To Teach A Liberian…Part 17

“What are they doing?” I asked Mark, trying to figure out why they were having a meeting without us. It wasn’t that I expected them to have us for everything but if something good was going on, I wanted to be there.

“They’re eating lunch!” Mark replied, watching the expression on my face. I’m not sure what he saw but I know what I felt!

“Well, do they not want us to eat with them?” I responded, trying to figure out what was going on.

“No, it’s not that they don’t want us, they just expect us to eat up here because that’s how it’s normally done!”

“What?!” I can’t remember if I got loud at that point, but I was definitely not happy about it. “Well, can’t we just take our stuff and go eat with them?”

“We won’t do it today because everything is already set, but I don’t think this will happen again.” I could tell Mark also was not happy about the situation staying the way it did. We really are no better than anyone else and for us to stay away from them at meal time did not sit very well with Mark and I.

“This is NOT right and I want to be able to eat with everyone else. I can’t believe we are up here and they are down at the meeting house. This is really upsetting!” I was almost in tears when I said it. It’s not that we were trying to prove anything, but we were there to spend time with the people not set ourselves up as being better than anyone else.

Mark turned around to the pastors, who were talking among themselves in the Kpelle language. “Men,” he began, “this is not acceptable.” The pastors turned to look at him, probably wondering what he was talking about. “We will not be eating up here while everyone is eating at the meeting house. Tomorrow, we will have our food served with everyone else at the meeting house.” From what I remember, I think a discussion ensued for a short amount of time but Mark was adamant. We would all be eating lunch at the meeting house starting on Wednesday. We also let them know that we didn’t want another meal in the night time. I think the pastors were relieved over that because they said they didn’t normally eat but one major meal in the daytime. We said the same thing and so it was settled that our major meal would be at the lunch time with the people at the meeting house.

Mark and I started the same routine of him serving me and us sitting down to eat our food but this time Mark insisted the pastors eat with us. He let them know that they needed to eat at the same time as us. We already had our food but they began getting their food at this time and we ate and chatted. Sister Tamah also ate with us and it seemed that her and I were the only ladies at the mission house. I thought it seemed kind of strange but I didn’t really say anything as I wasn’t sure what to say.

After lunch was over with the men began talking about VCP and how it would look. I knew this would happen because Mark said they had a lot of ground to cover. There was never anything said about us leaving so I just sat there. I was quite happy to listen and extremely interested in what was being said. They did cover a lot of ground! Towards the end of their discussion, though, I began wondering if I should even be there as it was very much the men’s meeting. I wondered if the pastors felt I was intruding on “their” meeting. I almost got up and left a couple of times but then remembered that Sister Tamah was there and didn’t want to leave her by herself. I did stay there with her and, in the end, the men finished up their meeting and Mark reminded them that we would be eating with the people. The pastors didn’t seem too upset over it so I guess they didn’t mind at all! When they finished up, Mark told them that we needed to rest and prepare for the evening service. At this point, I was pretty relieved because I was starting to feel the wear once again on my body!

Photos of Liberia 2

Videos of Liberia

Here is a video done by Village Church Planters of our welcoming committee in Duaita!

Photos of Liberia

To Teach A Liberian…Part 16

I was told it was time to go to the meeting and so I headed over to the meeting place the ladies would be. I wasn’t sure who was going to be translating for me as no one seemed to understand anything I asked…or at least not much. I told whoever the lady was that I was going to find out who my interpreter was going to be and I would be back. I went to Pastor Philemon and asked him.

“Yes,” he replied, “let me see who can do it.” I returned to the meeting place and waited. The women stared at me and I stared back at them as I didn’t really know what else to do. There were only about 4 women at that point, then Pastor Philemon showed up with one of the ladies. “She will interpret and if she cannot then I will,” he informed me. I was very relieved over that because at least I knew someone would be able to do so. The ladies began singing then it kind of died down. Looking back, I think it was because I was standing, whereas they were sitting. I had a chair behind me but I was pretty nervous and thought that maybe I shouldn’t sit. Anyway, I didn’t know what to do and they probably didn’t know what I was going to do. They weren’t the only ones that didn’t know because I had no idea if this was even going to work out. I wondered if the whole thing would be a flop…after all, I’d never had or needed anyone to interpret for me and this was a different culture. What if the response I received from them was horrendous? All kinds of thoughts were going through my head and, at this point, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be there. I was ready to call it quits and go hide out in the mission house. I took a deep breath and asked the Lord to help me.

