Tuesday, December 27, 2005

... and a Happy New Year

Many of you know that last week was a tough one for the Reeds, but tough for the ones who made it tough—the infamous Liberian rogues. Three times on two nights they attempted to break into our house and car respectively, and managed to badly damage five window screens and then break out the passenger side window of our car. On the 21st, they slashed our window screens while we were sleeping, reached in with a stick and pulled some flashlight batteries into grab range. On the 23rd, we were awakened at 2:45am by a phone call from our neighbor who heard a loud noise. I went out to find our car’s passenger door smashed with a cement block and my spare tire messed with, but nothing missing. I went inside and waited a half hour in the dark, and sure enough, the guy came back to the scene of the crime. He got into the car, and opened the glove box as I came to the door. He heard me and bolted, jumped over our newly erected security wall, and was gone. Renita and I were at first rattled, but after going through a range of emotions, we let go what we never had anyway—guaranteed security. A lot of damage and drama for about twenty dollars worth of batteries.

Since then we spend a very nice Christmas day with several missionary families who have been here for years. They report this kind of activity is common, especially around the holidays, and during times of political transition, both of which are happening now. They also had some tips for us, some we will implement immediately. We felt much better after our time together. All in all, we are doing quite well, although finding a replacement car window in Monrovia might take a while.

In a few days we will have our “Happy Birthday Jesus” party with about 30 kids and a dear friend from the US, Julie DeGraw. We’ll have games and prizes, and tell the Christmas story, and everyone will make a gift to give to Jesus.

Soon also, we will usher in another year, and this one will be past. 2005 was one for the books, and we are happy to see it drift into memory. During the coming year, we hope some of our efforts here will begin to show some fruit, and we hope new relationships just now beginning will blossom. It is lonely here sometimes, so far from home, so friends that know something of what we are experiencing here will be very nice. To those of you supporting us with well wishes, prayers, money and gifts, thanks so much for all you do.

Our bedroom window with slashed screens. They only got some batteries laying on the desk.

The Pathfinder sans passenger window.

On a more pleasant note, we have some pics taken by the kids. Hannah snapped this one of Noah and Survivor Jr, Rachel, Majua and Odele.

Victoria having an ecstatic cardboard box moment while sister Apple looks on. Noah took this one.

Victoria took this shot of Renita savoring a cup of coffee.

A nice shot of Majua next to a large palm butter mashing bowl. This and the next picture is Hannah's handiwork

Apple and Unca Ba share a moment. Note the little arm around the big man's back. I think she was going for my ear.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Update Time

Dear friends, family and web heads, the Reeds continue to get accustomed to a land that presents new challenges almost everyday. Here are some tidbits from our world.

Item: For the last week we have been without much power in the evening, just batteries running dc fans, and candles for light. Our generator seems to be having serious problems; apparently the Liberian climate and what looks to be a mechanical flaw have conspired to take it out of action. Our solar panels and batteries are running smoothly however so we have all we need from about 10:00am to 4:00pm. During that time, we charge batteries, cell phones and computers, compose emails for later sending, write the stuff Renita and I need to write, Hannah and Noah play video games, and ready ourselves for quiet darkness. Three mechanics have looked at the generator since we began experiencing problems a month ago, and although we think we can affect something like repairs, time will tell if it will functioned as designed.

Item: George Weah, the football player who lost the presidential election to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, last week declared himself president of Liberia, and has created all sorts of disruption because of it. The BBC reported that UNMIL uncovered a coup plot being orchestrated by some of Samuel Doe’s old cronies who have aligned themselves to Weah. Doe was the corrupt president who murdered president Tolbert in 1980. After his video taped torture and murder, Doe was replaced by the despot Charles Taylor. We feel safe in the midst of this craziness, and firmly believe with the strong international backing Sirleaf has, she will be inaugurated on January 16. The latest news is Weah denied claiming to be prez and met the other day with Sileaf, hopefully to make peace.

