UMD ROOTS in Liberia

For the past few months you may have seen me talking about ROOTS on social media and how awesome it is to be partnering with them- here is a little background information on how we came to be involved with this group and all the work we have since accomplished together!!!

A couple days before we were scheduled to fly home from Liberia last summer, we got an email from the CEO at AgriCorps who wanted to connect us with a student at University of Maryland (our alma mater, yayyyy!!). This student, Cedric Nwafor, was looking to create a new student organization called UMD ROOTS Africa. The goal of the organization was to connect students at UMD (with an interest in combating food insecurity and poverty) with farmers and students in developing countries so that together these groups could discuss local challenges and opportunities and then find ways to implement solutions. I LOVED this idea. Too many times we see groups try to work “for” the people rather than with people. When I heard about the collaboration that UMD ROOTS was interested in doing and the genuine benefits it would have for both groups of students involved, we were immediately intrigued to learn more so we set up a meeting with Cedric  for our first week back in the US, not knowing really what would come of it all.

After meeting with Cedric and hearing more from him personally about what his vision was and the passion that drove him, we knew we wanted to be a part of it but there were still many factors to figure out: would there be other students interested in joining this club? would the two universities be open to partnership and what would that look like? would finances or resources be a problem? was there enough time? would it be effective? etc etc.

In time, all of these questions were resolved and things started coming together. Starting in November we began having virtual meetings with the two groups of students where they introduced themselves, grew to understand what partnership might look like, discussed challenges that farmers face in agriculture in Liberia, as well as started brainstorming ideas for practical solutions that the two groups of students might be able to put into place together during spring break.

Two months before the UMD spring break, we still weren’t 100% sure if the group would be coming but we planned as if they were. There was still a lot of fundraising to do, passports and visas to secure, and tickets to buy but that didn’t discourage anyone- if anything it made everyone work harder. One month before their scheduled departure date I got an email saying tickets had been purchased- it was definitely happening!!!!

On Friday March 16th, we picked up the ROOTS group- 6 students (1 being Nathan’s little brother), 1 professor/extension agent, and 1 photographer-from the airport. After getting some sleep at a nearby guesthouse and doing a last minute tire-change in the morning, we hit the road in the bus. Upon arriving to LICC in Ganta, we were welcomed by the agricultural students dancing in the street and waving branches around in the air- a traditional way of receiving guests. After getting off the bus, the UMD students quickly found themselves with the opportunity to practice a hundred times over the traditional Liberian handshake that they had just learned that morning 😉

 

Over the next two days the students got to know each other through professional meetings, through social activities like soccer and volleyball, as well as through tours of the Agricultural Research Center (ARC) and it’s demonstration sites on campus. It was awesome to see these cross-cultural relationships forming between the students and to see them genuinely interested in each other and in their cultures, beliefs, and ideas.

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday we had the opportunity to visit a few local villages: Gbedin, Kpein, and Flumpa. During the virtual conversations that had started in November, the UMD and LICC students had identified that one of the major challenges facing agriculture in Liberia is farmers not having enough access to technical agricultural information that would help them to better manage their soil health, plant health, and business health, thus increasing their yields. It was decided that we would host some workshops in order to help understand where farmers are in their knowledge of these topics, to share new ideas and solutions as applicable, as well as to encourage farmers to partner with LICC in the future when they have questions and use us as a resource. In these workshops, we had the professor from UMD, Dave Myers, do some teaching as well as one teacher and two students from LICC and one student from UMD. It was truly a partnership and I was really impressed with how it all came together!! The UMD students helped to bring some technical knowledge as well as some creative ideas for how we could engage the audiences and the LICC students helped to provide some technical knowledge as well and bring ideas on how to make things culturally relevant and fit within the Liberian context.

team after workshop in Flumpa

During these visits to the villages, we were able to interact with over 75 farmers and share information about composting, mulching, integrated pest management, record keeping, and enterprise budgeting which was all well-received and from the Q&A session at the end,  left people eager to learn more. It was also a chance for us to promote LICC and encourage people to attend school there or at least come and visit us or call us if they were having any problems on their farms. LICC has so much to offer local farmers; however, not enough people know about us or are taking advantage of the services we offer- we hope that will soon change with the occurrence of more outreach events like this!

At the end of each workshop, we invited the farmers groups to select 5 people to send to our big agricultural entrepreneurship day on Thursday. A lot of farmers here have entrepreneurial spirits; however, not everyone has access to the information needed regarding how to practically turn those ideas into successful profitable agricultural businesses. During the video talks between LICC and UMD students, this was identified as another one of the biggest challenges facing farmers and agriculture in Liberia and so we wanted to make it a priority in our educational outreach work.

On Thursday we made sure to invite as many people as we possibly could- we invited members from local agricultural cooperatives, farmers from local villages, LICC agricultural students, local agricultural business owners and employees, etc. We estimated that the minimum number of people we would have would be 50 and the maximum number of people we would have would probably be around 130 but we never dreamed we’d actually get there because events like this are always just so unpredictable. Well, the morning came and  people just kept flowing in and we just kept registering and registering! In total, we ended up with 140+ people!

