A Year After Africa

“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory…”

~ Ephesians 3:20-21 ~

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I got a notification this morning reminding me that I started “God Gazing” exactly a year ago today. On November 8, 2013, I began this blog hoping to keep friends and family updated about my trip to Liberia. One year, 80 posts, and 123 followers later, this blog has grown into more than I imagined. It has become a way to process life, think intentionally, and challenge myself.

But on the one-year anniversary of my blog, I want to think back to where I was a year ago… I was a senior in high school, falling in love with my church again, stressing about college applications, and preparing to go to Africa. The theme of the past twelve months has been God’s faithfulness. In moments of weakness and fear, He carried me on His shoulders and led me to places I couldn’t have reached on my own.

Going to Liberia was probably one of the most life-changing experiences I’ve had so far. But I came back home feeling so discouraged. When we reached JFK airport, many on the team wanted to jump right back on a plane and go back to Liberia, but I was so thankful to be back at home. I couldn’t wait to see my family and share stories. My mind was already back on hearing from the colleges I had applied to. And deep down inside, I didn’t want to go back to Africa.

In the initial weeks after returning, I faced severe depression. After nearly a year of mentally and physical preparing myself to go to Liberia, I felt purposeless. One night, I wrote these words in my journal…

I don’t know what I want. I thought I had everything figured out, and now I’m lost. The ‘good girl’ inside me wants to pack my bags, fly to Africa, and live there. Isn’t that the ultimate calling of a Christian? But what if I want to go to college, get two degrees, and work on Capital Hill? Those dreams seem stupid and shallow now. I feel guilty thinking about dorm rooms, eating yummy food, discussing politics, and loving fashion. My brain is so confused. I don’t know what to think anymore.

Analyzing it now, I think that I struggled because Liberia was not what I expected. I had expected to be confronted with poverty and pain, not my own brokenness. I had expected to work hard and minister to people, but not struggle to have a good attitude. In my naivety, I expected my trip to be like the good parts of everyones’ mission trips. I didn’t expect there to be so much spiritual warfare. Most of all, I had expected to fall in love and find my calling. I hadn’t expected to come back realizing that God wasn’t calling me to do long term mission work.

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The months after I returned were mentally draining. Four days after leaving Liberia, I was accepted into William & Mary. That moment was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life, but at the same time, I felt immense guilt and confusion realizing that I was spending money for my personal education that could be used to feed thousands of hungry children.

As soon as we returned to the States, the Christmas season was upon us. In the midst of joyous celebration, I felt overwhelming sadness each time I set foot in the mall. I could not emotionally handle shopping for Christmas gifts after witnessing children without shoes or clothing.

The unhealed remnants of my trip resulted in frequent emotional breakdowns. The feelings would wash over me at odd times, such as in the middle of the mall while shopping for a prom dress or at the local dry-cleaner’s getting a dress tailored. The remnants still come to the surface of my emotions, often caused by the prices and attitudes of our Western world.

In a way, I never felt like there was any conclusion to my trip to Africa. I was thrown back into America without the opportunity to process or heal. And sometimes it’s so hard experiencing things that no one else understands. But slowly, slowly I’ve begun healing.

I was able to use my experiences in Africa to inspire a vision for my senior dance project, “There’s No Place Like Home”. The relationships that I formed in Liberia have given me opportunities to pray in faith and learn from another culture. And I’ve realized that God has set a desire in my heart for communication and advocacy.

This semester I’m taking a freshman seminar about hip-hop in Africa. During the course, we not only explore hip-hop music but we also explore the culture and current events in Africa. The class has unearthed a lot of the emotions of my trip to Liberia. I’ve struggled with seeing the poverty and pain displayed so clearly again. At the same time, the class has been incredibly healing. I’ve had the opportunity to be an “ambassador” for Liberia and focus my learning around the country. And then one day, while working on a research paper in the library, it hit me: I’m ready to go back to Africa. The thought was so strange and unexpected that it was almost beautiful.

I don’t know when, how, or where, but I’ll go back. Africa may not be my lifetime calling, but traveling there was a dream God set in my heart at the age of three.

