Tuesday, March 18, 2014

March Prayer Letter

Dear praying friends,

We’ve been dealing with some tough things recently. We had to come down to Monrovia early because of serious problems we were having in Voinjama. To make a long story short, we found out that John-Mark’s main ministry partner (and someone he considered a close friend since 2006) has been keeping some big secrets from us for years. We’ve asked him in the past to set the record straight about  conflicting things we were hearing, but he continually chose to tell more lies rather than coming clean. We finally had a big confrontation involving some leaders from our church where he was backed into a corner, and gave a vague apology for his lying and past affairs. So far he has seemed angry and defensive, but not truly repentant. We are praying he will come to this point and truly allow the Holy Spirit bring about change in his life. Until then John-Mark will not be able to work closely with him. It is tough too, since we also share a yard with him and his family. We have been relying on him to travel to nearby villages to encourage and disciple new Manya believers, but now it looks like that responsibility will fall largely on John-Mark. Serious integrity problems have also come to light with other ministry partners John-Mark was working with, leaving us feeling very discouraged about ministry in Liberia. We realize it is only by the grace of God that we will be able to keep moving forward. 

Some good news is that Genesis has been submitted to a translation consultant for review. It took countless hours of testing and making corrections to get to this point. So far there has been a very positive reception to this book, even among Muslims. John-Mark is still looking for reliable believers to work alongside him with this project. This is especially important as we begin work on the New Testament.

We also praise God that Noah and Audrey have been healthy recently. We went through some scary stuff a couple months ago when Audrey got really sick. Liberia has an extremely poor healthcare system, so we don’t take our health for granted here. Thanks again for your support and prayers. We need them more than ever!

Praise & Pray:

For repentance and restoration of these former ministry partners, and that God would raise up faithful disciples in Liberia. 

That as God’s Word is made available in Manya, lives would be transformed.

Praise for the kid’s good health.

For encouragement and strength to move ahead.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Meeting the President of Liberia

Dining at the Presidential Palace

Audrey woke up and asked to go “vroom vroom” in the car. I told her that it was another “at the house” day. An “at the house day” means apart from a half mile walk down the road to look at cows, buy bananas, or play with kittens, we’re at home. An exciting “at the house day” means that maybe we witnessed a chicken hawk swoop down and catch a baby chicken or maybe the dry bush near our house catches fire.
Noah after a boring "at home" day

But this day unexpectedly turned out to be one of our most exciting day in Liberia.

When John-Mark got home from work late that afternoon, he announced that the President of Liberia was almost to town. There was a huge crowd gathered to welcome her. I contemplated not going since I had spent the day washing clothes by hand and changing diapers. I was beat and hardly in any condition to go out in public. At the same time, I desperately wanted to go. I had just finished reading her book the day before, not knowing that she was coming to our town. Assuming everything she wrote in the book was true, I was extremely impressed with this woman – Africa’s first woman president. A woman imprisoned twice by a dreadful corrupt president in a dreadful Liberian prison because she whole-heartedly lived her convictions. She is an intelligent woman of great integrity.  I had to take my chance to see her. I changed clothes, grabbed the book, and jumped in our car. 

When we got in town, a massive crowd had gathered, banners welcoming Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf were flying, and palm branches adorned the town. Within minutes, John-Mark pointed out the president, wearing jeans and jean jacket slowly walking through the crowd. Numerous soldiers with machine guns kept the crowd in-line. Her eyes met mine. And with a surprised and curious look on her face, she slowly made her way towards us. 

Thousands of United Nation peacekeepers still reside in Liberia

“Ma Ellen” tried to hold Noah, who was none too happy about leaving his momma. (He will be teased about this forever, I’m sure). We told her that our Audrey’s middle name was her namesake, 'Ellen.' She loved that! She then asked if we were volunteers here and what we were doing. She signed my book: “To Sara, with all my best, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.” The next words out of her mouth left me stunned with knees trembling: “Well, why don’t you come to the palace tonight and have dinner with me?” We agreed, her escort gave us his cell phone number, and she moved on in the crowd.