That first morning started off with teaching the background of being a believer. The ladies would not understand the reason for being submissive to their husband if they were not saved. I started off with creation, went to Abraham, then Moses – the law – and the sacrifice, then went to the prophets then to Jesus. I explained why we needed to be saved and how to be saved. After that, I shared what was necessary for a true believer to grow in the Lord – getting to know the Lord through the Bible and prayer. I laid out some of the things that happen to believers like going through trials, tribulations and persecution. Finally, I was able to share about the relationship between a husband and wife.

The lady that was supposed to interpret for me started off fairly good…for the first 3-4 sentences then gave me THE LOOK. Now, let me explain: if you have ever been in a position where you have tried talking to someone who speaks a completely different language then you and you don’t understand them…they don’t understand you…the two of you are at an impasse, then you know exactly what I am talking about. At that point, the only thing you can do is give each other THE LOOK! That is what she and I did. We gave each other THE LOOK then I looked over at Pastor Philemon sitting out with the women. At that point I knew he had a job to do! LOL! He was busy reading and he looked up when it grew quiet and I spoke up (probably in a very timid way), “Ummmm, Pastor Philemon, can you help us?” He kind of smiled and came up to the front. The other lady sat down and I was extremely relieved!

The teaching time was stilted at first and I was struggling to figure out when to talk and when not to. Just when I thought he was done, I would start again and he would finish what he was saying. I kept berating myself (silently) for interrupting him at the wrong times. Several times he said, “Excuse me,” but it was never said in an improper, rude or abrupt way. He always said it while deep in thought of how he would explain what I was saying. Before long, we began getting into a rhythm. I was so impressed with how the Lord worked out the whole situation. Some of the things I said, he would put it in question form to the ladies so they had to think about what the answer was. Many times each of them would give a part of the answer until it was ALL made into one answer. He always told me, though, what he had asked them and what their answers were. He also made it a point to let me know when he was going to ask them a question. This was always very interesting to me because I was able to watch their faces. I did so with great interest and was thrilled when I saw them understanding what was being said. At times, I would see the faces light up with a smile when they understood and other times Pastor Philemon would say, “Uh-huuuuuuuuuuuuh!” in a very emphatic way. This let me know that they did understand. Sometimes, Pastor Philemon would finish off with what I had already planned to say and I would nod my head then tell him that was exactly what I was going to say. By the time we were done that first day I was very excited over our first day of teaching. We only did about 2 hours and then some question and answer time. I could only praise the Lord for working it out in such an exciting way.

After it was over, Pastor Philemon stayed and introduced me to the different women, to include his biological mom, his adopted mom, and many of the other women. I couldn’t even begin to remember everyone! The ladies decided, at that point that, I needed to learn Kpelle and began inundating me with all kinds of words and how I should respond. I tried to keep up with them but had to laugh at myself because I knew it was way beyond me! Eventually, everyone began to go and Pastor Philemon went to the men’s meeting. They were still meeting together. Sister Tamah told me that I reminded her of her daughter who had died several years ago…at least, that was my understanding. She said that she was adopting me and she was now my African mother. I simply smiled at her and nodded my head. By that time, my head was swimming and I was ready to rest! My new African mother walked up with me to the mission house and we sat there for a bit but then she ended up leaving as I told her I would have to rest some. I think I was overcome from the heat, not receiving a lot of rest, jet lag, and so many new things going on around me. I can only deal with so much then my body shuts down and it was beginning to do that. I did rest, regardless of the flat air mattress and then woke up feeling loads better; albeit, hot and ready for either an air conditioner or a nice breeze!

I walked out of the room into the living room, where we had been eating our meals. All the pastors were there as was Mark. Mark said they were about to serve the food, which was fine with me. Pastor Amos, Sister Tamah, and Pastor Gbaquoi showed up and Mark invited them to eat with us. While we waited for the food to be brought up to us, Mark came over and spoke in a low tone, “Come here, Violet. Let me show you something.” I followed him, wondering what was going on. The window in the living room looked over the open air meeting place and we could see what was going on. There were quite a few people gathered together doing something or other.