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Every day I still struggle with living a comfortable American life when I remember the reality of poverty. I have found comfort in talking to my professor, who has been to Africa several times. I’ve realized that although it’s not healthy, the guilt is natural. I felt so wrong feeling confused and conflicted, and I simply needed to validate my feelings. My professor said she continues to live with the heartache each day and told me that it never goes away.

Yet she also said that the biggest way to heal is by continuing to stay in contact and by doing what you can to help. Often I feel frustrated at how little I can do. Each act seems too small to make a difference in the hugeness of poverty. But in those moments I have to remember that providing refreshment for one person is worth it. More significantly, Jesus is worth it. Despite the pain and brokenness of the world, love is still a worthy cause. We love because He first loved us. Love is our purpose here.

Sometimes I wonder why I am so blessed when others experience such pain. Sometimes I wonder why God calls others to serve long term missions, while I’m going to class and taking exams. As I’ve processed, I’ve realized that God asks each person to serve Him right where they are. He has opened the doors for me to go to college, and somehow He’s going to use that. I’ve also realized that each experience is not in vain.

Something changes inside of you, when poverty becomes personal. I saw children wearing ill-fitting shoes and the same dirty clothes. I watched helpless as a toddler cried from hunger. I heard a precious girl ask me for a sip of water. But, I also felt the hugs of those same children who had nothing. I watched them care for their younger siblings with selflessness. I saw their faces light up with joy as they danced in worship.

I do not hate what I have been given. God has placed me in this country for a reason. However, I can use what I have learned in Liberia to serve others. I can choose to live on less, make sacrifices, be thankful, not complain, and love my family. And I can choose to live each day with joy and worship Jesus with abandon just as my Liberian friends.

(From “Letters from The Mission Field: Adventure in Africa”, guest post on Tirzah Mag – January 15, 2014)

So, a year after Africa, I’ve done a lot of a growing and a lot of thinking. I still have questions and doubts. I still live with the pain of the brokenness I experienced. I’m still not sure exactly where or how God wants me to serve Him in the future. But I’m okay with that. Because He knows. If there’s one thing I’ve learned since Africa, it’s that I can trust God.

– – Phebe

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Worth It All

I’ll be honest, my time in Liberia was difficult…
emotionally: I experienced the heart-wrenching brokenness of the world
physically: I spent days given my everything, while in humid heat and with jet lag
mentally: I was discouraged as I realized how big the need is

But despite the heat, exhaustion, motion sickness, negative emotions – everything that the Enemy used to try to limit our effectiveness – I can honestly say that the difficulties were worth it. Hardship makes the rewards so much sweeter. But more importantly, hardship grows us closer to God. Jesus gave His life on the cross so that I can live forever with Him someday in Paradise. The least I can do is give everything He has given me back to Him during this short stay on Earth. Yes, my time in Liberia was worth it. The kids’ smiles made the difficulties totally worth it. But most of all, Jesus was worth it. Jesus was worth the temporary suffering. Jesus is worth the emotional pain that continues.

A friend shared this song by Meredith Andrews a few days ago and since then, it has become the cry of my soul. The words remind me so much of my time in Liberia and remind me of what I don’t want to lose now that I am back in the complacency of American life. View the video above or follow the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dr01i-bCo5Y.

Let your prayer become the declaration: “I let go of all I have just to have all of You. And no matter what the cost, I will follow You. Jesus everything I’ve lost, I have found in You. When I finally reach the end, I’ll say, ‘You are Worth It All’.”

– – Phebe

Saying Goodbye to Africa

December 1, 2013

First day of December… and we spent the morning sweating. This morning we went to the Militant Church of Monrovia, which is held in a school after their building was destroyed in a storm. On this Sunday, there were only about 20 people there. Not sure what their usual numbers are. Hazel (Owen’s daughter) and Famata led worship. Their voices are so strong and powerful that you can almost envision the angels singing. Pastor Steve spoke a message of hope and prophecy over the church, declaring that they have a chance to change the course of the nation for Christ. I was so inspired; I was in the presence of people who have influence in and hope for their government and citizens.

The church presented us with African dresses after the service. Now we can represent Liberia in the USA with authenticity! 🙂 Sylvester gave each of us a handwritten card and jewelry. He is so sweet and thoughtful. After the service, we said our second goodbyes. It was so painful to say goodbye to the pastors who were with us in Zorzor – Emanuel, Sylvester, Michael, and Marcus. It was so sweet how all of them wanted us to meet their children and families. We are trusting that this is not a “goodbye” but rather a “see you later”. Their love and encouragement was unexpected and much appreciated.

