Thoughts from Liberia

As most of you know, I celebrated the New Year in Liberia, West Africa this year. I was there with most of the board of our non-profit organization One Body One Hope. It wasn’t a mission trip so much as it was a relationship-building trip — a chance for us to spend time with the people that we partner in ministry with. We deepened our relationships, spent time dreaming about the future, and explored new opportunities for redevelopment, partnership, and growth. I know I sound like an old cliche, but the experience was absolutely life-changing. I still get chills when I think about what God has in store.

Anyway, I promised I’d share some of the highlights with you, and in the chaos of getting back to life as normal, celebrating the release of Far From Here, and getting through the very scary experience of my mom’s major neck surgery, talking about Liberia kind of slipped my mind. So, time to right that particular wrong.

Thanks for reading!

An excerpt from my diary:

It’s morning, but already it’s so hot I feel melted, poured out. I am damp. Tendrils of hair cling to my forehead, the side of my face. My forearms glisten pale gold and sand in the unforgiving light of a hazy sun. Sunglasses would not stay in place, so I squint against the glare and lift a dirty hand to shade my eyes. My fingernails show a crescent of muddy red, and every crease in my skin is, even at this early hour, a dry riverbed of dust.

The ocean crashes before me, wave after wave rolling over the black rocks that play hide and seek with the surf. It’s wild out there, teeming with a thousand little dangers ranging from a vicious undertow to sea urchins that crouch in the murky shadows and wait. But it’s beautiful, too, like everything here, and I love it fiercely.

I feel universal here. A part of the rust colored earth and humid air, tied to the people who surround me. I have a deep affinity for my Liberian family, the people I already love as dearly as my own flesh and blood, but the connection extends to the child who hangs around our guesthouse, Ma Sarah, the soft spoken woman who cleans, and even the tight knot of strangers on the beach who stop and stare at the crazy white people who brave the ocean every night. There is a certain understanding that seems to pass between us as we acknowledge the heat, the beauty, and even the fine edge of violence that borders this place like the clean cut of a sharp knife.

Life is hard here. The water is dirty, the ground is dry, the people must work their fingers to the bone to survive. Michael, one of the older boys at the orphanage, spends his days chipping rock out of the ground to clear a level field behind the church. He wants a road to go through so that a high school can be built in a place that is a twisted staircase of stone; a grand, natural entrance to a humble church on a bluff overlooking the sea. I watch him while he works, back straining as he swings a sledgehammer to chisel out a shard of rock the size of a dinner plate. He lifts it out, adds it to a growing pile. Starts again.

The children are starved for affection. Not that they are unloved, for the depth of emotion that their caretakers feel for them is a presence between us, heavy and complicated. But physical touch is at a premium, and they weave their fingers through ours at every opportunity, climb on our laps, bury their faces in our necks. Stephen, the smallest boy, sits next to me with one hand on my leg, and when I start to lightly rub his back with my fingernails, he arches and sinks against me. If he were a cat, he would purr.

Precious boy. Darling child. Both of you. For Michael who is already grown up, a young man full of passion and integrity and life, and for Stephen who I long to rock to sleep like a baby, may you be blessed beyond measure. I wish I could love every wrong in your life right. I wish I could heal hurts with a touch and promise that from now on everything would always be okay. But I can’t. So I pray and I hope and I love. I dream big for your future. And I claim this extravagant promise for you:

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

Michael with his rocks.

Stephen with his dimples.

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