the return to liberia: an update

it was a mere two weeks ago that i stood in church, hands shaking in surrender as i realized the magnitude of what i was saying yes to. a return to liberia. a return to the oppressive heat and sleepless nights. to lives lost too soon, to children who nobody mourns once they leave us. to a land that assaults the senses, to the corruption, the poverty, the things i saw and heard that my heart and mind still have no words for.
but also–a return to regrowth. a return to a simple life, lived without excess. to hope and dreams for brighter futures. to community and to my kids, these young ones who have forever stolen my heart and changed the course of my entire life.

two weeks ago, i said yes. and i started to prepare. i filled out my citizenship application and put out a plea for the funds needed to file it. two weeks later, i’m over 60% funded, with a little over a week to go until my deadline**, and i’m already looking ahead to the next phase of this process.

two weeks ago, i told God, “yes…but it’d sure be great if you could let me know i’m making the right choice here.” and He did. in the scriptures that urge me to spend myself on behalf of the needy. in old journal entries that reconfirmed His call on my life to  “be love.” in the support and encouragement of friends and family who agreed to give, knowing that this, all of this–whatever God is up to–is a worthy cause. “it’s no surprise,” they said. “we all knew you’d be back there one day eventually.” and when i told my good friend Momo that i was coming back to Liberia, he laughed delightedly and told me, “God will provide. you need to be here.”

and i do–need to be there, that is. i need to be reunited with the pieces of my heart waiting for me there. i need to be living out my days doing what i was made to do.

and so i take another step, a little shaky but with all the faith i can muster. and when i falter, and this all seems crazy and impossible and a little of both, i lift my vision higher.

i walk, slow but sure, and every day, i cry a little with gratitude for this crazy, beautiful, messy adventure He has put me on.
wait with me, my sweet Liberia. i’m coming-o! 

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**the first step in getting ready for a return to Liberia is filing my citizenship application, so i can travel freely between countries. the cost is $680, and i hope to file by November 1st. if you feel led to give towards this, please send me a message so i can give you donation info. no amount is too big or small–every little bit helps!

when i want to live a life that says “yes”

nearly seven months ago, i left Liberia. after an especially grueling season, i made the hard decision to fight for my emotional, mental and spiritual well-being and step off the mission field.

i dreamed of returning home to the States and resuming normalcy once more; i wanted to fall into a life of comfort and ease and forget all about the exhaustion of the past four years.

when i got home, i struggled a bit, as most missionaries do when it comes to reentry. the mass consumerism and excessive consumption of the Western world overwhelmed me. i felt guilty after lunch with friends, and i wondered if my kids in Liberia were hungry, if they’d had their fill.

mainly, though, i simply ached to be with them. these kids–they’d become my life. i’d welcomed them into my arms and my heart as if they were my own, and then i walked away from them. but the thing is: i had left pieces of my self, my very soul, behind with them.

and as more time passed, i started to wonder: how can i really live when i’m not whole, when massive portions of my heart lie an ocean away? and it was then that something deep inside me started to whisper, “the story is not over.”

i confess i dismissed it at first. a return to Liberia would be emotional suicide. i’m not ready. what if i can’t handle it again? what if this is just me, not being able to let go?

so i prayed, and i opened up the scriptures and sought out Truth. and i saw, woven throughout all its pages, i saw–the bleeding, tender heart of the Father for the fatherless.

i saw–that it’s when you give of yourself that you truly give.
i saw–that this life is not my own, and i don’t want to fill it with things that will only pass away.

i realized i wanted to live a life spent chasing after God and the things of His heart.
and you know what? for me, that’s found in Liberia.

because it’s one thing to serve the poor and the orphan, but it’s a whole other ballgame to identify with them and live among them, to enter into the hard places and hold their faces in my hands and tell them, “i’m here to stay.”
and i want to stay. i want to spend my days living out the scriptures, defending the cause of the weak and the fatherless, maintaining the rights of the poor and oppressed, rescuing the weak and needy (see psalm 82).
you see, i want my life to count for something, for my kids, who deserve someone to settle in for the long haul, someone to say, “i’m not going anywhere.”

