“This is Our Farm”

It was our third morning in Liberia and I was in the kitchen making breakfast when our friend Mark walks into the house and starts talking about the list of things we need to do today like “go to the bank, go to the market, get laundry soap, and oh by the way, we need to buy more wood chips…the president is coming to visit.” Being still a little sleepy, and not sure I heard him right, I asked him to repeat that….”What do you mean president? The president of the University? I just saw him and his wife last night, what are you talking about….” Surely he can’t be talking about the president of Liberia….

Nope, surely he was. Ma Ellen, as we and Liberians affectionately call the president, was on her way and set to arrive around 9:30am, just one hour from now. Having been away from Liberia (and Liberian time) for a couple months now, I started getting ready immediately…. Haha…haha….. We popped our heads out of the house all day, trying to get other things done as we waited. At around 5:00pm her security patrol, who comes in advance of the president’s arrival, had arrived on campus. It was almost go time!

We went out to meet with the guys who help manage and work the school farm to wait with them and talk. We admitted to them we were nervous….we had only been living at this new school for TWO days, what could I even possibly say?? Yes, we had visited the school plenty of times and learned a lot about it, but it’s a whole other thing to give a tour to someone, let alone a president! We tried to work with the guys and come up with an exact game plan and go over who would say what and at one point. We mistakenly and probably a little arrogantly felt the burden to try and organize and plan everything ourselves and do it our way…..

When Ma Ellen arrived, I was asked by the president of the university to make sure I took plenty of pictures, this meant my plan of trying guide the tour was no more and I slipped off to the side of the group so I could get my shots. The farm crew confidently walked with Ma Ellen around the Agricultural Research Center and showed her the demonstration farms, where farmers could come and see with their own eyes how making small changes in their farming practices could make big differences in plant health and crop yield. They also showed her some of the experiments they are doing in order to try and help farmers in the future with new ideas like aquaponics system (using fish waste to fertilize plants), growing new varieties of tomatoes with mulch, improved chicken genetics, and improved facilities for goats. She was most fascinated with the work the farm is doing with the tomatoes, Liberia has long struggled in this area due to presence of soil borne bacteria that kill the tomatoes without fail at about 4-5 weeks old.  But tomatoes have the potential to be a huge part of the local economy here. People use tomato paste in 50% of their soups that they cook to serve with rice each day, and all that tomato paste is imported!!! Well it’s all imported for now at least…..

After Ma Ellen had left we celebrated with the staff  how well the visit went and everything they had done to prepare. They were of course proud of the farm and it showed. Later that evening, Nathan was walking back towards the house and saw one of the farm crew staff still out in the field, it was dark and nearly 8 o’clock at night. Nathan approached him and said “Wow, you’re still here. You are working late.” He just shrugged and said “well, we feel like this place, this farm was a gift to us, and now this is our farm, we need to take care of it. It’s up to us to improve it, it’s up to us to show others these new ideas and help them. And so, I don’t mind the time.”

Our Farm. Yes, this is their farm. This is the ARC staff’s farm, this is LICC’s farm, this is Liberia’s farm. It may have been started with some help, ideas, money, prayers, blood, sweat, and tears from someone else, but it was always theirs and now they know it. Ownership. This is the goal. The goal is not for us to start humanitarian programs and then appoint ourselves the owners. We don’t want to make ourselves responsible for all creative contributions and management operations for the rest of our lives. No, this would create some sort of system where the impoverished and oppressed really never breaks free, they just get put under a new version of oppression, disguised as charity. This is unfortunately what we see happening in so much of development work today in Liberia and around the world. The goal is to work ourselves out of a job and to work someone else into it. The goal is come alongside people, people who already have a passion and a desire to see their country change, more so than we possibly could as outsiders. The goal is to listen to their dreams, learn about their challenges from their perspective, discuss ideas together, start a project together, and then enable and empower them to take off clinging to it as their own, because it is their own.

This ownership doesn’t happen overnight though, I know from talking to Gina and Travis, the founders of Hope in the Harvest and of this ARC, that for years they struggled with getting people to understand this farm wasn’t something they were doing for them, it was something they wanted to do with them for good of the entire country. In Liberia, like in other developing countries I have been to, people are given gifts by foreign NGOs or governments all the time, but not often are they given the gift of ownership. They aren’t given a chance to be heard or recognized for their ideas and talents. Instead, they are often bulldozed over with ideas and projects that are “bigger and better” or “more tested and proven” that are sure to make the difference and solve the problem. Imagine what this does to a peoples’ spirit…it kills it and even worse, it casts them into a brutal cycle of dependency, hard to escape.

That’s what we usually see in Liberia. To see this, to hear our friend say “this is our farm” was more invigorating and refreshing to me than the cool breeze that was blowing that evening after what had been a brutally hot and stressful day. It was a reminder to me of why I am here, why I came back. Not for me to lead or to try to come up with some magical ideas to end poverty, but to enable other people to step up with confidence and lead with their own ideas and eventually be able to truly believe that “this is our farm.”

We were all honored to have Ma Ellen visit us, here are a few pictures from the day!

ARC Staff prepared for the president’s arrival

Dr. Kiamu, president of LICC, welcoming Ma Ellen to the campus

Checking out the farm

Inspecting the greenhouse and learning about those tomatoes!

Getting ready to leave 

Bye bye, Ma Ellen!

 

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Leaving for Liberia TODAY!!

***A quick reminder, if you have already indicated to us that you are interested in partnering with us financially, the link for setting up your donation is here:                https://www.hopeintheharvest.org/donations/glenns/. If you could log on before the end of the month (THURSDAY, AUGUST 31st) and set up your donation, that would be such a huge blessing to us as we transition back into Liberia! Thank you!

