last week i bought my return ticket to Liberia.

i’d known it was coming. i had a tentative date on the calendar, and i knew that airfare prices were going to skyrocket into the holiday season. the sooner i bought the ticket, the better.

i’d known it was coming, but my heart still skipped a beat as i pushed the confirm button. and when the itinerary showed up in my inbox, my stomach did a miniature somersault. i was giving away another six months of my life, and i was getting guaranteed joy, pain, tears, laughter, stretching, and growth in return. i had completed the exchange, the same one i go through over and over again, year after year.

i looked at their photographs and remembered the moments in which each one had been taken. memories of the way their fingers intertwine with my own consumed me, and tears sprung to my eyes. for a season, at least, these little ones are mine. God gives me, time and time again, the task of loving His little ones as though they are my own, caring for them by the beat of His own tender heart.

the tears kept falling.

but what about when i fail them, God? what about when i fail you? what about when i’m tired and empty and have nothing left to give? what about when my temper is short and my patience thin, when i miss opportunities to love, when it seems like i’m making no difference at all? what about when they’re sick and they’re lonely and they’re hurting  and i ache for them but i just can’t fix it? what about when i become jaded and hard, when this bleeding heart dries up that it may protect itself? what about when i judge and criticize, when i want to give up, when i want to walk away and go home, go any place but there?

i cried, and i asked my questions to which there can be no reply. i don’t want cheap theology or easy answers. i don’t want to be told “it’s going to be okay” or the ever-popular “His strength is made perfect in our weakness.” even if those responses are true, they feel trite. and i’m sorry, but i just don’t want them.

and so i sat in the questions, in the why there and not here?, why now?, why me? i sat and i cried and i stopped trying to figure any of this out.

and that’s when i heard it, the soft pulse of the Father’s heart. for me, for Liberia, for those children.

it kept beating, gentle and true, and after a while, my eyes opened and my cheeks felt tight from falling tears that have dried onto skin. i listened to the beat and listened to the mystery and i felt the sound of my own heart synching up with His.

this. this is why i do it. this is the reason for the exchange. because His heart is still bleeding, for the poor and the orphan, for the oppressed and the broken. His heart is still beating for His bride to rise up and know her worth. His heart is still throbbing for those who call themselves His own to give up what they hold in clutched hands so that He can fill them with what He sees fit.

His heart is beating, and i felt it in my chest. and so on January fifth, i will go. i will go and love and teach and grown and learn and hurt and hold and write and pray and see.

i will go. because i can hear His heart beating.

can’t you?

when there are no more words

as my time in Liberia comes to a close, i look back and reflect and remember. i know people back home are going to ask questions. they’re going to want stories, want to hear of my life for the past six months.

the problem is::
for the first time in a long time,
i don’t have words.

maybe i haven’t fully processed all i’ve seen and heard and felt here yet. maybe once i do, the words will come.

or maybe some things are simply so full of raw…feeling that they exist outside of language.

i don’t have words to speak of grieving families who have lost loved ones too soon.

i don’t have words to speak of fear that grips in the middle of the night when you realize your neighbors are being robbed.

i don’t have words to speak of lifeless bodies in the aftermath of a car accident, bloody and broken on the road.

i don’t have words to speak of how guilty it feels to have a full stomach when so many around you go hungry.

i don’t have words to speak of children starved of affection, desperate for human contact.

i don’t have words to speak of a crippled man sleeping in the garbage and the dust, abandoned and left to die.

i don’t have words to speak of the vacant look in a child’s eye who is merely existing and doesn’t know how to thrive.

i don’t have words to speak of thirteen year old girls raped by men in their twenties.

i don’t have words for the silenced voices of so many children who have been told they’re worthless and that they don’t matter.

i don’t have words for the dozens of amputees wandering the streets, victims of a war that is over, and yet they still bear the scars.

i don’t have words for being sick in bed with malaria while at the same time realizing how many lives have been lost from the same illness–simply because they didn’t have access to the medicine.

i don’t have words to speak of children laid out on a table to be whipped or pushed up against a wall to be hit.

i don’t have words for little girls literally starving, for bony shoulders and skinny legs and how frail they feel when you hold them.

i don’t have words for an education system that has failed so many of its children, for fifteen year-olds in the fourth grade or a second grade student who can’t even write the alphabet.

i don’t have words.
i have a heart that bleeds
and tears that fall
and knots in my stomach
and hands that wring.

but more than that,
i have hope.

because while this place can be filled
with pain and poverty and sorrow,
i have also seen::
seen that Jesus lives here.

i’ve seen Him in the prayers of a mother for her children.

i’ve seen Him in the grateful look in a dying man’s eyes.

i’ve seen Him in the healing of kids who were once frighteningly sick.

i’ve seen Him in the sheer joy of the Church praising Him.

i’ve seen Him in kind eyes and warm handshakes.

i’ve seen Him in a nation full of people looking forward to brighter tomorrows.

