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Liberia

Liberian eJournal 2010, Kimmie

January 3, 2010, Red Hill, Liberia

New Year’s in Liberia

I have returned to Liberia, which marks my sixth trip and 18th week in the past two years.  The drive from the airport is always an adventure, once a bumpy chiropractic adventure, now a white-knuckled ride of “running,” as Liberians refer to speeding.  The most stress from this ride comes from pedestrians darting in front of your car, daring fate…or your brakes.

The smells of burning wood and sweat greeted me as welcomed friends and I was pleasantly surprised to see a small sections of Duala Market with single glowing light bulbs hanging outside- electricity!  The farther we drove away from the city, the light bulbs were replaced by the orange glow of candles warming the market tables., with people moving among the shadows.

 I have been able to accomplish quite a bit despite some transportation challenges.  In fact, my first full day here my driver, who was scheduled to arrive at 8:30 (a.m.) did not show up until 5:00 (p.m.).  I had carefully composed my lists and to-do’s and had essentially plotted a very scheduled and productive day.  After stressing for quite some time over the no-driver situation, I finally gave up and decided to have a late lunch at a restaurant just down the street mysteriously called “Martha’s Elbow.”  Here I ate some of the best crispy fried chicken I have ever had, sat under a tree whose bark was covered in thorns, along the St. Paul River, and slipped, almost indiscernibly back into “Liberian mode.”  Where, exactly, did I think I was?  New York City?  Washington, D.C.?  Northern Virginia?

So, I simply sat by the beautiful St. Paul River looking at flowers growing in juxtaposition to a wall lined with razor wire at the top, and was transported.  I remembered that in so many ways, I was home.

I did have a bit of excitement when a viper dropped out of the bushes but was soon “eliminated” by a broom handle beating, the most common means of snake abolition.

This transportation mishap was a blessing and though I did not accomplish what I had originally planned, the day was not without achievements.  I was gifted with the reminder that life pours out like thick syrup here.  I met new friends, invaluable contacts and conducted an interview for the video project I am here working on, where I heard words that brought tears to my eyes and brought me back to Liberia with finality.

Because of the limited availability of airfare, I flew into Liberia right after Christmas, which afforded me the opportunity to experience a Liberian New Year’s Eve.  New Year’s Eve here is not about sparkling jewelry, fancy dresses, champagne, balloons, Auld Lang Sein and romantic kisses.  It is about a prayerful thankfulness to God for bringing you through another year.  Almost everyone in Liberia attends church from 11:00 p.m.- 1 a.m. so that “God can meet us at the new year.”

At the Cathedral there was a crèche in the sanctuary with flashing colored lights, and I was welcomed by many old friends even though I was the only white woman in the building.

Bishop Hart preached a poignant sermon giving thanks to God “for preserving us.” He said we were blessed to remain in his presence for the last few minutes of 2009  and were sanctified in new life for 2010.  He encouraged Liberians to stop being afraid, that fear hampers our common life with God.

At midnight, though the service was not over, the whole city erupted with church bells and cheers and then a silent, reverent joy- even in the dark, unspeakable corners of sadness. 

At the sound of exploding fireworks, a Liberian friend sitting next to me almost jumped out of his seat, and continued to do so with every successive discharge.  Although I would never profess to understand this trauma, I reached a new level of empathy for how profoundly one is scarred from a life with the constant sound of gunfire, and my tears would not stop falling.

Silently, from the pew behind me, I felt someone almost indiscernibly touch my hair.  She continued to gently run her fingers through it until I turned to see her hand outstretched with a tissue.

Bishop Hart told us to learn to love our brothers and sisters and to love ourselves.

He said, “Do you want to get love?  Get up!  Go!  You are well.”

 

Outside on the streets a chanted song rose in the humid night,

“Happy New Year, me not die

 Oh, ah, aye,  me not die.”

 

By Kimmie at 9:03am | 6 comments

Bromley Mission 2009   Edit

November 16, 2009

This mission trip to Bromley marked my fifth trip to Liberia, having spent thirteen weeks there in the past two years.  Needless to say, Liberia has taken permanent residence in my heart.  In fact, I was brought to tears many times from friends calling and saying, "Welcome home, Kimmie!"  This is exactly how I feel.  Home.

 

I also felt tremendous joy in introducing my friends to the extraordinary girls at Bromley, to their teachers and their caretakers.  What an honor.  We were all profoundly affected. We hold memories of successful work, but also of voices rising in song, laughter floating up like bubbles, profound conversations, tiny hands finding ours, and of eyes that hold a deep joy even in the midst of such hardship. 

 

The theme we chose for this mission came directly from words and visions of the school's founders, carved into the walls of the Julia C. Emery Hall over 100 years ago, "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6).  The primary focus of our mission was to provide the Bromley teachers with professional development, utilizing critical thinking skills and communication through visual art and oral and written language.

 

This particular mission came as a direct result of the requests for professional development from the teachers and staff at Bromley. For months and months leading up to the mission, all the participants put their expertise- and their hearts- into planning.  We also collected and shipped 49 boxes of teaching aids and school supplies and carried 13 extra suitcases packed with mission materials to leave at Bromley.

 

Teaching seminars, small group work and team-building activities for the teachers coincided with many student art projects designed to not only offer interpersonal social skills and teamwork, but also to address the hunger for creative channels, which was expressed on my last trip. We also gave out certificates for successful completion of the program, Mission T-shirts, and goodie bags (provided by the congregation at St. Philip’s, Durham, NC) for all the students and staff. 

 

In addition, one of our missioners, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Pulmonology, Allergy and Immunology at the University of Virginia, Dr. John Hunt, was able to conduct preliminary assessments of medical needs at the Bromley Clinic, the J.F.K. Medical Center and ELWA Hospital, a project that has been developing over the last 10 months.

 

The results were rewarding and enriching for everyone, and even more than the successful project, we continued to build relationships.  As Buck Blanchard, World Missions Coordinator for the Diocese of Virginia says, "It's the people, not the project."

 

Everyone came home with many letters of thanks and love from the staff and the students, which will help carry us all through our own challenging times at home.  On our last day, filled with songs and cake and tearful goodbyes, I told the girls that I felt a little sad, but I thought I could speak for the group when I said our hearts did not feel heavy.  Our hearts were light because they were filled with their love and their light. They are lights in our darkness, stars in our night and they will always remain in our prayers.  Then, we all sang, "This Little Light of Mine," and clapped and cried and laughed. Hide it under a bushel?  No possible way!

 

Just as the students and staff at Bromley take comfort in knowing there is someone across the ocean who remembers and loves them, we feel exactly the same way. It's as if we have brushed fingers with angels and in so doing will never be completely lost.  Hand-in-hand we can do so much.  Isn't it so exciting to dream of where the next step will lead?

 

 

A special thanks to all the missioners who worked selflessly to provide a lasting impact on The Bromley Episcopal Mission School:

 

This year’s members of the mission team included Rev. Kate Bryant, Assistant to the Rector for Adult Ministries at St. James’, Leesburg, five individuals with a total of 142 years of accumulated professional experience in education (Diane Bell, Nancy Chapin, and Elaine Nunnally of St. James’—Leesburg, VA; and Laurraine Landolt and Paul Miller of St. Peter’s—Purcellville, VA); a world-class pediatrician, Dr. John Hunt, from Church of Our Savior—Charlottesville, VA; a professional with 30 years of information technology experience, Judy Hall, also from St. Peter’s—Purcellville, VA; and a professional with 15 years of experience in community development, Donna Rewalt, from St. Philip’s—Durham, NC.  

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