and to do that i need to get my hands dirty. i need to step outside my comfort zone and give up the things that were never mine to begin with.

so i said yes. i stood in my church last sunday and raised my face high and told Jesus yes. even though my hands were shaking. even though the tears were falling. even when i counted the cost. i said yes–because he’s worth it.

and i’m looking for people who will say yes with me, who believe in me and the God that i serve and the work he has put in my heart to do. the timing is still off; there is still healing and some recovery i must go through before i can return to Liberia. and there are some very real, tangible needs that i cannot meet for myself that i need help with.

so please–send me a message, ask the questions, find out how you can get involved. i want you on this journey with me, friends.
say yes?

the power of one: stories from Liberia, West Africa

recently, i had the honor of delivering the message at my home church on Sunday morning. now, i’ve never been one to call myself a preacher, but i do know that God’s made me a storyteller.

i wish i could take all the words and the pictures and the feelings and the experiences and share them with you here, but somehow, it doesn’t do it justice.

but if you have 45 minutes or so, i’d love for you to listen to a few of the stories of people who have changed my life forever and whose lives i’ve been blessed beyond measure to be a part of. i can’t promise that it will be eloquent, but i can promise you that it’s from my heart.

you may only be one person–but even one can do something.

love will bring them back to life {an exciting new project}

has anyone ever given you a love letter? how did reading someone else’s feelings for you scrawled out in ink make you feel?
probably…loved. accepted. special. happy.

3002967227_aec483d6b7_zPhoto by Peter Hellberg on Flickr

now imagine yourself as an orphan in Liberia, West Africa. most of the time, people treat you like a statistic, just another face in the crowd. you’re a number, not a name. not a person who a mind + soul, with a heart that cries out because it’s hungry + thirsty for love to fill it.

the heartbreaking reality is that i happen to know orphans in Liberia, West Africa, who feel this exact same way. dozens of orphans, actually. nearly 150 to be exact.
and when i first met them, i saw their neediness, their ache for affection and care. for a hug. for love.

i saw it in their big eyes, seemingly shy to meet my own. in the embraces that lingered longer than necessary. in little hands that clawed at my legs, tiny fingers finding a way to intertwine with my own.

every child deserves to be loved. every child deserves to know she is loved.
but these kids in Liberia? so many of them have no idea…

when i lived there, it was my mission to love those kids back to life. and when it came time for me to leave, my heart tore in two. because who was going to say “i love you” in my absence? who was going to hug and hold, to tell the girls they’re beautiful, to encourage, to affirm?

when i came home, i spent hours upon hours pouring out my heart + soul for these kids. i wrote them personalized letters + individual greeting cards, all to simply remind these children that they are loved more than they could ever know.

and now i’m inviting you to join me.

i am humbled/proud/excited to introduce the love letters for liberia project, a way for people literally from all around the world to send some love to the kids in liberia through letters, cards + care-packages.
the concept is simple: every quarter, people can sign up to be a letter-writer. whether you’re local + can attend our letter-writing parties, or whether you live further away + want to send it through the mail. i will give you the name(s) + age(s) of a child in need of some letter-lovin’. then, i’ll gather them all up, ship them off to a courier (there is no reliable mail service to/from liberia), and they’ll be hand-delivered not long after!

i’ve seen first-hand what an impact love has on these kids’ lives + i am so excited to watch that grow in them, as they learn to see themselves as the beloved.

and you–you get to play a part in this.

so spread the word, like us on facebook,  mark your calendars (september 14 is the letter-writing launch), and drop me a line at elena[dot]pellizzaris at gmail if you want to be involved.
together we can bring love to liberia, one letter at a time.

[celebrate] love

in honor of valentine’s day, i wrote a special piece for So Worth Loving this week, celebrating the miracle of Love! below is an excerpt from my post, which you can read in its entirety here. much love to you guys! xo

What I’ve noticed in my work with these kids is that most of them have very little self-worth. For so long, they’ve been viewed as nothing more than a statistic, just another face in the crowd, an orphan and that’s all. Because of this, they have no understanding of their intrinsic worth and value as a human being. They’ve been rejected and abandoned, discarded and left to fend for themselves. They believe they don’t matter, that they’re not important, that they are unloved.

