Monday, June 11, 2012
Childhood can be a magical time if you are lucky, and I was. I have so many happy memories to choose from, but our vacations in Nimba have to be at the top of the list. Being medical missionaries in rural Liberia could not have been easy for my parents, and life was pretty serious with a lot of hard work. But somehow the “powers that be” knew the toll that serving an impoverished population in a third world country could take on the missionaries and insisted that they take two consecutive weeks of vacation a year to recover, rejuvenate and re-energize for the challenges of the next year. Sometimes we went to the capital city of Monrovia and spent the time visiting with missionary friends and going to the beach, but our favorite place to go was Nimba.
Nimba was only about an hour on dirt roads from Ganta mission station where we lived, and was an area deep in the interior dominated by the Scandinavian iron ore mining company Lamco. It was an interesting combination of native Liberian structures and modern Scandinavian buildings and there was a house set aside for missionary vacations. I loved this this airy, open concept ranch, with its bunk beds and glass window panes, and there was hot water for a real bath! Mom and Dad could really relax here, and we kids would spend our time playing games and listening to records. Best of all, most days we would go to the pool - not just a regular pool, but a beautiful olympic sized pool with a regular diving board AND a high dive, a swing set, a terraced area for picnics and laying out, and a club house where on rare occasions we could get soda or snacks. To me this was the height of luxury and we never got tired of spending our days at the pool. These trips were an infrequent pleasure though, once a year if we were lucky.
I remember one Sunday when I was about nine years old, coming home from Sunday school at the Ganta mission elementary school and expecting to go right over to the church for worship. As we approached the house we saw Dad standing in the doorway, not wearing his usual Sunday clothes or even his doctor clothes, but a polo shirt and tennis shoes, with a smile of anticipation on his face. He told us that we were immediately going to Nimba for the day and I could tell how much he enjoyed giving us this unexpected news and watching our delighted reactions. I donʼt remember anything else about this day, why we went, how long we stayed, or what we did, I just remember the thrill of the moment when my relaxed and happy father said “weʼre going to Nimba”!
It makes me think of our Heavenly Father. When I come to the end of what I trust will be a long and happy life, and I approach the doorway between this life and the next, I imagine that I will see my Heavenly Father waiting for me with a smile of anticipation on His face, relaxed and happy, ready to take me on a wonderful trip.
Thursday, June 7, 2012
For a very short time our family lived in a small apartment on Sekou Toure Avenue in Monrovia, Liberia. We had just spent a year in the states and had come back to Liberia to live in the city instead of returning to our rural Ganta mission home. Bill, Sandra, and I didn’t have much to do all day, since we had left our few friends and family back in the states, and our friends in Liberia were upcountry in Ganta or Phebe. Mom and Dad had been to a missionary conference at Lake Junaluska while we were on furlough, and they brought back a cassette tape of praise music called De Colores. Having little else to do in this new environment we listened to the tape frequently, and I especially remember the upbeat title song. We listened to it so often that De Colores has always seemed like the theme song of this interlude in our lives.
Although our stay was short it was eventful and memorable. I remember the violent tropical storm when a transformer blew outside our window in the middle of the night, with a blinding flash, and we children were frozen with fear until Mom and Dad came to us in our dark room. Another night we sat down to dinner and bowed our heads while Dad said grace. When the extra-long grace was done we looked up and Bill calmly said “there’s a fire in the kitchen.” We rushed into the kitchen to find the grease in the frying pan on fire, and while Mom and Dad frantically tried to find something with which to smother the flames Bill reached over and put the lid on the pan. The fire was out, but we were washing smoke off the walls for days. And Mom and Dad suggested to Bill that in the future he should feel free to interrupt the prayer for an emergency!
We soon moved into a more permanent house, started school, and life again took on the busy pattern of childhood. But I have always remembered that time on Sekou Toure Avenue, in between one season of our lives and the next, when it was just our family and the music of De Colores. Imagine my surprise many years later when I attended a Walk to Emmaus spiritual retreat, and for the first time in about 35 years I heard De Colores again. We sang it frequently throughout our weekend and I loved thinking about the connection of my faith journey between my African childhood and my American adulthood; and for a little while I was 11 years old again, playing with my brother and sister on the other side of the world, in that little apartment on Sekou Toure Avenue.
“De Colores and so must all love be of every bright color to make my heart cry.”