We are SO CLOSE to meeting our ministry financial goal for this year with everyone who has verbally committed to us, but we are still looking for a few more people to partner with us and who have an interest and a heart for empowering people through agricultural and personal transformation. If this is you, we ask that you would please prayerfully consider joining us and Hope in the Harvest in this way***

Today’s the day! I can’t believe it’s here already but we are so excited to be heading back to our other home, Mama Liberia <3.  We leave TONIGHT, August 29th at 7:20pm from Indianapolis.  Then we will head to Detroit, then Amsterdam, then Freetown, and then finally Monrovia. Please keep us in your prayers for safe (and on-time) travels getting back to Liberia. We should land around 10pm (Liberian time) on Wednesday night, let’s hope all our suitcases arrive with us too and that Mark, our friend who is picking us up, has no car troubles on his way to the airport!

A big THANK YOU to everyone who has committed to walking alongside us in this ministry. It has been amazing to see how God has brought together a team of like-minded, passionate and sincere friends, family members, and organizations who have committed to link arms with us and our neighbors in Liberia, halfway around the world, in order to demonstrate God’s hope, power, and love for all people. We and Hope in the Harvest are so honored to have you all with us.

We love you guys and will share an update soon!!

-Anna & Nathan

The Bread of Life

“That’s it” I remember thinking to myself the first time I heard about it. “This is how it all comes together. These are the words I’ve been trying to say, this is what I’ve been feeling in my heart for sooo long and have been mulling over in my mind, but I just had never yet been able to fully understand the connection, the connection that was so clearly before me, so clearly designed by God.” This special thing between growing food and cultivating faith among the nations.

For the past week we have been attending a training called Farming God’s Way training in Indiana with almost 100 other missionaries. Farming God’s Way is a tool to help help break the chains of poverty by teaching agricultural concepts, biblical truths, and management concepts. I first heard about Farming God’s Way just a couple weeks or so after I had landed in Liberia. I had been reading the book “Kisses by Katie” and was poking around on the author’s blog when I found a tab about Farming God’s Way. I quickly poured over everything and I remember sitting on our bed, sweat dripping from the newness of the Liberian heat, eyes wide in wonder, and grabbing Nathan’s arm and telling him he needed to listen to this, this was sooooo cool. You’re probably thinking “Anna, settle down….this is just a curriculum, how nerdy are you, seriously woman??” But for me, it was life changing, eye opening. Here before me, was a more serious introduction into this world of food and faith that I had so desperately been seeking to understand more about, this thing I knew had been etched on my heart from very early on but my heart never knew how to communicate it to my brain or let alone to others. …but I’m learning now.

I’ve been learning so much this week, not just about technical things as it relates to agriculture but also about what God says through the Bible about Creation and the Garden of Eden and stewardship, the different kinds of poverty and the power/chains it has on people, how spiritual warfare plays into all this, God’s heart for the poor, and lastly God’s design for how we as the Body of Christ are to show His love to our brothers and sisters around the world. This training has helped to bring about a whole new level of meaning to certain scriptures and concepts in the Bible that I thought I knew and it’s brought with it a whole new understanding and now my heart and mind are just bursting with possibilities and with HOPE.

Nathan and I have always had a passion for growing food and feeding people, we love agriculture and we love others. So when we got the opportunity to come alongside youth and teach better ways of growing food, in a country where over 80% of their food is imported and more than half the people in the country are living in poverty, we saw it as such a unique way for us to use our passion and skills as a way to show love toward others for the good of God’s kingdom. And we loved our time last year teaching agriculture and helping to co-advise the FFA program. It was amazing to see the change in our students over the year as they built up their confidence as leaders and saw within themselves the power they had to be able to help change not only their situation but the situation of those around them. It was inspiring to be a part of and I am proud of my students. But throughout the year, God slowing began breaking our hearts even more for these students and showing us through His grace that His heart and vision for our friends in Liberia goes deeper and wider than this and that this work we were doing, though good and helpful and honoring to God, was just not enough (for us in our hearts) if we truly wanted to show others the real depths of His love.

One day I was talking with a friend and he told me about some girls he had run into while he was in the administrator’s office. These girls were in trouble for having snuck into the boy’s dormitory, but it’s not for the reason you might think, actually it’s quite the opposite. These girls went in there to steal (and then urinate on) some necklaces that had been purchased by the boys from the local witch doctor. It was said that these necklaces would make any girl they wanted have sex with them. The boys had gone around taunting the girls in classes and boasting about “the power” that they had over them because of this juju….and you know what? The girls believed them.  Like most Liberians, they believe in the powers of witchcraft and believe that there is no power greater than this and what the witch doctor speaks into proclamation will and must come true. They were terrified. They were distraught. They felt trapped, in chains, and controlled by this supposed all-encompassing power and they didn’t know how to escape. They had tried what they could to “break the spell” but still my heart broke for them for everything they did not yet know…

I realized that no matter how much I trained them in good agricultural practices, no matter how good they were in school, no matter how much they grew as leaders, and no matter how much they believed in themselves or wanted to take care of others, it would never be enough. All of this is worth nothing, smarts, money, success, and even confidence and compassionate acts is worth nothing if they don’t know Him. If they don’t know that God already sent his only son to forgive them and redeem them, they don’t need to practice all these other rituals to try and earn His favor and redeem their own sins; if they don’t know how much God loves them, protects them, cherishes them as His children just as they are now and they are not just some pawns in a witch doctor’s hands; if they don’t know that through Jesus they are FREE and now have access to a power greater than all the other powers and forces around them, a power infinitely times greater than the power of the local witch doctor and his/her juju.

This week in training Grant, the Farming God’s Way trainer, said something that caught the attention of both Nathan and I immediately because it spoke right to our souls again and made clear everything that God had been laying on our hearts this past year as we’ve been transitioning to work with Hope in the Harvest. “How can I feed others, without also giving them the Bread of Life?” The Bread of Life, the food our souls need, the one thing I cannot live without.  We as people are so much more than just our physical bodies and those needs. Our souls hunger for and need something more, something so much deeper, so much more powerful, and so much more filling than we could ever imagine…..the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ.