And this; this breaks my heart.

I look at them and see such beauty, such potential, such worth. I know they have their whole lives ahead of them, that they can break the cycle that they’ve sadly found themselves in, and can make something of themselves. In the years that I’ve known these kids, I’ve come to love them as if they were my very own. I’ve learned their names, their faces, their stories. They are not a nameless, faceless generation; they matter. They mean something. And so I set out on a mission to prove it to them.

[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… ♥

 

love them like Jesus does

there’s this group of kids that i’ve known and loved and served for three years in Liberia. i’ve prayed with them, cried with them, laughed with them, walked through all sorts of situations and circumstances of life with them. we were family.
 

and then, one day, things changed. i went from seeing those kids every single week to having to walk away from them without any contact. there were valid and important reasons, to be sure: other people’s poor choices. hurt feelings and wounded pride. sin. 

i understood the logic behind it all, but it didn’t make it hurt any less.
 

today, i was given a chance to visit with these kids—and was slapped in the face with the cold, hard reality that things have changed. kids that used to run up to me and jump into my arms wouldn’t even come near me. others were angry and confused and wanted to know why i hadn’t come to visit them. one girl buried her face in my shoulder and wept. “auntie elena, why did you forget about me?” she cried. 
 

i hadn’t forgotten her; i hadn’t forgotten about any of those kids. i had prayed for them and thought about them every day. and i told them that. i told them how much i had missed them, how i had ached to be able to see them.

but there’s still a very real wound in their tender little hearts. there’s still a piece of them that feels abandoned. forgotten. alone. i wish that i could heal that for them—but i know that only Jesus can.

since the visit, i’ve been an emotional train wreck. part of me is angry, angry at the lies and deceit. part of me is discouraged; i fear that i’ve poured my everything into these kids during the last three years and it’s all wasted now. part of me grieves over what has been lost. part of me is worried that trust has been broken and that the road to rebuilding those relationships is a much rougher one than i can bear to walk right now.

but then there’s this other part of me, a tiny, quiet part hidden deep within that whispers “hope.” this part of me believes in a God who makes all things new, in a Savior who completely redeems. it’s the part of me that is willing to walk through the rough stuff because i know that those kids are worth it. it’s the part of that says, “love them—and don’t ever stop.” it knows that real love, true love, the love that Jesus gives, isn’t always easy. it’s a love that keeps pouring out, a love that will not give up. even in the hard times, even when it hurts, even if it has to start from ground zero, even if it takes a year or possibly two. 

this is the part of me of that whispers into a child’s ear and says, “i didn’t forget you, and i never will.”

Jesus told his disciples that he would not leave them as orphans (john 14:18). furthermore, he gives them the gift of peace, promising them he would not treat them the way the world does:

i don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. so don’t be upset. don’t be distraught. (john 14:27, msg)

his promises are a lifeline during this very difficult time. i know that i can’t save these kids, and i know their wounds are not ones that i can heal. but i can love them. i will love them…

love them likes Jesus does. 

i can see widows and orphans through my tears. i know my call
despite my faults and despite my growing fears.
(mumford and sons, the cave)

five weeks until the adventure begins! please pray as i prepare to return to Liberia and share God’s love with Liberia’s orphans.

*if you want to receive monthly email updates from me while I’m in Liberia, please send me a message with your email address so i can add you to my list. if you have any questions about further prayer requests or how to support my ministry, don’t be shy! send me a message; let’s talk! 

Last night, Orphan Relief and Rescue took to the airwaves, sharing stories about the lives we’ve seen transformed through people giving what they can to make a difference in the life of an orphan. In only two hours, we were able to raise $7,700! That means the project of an outdoor latrine system at a Liberian orphanage is FULLY FUNDED! AND we even have enough left over for the daily runnings of our safe home in Benin!It’s not too late to give your year-end financial donation. Visit our website to check out the stories of kids’ lives being changed, and go to our donate page to give securely online. And if you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to contact me.Blessings to you and yours, and thank you for partnering with us as we dedicate ourselves to being a voice for the fatherless! 

Give a gift that will change the life of an orphan in West Africa!

