Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sponsorship Newsletter

Part of my involvement in Liberia is to help with the sponsorship program. The following is the March newsletter that I wrote about our time in Liberia. It's long, but I figure it may have some info that I've not yet written about here. Also- if you ever feel led to be involved in supporting the children that I love there, and you're interested in sponsorship, I'd love to help you get plugged in. There is a link on the right margin of this blog for www.africanchildsponsorship.com , with all the info about what the funds go to buy, and how to get involved. Otherwise, ask me! I'd be thrilled to point you in the right direction!

Wow. I really have a hard time knowing where to begin as I sit here and desire to share with you about our time in Liberia. My husband, our two kids, and I traveled to Liberia in January, and stayed for four weeks at Daniel Hoover Children's Village. We had the joy of also having our two Liberian children, who we've been in the process of adopting for several years now, stay with us the entire time. It was the first time all six of us had been together as a family! This was a huge part of why we decided to go in the first place... to be together. There was another main reason as well, however. We have been happy to be invested in the children of Liberia through sponosrship, the adoption process, and through last June's missions trip, but we sensed God just had more for us to be a part of. We really wanted to have more time to spend there, getting to know the staff and being a part of everyday life.

The trip was eye-opening in so many ways. It was challenging living among 200 children who are clamouring for your time and attention constantly. It was a joy to get to get to interact with them and let them know they are loved. It was a privilege to come to call the staff members our friends, to hear their hearts, their joys and their difficulties... and to become a part of their lives. We spent many days at the Deaf School loving on the kids there as well. We were able to experience a typical day in the children's lives; the good and the not-so-good.

The children were just beginning their second semester of school when we arrived. There were some children who went home and will now stay with family, as well as new children who came to enroll. Once the first week passed, things fell into more of a dependable routine; chores in the morning, school, change out of uniforms, eat the main meal, free time, gather for devotions, settle into the dorms for the evening. Though things are not at all “organized” as we think of it here in America, there is thought that goes into the events of the day, and this pattern is roughly followed each school day. Weekends are for chores, washing and braiding hair for the girls, football (soccer) for the boys, and for resting in any cool place you can find.

The children are in such good hands. I wish I had the time and space to tell you all about the dorm matrons we got to know, about the Sieh family who directs at DHCV, and about Pastor Harrington who is the head (and father figure) at the Deaf School. They are outstanding individuals. They care for the kids, have their best at heart, and are acting in obedience to the Lord as they do what he has called them to. It is utterly apparent to us, however, that there are just not enough care-givers to address the needs of so many children. Many kids are extremely helpful, but a good handful of them (at least at DHCV) are quite unruly at times, and that makes for a big challenge for their caregivers, as the ratio of matrons to kids is about 1:50. (This is not the case at the Deaf School, as the ratio is much more balanced.) As you can imagine, there is very little one-on-one time that can be given to the kids, which is not an optimal way to be raised into adulthood. We found ourselves wondering what could be done to try to help in these struggles, and to be honest, we just don't know. God will have to continue to strengthen the staff, and reveal his plans to us all. We are deeply grateful though, for the way that God's word is taught faithfully to the children, and that they are grounded in the most important things of all.

It was extremely encouraging to once again experience the affection and joy of the Liberian people. I am struck each time we are there, that despite the extreme poverty and tumultuous history of the country, the people are overwhelmingly full of joy and thankfulness. The kids are needy of attention, to be sure, but they are not neglected by any stretch, as you hear of accounts in orphanage settings in Russia and other countries. These children are full of life and happiness, creativity and a great capacity to extend and receive love. That, to me, is incredible... and a testimony of the relational focus within the Liberian culture. We spent many, many hours sitting and snuggling, braiding hair, playing soccer, talking and sharing, and listening to the kids' beautiful voices as they sang their many songs to us.