Item: We have an agreement from the orphanage at the beach that it will close and allow us to facilitate the transfer of the thirteen children there to a healthier, safer facility. Thanks to some of you, we will have the funds necessary to make this happen within three weeks. Our task now is to find a safer facility in the area. That is a challenging task. We have look at three in the area so far, and all three are only a little better than the one at the beach. The most promising is just down the road, and has a safe well and sanitation, but is still very poor. Anyway, I told Renita that if even if we left next month, transferring these kids will have justified the trip. We will have more on this transfer, with pictures, over the next few weeks.

Item: Renita roped me into leading workshop last Saturday on our home church’s beliefs and structure to about ten area congregation reps who have requested the teaching. I did not think I was here to do this kind of work, but He with Renita’s help doth work in unpredictable ways. I think it’s ironic that a guy like me, who has gotten in trouble several times for challenging the dumb ideas and assumptions of my denomination, is now about to teach church theology and structure. More evidence of God’s existence, or at least Somebody’s sense of humor.

Here are a few shots to meet your image needs.

A typical front yard evening. Lionel doing the high jump ith Hannah and Renita on the rope.

Renita says Hi!

Noah testing his long distance reading ability.

Our noble watch dog, Nikki, showing her fangs. Unfortunately, she was fanging Noah. She licks strangers.

Here are some of the folks gathered for Saturday's workshop.

One of the workshop partcipants. She brought her baby, and of course Renita the self proclaimed baby hog held the kid all day.

Yours Truly expounding on reformed theology to a group of 30 very supportive Liberians. We had a great time. Unfortunately for this introvert, they want me back.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

What are We Doing Here-- Part 1

We know we have been giving updates all along on our work, but as time passes, our focus improves and our tasks become clearer. As we meet and listen to people in various organizations, we see better and better where we fit. Renita and I are involved in several activities, some independently and some together, so we thought you might like to see us at work. This peek includes some pictures from work that we each are doing fairly independently of each other: my work at Mother Patern College of Health Science and Renita’s activities with two local elementary schools. Well, they are not exactly pictures of us at work, but these are the schools and some MPCHS images. As time goes by, we’ll get you more shots of us actually doing something. Coming soon: Renita’s work with LEAD, Inc, and Bob’s work on the government Mental Health group.

Hannah, quit clowning and get out of the way! We're trying to show these folks some of our work. Next time, the cucumbers get soaked in vinegar, like mom used to do.

This is Christ's Friend Children Academy. It is partnering with Millbrook Christian in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

This is the other school, Sam L Dennis Memorial. We almost have a partner US school.

Renita, back at work, with our faithful watch dog guarding her every move.

The head of UNICEF Liberia speaks at the recent World AIDS day event, sponsored by MPCHS.

Some traditional dancing at the event.

Sister Barbara back at her desk laying down the law to Patrick, one of our HIV-AIDS specialists.

Finally, a shot of Larry. Not exactly a project, but we like him anyway.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Sticking, Part II

I have received a few questions regarding my last entry, and I think they are great questions. Mostly, they have to deal with this notion of “The end of the matter” which Solomon referred to when he said “The end of the matter is better than the beginning, and patience is better than pride.” The questions go like this, “When is the end of any matter?” “How will you know when the matter is ended in Liberia?” “Does this mean you will be in West Africa forever?” I’ll venture a response.

When Solomon was referring to “the end of the matter,” I think he was speaking generally, not about any particular matter. Some endeavors, like fixing a flat tire or making a really good pizza (O, pizza!) require patience over a relatively short period, maybe a few hours or less. Other endeavors, like being a good husband or becoming spiritually mature, take a lifetime of patience and we never see the end of the matter while here. In between, there are all kinds of projects, tasks, and endeavors we may take up to advance justice and peace.

