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.