Wednesday, March 27, 2013

This Is The Trip That Never Ends!

This is the trip that never ends
It just goes on and on my friends
We started traveling not knowing what it was
And we’ll keep breaking down forever just because….

We left Monrovia at 9:30 on Wednesday morning, anticipating arriving in Voinjama around 6:30 that evening. We finally crawled into Voinjama on Thursday evening, 24 hours after our anticipated arrival time.
We smiled as we made it past our break-down point from last Friday and stopped to say hello at the mechanic shop where I had spent my day. “Our car is finally fixed and we are finally on our way to Voinjama!” Little did we know that just a short while later, we would have our first breakdown of this trip.
It was about 11:30 when I heard a clicking that I recognized as our rear left tire going flat. I quickly guessed that to change the tire would take about 20 minutes. I laughed at the “double and then double again” rule. Surely it won’t take 80 minutes to change a tire! Sure enough! Our jack was old and rusty and couldn’t lift the car up high enough. JM felt like he was being baked alive the full sun in the 95+ weather with 90% humidity. The rest of us weren’t much better in the confines of the stalled vehicle with flies buzzing about. Thankfully a big UN truck filled with Pakistani soldiers stopped for us and lent us their jack. We should mention that Sara was crammed in the back seat with Audrey, Angel and Isaac (the teenaged son of the Liberian electrician who was traveling with us).
We managed to go on over the rough “paved” roads and made it to the larger town of Gbanga. We arrived there at about 2:00 and filled up the tank, while having some young mechanics (all probably under the age of 16) work on patching the tire. Meanwhile, our “new” radiator started leaking and we were unable to go on. John-Mark worked on the vehicle for a couple of hours, eventually sealing it with some epoxy. When that was fixed we bought a new jack and started on our way.
It was too late to make it all the way to Voinjama, so we drove 3 more hours and decided to sleep at “The House of Love” guesthouse in Konia.  We arrived after dark at about 7:30. John-Mark had to walk to the market to scrounge for dinner. Sara, Audrey and Angel shared a twin bed that night. By morning, we all were more than ready to drive the last two hours to Voinjama.
JM started prepping the car with more water in the radiator, topping off the oil etc. But when we started, the car’s engine was working way too hard so we knew there was a problem.  We didn’t even make it out of town before it broke down again. Sara, Audrey, and Angel went back to the guesthouse for a couple hours, while JM worked on it. Eventually, he found the problem to be simply a loose spark plug wire.
But, only an hour down the road, at about 11:30, we had ANOTHER breakdown. This time it was a very serious one. Somehow the entire fan had broken apart, taking other vital systems with it. We needed a tow.
JM took a motorbike taxi to John’s Town, about 10 minutes away. No one would help for less than $150 US. The cell phone networks were down, so there was no way to call for help. He ended up taking a taxi to Voinjama. He was eventually found a driver with a strong SUV who was willing to do it for $75. Where is AAA when you need them!?
Meanwhile, Sara, Audrey, and Angel stayed in someone’s front yard. They provided a very small, very low bench that no pregnant woman 6 months along with an 11 month old baby on her lap should have to sit on for 3 hours. Of course it was the best they had, so I tried to be grateful. It was a hot day and the insects were fairly bothersome. I had to fight hard against boredom and entertain Audrey.  About 10 small children, none speaking English, sat in the dirt and stared at us for the full 3 hours. I tried my best to be patient, not knowing where JM was or how long it would be until he returned. He finally got back to the village at about 3:00.
OK, so you are never going to believe this. We make it just 10 minutes up the road when our tow truck hits and kills this poor mother dog in John’s Town. It happened right at an immigration check point, which forced us to stop anyway. The dog’s owner along with half the town came running to the check point, demanding that the driver get out. We watched from our car as a big palaver ensued. We couldn’t hear many details, but there was plenty of arguing and at one point, a man was thrown on the ground and was being beaten by several others. The immigration officer did nothing to stop it. I was fairly traumatized. I’m not sure how it ever got settled.
About 45 minutes after the accident, we hit the road again. You’re not going to believe this. I hardly could. Even though we were being towed, our car breaks down again from overheating! We had stop to put more water in the radiator. The breakdown occurred in front of a few houses, so that meant having someone carry a bucket to who knows where to draw water for us. John-Mark laughed and said, “you know the drill!” Audrey, Angel and I hauled ourselves out of the vehicle and across the road to a bamboo bench to wait. This was the friendliest of breakdown points and one woman actually went to her garden to pick out the largest pineapple I had ever seen and some plantains to give to Audrey as a gift. I enjoyed sitting on the bench talking with the Lorma women. It started to really cool down and the wind picked up strong. I could see some major rain clouds rolling in. The car was ready to go just as it started pouring rain.
We FINALLY get to Voinjama, through the immigration check point, and are stopped at the police station. The police were giving the driver a really hard time for towing us. After about 20 minutes, the driver came over and asked us for one dollar US. Extortion from police officers for “towing.” Unbelieveable!
You’re not going to believe this! The driver got back in his vehicle and HIS car won’t start! We are literally 3 miles away from our house and we are stuck again! OK, so this break-down only lasted about 15 minutes, but it was a breakdown nonetheless!
We got home about 57 hours after we left Monrovia. (It should have taken 9 hours). We were so tired and hungry. Audrey seemed completely unaffected by the last two days events. It was as if everything that happened was completely part of our planned schedule. We needed a treat after such a long trip so I fixed the best taco meal you could imagine and sent our poor security guard out in the rain to buy us some cold coca cola. We totally crashed that night!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Eight Hours On The Side Of The Road

