bucket

Those of you who have followed my blog and receive my newsletters most likely remember Timothy’s story. He had a serious speech problem and, as a result, was often teased by his peers. Since April, I have been meeting with Timothy on a regular basis to help him with his speech and reading, and I am continually amazed by all the progress he has been making.

Today, I went to the orphanage to teach Timothy’s lesson. Before I got a chance to sit down with him, though, Evelyn (the mother of the home) pulled me aside and said, “Elena, I want to tell you about the good English that your son was speaking today!” She said that Timothy and a few of the other kids had been drawing water, and all of them were talking about the “buck-eh” (FYI: many ending sounds are omitted in Liberian English.) Finally, Timothy spoke up and corrected them: “It’s not buck-eh; it’s bucket! You have to pronounce the ‘t’!”

It’s a funny story, but it also melted my heart because it reminded me of just how far Timothy has come. (It also totally made me feel like a proud parent!) Sometimes, I can get overwhelmed when I focus on the enormity of need here and I start trying to figure out how to help them all. But then I remember stories like Timothy’s, and it brings me back to reality. I wasn’t called to help them all—but I wascalled to help Timothy.

Mother Teresa once said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” I love that. The truth is, I can’t help them all. I wish I could, but it’s just not possible. But I can help one. And that’s a pretty good start, if you ask me.


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a Beyan update

Today I got to experience one of my favorite things about Liberia: visiting Beyan.

Most of you, I’m sure, remember Beyan’s story and have heard me talk about him many, many, MANY times. (If not, you can read about him here). I can’t explain what it is, but something about that little boy just makes my heart so happy that I feel like it could burst. His picture remains on my bedroom wall here in Liberia to help me remember why I’m here and why I do what I do.

Last year, there was a fire at the orphanage Beyan was living at. I honestly believe that fire was an act of God because it finally persuaded the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare to shut that particular orphanage down—a decision we had long been advocating for. The truth of the matter was that Beyan and the other kids there had not been getting the care they needed or deserved, and it was clear that the best thing for them would be alternative living arrangements.

So, after the fire, all the kids were placed in various other orphanages and, luckily for me, Beyan’s new home was a mere 15 minute drive from my house. I went and saw him once before I left Liberia in June; at that time, he had been in the new orphanage for only a few weeks, yet he already was starting to look like a different kid. He was clean and obviously well-fed. He was laughing and playing and looked healthier than I had ever seen him. It was hard leaving him, knowing I wouldn’t see him again for several months, but I had to entrust him to God’s loving care.

Today I finally got an opportunity to go to the orphanage and check in on my “son.” The matron of the home sent for Beyan and, a few minutes later, in walks this little boy that is several inches taller than I remember—and quite a few pounds heavier, too! I used to be able to pick him up and put him on my lap without a problem, as he was so skinny and small. But not anymore.

So there’s Beyan, sitting on my lap, talking a mile a minute, telling me all about school, showing me his “toy”(which was really a spool of thread), giggling every time I kissed his cheeks or poked his belly, laughing as I exclaimed (for the tenth time) that I couldn’t believe how big he was getting. And all I kept thinking was, My little boy is growing up! And even though it makes me a little sad, I can’t help but rejoice because it shows me that God truly is taking care of him—and all the other kids here that I wish I could help but can’t. It was yet another reminder that, though I love Beyan more than I can ever articulate, God loves him infinitely more than that. He truly does have “plans to prosper [him]” and “…to give [him] hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).


This is Bill. He’s shy and soft-spoken, and has one of the sweetest smiles I’ve ever seen. I first got to know Bill last year, as he was in my small group on Monday afternoons. Though he was usually quiet in the big group, he’d often come alive during one-on-one time, asking lots of questions and working hard on whatever project was put in front of him. He likes coloring and drawing, writing and being creative, and has dreams of going to university one day.

Last year, Bill started complaining of “bone pain.” None of us were really sure what that meant or what to do for it, but we definitely could see that it was real, and that it was greatly affecting him. Hearing him cry out in pain, tears streaming down his face, broke my heart. I can remember going with Ashley to take Bill to the hospital one day; he was sitting on lap, terrified and hurting, crying softly to himself. They released him later that evening, but he still continued to suffer.

A few weeks ago, Mary and Piko, two of our Liberian employees, suggested to Deb that it might be sickle cell disease. Apparently, they knew a girl who had suffered with many of the same symptoms, and that had been her diagnosis. Deb then made the arrangements to have Bill taken to the hospital and tested. Sure enough, Bill was diagnosed with sickle cell disease this past Wednesday.

I don’t know too much about sickle cell, but I do know that Bill has a difficult road ahead of him. Many of the treatments are simply not an option in this country, and the complications of the disease are extremely serious, sometimes even life-threatening.

So I’m asking that you would please remember Bill and pray for him regularly. He is such an incredible kid, and I want him to have a full, long, and healthy life.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I believe these very things for Bill’s life. Please stand in faith with me.

“do you know that i love you?”


