So What Else Was Going On?

Tuesday, June 25 was a pretty low-key day. I worked in the library all day. After cataloging 63 books the day before, Enoch challenged me to get 100 done on Tuesday. So I did. The grand total from the day was 122 books!

Thoughts from the day : “It’s amazing how much got done yesterday! The greenhouse’s frame is up after one day! It’s going to be great.”

I chose this thought because, after all, I was not the only person on the trip. There were multiple projects going on at the same time. A greenhouse was being built, a few people were working on repairing cabinets, a field was cleared, leveled, and planted, and we held a few craft classes and a VBS. It was an incredibly busy two weeks.

No deep thoughts or profound insights today, I’m afraid. I can only take so much soul-searching at a time.

Learning to Listen

Monday, June 24 was probably the busiest days of the trip for me. We left for the college at 7:30, ate breakfast, and got to work. I spent the first hour or so in a storeroom with Gina, sorting children’s clothes. Then I helped unpack library supplies I brought over. I got a short tour of the library and, after learning the software, got to work. I stayed in the library until 5, with a short lunch break, then had dinner and went back to the guest house.

My job was pretty simple. I took one of the new books that had been donated and entered information about it into the software. For about half of the books, the information was nice and neat and all in one place in the front of the book. For the other half…not so much. That first day I managed to catalog 63 books. It was something that the library staff could do, but I could do it faster. I am, after all, a writer and a quick typist.

A thought from the day: “I seriously feel like such a stupid American. These people speak my language, but I still can’t comprehend half of what they say.  I wonder if they have trouble understanding us.”

This entry got me thinking about how I listen to people. Do I really make an effort to listen, really listen, to people when they are talking to me? While I was in Liberia, I had to make much more of a focused effort to listen to the people speaking to me. It’s so easy here at home to get distracted by the sheer amount of multitasking opportunities. As Americans, it is almost expected that we be doing at least two things at once. When was the last time I gave someone my full attention when they were talking to me? I certainly would like to have someone’s full attention, so it only makes sense that I do the same for others. But more often than not, I find my mind wandering to other things. And that sends a message of “My problems, my priorities, are more important that what you are saying to me.” I don’t know about you, but that’s not the kind of message I want to send people. I want my friends to feel like they have my complete attention when they tell me important things, that I really care about what they’re saying. Because it’s true.

So that’s something I’m going to be working on.

Uncontrollable Joy

Sunday, June 23. We went to the Inland Church in the morning and spent a relaxed afternoon sitting outside getting to know each other better. We were a team of 14, three women and 11 men, from different churches, so it was great to spend time bonding.

Church was such an interesting experience. Seeing the Liberian people spontaneously dance, sing, and shout out praise to God was very different than what I’m used to. But it was their way of expressing their deep love of Christ. They can’t contain themselves.

“Church this morning was incredible! The people are so passionate, so alive in their love of Christ….Church started at 11 and went until 1, about an hour sooner than it usually runs.”

The outpouring expression of love, the uncontainable joy I saw, was a great reminder to me. I asked myself the hard question “What does my love for God look like? Is it uncontrollable? Does it spill over into other parts of my life, of my day?” The answer is sadly, “Not really.” It really motivated me to reevaluate my priorities.

So I’ll ask you the same question, hard as it is. Is your love of God overflowing in your life?

Culture Shock

Saturday, June 22 we spent most of the day on the LICC bus, traveling the roughly 8-hour (depending on road conditions) drive from Monrovia, the capital, to Ganta, a small town near Liberia’s northern border with Guinea.