To Teach A Liberian…Part 15

Shortly after we entered the mission house, we noticed that our belongings had already been placed in the room we were staying in…the pastors pointed that out to Mark. We took out our air mattress and mosquito netting and got things situated. Apparently, the pastors thought we needed all the mattresses and beds in our room so we ended up having to get them to take at least the mattresses to their room. We looked to fill our air mattress up but left the pump in Monrovia at Pastor James’ house. Jerry had told us that he had a pump that connected to the cigarette lighter so we decided it would be best to save some room. The driver had disappeared somewhere so we were hoping that he would show up before night time so we would be able to fill up our mattress.

Jerry situated himself and then we went outside. There were a couple of children standing outside and I remembered Mark taking pictures of the children when he had visited previously. Every time he would take the pictures of one or two children suddenly a bunch would show up out of nowhere because of wanting their pictures taken. We decided to try it ourselves and see what would happen. Sure enough, the one or two that were there turned into five, then ten, and pretty soon quite a number of them! We did get many photos of children!

After we amused ourselves for a time with taking pictures of the children, we were told the food was ready. It was really tasty. Once again, there was a bit of spice to the food and we mixed what they call ‘soup’ with our rice. Mark dished my food up again which is quite usual in our house. We either go ahead and dish both girls up…Mark does one and I do one…or if the food is going around he’ll put some on my plate from what he gets and I’ll do it to his. We do try to help each other with the food, for which I am very thankful. We did notice that the pastors were watching everything we did…ok, Mark noticed, I should say! I think I asked for an overabundance in mine because it was so good! I had seconds, as well, since I liked it so much. After the first time or two, I only had one helping because I wanted everyone else to be able to enjoy what we were having as well. We knew that what we didn’t eat would not be wasted. Everyone else would be able to enjoy what was left. Mark pointed out that there were several children and women watching me eat through the window. He suggested that maybe they wanted to see how white women eat. I kind of laughed and said I expected I ate like they did…with my teeth! Pastor Philemon made a comment about the children staring at us as we were eating so I told him about how the girls had a friend that would stare in our window every time she came over to play with the girls so we were kind of used to it. He smiled about it but I wasn’t sure how much he understood.

We did rest and the afternoon turned into evening. Pretty soon we heard the bonging sound of the bell. I think it was the pre-requisite for the normal bell because 30 minutes later we heard the bell go again. We were to learn that everything is done on Liberian time…which means that when you say you will start at a certain time, the people will eventually show up maybe 15-20 sometimes 30 minutes later. Anyway, the first night we started at 7:30pm then went back to the mission house to eat. I really wasn’t hungry but didn’t want to offend anyone so I ate. We were all definitely exhausted.

Everyone was pretty exhausted so we all headed to our rooms shortly thereafter. The driver still hadn’t returned and the air mattress was thin on air. We decided to put the air mattress over the regular mattress and our sheets on that. When we rested in the afternoon, we found out that the mattress was extremely thin and we could feel the hard frame. There were no springs to save us from the frame of the bed and so we tossed and turned all night long. I was tired enough that I slept a lot better than I would have in the same situation in the states. The food we had bought earlier in the day, we kept in our room…which was a mistake. We had finally fallen asleep and then we heard a noise in the room. Tap, tap, tap, tap….it turned out to be a rat (or possibly two) after the food. Mark grabbed the light and shone it in the direction of the rat. He froze from the light but then Mark made a loud noise and the rat took off. I didn’t personally see the rat so I couldn’t describe it properly. Mark did say it had brownish colouring and that it wasn’t as big as a rat you would find here in the states. It’s more like the size of a mouse that you could buy from a pet store. Anyway, after the rat ran away, we did hear a couple of more. I joked around about it and suggested we name the rats. Mark came up with Obama for one and I can’t remember what the name of the other one was. I don’t think we really told any of the pastors about our names for the rats! :-D Now, once you have gotten underneath the netting, it is so hard to get out so if there are any kinds of bathroom breaks needed, you’d better make sure it’s done all at one time. We figured we’d get up while we were both awake. It didn’t take long to get the netting up but it sure was hard getting it all tucked underneath the mattress when we returned! Finally…finally, we were able to get settled back down and go to sleep! The rats did come back a couple of more times and Mark woke up to scare them off again.