John 6:35, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

John 6:27, “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 

Philippians 3:8, “Indeed, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have discarded everything else, I consider them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”

Staking our claim by praying over the ground where our garden will be and acknowledging God as the provider of all things.

Here’s To The Process!

A reflection from Nathan from the end of our AgriCorps experience, June 2017:

Standing there in a group of Booker Washington Institute (BWI) FFA leaders and alumni, I looked off in the distance in the direction of our FFA students who were laughing, yelling, and running around while playing ultimate frisbee on the football field. It was after our FFA End of the Year Program and the sun was setting just behind where the students were playing. It was beautiful. However, that’s not what I thought was beautiful at that moment. What caught my eye and my interest was the situation in which after the completion of a positive youth development program the adults conversed while the kids played and had fun. It occurred to me that this situation was eerily similar to situations that I was very familiar with growing up. Without fail, after the many sports game or practices, this strangely identical situation would slowly construct itself. To those who have not experienced these situations, or even to those who have, I may seem crazy; what’s so interesting and beautiful about a seemingly normal situation in life? Well, in a positive youth development process that can be very difficult, it was one of those few moments for reflection on accomplishment. Here are my reflections:

1. First and foremost I was in awe of the friendship that was being practiced in front of me by the students and the adults. We were smiling and taking pictures while you could hear the hysterical laughter and yelling of the students in the background. FFA really has successfully unified people on the basis of a passion for leadership and agriculture.

2. This moment was a milestone because before this moment FFA at BWI seemed to live by the motto “work hard, work harder”. Throughout our time with the BWI FFA, we had trouble organizing events and activities that would be fun because the students weren’t at that level yet. They weren’t able to do it and to be honest, we were hesitant to help too much. We didn’t know whether we were doing it the right way, but we wanted these fun times to come after the students and alumni had done the majority of the work to organize it. Helping out too much too early would have only lowered the bar; a bar that we wanted to raise so that they had to reach out of their comfort zones. Flash forward to this moment and it felt natural and it was because the students deserved it. They worked hard and now they got to play hard.

3. Adults in Liberia don’t have the same relationship with their children as adults in the United States do. In the learning process, it seems like a lot of the time that adults are taking over the hands-on experiential learning activities for themselves, leaving menial tasks to the students. To a degree, that sense of “I have done it, but I want them to do it”, or that sense of “whatever is good for the children” is usually missing. But, not in this situation…not after the ‘End of the Year’ FFA event that was completely organized by the student! This was a moment where the Alumni and other adult leaders of the BWI FFA felt accomplished for what the students had done, not for what they had done. You could sense the pride that the BWI FFA adult leaders had for their student FFA members.

4. At this moment, the BWI FFA is not where I had hoped they would be when I started this journey, but the process itself was a huge success. My goals for the FFA were higher. I had hoped to do so many more social activities, leadership workshops, educational competitions, and community service events. Many of the goals I set for the club were not met. However, if you were to describe the process that we went through together and the meaningful growth that I witnessed in these students, alumni, and this chapter as a whole, I would not have believed it. The students went from not knowing what FFA is to organizing an end of the year party to celebrate their accomplishments and playing ultimate frisbee like best friends, unified by their passion for leadership and agriculture. The FFA alumni went from being in control of the organizing to giving ownership of the FFA to the students while separating themselves into the BWI FFA Alumni Volunteer Network. I went from focusing on MY goals and vision to focusing on OUR goals by getting to know the people of the BWI FFA and nurturing my relationships with them. Vision and goals are necessary for motivation and perseverance, but in the game of life, I think I’ve figured out that it’s all about the process.

I’m so proud of these students and this FFA! The students have taken ownership of their education and their futures. The adults have taken ownership for the FFA and the success of the student members. Here’s to many more years of hard work, growth, and fun celebrations for the BWI FFA in the future! Here’s to the process!

 

BECOME A HOPE CULTIVATOR

This morning a special verse came up on my Facebook memories and i wanted to share with you all since I think it is really applicable to my thoughts today.

“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and He holds all of creation together.” Col 1:16-17″ 

Our world today is filled with so much poverty, brokenness, illness, and sin, and when I shared this verse 4 years ago on Facebook I was living in Guatemala and feeling overwhelmed by all the suffering and injustices around me. How can God let this happen, does He even see this, does He care? Does my work even matter? Where are you in all of this, God? I’m sure you have had the same feeling no matter where in the world you live, because whether it is the US, Guatemala, or Liberia, this world is full of so much evil, suffering, injustice, poverty, and more.  And yet, as a believer I know that I can still have a rich HOPE and my work and daily actions is not for loss because I know that God created every little thing and He sees every little thing…every abandoned or forgotten child, every hungry farmer, every beggar, every mother and every father, every little fight and every abuse, every person who has ever been cheated, everyone….and still He holds it all together in His hands, NOBODY is forgotten, no matter if it looks like they have been by the world. He knows and cares for everyone, even if they don’t know or care for Him. He cannot hate or abandon anything or anyone that He created. He knows and He cares and He is working all things together for His good, even if I can’t see it yet, I trust in that truth. I honestly don’t think I could do this work or even live this life if I didn’t have this hope and knowledge that He really does care and see and He holds it all together in His hands. We have a God that is so much stronger and so much more powerful than any circumstance of this world, any power of Hell, or any scheme of man. It is this HOPE that we should mediate on and trust in daily for all of creation’s redemption and healing.

It is that same HOPE that I trust in and motivates me as we continue working in Liberia. Though the problems are many and the situation can at times feel very overwhelming, I know that God is there and He cares and is looking to rescue each and every one of us and draw us in close with love and restore our hope. Through our work in teaching agriculture and helping to meet earthly needs as well as sharing the gospel and connecting people with their Creator on a deeper level, we are looking to spread that same HOPE and you too can be a part of it!

