Tuesday, February 21, 2012

46 Days of Prayer

Since I've been in Liberia, I've really felt like God has been asking me to somehow mobilize people to join together to pray for the children that I work with in Liberia. Then the other day, I realized that Lent was coming up, so I've been thinking about a way to combine the two. Some of you might be asking 'what's Lent?'. You can find the answer to that question here. This is your official invitation to participate in a world-wide prayer event for the orphans of Liberia! I invite you to join us, and to get others to join too.

How this will work?
For the next 46 days, I will be posting the photos of the children that ORR works with on a daily basis. Each day, you will look into the eyes of three beautiful faces, and then all that you need to do is pray for those children that day. Each day's post will be scheduled to post at 6am Eastern time. I will also be sharing each day's children on Facebook.

I want people to understand that 'poverty' and 'orphan' have a name; but they also have hopes, dreams and a destiny in Christ. As we prepare our hearts for this Easter season, let's reflect on Jesus' sacrifice and celebrate the victory over the grave, but we can also remember the least of these! I'm asking that you join hearts and pray as one body for the children of Liberia and we will also have a front row seat to watch God do amazing things!

Thank you for joining me on this Lent journey, and who knows might end up on here! I'm excited to see what God is going to do!

[I will also recommend World Vision's Lent Guide--Relentless ACT:S of Sacrifice. I have used their guides over the past few years, but unfortunately for me, they've made this year's guide in video format and the Liberian internet connection does not support video watching. It looks like a pretty cool guide this year, so if you end up using it, you'll have to let me know how it goes.]

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Five Years Ago

This is about 10 days into my first trip to Liberia. Total bliss is the only way to describe it.
Five years ago today, I was boarding a flight from Atlanta to London. From London, I would fly to Freetown, Sierra Leone and then on into Monrovia. Five years ago, what I thought was a 'normal life' came to an end. When I stepped onto that plane, my life changed. I can still remember it like it was yesterday. Jet lag, the heat, total darkness, the smell of burning charcoal, total chaos. Welcome to Liberia!

Despite feeling totally clueless as to what day it was or what was going on, I distinctly remember the drive from the airport. Between the wind blowing through my hair and the deafening crickets, it was almost as if the ride with the windows down was silent. It was pitch black, and we were dodging potholes the size of our van. People were walking all along the side of the highway, with an occasional person walking with a lantern. I was intrigued--I wondered where all of the people were coming from, and where they were all going. Somewhere along the drive, I remember seeing a clump of low, wide palm trees next to the road in the stillness of the night. Those trees, along with the distinct smell of burning charcoal, are like a snapshot of life that will always stay with me. In that instant, I clearly heard a gentle whisper, "welcome home, stay awhile."

At that point in time, I thought, "alright, five weeks...I'm staying awhile." What I didn't realize then, was that His whisper meant awhile. Um, like five years, awhile. If you would have asked me, I don't even think I would have predicted that one! I remember that instant as if it happened only five minutes ago. It's one of those times in life when God makes things so clear that there's no denying it.

I think that if I would have had communication with the five-years-ago-Ashley, I would tell her that this is only the beginning. That things and life will be difficult and amazing. I have seen too much death, children suffering, hunger, poverty, hopelessness, corruption, and every other evil thing. I have laughed and cried until there was nothing left. I have wept and celebrated. I have sacrificed, gone against the grain,  and missed out on things. I've confused people, sent them running away, lost friends and gained new ones. I have experienced His freedom and true joy. I have pleaded and begged, experienced miracles and overflowed with thankfulness. I have deeply loved; sometimes without getting anything in return. I have had to say goodbye to innocent children who should never have died so young. I have understood God more, grown closer to Him and found Him in so many unlikely places. SO much has happened over the last five years, but it has all been worth it. Every single thing, good and bad, has been worth it. It's part of my journey. It's part of my story. It's all been a part of His perfect plan.

Thank you so much for every single one of your prayers, encouraging emails, financial gifts, donations (undies, vitamins, etc.), moments of laughter, sweet fellowship and acts of kindness! I know I say it alot, but it's totally true--I cannot do any of this without you! Thank you so much for listening--for listening to the stories of children and needs that I share, for letting me pour out my heart on this screen, and for letting me know that you're hearing me loud and clear by responding to the things that you hear and see. I cannot thank you enough, and I am excited to share these next five years with you! Only God knows where I'll be and what I'll be doing then, but I know that no matter what, the journey will be worth it!

Love in Liberia,

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Just One.

