Thursday, 5 December 2013

We had a Games Day with our Paynesville children on November 29, a national holiday. We had planned to hold this on Independence Day (July 26) as we did last year, but the robbery occurred on July 23 so everything was cancelled. The kids enjoyed games and food, and then all the helpers came to Dwazone for pizza and ice-cream! As we were driving the helpers home that night, we were saddened to see many children and young people drinking and hanging around the clubs. Truly, the work in which we’re involved seems like just a drop in the ocean of sin and depravity all around us, but we know that the Lord can use even the small things to bring about great good for His glory.

Our Children’s Day in Paynesville is quickly approaching on December 15 – please pray that parents will attend and will be spoken to by the Word in song and recitation, and that the kids will be encouraged in their learning.

The Bible Club in Balla Creek is going steadily – we have dropped down to about 25 children who come faithfully each week and are really interested in the meetings. We have recommenced monthly women’s meetings in Paynesville, and this month we’re starting to meet with the Balla Creek ladies. Pray for our women – they work very hard to try to find food and school fees for their families and as a result they often find it difficult to make time for meetings. Several of them cannot read. Pray for wisdom for me as I teach God’s Word to these dear ladies.

A note of thanksgiving – we’ve been able to buy a new generator which we just got up and running a couple of days ago, and so far it’s going well. (I say “we”, but of course I didn’t have anything to do with it. But I do have to learn how to use it now.) It’s wonderful to be able to use the washing machine and iron again, to have hot water, and to sleep in an air-conditioned room – all these luxuries make life so much easier!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

October Update

The Bible Club in Ballah Creek has been going well each Thursday, and the children are starting to be more attentive. We get between 40-50 children, and I’ve been teaching them the Child’s Catechism, memory verses, and a Bible lesson each week.  

The Reading Clubs and Bible Club in Paynesville, all of which had decreased in attendance after the robbery, have grown steadily again. I’ve started meeting with the little children (pre-school to kindergarten level) twice a week for what I’m calling a Story Club – I read to them and teach them memory verses. These little ones are too young to come to Reading Club, and although they attend Sunday School and Bible Club, yet they don’t get much individual attention. We are studying the Christian soldier/Armour of God in Bible Club, and the Lord is giving great help in the teaching and the listening!

On a rather fun note, I’ve located a grand piano in one of the hotels in Monrovia, and I’ve arranged with the manager to bring my “piano” students to see it and try it out. They’re all very excited – none of them have ever touched a “real” piano before (we use keyboards for lessons). I give each of these students an individual lesson once a week, and then one Saturday a month we have a group class to do some singing, a lot of listening, and learning about famous composers, instrument families, etc. Each Saturday afternoon, I have a small group music class for some younger children who want to learn piano. Unfortunately, most parents in Liberia do not seem to get involved in “sending” their kids at set times to do things – if children come to Bible Club or Reading Club on time, it’s because they’ve remembered and come by themselves. That’s a generalization, but it seems to be true in most cases. In fact, very often kids miss a meeting because their parents have decided to keep them at home to wash clothes or have sent them to the market for something. Of course, we teach the children that they should obey their parents and help at home, but we do wish and pray that the parents will order their lives so that their kids can be free at the set times for the meetings. (These are all parents who, if you asked them, are very happy that their kids come to church, but it’s just the organisation that is lacking.) So, for these 10-11 year olds, I’m keeping them in a group to see who is serious and diligent and might be able to keep themselves to a schedule of lessons and practice, and then I’ll move those children on to the keyboard lessons.

We’ve been having some problems with our electricity recently. The main generator that we’ve been using in Dwazon for the past 8 months broke about a week ago, and they’re still working on getting it back into shape. Obviously, this is important not only for everyday “living” tasks, but especially for the security lights that are so necessary. Please pray that this issue will be sorted out quickly and properly!