Eight hours on the side of the road in Liberia is not necessarily a whole lot more exciting in Liberia than it would be in America, so keep your expectations low for this post, people. :-)

On Friday, we packed up our Land Rover Discovery and said good-bye to John-Mark’s family in Monrovia. We worked tirelessly the day before getting everything packed and organized, making sandwiches for the road, and buying groceries for the next month. We were doing well do leave by 8:30am for the 9-hour drive ‘home’ to Voinjama. An electrician and his teenage son were riding with us to help get the electrical work completed in our new house. I wasn’t exactly looking forward to sharing our vehicle. I really value privacy when caring for an upset Audrey and for good conversation on such a long trip. But, as Nancy reminded me, privacy was the price for electricity.

About two hours away from JM’s parents house, our car started smoking. After a couple minutes, the car was pouring out smoke and we completely broke down. John-Mark walked Angel, Audrey and I to a nearby village to find a shady spot to wait for a tow. The village was called Morristown and was very small. Angel, Audrey, and I waited on a bamboo bench where within seconds 50 people had surrounded us to stare and discuss if Angel was a dog or a teddy bear. Most of them did not speak English and it was rather uncomfortable having them stand there and watch us like they were at the movie theater watching the most interesting film!

I was having a hard time protecting both Audrey and Angel from the curious onlookers. So, remembering the few times that Angel has nipped at someone coming too close to Audrey, I put Angel on the ground and told the people, “Be careful! This dog can be aggressive! She can be protective of the baby!” So then, I had 50 Liberians standing there and staring, afraid of my little white poodle, who in reality, was probably scared herself! At least most of them kept their distance and refrained from grabbing at Audrey and Angel. A tow finally came and we drove a couple miles to a mechanic's garage in Kakata. I estimated in my mind how long it could possibly take to fix the radiator. I guessed two hours. Now, in Liberia, you’re supposed to double your guess. So, I resolved in my mind to be patient for the next four hours. Little did I know that when you’re upcountry, you’re supposed to double it again. We had eight hours ahead of us with nowhere to go and not much to do.

