Monday, December 19, 2011

Getting Ready for Christmas

Arks & Animals for the cottages

Here at the village, we are making plans for the 25th. The tree is up and the dining hall is decorated. The Advent Wreath is being lit every Sunday evening as we countdown to Christmas. Wooden nativity scenes are centered on the coffee tables in each cottage. The school children have been making gifts for the mamas, and a new dress for each girl is being sewn. Books and crayons are wrapped and labeled. Wreaths have been constructed for doors.

This year, each cottage will receive "cottage" gifts. These gifts are for use by all the people living in the house. Card games have been made and laminated. Matching games, rhyming word games, and math card games will be wrapped for each family and placed under the tree. Also, a wood carver friend has sculpted wooden arks complete with Mr. and Mrs. Noah and sets of animals. Each cottage will receive a Noah's ark set for Christmas.

Preparations for the annual Christmas Pageant are in full swing. We have plans to perform the pageant in the neighboring villages on Friday the 23rd. So far, practices have had the normal angel threw up; a Roman soldier and a shepherd got into a fist fight; one wise man has terrible stage fright and he cannot remember his five word line; one of the innkeepers just giggles. Yep, pretty normal.

Our Mary lovingly holds the baby Jesus each practice. She tenderly wraps the cloth around the baby. It is the sweetest thing to watch! And after each the practice, the baby Jesus is still the center of attention, as the children gather around and they all want to touch the baby doll.

This is our Christmas wish for you this season: May you still be in awe of the One in the manger, and may you wish to touch Him. He wishes to touch you.
Merry Christmas!

Dave and Babs

Monday, November 21, 2011

Not Just a Scrap of Grace

If I were to write a book about our experiences in this country (not likely to happen!), I would have a difficult time picking a title.

Several good titles present themselves every week.

Such as "There is a Gecko in My Bible" or "Fish at the Gate" or "Just Another Dusty Road" or "OhnMineGoodness".

But today, the title would be "Not Just a Scrap of Grace". The idea comes from the story in Matthew where the Gentile woman begged Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus said he came first for the Jews, and she replied that even the dogs get the scraps of food from the table. Our Bible study referred to "scraps of grace", and it occurred to me that I have been given not just scraps of grace; I feast at the table! My plate is heaped full of wonderful gifts from God. He is truly a God of Grace.

Here is a list of things I am very thankful for:

---a nice bed in a safe, rodent-free house
---eyesight to experience sunrises and sunsets and awesome cloud formations
---the ability to read
---little George's smile and Romeo's "thumbs up" he gives me every morning
---family and friends who encourage us
---Internet service (how did missionaries survive before the computer age? I do not know!)
---100% cotton blouses
---pictures of Luke (grandson)
---the ability to reason and think critically
---parents and teachers who did their job (for critical thinking and reasoning skills!)
---a nice clean shower with running water
---my Bible
---a sturdy four wheel drive vehicle
---a clever husband to fix sturdy four wheel drive vehicle
---Champ's hugs and Nehemiah's waves
---no current snake sightings
---ears to hear Martha's laughter across the play ground
---nail polish (hey, no ever accused me of being deep! I am pretty shallow. And proud of it!)
---insect repellent
---paved roads
---a good haircut (yes...shallow, remember?)
---employees who care to do their best work
---children who are happy and healthy
---eternal security through the atoning work of Jesus Christ, my Savior

See? Not just a scrap of grace, but baskets of blessings. What a gracious God we have!
Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

We Hate Meeces to Pieces!

We arrived up in Nimba County at the small village of Mia Deah Play in the early afternoon. We handed our frozen chicken and small bag of rice to a local lady, and as we went off to assess children in the area, she went to work on supper. After visiting several children and their care givers, we walked back to the office where we would spend the night. The woman had supper ready, and it was delicious. The four pound chicken, served with rice, fed eighteen people.

Babs was tired. It was only 8:00pm, but it had been a long day, and she headed to bed. We use the term "bed" loosely, as it was a two inch foam mat on the floor. A mosquito net was hanging over the mat. We were thankful for the net, as the one little window had a screen that had seen better days! Obviously, it would not provide much protection from mosquitoes. When Dave came to bed at 10:00pm, our hosts turned off the generator, and the office building, which would sleep seven people in various rooms this night, became very dark and very quiet.