We have a new arrival living on the compound now – a 3 month old German Shepherd puppy. We had always been planning to get dogs for security reasons, but since the robbery, those plans have had to be stepped up a little. We bought Bentley from an acquaintance here in Monrovia who had brought him from South Africa. This is an answer to prayer, since locating pure-bred dogs in Liberia is usually highly unlikely! We do need to get more dogs, of course – ideally, we would like one dog in each house and a couple more roaming the compound outside at night. We have been offered another German Shepherd free of charge from the UK (another wonderful opportunity, because he is a trained dog and is worth  around £6000!!), and we are trying to figure out the best way to get him here. It’s not a simple matter (some airlines refuse to transport live animals to Liberia because of complications in the past – I suspect possible corruption issues, although no one has come out and said that), but pray that the Lord will make a way and provide the necessary funds for transporting him here.

Pray also for some people in our churches who have been unwell recently. One pastor’s wife has been very ill recently. She spent four days in hospital last week and has now been discharged, but she’s still not fully recovered, so please pray for strength to be returned to her. Another young boy from Sunday School will probably need surgery – I’ll be taking him to a hospital for screening next Thursday, and then we’re hoping that he will be accepted for surgery under an international team that comes annually to do free surgeries on children.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

"Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee; the remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain."

Many of you have heard about the events in Liberia in the past couple of months – in fact, just a couple of days after my last post here. At 3am on July 23, four armed robbers entered the compound here in Dwazon and pulled the window bars from Rev. DiCanio’s kitchen window. He heard a noise in his kitchen and came out from the bedroom to investigate (thinking it was a mouse or something). The four men beat him with machetes and forced him back into the bedroom and forced him to open the double safe in the closet and give them $10,000 USD. They then shut him in the closet and ransacked his bedroom, taking his laptop, camera, phone, two backpacks containing some documents including his passport, and emptied his wallet. When things got quiet, Rev. DiCanio slipped out of the bedroom and (not knowing where the men were) quietly opened the front door and ran across the compound to my apartment. He got me up and we jumped into my car and went to our neighbour’s house, where we called the police.

That’s a very brief account of what happened. Some might have wondered why I haven’t written anything up to this point, but to be honest, at the time, I didn’t really feel like writing about it! And then in the weeks since, things have been SO busy! But I know many of you have been praying for us here, and we really do appreciate your prayers. So I thought it was time I wrote somethingJ

As Rev. DiCanio and I have discussed this incident, we know for a certainty that God’s hand was upon both of us during it all, and that He was in control. A few examples – the thieves took Rev. DiCanio’s old laptop, not his new one (which was sitting in plain sight in the bedroom). His old one had a lot of programs and data of course, but his new one has all the info for the running of the mission here – finances etc. It would have been a lot more difficult to carry on the work here if all that data had been stolen.

Also, I see God’s providence in the fact that I didn’t wake up until the moment when Rev. DiCanio knocked on my door – but I woke up right away then. I’m a pretty heavy sleeper, but I do sometimes waken in the night, and up to this point, if I had heard noises outside in the middle of the night, I would have had no problem going outside to see what was going on (I’ve been warned never to do that again!) We know for a fact that the robbers must have passed my door a few times at least, because they tied up two of our workers and dragged them right past my door to the generator house. But the Lord kept me sleeping until exactly when Rev. DiCanio knocked my door.

This was a very serious incident. We are so thankful that Rev. DiCanio’s life was spared, and that he only suffered some bruises from the machetes (they didn’t cut him, only beat him.) We’re also thankful that the robbers didn’t come anywhere near my place – there was no sign that they even attempted entry into my apartment. We’re thankful that although they manhandled and tied up two of our workers, they did not seriously injure them. According to those who saw the robbers, these were violent and dangerous men, and the outcome could have been much worse. But it was still a serious incident, and there have been and will continue to be repercussions. Please do continue to pray for us and for the work here.

A few specific points for prayer:

The building project has been put on hold since the robbery (as far as the second house is concerned). Major changes were necessary in the security on the compound – a lot of which we had planned to do in the future, but priorities have changed. Rev. DiCanio and I left the compound for about a month after the robbery and stayed at a guesthouse belonging to missionary friends. We were advised that we should not stay here at night until the window bars were all changed (this time welded into the steel structure of the house and apartment), steel doors installed on the buildings, and professional security guards placed on the property. This has all been done, and we were able to move back to Dwazon on August 24. Currently, the security wall is being raised and razor wire installed. Dog kennels are also being constructed for the guard dogs that we are planning to get (again, this had been in the plan for the future anyway). We are planning to build a guard tower with an alarm system and security cameras so that the number of guards on the property can be reduced (thus reducing the monthly costs). Obviously, all of these changes take money – a lot of money; therefore, please pray that the needed finances will come in. We do praise God for many gifts that have already come in.