Audrey, Angel, and I sat on a cement slab under a big tree for most of the day. Audrey was a real trooper, being entertained all day with just two books and a couple of toys. She napped on my lap and we ate our peanut butter sandwiches and trail mix. At least here we only had about 10 people, mostly children, staring at us. After several hours, my poor pregnant back was getting pretty sore from not having support. I was so grateful when a boy came with a wicker chair (with a back on it) for me to sit on. It wasn’t exactly a Lazy Boy easy chair, but it definitely helped. The day was hot, but under the shade it was not excruciating.

Besides the mechanic’s garage and a few houses in the distance, there wasn’t much around to observe. But, there was a woman named “Mama” (her actual name given at birth!) that was selling some candies and cold water at the garage. People pulled their cars over every 20 minutes or so to buy themselves a treat. Talking with her helped pass some time. Some neighborhood kids hung around all day and alternated between playing soccer with a flat ball and sitting under the tree. Around lunch time, a young woman came by and sold them some rice and soup. I shared some Bible stories with the kids and Audrey enjoyed interacting with them. People would pass by and remark about Angel and then leave after a few minutes. The last two hours of the day a twenty-year old woman came by with her 5 week old daughter. I really enjoyed talking with her. At one point, she got up the nerve to ask me her burning question – “when you’re pregnant, can you feel the baby shaking inside?” Of course, she was referring to the baby kicking and turning around.

John-Mark made his way back and forth between the vehicle, making phone calls and checking on us. He arranged for us to stay with some missionaries in Gbarnga so we could make more progress on our trip before finishing it the next day. The repair that these mechanics made didn’t work and transmission fluid started leaking again. Thankfully John-Mark was able to drive the vehicle to another garage where he spent the last two hours of our day having it repaired again. Audrey, Angel, and I stayed behind since it was a quiet and relatively comfortable place to stay compared to where he was going. As we were waiting, a beautiful rainbow appeared in the sky, which brightened my day.

Around 6:30pm, John-Mark came rolling down the road and picked us up for the two hour drive back to Monrovia. It was getting dark so driving a couple more hours to Gbarnga was out of the question.  It makes all the difference in the world to have family to go home to after a day like this. We were enormously grateful that Nancy had a hot meal of spaghetti waiting for us. John-Mark had been able to get some rice and soup in the town, but I felt so hungry. I think everyone was astounded by how much I was able to put down! Nancy had a clean bedroom ready for us to collapse into. Even Audrey slept well that night!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

March 2013 Prayer Letter

Hello from tropical Liberia! We had a smooth trip over, arriving with all of our luggage on Jan 13th. We spent the first six weeks with JM’s family in Monrovia gathering supplies, being oriented to SIM Liberia, and getting acquainted with our fellow missionaries. We then embarked on our 9-hour drive to Voinjama, our new hometown. We were so grateful to have JM’s dad and brother come with us to help us get settled in the guesthouse. Adjusting to simple living is challenging, especially with a baby!

We’ve really enjoyed reconnecting with John-Mark’s friend, Ansu and getting to know his family. Like so many Muslim background believers, Ansu has been severely persecuted for his faith. We praise God for a wonderful opportunity to visit Ansu’s home village and meet with his family and in-laws. They were very happy to receive us, and many of the village leaders were also present. We brought them gifts of African cloth, flashlights and kola nuts. They in turn gave us a chicken, pineapple and kola nuts. Please pray this gesture of friendship will go a long way in helping them accept Ansu’s decision to follow Christ. 

While getting settled and working to build our new duplex with Ansu’s family, God has given us lots of exciting ministry opportunities. Sara has already started learning Manya and was asked to teach the women at our church in Voinjama. John-Mark has been working to strengthen a Liberian organization called People of the Book, dedicated to sharing the Good News to Muslims and helping those facing persecution. He is also starting a class at the church on how to share God’s redemptive plan through Bible storying.

