side me during this journey. I need prayer warriors, cheerleaders, people to give of their time or money (more on that later!), people to just sit and listen to me, people to dream big with, encouragers, people to bring me back down to Earth...I need you all! But most importantly, I need to hear clearly from God. I long to hear His voice; which I'm finally starting to hear again. I need a renewed vision and passion. I just need more of Jesus.

Thank you all so much for being my soundboard, my support and my cheerleaders. The longer I do this, the more I realize how people like you are vital. At the same time, the longer I do this, the more I realize that there aren't many people who are in this with me for the long haul. Again, it's all a part of that puzzle. I know God is continuing to place the pieces (sometimes gently, and sometimes not so gently), and right now, I'm just trying to trust in Him for a glimpse at that final masterpiece. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Day 11--Korpu

Half of the inspiration for the 12 Days of Christmas posts came from seeing photos last week of a girl named Korpu. That name might sound familiar to you Love in Liberia veterans.
{This is the very first photo that I took of Korpu in April 2008. She was terrified of white people!}

 I first met Korpu when I arrived in Liberia with ORR in early 2008. She was seriously the saddest child I had even seen. We weren't quite sure how old she was, but knew she was severely malnourished. She was probably 2 or 3 years old, but she couldn't stand on her own or talk. She was more like a 6 month old, and she weighed about 10 pounds. She was literally starving. Her growth and development were stunted. Most days, she was left to sit by herself in the dirt...and usually in her own mess.

We actually became involved in Korpu's orphanage because of her desperate situation. Once we investigated the home and the other children, the reality hit us that if we did not feed these children, they were going to die. The orphanage was hell on earth to a revolving door of 20-25 children. These beautiful, voiceless, scabies and ringworm infested, starving, distended bellied children absolutely stole my heart. I made weekly visits to deliver food, but found myself there at least 2-3 more times a week. Most days, the children were too hungry and lethargic to greet me when I would arrive. It was all I could do to love on these kids and any hint of a smile would make my day! Needless to say, alot of love, blood, sweat and plenty of tears went into fighting for these children.

For nearly two years, ORR was begging the government to shut down Korpu's orphanage. I continued to make frequent visits, but I was also praying that God would give these kids a way out. Eventually, I had to make the toughest decision--to end their food supply because the director continued to misuse it. That was my first big lesson in 'what steps must you take to teach the orphanage director a lesson at the expense of innocent children.' I didn't visit the orphanage for 2 weeks...the longest I'd been away from the children. My mind constantly worried--were they being fed, were they healthy? After two weeks, I made a surprise visit...and the children looked terrible. My heart broke.

{Korpu in November 2009}

During all of this, Korpu was receiving special attention. We were taking her to a feeding clinic for vitamin, mineral and protein supplements. We were working with her to try to get her to walk. We got special shoes and insoles for her. We tempted her to take steps with bananas and cassava root. We had our welfare monitor stretching and exercising her legs to gain strength. I think we were Korpu's biggest cheerleaders!

 {Visiting Korpu for the first time when I returned to Liberia in February 2010}

Eventually, we were able to partner with another organization to get Korpu placed in a foster home. We knew that with better care and one-on-one attention, Korpu's situation would improve. The day Korpu set out for her new home was bittersweet. The children, who helped take care of her and who played with her for the past few years, were in tears; which had me in tears. I momentarily felt like I was tearing apart a family, and knew that the orphanage, and Korpu's life, would never be the same.

Fast forward another few months, and a phone call came at 5am that there had been a fire at Korpu's old orphanage. The boy's dorm was practically destroyed, but everyone was ok. The fire was a strange answer to a long-standing prayer! The government moved in and closed down the orphanage! That was about 1 1/2 years ago.

{Korpu last week. Happy and healthy! Photos from GOO's blog.}

Now fast forward to last week. Photos of Korpu were posted on the blog of the organization that placed her in foster care. I was shocked...and then found myself in disbelief...and then I was full of laughter, joy and thanksgiving! All I could do was thank God! It's kids like Korpu that remind me why I'm doing all of this. I might not be able to change the life of every child in Liberia, but I get the opportunity to play a very small role in the lives of a handful of precious children in Liberia everyday. Sometimes I still can't believe that this is my 'job' and that God has chosen me to be a part of His story in Liberia! Thank you Jesus for rescuing Korpu, and so many other children like her!

