Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Liberia Day 6- Higher Up & Further In

Well, it was not a great night for sleeping.  I intentionally separated myself from my phone (only useful as a clock), so I wouldn't know what time it was when I went to bed or how the night was progressing, but I think I slept for a few hours (2-4?) then woke up and after that I just waited for daylight and maybe dozed a little.  It was hot and still and the mattress was rather thin, but I tried to stay calm, and through prayer God helped me.  I was grateful when it was time to get up.  I visited the latrine, as I had the night before, which was similar to an outhouse in structure.  It was a stone slab over a hole in the ground.  The stone had a key shaped hole in it, where "business" could be transacted.  You could see a sea of maggots writhing thickly at the bottom, and that, combined with the thrum of flies and being unable to stand properly because of the latrine's height and managing the heat made for a disturbing experience.

The residents of Tiah Town asked us to stay on for a little while so they could cook for us, which we obliged.  I toured the town to take pictures at Randy's request.  I was with one of our bodyguards and as we walked he basically told me, in very friendly terms, that I would give him my camera at the end of the trip.  This is African directness (they are not afraid to tell you what they are thinking or ask for what they want) and is not offensive in that culture.  You just say no with the same force, if you say no.  It's a strange experience though and much different from American culture.  I later applied this with Randy.  When he would offer a stick of gum I would try to just take the whole pack out of his hand.  No success though.  We then met with the village elders, including the man the town is named after, who is also the previous pastor of the church and very old by any standard.  They gave us a goat, which was extremely generous and sacrificial of them, and we listened as they shared their hope to finish their newer building which was started before the wars.  There are stacks of bricks in the old church, but they lack cement which is both expensive and hard to get to remote places like Tiah Town.  After experiencing the generosity of the people of the village, it stung that we (the GMC) honestly have very little to no resources to send their way.  After the meeting we were invited to watch and help prepare dumboi, a local dish.  It is made from cassava which is a starchy potato-like food.  First it is removed from its skin, then boiled, then crushed with pistil and rod.  Janga and I participated in this process, though the girls were much more effective.  I would hate to be on the business end of one of those rods.  Next, a little water is added and the cassava (with ample beating) becomes a sort of dough.  The final product is then placed in a soup and which is covered with tiny red-brown seeds.  Matthew said only the mustard seed is smaller.  When you eat dumboi, you do not chew, you swallow each bite whole.  I had just a little trouble preparing to swallow, bit it went right down.  After the dumboi was enjoyed, along with potato salad, we packed up and headed to the next village, called Say Town.

The drive was fairly uneventful and much shorter, two hours instead of nearly the whole day.  This village, to my untrained eye, seemed worse off than Tiah Town.  There was less clothes on the kids and the houses seemed a bit more disheveled.  The people were less welcoming, though still very much so, and the church was constructed of bamboo poles and palm fronds.  We arrived, greeted several people, and sat and talked in intense heat.  Bruce's thermometer read as high as 106 degrees in the shade.  The people of Say Town were also quite generous.  They donated a duck for dinner which Papa Richard, as he always does, cooked to deliciousness.  I had to confess that I was on the verge of stomach trouble though and did not eat it.  Thankfully, there was rice and collard greens (something green!) something light, which put me to rights again.  I think a daily dose of Coca-Cola has been helping settle my stomach as well.  After dinner, and a little earlier than yesterday, we had our worship service with even less light than the night before.  Bishop Bruce preached about discipleship, reinforcing many of Matthew's key ideas.  Both Tiah Town and Say Town should receive disciples very soon to help the less equipped pastors.  He preached well, like Randy the night before.  That's why they pay them the big bucks.  We sat outside and had tea again before trying to go to sleep in admittedly lesser accommodations than last night, though we were so grateful for the family who willing gave up their house.  The night ended at about 11:30 with an ardent prayer for some rest.

I read this passage from My Utmost For His Highest by Oswald Chambers today and will close with it's sentiment:

"It is one thing to go on the lonely way with dignified heroism, but quite another thing if the line mapped out for you by God means being a door mat under other people's feet.  Suppose God wants to teach you to say, "I know how to be abased"- are you ready to be offered up like that?  Are you ready to not be so much as a drop in a bucket- to be so hopelessly insignificant that you are never thought of again in connection with the life you served?  Are you willing to spend and be spent; not seeking to be ministered unto, but to minister?  Some saints cannot do menial work and remain saints because it it is beneath their dignity."

