Wednesday, October 25, 2006


The rainy season is finishing, as the Liberians say, and life here is going well. The "Foster Town Community Development Association" is hammering out its fifteen page constitution and offering workshops (last week's was on HIV-AIDS and was attended by over a hundred), Renita is providing support there while she teaches a LEAD class and home schools, and I am still teaching at MPCHS and offering input to the Ministry of Health through its Mental Health Task Force. But I'm a bit homesick...

Back in the US, the Detriot Tigers are having a World Series rematch with the St. Louis Cardinals (1968-- a classic series), and I am missing every pitch. I get on the internet twice a week, so all I get is the results of the games. More than simply frustrating me, missing this series is taking me back to that other series so long ago. Kaline, Lolich, McLain, Cash, Horton, Freehan, against the Cards' Wilson, Gibson and Brock--what a series that was. The Tigers came back from 3-1 games behind to win it. What a season it was. And then I find myself going back beyond the '68 series. I find myself reliving 1968. What a year that was.

Remember? Of course you do, if you are old enough. With the sexual revolution in our faces, "Laugh-In" on our new color TV, and the Beatles in our heads, we watched as Martin Luther King was murdered, our inner cities erupted in racial violence, Walter Cronkite reported weekly death tolls from the Vietnam War, Bobby Kennedy was murdered, antiwar students shut down campuses, Chigago police beat protestors at the Democratic convention ("The whole world is watching" they cried amid the clubbing), the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia, Richard Nixon was elected president, Apollo 8 orbited the moon, and the Tigers won the Series. I was a lad of 13-14, and I knew the grown ups had their hands full.

I will never forget those times, or that year. It lives and breathes in me today. The events occurred exactly at the time I was trying to make sense out of life, out of the world, out of myself. Those times informed me, shaped me.

Of course, subsequent events continued to shape me, and shape me still. I spent the next few years searching for the meaning of it all. Much later-- seven years later-- I met the Holy Spirit and believed the Good News of Christ. I finished grad school. I got married, had kids. Liberia. But the sixties, and particularly 1968, remain prominent in my soul. It must be part of His Plan for me to be formed out of the sixties without knowing Him, and then waiting until later to introduce Himself to me. I don't know the why of it, but for some reason I cannot explain, I'm glad He did it that way.

Anyway, I miss those crazy times.

And I hope the Tigers beat the Cards. As of today-- Friday the 27th-- they are 3-1 games behind. Deja Vu, anyone?

Oh, here are a few pictures.

Morning has broken on the Reed's front yard. We know you've seen it, but this view from our porch has come to mean a lot to us.

In that yard, water wars are common. Eastman, Enoch and Trokon with squirt bottles, Noah with a Supersoaker.

I try not to see this as a metaphor for Americans in the developing world. But Eastman never stood a chance.

Truce time. Reading in the yard with Enoch, Trokon and Jackson.

We visted our neighbors the other day and Hannah had to connect with their monkey. Hannah is on the right.

In the Reed house-- the new community development group for our neighborhood meets. Very exciting, and quite different from community development in the US. We are learning much.

On to Monrovia and Mother Patern College. Yers Trooly teaching 13 social work students in the senior class. Yers tells me he is getting quite fond of these folks-- he also taught them in the spring.

Monday, October 23, 2006

A Penny for Her Thoughts x 2

Renita Reed here. Bob keeps asking me to put my “two cents worth” into this publication, so here they are.

First Penny: Looking for Home
As many of you know, we sold our Grand Rapids home and the majority of our possessions when moving to Liberia.

After being here for fifteen months, and knowing that our ‘term’ is to be three-five years, it is inevitable that we begin to think about, “where next?” What will God have in store for us two years down the road? If we sense a call to stay here for five years, the question will be put off for another two years. But if not, how do we proceed? Bob and I occasionally will have conversations about this over our morning coffee on the porch. And we have come to the realization that no matter where we will end up, we may not have a place on this earth that will feel like home.

That anticipation of homelessness may surprise some, because after all, we have been here long enough to get adjusted, and we both come from deep roots in north central North America. Yet we cannot see being comfortable living in the US or Canada, nations of such great wealth when so many other live in staggering destitution. And we can’t seem to feel at home here, in a nation not our own, especially one with great needs that press in on every side. So, for right now, it is truly difficult to imagine a place on this earth that would feel like home.

We recall the Bible text that tells us this world is not our home, so maybe we are not supposed to feel at home anymore – our home is in the world to come.

Of course, we have no idea where God will lead us and what it will look like or feel like when we get there. We are open to His leading and in the meantime, trying not to think about it too much.

