Hole in One!

This morning as I went into the bathroom to wash up for the day, I was organizing my belongings. I lifted my arm to put my toothbrush on the shelf above the sink and lost my grip on it. The toothbrush hit the sink, flipped and landed head first into the toilet! I couldn’t have done that if I tried! Had I taken my phone to the bathroom with me, I would have captured the moment. My friends here suggested I re-enact the scene, but I’ll just allow you to picture it in your minds instead. That, my friends, is your chuckle for the day!

Until next time, peace …

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One of the team members has dubbed me as “the water girl” as it seems that I am the one who frequently retrieves the water from the back porch to fill bathing buckets and the water filtration system for our drinking water.

Water is a precious commodity here in Liberia. While free, our driver and guest house helpers travel 20 minutes by car to fill our large jugs of water. These jugs are kept on the back porch of the guest house and we use them to fill buckets for bathing and drinking. I cannot even begin to imagine living here and walking and carrying these water jugs!

Our accommodations here at the guest house are considered “luxury” by Liberian standards. We have electricity most of the time and bathrooms with American fixtures. While we don’t have running water, we have a toilet we flush manually with buckets, and a sink and a tub in which we can put buckets of water to wash ourselves. Each time I carry a bucket of water from the porch and when I dump a bucket of water over my head to wash my hair, I am reminded of how much water we waste in the U.S. While I am longing for a “real” shower and will gratefully enjoy that luxury when I get home next Saturday night, I pray that I will never take this precious commodity for granted, and that each time I turn on the spigot in my home, I will pray for my friends in Liberia.

Until next time, peace …

The water buckets that travel 20 minutes by car to be filled

The women’s bathroom at the guesthouse

The Berkey water filtration system giving us safe drinking water

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We’ve been busy!

We’ve been busy over the last few days! On Monday, we got up in the wee hours of the morning and loaded into a rented SUV at 5:00 a.m. for an anticipated 4 hour drive to Ganta. There were 7 of us in the vehicle, plus our driver, a tight squeeze for us Americans, but according to Liberian standards, there was room for AT LEAST 2 more people! After about 2 hours we stopped at a “coffee shop” to use the restroom. The only thing that resembled a “coffee shop” was its sign outside as there was no coffee and the restroom was suspect. As we traveled on, we experienced something that often happens in Liberia: dirt in the gas line. We pulled over to the side of the road and our driver attempted to syphon the dirt from the gas line (yes, eww, with his mouth!). It was a beautiful day so our team enjoyed the beauty of birds and trees on the side of the road while we waited. God’s Spirit was present and none of us were anxious about this delay. John, one of our Liberian friends who lives and helps and at the guest house, hitched a ride on a pem pem (a small motorcycle) to get some clean gas, and after an hour or so, we were on our way again. All was well!

When we got to Ganta shortly after 10:00 a.m., we visited the United Methodist Mission Station there, including their hospital and farm. Our group met with the hospital administrator, Dennis Weh, and then some team members toured the hospital while others toured the farm. They are doing amazing work there, improving the health and wellness of the people in Liberia and neighboring Guinea. Will write more about some of these things in future posts. After a lunch at a local recommended restaurant that served American food, and where SOME of us actually got what we ordered (over an hour later!), we piled back into the vehicle for our 4-hour trek home.

On Tuesday morning, I spent time at the local public school observing the teachers and students there. The lack of teachers, books and supplies is staggering. These teachers are doing good work with their VERY limited resources. I also spent time with the children at St John’s school, playing with them during recess. Then the women of our team met with the Girls of Promise at St John’s. What a blessing to see the hope and potential in these young girls!

Yesterday the men on the team did their farm work and continued working on the benches they are building for classrooms at St John’s School. We women traveled to the capitol city of Monrovia to visit the Liberian Annual Conference office and do some shopping! The conditions of the roads here are hard to explain, but this 17 mile trip took us 2+ hours, each way. At the conference office, we attended their weekly Wednesday morning worship, met with their Director of Connectional Ministries, and met with their Volunteers in Mission Coordinator. The Director of Communications interviewed Cathy about Farmer to Farmer, and this interview will be broadcasted on the United Methodist radio station here.

After the conference office, we went shopping at a large local market called Happy Corner. And we were indeed happy as we bought fabric for our dresses that will be made. We had lunch at a local American restaurant and I ordered a Philly cheesesteak that actually resembled a real Philly cheesesteak more than some of the imposters I’ve been served in the States! And the good news is that all of us were served what we ordered! A first for our restaurant experiences here! After lunch, we did grocery shopping in an American market, went to a stationary store and then came home. A good day!