One highlight for me was having the honor of bringing packages to children whose sponsors sent something to them. They all were so excited to get these special parcels... just for them! Most end up sharing some of the the goodies inside with their friends. I want to say THANK YOU to those of you who were able to send something... it is an extremely impactful thing to connect to your child in this way. The sponsorship program continues to get more organized as we have more opportunities to work in Liberia and partner with the staff to get updates and pictures. The funds from this program are a blessing that I just can't do justice to describe. Without this outside help, the ACFI ministry would surely struggle to provide the most basic needs of the indigent and orphaned children. As it is, financial difficulties are the norm, and there is no end to the needs that are faced each day... but the sponsorship program is beginning to bridge that gap, and certainly has been a sweet way for people like you and me to start to see God's heart for his people in Liberia. Thank you for being a part.

I thought I'd end with something I did on my last day at DHCV. I was sitting on our little porch, on the rickety benches where all the kids would come and hang out with our family. A group of “my girls” was with me... these were some of the older girls, (Henrietta and Nowai among them ~ for the benefit of their sponsors!) and I was asking them about what they remembered of the civil war. All of them had stories.... all of them. They all had very vivid experiences to share with me, each had seen very horrible and gruesome and violent things. I couldn't fathom my own children, ages 5-11, having lived through the things that were being told to me. I couldn't imagine what impact that would have on them for the rest of their lives. And I certainly couldn't believe that I was sitting here with these girls hearing them talk of rape and beatings, mutilation and bloated bodies in the streets, as if it were something not-too-out-of-the-ordinary. It was their history. It was their childhood. It was unreal. I knew it all before. I've read lots of books on Liberia's history, but the reality of it all hit me when my sweet young friends, who I got to hug everyday for a month, were remembering it. What struck me most though, was that each one, with great conviction, told me that they and their loved ones would never have lived through it all except by God's grace and goodness to them. They praised him, and their thankfulness was deep and real.

That's what's amazing about Liberia. There are great heartaches and trials, but there is a deep dependence on the only one who can make a way through. Jesus, for those who know him, is their true anchor. They trust him for their food each day, for their health and very life, for peace in their land. These things are not taken for granted. So, while we Americans certainly have help to offer them, we have just as much to learn.

The verse I tried to hang on to while in Liberia was Nehemiah 8:10, but interestingly, it sums up quite well & simply, the way Liberian believers live their lives. I hope it encourages you today!

“The joy of the Lord is my strength” ~Nehemiah 8:10

With JOY,
Sponsorship Coordinator

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Joy of the Lord

That was my verse going into our trip to Liberia.

"The joy of the Lord is my strength." (Nehemiah 8:10)

I knew it would be difficult. I knew we would all hit our limit in all sorts of ways. And I knew that we could not do it in our own strength.

I'm not always right, but this was not a hard one to predict. It was hard. We did all hit our limits in all sorts of ways. We could not have done it on our own.

We got through, and we made wonderful friends, and had such valuable time as a family of six. We didn't snap under pressure and flip out. We didn't fall apart, get nasty, or ruin our testimony. But to be quite honest, I was disappointed with how I felt some of the time during our trip. Maybe I'm being really hard on myself, but I just ceased being me about halfway through our 4 weeks. I just dried up and went into survival mode, and stopped being filled with joy. I did what had to be done. I met each crisis that came up and tried to do what I could to work through it. I dealt with the critters and the sickness, the sweat and the heat, the constant issues of all the children... but it wasn't fun to me. I didn't wake up each morning thinking, "Oh goody, another day!" Uh, no. I woke thinking, "God, if you don't strike that chicken dead, I will do it myself. ...and, Oh man, another day... get me through Lord."

We enjoyed SO much of our time, but I just cannot explain to you how different life is there, and how much of our time was spend dealing with some sort of chaos or crisis. Each day toward the end of our time felt like a week... each hour like a full day. I can't explain it. It just felt like that. I didn't think of it in terms of being homesick. I mean, I didn't miss my house or car, washing machine, or even my bed all that much. I could handle living in Liberia... God gave us the kind of personalities not to get too freaky about the basics. But I missed my routine, having some sort of say over what happens. I missed taking care of my own household and being able to play by my rules. Mostly, I missed peace and stillness. I desperately wanted a quiet room~ without the possibility of intruders of any kind. It just didn't exist there.