Another Penny, another Thought: The Bad News and the Good News
Those of you who know me know I’m a fairly driven person. I tend to have two predominant, repeating thoughts: “what do I need to do next” and “I’m not doing enough.” A major shift in this thinking happened in 1995, when I realized that I could never do enough to please God – I finally realized it was a free gift and the only thing that could reconcile me to Him was through the death and resurrection of His Son. So I stopped trying to earn my salvation and instead tried simply serving the Lord out of gratitude and love-- but still with the same two driving thoughts.

Now, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I will always be in the company of the “What next?” question. But I really thought that coming to Liberia would take care of the “I’m not doing enough” mantra. Surely I would be doing enough if I immersed myself in the deep poverty and suffering of my Liberian neighbors. The bad news is that I discovered that in a world of overwhelming need, the feeling of not doing enough is actually multiplied. Imagine seeing teenage boys pleading with you to help them go to school, and having to tell them no because there’s just not enough money to help everyone. “Should we have given more?” Imagine saying no to mothers coming to you asking for help because they have no food, no bed, and poor shelter for their children. “Should we buy another mattress?” Imagine watching your next door neighbor and dear friend die from an illness treatable in the West. “Should we have tried harder to get him the help he needed?” I see more clearly that I can never do enough, and I feel it.

But that brings me to the good news. I have come to believe that it truly doesn’t matter where you live; there is kingdom work to be done. No matter where you go, you will find that there is more need than you are able to meet. People in need will be disappointed in you regardless of how selfless you may live your life, because it is not enough. That may not sound like good news, but it is. God is in charge here. He, for whatever reasons, allows the inequity, and the need, and the suffering. He allows me to know I cannot ever, ever do enough. That truth keeps me humble and keeps me going back to Him, reminding myself that He is in control – these are his children, and asking him to let me participate in His work as best I can, and then to rest in that.

I’m not too good at the resting part yet, but if I keep looking to him in the midst of “never enough,” I find myself able to join Him in a “spiritual breather” every now and then.

I’ll take that breather. It is better than the alternatives.
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Monday, October 16, 2006

Church Roof Goes Up, Pastor’s House Goes Down

Renita's mom Marrie Kranenburg has been busy. After she and Renita's dad visited us in April, she decided that she wanted to support one of our neighborhood churches in a tangible way. The church pastored by Augustine Zar and Sam Befolon is the church the Reeds attend most often. It is a woven reed mat structure on the sand, and since we've been here, it had only leaky mats and tarps for a roof. The tarps were vulnerable to theft, and were stolen once. When she returned to Georgetown, Ontario, Marrie mobilized. She got her church and friends involved, and raised enough money-- about 750.00 US dollars, to put corrugated zinc on the roof. The church rejoiced that now its sevices can be held in this very rainy season drip-free. A big thank you to Marrie and the good neighbors of Georgetown.

Then last week, Pastor Befolon's joy was tested. In about fifteen minutes Wednesday morning, his house was gone. He was trying to build a cement structure, but it was still mostly reed mats covered by zinc. A guest left a candle burning and the resulting loss was total. His baby was inside, but he and the baby's mother were out. A nine year old neighbor girl went in a rescued the infant-- literally seconds from certain death. When he arrived on the scene, Pastor Befolon praised God. Of course, there is no insurance for the Befolons, and the church could not afford to pay him a salary. They were poor before, they are destitute now.

But they are not devastated. It is almost surreal to a Western guy like me, but Liberians seem to be so adjusted to catastrophe that they immediately pick up and start over with an almost casual matter-of-fact determination. The Befolons are sad of course, and they are suffering. But in a country where suffering and loss are part of the culture, they have learned how to continue.

Yet still, I find myself wondering for Sam Befolon, and seventeen year old Trokon Garway who I mentioned earlier, and so many others in Liberia: "When will the grieving end? When will the 'days of the storm' be over?"

How the local church looks now after Renita's mom raised money for a new zinc roof. It was tarp and woven reed before. That's Noah heading in last Sunday.

The roof from the inside of the church. This is how new zinc looks-- shiny and bright...

... and this is what zinc looks like after it has been ruined by fire. The Befolon home, utterly destroyed. Mattresses, generator, pots, personal effects, everything gone.

Pastor Sam Befolon sifting through what is left of his papers, books and Bible.

The entire Befolon family, in front of their home. Clean up has begun, but what next?

Monday, October 09, 2006

...and Sometimes He Says Yes

Amanda Reeves is our next door neighbor and the daughter of our dear friend, the late Deacon Reeves. We told the story of how her brother Sam preached the Deacon’s funeral, and reminded us that sometimes God says “no” to our prayers. Here is part two of that sermon.