Pray for wisdom in making these changes as well. We don’t want to go overboard and be living in a bunker, but this robbery has been a wake-up call to us. Since it happened we have heard so many stories of similar attacks and break-ins – even where there has been a loss of life. Since the regular police are not armed (and therefore usually don’t respond to calls in the middle of the night), and private residents/citizens in Liberians are not allowed to own firearms, the “rogues” as they’re called here don’t feel threatened. There is no 911 or 999 number to call, so if you don’t have special contacts with the UN or special forces in the police, then your security is based on whatever measures you have in place – and in God’s hands. (By the way, our neighbour does know someone high up in the police, so when we were robbed, the Special Forces arrived with AK-47s – but it took them an hour to get here.)

And then pray that the current building project will be able to continue. There are deadlines for the second house being built, and then of course Rev. DiCanio is looking forward to the time when he can resume the classes with the pastors. This building of safe missionary accommodation is foundational for the extension of the work here, as we pray for others to be called to come and help us.

Pray also that the robbers will be caught and brought to justice. We were in the police station and courts nearly every day for two or three weeks after the robbery. Because of stupid mistakes that the robbers made (in God’s providence), we were able to get some good leads, but we have as yet not heard of any arrests. We have heard before that the police and justice systems of Liberia are thoroughly corrupt, but we have been very careful to not pay any bribes or facilitating payments. But it is an undeniable fact that the police especially are labouring under a severe lack of resources and funding. (Or, if they’re getting the funding and the resources, it’s being mishandled and wasted or else siphoned off into someone’s private purse!) For example, the police at the local station phoned us a couple days after the robbery to ask us to transport some suspects to the central police station in our vehicles. They had no vehicle and no money to charter a taxi! Needless to say, we said no. (Can you imagine me driving a car-load of suspects for armed robbery through Monrovia – that is, possibly the very men who had just beaten Rev. DiCanio and robbed our compound?) Anyway, pray that the robbers will be caught. The police say they are still working on the leads and looking for suspects. We’re trying to keep in touch regularly so that they know we are still expecting results.

Do continue to pray for the children’s work. Obviously, everything was cancelled/postponed in the weeks immediately following the robbery – we didn’t have the Independence Day program or the VBS in Rivercess. I was able to have the VBS in Ballah Creek church August 26-30, and I’ve started a follow-up Bible Club every Thursday in that church. Pray for this new opening – we had 200+ in the VBS but to be honest that was too many kids since we only had three helpers, and none of those kids knew how to sit and be quiet! We had around 60 last Thursday; that was much more manageable, and they listened very well. Pray for the regular meetings in Paynesville. Consistency is very important with children, and since I wasn’t able to get to Bible Club and Reading Club for a few weeks, I have noticed a decrease in the number of children. Ironically, this robbery happened just the week after the Paynesville VBS, when a lot of new children had started to come to all of the meetings and activities. But while it may be ironic, I know that the timing was all within God’s will.

To conclude this very long post, my biggest prayer request right now is for more workers here. I was speaking with friends recently, and they said that perhaps people don’t realise that there is a need for more workers here – perhaps folks think that we have two missionaries in Liberia, and that is sufficient. Believe me, there is work here for many more! Yes, there are concerns with security, and yes, it is very expensive to maintain missionaries on this field, but if God calls people, He will protect and equip and provide the means. So please pray that the Lord would call some others to join us here.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Summer doings