We had out last Liberian meal at the Dunbar’s house and then traveled to the airport. On the way we saw a horrific car crash where at least one person had died. In the US, the EMS would have kept people from stopping and viewing the wreck. But there were about 50 people surrounding the wreck, picking up scrap metal, and watching the scene. We also toured through the largest rubber plantation and processing plant in the world, part of Firestone’s corporation. There is a whole town inside the plant.  I cannot imagine spending my entire life within the confines of a rubber plant. I was overwhelmed that this wealthy business allows people to live in poverty.

Famata invited me to ride in the Dunbar’s car, so I got to have one last conversation with her, Hazel, Bernice, and Williamina. Our final goodbyes at the airport were the most painful of all. There were hugs all around. All of the Dunbar family came to see us off. Words could not even express our thanks. I started getting emotional to the point that I couldn’t even talk in order to keep myself from bursting into tears. When we got out of the car it hit me: we were leaving. The long awaited journey to Africa was coming to a close.

After waving goodbye, we checked in at the airport and met up with the building team. I am so thankful that the entire Hillside team has welcomed and accepted us so well. We exchanged stories in the departure area. But God wasn’t finished. He chose to bless us one more time before we left Monrovia. Pastor Steve was sharing with one of the security about Owen and the Militant churches. Turns out this man also has a heart for the children of Liberia and for building a generational vision. He said that he had some land outside of Gbarnga that he would like to donate for the Dunbar’s to build a church. Steve got his contact information to pass along to Owen. God is so good!

We just took off from Ghana, headed to JFK. Eleven hours to go until we reach American soil. Tears actually slipped down my cheeks as we took off from Liberia. I think I am leaving part of my heart. During the “lay over” in Ghana, I was talking with Summer, Arriana, and Makailah. We were laughing, teasing, and reminiscing. I am so thankful for these girls. I couldn’t have asked for a better team to go with. I love each of them very much. It will be difficult to leave them in PA to go home to VA.

 

December 2, 2013

We are in the US! We arrived at JFK at 4:15am EST. After customs and baggage claim, we climbed inside the two vans to take us back to Hillside. It is freezing here – only 40 degrees, but it feels much colder to us “Liberian-Americans”. Our team sat in the same van to ride together one last time. On the way back to Hillside, we stopped in a diner for some good ole American breakfast. Our meal and van ride was filled with stories and laughter. I wasn’t sure how the team dynamics would work out, but I have grown to love this team dearly.

During our breakfast, Arriana made us feel guilty by reminding us that many of the children we met would be waking up this morning without food. But guilt is from the Enemy (and in her defense, she didn’t mean to make us feel guilty, but we did). I do not hate what I have been given. God has placed me in this country, in this state, in this city for a reason. I can use what I have learned in Liberia to serve others. I can choose to live on less, make sacrifices, be thankful, not complain, and love my family. And I can choose to live each day with joy and worship Jesus with abandonment just as my Liberian friends.

Adventures in Africa, Part 6

I’m sure that by now you’re beginning to wonder when these posts are going to end. Well, good news! After this, there’s only one more “part” left. The journey is drawing to a close…

November 30, 2013

This morning we woke up at 5:15am and arrived at the Militant Church at 6:15. When we arrived at the church, children and adults were already awake and waiting to wave goodbye. Last night we had a chance to thank everyone in Zorzor and say goodbye. We have all made many friends, so it was an emotional evening and morning.

The ride back to Monrovia was a lot easier than I had expected, and I was blessed to not get motion sickness. Thank you, Jesus! But it is a lot hotter back in Monrovia. We went to the market this afternoon, and I don’t think I’ve sweat that much my entire time in Liberia. It is so humid. There were so many people and shops that it was overwhelming. Thankfully, Famata helped us navigate our way. Without her we would have been utterly lost. We had to be careful to keep our belongings close so they wouldn’t get stolen. Not so different from any inner-city in the US… However, many of the guy shopkeepers / vending sellers approached us. Some every grabbed my arms as we tried to pass through. I had to keep my head down and avoid eye contact. Famata was pleased that many people stared at the white girl with corn rows (she did my hair earlier today). And she kept telling people how a few of the guys would call out, “I love you. You are beautiful. I like your country plaits (aka corn rows).”