In order for us to continue our work next year, we are looking for a group of ministry partners (or as we like to call them HOPE CULTIVATORS) who can first commit to supporting us through prayer as this is the most important way of supporting our ministry. In addition, we are looking for people to join us as monthly givers or one-time donors in helping to spread this hope that we have. Are you able to give $25, $50, $100 or $200 or any amount other amount per month? There is also the opportunity to support us through one-time donations if that works better for your and every amount helps. If you are interested/able to support us, you can visit  our blog (https://glennsgoglobal.wordpress.com/how-can-you-help/donate/) and click the “how can you help?” page or visit Hope in the Harvest’s website (http://www.hopeintheharvest.org/?page_id=247) and click “Donate.” All donations are tax-deductible.  If you are unable to support us financially at this time we completely understand and still we ask for your prayers and help spreading the word about this work.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have questions about our work, we would love to sit down and talk with you more and share our heart for what God is doing in Liberia. We have HOPE and can see such a bright future for our friends there and for Liberia as a country and we are so lucky to be a part of it  and hope you can too.

 

Home <3

For those of you who haven’t heard yet, we are home!

The last week at site in Kakata was a whirlwind that I barely remember but it started out with an awesome field trip (see previous post) and ended with loading all our things up into a van and then trying to squeeze ourselves in between the luggage. In between, we also gave 3 final exams, graded 130 final exams and hundreds of other assignments we left until the last minute (ooops), a goodbye lunch, goodbye photos shoots, and a year end party and game night for the FFA…and then of course packing up all of our belongings! It felt weird to say goodbye to all our friends, students, and coworkers but it was made easier by knowing that we are coming back in 2 months to Liberia!

After we moved out, we spent a few days in Monrovia doing paperwork and reports for AgriCorps and processing the past 10 months in a new country. We also attempted to hit up the beach and enjoy a little relaxation but by mid-June rainy season had already set in and there’s not a day that does by without rain now 😦

Before heading back to the US, we were lucky enough to spend a few days in Belgium on an extended layover. This was our first time in Europe for both of us so it was exciting to be able to explore yet another place together again! We did one day in Brussels, one day in Bruges, and then one day in Ghent and really enjoyed seeing all the old architecture and sampling beer, waffles, and chocolates!

We landed back in the US on June 25th but we weren’t home yet. We were in Dallas, TX for the annual AgriCorps Fellows Welcome Home Luncheon. At the luncheon, we had the opportunity to meet members of the board and supporters of AgriCorps as well as share stories about what this year meant to us. It was so good to see all the Fellows from Ghana again and a great way to wrap up our time with AgriCorps!

And on June 27th at around 12:30am we were finally home! Since then, we’ve been resting (and trying to figure out which time zone we are in), hanging out with family, seeing friends, and enjoying everything that America has to offer…more specifically hot showers and a variety of yummy foods. For the most part it’s been a smooth transition back to the US, but there has been a little bit of reverse culture shock adjusting to the pace of life in America again, we forgot how fast life was here!

Soon we will be updating everyone with more information about the work that we will be doing next year with Hope in the Harvest and sharing more specifics about how YOU can be involved too! Stay tuned!

Thanks as always for all the prayers and support, we couldn’t have made it through this past year without you! We are so glad to be home this summer and hope we get to see as many of you as possible!

Anna & Nathan

Field Trip!

Usually the night before a big event with my students, like most teachers or FFA advisors, I am up worrying and worrying…hoping that the next day will go well. Hoping that I remembered to do everything, call this person, remind this person, print that, or purchase this….hoping that people actually show up. I can make myself so anxious I barely sleep sometimes. But this evening was different. I had a big event tomorrow, a field trip with the FFA! We were taking 20 students off campus to a place called Wulki’s farm which was about 45 minutes away. But, I didn’t have the bus driver’s number, I hadn’t purchased any food for the trip tomorrow, I didn’t have the list of the names of students who were going, I didn’t even have the name of the tour guide who was supposedly taking us around the farm. How could I not be panicking??? What kind of advisor was i?! I had done nothing, absolutely nothing! Ahhhh but that was the beauty of it….because you see this time, I wasn’t the one in charge….they were.

For the past few months the students had been begging me to go on a field trip. I tried planning one (mostly on my own) the previous month and let’s just say the results were not too good. I did all the planning, all the organizing, and lined them up with all sorts of activities I thought they would enjoy…but when it came time to commit and pay for the field trip….crickets….only 1 person signed up and paid. I was definitely a little bit hurt and offended that I had worked so hard to put this together for them….something that they said they wanted! So when the idea came up again that they wanted to try planning another field trip, I was a little less than thrilled to be a part of it all over again. I told them I didn’t think we had time to plan another one (which was true knowing how long things take to plan in Liberia) but also I really just didn’t want the stress or to be responsible for another failed event and I was tired from trying so hard the last time (and all the other times we had tried things and failed…the FFA was taking a long time to pick up speed and popularity on campus despite our best efforts). I only had one more month left, I could see the end in sight and I could see the possibility of a free Saturday lounging around Kakata in my future. But the students insisted, we had to do a field trip they said and sensing my hesitation, they said they would plan the whole thing. Plan the whole thing? Hmmmmm…..let me think about this….

On one hand, this could be really good….really give them an opportunity use their leadership skills, work together as a team for one common goal, practice responsibility, and put into practice a lot of the things we have been talking about all year. This could be a great last project for them, an amazing way to end the year! But on the other hand, I’m tired….and what if I give up complete control (yikes!) and it doesn’t happen at all or it’s a complete disaster?? What am I worrying about…it probably won’t happen. Just say “yes” we can do it and see what happens. When you think about it, you have nothing to lose and they have everything to gain if this works out…. Give them a chance, Anna! Believe in them!

Right away they assigned two people to be on the planning committee. The next week, Amos gave a report on how the field trip planning was coming. He said he had paid his own way in a taxi on his free Saturday to go to the farm, talk with the tour guide about dates and negotiate price. Wowza, a sophomore in high school taking that kind of initiative! That’s awesome! The next thing I knew the treasurer, Joseph, said he had spoken with the owner’s wife at church and was working on negotiating an even lower price for our FFA group. Even better! The club members were impressed too and visibly getting excited. Being around their energy, I myself couldn’t resist getting excited too and found myself thinking “this could actually work out” but I had my reservations still because I knew there was still so much to do in 3 short weeks….

