Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Joe's Smile

This is my friend Joe.

He's 12 years old.

He has the most incredible smile, and his laughter is infectious.

When I last saw Joe, he was in tears, and I was giving him the best pep talk I could muster. You see, they were removing Joe from the boarding school he had been attending to send him back to his family in the interior. He had only been at the boarding school for one year, and prior to that, he had been living in one of the worst orphanages in Liberia. He loved his school, and loved his friends even more. I remember trying to reassure him as much as possible--I kept telling him that I knew he was strong and that everything would be ok--even though I feared the situation he was going back to, and I thought I might not ever see him again. It broke my heart. And Joe went back to the bush.

One year later.

After some conversations, phone calls and alittle bit of money, Joe's family agreed to let him return to the boarding school.

I was reunited with Joe today. I couldn't wait to see him and his incredible smile!
We sat in the palava hut for at least 15 minutes, just the two of us talking. He told me about how his mother and father were old now (54 and 58), and that his siblings were 'big-big' so he was left to help out his parents. He talked about how he worked on the farm everyday and how his hands were 'getting too rough.' Joe spent a year in the bush, day in and day out, doing back-breaking work in the hot sun. And he wasn't in school. And he wasn't in school when he was living in the orphanage either.

Joe left the boarding school having finished 1st grade, and today he's in 3rd grade. He's so smart that even though he missed his 2nd grade year, he totally skipped the 2nd grade upon his return! He is incredibly smart and loves learning! He asked me questions and we talked about how he's one of the older children now so that means he has more responsibilities. We talked about how 'with position comes responsibility' and that the smaller children need to look up to a good man and not a bad man. He laughed and smiled. And sat up alittle taller.

Joe is what it's all about! Hope. Lost and found. Laughter. Joy.
Joe with his friends, George and Emmanuel.
When I first met Joe, he was starving, sick and his skin was covered in fungus. But he never lost his smile, or that fire in his eyes. I told him today that I knew he was strong from the beginning, and that his smile always makes me smile.

He smiled. And I smiled.

We sat on the ledge and held hands. He's 12, but not so cool that he won't hold my hand. I'm sure that will go, and then he probably won't want to be caught dead hanging out with me. But for now, for today, I sat and enjoyed every second.


And for comparison sake, look how far Joe, Emmanuel and George have come:

It's A Girl!

It is with great pride, joy, happiness and celebration that I announce the birth of Ashley Passawe! She arrived into the world around 7am this morning. Both mother and baby are doing well! And she's pretty stinking cute, don't you think?!

Momo's wife, Marthalyn, has been on bed rest for more than a month now, so we have all been anxiously awaiting Baby P's arrival. I selfishly planned my trip to Liberia for later in March, in hopes that I would be here for the baby's birth. The 'birth window' was mid-March to mid-April, so I was just praying that I'd be in Liberia at the right time. I figured the baby would come a day or two after I left...just my luck. But God is good, and now I get two weeks to enjoy Small Ashley!

Marthalyn was a pro! She started having pain around 9pm last night and Momo woke Deb up at 3am because 'the pain was too much and she was crying like a baby.' They took her to the hospital and she was whisked inside...nobody else was allowed to go with her. Around 7am, Momo got the news that it was a girl!

Of course, I turned my phone off last night, so Deb had no way to get in touch with me. Just before 8am, I had a knock on my door and I heard, "Debbie's trying to get in touch with you." I said ok and turned on my phone. Right then, my door opened and Momo came in, yelling, "Marthalyn born girl child!" I was still half asleep, and was shocked that only a few hours earlier, I was sitting with Marthalyn and she was telling me that she felt good and wasn't having any pain. I packed my bag, changed clothes and off we went to wait for the visiting hours at the hospital.

Momo is such a proud father! He was calling everyone, riding his bike around to spread the news, and had a huge grin on his face all day! He kept saying, "I young baby pa today-o! Eh, Small Ashley."

For giving birth [no pain meds here!] only 3 hours prior, Marthalyn looked great! She was sitting up, talking and laughing. At one point she got quiet and I saw her eyes water, so I asked if she was in pain and she nodded yes. Small Ashley is tiny, has a full head of hair, looks like her mom [expect we determined she had Momo's nose, feet and allergy....she kept sneezing!] and was incredibly content to just look around. Everyone kept saying, "her eyes shining-o!"

There has been plenty of dancing and celebrating around here for the new Liberian princess, and tomorrow there's going to be more celebrating with a big meal. Marthalyn and Small Ashley should get discharged in the morning, and then we can all just sit around and stare at her!