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My favorite part of today was going down to the beach tonight. The ocean felt so refreshing. Most Liberians do not know how to swim and are scared of the ocean. But we managed to convince Gideon, David, and Willamina (Owen and Viola’s sons and niece) to come in deeper than they ever had. They loved it and wanted to learn how to swim. Everyone had so much fun. It was a beautiful closing night to our time here in Liberia!

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Adventures in Africa, Part 5

November 29, 2013

I think today has been one of the longest and best days so far, and it’s only 4pm. We went to bed past midnight, because Owen and Viola were recounting their experiences during the war. I woke up at 7:30am after a quick night of sleep. At 9:00 we headed over to the Militant Church. While Pastor Steve was doing his parenting session, us girls were playing with the kids. We played football, made ooblick, and painted nails. These kids are truly precious. I love each one so much! Around 11:00, Marisela and Dad spoke to the women and men separately. Then it was time for “The March”! We paraded down the street to the town square, singing worship and dancing. I had kids clinging to me as we made our way. In the town square, we prayed over the city and nation. Singing before Jesus with abandonment and shouting His name in the marketplace was a glimpse of what this world should look like and what Heaven will look like. Although our group was comparatively small, about 50 people, I believe God was right there with us, will hear our prayer, and show His power.

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We ate a delicious lunch of rice, potato leaves, and a soupy mix of chicken, fish, and beef. I felt a strange feeling of fullness after eating – yay! But being out in the sun for several hours was starting to get to me. I began to feel weak. We had our last children’s session after lunch. Our craft was to decorate crowns (a local Burger King in PA had donated 1000 paper crowns). The children and adults would hide the jewels we gave them and ask for more. The kids mobbed us, asking for jewels and memory verse cards. The poverty and survival mindset was never so evident to me as then. Today I started pouring water into the mouths of children who asked me for a drink. I can’t take it anymore. I want to build wells all over Liberia. 

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Later… Since we were all exhausted, Summer, Kaitlin, and I decided not to go to Guinea with the rest of the group. I had a difficult afternoon. Because of my exhaustion, I was having a lot of negative motions. And I was feeling irritable, because we lost our room key and missed the baptisms. Plus I was feeling down about my worth and affect here. Dad prayed with me, and I sat out on the back porch and cried. It was the first time I could strongly feel the Enemy’s attack on my body and mind during our time in Liberia. I could feel the battle between Satan and the angels over my attitude. Thankfully, after a brief nap, God blessed me with renewed peace and energy. 

Tonight we went to our last revival service. We sat with the children again. The African people worship like no one else. There was a time of celebration after Pastor Steve’s message. We made a conga line around the church, and then we danced on the stage until the sweat was literally dripping down my face and I was gasping for air. Despite the heat and stuffiness, it was one of those moments where you feel like you can keep going forever. Truly a glimpse of Heaven. I can honestly say that I can’t wait to be in God’s presence dancing and worshipping with all my Liberian friends!

At the end of the service, the Liberians blessed us. We each took the opportunity to thank the church and the people. I have never ever experienced such service. The Liberians’ hospitality and graciousness overwhelms me. They who have barely anything choose to bless us with everything. A picture of Jesus’s sacrifice. 

I shared how I had been dreaming about traveling to Africa since the age of 3. Now my dreams have been reached. Every morning during my time in Liberia, I woke up thinking, “I am in Africa. I am seriously in Africa.” There’s no way that I can complain when I am in the midst of a country I love with people I have fallen in love with. Our efforts have been so small compared to the need. But during my rest, I was given a vision that gave me hope and peace.

Our efforts feel like one drop in a bucket. Each one of us – one drop in a large bucket to satisfy the thirst of a nation. But together, the eight of us, our drops come together to make a sip. One sip to refresh Liberia.  

 

Thanksgiving in Africa, Part 4

November 28, 2013 – Thanksgiving

This morning about half of the team woke up with irritation from the food – stomach aches, head aches, diarrhea, vomiting – all that fun stuff. We’re not sure what exactly caused it, but it was probably either the fresh cucumbers or the mayonnaise from supper last night. Thankfully we are all feeling better, although we are weak (this is mid-morning).