The following week Amos and Harris came to me after school and we sat and crafted our letters to the administration asking for permission to go and possibly use the school bus. When I got word that our request to use the bus had been rejected, I got discouraged….knowing that to rent a bus would double our price making it hard for members to pay their way. I was ready to quit, but luckily they weren’t ready to quit so easily. The leadership already had a back-up plan and they quick got Josephus, the president, to start working on talking to local bus companies and negotiating prices. This task is “no small thing-ooo” as we say in Liberia and requires walking around to different taxi stations in the city, lots of back and forth dialog/debate about prices, and finally staying on top of drivers to make sure that they don’t accept any other offers for that day and end up leaving you high and dry. Josephus worked tirelessly and each time we spoke over the next few weeks he always had a new lead or update he was following. Meanwhile, Harris and Amos were also busy writing/delivering letters asking teachers and community members for donations to help fund the trip. Sounds easy enough…but in Liberia where hardly anyone has a computer (or fast typing skills for that matter) and where most printers within a 1 mile radius always seem to be out of ink and/or paper this is no easy thing! Then there’s trying to track down everyone you want to give a letter to…there’s no email or postal system, you have to do it in person! Well they did it, they delivered 17 letters!

While the planning committee was out chasing money, the publicity chair Patience and her group were out advertising the event…making signs, speaking in classrooms, and standing outside the dining hall. Their publicity worked and soon the treasurer started collecting the funds from people. Before I knew it, we had at least 14 people signed up, just like that! And the treasurer had detailed records for everything, neat and organized. In a country where corruption and thievery is rampant, (even among student groups) and where organization skills are not always highly valued…his perfect little entries in his notebook were such a beautiful thing to see! People trusted Joseph, people trusted the FFA and it was becoming more and clearer to me each day why. These students were different, these students had pride in their work, these students had integrity, these students had ambition, these students were honest and sincere, these students cared, these students were real leaders… a real embodiment of everything that the values and mission of the FFA. I don’t know how they ended up with me here in the FFA but I’m sure glad I was getting the change to work with them.

The trip ended up being a great success and I really didn’t have anything to worry about, they had thought of and taken care of everything! We played games, sang songs, and even got to see tons of things they had never seen before including horses (some even tried riding them), donkeys, crocodiles, turkeys, geese, ostrich, and a swimming pool! Everyone had such a great time! I will always remember that trip as one of the best days of my AgriCorps service. Not just because of seeing the animals (although it was super fun to get to see my students approach a horse for the first time), but because it was visible to see how proud our FFA members were of themselves for organizing this trip entirely on their own. That really warms a teacher’s heart anywhere in the world ❤

It was also a humble reminder for me how important it is to build up and encourage others around you, to believe in people. I know I’ve said this before in one of my past blogs but I think it’s been a theme for me this year:  It’s amazing what people can do if you just believe in them.

I’m so excited to see where these students go and everything that they will do with the FFA in the future!

“Be an encourager, the world has enough critics already”

“Encouragement is free, and beyond measurement in value”

Welcome to Liberia- My dad visits Liberia!

My dad came and visited us last month! Here he shares his thoughts about coming to Liberia for the first time, hope you enjoy!

Welcome to Liberia

By Scott Glenn

“Welcome! Welcome to Liberia!” This is a greeting that I heard many times during my five-day stay in Liberia to visit my son, Nathan, and his wife Anna. This was inevitably followed by a Liberian hand shake; which involves a normal handshake, followed by a thumb grip, and ending with our two hands clasping with fingers cupped and our thumbs firmly behind the other’s middle finger. When the hands pull away quickly, the thumb and middle finger come together and snap. That is if you do it right. It took many practice attempts for me to get it right. But they patiently worked with me and smiled. They were always smiling. The greeting would almost always end with, “You are very welcome.” This was genuine. Nathan and Anna have made so many friends in Liberia that I must have gone through this routine 100 times. And each time they made me feel like they were happy that I was there. They made me feel welcome.

On my 24-hour trip home, I decided to write down a list of unique things about Liberia that I did not want to forget. My list grew to over 200 memories before I finally dozed off. Obviously, I cannot cover my entire list in this blog, so I have decided to concentrate on what impressed me the most; the people. I was told by a few Liberians that I met at the school that the people of Liberia were lazy. However, I did not find that to be the case, just the opposite. Everybody I saw was working hard to survive. Many people were selling something; fabric, toothbrushes, flip-flops, fresh meat, or vegetables. Families would walk miles to get to the markets with the products that they wanted to sell in baskets balanced on their head. I saw men standing on the side of the tar road (the only paved road through Liberia) dangling fish or a civet that they caught, hoping someone would stop and buy it.

Those that weren’t selling something were often in the transportation business. Taxies were old, manual-shift cars. Unless you are willing to buy out the other seats, if you hail a taxi they will have you wait until the car is filled. Filled, typically means seven to eight passengers in a five-passenger car. Sometimes passengers ride on the back of the car or the roof. Liberians call these the VIP seats. Some cars are used to haul products to the market. They will be packed to the ceiling with produce and there will be a four-foot stack of materials tied to the roof. Occasionally, you will see passengers riding on top of the stack. Then there are the motorcycles. They are everywhere. They dart in and out of traffic, often with two or three passengers behind the driver, or sometimes they will be carrying something like a mattress wedged between the driver and the passenger. This is a typical business day in Liberia.