Throughout the day, the UMD and LICC students gave short presentations on the importance of writing a business plan and how to do a simple version of it, what is value-added agriculture and why and how we can do it in Liberia, as well as how to market and sell a product. Following these short presentations, the students helped to facilitate discussion groups among the participants, allowing them to ask questions of each other, share their own ideas, and learn from one another. The groups even had a chance to develop their own miniature business plans as they put into practice all that they had learned in the morning sessions- it was a super fun activity and the participants got really into managing and marketing their fake little entrepreneurial projects haha.

After lunch, in which participants were given an opportunity to taste some new foods and value-added agricultural products, we welcomed Mrs. Mai Urey as the keynote speaker. Mrs. Urey and her husband have been key leaders within the agricultural industry for many many years.  Today they run one of Liberia’s only agrotourism businesses which is well-recognized throughout the country for it’s innovation and impact. You might remember I went on a field trip with my students from last year to a place called Wulki’s Farm—well that is her place! During her keynote speech, Mrs. Urey spoke on Ethics in Business, a topic we decided was absolutely essential to address given the prevalence of corruption in Liberia, in both the government and private sectors, in both small-scale and large scale operations.  If this issue is not addressed and ethics is not made a cornerstone of every single business, development in Liberia will continue to be slow and farmers and those they are attempting to feed will continue to suffer. We were so thankful for the way in which she handled this topic and got everyone thinking and talking about this very important subject. Fun fact that we learned during her speech: Mai Urey is a proud graduate of University of Maryland!! We had NO idea when we invited her that she was also a fellow Terrapin! How fitting 🙂 Go Terps!

Later in the afternoon we had a panel discussion, but it wasn’t your typical panel discussion where you invite experts to sit up on a prominent table on stage and allow them to discuss things amongst themselves as the participants just sit back and listen. No, we all wanted to try something different- something that empowered the participants to value their own ideas and recognize their own knowledge that they have to contribute to these conversations rather than always looking up toward to “experts” or “teachers” of the world to provide an answer. For our panel discussion, the students decided it would be better if we did away with the panel table all together and instead had the experts serve as facilitators rather than lecturers. These experts thus rotated throughout the room and facilitated short discussions with small groups regarding various challenges and opportunities in business in Liberia as well as the potential of some specific industries such as honey, coconut oil, livestock and feed production, chocolate, etc. In the end, the experts help to synthesize all that they had heard from the groups and help draw conclusions and suggest ideas for moving forward.

At the end of the workshop we heard people saying that this was one of their favorite workshops they had ever attended because of the level of engagement with the participants. Because the students did a lot of small group discussion-type activities, every single person had a chance to talk, share their ideas, and be heard. The technical information that the UMD and LICC students gave the participants was definitely important, but I think the most important thing they did that day was simply to listen and encourage and remind the farmers and participants that they themselves had so much to contribute to making Liberia the place they want it to be- it’s not up to the “experts” alone, it’s up to all of us.

This whole project and trip was certainly exhausting, but overall I think it was a huge success. Throughout their week here, I saw how to the UMD students quickly adapted to their new environments, how they opened themselves up into experiencing a new culture and developing new relationships even if was tricky, confusing, and exhausting at times; how they encountered hurdles and setbacks with perseverance and grace; and how they humbly embraced an attitude of learning rather than coming in a thinking they had all the answers. I also saw how my LICC students graciously welcomed the newcomers and patiently, excitedly, and proudly taught them about their culture; I saw them also welcome the challenge to think about things in a new way as they discussed complex issues with their UMD counterparts, their minds being stretched and pulled in new directions; I saw them empowered to speak, teach, and even question their foreign colleagues at times (which I celebrated because it meant that they truly felt comfortable and confident in themselves and their knowledge); and I saw how they too sought out opportunities for new friendship and understanding- being far more interested in relationships and knowledge above all else.

I was proud of each and every single student from both universities and I am so honored to be a part of this unique pilot program connecting students around the globe who have similar passions for improving our world and working toward improved food security and health for all. And this is only the beginning of what’s to come, this doesn’t stop here. I can’t wait to see what else these students come up with in the months and years to come as they continue to work together, share ideas, and build farmers up. They’ve already got a few plans up their sleeves and I’m excited to see how they will continue to take shape and pan out. Some examples of things to come hopefully are 1) a new student club on campus focused on agricultural entrepreneurship and 2) an Agricultural Expo- where farmers can compete and show off their produce as well as promote agricultural entrepreneurship within the community.  Stay tuned for updates on these and more!!

A Vote of Thanks

To our GlennsGoGlobal and Hope in the Harvest sponsors and partners: THANK YOU for supporting this work and for supporting us. None of this would have been possible without you! Through this project, not only did your support help to train and educate local farmers and connect them with valuable resources that they need to better provide for their families and their country, but it also helped to develop and support young and innovative leaders on BOTH sides of the Atlantic and equip them with knowledge, life skills, and life experiences that will serve them  and their communities for years to come. THANK YOU for supporting and believing in  all of them.