Thank you Jesus for a safe delivery without complications and for a healthy mom and baby!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The First Few Days

The last few days have really flown by! It's still that strange Liberian time wrap--the days are long, but a string of days goes by quickly. It's been nice to take it easy these first few days too. There have already been so many mixed feelings and emotions. So much joy and laughter and excitement...but I also crawled into bed last night and just cried.
Naomi taking her laundry off the line.
But let's back-track.

I made it to Liberia with no problems. Everything went incredibly smoothly and God kept giving me little reminders of His faithfulness. I didn't get much sleep on my flights, but His reminders kept me going [and giggling]. My flight arrived early (??!!) and I breezed through immigration, baggage claim and customs. The customs officer commented on my strength to lift my bag and I told him that you had to be strong to be here. He laughed, said it was true, and welcomed me home. As soon as I walked out of the airport, Cramer was just pulling up, so I hopped in the truck and we were on our way to the house.

Everything here is so familiar, but it has changed so much! And when I say change, I mean there are new buildings along the road and buildings have new paint colors, but beyond that it’s still the all too familiar Liberia. About half way home, I commented that it still didn’t seem real that I was in Liberia. Three days later, I know I'm here, but it's a very different feeling...I'm in a new place with different people, some children in the orphanages are new and some aren't there anymore, kids are taller and healthier, and life is very different when you're able to get quality sleep at night. [I woke up this morning with that familiar daze of knowing you slept last night, but feeling like you hadn't.]

That's one thing I've already realized--quality of life here makes a HUGE difference! I’m staying with the amazing Laird family, and they are spoiling me! Their house has an air-conditioning unit, 24/7 electricity, running water AND I have a ceiling fan on at night! Oh, and they also live right on the beach! 
Eh, Momo!

On Friday, I took time to just take it easy in the morning. I was able to get more than 8 hours of sleep and woke up around 8am. I unpacked, played with the Laird kiddos, ate breakfast and slowly made my way to the ORR house. I spent time with Momo and his family and Elena while I waited to leave for Frances Gaskin. When we arrived at FG, it was kind of funny because there were only a handful of kids there because there was a school soccer game going on. Once the kids at the field got word that I was here, they started trickling in. I thought I was going to get knocked down by the running hugs from the older girls! The smaller kids were excited and there were lots of hugs and handshakes, but then it was like I had never left....everybody was just doing their own Friday afternoon, under the plum tree thing.

I spent the afternoon sitting with Jogma and Cyrus--talking, laughing, taking pictures, answering questions and dreaming about the future. It was a pretty perfect low-key day! Elena said her goodbyes and then we came home to eat burgers for dinner. Then Elena and I went on a date to Kendeja--girls night with ice cream and chocolate that I brought from the States. We sat outside on the deck, enjoying the ocean breeze and the drumbeats of a cultural performance, and caught up with each other. Again, another perfectly low-key way to spend the evening.

Celebration bubbles on the beach.
Yesterday morning we had a 'memorial service' for our friend Lamie. We sat on the front porch, talked about his life and how he changed ours, had soft drinks and everyone got one bite of a plum. Then last night, me, Elena and Momo walked down to the beach for the rest of the memorial service. I brought some bubbles with me to Liberia for the purpose of blowing 'celebration bubbles' to celebrate Lamie's life. We sat on the beach for awhile while we talked and blew our bubbles. 
My view this morning. It's been awhile...
I decided to sleep at the ORR house last night since it was Elena's last night in Liberia. I was alittle worried that I'd be sweating all night and not get any sleep, but thankfully I was never hot. I did, however, spend alot of time praying that the neighbor would turn off their loud and annoying generator. I think I got my best sleep between 6-9am. Elena left this evening, so I am back at the Laird's house tonight.

I feel like that's a boring overview of my first few days in Liberia. Tomorrow I will be back at Frances Gaskin, and starting on Tuesday, I will start to visit the kiddos at the other orphanages. It's going to be a good week!
Spending time on the front porch today with ORR's newest security guard, Sackie!
You can continue to pray for my time here. With all of the mixed emotions, it could be easy to get distracted or frustrated. I think being with the kids this week will really help with that! I will have the mornings free, so I'm looking forward to spending time in the kitchen with Ma Mary, or sitting on the front porch with Momo. Keep praying for clarity, divine appointments and vision.

Thank you all so much for praying for my safe arrival and easy adjustment. I don’t really have jet lag and I have been pleasantly surprised by the temperature. It hasn’t been terribly hot and there has been a pretty constant breeze. Apparently the weather patterns are really changing here--there’s already been rain, the temps have been cooler, the plums are already on the trees and the sea has been rough. All are very un-Liberian for this time of year!