So, here it is, 3 weeks after getting home, and I'm finally ready to talk a bit about the hard stuff. It has taken me almost this long to get over the chaos, and by that, I mean that I am now able to think back on things and not feel stress. I let it all go once I was on the plane home, but I needed 2 full weeks to not think about it much at all. That must sound insane to most people. It would've sounded insane to me before this too. It's true though, only in the recent days have I been able to think back on things and find there were so many wonderful moments each day, not just moments to block out because they were filled with emotional or physical or spiritual stresses. Whether it was parenting some difficult behaviors (constantly), helping 2 American kids to cope with Africa, helping 2 Liberian kids to cope with America coming their way, becoming a family of 6 overnight, dealing with the joy/craziness of 200 children who observe you like you are in a zoo enclosure, being hot and sweaty all the time, trying to meet the needs of so many people, trying to accomplish something to help them, trying to listen carefully and understand others despite the language barriers... or whether it was another type of chaos like praying to stay alive in the van, whose brakes were not fully operational yesterday, and yet now are in the said van which is careening down the road with plenty of traffic which merges with the honking of horns, not traffic signs... it could be tense in moments, especially when you pick several of these things and deal with them at the same time... which was always the case.

I won't ramble on and on anymore. I just understand how it feels to go into the "just-get-through-it" mode. I am not proud of that. I wish that somehow, I could have truly shone with the joy of the Lord. I know he was my strength. There's just no question. But I wish I could have felt less robotic in the last weeks. It was a little like I was switched off... and the flow of compassion and patience dried up and fell off of me and rolled under the bed (with the dead mouse) and wasn't seen again until I sat down in the plane on the ride home.

It scared me a little. A lot, if I'm honest. Would I be this kind of mom to my 4 beautiful children one day? The kind of mom I don't want to be; who's always uptight and freaky about something? The kind who tells her kids what to do, but has stopped listening?

It took me a while for the Lord to convince me that if I let him carry me, things will be just fine. (Not easy... but fine.) The many chaotic things we dealt with constantly in Africa will not be there to deal with one day when the kids come home. I will need Jesus everyday. I do not doubt that for a moment. Even if I forget my desperate-ness for a minute, my need for Him will be quite as real as ever.

I just so want to do this mothering thing well. I have tasted the fruit of raising my kids to know Jesus and obey him... and I desire so much to show the same kind of life to Kelvin and Hawa one day. But that takes hard work, and constant awareness, and love, compassion, patience, and seeking to obey God in how to deal with each situation... and patience, and more patience. It's so not easy.
And, it will be a whole new kind of difficult to do these things with children who have been raised apart from me for almost 6 and 8 years.

Anyway, I rambled when I said I wouldn't. Sorry.

The point? The joy of the Lord was my strength in Liberia. Even when I didn't feel joyful, it was my joy to be his daughter that brought me there in the first place. It was his joy that filled my heart with love and passion for people a world away from myself. It was his joy in seeing our family altogether that bonded us and makes me smile as I sit here. And certainly, this joy that originated from him, and was passed onto me, was my strength each day, all day, every day... even when I didn't feel it anymore physically... it sustained my spirit and held me together. It must have... because I'm still standing. :)

Thank you, Jesus. You're so good to me.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

People We Love

This might have to be a series of posts, depending on how long-winded I decide to be (and we all know that when I write, I can be quite long-winded indeed!). There are just so many people that we love in Liberia now. After our June trip, Jason and I fell in love with many children, our own included, of course. But spending a month, actually living with many of these children and the staff that cares for them, really allows you to see their true colors. It replaced our June-ish thoughts of love toward them with an actual relationship with them.

Kind of like thinking you have fallen in love with your spouse, and then really getting to know them, and deciding to love them... after seeing both the good and the bad. It's in the deciding that God's kind of love happens. You commit to sticking with someone, even when you don't always agree or see eye to eye. Even when you are stressed out and tired. Even when they're dirty and sweaty and the body odor is almost stifling at times. Even when it's hard. Why? Because what you see in them, and what they see in you, is so much more important. Their hearts, their joys, their stories, their needs, their hopes, their well-being. They are precious to you, and for some reason, you're precious to them too. That's the cool thing about God (one of many!). He can make unlovable people, like me, for instance, be loved by others... he can give His people HIS love for others, and that trumps the hard stuff, and makes it possible to stick by each other.