Today began like most--waking up to a loud generator and welding at 7am, trying to go back to sleep but failed,"quiet time"til 9am, got dressed, put my mosquito net up, fried two eggs, responded to emails. We had some errands to run today. We left the house with the bed of the pickup truck full of food to deliver. The first stop: delivering bony (dried fish), beans and oil to nearly 30 children living in a shelter that previously served as a chicken coop. Imagine--children living where chickens once lived. They've added on to the coop, using scraps of wood and zinc; but still, this is no place for children to live. As I was trying to take everything in, I could only think (in Liberian-English), "this is not correct".

The second stop: delivering rice and oil to a young man who is enrolled at one of the few schools in Liberia that specifically is for blind students. I hadn't visited there in probably almost a year. The campus is spread out, almost sterile looking, but the hearts are big. I poked my head into the classroom, where probably 10 or 12 students were tediously writing in braille. It was fascinating! I'm not an expert, but they were using special tools to make the raised indentions in the paper...they do this on the backside, so essentially they're writing their letters in reverse and then flip the sheet over to feel the dots. There were children that were probably 7 or 8 years old, all the way up to twenty-somethings. This was the first grade class. One little boy looked up at the doorway with white, cloudy eyes, but the smile on his face was enormous. Another young boy finished spelling his spelling words aloud, and squealed in delight when he finished. He was smothered with kisses from the matron of the school. There was laughter and joking. And then, I watched as Mulbah just kept writing. He was fiercely punching away at his paper. I could only sit and watch and smile.

You see, Mulbah is about 25 years old, and he's never been in school. When he was provided with the opportunity to attend the blind school, he was scared to death. He didn't want to go because he didn't think he could do it. He would stumble around Red Light Market, trying to sell random things to make enough money to eat for the day. He knew his eyesight was quickly diminishing, and as a young man who had to be so dependent on others, he didn't have much hope.

But to see him sitting in school today, eager to learn, was a joy! He's never been able to read or write, and he didn't think he was capable. But today, he was writing...writing up a storm! He's also in charge of the chickens, pigs and garden at the school, along with trying to teach a new student English and cooking up a storm in the kitchen. We were joking that soon Mulbah would be running the place. To see him smile and to hold his head high with pride...I could only think 'this is what it's all about!' As I got back into the truck I said, "I want to go to this school!" because despite circumstances, there was so much laughter, joy and celebration in that classroom!

There are some days when the problems and situations seem overwhelming. You start to think in terms of 'this is good for the whole' or 'if only I can reach just one'. I've been thinking about those things alot over the past few days, and today I came to the conclusion that I'm here for the ones. Yes, I love the groups and the alls and the wholes...but I tend to search out the ones. I'm here to make a difference to the ones, which trumps trying to make some sort of difference to the wholes. I'm here to fight for the ones that nobody else will fight for and to love the unlovely ones. That's my task...just one.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Thankful Thursday

[I'm thankful that I was able to spend my afternoon with Mercy, Esther and Karvaline]

I was sitting here thinking about all of the things I was thankful for. I had a good list going, so I wanted to 'blog it down' (instead of jot it down) real quick. Problem is, it took 10 minutes to upload the above photo, so I can't remember my list anymore. So, let's start again...

Today I'm thankful for:
Huddling up with a few children, playing Bingo, and really being able to talk and interact with them.
Popcorn with lots of butter and salt.
The few hours of electricity I get a day...just enough time to charge computers and batteries, have some light, let the freezer do alittle freezing (cooling?) and enjoy a fan, if needed.
 Getting clean at the end of the day.
 Ma Mary's cooking--beans tonight! I don't just have food...I have good food!
Clean water to drink
The power of prayer
Someone to wash my clothes because otherwise I'd spend the day doing laundry. (thank you, Marthalyn!)
 A family that I love so much...and who love me so much in return.
Friends who aren't just acquaintances. 
A God who desires to know me and spend time with me and who delights in me.
Despite the time that I'm away from Liberia, I can come back and pick up right where things left off with friends, coworkers, my Liberian family and the children.
The generosity of others.
My security guards--Momo, Amma, Joseph and Roland. They're not only friends, but they do alot for me (especially Momo), but they are also literally guarding my things and my life with their own life. They also provide for plenty of entertainment and laughter.

