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!!

Hope

I feel like I’ve been out of touch for awhile…It’s been a rough few weeks. Yesterday was the icing on the cake, so I figured the best thing for me to do was to eat leftover chocolate cake for breakfast this morning. It helped some.

Which by the way, I need to clear something up in my story telling of yesterday’s incident. Apparently, the issue is not the government’s inability or unwillingness to pay the students. The issue is that the students hired were given forms to fill out in order to receive their pay. However, some troublemakers in the group made thousands of photocopies of the form and passed them out to other youth who are now demanding to be paid even though they were not apart of the original program…What a mess.

It’s been a hard week, a hard month actually. Liberia just is one of those places that seems to loiter in crisis. You get used to it some, but on a certain level, it’s impossible to really adjust to that lifestyle coming from a high-efficiency country like the US.  I was talking with an expat who has lived here nearly 10 years and he said that you never really get used to it. But you do learn to function within and respond to the perpetual chaos.

The weight of Liberia’s paralyzing issues seems to be pressing down more than usual. So, in this season, I am making a conscious effort to set my mind on things beyond my personal experiences and circumstances…things that surpass my understanding. It’s so easy to spiral down into hopelessness when my eyes are fixed on my rather precarious surroundings. Rather, I want to set my eyes toward the author and perfector of my faith. Not because I have it all figured out, but because I don’t.

The world, as I see it, gives me little hope. But, this Christmas I choose the hope we have in Christ Jesus. It’s all I have.

Anyway while on a positive note, we had our staff Christmas luncheon on Tuesday.

I made lasagna, which obviously was a brand new experience for all of the Liberians.

After they figured out how to eat it, they loved it!

The super serious shot…Back Row from left to right: George, Francis, Tim, Big D (aka Dwayne). Front Row from left to right: Paul, Maconta, Megan, Victoria, Floyd

Love these lovely Liberian ladies!

We’ll be spending Christmas Eve at the beach and Christmas Day at a wedding for an SFL staff member. We’d love to hear how you all are celebrating this Christmas!!

Just another Day

This story is going to be a little hard to explain. Liberians tend to deal with conflict and make a point by creating as much chaos as possible. The streets are in havoc.

So, last week the government of Liberia hired 10,000 high school students who are on break for the Christmas holidays. It’s a good idea, in theory. The teenagers were hired to “clean” the city…pick up trash, trim trees, cut grass (by hand), sweep dirt from one side of the road, etc…The idea, from what I understand, was to provide some small income and to keep the students out of trouble. “Trouble” being robbery, sex, dancing and so on.

The plan seemed to be working…until today. Today is payday and the Liberian Government was unable to hold up their end of the bargain and pay the students what they were promised (which by the way was $40 US dollars for a week of labor).

As a result, there are 10,000 Liberian teenagers raiding the streets of Monrovia throwing trash, yelling and screaming…they are tearing down tree branches, dragging them into the streets and blocking traffic.

After unsuccessfully trying to maneuver our car through the mayhem, we returned to the Monrovia office where we were sure we’d have to spend the night. It’s a odd predicament to be sitting in a dark office with no electricity, no clean drinking water and no way of knowing how long we’d be there. I got goose bumps as I heard the screaming, sirens blaring and occasional gunfire…police firing blanks, we’re hoping. It’s a scary place.

After several hours, the President took to the streets herself and appealed to the youngsters to stop their “misbehaving” and promised payment to every worker by tomorrow. We’ll see

20 minutes later, the blockades were removed and traffic resumed. I’m so thankful to be typing this from my room and not the dark office.

Just another day in Africa, folks…

Back

It didn’t take long for the neighbor kids to discover that Tim was back in town. They came piling into our yard for a game of football (soccer) shortly after we arrived home. I wanted to condense my photo selection to only 5 pictures, but of course these kids are way too cute.

Unfortunately, I’m still learning the settings on my camera so they didn’t all turn out the best, but you’ll get the idea.

Warming-up or "training" as they call it, is very important before beginning any strenuous exercise

This kid is my favorite. I mean, if I had favorites…

Kede is very small for his age, but has got more nerve than a fox in a henhouse. The “big boys” push him down, block him out and flat-out refuse to pass to him, but Kede has a will of his own. He picks himself up off the ground, swallows the tears and charges back into the game.

Hit the rock! And EXPLODE!

I love this kid. He belongs to our daytime security guard, Francis. Kede’s mom and Francis separated after Kede was born 5 years ago. She took custody of Kede and Francis took their older son, Small Francis with him.

Soon after we moved to Liberia, Kede’s mother dropped him with Francis for one week while she went to visit family in the interior. She never returned to claim him.  We are proud of the way Francis has taken care of his boys all on his own. He has them both enrolled in school, despite Liberia having no public school system. Both boys are doing great, although I can’t help feeling sad when I see small Kede growing up without a mom.

Doesn’t he just have sweetest eyes you’ve ever seen?

Vienna

Nothing short of fantabulous.

The streets of Vienna welcomed us with all the holiday cheer there is to offer. 

Tinsel and Christmas markets.

Gluhwein (mulled wine) and roasting chestnuts.

Weiner Schnitzel and beer.

But best of all, good friends who took us in, gave warm clothes (which we were severely lacking coming from the equator), good eats and refreshing conversation. Jason and Lorraine moved to Vienna last summer and are ministering to victims of human trafficking, a massive problem in this area. We are so proud of their perseverance and commitment to this undertaking.

We spent our last day in Europe traveling with them to Budapest to pick up their long awaited visas so that they may stay in Austria. The day was a success. We were able to acquire the visas, eat amazing Hungarian goulash and get a quick, nickel tour of another beautiful European city.

When I asked 2-year old, Andreas what he was going to do now that he had his visa, he replied without hesitation “POP the champagne!”

And that is just what we did!!

Thanks, you guys!

I have so many more pictures and I may have to post them in the days ahead. It was a trip I’ll never forget!!