Regarding peacebuilding in Liberia, the principles are the same. Smaller projects or efforts, like developing curriculum, training others to be people helpers, creating a business development group, or digging a well, can be measured and the “end of the matter” relatively easily determined— albeit anything can be tweaked forever. This is the work Renita and I, and others like our brother-in-law Brian are engaged in during our time in Liberia. There will come a day when we will see “the end of the matter” as it relates to our efforts. We will know our work is completed when Liberians are using what we have brought in order to empower other Liberians. When that time comes, we will leave, knowing others will continue the work. Other efforts in Liberia, like reconciling conflicting factions, or overcoming the culture of corruption in the government are beyond the Reeds, and Liberians may patiently work for decades before seeing the “end of the matter.”

The peacebuilding work in Liberia, the United States, Canada, or anywhere else continues on and on until that Day when the One Who Brought us returns. In the meantime, we work toward “the end of the matter,” on many tasks, whether or not the task will end in our lifetimes. We do them because they are good to do, we do them because of what doing them does to us. So yes, while the Reeds will see the end of our work in Liberia, the work will not end, either for the Reeds or Liberians.

Hope that helps.

Saturday, November 26, 2005


About three thousand years ago, a man purported to be the wisest man who ever lived, a Hebrew king named Solomon wrote this couplet in the Hebrew Scriptures book of Ecclesiastes:

The end of the matter is better than the beginning,
And patience is better than pride.

One of the things my Moody Bible Institute education taught me was that in Hebrew literature, the two lines of a couplet illuminate each other by addressing underlying principles in a parallel way. In this couplet, “The end of the matter” is parallel to “patience,” and “the beginning” of the matter is parallel to “pride.” As I reflect on what is happening here in Liberia, and with so many efforts to help Liberians help themselves, Solomon’s words come back to me over and over.

Everywhere in Liberia, large international NGOs have been initiating great sounding projects to help Liberians. USAID, Medecins Sans Frontieres, World Vision, World Food Programme, Catholic Relief Services, World Health Organization, and so many others are here, and all have started big, top-down interventions. But when these organizations pull out with their funding—and they will-- what will happen to their great programs then? If history is any indicator, the programs and the impact will fade away, and the big NGOs will not look back, because they will be engaged somewhere else. These big organizations are much better at starting projects than finishing them.

I also think of American Christians like myself. We are full of ourselves and our noble projects. We get charged and excited about efforts designed to help others, but when the progress inevitably slows, we become frustrated or simply bored. We like the quick fix, and in our culturally bound pride, we expect things to be fixed quickly. We too often “begin matters” out of an inflated sense of our ability to make an impact, but when the reality of the situation presents itself and progress slows, we find ourselves becoming impatient. We label the project “unfixable,” and allow ourselves to get distracted by the next great project. Reframing a good effort as “unworkable” or “a poor allocation of recourses” allows us to justify abandoning it. That I think is what Solomon was referring to when he said “The end of the matter is better than the beginning,” because finishing a project or a work well requires the virtue of patience. Finishing requires character. Any prideful fool can start something. The patient soul, the wise soul, sticks around to see the finish.

In Liberia, the great work ahead of us is called peacebuilding. Whether we are counseling torture survivors, developing curricula, digging wells, helping young businesses grow, or contributing from afar, we are engaged in peace and justice work. However, the problems here are macro, complex, and interdependent. Those of us who have “begun the matter” in this war weary country must keep in mind the progress will be slow, incremental, and at times almost imperceptibly slow. The words of Solomon are like a drumbeat in my mind, urging me to stay the course.

The end of the matter is better than the beginning,
And patience is better than pride.

With God’s help, pulling together, we may see the “end of the matter” in Liberia.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Meanwhile, Back at the Homestead

With all the elections hubub, bub, we assure you life continues at home. Included: one of the neighbor girls, 12 year old Victoria, extracts a living bug-creature and its eggs out of Renita's big toe... I discover new ways to do two things at once in the humidity... the kids are piling on... hannah and Noah's class pictures... and so much more.

