Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The end of a journey...

Day 10 Saturday July 28

This was a day of relaxation.  We went into town to the craft market.  We ate lunch at the Embassy Suites (not the same, just happens to be located adjacent to the US Embassy) where I had barracuda for the first time.  Add that to fish I like.  We bought souvenirs and gifts at the craft market.  Then, we headed back to the guest house for our last supper from the Coal Pot Queens.  A journey begins with a single step and perhaps it ends with a final meal.  It was a great week of service and fellowship with a great team from First Baptist Church.
lunch at Embassy Suites

Monrovia Craft Stores

Monrovia Downtown
Day 11, 12 Sunday/Monday July 28/29

We went back to worship at the Tubman United Methodist Church.  This was Young Adult Sunday and they had a full program so I was not asked to address the congregation or bring greetings at all, which was fine with me as I still had not prepared anything.  This was my first trip not to have something prepared "just in case."  I'm so glad it wasn't needed!

not our plane
After lunch we headed to the airport.  It was much more relaxing to leave than it was to arrive.  Just a few more hours and out journey would be complete.  What a week is was.  I look forward to continued discussions with the team as we look toward the future of this partnership.

Last Day in the Village

 Day 9 Friday July 27

Today did not start out as we would have hoped, but it ended as well as it could have.  When Leroy (our driver for the week) arrived with the van we realized it was having trouble.  This was concerning on several levels.  We were concerned about getting to the village early enough to have a very productive morning as this would be our last morning with the three ministries (woman to woman, teacher training, and business).  It took about 15 min to leave the hotel parking lot as the van need to be restarted half a dozen times.  We had to restart another half dozen times before we reached the main road.  The very bumpy road from the Crystal Palace to the main road was made exceptionally difficult due to the van trouble.  Jessy met us on the way and we filled up at the gas station at the main junction.  As an aside, do you know the difference between a gas station and a filling station?
gas station (with pumps)

filling station (with mayonnaise jars)
A gas station has pumps and is usually only found in town or along a major highway and a filling station can be found anyway and gas is sold pre-measured by the whole or half-filled mayonnaise jar.

Now, back to story... After refeuling we went the other direction away from Balama to find a repair shop.  Granted, we were in the big city of Gbarnga (BAHN-ga) but I was not hopeful to find a repair shop.  We pulled up to a seemingly abandoned building that looked like it may have at one time been a repair shop.  Jessy got out and went inside the house next door.  Hesitant to shut the engine off Leroy followed.  A few minutes later a gaggle of people filed out of the house to take a look at the van.  Meanwhile back inside the vehicle, the team has busted into all things breakfast.  We are eating and sharing granola bars, nuts, crackers, and even Slim Jims.  Not knowing how serious the problem was or how long it would take to repair we wanted to do what we could to cut down on time lost in the village by avoiding breakfast if needed.  As I said a prayer for our "meal" I also prayed for the repair to be quick and easy.  About five minutes and some cleaned battery terminals later we were back on the road with none the worse for wear.

Upon arrival at the orphanage we did eat a quick breakfast before heading down to the school for our morning activities.  The teachers had one more day for training and had an opportunity to share with Lora and Cathy what they need to be able to do their jobs better.  The team will share this information with Jessy. Joanne had a large, captive audience of men and women as many of them were waiting to be interviewed for a business loan.  During the morning she was granted permission to talk directly to the men for about 45 min!  She encouraged them to work with the women to begin effecting cultural change with regards to the treatment of women in their society. I wish I had a picture to show, but I have a great mental image of looking up from the library (blue container below) to the school and seeing Joanne talking to the large group of men and women all seated in desks in front of her.  The best picture I have shows the large group in the background with all the activity happening on the hill.

Joanne's crew
women with Joanne

The guys completed approximately 10 interviews along with Daga and Rufus (seen in earlier blog.  Rufus is the succesful businessman with indoor plumbing from Balama, whose son was injured in a palm tree accident).  Daga really seemed to grasp the concepts and direction of the program.  He and Rufus continued interviews throughout the afternoon.  I know this because they were still interviewing when we returned after lunch to present the Proclaimer.
Moses Catowah-tailor (Kokai Town)
group conducting interviews
 It was the best Proclaimer experience I have had.  As I was demonstrating for Jessy and Daga how it worked the group of people that were gathered around directed their attention to the little black box that was speaking their language.  It was awesome. For more info on the Proclaimer please visit  
group listening to Proclaimer

"coal pot queens"-our cooks for the week
sign on wall of Children's ministry in Balama
And so we ended our week in the bush.  With the car repair completed we had an uneventful albeit long ride back to Monrovia.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Independence Day!