Now, I'm sure that sounds all nice and tidy, as if I have it all together. So, allow me to make sure you know that I can struggle with this SO much. There are just a small number of people in my life that I find difficult to love well. It's work. It's hard. I have to pray about it. I need God's help.

It was the same in Liberia. Most people are easy to love. But then there are the few kids who literally hang off of your arms... so that you almost lose your balance and bring down the entire entourage of other children who are holding onto you. You keep telling them that they cannot HANG... they need to walk with you. They still hang. There are those children who pout when they don't get their way. There are those kids who lie to you or skip school and hide behind the dorms. There are some whose noses are running profusely, who want to snuggle up to your face (and I don't know about you, but it's one thing when it's your own child, but it's entirely different when that substance is not "in the family."). There are just those children... the ones that are little harder to feel genuine love for. That's when love was a choice for me. When it takes a little sacrifice to get past the things in your way. Sometimes, I chose well. Sometimes, I took the easy way out and thought of a somewhere else I needed to be just then. Not proud of that... just being honest. But the majority of the kids we spent time with were just amazing. Busy& loud... but amazing. :) We are so grateful to know them.

Here are just a fraction of the people that God gave us a deep love for: (I'm not posting names with kids' pictures for privacy reasons... but we certainly know their names and cherish each one.)

The girls - This young woman helped us around our house each morning. What a beautiful heart she has... I can't wait to see what God does with her life.

Brenda with us the day after we arrived.

Pastor Harrington... he is the director of the Deaf Mission; a father-figure to them all, and a pastor of his own church, not to mention an amazing singer.

Uncle Jimmy and Asher playing Liberian checkers. Uncle Jimmy was our sweet driver... he was so fun to get into conversations with!

Ma Kema, the Dorm 2 matron. She was such a wonderful woman. She loved to explain what the songs meant that the girls always sang to us. She gave Anika a dress from the market before we left... a very kind and generous thing to do. She and Ma Emma would playfully argue about whose "daughter" Anika was; both claimed her as their own.

Ma Marie - she's got nerves of steel. I know, because she a boys' matron. Thus, nerves of steel are a requirement. Actually, they're required for the girls' dorm matrons too, now that I think about it. :)

The twins. Good friends to Asher, the only way you can tell them apart most of the time is by one of them having a chipped front tooth. Don't ask me which one, I always get it confused. :) They are great soccer players (as are most of the boys) and tremendous martial artists. Don't know where they learned, but they do multiple flips, gymnastic type moves,and even some break dancing. (Try that on dirt or rocks.)

Thanks to my friend, Kristi, the kids were given colorful beads. They love them! This boy is very new to the Deaf Home. He doesn't know sign yet, so he communicates very, very little. He is also quite thin, which I'm sure will improve once he's been there longer, and is cared for. He looks sad here, but he almost always had a serene glowing smile on his face. He'd just look in your eyes, and you'd want to melt.

This young woman was amazing at hand clapping games... you know, the kind we all did in grade school. We learned many of those from the children, and it was fun to do them with her b/c it broke the barriers between hearing and deaf... you don't need more than a smile and a pair of hands to have a load of fun together!

Our friend- isn't he just so cute?? He's a student at the Deaf Mission as well, and such a helpful and kind kid. You should see him in church keeping the kids in line! :)

Sweet girl...her smile lights up Dixville. She wanted to sing me some songs on the day we left. It was her gift to me. So, as a ton of noisy children milled around the church/school building, getting settled into their seats for our good-bye program, she laid her head on my shoulder and sang into my ear. During the second song, she broke down and sobbed. I just held her. We sat like that for a long time, until the tears stopped... then she began singing again.

This is a terrible picture, it doesn't really capture him in all his joy, just with his mouth full! ... but I had to include him on this list of people. He was a newer student at the Deaf Mission, and an EXCELLENT teacher to us all. He'd draw pictures in the dirt, and then show us the sign for that word... he was so patient! You could tell he LOVED helping us to learn! So did many others... so we usually had about 8 little teachers at one time wanting our undivided attention... but we did our best!