The heat and humidity in Liberia that I was warned about lived up to its billing. We have days like that in Maryland, but when I get too hot I just find air conditioning. You don’t have that luxury in Liberia. The combination of sweat, dirt from the dirt roads, and only a daily bucket bath, often left me feeling like the character Pig Pen in the Charley Brown comic strip. Yet, the Liberians always seemed fresh and clean. I think I figured out their secret. While driving down the tar road I saw numerous Liberians in the waterways along the road all day long, bathing, washing clothes, and washing their motorcycles. Some even hauling water on their heads back to their house which could be several km away. These are not lazy people. These are people that are finding a way to make it work under difficult circumstances. Liberia suffered through two horrific civil wars. As the second war ended and the country began to recover an Ebola epidemic broke out. These events not only caused many deaths, it isolated Liberia from the rest of the world. This has significantly stymied recovery.

As an agriculturalist, I see Liberia as a fertile country that woefully under produces. Much of the food sold at markets is shipped in from neighboring countries. Many of the youth that I met strive to be politicians, preachers, or in the military; not farmers. Yet, only through improved food production can Liberia break the bonds of poverty. It will take volunteers, like Nathan and Anna, and organizations like AgriCorps to turn this around and get Liberia on the path toward sustainability.

When travelling through Liberia we would weave in and out of heavy traffic, avoiding people darting across the street with carts full of wares to sell and the large holes that peppered the roads. All this with no traffic lights, stop signs, or crosswalks. I felt a sense of accomplishment, and frankly relief, when we made it safely from point A to point B. But the Liberians have developed a strong sense of self-reliance and cooperation so they make it work. I met an outgoing, young man who was a student at Booker Washington Institute, where Nathan and Anna teach. Almost immediately after finishing our Liberian greeting, he told me that he was going to become President of Liberia one day. Imagine that, a society that allows an average citizen to realistically dream of becoming President. That sounds to me like the makings of a great nation.

fresh juice

500 Liberian Dollars = 5 US Dollars

learning how to drink from a water sachet

Gifts from the Maryland FFA program

learning the Liberian hand shake/snap

Hope in the Harvest

Back in October as part of our monthly in-service training with AgriCorps, Nathan and I visited this place called “Liberia International Christian College (LICC).” Partnering with the school was an international NGO mission called “Hope in the Harvest” whose mission is to “cultivate Christ’s hope in underdeveloped and impoverished areas of the world through agricultural and personal transformation.” Their vision is simply “generating Christ-centered economic growth.” The NGO and its amazing founders, Gina and Travis Sheets, have been partnering with the school since 2011 by helping to run the agriculture department and demonstration farm. The work that they have done in this short amount of time is unbelievable and unlike any other organization I have seen in Liberia; that is of course why we were brought to visit them in the first place!

The ARC (Agricultural Resource Center). This is where the agriculture classrooms are, the agriculture lab, agriculture demo sites, and our apartment is up on the top floor!

As we got a tour of the agriculture department and the agriculture practical site, we kept getting blown away by all that we were seeing. There were so many things we had never seen in Liberia before, things we didn’t even know existed because they are so rare here. For example, there were fields full of pineapple, peppers, and corn, cages filled with chickens, turkeys, pigeons, quail, rabbits, geese, and dairy goats (the only herd in the country so I’m told!) There was also a miniature zoo to educate students and community members about species that were native to Liberia’s habitat but that hardly anyone knew about or cared about after the war destroyed so much of their habitat. I saw monkeys, crocodiles, civets, pottos, parrots, iguanas, deer, and more. In addition, we met staff who were knowledgeable about so much and clearly eager to teach and to learn more themselves. We also met students who were equally as eager to teach and to learn.

We were in awe of everyone there and everything that the mission was doing. And when we heard the story about how it all began and their vision for how they saw this place growing and continuing to make an impact in Liberia our hearts were stirring because we could see it too! As we went through the weekend, I secretly dreamed about being able to work here next year, or maybe somewhere like this place in the future. Working at a place like this would give the opportunity to work in agriculture internationally and use that as a venue to share my faith…something I have always dreamed about and felt led to do. I let the thought cross my mind, but I was cautious not to let it grow into anything too big…besides, in my mind we weren’t nearly qualified to work at a place like this. I also couldn’t imagine being able to try and fill the shoes left behind by Gina and Travis, even though Travis once said in a casual conversation “you know you could work here, you guys would be great.” I shrugged and said the place was amazing and chalked the offer up to just him being friendly, but not serious.

Well after the weekend trip up to LICC, Nathan and I got to talking. He too thought the place was amazing and when I told him I dreamed of working at a place like that he agreed that he felt there was definitely a God-sized reason we had visited but what that was we still weren’t too sure. We thought that maybe God had brought us there just to meet the Sheets, or maybe just so that we could see Him visibly at work in Liberia, or maybe so that we could become donor/advocates for the mission, or maybe it was in order to give Nathan a vision of what he hoped to accomplish one day himself (he has spent a lot of time these past few years thinking about business/NGO ideas that would allow both of us to work in agriculture and share our faith through that venue). As we were contemplating these things, we received an email from the Sheets asking us if we had ever thought about mission work and if so what about working with Hope in the Harvest?

Well that was all it took and our minds were racing with excitement thinking about all the different ways we could use our own experiences, passions, and skills to help further the work of Hope in the Harvest in Liberia. We could teach, train teachers, train extension agents, help students do research projects, help share agricultural information with the government’s Ministry of Agriculture from our own experiments, help preserve unique species, learn about new areas of agriculture ourselves, lead bible studies, disciple students, work with youth development programs like 4-H and FFA and help their impact spread even further, and work with local farmers in conducting Farming Gods Way trainings. This felt like the natural next step for us and it was so clear. We were only 3 months into living in Liberia and already it felt like we knew what we were supposed to do after our time with AgriCorps was finished, it was so exciting! But then, a few weeks after the initial excitement though doubts started to set in fast. Can we handle being away from our friends and family again? Do we really want to stay in Liberia for 2 more years? Are we wasting our “youth” by not chasing after a “normal career job”? How will we raise the money needed for our combined salaries? Do we really have any skills/experience that are useful to the mission there? Do we have what it takes to be a “missionary”? What are our motives for wanting to do this, to try and earn the favor of God, to be admired by others, to further our careers, or to really work alongside our friends here for the good of Liberia? Is this what God wants us to do? Is this where He is leading us?