Noah says, "But I wanted George Weah for President"

"This Child Will Be Great" by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaff

We rushed home. I desperately searched the closest for something elegant to wear. Nothing. All my lappa suits are in the container that was supposed to be here a year ago. None of my clothes smelled fresh. In fact, they smelled dusty and a bit smokey from hanging on the lines with forest fires nearby. I picked out the nicest outfit I had in Voinjama and hoped Febreeze fabric freshener would help. Second problem – power was out for then night and I had no way to dry, straighten, or curl my hair. 

As it turned out, I didn't feel completely under-dressed. The President kept on her jeans and green striped shirt. The first impression of the Voinjama presidential palace was, well, presidential. Upon walking in, there was a long hallway with a red carpet rolled all the way down. To the left was the meeting room with oppulent furniture. Then, the dining room, decked out with beautiful white, burgundy, and gold colored tablecloths and glassware. 

In the hallway of the Presidential Palace

We all stood as they announced the President. The Minister of Education, a woman, lead the group in a beautiful prayer. The President’s companions brought her meal while the rest of us made our way through the buffet- cucumber salad, potato greens, cassava leave, rice, fufu, smoked chicken, and various cakes and cookies. We shared our meal with several prestigious people, including the Minister of Commerce, Minister of the Interior, various representatives and senators, and her closest traveling companions. Maybe 20 people in all. We, along with her other guests, introduced ourselves, and then conversed with those sitting near us. This proved difficult as laryngitis was setting in due to a mild cold I had. One of Ellen’s companions was so impressed with Noah’s birth story, she couldn’t help but approach the President, and share the incredible story with her. (It was against protocol for us to approach the President directly).

Realizing it was almost 10pm and that the night was winding down, John-Mark signed his Liberian English dictionary and gave it to the protocol lady, who presented it to Her Excellency. She looked through it and commented positively. She handed it to the Minister of Education, who later pulled John-Mark aside. She held the book close to her as if she really treasured it and thanked John-Mark for his invaluable work. She shared some of her goals for the severely lacking educational system and that she hoped to find a way to use the book to help meet those goals. Wow!

Cracking the Code: The Confused Traveler's Guide to Liberian English

The President suddenly said good night to all and quickly retreated. I had missed my photo opportunity. But then just 5 minutes later, she sent one of her companions back to find us. “The President would like to invite you back to have breakfast with her tomorrow morning.” I could hardly believe it!

The next morning, we dressed up the best we could and carried Audrey along with us. The President, having remembered that we told her yesterday Audrey’s middle name was also ‘Ellen,” started wavig and greeting her namesake from across the table, “Hello there Ellen! Hi Ellen!” She also asked where the baby was. 

Going to have breakfast with the President - no big deal!

We enjoyed a nice buffet of things we don’t usually get to eat in Voinjama – bacon, sausage, eggs, Liberian donuts, eddoes, plantains, Liberian spicy sauce soup, and various fruits and juices. 

The Presidential Dining Room

After an hour, the President quickly said good-bye and left. I tried to catch one of her companions to ask for a picture, but she said it was too late. She must have caught up to the President though because a moment later, unhurried, Her Excellency returned so we could take the photo op. Wow. 

The John-Mark Sheppard family with Her Excellency

Then, she asked us, “Now, did you get the eggs?” Behind us lay a carton of 30 eggs that she wanted us to take home as a present!

John-Mark back home with his "Presidential Eggs"

Audrey trying out the President's chair

We left with our presidential eggs and a few bottles of juice to present our Liberian friends with back home. We watched as Ma Ellen worked her way through the crowd of singing and dancing Mandingo women who came to meet her, various town chiefs, and public works workers. 

Mandingo Women singing and dancing to welcome the President

Audrey enjoyed pointing out “Ma Ellen” in the crowd. We felt completely and totally humbled to have taken part in such a grand occasion. 

There is "Ma Ellen!"
Her Excellency leaving the premises