Amanda is about forty years old and has three children, Clarence, Princess and Earnest. However, she has not seen her children in eleven years. During the civil war, her ex-husband took the children, then 10, 11 and 13, to the Netherlands. Several years ago he died, and Amanda lost all contact with them. When we came here, we quickly developed a fond friendship with Amanda and she asked us to do what we could to help her find her lost children. Of course we did not know anything about intercontinental kid-finding, but we thought, let’s give it a try.

As some of you know, Renita's parents' roots "just happen" to be in the Netherlands, so she emailed them on Amanda's behalf and they in turn contacted some family members there. These family members put us in contact with a Dutch television show that looks for missing children, called Vermist. It is something like America's Most Wanted for missing children. After nine months of waiting, Pim Faber of Vermist told us they wanted to fly Amanda to the Netherlands and put her on the show. This would be an exciting but frightening opportunity for Amanda, who had never flown before or even ventured out of Liberia (except a brief traumatic stint as a war refugee across the border in Côte d'Ivoire).

She had to get her visa in a separate trip to Senegal—no Dutch embassy in Liberia-- and then left for the Brussels Wednesday September 27. She arrived Thursday morning and from there she traveled by car two hours to Hilversum, in the Netherlands. What a road trip that must have been.

On Friday, we received a phone call from Mr. Faber, who had a few questions for us (some troubles with Amanda's Liberian English), and then he shocked us with news that they had already found Amanda's children. Her three children "just happen" to live in Hilversum, the city where the TV studio is located. Amanda had not yet been informed and the Friday show, instead of being a plea for help in finding her children, would now be a surprise reunion show.

Imagine the moment, as this woman, this survivor of civil war, refugee camps, abandonment and poverty, who has never been out of the region--let alone flown to Europe-- imagine as she sits in a high tech Holland television studio and comes face to face with children not seen in over a decade, whom she had lost touch with, and who themselves did not know if she was dead or alive.

The newly reunited family called us immediately after the show aired and we had a chance to speak with Princess and Clarence, which was very exciting. Amanda sounded thrilled and was looking forward to visiting Earnest on Monday, who could not attend the television program.

Amanda's prayers of the last eleven years have been answered, and to those of you who joined us in prayer for this as well, we all can rejoice together. He heard you-- He heard us. And this time, the answer for Amanda was “Yes.”

Vermist sent us some stills from the video images of that program, and we are happy to share them with you now.

Here is Amanda's "Before" picture. Taken last October as Renita dropped her off to vote in the presidential elections.

On to the Vermist program. Here is Amanda, back to the camera, as Princess and Clarence emerge from off stage...

...and the reunion is complete.

Says it all, doesn't it?

The host of Vermist with Princess, Amanda and Clarence. How's that for an "After" shot?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Until the Days of the Storm are Over

In addition to all her other activities, Renita is tutoring one of the two “Trokons” we know, this one is “Big Trokon,” a 17 year old boy who is going into the seventh grade this year. She has been working with him on math and writing/spelling. One of her writing assignments asked him to write a story about a time that he had to make a difficult decision. When I read it, I asked him if I could share it with you, and he said yes. It gives an inside look into the mind and heart of a fairly typical Liberian young man. His reference to “coal” is charcoal, which Liberians make to provide fire for cooking. It is extremely hard work, and at the time he lived the story, he was twelve. The text is verbatim from his handwritten pages.

This story is written by Trokon G. Garway.

A time ago I pass through a difficult thing for my family. When poverty came upon us strongly, there was no where to turn and no where to go.

So I sat down for long and I talked within myself saying, “Why did God have to do this to us?”

So I began to cut sticks to make coal. I began to move from near my mother and stayed near my coal in the bush. I stayed in the bush for nine months. Every day I worked with the sticks and coal to get money for my mother to cook for us.

Some time when I came from working, my mother called me and said, “Trokon, stop doing hard work.”

I always tell my mother that it is the reason why she born me: to help her and to help her forever. I know that the days of the storm will be over some day.

One day my mother was crying so I came near her and asked her, “Mother, why are you crying?”

She told me, “I am crying because of you. You are too small to work for me like this.”

I always tell my mother that she didn’t born me to suffer but it is the will of God. Some times I feel that I was too small to work so hard. But I was the only boy child for my mother so I was forced to work hard for my mother.

I promised my mother that I will help her forever.

I always pray to God for long life and blessings to follow me all the days of my life. I pray that God will bless me forever.
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