The scritching sound started about five minutes after all the lights went out. And it was loud. The rodent could not be in the walls, as the walls were made of adobe brick. It had to be at our door. We shined the flashlight at the door, and to our dismay, realized that a large mouse (think Mickey) was trying to get out of our room! Dave got up and opened the door a few inches, crawled back to our mat and turned off the flashlight. After a minute or two, Dave got up and closed the door. Mickey was out in the hall. Good enough!

Except, after a few minutes, the scritching re-started! Flashlight on again, pointed it at the door, and there was Minnie trying to get out! Oh, for heavens sake! Dave repeated the open door/close door scenario. Quiet again...for about two minutes. More scritching. Yes, now Mighty Mouse wanted out of the room. Once again, Dave opened and then closed our door. It was quiet for several minutes, and we were now pretty sure that the mouse family was happily roaming the office building, out of our hair!

After an hour's worth of sleep, the scritching noise was back. There were no mice on our side of the door, though. Apparently, the mouse family decided they LIKED it in our room and wanted back in! Not gonna' happen! But it was impossible to sleep with that dreadful scritchy-scratchy sound at the door. It was like a sound track from a bad Stephen King movie! We discovered that if we pointed the flashlight at the bottom of the door, the scritching stopped. And so that is how we finally slept most of the night, with the flashlight on, shining at the teeny crack at the threshold of the door. It was a long night.

The next morning, as we were packing up to leave our deluxe accommodations, we realized that several bags of rice were being stored in a corner of our room. Well, this explains why the mouse entourage wanted to get back in our room. They probably were coming with all their friends to party on! Next visit, we must demand a nicer maybe the copier room.
We are not cat people, but having a nice Tabby along when we visit Mia Deah Play again might be a good idea.

Wishing you a rodent free day.
Dave and Babs

P.S. Since originally writing this blog post, things have come up and we need to return to Nimba County this week. Without a kitty cat. (sigh).

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Round Two

The Liberian presidential election was held Tuesday, October 11. Because of Liberia's past history of unrest and violence, the U.N maintained a formidable presence throughout Monrovia. The memory of Ivory Coast's ugly election situation just one year ago also had the U.N. very vigilant. Armored personnel carriers were positioned at the president's residence and near the U.N. building and at other key locations. Foreign embassies beefed up their security. Police manned major intersections and cops in full riot gear were present at all rallies and marches.

But all in all, it was rather peaceful. A party headquarters was burned to the ground and a radio station had a home made bomb tossed through a window. The chairman of one political party had his car burned one night. But, really, all in all, the marches and rallies and parades were without the mayhem and violence that had been feared.
It took a full week before the official results were announced, and no candidate received a majority of the vote. This was not totally unexpected. There were sixteen people running for president! Kind of hard to get fifty-one percent of the vote with the votes being split between so many candidates!

A run-off vote is scheduled for November 8 between the two top vote-getting candidates: President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and challenger Winston Tubman. The run-off is being called "Round Two". The U.N. personnel are still at their stations, and the police are still out in full force. Here we go again!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I See Dead People

We had some incredibly fun mini missionaries come during the month of June for two weeks. (Not only were they fun, but they were cute, too!) Our daughter Kari came back to see us again, and she flew into Liberia with our nieces, Heather and Heidi. The girls were so helpful. Heather (an R.N.) helped with medical stuff in the mornings, and then she assisted at school in the afternoons. Kari and Heidi (educators) worked at the school all day. They tutored several students and taught the art class for two weeks.

For the art class, the medium was clay, and each student made a self-portrait. This was a project that took several sessions to complete, as the students had to form the clay person, then dress the person and add details (buttons, hair bows, belts, etc.). The last step was to paint their clay person after it had been hardened in the oven. Our kitchen became a kind of crematorium, with "dead clay people" laying all around, in various stages of being "cooked". It is a little disconcerting to open one's oven, thinking you are going to bake a casserole, and come face to face with six dead people.

This project was quite an accomplishment for many of the children. Most of the day students had never done anything like this before; they had never even played with play dough, so the experience of working with clay was brand new for them. It was fun to see the students enjoying the clay and forming details. Some girls made wild hairdos. Some boys carefully added belts and socks. Then they painted themselves. The finished articles were great! And the students were pleased with their work.