Today we will meet with the Girls of Promise at the Lutheran School and tonight I am preaching at a Pentecostal Church here in Harrisburg. I can only imagine how lively Liberian Pentecostal worship will be! Your prayers are appreciated.

Until next time, peace …

A rural gas station!

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I had my first African worship experience this morning and oh what a joy it was! As a pastor visiting St John’s UMC, I was expected to sit up front and participate in worship. While initially a little anxious about this, it was incredible. Sitting up front facing the congregation was the perfect vantage point to see the faces of those in worship. Admittedly, this vantage point in the U.S. does not always bring me the joy I found today. We in the U.S. are much more inhibited than those here in Liberia, and we tend to complain a whole lot more too! I can only imagine the phone calls I’d get from parishioners at any of the churches I’ve served if our worship lasted for two and a half hours!

This morning we sang and we danced in the joy of the Lord! Yes, this pastor danced in worship! After singing several lively praise songs, the opening hymn was Blessed Assurance. As we sang the first refrain, This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long …, I was overcome with emotion. Listening and watching as people who have so little material possessions claim such faith was humbling. We in the U.S. have so many trappings we think will make us happy, yet keep us from truly living a joy-filled life. I was also aware that my tears flowed because I know that I could never have had this experience 153 pounds ago. I am grateful to God for my health and vitality and I don’t want to waste a minute of it!

During this opening hymn, the pastor came to me to share what he wanted me to do during worship — read scripture. He assigned me a familiar passage from Luke 3, Jesus’ baptism, the exact passage I had preached on at home last Sunday. This, too, brought more tears as I felt the connection between these two congregations and was reminded of baptism and God’s claim on our lives as God’s beloved children.

After more singing, scripture and prayer, the message was brought by Farmer to Farmer missionary, Rev. Cathy Ake. She spoke of our connection to one another and our work together. Then it was time for the offering. Oh, if only we in the U.S. could make our offerings as cheerfully as Liberians! They sing and dance their way forward to place their offerings at the altar. It was truly Spirit- and joy-filled! May we pray for such a fresh outpouring of the Spirit in the U.S.!

Sitting up front I didn’t want to be disrespectful and take pictures during worship, but I did manage to sneak in a few pictures of the joyful givers. Pictured below is also our team, dressed and ready for worship.

Until next time, peace …

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Art School

A local artist in Harrisburg, Sam McGee, recently approached Ray and Cathy about forming an art school in the community. Though the program is not sponsored by Farmer to Farmer, Sam uses the garage of the guest house on Saturday mornings for his art class. The classes are free, though the children must register and pay for their shirts. This morning the children gathered at 10:00 for their second class of three hours of art instruction. Today Sam is focusing on shading techniques. See some pictures and a video below.

Sam also leads a drama class and last night children from the community gathered in the palava hut for a lively session.

God is working through committed community leaders to bring hope here in Harrisburg!

Until next time, peace …

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Girls of Promise

One of the emphases Farmer to Farmer is education and the Girls of Promise program was developed to provide scholarships for girls to go to school. Through $50 annual sponsorships, these girls receive uniforms, supplies and encouragement to go to school and stay in school.

Today Cathy, Elizabeth, Ruth and I went to the Harrisburg Public School to meet with the girls there who are in Girls of Promise. At the public school, there are 17 girls in the program (14 were present today), and there are 14 additional girls in the program who go to St John’s UMC school and the Lutheran School. We will meet with these girls next week, and on Friday, January 25 we will meet with all of the girls for the first of their monthly gatherings.

Today all of us shared stories together and made a web with yarn to show how we are all connected. We talked about the importance of education and having dreams for the future. We prayed together (yes, in the public school!) and we sang. There was such a beautiful spirit in the room and God was surely present!

Below are a few pictures and a video of the girls singing The Connection Song. Please hold these girls and the Girls of Promise program in your prayers.

Until next time, peace …

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We’re Here!

This post will be short, but wanted folks to know that after three flights and a 2+ hour bumpy trek from Roberts airport in Monrovia, we arrived in Harrisburg last night around 12:30 a.m. local time (7:30 p.m. Eastern time). We’ve now slept, thanks be to God, had our devotions, and are awaiting all that the day holds.

Our team: Elizabeth, me, Mike and Ruth

Our team with Otterlee Diggs (left) and Pryde Bass, whose hometown is Harrisburg. They both currently live in the Cleveland area and came to see us off. Pryde started the Farmer to Farmer program and Otterlee has served as hostess and coordinator for previous teams.

Our team at dinner at a restaurant by the airport last night. We were greeted by Rev Cathy Ake, who along with her husband Rev Ray Ake, are our hosts during this trip, and are serving as missionaries here in Harrisburg with Farmer to Farmer for a year.

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