Sunday, April 13, 2014

Birds, Barbed Wire & God

I woke up sometime before 6am this morning. It was still dark outside, and it was quiet. I pulled my blanket up over me and tried to go back to sleep. My mind started running away from me, and sleep wouldn’t come. I finally checked my clock at 5:58am. At some point I fell back asleep, and woke up around 7:30am when the fan went off and the singing outside my window began.

This morning, I filled a page of my gratitude journal. It’s easy to do that in Liberia—there is so much to be thankful for. I’ve jotted down hundreds of things in my journal over the past 17 days. I stopped writing this morning at #655.

#655: beauty in the pain, ugliness, poverty, hardships, darkness, hopelessness…He is here!

And that’s when it dawned on me.

That one statement is the essence of Liberia.

When you look around, if you’re blinded, all that you see is dirt, garbage, heat, poverty, disease, injustice and corruption. Darkness and oppression are heavy, evident and tangible. How can there be any hope in that?

Somehow, some way—if you’re able—when you can see past those things, God allows you glimpses of Him. 

As my feet walk over a garbage-littered, red dirt road, I am able to see beauty and life. As my eyes survey a tiny community of poor fishermen and their families living in utter poverty and filth, I see simplicity and unbreakable bonds. As I walk through the community, I sense an immense amount of pain, even though women are plaiting hair and laughing and children run up to say hello and shake my hand. As I sit in the yard at a friend’s house—a yard I haven’t stepped foot in since the night her baby died—I talk and laugh with her and her three young sons. Her oldest son Moses writes his name for me in the sand, and I wonder how often she thinks about her fourth son. There is a group of children in the yard next door—a “crazy man” with hundreds of pieces of rope and string draped over his head is interacting with them. He looks like a Raggedy-Anne doll, and he has them all laughing. The children lead him over to the white woman, and he asks what state I’m from. He lights up when I say Georgia, and immediately references Atlanta. He meekly smiles, puts his hands together and tells me that he’s from Maryland Georgia too. He tells me to have a nice day, and continues walking. I wish I had a photo of that man because he was beautiful. I saw Jesus right then and there.

And then I woke up this morning to birds singing loud and beautiful songs while sitting on the barbed wire outside of my window. The sun rises and the heat of the day begins. I breathe in deep when a cool breeze blows through the open window. I am a little sticky, but another cool breeze comes. 

That is Liberia. 

Singing amongst the barbed wire; sticky but a cool breeze will always come.

And through it all, God is here.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Love Blooms

There is another story unfolding in Liberia; a story that I can’t not share with you. This is a story about calling and obedience, deep love and sacrifice. It’s about a yellow and burgundy house nestled down a sandy road, surrounded by a tall wall with barbed wire. It’s about a house of love and grace. Laughter arises above the tall walls. Love blooms in the yard and in the living room. Fierce love—the love of a mother, fueled by the love of her Father—is the heartbeat.

God has given me the privilege to sit back and watch, but also to participate. And the things I have seen and heard and felt are just too beautiful not to share. One thing that has resonated is that God can use anyone to do anything, and when we are obedient, our lives and testimony serve as incense of praise rising to the heavens.

When I was planning my trip back to Liberia, I wasn’t sure where I would be staying. My plan was to email the family I stayed with last year and see if I could crash with them for a few weeks, and then perhaps share the mooching love with someone else. But let’s go back to a few years ago. Somehow, a random pastor [hi Jeff!] in New Jersey came across my blog. His church was doing ministry in Liberia, so I guess that’s how we got linked together. I would get random donations and emails of encouragement from “some pastor in New Jersey”. When I came to Liberia last year, I got an email letting me know that his church in New Jersey has just sent three people to live in Liberia long-term, and that we should get connected. That’s how God connected Sue and I. We were able to meet up a few times during my three week stay, and we talked a lot about our hearts for Liberia. I was excited to meet a new friend who had such a deep love for Liberia and a desire to help the people here. I was even more excited that she didn’t live too far from my new home.

A few months ago, I kept thinking about Sue and praying for her. Finally, I sent her an email to let her know that I had been thinking about her, and asked if there were specific things I could pray for. In her response, she told me that she had been back in the States for months, but was making plans to return to Liberia in January. We continued to exchange emails—catching up and hearing about the new directions God was leading both of us in. Sue was returning to Liberia to open a home for girls…and she was going to be their mother. Once I started to make plans for my own trip, Sue extended a gracious offer to stay with her and her girls in their home. I said yes—I knew I would love spending time with the girls, and I would also enjoy the fellowship with Sue!

I knew it was going to be a fun time when I gave them frisbees, coloring books and jump ropes on my first night here, and we were throwing frisbees and jumping rope in the middle of the living room. So, I have been living in a girls home…and it has been incredible! Right now, there are six beautiful, hilarious girls that call Sue their mom. Sometimes I find myself just sitting back and watching this unique family operate, while other times, I jump right in and join the craziness!