We had an art show, and placed the clay self-portraits on tables for viewing. We hung other art projects for display: chalk drawings, watercolor paintings, pen and ink designs. It was a nice art show and the budding artists were quite proud. Our Home Office personnel from Florida came for a visit while we had the art work on display and they were impressed with the quality of projects being made by our children. One does not usually consider Liberia to be cutting-edge in the art world, but we are going to change all that!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sand Mining

Things are looking up here in Liberia. Crime is down! I just got the latest weekly update from our friends at the UN. Because you all pay for the gathering of all these valuable statistics, I thought I would pass on one of these reports to you. This is for the country of Liberia which is about the size of the state of Virginia.

"Crime Situation: During the reporting period two (2) armed robbery cases reported, a reduction from five (5) recorded last week. Firearm was reportedly used in one (1) of these armed robberies. Meanwhile, the number of rape, corruption of minor and sexual abuse cases decreased to twelve (12) from fifteen (15) in the previous week. Four (4) homicide cases were reported, as against six (6) recorded last week and one (1) mob incident reported, as compared to three (3) reported in the previous week."

Also mentioned in the report was that a group from the Ministry of Lands and Mines (for a long time I thought it was the Ministry of Land Mines, because their signage was not clear, but they have a new sign now) was issuing a "cease and desist" order to sand miners near our village (they haul loads and loads of sand off the beach to mix with cement for construction). The sand miners got angry and went after the government officials with knives and machetes. Fortunately, locals from a nearby village intervened and help the Feds to back out without losing any of their extremities.

Sand mining is not very complex. A dump truck of yester year, comes down the road, blowing it's air horn. Young men from the villages come running, shovel in hand, and jump up in the back of the truck. They proceed to the beach and the truck backs up to the most accessible place to shovel sand. The young men line up around the perimeter of the truck and fill it with sand, one shovel full at a time. This has been going on for four years here. What used to be a real nice beach is now a very large hole.

One might think that the Dept. of Land and Mines finally stopped this practice because soon there will be no beach. But, no, the reason they stopped the beach mining is because during the rainy season, the sand trucks destroy the dirt road so badly. Just past us about two miles, there are holes in the road in which an SUV could disappear into and not to be seen again until the dry season.

This shutting down of the sand mining in our area has left many young adults males out of work. Since they have no money, some have turned to robbing their neighbors and beating up people smaller than them. Since they no longer have an occupation that tires them out, they roam the roads around here at night causing much concern from yours truly.

Sand mining may not be the most environmentally correct thing to do, but it does give some pocket money to the young men, keeps them busy, and the hard work causes them to sleep at night!


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Creative Spelling 101

I have come to understand that correct spelling is just not important to many people. This can make things interesting sometimes. Once, when we were picking up a child from a government ministry, we asked how to spell the child's last name. We were given several different spellings. When we asked which one was correct, we were informed they ALL were correct!
Recently, a taxi was spotted with "God's Define Favor" painted on it's bumper. There is a "No Traspassing" sign on some property up the road from us. In downtown Monrovia, a man on the sidewalk was selling some colorful alphabet posters. They were quite large and printed on a good, heavy quality paper. I was thinking about buying several for the village until I spotted the spelling errors. For example, next to the letter "S", there was a picture of a pair of brown loafers and the word SHOSE printed next to them. OK, skip the posters.


A local school teacher was teaching a lesson about birds and wrote "fellows" on the whiteboard. And she then proceeded to teach about feathers. Not knowing how to correctly spell the word feathers was certainly no deterrent to teaching about them!


"A Wachted Pot Never Boil" and "Don Worry" are painted on taxi bumpers. A large house has a "Be Where Bad Dogs" sign on the gate. A local business sells "Used Trucks & Equipmant" and yesterday we passed a store that had "Mattresses 4 SAEL". There is a "Car Seat Repairler" on Somalia Drive, and the "Best Quilty Tires Money Can Buy" are sold off Roberts Highway. On SKD Drive, there are "Bangelows and Appartments For Rent".