If you would like to further Orphan Relief and Rescue's work in Liberia and to continue the fight for children like Korpu, please consider making a year-end donation to ORR. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Day 12--The Beginning

I’m not sure where these next 12 days are going to take me...or better yet, where it will take us. I’ve had some ideas of things I’ve wanted to share with you. There are stories, reflections, thoughts and photos that I’ve wanted to post. This whole thing started off with wanting to share a photo and story of a child with you every day leading up to Christmas. I sat down to write about the first child, and I wrote 7 pages! To say that the kids in Liberia are special to me is a total understatement!

I have had the privilege of crossing paths with thousands of Liberians over the past five years. Yes, it will be five years in February! I cannot imagine life without Liberia, but even more so, without the people of Liberia. From the children that I love and serve and know very well, to the stranger that I pass on my walk to the beach, I am constantly reminded that life is about others. It’s about sending a smile or saying a hello. It’s about jumping in and helping someone out when you see a need. It’s about taking the time to slow down, take a seat and listen. It’s about living in community and having sweet fellowship. It’s about living life with others--sharing in the highs and the lows, the joy and the pain. If life was about ‘me’, then wouldn’t God have put me on this planet by myself?

Liberia, and especially the people there, have taught me that life is not about me. God picked me up and carried me half way around the world to teach me that. Oh, but He’s taught me SO MUCH more! He’s taken me half way around the world to make me uncomfortable, to open my eyes, to stretch and grow me and to make me understand what true poverty and sacrifice look like. More than anything, He has taught me about love. About His love for me, about my love for Him, and about how to love others.

There are plenty of days in Liberia when I just wish I was at home--comfortable, clean, quiet, easy and enjoyable. But then I finally get home, and I’m reminded that life in Liberia is sweet, rich, full, loud, difficult, beautiful, hot and fulfilling. So many people hear my stories or know what I’ve been doing for the past few years and they have this ‘hero’ or ‘awe’ or ‘wow’ attitude. But it’s funny, because I feel like what I do, my life, is just different.

God has put me in Liberia and called me to love. God has put you in your school, place of work, neighborhood, city, etc. and called you to love too. God has called me to see things that nobody should ever have to witness--children dying, women loosing their babies, people sick and suffering, the evil of poverty, the desperation of people who live with a survival mentality and have suffered greatly--but He has also called me to tell their stories. Life outside of my picture-perfect and comfortable Fayetteville, Georgia is hard. Life in Liberia is more difficult than you can probably imagine, but at the same time, life in Liberia is frequently full of hope, love and joy.

I can sit in Ma Tete’s two room shack just outside of Monrovia, surrounded by 8 or 10 of her grandchildren, and she tells me that she has no money. In almost the same breath, she is laughing and full of gratitude for all that God has given her.

I have personally experienced great loss in Liberia, and I’m surrounded by a nation of people who have been through more than you or I can even begin to image--war, disease, famine, unemployment, violence, greed, injustice, spiritual stronghold, desperation. At the same time, I have never seen so much joy and thanksgiving. Sometimes I feel like God is more alive and vibrant in Liberia than at home. I feel like people in Liberia truly understand things like need vs. want, sacrifice, thankfulness, joy and being desperate for God.

My struggle right now is that I feel like I live in a world where I don’t have to be desperate for God. If there’s a problem, or if I need something, I simply go buy something to fix it. People around me aren’t dying or living with terrible and untreatable diseases. People aren’t literally starving to death. People have their basic needs met....and so much more!

I guess I just want to challenge you, myself included, to take a step back this holiday season. Take notice of how much you already have, and then thank God for all of it. Be thankful--thankfulness brings joy. Don’t complain when you don’t get that gift that you really wanted. Ask yourself what you really need. And then be aware of the people around you--do they need anything? Can you help meet those needs? If you can’t find someone around you who has a need, then I’ll challenge you to go to where the needs are. Contact a local church, ministry, shelter, school or food bank. Find out what they need and figure out how you can help. That’s part of the spirit of this time of year anyway, right? If you can’t step out and help those around you during the Christmas season then when will you?

If you’re just stuck or you don’t see any needs around you, then I encourage you to help meet the needs of children in Liberia by making a donation to Orphan Relief and Rescue. We are surrounded, and sometimes overwhelmed, by needs in Liberia. Your donation will greatly impact the lives of some pretty amazing children; children that I will be sharing with you during this little journey.

What a better way to celebrate the birth of our Savior--a man who suffered and sacrificed for you and I--than to reach out to those in need. Remember, this life is not about you (or me).