11:50pm – Wow! It has been a good day! We had our first children’s session in Zorzor this afternoon. We started around 2:30pm, after a lunch of gibi (spelling?), which is pounded cassava root that is dipped in a fish sauce and swallowed (the sauce has an entire fish, eyeballs and all, mashed into it). The dish was a staple during the war, because cassava root expands in the stomach.

The accents of the children here in Zorzor are harder to understand, but I have found all of the children to be so friendly. I am trying to learn their names. We are encountering some more unusual names in the mountainous regions. We had a group of about 75 today, which made it easier to connect with each of the children. And we had enough supplies for everyone, including the parents and pastors! Here the children understand the message of identity in Jesus clearer. As Pastor Steve said about Zorzor, “There is a kingdom atmosphere.” I had the opportunity to speak for about 5 minutes during the session today about what it means to look like Jesus. (Based upon Genesis 1:27 – “God created man in His own image,” and 2 Corinthians 3:18 – “But we are all being changed to look just like Jesus, so that when we look in the mirror, we see the glory of God.”)

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All the pastors at the conference are strong but gentle men of God. You can see the love on their faces. They have all given so much thought into making us feel at home. We arrived at the church this morning to signs reading “Happy Thanksgiving to our American friends.” My heart was filled to overflowing at their thoughtfulness!

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Tonight at the revival service, us girls sat with the Liberian kids in the back of the room. The children here worship with their whole heart. We danced with many of them and also engaged in some African dance with Famata. Toward the end of the service, the little ones began falling asleep around us or on our laps. One of the girls, who had been diligently following me throughout the day, laid her head in my lap. The love and acceptance is such a gift. It was as if we were all family, which in Christ we are!

I could spend years here among the Liberians, if I could get used to the heat that is. These people have suffered so many atrocities, it brings me to tears. Tonight Owen and Viola were recounting the civil war from their perspectives. The cruelty and injustice committed by their leaders is heart wrenching and unimaginable for us as Americans. Even today, in relative peace, many do not have food to eat and water to drink. Tonight I was brought to tears as one of the sweet little boys, David, was crying because he was hungry. And on this day in the United States we stuff ourselves sick with turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. We do not know what it feels like to be so hungry that all we can do is cry.

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(David is reaching out to see his reflection in our car windows)

A Meaningful Christmas

Things I am having a hard time being thankful for… Midterms. The dentist. Cold. Tiredness. Jet lag. Chaos. Traffic. Messy rooms.

The things that are easy to give thanks for… Cookies. Hot cocoa. Friends. College acceptance letters. The Grinch. Fuzzle fuzz. Wood fires. Icicles. Quiet evenings. Lights. Hot showers.

In the midst of all the craziness of of the Christmas season, I am trying to be thankful for all the things I have been given. I find it so easy to get wrapped up in the quest to find “the perfect gift” for each person on my list. Even today I was getting stressed about not being able to think of gift ideas for certain people. There’s pressure to get lights up, decorate the house, attend parties, go to performances, make dozens of cookies… all of these things that our society tells us makes the perfect holiday.

All of the time we hear how money doesn’t create happiness. It’s a nice sentiment, to be sure. But do we really believe it? I didn’t. I believed it in my head, but not in my heart. In my heart I still believed that happiness comes along with wealth.

For 10 days I was in the midst of real poverty. I saw little kids with bloated stomachs from malnutrition. I saw children wearing ill-fitting shoes and the same dirty clothes. I heard a toddler crying because he was hungry. I heard a precious girl ask me for a sip of water. But I also felt the hugs of those same children who had nothing. I watched them care for their younger siblings with selflessness. I saw their faces light up with joy as they danced in worship. Yes, it sounds cliché, but I have never experienced such contentment, gratitude, and… happiness.

Fast forward a week. Here I am. Back in the States. With all the modern conveniences and comforts that I could ever ask for. And yet I still find myself concerned with wearing a cute outfit for the Christmas Eve service, buying “perfect gifts” for my family and friends, and arguing with my siblings over the last M&M cookie. On Sunday morning in our worship, we prayed that God would show us how to be happy as His children. Shouldn’t that be a given? But it’s not. Even I, who experienced true happiness, cannot remember to be grateful. I get caught up in the hubbub and pressure of an American holiday. And so, my wish this Christmas is that I would never take a single gift for granted. May I never question God’s sovereignty and love. And may I forever remember those precious children dancing before their Savior.

