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Liberia

Kimmie's eJournal (archived)

November 9, 2008, Bushrod Island, Liberia

This past Thursday was Thanksgiving in Liberia and probably the most meaningful Thanksgiving I have spent.  Thanksgiving in Liberia is all about…well, thanks.  You get up.  You go to church.  You reflect on your blessings.  You bring the fruits of your labor to be blessed and auctioned, the proceeds of which all go to the church. No turkey.  No feast.  We simply breathed the air that was thick with gratitude.

Rev. Fr. Victor M. King, Vicar at Trinity Cathedral, in an impoverished country where most people would find it impossible to be thankful, encouraged the congregation to do just that.  He said that we all woke up and we all came to church.  We were all given the gift of another day, of life.

“Life will be difficult,” said Father King. “We are assured of that.  But- someday- the light will shine!  And, if we want Liberia to rise again, if we want her to shine, this cannot be accomplished without first stopping and giving thanks for what we already have!”

“Amens” resounded from a congregation largely comprised of people who live without running water, without light, without electricity.  People who live in houses where a bed is a mattress on the floor, a kitchen is a smoky room with a small pot of burning coal, where furniture, if you have any is shredded almost beyond recognition.

Liberians echo “Amen” for a different reason.  As my friend, said, “In this country, we are just so thankful for peace.”  She told me her personal story of escape when the rebels took her house, of losing everything, of friends and relatives taken in car trunks to executions, of being lucky enough to be packed on a fishing vessel for five days with a baby, of watching the black smoke envelop her beloved city Monrovia as she drifted out to sea, of living as a refugee, but still…of living.

I have heard so many horror stories.  I really cannot begin to imagine how one ever recovers from living through this, or if one ever does.

Today is Sunday, three days later.  I went to church, then to Bromley to do absolutely nothing but sit and talk, as one of the girls requested on my first trip to Liberia almost one year ago.  We sat outside with a strong breeze wrinkling the surface of the river.  Solace surrounded us with long, comfortable silences alternated with many quiet questions about life in America.  They told me of their ambitions to be a pilot, a nurse, an engineer.

What I did not tell them is that Sunday in America is quite different for those of us caught in the Northern Virginia frenzy of  schedules and soccer games and meetings and shopping and television.

What I did tell them was how much I loved sitting outside on a hard stone step with them and how much I loved them and was grateful to have them in my life…I told them all of this without saying a word…just by being there.  They are my Thanksgiving.

I have not seen television at all since I have been here, not even for the election, an event that would have had me riveted to the TV.  This taught me that no matter how many hours I would have spent watching the coverage, at that point, it would not have changed the outcome.

What changes outcome in general is action.What will change the lives of these girls is action.  I was teaching a writing class last week, incorporating a request from Rev. Mary.  The room was packed and noisy, so in order to regain order I asked the students if they would rather act out the play I was reading to them.  This got their attention and they fervently volunteered to play the various roles. 

I had not taken into consideration just how far behind these girls were in their education because of the school closings during the war.  I was soon mortified however when I listened to these girls (ages 12-16 in this class) struggle to read the words.  It took so long to finish a sentence that the meaning was lost, but still I let them continue.  I let them continue because they volunteered to do this, because I wanted so desperately for them to believe in themselves. 

They finished to loud applause, an applause that will haunt me long after I return home, an applause that will provide the percussion in my heartbeat to never stop trying to find them help. I always want them to have the luxury to hope, the conviction to dream.

I will close with a prayer that Buck Blanchard, World Missions Coordinator for the Diocese of Virginia, sent me off with…

Disturb us, O Lord, when

We are too pleased with ourselves;

When our dreams have come true

Because we dreamed too little.

We arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore.

 

Disturb us, O Lord, when,

With the abundance of things we possess,

We have lost our thirst

For the waters of life;

Having fallen in love with life,

We have ceased to dream of eternity

And in our efforts to build a new earth

We have allowed our vision

Of the new Heaven to dim.

 

Disturb us, O Lord, to dare more boldly,

To venture on wilder seas

Where storms will show your mastery

Where losing sight of land

We shall find the stars.

 

We ask you to push back

The horizons of our hopes

And push us into the future

In strength, courage, hope and love.

 

We ask in the name of our Captain

Who is Jesus.

 

                        ~Sir Francis Drake, 1577

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