Indeed amen, but oof, what a challenge.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Liberia Day 5- On to Tiah Town

Had more trouble than usual waking up this morning, but got another hot shower in and was slowly getting dressed when breakfast arrived at 7:20.  I don't know why it was so early today, but people seemed to think we should've been ready.  As Randy says, whenever Liberian culture seems perplexing, "This, too, is Liberia."  He picked up the phrase from a local newspaper columnist.  It was pancakes again, though without honey this time, which allowed for bare-handed eating.  We packed up our bags and are waiting to begin a two night journey into "the bush" to visit those who need to be re-evangelized following the civil wars.  One of the things I admire about Matthew and leaders of the EC Church of Liberia is their desire to evangelize the least reached, especially when you consider just how logistically difficult it is to reach those people.  The vision, however, is clear, and the passion is tangible.  While we are waiting, I have been able to catch up on this journal and now, possibly, get some reading done...

Well, I didn't get much reading done.  We began our journey to Tiah Town shortly after I put my pen down.  We took two trucks on the journey, Abraham's and another on loan from a government official which featured air conditioning.  We have been very fortunate to experience the refreshing effects of A/C everyday of this trip so far.  The journey was supposed to take about 4 hours, but much more time elapsed after shopping for supplies in Buchanan, repairing a flat tire, and a few other stops.  We eventually made our way to Tiah Town, deep in the "interior" of Liberia.  This village has only been accessible via automobile for a few years, due to a logging company constructed road.  Prior to this development, it would take a two day arduous hike through the jungle.  We stopped at one town on the way, to get the flat repaired, and watched some kids swimming in their local stream (I sincerely wanted to join them), and prayed for one of the women of the village who was ill.  She was the mother of a member of our entourage.  Upon our arrival at Tiah Town we were taken to the Duane Ray EC Church, a rather rustic structure and welcomed enthusiastically by the community.  Though they are a tribal, rural community, they seemed little different from other Liberians we have met and also have some command of English.  Their pastor is soft-spoken, articulate, and exudes a wise spirit.  He gave up his home for our place to stay.  The many young children were kept at a distance from us, but their curiosity was such that they would peak in windows occasionally or gather in a crowd in the doorway.  One of the better photos I got so far was at such a moment:

It was boiling hot in the hut, but much more comfortable outside in the shade.  We were to have a service in the evening, which was much delayed by supper and visiting.  It was dark (probably after 8 pm) when the service did start and it was spectacular in every way.  The people of Tiah Town sang beautifully.  There was one girl in particular, who led the music, and she had a stunning voice.  Matthew later explained that in their way of singing the chorus might remain constant, but the verses are always changing.  He said that as she sang in Bassa, she explained the oneness of God.  Randy preached from Isaiah 6 challenging everyone to respond to the call of God to serve both near and far and many of us did respond, including me.  In the dark of the church that night (there was almost no light besides a small led), God was worshiped.  It was one of the more powerful church services I have ever been a part of.  I even tried my hand at the drums, as Janga had at Conference.  After worship, we had tea and headed to bed.  It was pretty sticky in the room, especially with door and window shut to keep critters out, and Bishop Hill sleeping next to me, but I took a melatonin and hoped for the best.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Liberia Day 4- The Close of Conference