John-Mark was also had an unexpected “divine appointment” at the gas station in Voinjama. A young man attending the pump asked John-Mark if he spoke Manya, and about what work we came to do. John-Mark began speaking Manya and told him that we came to learn his language and translate God’s Word. The young man explained that he was neither a Muslim or a Christian, but that many Christians had helped him throughout his life. He went on to say that he comes from a Muslim family that is very influential and if he decided to follow Christ, many other young people would probably follow his example. But he is afraid of rejection by his family. John-Mark briefly reviewed the gospel and told him that persecution will come, but even if his family rejects him Jesus will never leave him. He is interested in doing a Bible study with John-Mark and Ansu. Please pray with us for this young man. 

We are truly grateful for your thoughts, prayers and support. It has already helped us many times to remember that people are rooting for us and it always brightens our day to receive a personal email from someone back home.

Friday, March 1, 2013

BLOG: February 28, 2013
I¹ve been thinking about what my readers might like to hear about and I¹ve
come up with some different topics. For those of you that have lived in
Liberia will probably not find this too interesting. But for me, I think I
would be curious about what just ordinary daily life is like in Voinjama for
a missionary. So, I will write about some of these things and divide it by
topics so that you can read whatever sounds most interesting to you. Since
our Internet connection in Voinjama right now is so poor, Jared will post
this blog for us when he gets back to Monrovia. We¹ll post pictures when we
return to Monrovia on March 6th.

Our Living Conditions
We are living in Voinjama now in a guesthouse. It has a small kitchen with a
table and simple wooden chairs. There are two kitchen sinks but no running
water. I have a very tiny gas oven and stove that light using matches. It is
so small and cute that I call it my "easy-bake oven." I am really starting
to like it!
There are three bedrooms. John-Mark, Audrey, and I have one small bedroom
that has a double bed. Audrey sleeps in her pack and play. Mark and Jared
have been staying in one of the spare rooms on bunk beds that have extremely
uncomfortable mattresses.
There is a tiny, cramped bathroom with a toilet, sink, and bath area. At
this point, there is still no running water. So, we have a teenage girl help
us haul water into a big barrel that stays in the bathroom. We use this for
flushing the toilet, washing hands, and taking bucket baths. I am really
looking forward to having a nicer, larger bathroom in the new house!
When we first arrived, we didn¹t have any electricity. John-Mark, Mark and
Jared have worked very hard to get us a small battery system and small solar
system set up so that we can have a couple lights on at night and to charge
our cell phones and computer.
We have a pretty big yard that is completely fenced with a wire fence. We
have hired two guards that take shifts standing guard 24-hours a day. They
have also been helpful with other tasks requiring man power around the
I also have a woman that comes, Ami, to help around the house three times a
week for 3-4 hours. We¹ve had a really hard time communicating so far, which
makes things interesting! She was gracious in cleaning out a cloth diaper in
the toilet, but didn¹t understand me when I told her that when she was
finished, she should put it in the bucket. She came and found me and told me
that she couldn¹t get it to go down the toilet! She looked a little
disgusted when I told her that she had to get it out of the toilet and put
it in the bucket. I felt terrible! Ami washes all of our laundry by hand
using a wash board. It seems to take  her an extremely long time and a great
deal of soap. So by the time she finishes the laundry, it is time for her
to go home.  I'm hoping we can get into a better routine so that she can
help with a few other things.

What we have been Eating:
Since we don¹t have refrigeration right now, we've been a bit limited. We
did bring a cooler up with some yogurt, ground beef, cheese, salsa, and
butter. We had the hardest time finding ice to keep in the cooler, but
thankfully got some from the local hospital just in time to keep the food
from spoiling.
For breakfast, I make coffee, oatmeal, eggs, French toast, pancakes, or
breakfast potatoes.
For lunch, we usually buy some Liberian food like peanut soup, cassava leaf
soup, pumpkin soup, potato greens soup, eggplant soup, or plantain soup. All
of this is served over rice, of course. We currently live next to the
courthouse and there is a woman that cooks for the workers there. We have
been able to buy lunch for 5 people for $200 Liberian dollars. that's barely $3!
Unfortunately for me, the meal can have random pieces of bush
meat, chicken feet, and bony fish in it.
Supper is my favorite meal and I have really enjoyed meal planning with such
limited ingredients. Although, bringing some key ingredients from Monrovia
has been very helpful. For those of you interested (Melodie), here are the
meals planned:
Egyptian rice and lentils, spaghetti with red beans, curried lentils, chick
pea curry with couscous, Pakistani Kima, garden vegetable curry, Indian
Dhal, Bean and rice burritos, vegetable chowder with fresh bread, golden
potato soup with fresh bread, Middle Eastern Lentil Soup, tacos, homemade
pizza, and Indian Chana Masala.
We have definitely not gone hungry so far! =)