 

 

Image

The culture shock hit me a lot harder than I expected. Here are some thoughts that went through my head as we were driving through Monrovia:

“Gina has been telling us facts about Liberia. The poverty level is so astounding! Liberia is the size of Ohio, has 4.2 billion people, and over 30 embassies in Monrovia (which means countries are taking a portion of the income, I believe. Or at least conducting business that competes with native business.). Haiti has a GPD  (I think those are the right initials….) that is 8 times higher than Liberia. (Or, put into plainer terms, Liberia is tied with Somalia as the third poorest country in the world. Sobering, isn’t it?) Driving through Monrovia is crazy! People, cars, and motorbikes are everywhere! People are selling things on the streets and out of their homes. Homes which are in terrible condition. Walls and roofs are constantly absent and there are few doors and windows. Gina said you can still see bullet holes from the civil war, which ended about 9 years ago. Abandoned buildings are subdivided and filled to bursting with people.”

I added the parts in parenthesis based on knowledge gained later in the trip. As we left Monrovia and began driving through the countryside, it only got worse. It was pretty eye-opening experience. Seeing kids running around half or completely naked because they had no choice, watching women wash clothes in muddy rivers, and seeing the meager products for sale by the side of the road was a truly humbling reminder of how blessed I am. This trip really taught me to be grateful for and aware of what I have.

Hello Again!

Guess who’s back from Africa! That’s right, it’s me! As many people want to hear about the trip, I’ve decided to use this blog as an opportunity to do a detailed recap so that I don’t have to tell the same stories over and over, or decide exactly what to share. I can just direct people here. For the next two weeks, I will be writing a post a day, detailing a different day of the trip. I’ll include a summary of what we did, some excerpts of my 86-page journal, and other thoughts in general. I’ll try to keep it to the interesting stuff.

Today we begin with Thursday, June 20 and Friday, June 21. I’m combining these two days because I spent the majority of them sitting on airplanes or in airports. We left early in the morning on Thursday and arrived in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, on Friday afternoon. We spent the night at a guest house, which is kind of like a hostel.

The trip was long, but we didn’t run into any major difficulties, thank goodness. I didn’t get much of a first impression of Africa because we got there in the late afternoon and didn’t leave for the guest house until after dark. The few impressions I got were of a poor, underdeveloped country and a people who were working as hard as they could simply to survive.

From Friday night:

“Jim said that after a trip to a third world country, the smells and the feel of the place would be what stuck and I can see why. But I think what I’ll remember most are the sounds. I’m outside the guest house in Monrovia right now, and there is a group practicing music for the church (I found out after that it was an all-night prayer service, not a music practice.). It’s unlike any I’ve ever heard. The bugs make a soothing background noise. The cars honk as they drive. And the accents are melodic, if a little hard to understand.”

I don’t really have much more than that to add. So I’ll sign off for today and be back tomorrow with the next recap post!

One Week!

Well, it’s official! I leave for Liberia in ONE WEEK! I am so excited to be able to go on this trip. We’ll be in Liberia for two weeks and it’s going to be busy. We’re running a VBS over three days for 180 kids, holding Bible studies, teaching craft classes, helping organize a new library, and building a greenhouse, just to name a few things. 

I have to admit, I am nervous about leaving. I’ve traveled overseas before, but it was to Ireland. Liberia is a whole different experience. One that I’m excited to have, but it’s daunting at the same time. It’s a whole new culture to try to adjust to. New customs, a new climate, and a new way a life to adjust to. And I have to adjust quickly. With such a short trip, I’m sure the time will just fly by. 

I’m really excited about this trip for multiple reasons. This is my first trip to Africa, which will be a unique experience. This is also my first mission trip outside the country. Plus, I really love to travel. 

With only a week left until we leave, I feel a little crazy. On one hand, it feels like I have things well in hand and will be well prepared to travel. On the other hand, I LEAVE IN A WEEK! That’s only 7 days! How am I going to be ready on time?! I know that I will be fine, but it’s another thing altogether to convince myself of that.

Anyway, sorry to ramble, but that’s what happening in my head right now. 

Wow. Just….wow.

Sometimes it takes something huge to drive home a simple truth you’ve known all your life. I have always heard that God is good. I’ve experienced it before, but there are days and experiences that really make that obvious. Today was one of those days.