The day began as the day before, but with a hot shower this time, which felt like a bonus.  We had pancakes with honey for breakfast, which, again, were quite good.  I also had some tea with honey and sugar which was passable.  Not really a tea drinker.  We made the hour plus drive again to Saturday Town for the closing session of the 44th Annual Conference of the EC Church of  Liberia.  It was another exuberant joyful service with lively music and a fun offering.  The goal was set to raise $100,000 Liberian ($1,300 US) for the conference building I mentioned yesterday.  I found out that night that they actually raised $111,000!  Bishop Hill (called "Bishop of the EC Church of the World") preached on the feeding of the 5,000 and how God will use our willingness to give of what we have.  We also celebrated the Lord's Supper and I had a chance to bless the cup in prayer.  People came up row by row and many sang with the choirs as they received a wafer and some pungent grape drink and so celebrated the death of our Lord for our salvation.  They also ordained about 10 people.  Randy, Bruce, and Janga (along with Rev. Gueh, of course) laid hands on each one and prayed over them.  It was a powerful ministry to behold.  When the announcements of pastoral assignments were made everyone cheered and clapped.  We were taken to lunch while the conference wound to its close.  I should also mention that eight resolutions were made including the familiar (get you reports in on time and correct) and some exciting developments (an emphasis on doing the work of achieving National Conference Status.)  Randy later said that hearing that was worth the trip over.  We had a lunch of rice, beef, and mixed vegetables.  While we were lunching, we visited with a man named Theophilus, the Liberian church's mission pastor to Accra, Ghana.  He has dreams of serving in Togo soon.  I was very impressed by him.  Bruce and I explored Saturday Town a little with Felicia, one of our body guards.  We've largely been kept distant, so it was nice to be free to look around a bit.  We headed back to the hotel, arriving a little after 5.  The road less dusty this time, I thought, or at least I didn't have to roll up my window as often to keep the red clouds from rolling into the jeep.  They had to drive back to pickup Matthew who was to meet us for dinner at the hotel, so we had a few hours to kill.  We started with drinks (Algerian Coke for me) and then walked to the beach to get a closer look at the Atlantic and the large ships that have been sitting out in the bay.  We waited a little while longer and then Matthew, Abraham, and his wife Olive arrived and joined us for dinner.  They were all tired, understandable after a week of Conference.  Abraham commented that normally after Conference, he takes three of or four days off to recover.  If felt bad for them.  No rest for the weary this time.  We head to the bush for two days tomorrow.  I had a chicken sandwich which turned out to be chicken schwarma, which was fine (better than the beef one anyway).  After dinner, Bruce and I retired early, but then talked about our own National Conference and several other topics before falling asleep a bit before midnight.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Liberia Day 3- Speaking Keynotically

Got up at about 6:30 after a semi-restful night of sleep.  I woke up a few times to yelling, or a car rushing by, or general disorientation.  I took my first Liberian shower in room-temperature water under low water pressure.  It did not take Bruce or I long to discover that the toilet flushed best when manually flushed from inside the tank.  Breakfast was served by an elderly gentleman called "Papa Richard," whom Randy dubbed "the most important man in Liberia."  It's his responsibility to feed us dainty Westerners without getting us sick.  Papa Richard is quite skilled at this and, in fact, once served as a cook at the presidential palace in Monrovia.  Breakfast was fried eggs (overhard) and bread with mango jam.  The eggs were very good, especially considering that they were cooked miles away and then brought to the hotel.  After breakfast ended and the car arrived,  we began an hour plus drive north and east to the site of the 44th National Conference of the EC Church of Liberia.  On the way, we got to observe village and rural life as we drove over increasingly rough roads.  It was a very dusty drive and pretty quiet too.  We arrived at the seat of conference, within a village called Saturday Town, which was the home of the Derby EC Church. Derby EC is one of the simplest church's I've yet seen.  It was constructed of bamboo poles; walls, benches, everything.  There was no pulpit to speak of, but the choir area also was set apart by those hardwood poles.  Conference was held in a larger structure made of bamboo poles and palm leaves.  It was low enough that I had to duck to get in.  This structure was built on top of a larger permanent foundation that represents the first steps in Matthew's dream of a permanent conference center than can hold thousands.  He has a model of the finished structure and it is quite beautiful.  They broke ground two years ago and so far have have managed to construct the foundation.  They might have a pretty long road ahead of them.  We were seated up front and each given a chance to extend greetings to the whole Conference.  An offering was taken, a rather more drawn-out affair than in the United States.  Rev. Powell did things few Americans would dare to try, like calling people out by name to give.  Randy says this is a fun time for them, if unconventional to my sensibilities.  Randy had a chance to address the group.  He reminded them of the exciting things God is doing in the world and reminded us all that God regularly uses unexceptional everyday people to do His work in the world.  We can all join in the mission of God.  We had our lunch, which reminded me of chop-suey, along with green beans and potatoes, quite tasty.  In the afternoon session, I was given the opportunity to be "key-note speaker" for a very special commencement ceremony.  These 14 graduates, 13 women and one man were the first class to complete Matthew's three year discipleship program.  I chose my Epaphroditus message with several quick adjustments made.  I didn't feel that I delivered the sermon very well, but everyone was encouraging.  I was a little nervous and got to talking too fast, but I felt genuinely honored to be a part of it in the same way that I was proud to help pour the floor of the elementary school in Zambrano, Honduras last year.  In these parts of the world, doing something to advance education feels like striking a blow against evil, especially if it is Christ-centered, Kingdom building, education.  After the afternoon session, we were sent back to the hotel, while the whole conference got involved in a football match with a neighboring community (I found out later that the Conference won 2-`1).  I would have like'd to participate, but was not dressed appropriately.  Perhaps next time.  After the travel home to the hotel we had dinner at the same restaurant as the night before.  This time I had a cheeseburger which was rather gristly, but I got it down ok.  After dinner, though it was still rather early, we retired to our rooms and Bishop Hill and I talked long in to the night about a variety of topics: personal history, Community Church, baseball, pastoring, dealing with cows in your yard.  It was a good way to close our 1st full day in country.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Liberia Day 2- The Road to Buchanan