Downtown, a nicely painted sign announces "Insurance Agenyc." I think they were writing what they heard ("a-gen-cee") but they also knew that someplace there was supposed to be a "Y" in the word. Yes, I guess that "close" only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and spelling!

Wishing you a letter-perfect day!
Love, Babs

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Back In The States

(We are in Florida for a week for meetings; then on to California to see family and friends)

This morning, I got a cup of coffee in a nice paper cup with a nice plastic lid from the hotel lobby and headed for WalMart. I walked for fifty minutes on a smooth sidewalk. No one honked at me or made smoochy sounds at me. There were no disabled vehicles alongside the road. I tossed my empty coffee cup into a garbage can sitting by the litter-free parking lot.

I walked into WalMArt. A lady greeted me with a cheery "hello". I shook her hand and told her she was doing a wonderful job of making people feel welcome. I think she might have called Security, to warn them that there was a demented lady in the store.

I found the lady's restroom. There was tissue and running water and soap. Commodes and sinks were clean; the floor was scrubbed. I saw the cleaning lady, and I thanked her for doing such a good job of keeping the bathroom clean and well-stocked. Possibly this lady called Security, also.

I shopped. The aisles were wide and clean; the store was well-lit, and the electricity was on the whole time I shopped. All items were clearly marked with a price. All items were in their original packaging. And there was more than one of each item on the shelf. I went to the check-out stand and the checker was friendly and efficient. I pulled out my credit card, swiped, signed, and I was ready to walk out the door. A nice stock boy helped me load packages into the taxi.

For someone who is a little retail-deprived in Liberia, this was a wonderful, wonderful experience. It is great to be back in the States!
And it is no wonder that many people in the world want to come to America!
See you at the mall-

Friday, May 20, 2011

A special birthday

He came to live here at the orphanage in April 2008 after a pastor in his village became aware of his situation. His mother had passed away the previous year, and his aging grandma was attempting to care for him and his younger sister. Grandma, however, was unable to deal with an angry, confused boy and his baby sister. The pastor's first encounter with this boy was during church services: the boy would run through the church aisles, kicking the parishioners in the shins during worship. The pastor had heard of this orphanage, and recommended to the grandmother that both children come to us. When it was time to pick them up, it was difficult, because the boy had climbed a tree and would not come down.

At the orphanage, he would run away from his new mama. He would pick fights, and when disciplined, he would kick, scream, and bite. Often, he would do the exact opposite of what was asked of him. He threw things and broke items. He was a handful, for sure. But it soon became apparent that he craved consistency. He needed order, firmness, and love. He needed to know that the boundaries were the same everyday, and that he was not in control. He needed to learn that he was a little boy who could depend on the adults in his life. He was also extremely bright, and he needed to be challenged intellectually, also.

This wild little boy just turned seven years old. For those of us who have watched this angry fella' get to this point in his life, it is a wonder and a joy! Putting the alphabet and phonics together into learning to read was a turning point for him. He reveled in sounding out words for himself, and enjoyed the challenge of mastering sentences. This all made sense to him, and opened up a much bigger world. He is now a happy little boy.

He has come into his own. He is one of the best readers in his class. Often during reading time during school, he has two books open: the one the class is following and the book he has checked out from the library. The reader that the class is reading is not challenging enough for him, so he has another book he is reading simultaneously, careful not to lose his place in the school reader. After class, he tutors a newer classmate, and he reads to his brothers at home.
He is taking piano lessons, too, and is one of the better piano players. He practices diligently everyday. He also loves to play soccer and he is good! He is incredibly fast and makes a great goalie. He hates for a ball to get past him! We keep this guy busy and engaged, as that is when he is happiest. From kicking worshippers to kicking field goals, he has made good progress!
He is a smart boy who has been chosen by God for great things. His constant frown of past years has been replaced by a smile of contentment and confidence. We praise God for bringing him to this place.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Restoration of Hope


Hard to describe this place...a swamp, a landfill, low cost housing. This is where our hunt for two children led us. We had heard about a boy and his little sister whose parents were killed in February. The parents were doing business in the Ivory Coast, and got caught in a village that experienced fighting between the rebels and the army. War is usually hardest on the young and the old, and here, too, both were affected. An aged grandma now had total responsibility for her two young grandchildren. She could not afford to care for them. This was the swamp where Grandma lived. The pictures say it all. There is no money for clothing, food, and school. There is a whole community out here, living in tin and thatch shacks on stilts. Amazing!