By the way, the world press has indicated there have been troubles here after the elections. Just like the press to ruin the beautiful by looking for the sensational. The elections were model for the world, and as for demonstrations, I've driven through two of them, and they are an inconvenience to be sure, but UNMIL has the situation fully in control. I believe things are going to get much better around here real soon.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Renita has just found out from Deacon Reeves that there is a creature living and laying eggs in her big toe. They call it a "jigger." Victoria, our other next door neighbor, prepares for surgery with a sterilzed pin. Eggs, egg sack, and mommy bug, must come out.

The operation has commenced. Note the many hands assisting the surgeon, Dr. Victoria. Deacon Reeves assisting on flashlight.

The toe in question. Not for the faint-of-heart.

Here is Noah and his art teacher-- Deacon Reeves again-- working on his sign project.

And Hannah working on her art project.

This is Hannah's seventh grade class. You can just make out Hannah leaning on the coconut tree.

Noah's sixth grade class picture. That's him in the center.

The attack of the local knuckleheads. They couldn't budge me.

And finally, I find a way to keep cool and dry my sweaty clothes at the same time. Thank God for our DC fans.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Election Update

The Presidential Elections are now over and the counting is all but finished. With 95% of the polling places reporting, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf leads George Weah by over 18 percentage points. Ellen Sirleaf has about 59% of the vote, with George Weah at 40%. There is no mathematical chance of a Weah victory. The Weah camp is suddenly claiming bias by the National Election Commission, but I suspect this will not hold as there were hundreds of election observers and thousands of party observers at the 3,000 polling places. By all accounts, the election was a model of civility and order. Liberia, the hobbling land emerging from two decades of strife and self destruction, has elected first woman head of state in Africa. It’s a big deal. I hope she seizes the moment.

CRWRC Executive Director Andy Ryskamp, visiting us for a few days on his way to Sierra Leone, had a chance to act as an official election observer, thanks to Sam Reeves, pastor of the Providence Baptist Church—and Andy and our former co-pastor in Grand Rapids as well. Renita and Hannah also were unofficial observers of the elections, accompanying Edith Bawn, a reporter for USAID. While here, Andy was a blessing and a handy fellow around the house. In between election observing and offering insights on theology and spirituality, he fixed our generator which was having fuel pump problems. Good dog trainer too.

Election Eve: Andy Ryskamp, Executive Director of CRWRC joins me for and evening chat on the porch.

Election Day, part 2: The lines moved quickly.

The run-off ballot. Two candidates, two futures.

Liberians exercising the franchise. A priviledge to observe.

A ballot box.

UNMIL peacekeepers watching the process.

At the end of the day, after observing elections and a cancelled flight to his next stop, Andy relaxes by fixing the fuel pump on our generator.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Update Time

Hello again, faithful Reader, time once more for some toothy tidbits from the ReedNews Network:

Item: The runoff presidential election is a few days hence, with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and George Weah blitzing the country with final campaign messages. The campaign is on everyone’s lips throughout each day. It is interesting to see the constituency of these two candidates. The educated, the urban middle class, the Americo-Liberians, and the established business people seem to be siding with Sirleaf, while the poor, the disenfranchised, the less educated and the ex-combatants seem to be favoring Weah. I think if George wins, his opponents will be afraid and anxious for the country, and if Sirleaf wins, her opponents will be angry and less willing to accept the outcome.

Item: Andy Ryskamp, the executive director of CRWRC is visiting the organizations interests in Sierra Leone next week, and is dropping in on us for the weekend. It is nice to have him, because he can see our activities here and also have conversations with CRWRC partners and former partners.

Item: On a sad note, Deacon Reeves dog was hit by a car yesterday. We brought her back to the house alive, but watched her die within minutes. She had ten puppies, so we allowed them one final milk meal from their dead mother. We think we can keep them alive, as they are nearly weaned. She was then taken around the neighborhood by wheelbarrow to see if anyone wanted her for her flesh, because nothing is wasted here. Someone offered the equivalent of US$4.00, and that was that. No one except our Hannah shed a tear, as the culture does not view pets with the same attachment as in the US. Her name was Survivor.