Saturday, October 15, 2011
Friday, December 24, 2010
Monday, November 1, 2010
Testimonial as shared with the Oakland United Methodist Church on Sunday, October 31, 2010
Good morning. We’ve been talking a lot about Malaria recently, and I wanted to share some of my experiences with malaria and why this issue is so close to my heart. Most of you know that I grew up in Africa. My parents were United Methodist medical missionaries in Liberia, which is on the west coast of Africa, and it was our home from when I was 3 until I was 14.
We don’t hear much about malaria in this country, except in conjunction with helping people in other countries, but when I was a kid it was a part of our everyday lives. It was kind of like the flu is here, pretty common and every now and then someone would get it and be sick for awhile, then get better. At least that was the way it was for the missionary families, because we took anti-malaria medicine every week the whole time we were in the country to protect us from a severe case of malaria. The Liberians didn’t have this protection - there wasn’t enough money or resources to deal with the issue - so malaria was much more likely to be deadly for them.
I probably had malaria a few times, but I only remember one, when I was about 8. I just remember a bad headache, body aches, high fever, and a sick stomach (kind of like the flu). But with medicine and the anti-malaria protection I had in my body I got better pretty fast - I was probably only sick for a few days. My sister Sandra wasn’t so lucky. She got malaria when she was about 4 and she kept getting it over and over again. My parents watched Sandra getting paler and thinner each time she got sick, and they had a hard time getting the medicine into her. It was camaquin, this huge yellow pill that had to be cut into quarters for children, so it was crumbly, and bitter, and hard to swallow. They tried it in Coke and in food but she kept choking it back up. I remember my father getting angry with her for spitting it out, and even at my young age I knew that he was only angry because he was afraid of what would happen if they couldn’t get the medicine into her. My mother remembers the two of them going into Sandra’s room when she was asleep and praying over her because they were so afraid that she would die. Well, the cycle finally ended and she got better and stayed well, but it was a frightening time for us all. Sadly, my main recollection of this time was that she kept getting all the paper dolls and coloring books that my mother set aside for us for when we were sick, and I was jealous. Kids!
As scary and serious as this was for our family it would have been much worse for a Liberian family - in spite of the medicine the child would probably have died. As a matter of fact, when we were there the mortality rate for children under 5 was 50% - in other words half of the children died before the age of 5, for a multitude of reasons. My father was one of 3 doctors at the mission hospital at the time, and with their limited time and resources they were dealing with more critical diseases like tetanus, cholera, leprosy, small pox and various tropical diseases. Dad spent his first few years there working at the hospital and learning the local dialect. After awhile he realized that he was treating the same diseases again and again, and what he really needed to do was prevent these diseases, so he came back to the states and got his degree in public health. Back in Liberia he spent the next few years traveling into the rural areas to vaccinate children, talk to the chiefs about digging wells for clean water (instead of drinking the water they bathed in and washed their clothes in), set up rural clinics, and teach clean childbirth practices and other prevention techniques. The last few years we were there he worked with the Liberian government to oversee health clinics and hospitals all over Liberia so health care could be more accessible to the people.
Why is his story important to eradicating malaria now? I was talking with Laura Meengs recently - she is the field coordinator for the Imagine No Malaria effort in our conference. When I asked about Liberia she told me that they were targeting Sierre Leone now, but that Liberia was next on the list. I told her about Dad and the clinics and said I thought they were probably all gone because of the long civil war Liberia has had. She said no, they are still there, and Imagine No Malaria was going to use those clinics to distribute medicine, bed nets, and education in the rural areas. So a project funded by the United Methodist Church over 30 years ago is going to be central in the effort to eradicate malaria now.
We were recently told by Dad’s doctor that he will probably only live a few more months. He has had Parkinson’s disease for over 25 years and is now losing weight quickly. But at the end of his life, the work he was called to do for God, and for the Liberian people that he loved so much, is gaining new life. And the clinics that he set up will be instrumental in saving the lives of countless people. The cycle of life continues. There were many missionaries that came before Dad to lay a foundation for his work, and many missionaries and Liberian Christians came and will keep coming after him to provide health care for this struggling people. We can be a part of the progression of this God ordained ministry by supporting the Imagine No Malaria effort, and help remove this huge health obstacle so that the people of Africa can be more productive, creative, and free to energetically serve God and each other.