So we met the children: a boy five years old and a girl, three years old. They were sweet kids; polite and thin and hungry. Taking them for medical exams, we fed them. Bananas, eggs, and crackers disappeared quickly. Neither child had ever been to school, and the prospects of them attending school while living with Grandma were slim to none.
They came to the orphanage the week before Easter. The boy knew immediately that this place was better than the swamp. His sister was not so sure. But when she was bathed and dressed in a pretty dress and she received shoes and new underwear, things began looking better! She played with brightly colored blocks her first afternoon while her brother joined an impromptu soccer game. That first night, she snuggled in her clean bed with her own new baby doll. Yes, this might be O.K. after all!

Now, a week later, the boy is attending school. He is learning the alphabet and how to print letters. He is learning the words to songs and finger plays. His sister is learning that there will be food again in a few hours, so she does not need to scarf everything on her plate in two minutes flat! They both have energy to run, a sparkle in their eyes, and a joy in their faces that was missing that first time we met them.

These children now have hope for a future.

We think it is fitting that they arrived Easter week, as that is the time we celebrate the restoration of hope that has been made available to us also. We have been reminded that we were picked up out of our personal "swamp" of hopelessness and separation from the Father, and brought to a safe place of joy and security with a restored eternal relationship. Easter is officially over for another year, but we do wish you the peace and hope that Easter symbolizes every day.

Blessings to you all!
Dave & Babs

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Do You Know the Way to Sanniquellie?

We met Tony about three weeks ago. He had called us after hearing about the work done here. Tony works for a NGO that works in remote areas of Liberia. His organization works to prevent child abuse, promote education, and they set up day care facilities for children while the parents are out working on the farm. Tony is focused on their objectives, but like us, he sees so much more that needs to be done. Tony is a concerned Liberian with a heart for his people. In the town where they have set up office, there are many orphaned children. The road that leads there is very rough. When there are medical emergencies, there is no way to get people out to a hospital quickly. Many women (and babies) die during childbirth.

While Tony was working on his office in February, a young lady with a three month old child came up to Tony, asking for money. She offered to clean his office, haul water, or cook for him; anything to try to earn a little money to buy food for her and her baby. Every time she would pass by, she would talk with Tony and proudly show off her baby. Tony would give her a little money from time to time.

In March, Tony heard of a girl who had been bitten by a snake on her way back from the farm. She had died within hours of being bitten. Later, Tony discovered it was the same girl who had stopped by to talk to him on many occasions. Now, her baby daughter was another orphan added to the thousands of orphans in this country. Tony began looking for someone that could take care of this child. Who would be this child's advocate and caretaker? How would this child grow up well and healthy in a place where everyone had too many children of their own to sustain? Tony went looking for someone who would be the answer to these questions and he was pointed in our direction.

After meeting with Tony, Dave asked Babs how she would feel about driving six hours to go see this child , and what day would work to make a trip up there. The baby was located in the most northeastern point of Liberia, close to the Ivory Coast border. Monday would not work: the kitchen was out of rice and powdered milk, so a grocery run was needed. Tuesday was out, as there were physicals scheduled on three prospective new children from Monrovia. Wednesday was not going to work as generator oil needed changing plus a myriad of other items needed attention. O.K., Thursday was the day.

However, Thursday morning everyone at the village had "important"needs that needed to be dealt with, and so it was 10:30 am before we were going down the road. Not a problem; even if it took us seven hours, we would be there by dark.

We picked up Tony up at his office in Gbarnga, which looked about half way on the map. We had been traveling for four hours. As soon as we left Gbarnga, the roads deteriorated considerable. When we got through a town called Sanniquellie, it was getting dark. Not a good thing. We had been traveling a total of seven hours now.