Day 8 Thursday July 26

Today is Liberian Independence day!  We really had to adjust our schedule to accommodate for the holiday.  The business group went to the school to wait for loan applicants and begin the interview process with them.  No one showed up until about 11:30 which was when we needed to leave for lunch.  TIA (This is Africa).  We think they may have been timing it so they could come interview and stay for the championship soccer game later in the afternoon.  Unfortunately, everyone planned that way which put a lot pf people there all at once with little time to interview before lunch.  We told them to come back tomorrow before lunch and we would be able to meet with them.  Ernie Sizemore and I took advantage of the time we had with some of the children who always seemed to find us whenever we were around the village, the orphanage, or the school.  We played Frisbee with them while we were waiting.  Mark Barlow and Richard Archer used the time to talk extensively with Jessy about the plans for the wholesale distribution center to be operated by BDA and/or the community.
Ernie preparing a great throw

stick and wheel, a great toy for all!

Not being able to do teacher training due to the holiday the ladies stayed up at the orphanage and were able to spend time with the children there. I had been praying for more opportunities to spend intentional time with the children at the ministry center.  I am thrilled that was able to happen.
Lora with the girls
After lunch we all headed down to the game.  The children from the ministry wanted to go to the game as well as to town to spend their "26." Tradition has it that you are to give the little ones 26 on the 26th.  But, now it is just a gift of a small amount of money or small items.  That "26" was burning a hole in their pockets and soon many of them had little packs of candy or some other treat.  Most of the children didn't stay for the whole game so different ones of us walked back to the center with the kids.  The rest of the team played with the chidlren either at the school or the ministry while I stayed at the soccer pitch to film the action.  All in all it was a very tiring day.  For the first day of the whole week the sun was high and hot.
Richard with some friends

playing kickball at the ministry
little soccer fan

soccer fans
all dressed up for the 26th

Mrs. Goumo, Joanne, Mensa, and Chris with Fatiah (4yrs.)

On the way to the Waterfall, a 26th tradition!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Business interviews- Raymond Town and Balama

inside Lawrence Forkpah's clinic

Lawrence's pharmacy 

 Day 7  Wednesday July 25

We started our visit in Raymond Town with Lawrence Forkpah (FOR-pa), the nurse.  He has a passion to work with these far out villages that have little access to healthcare.  He is employed by Phebe Hospital on a part-time basis as an emergency room nurse.  That has allowed him on the job training for the work that he does in the villages.  On the morning we talked with him he had already treated a lady with pregnancy complications.  A group of 25 men had walked with this woman in a hammock between two of them for quite a distance.  The men would alternate who was doing the carrying in order to ease the burden of the long journey.  Lawrence was able to get the woman stabilized while he called an ambulance to come from Phevbe to get her.  Another group of women was waiting to see him when he arrived.  They graciously allowed us to meet with him for a good 30-45 min. before they could be seen.  Then, as we were leaving someone came up who had been seen at Phebe and then sent to Lawrence for medicine.  Even the hospital was referring people to him because they knew that he had medicine available.  He is asking for a loan to increase his inventory which would make it more beneficial for him to spend more time in the village and less time at the hospital.  His request would be of great benefit to Raymond Town and the other villages.

Palm oil press donated by USAid

1 of 2 USAid containers donated to the community to soon hopefully house a  wholesale warehouse
After meeting with Lawrence we went to visit where USAid had left a palm press.  It is now just sitting outside of the town being wasted. Notice the dust in the picture above.  The green building behind the container above houses the palm press.  It is actually several pieces of large equipment that is not really practical for the villagers to use in the production of palm oil.  I wish I had taken a picture of the much small, more mobile palm press on wheels that one of the locals had fashioned.  It allows for the villagers to take the press to the trees and thus be more efficient in the process.
This type of "waste" is not that uncommon across developing countries.  The developed world too often thinks that we have all the answers to the world's problems.  It's as if someone thought "If only they had a palm oil press their would be much better off."  And so without consulting the village or the palm growers the decision was made to construct a building and inside it house a large palm oil press.  What our team has learned through the process of reading When Helping Hurts:How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting Others or Yourself is that the solutions to poverty are not simple and they cannot be one-sided.  It is much more effective to come alongside and work with someone than to do for someone.  Both parties are richer for the process and the results are much longer lasting.