Adventures in Africa, Part 3

Today will be my last post for the week. I’m going to take a hiatus during the weekend, to focus on spending time with family and completing an AP Lit essay. I have been blessed that the culture shock hasn’t been too intense returning home. However, I am still feeling the effects of jet lag and haven’t been able to get into the “Christmas spirit” yet. I would appreciate prayer for that!

November 27, 2013

It’s hump day! We have been here for 4 days and will be here for 4 more days. This morning, after waiting, we went to visit the J. Dunbar-Norris school, founded by Owen’s grandfather. The kids swarmed us and ran toward us as we exited the car. We toured the school, which contained all the grades in one building, with walls in between the classrooms but no doors. I talked to the kids about school and dancing, but many times I just stood there holding their hands with nothing to say. I began to feel useless. The discouragement increased when two children asked me for a sip of my water and I had to refuse.

The negative emotions lasted for a few hours. On the car ride, I was squashed with four people in the middle seat and couldn’t handle all the touch (note: physical touch is not my love language). I also got motion sickness – dizziness and nausea. I rarely get motion sick in the States, but these roads were really tough. Thankfully once we got out to walk for a bit and then turned on some worship music in the car, my spirits were uplifted. Just further proof that I need Jesus to survive!

We arrived in Zorzor to find that our rooms at the Salvation Army compound had been taken. After a half hour of waiting and searching, we ended up at the Come and Rest Guest House – with seven bedrooms! Kaitlin and I are sharing a room. When we arrived, we were greeted by a group of Liberians. Some such as Famata, Bernice, and Emmanuel, we had met before in Monrovia or Gbarnga. Others we met for the first time. I was overwhelmed by the kindness and love. Famata and I had a “real” conversation (meaning it was more than yes and no questions) about the weather, food, clothes, dancing, and my purity ring. It was the first time I had a back-and-forth conversation with a Liberian for longer than 5 minutes. So special and rewarding! For lunch we had our first taste of spicy Liberian food – not too spicy.

Then we went back to our house for about an hour and a half of rest (I slept soundly) before the revival meeting. The revival meeting was the first time this trip that I have felt poured into. Up until then I had felt like I was giving of myself with little return. The worship was powerful. Their songs repeat truth over and over. All the Liberians dance and sway to the music without any inhibition. Pastor Steve spoke about the prodigal sons from Luke 15, and we had the opportunity to pray over many people who came forward. About 15-20 people chose to accept Jesus for the first time or renewed their dedication to Him! My spirit was refreshed with the Holy Spirit. While we are here to serve the Liberians, I think they are serving us more than we ever could.

Afterward many came and introduced themselves to us, even some of the littlest ones. A little boy, about three, came up to each one of us to shake our hands. Such a gentleman 🙂 Later on I had a conversation with an 18 year old named Irene. We are both in the 12th grade, so we talked a lot about our classes. All of us team members have been amazed at how the Liberians are more advanced in their studies than any of us in America. Although the Liberians speak English, each of our accents often hinder us from fully understanding. Talking with Irene was such a God-thing, because I could relate with her and understand her clearly.

Adventures in Africa, Part 2

I want to introduce you all to a beautiful young woman named, Famata. I actually just received a phone call from her. Famata is a university student in Liberia, working towards her nursing degree. She is also the niece of Owen and Viola Dunbar, our host family for the week. Famata leads worship at her church and has a powerful voice to praise God. Although intimidating at first, once you get to know her, she is filled with kindness and generosity. During our time in Gbarnga and Zorzor, Famata helped us minister to the kids and cook for us. I am so blessed to call her friend.

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L to R: Marisela, Kaitlin, Famata, myself, Summer

November 26, 2013

Whew! It’s been a short but energy-packed day. We arrived at the local government building at 2:15 to be greeted by 500 kids, teens, and adults. Overwhelming? Absolutely. After 15-20 minutes of looking for the pastor (and waiting), we got started. Things did not go as planned. It took a long time to settle the kids and send out the adults, who were supposed to be attending a parents conference with Pastor Steve. Then the sound system could not reach the back of the room. Our intended groups of 25 became 35, and even more kids were standing around the chairs. We did not have enough crafts for everyone. I was heartbroken as I had to tell kids that we didn’t have enough. I gave one girl my bracelet to compensate. All the kids were able to participate in the memory verse and dance. All of the girls on our team said their favorite part was “Hello My Name Is”. I agree! Dance is a wonderful way to communicate the message of God’s love in a relatable way. What a blessing to look out and see hundreds of kids dancing along!

