These are the first and last pictures taken on my trip in Liberia.
The first picture was taken right after I got off the plane where the CDC required us to wash our hands with bleach. The presence of Ebola was so real. Everyone walked around with their hands in their pockets and afraid of their own shadow.
In the second picture it’s the last day of my trip. I have the cheesiest smile as I receive the latest fashion in West African culture… a parting gift after an amazing week that completely changed my impression of Liberia.
I traveled with an SIM team whose mission was to come along side of the local pastors and community leaders, to teach them how to engage and minister to those who have been effected by trauma. One Liberian told me that “almost every single person in Liberia has some level of trauma”. The country had a civil war that lasted over 15 years, then right after a few years of peace the epidemic of Ebola takes them by surprise. I heard all kinds of tragic stories: from a mother having her son shot right in front of her to hundreds of people laying outside of the hospital doors literally dying to get in.
The worst part is that I’m used to stories that have some kind of redemptive ending. But many of these stories didn’t. Many times all I could do is just sit and listen; no advice, no encouragement, the only thing I had to offer was my listening ear. As the week of trauma care and training went on, I witnessed members literally forgiving their worst enemies and accepting Christ for the first time. The most powerful moment was when we all wrote down our deepest hurts, pains, and sins on a piece of paper and laid it at the cross. We had a bucket that burned the pieces of paper away symbolizing that Jesus suffered for our suffering.
On the last day of my trip six of the Liberians in training called me over. My face starts to turn red as I walk up to the front of the room with them. One of the ladies stands in front of me and says “we want to thank you for coming into our country, I know where you’re from they don’t see this as a ‘safe’ place, but you left your family to come and listen to us and empower us help our country that has been traumatized.” After a few more words and exchange of hugs (which you’re not supposed to do because of Ebola… but who cares) she gave me this traditional african dress shirt. What was crazy to me is that I came to love and serve, but I’m the one who felt loved and served.
It’s so encouraging to see local leaders who have experienced trauma and yet turn it around to help others through their personal stories and the message of Christ. The Liberian church is so strong, courageous, and they all have a passion to see their county’s heart healed.
My first impression of Liberia wasn’t the whole story… but first impressions aren’t often very accurate anyway. When most people think of Liberia they think of war and epidemics, but now as I consider this country all I see is hope.