Monday, November 24, 2008

Last Night I had the Strangest Dream

Hey you--

Gotta tell ya about this one. It was one of those real long dreams-- you know, that come from a deep sleep. In it, I was in Africa-- in Liberia I think-- I was part of a family and we were doing all sorts of things there. Strange images kept coming. There was this one part where this African kid just stared at us and sang to us from up a plum tree. And another part where I was doing some teaching or something to Africans and my clothes were soaking wet... and another part where it was dark and there were these three evil smelling dudes with machetes trying to rob me and this family I was with... the robbers kept "shushing" me....

I remember this family I was with even had a monkey and some sort of armadillo or something. And my wife was named Wanita or something, and she was like this super woman and I remember feeling guilty because I was just some middle aged fat bald guy who sweated all the time. I remember being by the ocean and some kid drowned... it was weird. They seemed to keep drowning at regular intervals right through the dream.

There was no TV or running water or Internet at our house. We had a generator or something we ran every night for lights. We lived behind this cement block wall with glass shards and razor wire on it. We ate this really strong tasting food with snails and some kind of raccoon meat. No Burger Kings, KFCs or even 7-11s in the neighborhood either. I couldn't even find Diet Mt Dew, even though I kept looking and looking... and this all white family I started off with kept getting bigger and bigger because now these Africans-- Liberians I think-- were joining the family. And then there were these babies named Wanita and Bob, just like me and this lady I was married to. That was creepy. But it was so honkin' real.

Ah but then I woke up, opened the shades and saw this:

... and I knew it was just a dream.

So I went back to bed. Write more later.

Yer Pal,


Friday, November 21, 2008

Leaving Liberia, Part Six

Our Last Day

Friday the 21st was our last day in Liberia. None of the four of us could really grasp the idea as we went through the parting activities. We did not know what leaving meant. Now, as I write from 40,000 feet in the air, we still don't. But we all feel different from when we visited North America a year and a half ago. This time we are leaving and, unless He does something completely unforeseen and miraculous, we are not returning anytime soon. All of us feel sad about saying goodbye-- especially to a handful of young people with whom we have bonded as family.

I'll have more to write soon about leaving Liberia, what it is meaning, how we will maintain our connection with you who read this faithfully, and what life is now like for us in this transition period. Look for another post in a few days. Right now, a few captured moments of a day filled with emotion-- our last day in Liberia.

The day started with final organizing details. We ended up carrying away 12-50lb suitcases. That was it. Everything else ways sold or given away or reserved in case CRCNA sends paid staff here.

By 9:00am we were checking in at the downtown Air Brussels office. Our flight would not leave until 9:30 pm GMT, but we wanted to dump those 12 suitcases ASAP.

For the rest of the day, we said goodbye as folks came and went.

Our next door neighbor children taking care of theirs and other people's kids. Sisters Odelle (left) and Patience Reeves, with Success "Bobby" Reeves in Odelle's arms and Patience holding her little Renita. Standing in front are more children dumped on the sisters, Kopo and Vera.

During the day, we said farewell to our stuff. I only felt sad when the fans went. I would not have been able to be in Liberia without those solar powered DC fans.

A quiet moment for Noah. One of many.

Hannah, being a bit pensive in the late afternoon with only a few hows left.

A few happy-sad moments. Vera, with her new adopted pet. Yes, she took Niki.

The night before Noah said goodbye to Max, who will live in a huge fenced yard with a great family of four kids and two dogs.

There goes the DC fridge.

The kids played and talked and sat with each other, visibly conscious that this was it.

Renita with Renita. Vera in background.

And so, the night came. We formed a circle, sang, prayed...

...and said our last goodbyes. Patience says a tearful goodbye to Renita. Note little Renita's fingers around big Renita's leg.

There are others who could join us, but this for sure is the new Reed family. We are so sad to leave Renita, Eastman, and Trokon.

As I write Saturday morning, the coast of England reminds me the parting is real.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Leaving Liberia, Part Five

We'll Miss You, We'll Miss You Not...
We'll Miss You

Today is Wednesday-- our last in Liberia. The goodbyes are frequent, and with a few, we are just not going there. Apparently, we will be getting an escort to the airport by many of our friends, and I'm sure that will be quite a scene. I know I'm going to lose it. Hannah and Noah too. Renita says she won't-- "she just doesn't cry at things like this." We'll see.

Leaving our people will be the hardest part of course. But there are some things-- Liberia things-- that we also will miss. And some, of course, that we won't. Let's examine a small list:

We Will Not Miss Daily Water Duty. About thirty gallons a day, pumped and lugged from next door.
"I can do it" I a professiona' mechanah!" Every guy that worked on our car was self taught, and more often than not we had to bring it back to somebody to fix what was fixed. A common practice is to remove good parts for sale, then when the bad part fails, work to fix that too, using whatever creative method could be rigged.

Jiggers. Dug out of many toes and other parts, including each of ours several times during three and a half years. Here Odelle assists Renita.

Monrovia Traffic. It is not that unusual from other African cities, but without traffic lights and so many "self taught" taxi drivers, it gets stupid. For thirty six years, I loved to drive. Now, I give the keys to Renita when I can.