About four nights into my stay, Sue and I were sitting at the dining table at about 10:30pm. The three younger girls were already in bed, but the three older girl were still awake. We were talking about our days, while helping with homework. I will admit, I was tired and more than ready for bed. One of the girls brought her school uniform out for Sue to mend. She admitted that she didn’t really know what she was doing, but that she would do her best. Princess was protesting that she couldn’t draw for her homework assignment, and Sue immediately said, “I’m not a tailor, and maybe you’re not an artist, but we can both try.” After some creative stitching, another skirt arrived to be taken in. And so Sue picked up her needled and thread and tried again. By this time it was after 11pm…and these girls wake up between 4-5am, depending on their morning chores.

Princess continued to struggle through her assignment to draw and label the parts of a computer, and Sue kept sewing. I finally spoke up and began to tell Sue how she was a great mother, and how she was doing such a good job with the girls. I also told her that I don’t know how she does it—she just keeps giving and loving, even when she’s tired and sweating and perhaps sometimes wondering why she’s even here.

But the love is evident.

They snuggle up on the couch and sing along to “Annie” and laugh until their bellies ache. Sue wraps her arms around a little one with a tough exterior, but soft interior, and kisses her over and over again until a smile breaks through. They are still trying to figure out exactly how this little family should operate, and there is a steep learning curve, but the home and the hearts are full of love. There are tears and discipline and consequences and broken hearts, and there are also late night or early morning prayers of a mother who loves the children that God has entrusted to her.

Again, I don’t know how she does it.

But it is a beautiful thing to watch.

And it’s humbling and encouraging and challenging. It’s something that I know God is using to stir and stretch my own heart. It’s also a rich opportunity to give and love and learn and grow. And that’s what I want—to be changed from the inside out because I’m alive and present and here.

Would you pray for Sue and the girls? Pray for strength, energy and wisdom for Sue. Pray that her deep love would continue to break down the walls around the hearts of the girls. Pray for unity, cooperation, grace and flexibility for the family. Pray that God would continue to renew Sue’s heart, and that the Holy Spirit would be her help. Pray for the girls—Grace, Beatrice, Naomi, Monica, Princess and Kona—that they would receive the love of Sue, but more importantly, the love of their heavenly Father. Pray that their lives would be radically changed, and that they would become strong, Godly women who will change their country. Pray that praise and prayer would continue to rise from the home. Pray against the work of the enemy—he has no place here! Pray for provision—financially, but also through other resources and opportunities. 

[Update: You can really be lifting Sue up to the throne! She has been struggling with her health over the last few weeks and has decided to get away to a friend’s apartment for the weekend. Pray that the sleep, air-conditioning, rest, uninterrupted time in prayer and modern comforts would restore her]

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Today's Construction Update

Things continue to move forward on The Green House! Two nights ago, we had an all-out Liberians thunderstorm. I laid in bed praying at 2am that it would stop, because half of the house didn’t have zinc on it. I was scared to arrive yesterday, as I didn’t want to see the damage. The guys had poked holes in the soggy wood ceiling tiles to let the water drain out into buckets and there were puddles everywhere. The carpenter roofed that half of the house yesterday, just in case there were any more surprise showers. He also completed the clear, plastic zinc that goes above the outdoor kitchen on the back of the house.
Today's progress!
Things on the fence are progressing nicely. All trenches are dug, and they did the foundation and began laying cement block on the front portion. There are about five guys doing all of the work…plus a woman named Remember. When I saw her yesterday, she was drawing water from the well, so I thought that was her job (it’s common for women to draw water for mixing the cement). Then last night, I was informed that she was a mason, and she was laying block. She told me that, “woman can do anything man can do.” All that I could say was, “You go girl!”

Today, the carpenter is working on the other half of the roof, while the rest of the guys and Remember are working on the fence. Once the carpenter is finished with the roof, he will move on to the roof on the palava hut. The guys will continue to work on the fence until it is complete, which should hopefully be sometime late this week or early next week. Then it will be time to paint the exterior, and move inside to do the paint, floors, window screens, light fixtures, etc.
Old zinc in foreground, new zinc in background.
Like I mentioned before, a huge blessing is that electricity poles are one block from the house! This means I will be able to have 24/7 electricity, and for a fraction of the price of buying, fueling and maintaining a generator for only very limited electricity. Uncle Sam and I sat down this morning to fill out the application form, so we will see how long it takes for them to get back to me. Apparently, they will come out to do an assessment, I will go buy a breaker, they will install a meter and then poles and wires will be run. This is such a HUGE answer to prayer!
Trokon laying block.
Foundation and casting of steel rods.
I still have to pinch myself when I step back and look at how quickly things are progressing! We are not on African time! The ease and quickness are both an answer many prayers! Working with Uncle Sam has been great, and the construction guys are starting to warm up to me. Whenever I go there now, they each want their photo taken while they’re working. They also think it’s pretty funny when I climb up on the roof in a skirt. 
Community children drawing their evening water.

One thing you can pray about is how to best capture the stories of the people in Cooper Beach. My plan was to walk around the community and talk to people, and then document their stories. Because I have to walk back to where I’m staying before dark, really the only time to do this is in the heat of the day. Thankfully there has been a cool breeze every day, but I don’t want to look like a lobster and be miserable either. I’ve also continued to pray for divine appointments with people in the community, as well as with potential partners or people who can contribute their time or skills at the community center.