Going into this trip to Liberia I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but I was incredibly excited to return to this country that had captured a piece of me eight years ago. On that first trip in 2011 I was a very quiet, shy, 18 year old and I spent most of the trip standing back and observing, in awe of this country, its people, their stories, and their faith. This time, I was returning as a high school teacher, a sponsor of two of the children, and someone who helps with the finances of Standing Side by Side. As we prepared for the trip I actively tried to let go of any expectations of how I would “help”, and tried to come open handed, ready to jump into whatever God had for us.
Life at the home has a beautiful blend of chaos and peace. Days are spent playing hand games with the little ones, learning Liberian slang from the older ones, baking cookies with the girls, watching a game of football with the boys, talking about politics, faith, and dreams for the future with the college students, going on walks around the community with kids who can’t wait to share their home with you, dreaming about the use of the new land and exploring its possibilities, playing Ludo (the Liberian board game) for hours, or dancing to the latest Liberian hits - and more often than not, you’re doing three of those all at the same time. One of my favorite parts of the day is the evenings, when 10-20 kids would end up hanging out in Molly and Corey’s room laughing, dancing, playing, and enjoying life together. By the end of the night everyone would be stepping over 1-3 of the littlest kids who would inevitably end up passed out asleep on the floor. No matter how much we tried to get them to go to bed, there was a strong pull that made them feel safe and at home in the midst of this loud, goofy family and they were desperate to be a part of the mix.
This is what stood out to me the most about our trip - Molly and Corey have cultivated incredible trust, friendship, and love at the home that makes them an integral part of the family. They have eight years of history, memories, and jokes that make them coveted family members, rather than tolerated visitors. This depth of relationship made it easy for me to quickly jump right in alongside them.
I was eager to be reunited with J-Girl, who I met eight years ago when we briefly visited the home. I had met her before, and could recognize her smile anywhere, but I knew so little about her and her passions, personality, and story. Finally being reconnected can honestly be a bit of an awkward process, especially with cultural and linguistic differences, but we quickly settled into a friendship. J-Girl is a bundle of goofy energy and loves to dance, to laugh, to take pictures with ridiculous filters, and eat fosta (food) - especially rice and beans. She loved seeing pictures of my family and taught me Liberian dance moves, slang, and how to bake cookies she sold in the community.
I was also so excited to meet Omegar, one of the quieter boys in the home. Omegar has a stoic, reserved exterior than can come across as harsh or intimidating upon first glance, but with a little time and patience you will be rewarded with a bright, glorious smile as he relaxes and settles in. We bonded over a mutual love of soccer and his drawing skills (which I am severely lacking and managed to crack him up with my stick figure renditions of his drawings). We also had a great time playing the board game Ludo with several of the older kids. As the game unfolded everyone started laughing when it became evident that he was working to help his “ma” win the game and take out my opponents. We made a great team.
If I could summarize the trip to Liberia in one word - I would say humbling. Wonderfully and powerfully humbling. As a sponsor, and someone who helps with nonprofit, many of the Liberians were eager to express their extreme gratitude for our support of the home, the school, and the kids. It is very powerful to see first hand the impact of helping provide food, medicine, and education on the lives of the kids. Life in Liberia can be very harsh and there are very real physical, as well as emotional and spiritual needs. At the same time, I also felt like some of the attention and gratitude was misplaced. From my perspective, all I do is write a check once a month, or once a year, for an amount that equates to about a tank of gas a month. I am not the one actually taking care of the kids on a daily basis (like the staff at Mother Blessings) or the one going to school and overcoming intense odds to fight for an education and skills to offer my community. And yet, the money that we are able to send to Liberia is literally life changing. This is how I see it:
In this world we all are looking ahead and trying to discern where we belong and how we can contribute to this world around us. We start to catch a vision of all the places we want to climb and all we want to achieve, but no matter what route we choose, it will inevitably require a ladder to get us there. In the part of the world we live in, ladders are typically pretty easy to come by. I happen to live a life where I have a ladder, purely because of where I grew up and the people in my life who made sure I had access to one. In America, most of us have people who give us a baby step ladder to begin with, they hold our hands as we climb, they help point out the next rung on the ladder, and they catch us when we stumble. We don’t think much about it because it was such a natural part of where we grew up.
In Liberia (and many other parts of the world) ladders are incredibly hard to come by. In order to go to school you have to pay fees, you have to have the proper uniform and socks and hair cut. To go to college you need money for transportation, books, tuition, let alone food and medicine to stay healthy. As a sponsor, I see myself as someone who just has access to ladders and gets to share it with our kids in Liberia. I’m not the one helping the kids climb, and I’m not the one putting in the work to actually climb and go incredible places, I’m just the one who had a ladder to spare. The kids at Mother Blessings home are incredible. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t perfect and they’re just like any child or teenager, but sit and talk with them for a few minutes and their life, their dreams, their vision for who they can be and how they can help their community will stop you in your tracks. Sit with them in Bible study and listen as they discuss how to make disciples in their community and give to those who are suffering even more themselves. I find what they do so much more impressive and awe inspiring than what we do.
And the truly incredible thing, is that while sharing a ladder seems like such a small “sacrifice” it literally has the power to change and save a life. Access to healthy food, clean water, adequate medical care, and quality education not only keeps our kids healthy, but helps reinforce the truth that they are seen, they are valuable, they are worthy, and they are capable of great things.
To me, this is an incredible picture of the body of Christ. There is no status, no superiority or inferiority, no hero other than Christ himself. We all need one another greatly. As one of my favorite songs says, “Every brother, every stranger holds the face of God. We all hold the face of God.”