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.