i’ve seen Him in students who realize they’ve been given a chance, who start dreaming for their futures.

i’ve seen Him in the whispered prayer of a teenage girl who has begun to recognize her value.

i’ve seen Him in blazing sunsets and soft sunrises, in blue sky meeting green tree meeting red earth.

i’ve seen Him in children who cling to the leg, rest heads on the shoulder, intertwine fingers with mine.

i’ve seen Him in the faces of little boys and girls who finally understand that they are loved.

i’ve seen Him in the dreams of those who want to grow up and transform their country.

i’ve seen Him in the innocence and excitement of children who, for once, are just allowed to be children.

i’ve seen Him in unity and brotherhood and acceptance.

i’ve seen Him.

i don’t have words::
but i have seen

and because of that,
i have a heart that hopes
and eyes that look up
and a growing faith
and a tongue to encourage.

it is in the ugly that i have found the beautiful.
it is in despair that i have found strength.
it is in the hard places that i have found new life.

i don’t have words,
but Jesus is here.

and so i know that one day,
(because of He and not i)
everything is going to be alright.


as i start trying to emotionally prepare for my goodbyes with the kids in the next two weeks, i am reminded of one of God’s promises from a few years ago::

“sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more of the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the Lord. (isaiah 54.1)

today, i am an auntie & mama to dozens of precious ones here in Liberia. his Word is true.

[love] mercy

this is mercy, a beautiful, feisty yet kindhearted girl who stole my heart the moment i met her. she recently turned 13, so i made her a card and gave her a pair of earrings.

today, she handed me this letter that she had written: “dear auntie elena, thank you for my birthday. my reason for me writing you this letter is to tell you that i love you from my heart and i want to say thanks for your love that you have been showing me. and i want to tell God thank you for you being: my study class teacher, my best friend, my auntie, and my mother. may this letter be a joy into your life, and may our friendship be forever. that is my prayer. i love you very much!”

oh, my heart. i’m bawling even as i type this. NO WORDS.

i can’t even describe how much i love this girl… ♥


Let’s work together to bring Troken HOPE!

More great news: Troken’s story is now #1 on HopeMob! That means that people can start donating today–$1200 is all we need in order to send him to school next year. Click the link, read his story, and consider making a donation to bring Troken hope today. Big or small, every amount helps. Thanks for joining with us to help Troken out!

Please also visit Orphan Relief and Rescue’s website for more ways to get involved in the work we do in Liberia and Benin, West Africa. Join us to be a voice with action for orphans that no one else will help.

Troken is going to school next year!

i have some great news, guys: Troken’s story is LOCKED IN on HopeMob, which means it’s only a matter of time before he gets moved up to the #1 spot and people can start donating for his school fees next year!

for those of you that don’t know, Troken is a 14 year old boy that lives at one of the orphanages i work with here in Liberia. he is classified as a true orphan (meaning that both of his parents are dead) and has lived through a lot, even at his young age. Troken is extremely smart, a leader within the home and has some high hopes for his future. he knows that education is the key to success, and he already has plans to use what he learns to better his country.

our friends over at HopeMob.org loved his story and agreed to have him in the running to be funded. so, for the past few weeks, people have been “boosting” his story through the ranks with their points. he’s now at #4 and locked in, so as the stories before him are funded, he’ll continue to move up.

thank you so much to everyone who believed in Troken and Orphan Relief and Rescue enough to vote for his story. because of your help, he’ll be able to go to school next year and get the kind of education he deserves.

please visit Orphan Relief and Rescue’s website for more ways that you can get involved in changing a child’s life. help us be a voice with action for orphans that no one else will help.

Robertsport retreat

Here in Liberia, a popular get-away destination for expats is Robertsport, a town close to the Sierra Leone border with beautiful beaches, good surf spots, and a laid-back lifestyle (especially compared with the busy bustle of Monrovia.) 

This past week, the Orphan Relief and Rescue gang took a three-day trip to Robertsport for a mini-retreat of sorts. There was team-building. Bonfires. Sunshine. Surf. Swimming. Exploring. Sunsets. Seafood. Relaxation. Sightseeing. It was the perfect way to get some rest and take an opportunity to refresh and refocus after an extremely difficult month or so for those of us on the field team. 

Here are a few photos from our trip. (If you want to see more, you can add me on Facebook and check out my Liberia albums.) 


            (one thing i love about Liberia: random goats EVERYWHERE!)


                                                 (the road to Robertsport)


                                (see…i told you the sunsets were amazing!)


                                                    (picture perfect)


                                  (the famous cotton tree in Robertsport)

today, i looked into the eyes of a sick, homeless, and hungry man who was literally sleeping on a piece of cardboard on the ground. tonight, he’ll eat a meal, be given a bath, and sleep on a mattress with a blanket and pillow.

my heart has been simply ripped apart, and yet it’s also so very full. 
for Jesus is truly in this place. i have seen. yes, He is here.