Worship!

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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Liberia Bound!

After six months of prayer, planning, organizing and anticipation, in just about 12 hours I will head to the airport on the trip of a lifetime. I cannot express how excited I am about the opportunities that await in Liberia.

For those who may not know, Liberia sits on the west coast of Africa, bordered by Sierra Leone on the West, Guinea on the North, the Ivory Coast on the East, and the Atlantic Ocean on the South. Its capitol is Monrovia, it covers 43,000 square miles (about the size of Tennessee) and has a population of 4.7 million. Though there are nearly 20 indigenous languages, the official language is English.

Liberia began as a settlement of the American Colonization Society to settle freed American slaves. It became the Free and Independent Republic of Liberia in 1847. Since its founding as a nation, Liberia has maintained a close relationship with the United States. In the 1970s there were political tensions which resulted in a military coup in 1980. Over the course of 25 years, the country experienced two civil wars that resulted in the deaths of at least a quarter of a million people and the displacement of many more, as well as the obliteration of their economy. Peace was finally achieved through the efforts the women of the country. In 2011, Leymah Gbowee received the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in leading the women’s peace movement. She shared the prize with fellow Liberian Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who served as President of Liberia from 2006 – 2018. Sirleaf was the first elected female head of state in Africa.

For additional information about Liberia, check out this blog post of Rev. John Partridge who served on the last Farmer to Farmer mission team in Harrisburg just two months ago. https://pastorpartridge.com/2018/11/26/21-facts-about-liberia/

The United Methodist Church, and especially the East Ohio Conference, has an ongoing relationship with the people of Liberia. One such relationship is through Farmer to Farmer who partners with St John’s UMC in Harrisburg, part of the St Paul’s River District of Liberia. Farmer to Farmer introduces modern farming techniques, has developed a sewing school, and works intensively with the classrooms of the local schools to provide scholarships, supplies, renovation, curriculum, relationships, and love. Over the last several years, mission teams have visited to build relationships within the community and work to understand and advance the interests of the needs of the community. In November 2018, retired East Ohio pastors Ray and Cathy Ake began serving as General Board of Global Ministries Volunteer Missionaries in Harrisburg to so that Farmer to Farmer could have an ongoing presence there and to also oversee the building of an Agricultural-Technical High School.

During my time in Harrisburg, I will be doing some teacher training, leading some children’s activities, preaching at St John’s UMC on January 20, among other things, some of which I surely cannot yet imagine!

In preparation for our trip, our team collected a variety of supplies and personal items to be given to the people in Harrisburg. On New Year’s Day, my friend Elizabeth and I sorted the items we had collected and attempted to evenly distribute them in our suitcases. For international flights, we can take two 50-pound suitcases and we are at our limit! And beyond, actually! The other team members also collected items including a sewing machine and a water pump!

The one picture below shows me weighing one of the suitcases. As I stood there, I had the realization that I used to carry around the weight of 3 of those suitcases! Wow!

Anyway, we are excited about the opportunities and adventures ahead of us. Please hold our team (Elizabeth, Ruth, Mike, and me, as well as Ray and Cathy) in your prayers. I will post pictures here as time and wi-fi access permit during the trip.

I am grateful for all of the support and look forward to sharing the love of Christ with the people in Harrisburg and as we travel.

Until next time, peace …

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I’ve Lost (the Weight of) My Mother and Other Ramblings

I sit here in the wee hours of the morning at my parents’ home after a lovely Christmas visit with them and one word comes to mind: grateful. I am grateful for so many things: my family and friends who have become family, ministry with the congregations I have served, my health and the health of those I love, and so much more.

The last few months have been a whirlwind of ministry activity, preparations for my upcoming trip to Liberia and time spent with family. In early October my mother had surgery on her cervical spine. This surgery was certainly not an easy one, but she has done quite well in her recovery. Our family is grateful for the prayers, support and helping hands from our friends and faith communities.

As to my own health, as anticipated, my weight loss has slowed down considerably. I’ve shed about 10 pounds in the last three months, but this is normal and expected. My current total is 153 pounds shed! I’ve lost nearly 50 inches since I started doing monthly measurements in April. I wish I had done measurements before my February 1 surgery as I know that number would be much greater! I continue to make healthy eating choices (minus a few cookies over the holidays, lol) and exercise regularly. In addition to water aerobics and exercise, in October, I added boxing to my regime twice a week. Boxing burns many calories, is great for one’s mental health, and is a lot of fun!

During the month of December, I had the opportunity to attend a variety of gatherings where I saw friends and colleagues I had not seen since last year. This brought some odd and unexpected emotions, in some cases, as people did not recognize me and I had to introduce myself to them. Most reactions left me feeling affirmed and loved, but admittedly, I’m still processing some of the interactions. I know people mean well and don’t always know what to say, but some comments devalue a person and their worth.  I may look different and sometimes even act differently (with more energy and more confidence), but at the core of my being, I am still the same person – one created in the image of God with all of the inherent worth and value that goes with that; a beloved child of God with the same God-given gifts and intelligence. None of that changed. I was, I am, and I will always be fearfully and wonderfully made. And for that, I am grateful.

Below are some pictures from the last few months. Blessings to one and all in the New Year.

Until next time, peace …

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Living It Up

In my last post I promised some pictures of me celebrating my birthday week and my new sense of vitality. On Sunday after church my friend Elizabeth and I traveled to Pennsylvania to visit my sister and brother-in-law in the Pocono Mountains. Yesterday morning I went to my sister’s boxing class. What fun! And a great workout. In the afternoon we went to Camelback Mountain Adventures where Elizabeth and I went zip lining and rode the mountain coaster. The coaster was fun, but the zip line was absolutely amazing and breathtaking! Here are several pictures of the experiences yesterday.

Until next time, peace …

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