An hour later, it was very dark and we were on a road that had an unspoken speed limit of 5-10 mph. Rocks, crevices, mud holes, narrow wood bridges, oh my. After going through mud hole after mud hole, one can get a little complacent, and then you drop into one where the muddy water rolls over the top of the hood. That wakes you up! At this point, Dave was not asking Tony how much further, because he had heard "about one more hour to go" several hours ago. When we went through areas where the brush had completely covered the road overhead, it seemed as though the head lights dimmed as the light was soaked up in the darkness. The noise of the crickets, frogs, and multitude of various other insects and creatures became so loud, we found ourselves talking louder in the car to be heard over the noise. Babs was sure she heard raptors in the distance, and she kept waiting for a T-Rex to appear. (Did anyone else see "Jurassic Park"? ) About this time, Babs asked Tony if he is sure we are on the correct road. Tony replied to Babs, "I told you it was far". Dave just kept driving.



When we reached the village where Tony's regional office was located, it was well after 8pm. We were given a lighted room with a mattress on the floor. To Babs' chagrin, the latrine was about seventy five yards away from the house. We were given hot water in a bucket for a bath that was much welcomed after ten hours on the road. (What happened to six hours!?!) We were informed that the generator would go off after 11pm.

While sitting in the yard of Tony's office, some brave girls sneaked up to our circle of chairs to get a closer look at the white people. They brought their bench and sat nearby. They were scared of us. It was explained that they had seen white men before but had never seen a white woman (and now one with red hair!) After a while, Dave motioned for one of the little girls to come over to him. The three older ones pushed the youngest out front; she advanced toward him with great caution until she got within an arm's reach. Dave pulled her onto his lap. After a few minutes she relaxed and fell asleep. Now the other girls were envious.

The next morning we were up at seven. Bath water had once again been prepared. Dave had to escort Babs to the latrine. After he got her there, he thought his work was done so Dave returned to the circle of chairs where many of the world's problems had been solved the night before, only to find out that Babs was having trouble with the latch on the bathroom. Walking back to the latrine to fix this door problem, Babs pointed out to Dave that the whole village was watching. That Babs exaggerates so! Except, sure enough! the whole village had lined up their chairs and benches to face the yard where the white people were staying. Dave told Babs she better make it work this time or all of northeastern Liberia would think that white women had problems going to the bathroom!

By 8:30 am we were doing child assessments with the town officials looking on. One place we visited is one of the oldest missions in the country. It was built over a hundred years ago. This was a very beautiful site with houses and a school that had been built well, but now suffered from years of neglect. We saw several needy children. By 11 am, we were done doing assessments and bouncing our way back to Monrovia.




Back through the water, dust, sludge, rock, ruts and pot holes. A nine hour trip home (NOT six hours!). The next day our bodies reminded us that sitting in the same seat for nine bone jarring hours is not easy. Then there is the thought of the paper work, and hassles of getting good medical exams on the children, and then more paperwork.... If we pursue these children, it will mean at least two more trips to this village, and the adventure aspect will diminish expediently with each trip.

But the lives of children are at stake here so we will try to make time for this adventure again, soon. We just feel bad for our car. It needs some work before we can do the next trip. It, too, is not as young as it once was!

Dave & Babs

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Taxi "Wisdom..."

Taxis are often interesting sources of entertainment.
Here are some sayings on car bumpers you will probably never see in the USA.





Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Breakfast With Ofelia

I had breakfast with Ofelia today. Ofelia is a day student who attends the school we have at the village.

In order to have full classes, we take in community children who would not have an opportunity to attend school otherwise. Free public education here is not free: there are student fees, and uniforms to purchase, and school supplies. Plus, all students are required to wear shoes to school. Sometimes, this final requirement is enough to keep a child from attending school, as after purchasing uniforms and supplies, there is no money for shoes.
At our school, we do not charge fees, and we provide uniforms and all school supplies.

We do ask that the parents provide shoes for the students. And we do require the students attend school when it rains. It seems that in most Liberian schools, attendance is optional when it is raining! Apparently, it is perfectly acceptable to miss school when the humidity reaches 100%. This makes it difficult for continuity in education as this country receives almost 200 inches of precipitation a year! That makes for A LOT of "rain days".

But Ofelia never misses school. She is in our kindergarten class, and she loves school. She is the first one of her family to attend school. Both her parents cannot read or write. Ofelia is going to break the cycle of illiteracy in her family! Her father tells me that she is up and dressed for school by 6:30 am, because she does not want to be late. She is at the village gate at 7:30 am. A guard walks her and the other day students to the dining hall for breakfast. We feed the day students breakfast and lunch.