Many of you have heard me talk about Beyan, the little boy who captured my heart when I visited Liberia in 2008. Actually, he is one of the main reasons that I came back here. You see, there are so many Beyans in Liberia—so many children who are stuck in seemingly hopeless situations, children who are starving for love and care and attention, children who just deserve…more. So, when I heard God telling me that He wanted me to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves” and “defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31.8,9), I knew that, in a way, I was being called to speak up for the Beyans. If I truly loved them with the heart the Father, there was no way I could stay silent…and no way I could walk away from them.

The first time I saw Beyan after coming back to Liberia was on my birthday (talk about the best birthday present ever!) I wasn’t sure if he remembered me or not, but he sat in my lap while I hugged and squeezed and loved on him as I choked back my tears. Since then, I’ve tried to make it out to the orphanage he lives at every two weeks. Through spending time with him, I’ve learned so much about Beyan’s personality. As adorable and lovable and snuggable as he is, he has quite a temper as well, and can throw some pretty intense tantrums. He can also be extremely stubborn when he wants to be (especially if he’s in trouble for something), refusing to talk to look at, talk to or even acknowledge you. As we say in Liberia, “that boy is frisky!”

Still, I make it a point to pull him aside and say goodbye to him every time I leave. I hug him and tell him that I’ll miss him and I’ll be praying for him. Then I ask, “Beyan, do you know that I love you?” He always looks down at the ground and shakes his head no, so I give him another hug and make sure to tell him, “Beyan, I want you to know that I love you so much.” Over the past six months, this has become our routine.

Yesterday, I made my normal visit to the orphanage. Beyan and I sat and colored, played with one of his toys, and then he took me behind the building to show me some purple (which is his favorite color) flowers he discovered, all the while smiling and talking more than he has in weeks. In fact, he was so animated and chattering away so quickly that, most of the time, I had no clue what he was saying!
When it was time for me to go, I took Beyan’s hand, told him I would miss him and be praying for him, and gave him a big ol’ hug. Then I asked him the question. “Beyan, do you know that I love you?”

This time, his response was different. Instead of looking down and shaking his head like he normally does, Beyan looked right at me, gave a little smile, and nodded! My heart felt so full at that moment that I was sure it was going to burst.

For all I know, I could go back to the orphanage next week, and Beyan could be back to his old, feisty self, wanting nothing to do with anyone, staring at the ground and answering no when I ask if he knows I love him.
But that’s okay. I still have the hope of yesterday to hold on to, and I still have the promises of my God which tell me love is the greatest of all gifts, the one that can never, ever fail.


Timothy


Timothy is a shy, soft-spoken little boy who is in my small group on Friday afternoons. He’s usually pretty quiet, but he always gives me a hug when he sees me and flashes me a smile that just melts my heart.

About a month ago, Timothy was a participant in the Bible Contest (you can read more about the contest here). When I asked him to recite the books of the Bible, I noticed that he seemed to be having some difficulty saying certain words. Curious, I asked the director’s wife if she had noticed Timothy having any problems with his speech. She told me that he’d always struggled with it and, though the other kids at the home could usually understand him, he did get picked on and made fun of at times. Hearing that, my heart just broke. I hate knowing that any child is being teased — especially sweet Timothy, and especially for something that isn’t his fault.

I made up my mind that day that I was determined to help Timothy any way I could. Now, in America, if I noticed one of my students having problems with speech, I would arrange for him/her to go to speech therapy; in Liberia, however, kids don’t have that option. There is no speech therapist at Timothy’s school and, as hard as I tried, I was unable to find a contact in the area who could give me advice. Disappointed, I started praying for God to send someone to help Timothy.
I had no idea that the someone would end up being me.

As I was laying in bed one night, thinking and praying about the situation, the figurative light-bulb finally went off. I remembered that I had brought a whole bunch of phonics materials with me when I came to Liberia, as I had planned on using them to assess reading levels in the kids. But then I realized that I had seen the same phonics materials used for speech lessons, since they help children practice letter and special sounds! It appeared I had found the answer. Quickly, though, my excitement faded as my fear and insecurity started to set in: There’s no way I can do this. I’m not qualified. I’ve never done this kind of thing before. It’s not going to work.
But then I heard Him — clearly. Distinctly. “I’ve never given you a task that I haven’t equipped you for.” And then I saw Timothy’s precious little face and that sweet smile of his, and it was such a gentle, beautiful reminder that the whole thing wasn’t about me at all. It’s about the God who loves Timothy so deeply and so fiercely, the Father who desires for His child Timothy to have every opportunity and chance to succeed in life, just like any other parent would.

So, for the past two weeks, on Wednesday afternoons, Timothy and I have been having “our special time.” (It’s very important to me that he doesn’t think I’m meeting with him because he’s in trouble, or because he’s different or has a problem, or because I’ve singled him out. I want him to know I love him, and I like spending time with him — and that’s why we meet.) We practice his speech with flashcards, by reading together, doing alphabet puzzles, or just telling stories and talking with one another. Timothy seems to be excited about our time, and he’s eager to “study” his sounds throughout the week (I’ve left some flashcards that I made with him, and he practices saying the letters, sounds, and words.)