outside Rufus' shop in Balama
After seeing the palm grove we went to Balama Town proper.  It is bigger than it appears to be from the main road.  The first gentleman we met was Rufus.  He is a past loan recipient and was apparently very successful.  That is until tragedy struck his family.  His son as many of the young men in the village was climbing up a palm tree one day to retrieve palm nuts from which they would make oil.  Unfortunately, he fell from the tree and broke his arm in three places.  Rufus was forced to auction off his inventory to pay for the hospital stay for his son.  Not to be held down Rufus is well one his way to rebuilding his business.  His plan is to begin this month selling "small, small things" and from the profits he will increase his inventory and soon his shop will be back up and running in its former condition.  BTW, Rufus is such a successful businessman that his is the first house in the village with indoor plumbing!  

Andy sharing the gospel from a SlipDisc

VBS science experiment
After lunch we had VBS again at the school.  The weather continued to play tricks on us throughout the afternoon.  I was doing recreation that went along with the story of John the Baptist.  It was a reverse tag game which was hard to explain for two reasons: 1) language 2) they didn't seem to have a concept of tag!  Add to that the off and on rain that put me in and out of the room and it made for an interesting afternoon.  While the game was not played as I have seen it played in the past each group seemed to be enjoying themselves.  Before playing the game I had the opportunity to share the Gospel with the group using the SlipDiscs that we had taken with us.  The experiment above is one about displacement.  Principal Goumo (GO-mo) did a great job explaining this to the children and was able to make great connection to the students.

Once we got back to the Crystal Palace in Gbarnga on this night we began to identify the items that we would donate to the school, the orphanage, and the rest of the ministry.  Jessy helped us determine where the most need was and to whom we should donate which items.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Best laid plans...

Day 6 Balama/Raymond Town July 24, 2012

Every day presents new challenges just as it produces new joys.  We arrived in the morning only to realize that the soccer tournament we thought was going to start at 4:00 was actually starting at 10:00 with Balama facing Waterfall.  This presented a little challenge.  Upon arrival we had to drive through the game to get up to the school.  We also had to spend some time resetting the classrooms as many of the desks had been taken to the field to be used as bleachers.  All of our challenges could be and were overcome.

The teacher training and women's ministry reportedly went well.  Joanne had some great conversation with some girls who were students at the school, but have withdrawn due to having children.  Hopefully, their conversation will be the catalyst to get them back.  Cathy and Lora had success with the teachers in the morning.  The teachers also came back as requested to help out with VBS in the afternoon.

We had a great day in the village as well.  We were able to talk to Mary (cook shop and small, small things), Koulo (cook shop, vegetables), and another lady who had defaulted after being hospitalized with a miscarriage (middle runner).  We had great conversations with these villagers and are beginning to understand more about the local situation.  This lead to great debrief discussions with Jessy tonight during dinner and at the Crystal Palace.  

The next day promises to be another full one.  We will continue training, discussing, and meeting business people.  I find myself wishing for more intentional time with the children at the orphanage.  They are ever-present at VBS, but that is not a very good small group setting.
Joanne has taken over snacks and uses it as an opportunity to teach proper handwashing techniques
one of the village children

bead bracelet craft

Cathy with Asst. Principle (far right) and one of the teachers

Sharing the Gospel from the back of a SlipDisc Frisbee

Rain, Rain Go Away...

Day 5 Balama, Liberia July 23, 2012

 And so the rain begins!

What a rainy day!  The start of our week in the village was a wet one.  We knew that the potential was there for these downpours as we were just going into rainy season.  Fortunately, for us we only had one day of hard rain that made us alter our plans.  It rained almost everyday, but lightly and in short increments.  Day 1, however, was a challenge.  As you can see from above we started at the school but, quickly realized that no one would be getting out in the rain that day.  The teachers didn't show up for training and the women didn't show up either.  We worked to get the rooms set up for VBS that afternoon on the off chance that the rain would let up.  So, that kept us from visiting businesses in the villages on Monday as well.  Well, the rain didn't let up and we had to alter VBS plans again.  We decided we would do VBS at the orphanage Monday afternoon.  That meant very few village children would come, but for the most part we would have a captive audience.  We sang with the children for about an hour before lunch.  We taught them some songs. They taught us some songs.  It was a sweet time with them.  All the while the team was calculating how to conduct VBS for all the children in a one room schoolhouse (30'x80') with large moving blankets as dividers.    With the new location came new assignments.  I was hoping to be able to get great pictures and video during VBS as we utilized our team and the teachers and some of Jessy's helpers to lead.  As is turned out however I had a 30 min. snacks rotation on day 1, which turned into recreation because you can only eat a small pack of cookies for so long.  I turned this into recreation for the rest of the week and snacks moved to a new home. So, thank you team for each of you who were able to get pictures during VBS all week.