Item: Our garden continues to grow, with the radishes, lettuce, watermelon, cucumbers and peppers making appearances. We had been waiting too long for the tomatoes, so we planted some pineapple in their place, and I planted some tomato seeds in a baking dish to keep an eye on them, and several now have sprouted.

Item: The kids at the beach orphanage continue to be neglected and are getting sick frequently. Since we have been here, there have been several cases of cholera and malaria, as well as sores and poor nutrition. The other day, the orphanage had two of them selling rice by the cup in the community—bad enough I know—when a couple of older boys took the rice and their money, then dragged them into a nearby house for purposes no one needs to guess at. Fortunately they were rescued by neighbors. There are many times the children are completely unattended at the orphanage. Renita and I are working to get them transferred to a nearby orphanage which is much better supported and administered.

Below are some images of family life, as well as some interior shots of the orphanage.

The orphanage at the beach. A beautiful location. but without supervision, nutrition, clean water, or sanitation, no place for abandoned or orphaned children.

The girls bedroom. The mosquito net does nothing to prevent malaria, with several cases in the three months we have been here. Seven girls, including Betty and Helen you see below, call this home.

The boys closet. This is all six boys own.

What we would call the "living room."

Finally, the dining room. Water from a local pond, and a pot of lentils.

A very common sight at sunset-- lots of kids outside at play with Renita and I observing from the porch.

Noah, Hannah, and Helen atop our new "fence." For once I'm driving them up the wall, instead of the other way around.

Hannah and Betty. This, and the one I took of Noah and the kids at the beach back in July, are my favorite pics so far.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Honey, I'm Home

Hi folks, Bob here, back from my work in Rivercess County. I was away with CHAL, the Christian Health Association of Liberia. During the eight day excursion, I had a chance to receive at least as much as I offered to the good people of Cestus City, Little Liberia, and other small rainforest communities.

I was there to lend myself to the CHAL Trauma and Reconciliation Team to participate in offering mediation and conflict resolution skills training. The five of us conducted a six day, forty hour workshop to a group of thirty-six community elders and leaders. The days were long and at times a bit tedious but over the six days most everyone seemed enriched. It was an honor to eat with and listen to the participants during breaks or over meals. I was continually moved by their generosity and graciousness, especially since I stopped by some of their homes and knew they daily lived with a poverty that is impossible to convey in this short space.

The evenings with the CHAL team were filled with stories from Bassa (the ethnic group dominating the area) tradition and we enjoyed laughter and stimulating debate. I learned much about rainforest life, and by contrast, much about the Liberians living around us. Our conversations ranged from the spiritual to the political to the cultural, with a healthy dose of the culinary tossed in for good measure.

Speaking of food, we had an opportunity to sample ketaly (a tiny very bitter berry, sort of a concentrated bitterball. Back in Michigan we would have called them choke cherries, spit them out, and moved on), lots of smoked fish, dried fish, and freshly killed bush meat— in this case a Liberian version of our raccoon supplied by a local hunter—which we ate with cassava leaf over the perennial Liberian staple, white rice.

It was difficult to be out of communication with Renita during this time, especially on the 20th, which was our 15th wedding anniversary. The first few nights seemed to go on forever, but the return home was as sweet as the ketaly was bitter. All in all, I return with a sense that both Renita and I are beginning to understand what we are supposed to do here. A few images of my week follow. I took about a hundred twenty pictures but these few capture the essence. Maybe someday I’ll figure out how to archive them all, so you can view at your leisure.

We're on our way. This is past the city of Buchanan, about three hours (80 miles) out of Monrovia, with five hours to travel the remaining 80 miles. Note the hanging baskets in the tree. They are birds' nests.

The Land Cruiser navigates a very shaky log bridge over a washed out section of the road.

The road narrows to Cestus City, Rivercess County.

The Dreamed Guest House, my home away from my home away from home.