Please remember Timothy in your prayers in the coming weeks. Pray that he and I will continue to bond with one another and build our relationship, and that he will continue looking forward to and being excited about our times together. Pray that, with practice and over time, he will be able to clearly communicate with his friends, his peers, his family — everyone he comes into contact with. Pray that his self-confidence will increase, and that he will come to believe that he truly can “do all things through Christ” who strengthens him. And pray that, above all, he will know that he is a dear, special child of God, uniquely created, “fearfully and wonderfully made.”


new creations!


As a follow-up to our Easter lesson, the kids in the Child Development Program are making butterfly crafts this week. We’re relating the metamorphosis that the caterpillar goes through to the change that occurs when we have Christ in us. We’re also reading the story of Saul and what happened to him on the road to Damascus; he’s a great example of a life completely changed by Jesus!

The kids had a blast decorating their butterflies with crayons, paper and glitter-glue, and they loved showing off their creations. Please pray that the message will sink in and stay with them for years to come: that they, too, are just like butterflies — new creations in and because of Je
sus! 
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5.17, NIV

Today, Ashley and I decided to go visit some of our favorite kiddos in Liberia. It had been two weeks since we last went to their home, so we both were itching to see all their adorable little faces!

When we pulled up to the orphanage, only a few of the youngest children were playing out front; everyone else was nowhere to be found. The little kids told us that there was a football game on the field that was close to the home. “Do you want to go?” we asked them. Their faces lit up as they jumped up and down, nodding emphatically and squealing, “Yes! Yes, les’ go!” So, with Varbah’s hand in mine—and Beyan on my hip—off we went to the football field.

All the spectators were distracted by the arrival of the “white women,” and Ashley and I were soon surrounded by dozens of kids, all wanting to shake our hands and say hello. We found the other children that live at the orphanage and greeted them. We had been standing there for only about five minutes when the rain started. And it wasn’t just a light drizzle; it started pouring. We looked for the kids to ask them what they wanted to do, only to find several of them had already started running back in the direction of the home. So, we gathered everyone together and took off running after them, jumping through puddles and stopping every few minutes to catch our breath under the plum trees.

We made it back to the orphanage and huddled together on the porch, watching the rain come down in torrents. Ashley and I had just (jokingly!) whispered to each other that we should have the kids grab the soap and go take a bath in the rain (they were pretty dirty today) when Joshua tore off his clothes and ran outside. Blessed, Arthur and Varbah quickly followed, laughing and splashing and waving to us all. And then the kids decided they want to “wash the car” so off they went with a rag and some soap. I honestly think it was one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen.

It’s days like today that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. It’s days like today that make my heart so happy that it feels like it could burst. These kids never have enough food, never have enough care—but on a rainy day like today, they laughed and played and shrieked with joy, just like any other child living anywhere else. It’s days like today that remind me yet again that children truly are God’s best, most precious gift.




This year, I celebrated my first Christmas in Liberia! To get the kids into the spirit of the season, we in the Child Development Program taught a Christmas lesson—complete with stories, Christmas songs and even an art project! We talked about why we celebrate the holiday, about the significance of Christ’s birth and how thankful we are to God for sending us His Son. It was a beautiful reminder that all over the world, whether here in Liberia or back home in Canada and the US, people everywhere were celebrating Jesus and His glorious birth!


Then it was time to get to work and make some Christmas bundles! Each bundle contained a washcloth, a toothbrush, two pencils, some candy, a small toy and an apple (here in Liberia, the apple symbolizes a heart, so to give someone an apple is to say, ‘I love you.’) 


After that came Christmas deliveries, which was probably my favorite part! In addition to a bundle, each child received some new clothes, (there’s a pic of Deb and I fitting the kids for new outfits below) a new pair of slippers (ie, flip-flops), and a notebook with a letter from someone in America. I loved sitting with the kids, helping them read their letters, and watching their faces light up as they heard about people they had never met but who loved them and wanted them to have a wonderful Christmas. It was so personal, so intimate, and beautiful.


Of course, one of my favorite things about the holidays is spending time with those that I love. Whether it was swimming in a pool on Christmas Day (well, I was sick, so I ended up just watchingeveryone swim!), eating baked potatoes and playing dominoes with some friends, or worshiping during one of the most intensely and intimately beautiful Christmas Eve services ever, I was struck over and over again by how richly blessed I am.


I’m so thankful to have been able to truly celebrate this Christmas, in every sense of the word. The angel said, “Behold! I bring you good tidings of great joy!” What a reason to celebrate!

This holiday season, I’m thankful for the gift of joy, for the gift of friendship, for the gifts of smiles and laughter and hugs and tears. And even though I couldn’t be with you in person, I’m ohsothankful foryou. I know it’s a little late, but I’m going to say it anyway: MERRY CHRISTMAS to each of you! I hope it was your most joyous one yet.