And so we’ve spent the past 6 months talking with each other, talking with family and friends and most importantly talking with God in prayer. And the more we tried to debate with each other and play devil’s advocate and come up with reasons for why we shouldn’t stay, the more reasons God showed us for why we should stay, why this is exactly where He wants us. We knew it from the beginning, the first time we visited there was something drawing us to this place and to this work. And so now here we are feeling so at peace, ready and excited to commit another 2 years to living in Liberia! Ready to move north to a new town, meet new people, work with new students, encounter new challenges, and stretch our minds and hearts even further in our pursuit to see His kingdom come to earth. We couldn’t be more excited to share the news with you! We cannot do this alone though and so we ask that you please join us in prayer for the following things:

  • Prayers for Gina and Travis as they wrap up their time with the mission in Liberia. They have dedicated an incredible 5 years to the mission and their vision is what started this whole thing!
  • Please pray for us as we wrap up our time in Kakata with AgriCorps, that we would continue to work hard and not grow weary; continue to challenge and encourage the students and the FFA.
  • Prayers for us and the Seebalds (another couple also joining the mission in September) as we all make preparations for this next big life change.
  • Prayers for the students, workers, teachers, and staff at LICC that they will stay strong in their faith and hold fast to the mission of the school.
  • Prayers for Nathan and I as we set out to start fundraising the money needed for our salaries (more updates on how you can help in the next blog post, for now all we ask is for your prayerful consideration).
  • Prayers for our trip back to the US in July and August that it would be restful as well as productive.

Bill and Holy Seebald (the other family coming) and us! This is the team for next year!

Africa Doesn’t Matter

I was sitting in the soil science lab grading papers when one of my Liberian colleagues struck up a conversation with me. It started out with him noticing that I was once again wearing a lappa outfit (lappa is the African fabric) and him teasing me and saying how much of a Liberian I have become. I dress like a Liberian, I can cook like a Liberian, I understand the Liberians when they talk, and I can even talk like a Liberian small small (Liberian for “a little bit”). He said when people see you wearing these clothes and talking like you do now they will ask “why have you changed? Where is it that this woman has come from? Then he asked me “when you go back to America, what will you tell the people about what you have seen here? What news will you share? What is your favorite thing about this place that you will carry back?”

There are so many things I love, but the first thing that I thought of naturally was how generous everyone is and how welcoming people are, I mean strangers will offer you food if you happen to walk by and they are eating. My colleague agreed with me and then went on to keep giving examples of how generous and caring people are here. If you are about to leave a taxi and then realize you forgot to bring enough money with you to pay, someone else in the car will step in and pay. If you see someone on the side of the road crying, a Liberian will stop and see if they are ok and do anything to help them get back on their feet again. If someone asks you for food, you will not think twice about sharing. I agreed of course with everything he was saying and I continued to list off more things that I love…the clothes, the music, the food, the street vendors, the scenery, the jokes, the traditions, little Liberian sayings, and so much more. It was a jovial conversation, he and I were just laughing about all the beautiful things in Liberia and how he could see I had slowly grown accustomed to his way of life. He didn’t say it, but all throughout the conversation it was easy to see how proud he was of his country and perhaps how glad he was that I saw it too.

But then he got serious and he asked me in a very slow and thought out way “Fefe (my Liberian name meaning “breeze”), why don’t people in your country know about Africa? Why don’t you learn about Africa in your schools growing up? Does the news not cover Africa in your country? We in Liberia learn all about your country, your history, and your traditions and we always know the news going on in the US, so why don’t U.S.-Americans know anything about Liberia? It was clear that to him, the idea of how a continent with a culture, tradition, history, landscape, and people as beautiful and as rich as this could be unknown or ignored, is simply and honesty incomprehensible, inconceivable

Taken aback by the directness and frankly the rawness of his questions, my confident little self just wanted to fill the silence with words and so I just started mumbling out a series of half-truths that I thought might be able to reasonably explain why the United States seemingly doesn’t have interest or doesn’t know about Africa.  Sure we all know about one part of Africa- the poverty part- from all the iconic photos/commercials of starving babies with swollen bellies covered in flies lying in a mud huts. But that’s not all Africa is, that’s not the whole story. What about the other parts of Africa? The good parts, the beautiful things, the rich culture, the music, the fashion, the art, the science, the businesses, the life-changing ideas, the creativity, the boldness, the kindness, the deep love, the unbelievable faith, the beautiful traditions. I tried to explain myself, I tried to defend my country and the fact that I didn’t learn about any of these things with just a series of excuses… “Oh, we just don’t have time to learn all that, we just have so many things to learn about” and “and “it’s not that we are purposely leaving Africa out, it’s just that we don’t spend a lot of time…..” And then I just had to stop myself and say “I don’t know” as if I was just as confused myself why a lot of the world didn’t know about Africa. But the truth is I had a sneaking suspicion that maybe I did know…

I sat there and a flood of guilt washed over my consciousness as I realized that the only answer that kept coming to my mind was “because Africa doesn’t matter.” I was shocked when I heard myself think those words.  I cringed as those words kept creeping up in the back of my mind and like a person who had just had all their intimate belongings accidentally spilled out on the floor of a public place awkwardly rushes to pack everything back up before someone sees it, so I too hurriedly and awkwardly tried to shove those words “because Africa doesn’t matter” back down into the depths of my subconsciousness and run away as fast as I could from my own mind.  Where did those thoughts even come from? How did they get there? How long had they been there? Did I put them there? Do I really believe that? How long did it take for those words “because Africa doesn’t matter” to form in the back of my mind? Less than a millisecond! It was already there somewhere inside me, ingrained in me despite the fact that I’d been talking about the importance of Africa for years in school and at church, despite the fact that I thought I was just talking about how much I supposedly loved Africa, despite the fact that I live in Africa….What?? How?? Why???  But, back to the real problem at hand, how do I answer that question now? How do you tell someone to their face it’s because they don’t matter?