The Humidity. The Sweating. This in Rivercess. Why do the other guys look so cool?

Being reminded everywhere we go that there was no "sanctuary" during the war. No place was safe. Most buildings were left in ruins. A church near Baye's Town.

Being daily reminded that those all around us, even our dearest friends, lived lives of hardship and deep poverty. Vera's home.

We Will Miss

The humidity-produced morning mists. This in Gbarnga.

Hanging out with jes' folks in the villages. Johnson Town.

"German Plums." (Small Liberian Mangoes. So good, it must be descended from the Forbidden Fruit.)

The Liberian Coast. Treacherous, non-negotiating, and inspiring.

Just hanging out in the yard in the late afternoon. This can be done anywhere, of course, but the contrast between the humidity of the day and the relative cool of the breezy late afternoon cannot be experienced in very many places.

Cooking huts. I love 'em. In every village. No two are alike, and every one is a place of communion, comfort, food and family.
"Dancin' with the ones He brung us to... "

Monday, November 17, 2008

Leaving Liberia, Part Four

When Goodbye Becomes Hello

In this, our last week in a country that defies simple characterization, we are keenly aware of every “last” thing we do, every “last” activity, and now we are saying goodbye to each day of the week. Yesterday was our last Sunday here. We said goodbye to eight churches—one was Providence Baptist Church in Monrovia, led by our friend of eleven years Pastor Sam Reeves. PBC honored Renita and thanked her for her work with LEAD. The other church goodbye was back in our own Foster Town, where seven churches and our Foster Town Association for Community Transformation(FACT) invited us to a beautiful and moving farewell ceremony. In our time here, none of us have been more stirred or impressed. For three years we’ve worked to find ways to bring neighborhood churches together with FACT. There has been progress, but working with pastors is kinda like herding cats. Yesterday on that cement dais in that reed and wood structure, there were seven pastors together with their leaders and the FACT board. Community members from seven congregations and more joined them. And while we were deeply honored and humbled that they came ostensibly to say goodbye to us, I was far more inspired by the fact that they had come together, period.

After a service that made us laugh and cry, Renita and I were asked to say a few words. After she spoke, the only thing I could think of to say was that the farewell service was not really an ending—it was a wonderful beginning. I observed that while our Liberian friends were there to thank the Reeds for “being so instrumental in transforming the community,” that this kind of gathering was the real source of future change in Foster Town. I think they saw it. After the meeting, another pastor joined them and the eight pastors connected with the FACT board to talk about how to take advantage of this non-accidental moment. They made plans.

A couple of North American Christians living in the neighborhood for three plus years, doing what they can to lend a hand is a good thing, and it may even make a small difference. But all Renita and I could do pales in comparison to what these seven congregations and FACT will do if they pull together. Yesterday, seven key community leaders—its pastors—and over a hundred other leaders and faithful church-goers got an eyeball vision of their future. Their future is them, talking and working together. Say hello!

Today, Monday, we get to say goodbye again. Already Vera is crying.
Our Sunday group of pastors and community leaders. The most encouraging moment for Foster Town in a long time. Hello to hope...

...and farwell to us. Renita, deciding which books stay and which go.

All of us, with Trokon and Eastman, working through Noah's Legos.

Farewell to my friend Sarah. She showed once a month for some rice, bulgar, and oil. I got to know her and looked forward to hearing about her life, hard as it is.

Farewell to porch time-- here with Patience, her daughter Renita and Noah-- with Max keeping watch.

Yers Trooly with Odelle's son Success, who they are now calling Bob.

Weather: Incredibly humid and hot, with dew points in the 80s and temps in the 90s. Bedroom temp at 10:00pm-- 84F. Try sleeping in that! Hazy days, with no measurable rain in a week. Light breezes that pick up around sunset, making for nice evenings for an hour or two.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Leaving Liberia: Part Three

The Kids
Its beginning to hurt a bit. As we count down the days to our departure, we are wondering about the inevitable goodbyes just down the road. We are missing our friends already. We are missing the children most of all. There are so many kids we have laughed and argued with, sat with, conked, hugged, teased, taught and bandaged. Some saw us first as curiosities, then as potential sources of goodies, but now there is something more, something much deeper. Renita and I see a handful of them almost as if they are ours. We know several of them see us more often than either of their parents, and depend on us for guidance and a sense of stability. We did not seek these bonds intentionally, and we hope that bonding will be worth more than the pain we will all feel upon parting.

Here are just a few of them-- "The Kids in Liberia." Some are forever a part of us, some we met in passing. We have hundreds of images of Liberia's children—we could have selected many more. Look closely. Each face is a brushstroke in the Liberian Portrait. Each is different, and each reveals something of the Face of God.

The Children of Gbaye's Town...

Ambush Corner
Koon's Town
Toto Town

West Point, Monrovia

Foster Town Market


Congo Town

Disco Hill

St. Theresa Elementary School

Christ's Friend Children Academy

The Reed House

Some who have planted themselves in our hearts. Of course Trokon, Eastman. (With Enoch on the right.)

Apple, Cecelia...

...and Faith.

Rachel (aka Chinese Girl)



Thinkers Village Beach. Taken on Morning One of our time here. Still our favorite image.