Newspaper Column 3

Trip Start Dec 2006
Trip End Dec 2006

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Flag of Liberia  ,
Tuesday, December 12, 2006

I'm in the middle of my second week in Liberia and the excitement of going on an adventure has worn off.  It's hot and humid, and there's no reliable running water.  I've stood under a running shower only twice in the last eleven days, and for only 3-4 minutes each time.  I've been taking sink baths from a bucket of water drawn from a well most mornings.
My personal plumbing has voiced strong objections to Liberian food.  I've been eating handfuls of dry cereal, mixed nuts, and an occasional peanutbutter & jelly or tuna sandwich.  I'm sticky and smelly and all I can think about is Hawaiian pizza and rootbeer floats. 
Now, I know that many of you are rolling your eyes because you've had longer, more rigorous trips outside of the comfort of the Inland Empire.  But this is my first trip to Africa and I think I'm entitled to feel some comfort shock. 
With that said, this experience has been a powerful lesson in relativity.  Comfort is relative, and even as I write home about the hardships that I'm bravely enduring for two weeks here, it's obvious that most Liberians are living with much less.   
I've visited several God's Kids orphanages in the past few days. While some have a septic tank and one or more water towers for showers, none of them have running water or a sewer system.  They run a generator for an hour in the morning and 1-2 hours in the evening to charge the director's cell phone, use a computer, and have some light while the kids get ready for bed. 
But these kids have far more than most of their Liberian peers.  They eat 2-3 times a day, get an education, and call the director of the orphanage Papa.  They belong to a family. 
We've partnered with Hume Lake Christian Camps near Fresno to run a youth camp for orphans this week at a location 45 minutes outside of Monrovia.  The local kids that live near the camp have made themselves part of the activities from the beginning.  They hang around the perimeter of our meeting place, blend into the crowd when we're playing games, and are never more than a few feet away when we are relaxing outside. 
Today, curiosity got the better of me and I followed three of them into the bush to see where they live.  We walked down a dirt road for about ten minutes and turned left on a narrow path.  Two little girls and a boy were leading the way.  One girl wore a dress that was dirty and torn.  The other girl was barefoot and had sores on her arms near her shoulders.
I followed them for about fifteen minutes before they brought me to a clearing in the woods.  The dirt ground was smooth and clean from years of foot traffic.  There was a covered area used for cooking and a one room hut made of dried mud, bamboo, and a tin roof.  I counted eleven people, (adults and children, including two babies sleeping on some blankets on the ground), standing or sitting around.  They all turned and stared at me as I walked up with the kids and I wondered if I would be welcomed. 
As I got near, I smiled and held out my hand.  The oldest woman returned my smile, shook my hand, and told me that she was the grandmother.
After a few minutes, I learned that grandmother had three or four daughters here, and at least one son.  The kids that I had walked with were her grandchildren.  Two boys were playing a board game with dice.  The gameboard was broken and they were using rocks for the pieces that were missing.
I asked Grandma as many questions as I dared and learned that she once had a house where the cooking area stood now.  It had been burned to the ground during the war.  Now, fourteen of her family members lived in this mud hut that was built a couple of years ago. 
Her husband is still alive, but he doesn't come around very often because he is unemployed and ashamed to face his starving family.  They eat crawfish caught in a river nearby with traps that they weave from palm leaves.  They produce palm oil every week and sell it in town along with extra crawfish to buy rice for themselves.
As primitive as these conditions are, I know that some children in Liberia live with even less.  At least this family has each other.  Comfort is relative.
We have set a goal to partner with 43 orphanages in Liberia by the end of 2007.  We're not going to save the world.  But we're going to do what our faith calls us to do believing that a power greater than us will bless our efforts.  And maybe, if things come together, we'll help a few fallen robins back into their nest again.  For that, Emily Dickinson would agree that we have not lived in vain.
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