Going into Town or the Market (in Voinjama)
I thought that I would really enjoy these outings, but so far, it has been
very difficult for me. For one thing, it is extremely crowded with vendors
and buyers. It is mostly completely outdoors under the hot sun. (Next time,
I¹ll go early in the morning when it is still pretty cool outside).
The main problem for me is Audrey. Seeing a white baby here is so extremely
uncommon. Most of these people may have never even seen a white baby, so she
draws a HUGE crowd. Sometimes, 30 people can crowd around us when I stop to
buy something. Many of them are grabbing at her legs and hands and some even
try to take her from me to hold. It is so overwhelming for all us and I am
constantly trying to protecting Audrey, making it difficult to get the things we
need, much less even take a step forward! Even if I try to take Audrey for a
walk in town, it seems like I am constantly being shouted advice at about
how I¹m taking care of the baby. "Keep the baby out of the sun!" "Take the
baby home, it is too dusty!" "You're not carrying the baby right!" Again, it
is so overwhelming and frustrating that Audrey will be staying at home and
in the yard with John-Mark if I have to go into town.

Angel's Adjustment:
Nancy and John-Mark gave Angel a short and adorable haircut before we left
Monrovia. If we thought that Audrey was a novelty, you should see the
reaction to Angel! Oh my goodness! She is a hot commodity and also attracts
TONS of attention. People are constantly stopping outside our fence to stare
at her and ask debate whether she is a 'teddy bear' or dog. Teddy bear is
the Liberian way of saying 'stuffed animal.' We've even heard arguments
about her being a battery-operated stuffed animal! They are always stunned
into silence when we tell them that she is six years old. It seems like they
are trying to decide if they should believe us or if the joke is on them.
Surprisingly, no one has referred to her as 'meat' but they can actually be
very scared of her if she tries to sniff them! Needless to say, we keep
Angel in the house and in the yard all the time. She enjoys going in and out
as she pleases and guarding our chicken.

How we Spend our Days:
Getting settled has been time-consuming so we haven't really established a
normal routine. John-Mark, Audrey, and I get up around 7am and I fix
breakfast. Sometimes JM, Audrey, and I will take an early morning walk since
it is so nice and cool. We practice our Manya at this time. We all eat and
then plan the day. Audrey plays while I do the dishes. The guys get started
with their project for the day: getting solar panels up, setting up our
water tower, wiring the house for lights, etc. Audrey takes a morning nap
and an afternoon nap. That is when I do my food preparation for supper,
sweep the floor, wash dishes, unpack and organize, and do my language
lessons. We all eat a quick lunch together and try to rest some in the
afternoon, the hottest part of the day. With Audrey awake, we'll play, have
a snack and sometimes I'll take her swimming in her kiddie pool. Sometimes
I¹ll walk into town to get any last minute items, like bread and bottles of
cold cocoa cola for supper. Evening is hectic as I'm trying to cook and keep
up with a needy baby. (I made a carpeted play area in the kitchen for her,
which helps sometimes). After a late supper (usually around 7pm), Audrey
takes a fun bath in a big plastic bowl. I then try to put Audrey to sleep
(which can take FOREVER). We then clean up the kitchen, take our bucket
baths, and collapse into bed around 11pm.