I went to get the beach balls.  I knew it was no football (soccer ball) but, I thought maybe I could get someone to juggle.  It seemed as if no one had that skill.  We ended up trying to see how many times we could keep a ball up in the air.  One group got to 95 and another to 100+.  The horn sounded for the rotation to be over before we finished and they obediently moved on.  Who knows how high they could have gotten.
Ernie leading crafts

The craft rotation for Day 1 consisted of marshmallows and toothpicks.  We were learning about the Noah and the Ark.  The kids were to use their toothpicks and marshmallows to make animals that might have been found on the ark.  Have you ever tried to make and elephant with 6 mini-marshmallows, 2 regular marshmallows, and 10 toothpicks.  Most of the animals were made, then quickly consumed.  I'm glad Noah's family had something else to curb their hunger!

 Lora sharing the Bible Story

 Cathy discusses the science of her experiment

My apologies to Lora and Cathy who were on either side of my group in the school.  As different groups got really excited about the beach ball game the volume got louder and louder not to mention the numerous times the beach ball went over the divider into their areas.  Cathy assures me that there are no hard feelings!

Music Rotation
When Bible School was over we retreated to the dining hall to assess and plan for the next day.  We had an early dinner and then went to Raymond Town to visit some businesses.  The rain had stopped by this point and with no other responsibilities at the school the ladies came with us also.  Raymond Town is the next village up the road about a 10 min. drive.  We met Sister Mary who owns a cook shop, the village chief who owns a retail shop (first female chief), and a nurse who owns and runs a pharmacy and consultation house.  HE wants a loan in order to expand his pharmacy and his operation (for more on his situation see blog for day 7).  The next village up the road had already called requesting his services. He will be in that village the next day.  

The next day will hold more assesments as we try to get our head around the culture, the need, and what exactly we are to be doing.  We will be working with once of the locals, Daga, to assess, evaluate, and ultimately grant loans for new businesses.  It seems like so much to do in such a short time [In fact it was.  No loans were given as a direct result of our involvement, but we able to mentor Daga in the process.]

Sightseeing, church, and travel

Liberia day 3, 4  July 21/22 Monrovia to Balama

downtown Monrovia, Liberia
along the road in Monrovia

T.I.A. (This is Africa).  Plans change.  Instead of going to the village on Saturday it was decided that we needed to confirm our flights home before we left town just to be sure that was taken care of.  After doing this we toured Monrovia a bit before heading back to Jessy's for lunch and dinner from the Coal Pot Queens.  We saw the government buildings, US Embassy, Waterside Market all while touring downtown.

We went to worship on Sunday morning at Sister Sarah's (coal pot queen) church Tubman Memorial UMC.  I was asked to come forward after the service to with the congregation what we would be doing while we were in Liberia.  I shared with them our plans to lead teacher training and VBS, work with the woman and business leaders, and love on the children of Balama.

After lunch we loaded up to make the trek to Balama.  We took a 4.5 hour drive over pot-marked (read scattered, smothered, and covered in potholes) roads from Monrovia to Balama.
 one of many signs of "progress" in and around Balama
The women could carry just about anything (head and/or back) and rarely anything in their hands.

We went first to the orphanage and met the children.  The children gave us a great welcome by performing a short program for us.  They sang songs and quoted scripture from the oldest to the very young.  Then, we were able to hang out with them and talk to the children.  From that very moment each team member had several buddies for the week.  Any time we would be back at the orphanage our "crew" would come to hold our hands and just be near us.

Children at the orphanage
more of the 120 at the orphanage
After eating supper we went down to the school to lay eyes on where we would be conducting VBS, teacher training, and Woman to Woman. When this was completed we went to Gbarnga (BAHN-ga) to the Crystal Palace Guest House.  The Crystal Palace is a small hotel that is run by a childhood friend of Jessy's.  During our team debriefing we decided we would buy snacks and lunch for the children.  We purchased biscuits (cookies) for the VBS snack and rice, chicken, and topping for lunch.  

 Team shot: In Movrovia Sun PM ready to hit the ground running!