Thanks for your prayers for the VBS in Paynesville. We can certainly testify that God answered prayer, both in bringing in new kids and in giving help and strength to teach. Now keep praying that the lessons taught will remain in the hearts of the children. We had four or five kids in at Sunday School today who were at the VBS -- pray that they will continue attending!
Someone remarked that hopefully I can take a bit of a rest now that the VBS is over -- not so! We are continuing Sunday School and Wednesday Bible Club throughout the summer -- in fact, I'm continuing the full schedule of Reading Club and music lessons as well. I believe the summer months are maybe the most important time of the year to reach out to the kids -- it's true that some will be travelling here and there to "spend time" with family members, but many more will be at a loose end and will be looking for something to do while school is closed. So we don't want to miss this opportunity.
In fact, these couple of months are going to be very busy indeed, so I would really value your prayers! This Friday is Liberian Independence Day, and we are organising a "program" as they call it here -- meaning we are going to have games and activities for the children for 4 or 5 hours, and snacks and icecream etc. Last year (which was the first year we did this) we had around 200 kids -- and we only decided to hold the program four days before Independence Day. This year the kids have been talking about it for weeks, and everyone is saying that we are going to have a lot more than 200 kids. My concern is that we don't have enough helpers for more than 200 -- keeping in mind that once we get a signed consent form from the parents and allow the children into the school property which we're renting for the day, we are responsible for the kids' safety etc. So please do pray that plenty of helpers will show up and that everyone will be kept safe -- and that we'll have the energy we need to get through it!! LOL.
Then the next week, we are planning a short 3-day VBS in our Rivercess congregation. This will be the first time that we've done this. I have visited there before of course, but I've only ever stayed one night. We plan to go early on Thursday 1st August (it's a 4-5 hour drive depending on the roads), and return on Saturday evening. So we'll have three meetings with the kids. Nathan Barco (who is the children's worker in Paynesville and who works closely with me) and a couple other young men from Paynesville will be going to help out. In fact, Nathan is going to teach the lessons for the three days, which will be a first for him. Pray for him as he teaches, and for me as I teach memory verses and songs etc. We may also hold a seminar for children's workers/SS teachers while we're there. On a practical and personal note, please also pray that accommodation will be sorted out, and that I will be able to sleep at night! I know that might sound strange, but on previous trips there, I've hardly slept a wink for feeling that "things" are crawling over me all night. I'm laughing as I write, but it's true nonetheless. Probably a combination of the heat, the few "things" that might actually have been crawling over me, and a lot of imagination on my part!
Speaking of crawling "things", we had a visitor in church today. Most visitors are warmly welcomed, but this one was of the four-legged variety and was NOT welcome, especially since it kept appearing right beside the piano where I had to sit and play. And then the pastor went and decided to sing an extra hymn today, so I had to sit up there even longer! AND one of my SS students (for badness or what? I don't know) kept pointing at the mouse every time it came running out from under the bookcase (about a foot from my foot), so it wasn't like I could just try to forget it was there.
Although, ok, it was kinda cute -- I think it was a baby. And it was probably almost as scared as I was! The people must have thought I was getting a bit Pentecostal, since I was probably almost dancing at the piano. You see, both my hands were busy obviously, and then one foot was working the pedal, so my free foot had to keep hopping around on the floor just to discourage the mouse from coming too close.
Back to the VBS schedule, our last one this summer is tentatively planned for the last week in August, and that will be in Ballah Creek. Details to follow, Lord willing!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Paynesville VBS prayer request

Hi folks, please pray for our VBS that is going on at the minute in our Paynesville congregation. We started yesterday with 80+ in attendance, and they listened very well. This morning when I woke up, it was pouring outside and I immediately thought, "Oh no, the kids won't be able to get to the church." I was praying that God would over-rule, and He did, for the rain died down about 9:30am (the meeting starts at 10). We had 130 kids in today -- in a building that comfortably seats 70! As one of the church guys remarked, maybe we should be thankful for the rain, because it's probably keeping some kids away, and we just don't have room for any more!! But it's a good problem to have.
I'm teaching this week on the "I am" sayings of Christ in John's Gospel. Pray that God's Word will bring forth fruit!