Dave supervises breakfast

Ofelia loves breakfast. She eats pancakes, or muffins, or a bowl of hot cereal with gusto. When Ofelia first began coming to our school, she looked thin and tired. Now, her eyes shine and her hair has a good color to it. Ofelia has put on some weight and looks healthy.

And I had breakfast with her today. Ofelia sat primly at the table. She shook her cloth napkin out and carefully spread it across her lap. She used her utensils neatly and with confidence. What a difference from the first time a year ago, when she looked at the fork and spoon and knife in amazement and wondered what to do with the napkin. In her world, sleeves were for wiping mouths and fingers were for shoveling in food! This morning, she deftly held her fork, and eating like a little lady came naturally to her.

Pancakes are enjoyed

I sipped tea and asked her about her night. She politely answered me. After breakfast, she carried the dishes to the kitchen window and washed her hands at the sink. She looked happy and content. Today, she told me, they were going to learn about the letter U. And probably color a picture. It was time for school assembly, and with a little wave and a sweet smile, she was off to the great halls of academia.


As I finished my tea, it occurred to me that Ofelia is a good reason to be here, in this place, doing this work. Someday, Ofelia might be a research doctor and develop a vaccine to prevent malaria; or maybe she will be a judge and make honest, fair decisions for Liberia. She could be a mother who will read to her children and teach them to read and write. Hey, maybe she will become a scientist and discover a mascara that does not smear in high humidity conditions! That would be awesome! Oh, the possibilities are endless and it is a big world out there! With education comes hope and a future. And now Ofelia has both.

Wishing you a wonderful day, filled with hope and promise.

Note: in these pictures, the tailors have not finished making all the school uniforms yet.That is why most of the day students are wearing regular clothes instead of uniforms.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Decoration Day




The cathedral was packed. It was standing room only for the funeral of the Bishop. A large choir made up from several different congregations throughout Monrovia sang "The Hallelujah Chorus" and also a beautiful rendition of the Twenty Third Psalm. As it was an Episcopalian service, this was high worship: incense was smoking; Mass served to all; several long processionals; robes, tassels, hats, and uniforms; responsive readings and great hymns sung by the congregation. Pastors from different denominations participated. Many dignitaries were in attendance, as was the President of Liberia.The service lasted for five and a half hours. Yes, five and a half hours!
The Bishop died in January, in the States, after a short illness. His body was flown back to Liberia, and about a month after his passing, this "celebration for his peaceful home-going" was held.
After the hundreds of people spilled out of the cathedral, the crowd took to the street. The parade of humanity surrounded the hearse as it inched down the avenue. The people stayed with the hearse for several blocks, and then the body was driven on hour out of Monrovia, to a church-owned cemetery for the Bishop's final resting place. It was a magnificent send-off for a man who had lived a full life of service to the Lord.
Death here, is a regular occurrence. Yesterday, at a local hospital, in a ward of seven beds, two young children died two hours apart. Right now, as I write this, we hear wailing coming from a neighboring village; someone just died. This past week, two employees attended funerals of relatives: a groundsman's cousin was buried, and a mama's aunt died. Both of these people were buried within 24 hours, as those funerals took place in the bush. No mortuary was involved, and so then there is no way to keep the body from decomposing quickly. For this reason, burial is usually done soon. It occurred to me as we sat in the grand sanctuary of that impressive cathedral, attending the Bishop's funeral, what a contrast this event was to most funerals in Liberia.
Often times, in a village, there are tombstones right next to the huts. The tombs are really monuments and there are graves scattered throughout the jungle. Most every village has a few tombs tucked nearby. We have seen the tomb of a beloved school principal right in the middle of the school playground, and we have observed a tomb three feet from the front door of a stick hut in the bush. There does not seem to be zoning laws for cemeteries or burial plots! It seems that if you own the land, you can bury your loved ones.
Next month, it will be Decoration Day. Prior to the holiday, people will clean up the grave sites. Weeds will be cut or pulled; crypts will be painted bright colors; flowers planted nearby. And then families will come to visit the graves on Decoration Day. They might stay for a short visit, or some families might have a picnic there at the grave, lasting for hours. On Decoration Day, the dead are remembered and mourned again.