I hope to give you some updates and photos tomorrow!
Love in Liberia,

Saturday, March 23, 2013

I Made It!

Just a few photos until I can post something longer!

Somewhere between Ghana and Liberia
Almost there!
Small Joshua is SO stinking cute!!
Spent Friday afternoon under the plum tree with Jogma...
...and Cyrus! 
Trokon stopped by to visit!
Elena's last night in Liberia, so we had to go for a walk on the beach!
Ahhhh! All is right in the world! 

Hoping to be able to write more tomorrow. Love you all!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Leavin' for the LIB

I've been dreaming of this view alot this past week!
I feel like I should have something profound to say, but I don't. I have set a new personal-best, however, being that it's 11:30pm the night before I'm leaving for Liberia and my bag is closed and I'm in bed! I typically stay up until 3am the night before I leave for Liberia, playing the space-save/un-space-save game. So, maybe this is a sign for what's to come?

Other than a packed bag, and lots of butterflies (I always have butterflies when I head to Liberia), it honestly doesn't seem real. I think the butterflies are from excitement and anticipation, and then you add an extra flight for a standby passenger (which is always nerve-wracking), and I'm all jittery inside. And, for a moment of truth--I was brushing my teeth and I started thinking about the escape plan. I have felt so empowered, confident and filled these last few weeks...and as I was brushing my teeth, my mind began to wander. Going to Liberia tomorrow is like the first BIG step of this new adventure! Getting on that plane is saying yes. Do I really want to say yes?! I can easily just not show up at the airport tomorrow, right?

But, my heart yearns.

My heart yearns to fully trust God. My heart yearns to be obedient to what He's asked of me. My heart yearns for His presence, and to experience life to the full--because I've been invited on this journey, and this journey is incredible!

Lately I've been thinking [thanks, crazy brain of mine] alot about sacrifice. What it means to sacrifice. What sacrifice looks [and feels] like. Wondering if I'm sacrificing, and if so, am I sacrificing comfortably...or am I sacrificing until it hurts. Don't get me wrong, I love Liberia and the people there...but I also hate Liberia.

Liberia is sacrificing until it hurts.

And life has been pretty comfortable these last nine months. And I'm not so sure I'm ready for it to hurt again.

Actually, I don't want it to hurt. Nobody wants pain, right?

But I know it will hurt.

I'm trying to dance around and figure out how to best protect my fragile heart tonight. I haven't even stepped foot into that beautiful red-meets-green-meets-blue land, and my heart already hurts.

My heart hurts for Lucky. You can continue to pray for her, and that she would be found. I can't help but think over and over again about how He left the ninety-nine behind to find the one. I've been praying out of faith that Lucky is the one, but I've also selfishly been praying that I will see Lucky while I'm in Liberia.

My heart hurts for injustice, poverty, hunger, disease, lack of opportunity and the loss of hope.

But I believe in a living God who has already overcome! I have to cling tightly to that promise!

Tomorrow's journey begins the new journey. I don't know what the path looks like, and the footholds are unfamiliar. I am inviting you to join me on this next little adventure. For the next three weeks, I will be updating you all through the blog and through my Facebook. But, more than anything, I am asking you to please be praying for me over the next three weeks! You can pray for the following:

- Pray for travel mercies. I'm flying standby, and my biggest worry is getting out of Atlanta. Because Delta did away with the direct flight from Atlanta, I have to fly to New York. As of now, I should make it on the flight to just pray that nothing crazy happens with flights, the weather, etc. between now and then. I am scheduled to depart Atlanta at 3:40pm, and will depart JFK for Accra at 8:45. If everything goes smoothly, I should arrive in Monrovia on Thursday at 3:20pm (11:20am EST).

- You can also pray that my bag makes it!

- Pray for divine appointments...even at gates and on flights!

- Pray that I'm able to get some sleep on the flights...especially the long-haul (about 10.5 hours) from JFK to Accra.

- Pray for safety and good health.

- Pray that I will easily adjust to my new surroundings--the time difference, the heat, the noise, the hurt, etc. March/April is typically to hottest time of the year in Liberia, and the heat index has been well over 100 lately! I'm pretty acclimated back to America now [didn't even use my electric blanket this winter], so I'm worried that I'm going to be a wimp!

- I arrive on Thursday afternoon and Elena is leaving Liberia on Sunday afternoon. Pray for just sweet sweet time together before she leaves! (And pray for her winding up, saying goodbyes and departure!)

There are alot of initial things to pray for, and once I arrive in Liberia, I will share more prayer needs with you all! Overall, you can be praying for clarity, direction, divine appointments, wisdom and just a peace for me!

Love you all, and can't do this without you!