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Our times are in His hands

One of the first people I remember from my first trip to Liberia was a lady named Kidee Dorliae. She was our cook when the team was here from Ulster and the USA -- she would bring meals to the guest house where we were staying. She was a great cook, and a very happy and affectionate woman! She attended the Paynesville church and often on Sunday after the services she would come up to the front where I'd be packing up the piano, with a big smile and "Joanne, how are you?" and give me a big hug.
Kidee passed away last Thursday morning. She had been suffering from diabetes for the past few years, and had been in and out of hospital a couple of times in the last month. When I saw her in hospital at the beginning of last week, she was starting to look a little better, and she was discharged on Wednesday evening. On Thursday morning, her condition suddenly deteriorated, and she died enroute to the hospital. Kidee's funeral was today. We are so thankful that her testimony before she died was that she was trusting in Christ as her Saviour, and we have the sure hope of seeing her again someday. But it's still hard to believe that we won't meet again on earth -- but our times are in His hands and we know that God's will has been done in taking Kidee home.
I know the majority of those reading this post didn't know Kidee, but please keep her family in prayer. She has four children -- the oldest girl just graduated from high school, and the youngest is 6 years old. I'm not sure where they're all going to go now. A couple of them have been staying with their father, and a couple have been with a family friend. The 6 year old also has diabetes, and one of the other girls is deaf and dumb. So pray that they will be cared for physically, but also that they will be fed spiritually, even if they're too far away to attend our church.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Green Tea and Mob Justice

I’m feeling rather African tonight. I’m sitting around a table with 4 UN soldiers from Gambia, drinking green tea and listening (involuntarily I might add) to Gambian music. Never mind the fact that the tea is so “green” that I can practically taste the grass in it and that the music sounds like the same line repeated over and over again about twenty times – it’s still an interesting experience. I’m in a guesthouse, by the way – I’ve been staying here since I got back to Liberia two weeks ago. The UN guys are staying here for a while as well – they just came to Liberia a week ago and are doing some training in the city before being deployed somewhere else in the country. They are all Muslim and we’ve had a couple interesting conversations – pray for them please!

I’ve restarted most of my usual workload since returning – Sunday School, Bible Club, Reading Club, music lessons, and teaching at the Christian School. I was very encouraged to find that the children’s work in the church went on well in my absence, under the direction of Nathan Barco (the young man who’s the official leader of the Sunday School and has been working alongside me since I came here a year ago). There was a slight decrease in attendance which I had feared, but Nathan didn’t let it discourage him. He told me today that he didn’t mind how few kids were there, he was determined to start each meeting on time. He’s been teaching the Bible Club lesson each Wednesday since I returned, and he’s doing really well. Please keep praying for this young man – he certainly has a heart for the children’s work.

I’ve been teaching my Bible class at the Christian school the story of Noah and was reading again of how the earth in those days was corrupt and filled with violence. I got a very dramatic glimpse of the violence and corruption of Liberian society on Sunday after church. I was just getting into the car to head home when a lady who was getting a lift home with me suddenly shouted, “Don’t kill him! Don’t kill him!” For a minute I thought she had gone crazy but then I also looked across the road and saw a crowd gathering. We ran over to find that the men in that house had caught a thief on their property, caught him apparently red-handed, and were now taking justice into their own hands by stripping and beating him.

It took some time to calm them down, but we eventually convinced them that they should send the man to the police station to be charged for his crimes. An off-duty policeman came on the scene and showed us his ID and then took the man off to jail. We haven’t heard anything since Sunday so I don’t know if the offended parties actually decided to prosecute him or not. They were protesting that the reason they were beating him was to teach him a lesson because the police and court system are so corrupt that they would never get justice from them. Sadly, they were right about the corruption.

What really astonished me about the whole episode was the absolute violence and cruelty that exploded in front of my eyes. Certainly, the men had a right to be angry with the thief, but they actually seemed to relish beating him. And the crowd of young men who gathered were eagerly joining in on the beating, even though they had no idea if he had done anything to deserve it. I asked one of our church men afterwards if he might actually have been killed if we hadn’t been there. He said yes, it was very likely. He said that Liberian “mob justice” often results in the person being beaten to death, and then his body is thrown on the road. As I said above, I was astonished at the violence and cruelty, but I was also scared – not for myself, but for Liberia. Not just because of the potential for physical violence that was evidenced, but because the episode gave a glimpse into their hearts. There is much talk of peace and reconciliation here, and education and moving forward and “building Mama Liberia”, but the bottom line is that nothing but the Gospel will change Liberia for the better, because nothing but the Gospel can change the hearts of wicked and violent men.