The dancers from last night also danced again. One of the songs said, “God is in Africa,” which made my heart fill with joy. After they danced, we were waiting for the food to be prepared to feed the crowd, so I suggested they teach us some African moves on stage to entertain the crowd. That was a blast! A little embarrassing, yes, but we were able to get the kids laughing.

After the session, we went outside to blow bubbles with the kids. The joy on their faces was astounding. Little do we realize how special bubbles are to kids who have never seen them. The most heartbreaking part was when we left. The kids grabbed on to the bubble wand and begged me for it. About 10 or 15 girls and boys surrounded me and pulled at my clothes and arms as I tried to make my way to the car. The desperation in their faces and voices was evident. I almost started crying as I pushed them off in order to open the door and climb in.

In the heat and exhaustion I’ve had a few moments where I’ve thought, “What am I doing here? What is God doing?” There are so many desperate people and we can only reach a few. Plus our plans have changed so much. Today we even heard a rumor that the Liberian president was dead and that we might not be able to go to Zorzor. (Thankfully, after calling the US Embassy, it was determined to be just that – a rumor.) But I think the physical discomfort is worth it. Today we were able to bring a little hope and joy to the people of Gbarnga. I am looking forward to seeing what God does next!

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Looking out on all the children in the room. By the end of the session, the room was even more full.

Adventures in Africa, Part 1

November 24, 2013

We are in Liberia!! The plane ride wasn’t as bad as I had feared. Turns out I can survive a 14 hour flight. I did experience some motion sickness in the night, because of extended turbulence, but nothing too bad. My brain is dead right now, so I can’t think enough to write. All I know is I am hot, lethargic, and exhausted. God sustain me!

November 25, 2013

This morning I woke up feeling very tired and weak. I barely slept because one of the team was sleep walking, our fan stopped working, and dogs were barking outside. I ate some plantains for breakfast, then after waiting (I’ve realized we’ll have to do a lot of that here), we got on the road. Because of the construction and rough roads, we decided to wait to travel to Gbarnga this morning. The ride started out smooth, but before long, we were bumping and swerving all over the place. I started getting dizzy but after we stopped for the bathroom and got rained on while waiting, I started feeling better. The ride was great because we were able to see a large part of Liberia. But 5 hours of bumpy roads does lead to nausea and stiffness.

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Stopping at a fruit stand to get fresh bananas and pineapples on our ride to Gbarnga

We arrived safely in Gbarnga at 2:30pm (Liberian time). Based on our arrival, we changed plans and ate a snack lunch and organized supplies. Our original hotel did not have A/C so we ended up at the Passion Hotel – with electricity from 6pm to 2am and then from 5am to 7am. At 4:30pm, we traveled to the school where our first meeting was to be held. As soon as we got there, we had to move to Plan, uh, D? About 300 kids and teens were packed into a tiny schoolhouse. With the body heat and no air movement, it was about 110 degrees.

We ended up introducing ourselves and doing the dance I choreographed to “Hello My Name Is”. The noise in the room was too loud for any of us to project our voices to the back of the room. A Liberian dance group did a dance for us as well. They were amazing. I don’t think they realized we weren’t trying to perform but to minister. Since there was no way for us to continue and even the Liberians were sweating in the heat, we all went outside. Some of the women had prepared a hot meal for the children. All of us had a chance to interact with the children and teens. Although we could not understand each other very well, we shared names and smiles. The little girls were so sweet and wanted to be hugged and held. Some of the young boys would run up to one of us white girls to quickly say, “You’re beautiful,” and then run away. A lot of the teen boys wanted to be introduced to us. One of them insisted on getting my contact info, and I had to patiently repeat my “no” over and over. Overall it was so honoring to see the interest and affection of the Liberians.

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With some of the African children; team members L to R – me, Kaitlin, Summer, Makailah