Lil’ Kede

I can’t believe that this little guy lived his first 5 years only 6 miles from the beach, but had never seen it…

…until now

Tim and I wanted to treat our little buddies to a fun day last weekend. It might be one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen.

He wasn’t quite sure at first…

I think the noise of the roaring water freaked him out a little…

And the strong waves knocking him over repeatedly…

But as time went on, he became more and more sure of himself

And by the end of the afternoon was jumping, splashing and laughing his little heart out.

I just wish I could fold him up into my luggage and bring him home…BUT I’m pretty sure that’s illegal and perhaps not a great idea.

Sigh…I sure will miss them, though.

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A week from now

One week…ONE! It’s crazy how time flies. Our year in Liberia is coming to an end and we’ve decided not to sign on for another contract or assignment with SFL. It’s time to go home.

I’m nervous, eager, a little sad…but, mostly excited.

Excited to see my awesome family and my silly friends. Sad to say good-bye to the precious people we’ve met on this journey. Nervous about the future, yet eager to see it unfold. I’m really not sure what is next for us. There are so many unknowns.

So…I guess, it’s a good opportunity for me to exercise trust in the One who holds my life in the palm of His hand, right? I appreciate your prayers as we close this chapter (or book) and start in on the next one. I’ll keep you posted…

Your prayers, your encouraging words and your support have been hugely instrumental in carrying us through the challenges of this last year. Thank you!!

A Walk in Zwedru

My last day in Zwedru…or “the bush”. So, I decided to take a stroll and capture a bit of the local scene that has become so familiar.

Even after living here for one year, these mud huts still blow my mind

The vast majority of homes (aka mud huts) do not have running water. Rather there are pumps set up around the community where people can come to collect their water

Like many children, this girl is unable to attend school because her family does not have the money to send her. Rather, she spends her days wandering through town selling food from her bucket

Same with this girl selling water bags

The Zwedru Market Center

A market lady roasting and selling plantain

Selling palm nuts

Meat Market-Even more disturbing is the pile of…something behind the deer head

Hairy deer leg anyone? (The deer are shorter here)

Motorbike taxi drivers. They look mad, but they wanted me to take their picture…honest

The kids are way easier to capture…and a little less intimidating

Isn't she sweet?

This lady was hilarious. When I asked to take her picture, she stripped off her shirt and exposed her drooping chest. I think she thought I was looking for the all naturale’ Africa.

I love her cute white hair

The communal rice bowl

And that’s it. Good-bye, Zwedru!

Victoria

Some days are dark. Some days are bright. Today is one of those days…bright, I mean. Tangible progress is often difficult to measure. But today, I can celebrate one of life’s small victories.

One cool thing we’ve been able to implement since arriving in Liberia is an employee development and tuition reimbursement program for the SFL’s national staff.

The money used to fund this program comes primarily from the money we bring in renting out rooms in the Monrovia guesthouse. Decent, western style hotels are crazy expensive, so we’ve tried to advertise our modest, but comfortable guesthouse within the international community and have already had a few guests.

We’re thrilled that one of our brightest staff members, Victoria can take advantage of the funds being generated for this program.

Victoria is SFL’s caretaker or cleaning lady at the Monrovia guesthouse and office. She is so great. We all love her.  She is a single mother of two and works very hard to provide for her family.

Victoria was in the 10th grade in 1990 when the Liberian civil war broke out and was never able to finish high school. When the war erupted, she fled to Nigeria and remained there almost the remainder of her adolescence. By the time she returned to Liberia, she had two children to care for. Because it was time for her eldest to start kindergarten, she forfeited returning for her diploma so that her son could enroll in school.

She approached Tim and I recently asking if SFL would consider supporting her in achieving her GED. We asked her to bring us the information and found that for her to finish the 11th grade, the cost would be $150 USD. SFL made an agreement with Victoria that we would support her education as long as she passed her classes. Victoria is currently enrolled in the adult education program at a local high school. She attends classes from 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM, Monday-Friday.

For $300 USD, SFL is able to invest into the future of this hard-working, single mother allowing her to get the credentials needed to obtain a higher paying position.

When I asked her why she wanted to further her education she said that she would like to go on to college and get a degree in business. I am happy to have been able to play a small part in bringing authentic transformation to this woman’s life. Knowing her has been an absolute pleasure.

 

A Nutshell

Tim is away for the weekend. He escorted SFL’s executive director and a new international staff member out to the bush where they’ll be doing a quick survey and assessment of our project’s progress. Why didn’t I go? I guess it might have something to do with the 20 some hours out of the next 48 spent rattling along the roads of rural Liberia, inevitably resulting in a sick stomach and migraine. No thanks, I’ll stay home and whip up a brief history lesson for you all. Are you so excited?