Asher with one of our sweet little friends... she's got the CUTEST giggle you've ever heard, and she uses it often! :)

The girl in the center lives at the Deaf Mission. She's actually the much younger sister of Pastor Harrington's wife. They have raised her like a daughter since she lost her parents. Until halfway through this visit, I assumed she was deaf. She never had spoken to me... and she'd even given me her beaded bracelet last June... without any words, so I thanked in sign language. At some point during this trip, Anika said, "Mom, I just heard her speak... I don't think she's deaf." What?? But sure enough, it was true. I told her that I was shocked... why hadn't she spoken to me before?
She just smiled.

Then she sang a song. Funny.

Ma Emma - oh, we miss Ma Emma and her morning hugs. She always playfully scolded Anika, "I didn't see you clean your dorm room this morning... no food for you today,"... because she told Anika that she was her dorm daughter, and dorm 3 was her home. :) I always picture her sitting outside of Dorm 3... stirring her huge pot of fufu, or cutting potato greens into the most microscopic pieces you've ever seen. She had two deaths in her family in the short time we were there. We had great conversations together, and one of my ultimate favorite memories of our entire trip is her booming voice belting out her favorite song... "Tank you Je-sus... tank you Yahweh..."

My sentiments exactly.

Jason with Theo (pronounced "Tee-oh" in Liberia). He is the father to several kids at the mission, and rides his bike for about 2 hours to get there to help out with maintenance at DHCV. He's a hard worker, and we owe the times that our toilet wasn't backed up to him. Jason hung out with Theo often as they'd work together to fix things.

Our sweet friend. Love her. Love her. Love her. We all love her.

Me with my Hawa-girl. :) Obviously... LOVE her.
Kelvin and his cousin (who he calls "brother"). He will be the new child we're sponsoring at DHCV since Rebeccah is back home with family now. It's a great way to support the needs of the children, plus it's a way to stay involved in the lives of Kelvin's family members. (We were SO sad not to be able to spend more time with her!!! But, we're happy she's with her family.)

Jason wasn't seen all that much without this little friend. They just clicked.

Jason with Elijah. He the guy who can preach!! He truly has a spiritual gifting of evangelism and teaching. It's amazing to witness. He's 25 and finishing 11th grade, after traveling and preaching for a number of years.

Tommy and Meggan ~ an amazing couple that we've been privileged to get to know over the last few years. Tommy came to Liberia with us last June, and we met Meggan for the first time (though I felt I already knew her from phone conversations and through Tommy), as they traveled to Liberia during the last week of our time there. We very much enjoyed their fellowship, encouragement, and friendship. We've been through some wild stuff together. W.I.L.D.

This lovely little lady was our "house helper" along with Sue. She was always ready with a smile and a hug. She really loved us all, but I think she especially loved her "sister" Anika!

This is our sponosred child at the Deaf Mission, so it was just delightful to get to visit her again! It was fun to see that she'd learned a lot of sign language skills since last June when she was new to the Mission. She obviously knew her way around now! It's always hard to leave her though... she was extremely sad to see us go. She, and many other children, asked if we would "carry them to America" (take them) and be their Mom and Dad. Kinda kills you to have to explain that you can't.

Our boy... :)

I LOVE this shot of him!! He just really enjoyed the ocean. He was worried about dying for a while (as they are often told that the sea will carry them away), but he warmed up very quickly to it as long as he had a firm grip on our hands! He hated the taste of the salty water though!

Brenda with Hawa, when she was still feeling sick with malaria. I cannot imagine a more perfect person to be with our family for the first week we were there. She was steady and calm, so helpful, not sqeamish or high-maintenance, and just ready and open for whatever came. I'm so thankful for the new friendship we have with her. The only bummer about all these great friendships we've made, with Liberian ties, is that NO ONE lives near us!

Opelo~ He lives and works at the guest house. We sat with Brenda and listened one night as he told us all about his life during the many years of war. It is truly incredible to know what some of our Liberian friends have endured through.

Jason took this picture of one of his favorite little buddies. Isn't she just beautiful??

Our Georgia~ How do you explain someone like Georgia?? She's spunky and stands up for justice in a place that desperately lacks it. She is confident and bold when she has the need to be, and often gets her way. She loves so many children, and fights ferociously for their well-being. She's funny and has a great sense of style. It was so fun really getting to know her.