Saturday, August 31, 2013

The 14 year old runaway bride

Tears filled our eyes as we waved good-bye to our friend, Mafatuma. We were uncertain of what her future held as she returned to her family. Just a few months before they were planning to marry this fourteen-year old girl to a 45-year old man! A note was slipped under our door early that morning from Ansu (John-Mark’s friend and ministry partner that lives next door to us with his family). The note briefly explained that Mafatuma could no longer live here; she was going back to her family across the border in Guinea.

Our hearts sunk. How could we allow her to go back after all she had gone through to escape? She came to live with her uncle, Ansu, and his family in February 2013 after running away from home to avoid the marriage. She worked so hard to help build our house and even though she spoke just a few words of English, she loved us and we loved her. We couldn’t stand the thought of seeing her go. We rushed through breakfast and joined the family in the yard as she packed her only belongings on the back of the motorbike.

Ansu explained that he received a call from Mafatuma’s mother early that morning. She insisted that Mafatuma be returned to her family immediately. Mafatuma’s father was threatening to kill her mother if she did not return. The situation was grave. Our minds raced to find some other solution. Were there no child protection laws? Where are the social workers? What about Samaritan’s Purse? There are some child protection organizations in Liberia. However, since Mafatuma is Guinean there is not much they could do for her. With no other option, we yielded to Ansu’s greater understanding of the situation. I handed Mafatuma a picture of our family and some money to call if she needed help. Then off she went with Ansu on the back of the motorbike.

We were heartbroken thinking about Mafatuma living with parents that were so willing to marry her off to some man three decades older than her. Who would do that? Parents are supposed to protect their children! Later on, we got a few more details about her story.

Mafatuma comes from a Muslim family that practices Folk Islam. Like the majority of the Manya people, they combine animistic practices (witchcraft) with Islam. Mafatuma’s great uncle went to a moriman (Muslim shaman) to make some ‘medicine’ to help prosper him in some way, probably financially. As payment for the moriman’s work, he promised to give his young niece to the man in marriage. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon situation and young girls are often married against their will to older men. 

Earlier this month, Ansu traveled to Guinea to attend his grandfather’s funeral. He also spent several days in family meetings regarding Mafatuma’s case. Thankfully, the family has agreed she will not be forced to marry this man. However, her refusal and running away caused the family great shame. In other Muslim contexts, her actions could have led to an honor killing.  Thankfully Ansu helped facilitate some family reconciliation and reconciliation with the man that she was to marry. The goal was to save face. Ansu was successful and we were happy to hear that Mafatuma is safe and doing well. She was very happy to hear about Noah’s birth, sent us a picture of herself, and sent greetings to everyone in Voinjama. We are all hoping she can come for a visit once things cool down a bit at home.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

FAQ: What is it like to have Two Babies?

It’s inevitable, every time I take the kids out for a walk in their cool, new double stroller, a Liberian will ask,
“Are they twins?” 

Never mind that one baby is 9 pounds and the other is 22 pounds! At first I’d tell them, 

“No. One big baby. One small baby. Dis one here 2 mon ol’. Dis one here 16 mon ol’. Dat one yer, four mon.”

Now, I play with them a bit. As my parents used to say… a silly question gets a silly answer. So, now John-Mark or I will respond, 

“Yes, they are twins!” 

The Liberian will look confused and ask, 

“Den why one big and one small?” 

We reply smiling, 

“Oh! The big one can eat too much!” 

Relieved to find out that there is a perfectly good reason for the 13 pound difference, they smile and say, 

“Oh ok! Tank you!” 

John-Mark will leave them hanging. At least I’m gracious enough to laugh and tell them that I’m just joking and tell them their actual ages. Of course, the next conversation involves me trying to convince them that yes, indeed, they are BOTH my own babies.

Now, on a more serious note, even though they keep be extremely busy through the day and night, it hasn’t been nearly as challenging having two babies just 14 months apart as I expected it to be. It helps that Noah is a super easy baby. Audrey has turned a corner and as become a lot easier to take care of too. It is definitely very difficult when they are both crying and needing something at the same time, but thankfully, these times are not too frequent. 

One thing that makes it easier, in a way, is that they each take shifts. Audrey is up all day, hardly napping at all these days. I just get Audrey down for the night when Noah wakes up for the night shift. He stays awake very late and wakes up every 2-3 hours. He is usually awake for a good hour from 4:30-5:30am and falls asleep just in time for Audrey to wake up for the day shift at 6:00am. John-Mark recently has been hugely helpful in getting up with Audrey first thing in the morning so I can get a bit more rest. 

We also had a friend, Sharon Sudduth, from South Carolina visit us for two weeks. She was amazing with the kids and helped tremendously with the cleaning. I didn’t argue when she named herself the official dishwasher for her time here. Sharon brought with her a moby wrap from Debra Taylor and the women’s group at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Clinton, SC. It is invaluable to be able to carry Noah around with me and still have two hands free to do everything else. 

The couple that was over for dinner the night Noah was born has twins. They moved back to the States now and left us with an amazing double stroller. The kids and I love going for long walks around the ELWA campus, right on the beach, everyday.  

Audrey has adjusted so well to having Noah here. She can sometimes be jealous when he is nursing but other than that, she is quick to hug and kiss him. If someone new is holding him, she seems concerned. She’ll drop everything to supervise. She’ll give him his pacifier if he is crying, but is also quick to steal his pacifier (and blanket) for herself. We have to keep a close eye on the two of them. Audrey has tried to sneak him food and water when she thinks we’re not looking. 

So, we’re doing well. On the harder, more sleep-deprived days, I remind myself that today is just another day depending on grace. Not everyday is going to be this hard. And it’s true. The next few days are usually much easier.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Jonah's Brush with Death

My sweet brother-in-law, Jonah, came to live with the Sheppards when he was just a year old. He lived at the orphanage where Melodie worked. At a year old, he weighed only 11 pounds and was a depressed, sick little guy. The Sheppards took him in and nursed him back to health. He was actually matched with a family in the States to be adopted. When international adoptions closed in Liberia, the Sheppards, now in love with Jonah, decided to pursue adoptions. Because they are residents of Liberia, this was a possibility.

Jonah is a happy, healthy,  five-year old now. He is almost always cheerful and loving. One of my favorite things about Jonah is that whenever he sees kids his own age, he immediately refers to them as “my friends.” He has a huge smile and is quick to hand out hugs and kisses. Jonah is also quite helpful. He is the only person to have ever eagerly raised his hand, jumped up and down yelled, “I do! I do!” when I asked outloud, “Who wants to help me change Audrey’s poopy diaper?” 

Needless to say Jonah is a very special family member and we all love him dearly. So, a few weeks ago, when Jonah became very ill, we were all very scared. Please visit my mother-in-law’s blog site to read the whole story of Jonah’s brush with death.   Click here:    
                            Living With Open Eyes