I’m ashamed to say that before preparing for our move to Liberia, I really knew nothing about this country’s story. I mean, why would I?

Well, maybe because Liberia’s past has direct ties to my own country, the United States.

Look familiar?

I’m not going to pretend that I am the most knowledgeable person on the subject. Nor could I possibly condense such a topic into a comprehensive summary that my busy readers would tag along for, but here, hopefully is the jest of it.

The name Liberia comes from the word liberty. That should’ve given me a hint right there. Liberia, unlike their neighbors, was never colonized by European expansionists. Sierra Leone, Liberia’s northwestern neighbor was colonized by Britain. While, Guinea to the northeast and Ivory Coast to the east had been occupied by the French. But this little stretch of jungle, about the size of Ohio was never subjected to the adversity of colonization. Rather, their misfortunes began across the ocean.

Settled in the early 1800s by freeborn Blacks and former slaves from America, Liberia, whose name means “land of freedom,” has struggled with its dual cultural heritage: made of emancipated slaves and of indigenous Africans. An initial group of 86 immigrants, who came to be called Americo-Liberians, established a settlement in Monrovia (named after U.S. President James Monroe) in 1820. Thousands of freed American slaves and free African-Americans arrived during the years that followed.

The drive to resettle freed slaves in Africa was promoted by the American Colonization Society (ACS), an organization of white clergymen, abolitionists, and slave owners. Between 1821 and 1867 the ACS resettled some 10,000 African-Americans and several thousand Africans from intercepted slave ships; it governed the Commonwealth of Liberia until independence in 1847.

Ironically, these Americo-Liberians fought and enslaved the indigenous Africans occupying the region. They monopolized political power and restricted the voting rights of the native population for over a hundred years until April 12, 1980 when an indigenous Liberian, Samuel Doe seized power in a coup d’etat. The months and years following saw increased human rights abuses, corruption, and ethnic tensions ultimately erupting into one of Africa’s most hideous civil wars to which the people are still recovering.

Everyday we see lingering remnants of the war…bullet holes on storefronts, blown-out buildings and paraplegic beggars. Every Liberian we meet lost someone in the war. It’s just hard to imagine.

However, some of the deepest wounds are much less obvious to the casual observer. The longer I am here, the more I see how broken this place really is. On many days, most days perhaps, it is easy to give up hope, but our hope is not in this world. It is not in International Aid, Angelina Jolie or Oprah and it’s definitely not in anything I can do. Our hope is in He who will come and “set creation free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Rom 8:21. I really believe that. Jesus is coming to make all things new.

‘til then…we serve.

2011

What a crazy year! And my, how it has flown by! Has 2011 gone by as quickly for you all as it has for me? My goodness!

A year ago, we were busy packing our bags, moving out of our house, saying good-bye to friends and family…preparing for our certain “adventures in Africa”.

"Oh, young Leah…there is so much I need to tell you and yet, sadly, I cannot."

It’s been an incredible year…a year of failures and victories, of sorrows and of elation, heartache and healing.

I will always be thankful for it.

Thankful for an amazing partner

Thankful for friends and family who have cheered us on.

Thankful for this unique opportunity to take a year away and discover what is really important. I hope and pray that I live the rest of my life with deeper awareness of the gifts I’ve been given. I want, not only to appreciate but also to enjoy the many, many blessings I’ve always taken for granted.

In fact, I think that is my New Year’s resolution…When I am taking a hot shower back home, I want to really revel in it. When I flick on a light switch and the room lights up, I want to be tickled about it. When the toilet flushes, I wanna be happy about it.

Early on in Liberia, I determined to set my mind on positive things. I made myself list 5 things to be thankful for everyday before bed. It’s easy to focus on the hard stuff. It takes effort to list the good things…unless you work at it. It has now become so automatic and I can easily list many more than five. I don’t know how many times I’ve fallen asleep before I’ve finished my list and have to finish it up the next morning.

I know the year ahead holds new challenges for us. That’s life, right? But, I am glad for the lessons learned and know they will help me to endure whatever lies ahead.

All this reflection probably makes it sound like we’re saying good-bye. And, well…we are, but not quite yet. We still have a little bit of time before our assignment in Liberia is over and I want to learn everything I can.

I’m off to chase down 2012! Happy New Year, Liberia!

America, you’ve got a few hours left to go, but Happy New Year all the same!!