Tuesday, March 1st – We rose up early because we heard everyone stirring and didn’t want to stay abed while everyone else was moving around. We took our bucket bath again and I ended up groaning because the water was so cold…it was a pretty cool morning. They told us they would be willing to have the women heat up the water if we wanted but I figured I’d save them some effort, considering how much effort they put in to welcoming us, cooking our meals, and everything else they were doing. I just went ahead and bore the agony of really cold water on a pretty cool morning.

After getting dressed, we took a walk down to the village. Now, the mission house wasn’t too far from the village but it was further than just being next door. The house had been built on the hill about a year or so after the first missionaries came into the village. The missionaries had been invited to stay in the chief’s home and then they were offered the hill to build a house for themselves. The hill was actually where the villagers did their spirit worship. I guess they figured the white people were close enough to being spirits that they needed to live on the hill. Anyway, the land was given for the purpose of the missionary building a home there. I think he lived there about 30 years or so but it was definitely a positive thing which encouraged the villagers to listen to the gospel.

The villagers all stared at us as we walked by. I’m sure we were a very strange sight…Mark was holding my hand all the way through the village. Jerry and Prince followed behind us at a more leisurely pace. I think Jerru was caught up in taking photos of the children, to which we ended up with loads! Ok, so we did get a few ourselves, as well.

The trees are absolutely beautiful as they are so tall and not the kind we are used to seeing. One of the trees are so tall that the roots have grown much higher than people! The view from the mission house is breath-taking and to be able to see it every morning while we were in Duaita was great!

After we returned from our walk, we went back to the house to wait for breakfast. I went into the bedroom to do some more studying because I would be teaching the women that morning. After some study, I came back out and asked Mark about the food. Apparently, they got started late on the breakfast and it’s not like here where you can throw something together or just grab something on the go. The breakfast was late and so was the meeting! Oh, well, the Lord knows what He is doing…even if we do not! We had rice for breakfast and I wondered about the oatmeal. Mark said he hadn’t given them the oatmeal but he would do it so we could have oatmeal the next morning. We also secured the food, just in case the rats decided to come back in the daytime…ok, we thought we did! We had noticed the pastors didn’t eat with us; although, we did tell them that several times to do so. We finally insisted they do so to which they helped themselves with a bit of reserve and being unsure of themselves instead of waiting for us to finish our food completely. They always did want us to go first, though, no matter how many times we invited them.

Shortly after breakfast was finished off, it was time to go teach the ladies. At first, we had been told that we would be using the church building but it ended up growing quite warm, even in the morning that they decided to use another building that didn’t have walls built all around it. I understood later that it was the storehouse and it was located directly behind the kitchen. There was nothing there so I guess it was not really being used or they moved everything somewhere else for the time.

To Teach A Liberian…Part 14

Let me stop for a moment and tell you about the Liberian hand shake. Normally, they grab the hand in a regular handshake like we would do, next grab the thumb part with the whole hand (both people do all of these things) then back to the regular handshake then the middle finger and thumb slide down to meet and snap. This is the full handshake and I think (I’m not sure but it seemed to me) they normally don’t do it that way with the women. The abbreviated handshake is the normal handshake then the middle finger and thumb slide down to the other person’s middle finger and it ends in a snap. Sometimes it doesn’t snap but when both people have really sweaty hands they can get a very loud and satisfying snap! The idea is to sweat as much as possible in your hands! LOL! All the women and men shook my hand with the abbreviated handshake and not once did anyone do the other with me…which was fine with me. What really got me, though, was that most white people I shook hands with didn’t do it so my hand seemed to not know what to do next! Hahaha! Kind of embarrassing but you get over it!

Back to the welcoming committee again! The people surrounded us and they were thrusting their hands right in front of us and the question became, whose hand do you grab so I was seriously watching the hands and trying to get to all of them. We did get to all hands that were waiting to shake ours at some point but it took time. They were all singing praises to God during this time and throwing rice around…if I’m not mistaken, I believe one or two of the women threw little pebbles in the air. It was an exciting time and it was a confusing time because I really didn’t know what to expect or how to respond. I just stood close beside Mark and kept a smile pasted on my face!