You don’t, obviously and it’s not true, obviously. But it got me thinking…is it that Africa really doesn’t matter or is that many of us just don’t know about Africa and therefore it seems that Africa doesn’t matter? Should we be expected to know (or even desire to know) everything about every country in Africa, or even the world? Surely, it’s not possible! I know that! And is the fact that we don’t know much about a continent saying that we don’t care? Because if that’s true, then that is saying that I don’t care about a lot of people in a lot places because there is ohhh so much about this big big world that I don’t know! What is it then? Why did those thoughts “Africa doesn’t matter” even appear in my brain? Is there a part of me that believes that Africa doesn’t matter? Why?

It was at that moment that I realized that just because it might have been an answer- “because Africa doesn’t matter”- doesn’t mean it was necessarily true. Plenty of people know that Africa matters, I know that Africa matters and I know that if you are reading this blog that you think that Africa matters too. But unfortunately,  it is my belief that there are other forces telling us that Africa doesn’t matter and sometimes we can be tricked into believing the lie, a lie that part of me still maybe believes to some small extent. This lie doesn’t just come from one source and this lie isn’t something that is always obvious to see, but nonetheless, it is my belief (maybe I’m wrong) that it is still there like an undercurrent steadily beating beneath the surface of our society, unrecognized and unknown…this lie that “Africa doesn’t matter.” A lie that we have been told subtly by the media who never really spend any time covering African news (no it’s not entirely the media’s fault…I wish it were that easy to explain); by our education systems that are often lacking when it comes to teaching us about countries other than our own (the world has only recently begun this rapid globalization phenomenon and so can they really be blamed? Besides, I think that this is already changing in schools now); by the economic systems that always seem to inadvertently oppress and forget about Africa’s needs; by our international policies that say “America first,” which, perhaps driven by our own fears of the unknown, might lead us to conclude that one person’s life and well-being is more valuable then another person’s just because of where they were born; by our our own shame used to hide/cover up our complicated history with Africa;  by our trade policies that exclude rather than include; our aid/charity agendas that sometimes are manipulated to serve our own needs rather than build-up the people with whom we are working with; by our ethnocentric culture that tends to think our way of doing things is the best/only way, etc, etc. Not one of these is any more or less responsible or dangerous than the others and certainly there are plenty other things that contribute to us buying into the lie (maybe lie is too strong, misunderstanding, shaded truth, half-truth, false truth? I don’t know). But regardless, all of this combined together with our own sinful human nature (with its naturally self-seeking with self-prioritizing motives) has led us to believing a lie, a lie that we have accepted as fact, a lie that I didn’t even realize I still believed until the moment when my colleague’s seemingly innocent question basically asked me to my face why he and his people don’t matter or aren’t known (other than as charity cases) to the rest of the world. Again, maybe I’m wrong and maybe I’m being way too hard on myself (happens a lot), but it’s still something to think about…

So back to his question, “Why don’t people in the United States know about us in Africa?”  What I probably should have done rather than be embarrassed or overwhelmed with guilt, spewing out a mixture of lame, but seemingly plausible excuses to explain it all away and sweep it under the rug, was to just stop talking and say “I’m sorry.” And then, like a surgeon with her scalpel removing an infectious tumor, get to work on digging out and removing that lie that “Africa doesn’t matter” from the depths of my consciousness because with that lie, or anything resembling that lie still in my brain, I cannot, in good consciousness, truly appreciate, work efficiently with, or claim to really love all of these things and people in Africa that do matter. 

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I thought I had gotten rid of that belief a long time ago when I first visited Africa and decided to dedicate my career to working with the people of this continent, but it turns out I still have a lot of work to do and though overwhelming and hard to recognize this in myself, I’m so thankful that God in His grace continues to open my eyes to the ways in which my thinking is still a bit flawed and areas where I still need to grow in order to honor Him more.

This blog was really hard for me to share, I debated posting it every day for about 2 weeks and I’m still debating it now just minutes before I post because 1) I didn’t want anyone to think that I was judging them and 2) I didn’t want anyone to judge me either! Please know that I’m not saying that everyone has to know as much or dedicate their lives to Africa in order to say that you care about Africa, because I know that you do care (none of you are monsters!) and I know that we each have our own unique purpose/calling in this world, many of which are far from Africa and that’s OK. But I shared this blog because I wanted to be honest in sharing my short-comings and struggles in case there is anyone else out there who might struggle with these same types of thoughts. Is there any small part of you that might also believe this lie? If so, I understand, I understand completely. But rather than letting yourself feel guilty and burying those feelings deep down so you don’t have to deal with them, I encourage you too to try, alongside of me, to do everything you can to dig out this infectious belief from your subconscious, if it is even there at all. Some ideas: really get to know someone from Africa living in the US, learn about a new country each week with your family by watching the news or a documentary, read a biography of one of the amazing men and women from this continent (I am adding a list of good reads to a different page on this blog), make an effort to purchase African-made goods, double check your motives/heart when donating to charities, don’t be afraid to explore the deep parts of your consciousness and re-evaluate if needed, examine stories about Africa with a critical eye asking yourself “is this the whole story or only half the story?,” pray for God to change your heart and open your eyes wider to the real vision He has for humanity, and pray for the people here to be seen and to be known by more of the world. And if at any time you feel overwhelmed by all that there is to know and understand and decipher in this world, know that I am right there with you in all the confusion, but trust that God has it all under control and all you can do is what He has called you individually to do.

From my first trip to Africa in 2011. I went to Botwana with Cru and worked in an orphanage and doing evangelism on a college campus. This little girl Kebuele was quiet and reserved when I first met her but later became a little ball of energy and smiles!

Tanzania, 2016. Being presented with a kitenge by one of the village elders after working with farmers on sustainable agricultural practices for 3 weeks.

Now, living in Liberia I have had the opportunity to form truly lasting relationships with some pretty amazing people. Ma Daisy is one of the hardest working, most determined, strongest women I have ever met in my life!