It did not prove a very restful night.  I will have to make up for all this poor sleep eventually.  The next two movies were Trouble With the Curve and The Avengers.  I know I slept some because I missed chunks of both of these.  Bruce has trouble sleeping on airplanes as well.  I was blessed with a window seat and have been doubly blessed with some beautiful sights.  We began in darkness, but sometimes the white clouds were thin and allowed you to perceive the Atlantic Ocean churning below.  At what must have been 3 am (Eastern Standard Time), the sun began to rise.  We were flying toward the sun.  It began as a thin bright line on the horizon, but quickly (aided by restless naps) swallowed the whole sky.  I was also fortunate to catch us coming over the edge of the African continent.  The distinctions between sea, coast, and mainland were a delight to behold.  We have been over the mainland cruising at 37,000 feel for some time now.  I have spotted a few bodies of water and one city, but otherwise it looks quite dry down there.  Perhaps when we reach Accra I shall have a closer look.  I wonder what city that was?

We landed in Accra, the beautiful capital of Ghana, at about 7 am EST, 12 noon local time.  For breakfast we had little fruit cups and breakfast burritos that were designed more like an empanada.  I called it a "breakfast pod," but it had refried beans and a little meat like a burrito.  I must be feeling adventurous about food, because I gobbled it up.  I finished the Prolegomena reading for my Trinity class on the person of Jesus Christ.  Like the Karl Barth reading before it, this was more of a pleasure than I would have expected.  His main point was that, the phrase I keep thinking is, "we have this self revealing God in Jesus Christ."  He must be accepted or rejected on His own terms.  Trying to work your way to a knowledge of God from any place beside His self-revelation is dead on arrival.

The city of Accra is quite beautiful and modern looking from the sky.  I saw, among other things, numerous nice homes, one swimming pool, a soccer (football) stadium, and a large church.  There were also several long fishing boats in the bay.  It was a neat scene.  Accra was green with palm trees.  We were given some time to wait while the plane was prepared for the last leg to Monrovia.  We ended up waiting over an hour for the plane to be refurbished for the next trip.  It started getting really hot and humid in the cabin, our first exposure to African heat.  Then there was a wiring problem, then the plane wouldn't start properly because of the heat.  Eventually, we got going again and landed in Monrovia maybe 40 minutes behind schedule.  They had everyone get off the plane and ride the bus to the terminal, which hardly seemed necessary as the terminal was only a short walk away.  The immigration process was smooth, aided by our forerunning host who pushed us right through customs.  I doubt we'll have that kind of ease when we come back to America.  It was the sort of situation where one had to be assertive and push there way through which takes some getting used to.  Our temporary host took us across the street (through the chaos of waiting crowds and UN people) to a small restaurant where we waited for our driver to arrive.  We had Cokes (produced in Algeria) to help pass the time.  Rev. Abraham Powell, a leader in the EC Church of Liberia, with others accompanying him, was our driver.  We traveled jeep of sorts.  I sat in the middle and dozed heavily for awhile.  The scenery was very green and tropical, but the dirt was red and dusty.  Randy made numerous comments regarding the improvements to Liberian infrastructure since his last visit, observed in the quality of the roads and airport.  From Monrovia, we traveled south to the city of Buchanan and our hotel for the next three nights.  When entering Buchanan, we drove through a lengthy marketplace area.  The most prominent item for sale was gasoline in glass jars and used soda bottles.  The hotel itself, very close to the ocean, surprised with its niceness.  King-sized bed, private bathroom with a western toilet, a TV with one channel, and air conditioning that lifted humidity, but did not make things cold.  We met Matthew Gueh, the Field Superintendent, Janga, Field Superintendent of Nepal (who had arrived ahead of us), and others for dinner at the hotel restaurant.  We all had schwarma (beef or chicken) on Matthew's recommendation.  A Lebanese dish, schwarma consists of beef (in my case), onion, and a tart Greekish dressing all wrapped in a fried or baked tortilla.  We chatted for a little while then then went to bed, good and tired from lack of sleep and slept through the night even though it was 4:30 in the afternoon at home.  Jet-lag averted?