I am thankful for so much more, but that's what comes to mind in just a few short minutes. What are you thankful for today?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Day One

In case you didn't know, I arrived in Liberia yesterday afternoon. My flight was uneventful, and after about 17 hours from the time I left my home in Fayetteville, I was touching down in Liberia. To my surprise, it wasn't hot (I think they said on the plane that it was 86 degrees)--I was fine in jeans and a t-shirt! The airport here can be chaotic, but yesterday's arrival takes the cake! After being hassled by the immigration officer, I entered the baggage claim room. There's a small conveyor belt, and not enough room for people and bags and carts to move around. The walls are lined with air-conditioners, but of course, they weren't on. Apparently the belly of the plane was full of refugee bags, and there were just mounds in the corners of the room. Everyone was digging through the piles to find their bags. The man that I sat next to on the plane and I decided that we would share a cart and try to find our bags. It took us nearly an hour! I was greeted outside by the entire crew--Deb, Cramer, Alvina, Kingsley and Sam. We loaded up in the truck and drove the 40 minutes or so back to the house.

The highlight of the evening was surprising Momo. We managed to successfully keep it a secret that I was coming back, so Momo had no clue. He was calling me about once a week to ask me when I was coming back, but I just kept telling him "soon." Because Momo wasn't expecting me, he opened the gate like usual. As we drove in past him, I starred at him and it took him a second, and then his jaw dropped! It was the funniest thing...he shut the gate as quickly as possible and ran up to the truck to give me a big hug. And of course, he was giggling the whole time. After unloading my bags and surprising Momo's wife Marthalyn, we hopped back in the truck and headed to one of our favorite restaurants to grab dinner. We came back to the house and I unpacked all of the goodies for everyone, but couldn't bring myself to unpack my things. I closed my bags up for the night, said goodbye to my straight hair and took a cold shower outside under the clouds. I was able to sleep for a few hours, but then just laid in bed from 2-5am. Around 9:30am I sensed a dark shadow on my porch, so I murmered "Momo" with my eyes closed. He started laughing and quickly said, "Morning Asslee, it reaching ten...you need to get up and take some hot water. You're not in America anymore." It's so true--I'm not in America anymore, and Momo is at my window.

I was pretty tired today, but I hit the ground running. I joined the Monday morning ORR staff meeting in my PJs--it was great to hug Monica, Piko and Ma Mary. Then Joseph came inside for handshakes and hugs. We finished our meeting and then went to town to run some errands. We came back to the house for a quick regroup and then headed to Frances Gaskins. I was exhausted, but wanted to see my kiddos! Only two of the kids (Jogma and Naomi) knew that I was arriving yesterday, so I laid down in the back seat of the truck to surprise everyone. As we pulled into the yard, Jeremiah saw me in the back and sent out the alert. I opened the door to screaming children, while the door on the other side flung open and kids were climbing through to hug my neck.

Small Joshua isn't so small anymore!
Jogma came running. She was giggling, and hugged my neck multiple time. She was so happy! And then Joshua was brought outside. I couldn't believe how big he is! He will be 6 months old in a few weeks! He's pretty stinking cute, and looks just like his mom. After greeting everyone else, we sat around and just talked and laughed. Jogma had made me a surprise and she presented me with a doll that she had made the clothes for. She just whipped it up for me (and one for Deb) over the weekend. It was pretty sweet, and she's excited to show me how she made them. She made sure that I had some sewing projects for her too! After about 2 hours of sitting under the plum tree talking, it was time to come home for dinner. Ma Mary made me my favorite--pumpkin with pineapple. YUM! 
My doll on the left and Deb's doll on the right.
After dinner, Momo and I were outside in the yard planning for our garden. We've already got a plan, and we planted tomatoes in a greenhouse. We want tomatoes in Liberia, so we're hoping this little greenhouse thing that I brought over will work! We just need to buy some 'black dirt' and then we'll  get a bucket kit situated under a thatch covering and then start planting!

Afterwards, I decided to go ahead and unpack my things. I've spent the past few hours working up a sweat--unpacking, organizing, sweeping and cleaning. Everything is covered in a thick layer of dust! I took a quick shower and sat down to have another bowl of rice and pumpkin. Our new kitten Manyeh is curled up in my lap and the fan is blowing on us. I'm totally exhausted, and going to go jump in bed to enjoy some more 'fan time' before the generator goes off.

There are so many small things that remind me that I'm back in Liberia. Flushing the toilet with a bucket, the outdoor showers, slow internet, the hum of the generator, sitting out on the porch talking with security guards, the crazy driving, people everywhere, people living life on the side of the road, tucking in the mosquito at night, the laughter and dancing of children, the laid back attitude where there's plenty of time to sit around and talk with friends. All good things, with an occasional frustrating thing. Anyway, this is long and probably boring so I'll end there.

Lucky--the same girl who's at the top of the blog.
It was a good first day back in Liberia. I'm just hoping to get some more sleep tonight, and then it's off to see the kiddos at Danny Feeney tomorrow!

Love in Liberia,