Today is my African three-year anniversary. On November 20th, 2008, I was on a plane somewhere over the Atlantic, headed to Africa for the very first time. My feet touched Liberian soil on November 21st, 2008, and from that moment on, my whole world was turned upside down.

Growing up, I had always dreamed of Africa. I can remember being a little girl, watching World Vision commercials at Christmas time, weeping at images of poor, dirty, hungry children. Even at my young age, something inside me knew that it was wrong, that life wasn’t meant to be that way. I wanted to go, I wanted to help, I wanted to fight against whatever had stolen away their childhood, their innocence, their hope. I didn’t have a plan whatsoever; I had no idea where I’d go or what I would do once I got there. But from then on, there was always this thing inside me, deep down within my soul, pulling me towards Africa. It was some magnetic force that kept drawing my thoughts there. And it wouldn’t let me go.

Over the years, Africa remained a dream of mine. The problem, however, is that it seemed like a completely unrealistic one. Africa was far. It was expensive to get there. Like I said, I didn’t have a plan, didn’t know how to even begin coming up with one. So I let the dream die. I had no idea that, years later, God would resurrect it from the ashes. I had no idea that the dream had been His from the beginning.

2008 was a rough year for me. I was in the midst of going through an incredibly messy divorce and, because of it, I lost a lot of what I thought were some of my closest friendships. Then, to top it off, the school I had been teaching at for several years was being closed down unexpectedly. I suddenly found myself without a job, without many meaningful relationships, alone, depressed—and desperate for Africa like never before.

I can’t explain it. All I can say is that God reawakened me during that time to His calling and plan for my life. In the midst of my pain and utter brokenness, He was asking me to live a life outside of myself and my mess. He took my already shattered heart and began to break it again, break it anew, break it for the things that broke His. I can remember many sleepless nights, where I’d lay awake praying and sobbing for the poor, the oppressed, the hungry, the orphaned. “Send me, Lord,” I’d beg. “I don’t know what I can do or how you can use me—but please, Jesus. Send me.”

And He did. Suddenly, all the pieces came together, a plan was formed, and before I knew it, November 20th came around, and I was on my way to Africa for the first time.

Liberia was a place that nothing could have prepared me for. The war was still fresh in everyone’s minds, and Liberia still bore the markings of a nation that just undergone incredible tragedy. I thought that my heart couldn’t possibly break any more than it already had, but I was wrong. As I held dirty, sad and starving children in my lap, tears would stream down my face and into their hair, and I knew, I absolutely, inexplicably knew—I’d be back.

It took me a year, almost exactly to the day, but I did in fact return to Liberia. I was thrilled to finally be getting the chance to live the life I knew God wanted for me—but I was also torn. Life in Liberia was hard. There were many days where I felt like I could have collapsed under the weight of the need all around me, and I wondered if I could really handle it. I was homesick. I was exhausted. Some days, I was jaded and bitter and questioned whether anything I was doing was actually making a difference at all.

But it was. God taught me to be faithful in whatever job He placed before me and, as a result, I began to see change. Progress. Hope. In the kids I served. In the people I interacted with. In myself. I had been broken for such a long time, and I finally started to feel like God was beginning to put me back together.

Last year, on November 20th, I celebrated my two-year African anniversary in my beloved Liberia. It was a day of looking back, remembering, and celebrating how far I’d come. It was also a chance for me to dream about the future, looking forward to all the things that God was going to do, and where I would be in another year’s time.

Today, I can’t help but thank God for this crazy, beautiful adventure I’m on with Him—three years and counting. It’s hard to be spending November 20th in any place other than Liberia, but I also rejoice in knowing that He is going to send me back. I look around and count my blessings and celebrate how good He has been to me, how faithful He is to fulfill His plans and promises. How He could take a broken nobody like me and use me to love Liberia’s orphans with the love of the Father. And in the process…well, my entire life, my entire self has been changed. I never would have thought that I’d be where I am or who I am today. I never would have believed that it would be possible to be in one place with your body while your whole heart was overseas, waiting for you to return. I never would have guessed that I could say yes, keep saying yes, I will go, I’ll keep going…until I hear ‘stop.’

Happy November 20th, friends.