In 10 days I will heading to Liberia with a team of 13 people to visit a missionary couple and help out however we can. The trip is not an expensive one, and my family and I have been praying intensely about raising the money. Most of the trip has been paid for, thanks to the generous donations of friends and family, but there was still a substantial amount left. However, when I called the church this afternoon to see what was left for us to pay, the answer was….nothing. A donor, who at this point remains anonymous, had paid what was left. I am still shocked. 

That brought up a question in my mind. Why is it that I am surprised that God answered our prayer? After all, I prayed asking him to make the trip possible and had hoped it would be completely paid for by fundraising…but I didn’t really expect it to happen. I certainly didn’t expect one person to donate a big bulk of it. 

This event has obviously been a blessing to my family in helping my trip move along, but it’s also made me reconsider my prayer life. I need to have more confidence in my God, who gives me the desires of my heart (Psalm 37:4), and I really need to be aware that He works in big ways. 

So, whoever you are, thank you.

Ta-Da!

Big announcement people. BIG! I mean, like, huge!

I have a title. For my book.

Now, granted, that may not seem as big a deal as, say, actually finishing the book, but believe me, it’s a big deal. Here’s why.

A title is the first thing a reader sees. When a book is on the shelf (excuse me a moment while I fantasize about my book being on shelves somewhere….), the title is the first thing they see. If it grabs their attention and interests them, they’ll pick it up and find out more. If it’s bland, boring, or generic, they’ll move on. 

A title also sums up the book. In roughly five words or less, an author has to convey the essence of his or her story. That’s incredibly hard! I have been trying for weeks to come up with a decent title for the book I’m currently working on and I have gotten no where. Until yesterday, that is. That’s right, my Robin Hood story now has a title! And now to answer the question I keep getting. What is it?

The Mark of the Outlaw.

I won’t get into why it’s relevant right now, because I’d have to explain the whole plot. Which I don’t want to do at the moment. But I thought some of you curious folks might want to know what’s going on with the book progress wise. 

I’ll continue to keep you posted! Also, if enough people are interested, I might post a sneak peek or summary of sorts this weekend. Who knows?

My Problem with Sharing Your Faith

I heard a fantastic sermon this morning about the importance and individuality of our testimonies. The pastor talked about how everyone has a unique story to share and testimonies are more than just conversions stories.

I used to hate giving my testimony. I thought it was boring. The whole “I-grew-up-a-Christian” spiel was ineffective in my mind. The radical, life-change stories were the ones I thought would win over hearts best. I didn’t realize that conversion was only the beginning of an ongoing story. God doesn’t stop working when someone becomes a Christian. In fact, He’s just getting started. A Christian can see God at work in the big things and the small in their day-to-day life. 

You’re probably asking yourself, “Well, if testimonies are so great, why do you have a problem with them?” I don’t.I haven’t changed my mind since coming up with the title and I’m not contradicting myself, I promise. My problem with sharing your faith lies in the word choice and the implications of those words. 

The phrase “share your faith” is a common one in churches and the Christian religion. I cringe a little whenever I hear it. The concept is a good one. Share with others how your Christian faith has affected your life and your outlook. But when someone says they have shared their faith with another person, I think of something entirely different. 

Share can mean “to tell about” but for me it has always had the connotation of “to divide out equally”. You cannot share your faith in that sense because our faith is only for ourselves. We can’t believe for other people.

My other problem lies in “your faith”. While we are saved by our faith in Christ, it is not our faith we should be telling to others. It is God’s grace and mercy and how He works through us despite our many shortcomings that should be our focus. Our faith is the lesser part of the equation that gains us salvation and we shouldn’t make that the selling point of Christianity, especially because we are imperfect human beings who cannot have perfect faith. Instead we should focus on the perfect love of God that redeems us.

So, while “testifying about God’s grace” or “telling about God’s strength in our weaknesses” takes longer to say, I think it’s more accurate.