Pastor Philemon told us after a time that the people wanted us to start walking towards the village…this was fine with me because I didn’t know what else to do. A man carrying a little boy walked beside me throughout the trip towards the village. I smiled several times at the little boy but he hid his face, probably frightened of the strange looking person standing beside him. During the time of walking into the village and seeing how excited everyone was, absolutely astounded me and it did bring tears to my eyes; although, I was able to keep from crying and did keep a smile pasted on my face. The people were joyful…they sang praises and threw rice and continued this all the way into the village. We were introduced to several of the main people as we were walking but I couldn’t keep them all straight and didn’t try. At this point, I began thinking about how there was joy in heaven over one sinner that repents. Granted this isn’t the same situation but how can so many people be joyful over 3 people they have never met? What joy and abundant expressions of joy came forth from these people of Duaita! What overabundance of love was shown to us even at that time we met them. Jesus told His disciples, “By this shall all men know ye are my disciples if ye have love one to another.” The villagers did not expect anything from us other than that we would teach them the Word of God and so they were thrilled and excited over the fact that we were willing to do what Jesus commanded His disciples to do. I find it sad that so many people are unwilling to go beyond the scope of their comfort zone, all the while insisting that there are so many people to be reached here in America. A lot of them don’t really make the effort to reach anyone here but the excuse is still there.

As we walked with the villagers, my heart was humbled over their evident love for us. Eventually we made it to the open air meeting place, after having walked underneath a couple of trees made into an arch. There were two trees, one on either side of the road, that they had tied together with vines and beautiful flowers. I have to admit that I was so caught up in the moment that I never even thought to take any kind of pictures. Mark did get a picture later after the flowers had died but we do have a video of it because at least Jerry had enough sense to take a video of our walk to the open air pavilion. The people continued singing praises to the Lord until we ended up sitting down. The original open air pavilion had been extended by the people for a ways as they were hoping that many people would show up for the time of welcome. They had special seats for Mark, myself and Jerry and the way we ended up sitting down was that Jerry was closest to the people, then Mark, then myself.

The presentation began with the choir singing songs. These were similar to the ones sung at Pastor Togba’s house except there were two ladies doing the main singing while the rest of the choir sang the background music. I was still fascinated and stared at them! Hehehe! The only thing is, I don’t think my mouth was open! It continued on with someone praying (someone interpreted throughout the presentation), someone sharing something about us showing up and eventually Pastor Sam stood up.

He began talking about purity and how the hearts of the people were pure towards us and they wanted to show us that they were by giving us a kola nut that represented purity in Africa. The nuts are a kind of tan colour on the outside and I understand they are white on the inside. I never looked to see so I am not sure. Anyway, he continued on by saying that they were offering us one from the pureness of their hearts. He did tell us we only had to take one bite of it and not to worry about eating the whole thing. Pastor Sam gave The Pilgrim one first as he was closest. He didn’t show any expression or anything so I figured it was ok. They gave Mark the second one and Mark just examined it while we were listening to Pastor Sam continue to share. I was the last one to get it and I still figured it would be fine as even Pastor Sam said to show us that there was nothing wrong with it, he also would have one. He began eating on his and actually finished it off. I put the one I received into my mouth and ended up getting about a quarter of it. What a surprise and shock to me! It was extremely bitter!

The next few thoughts went through my mind within seconds but it will take some time to explain what I thought. The first thing that popped into my mind was, ‘Don’t let them see you make any kind of face because you will probably offend them and you don’t want to do that after all they have done for you.’ The next thing was (all the while keeping my face straight), ‘I don’t think I’ve tasted anything this bitter before…ok, maybe it tastes a little like the middle of a peach seed but I don’t remember those being as bitter as this is! I wonder what they mean by purity of this nut. I will have to ask Mark about this.’ Part of the reason I thought that last bit was because I wasn’t completely understanding all that had been said. I know Pastor Sam said more but between not being completely acclimated to the way they spoke English and thinking instead of listening, left me wondering what I had missed in all that had been said. I decided to listen a little closer in case I missed more. My mind did wonder about the taste a little bit but thankfully the heavens opened and the rain began to pour! The chief was about to say something but they dismissed us (due to the rain) until the evening so we could rest some and be better prepared. I was relieved due to the long drive and the heat of earlier in the day. As we walked up to the mission house, I mentioned to Mark that the rain felt so good! He agreed with me!