Also, a huge thank you to everyone who helped collect agriculture books to be sent over to our library. Liberia International Christian College (LICC), has a very good agricultural program with engaging curriculum, hands-on learning, a small laboratory, and a large research/demonstration farm. However, they were missing one key element: agricultural textbooks. Before last week, the school only had 5 agriculture textbooks in the library and yet they have 60+ students and are offering 25+ different ag classes. In Liberia, West Africa where electricity is not reliable and most students don’t have funds to have computers or smartphones at home, let alone internet access, textbooks provide the best way of empowering students to take ownership of their learning. Thanks to UMD ROOTS, UMD AGNR alumni, individuals from Sigma Alpha and Alpha Gamma Rho alumni, University of Maryland Extension, and more- we were able to add 40 books to our library. The students are thrilled, already pouring through the pages, and are banging down my office door to make sure that these books get cataloged and set up in the library immediately. It’s not often that you see students so excited to be reading textbooks, but these students are so eager and thirsty to learn!! Lucky for them, we still aren’t finished collecting textbooks 🙂 lf you have any books you want to donate, please contact me directly and I’ll connect you with the right people. If you don’t have books, but would like to contribute financially to help us ship and/or purchase books, you can donate here: https://www.gofundme.com/rootsafrica-liberia-library-project. 

Photo Album from the UMD ROOTS Africa Trip

Photo Credit: Edwin Remsberg  

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The First Rain

It has been three months since we’ve had rain in this part of Liberia. Three months without an afternoon shower or an evening thunderstorm, something I had truly grown so accustomed to in my first few months back. The days are hot and the equatorial sun in strong, hardly a cloud painting the sky. The grass around my house is gone, first turned brown and then disappearing entirely. The roads are dusty, the air is dusty, and everything is covered in dust, even the plants themselves- those that manage to make it through the dry season. Every day and night dust blows in through the windows and covers my tables, my electronics, my bed, my clothes, everything. When I sweep, the dust just goes straight back up into the air and resettles on top of everything again. My skin is dry and as thirsty as the poor plants on my porch that now need to be watered almost two times in a day to keep them from drooping over in the heat and dying entirely. I want it to rain so badly I’m always looking up at the clouds, searching the wind looking for some kind of sign, some glimmer of hope.

I look up at the sky and talk about rain coming so much that I’m pretty sure that some of the guys around here think that I’m crazy. They are Liberian and they know the weather here and they know better than myself to be searching the skies in January and yet I still did, ever hopeful. I even dream about rain. Yes, I’ve dreamed about rain coming in the nights as I’m sure the plants would too if they could dream. Sometimes I’ve woken up in the middle of my dreams, they felt so real. I have so much anticipation. I know it sounds absolutely crazy, to dream about rain. But, there’s just something about rain, especially when you live in a country that is home to the “wettest capital in the world” and you haven’t had rain in three months.

Last night I thought I was dreaming again. Imagining things. How many times have I woken up, lifted my head of the pillow slightly and pulled out one of little orange my earplugs (yes, I’m weird), straining my ears to hear something that I thought I heard outside and later it turned out it was just the fan’s gears grinding a little extra hard? Nonetheless, I thought I heard something and so I went through the ritual again. This time though I was not disappointed! It was raining, really raining- thunder, lightning, and everything!

To be fair, it had rained a bit earlier that day which was thoroughly exciting and unexpected but it only lasted less than 3 minutes and I didn’t have proper time to enjoy it. This time I was overjoyed! I raised my head higher and nudged my husband to alert him of the excitement going on outside our window, hoping he might want to soak the moment in a bit. He was impressed but seconds later he was gone again. Deciding I wasn’t going to be discouraged so easily myself, I threw my legs off the side of the bed, clumsily walked over to the window, pulled the curtain backs, and just stood there, soaking it all in, literally. There was strong breeze misting me through the screen and I let it fall on me and cling to my hot and parched skin. The smell of rain was intoxicating and I breathed it in deeply as if I might somehow never smell it again. The rain hitting the tin roof above me was loud and powerful and yet so soothing and calming to soul. I eventually went back and laid back down but still I could not sleep, I was just so full of energy and of thoughts washing over me in waves.

What is it about rain that makes it so beautiful? Is it the way it falls from the sky without any hesitation, barreling towards earth with one purpose? Is it the way that it rolls and races off the leaves, down the trunks of trees and across the cracks in the ground and then seeps in slowly once it finds a soft place? Is it the way it cleanses and washes away the dust from every little surface? Is it way it fills up all the empty rivers and streams, giving home to all the creature living underneath the surface? Is it the way it gives life and renews the earth and everything on it?

For me, it’s all of those things. But I don’t get excited every time it rains, I get excited when it’s the first rain after a long time of going without. I get so much more excited when it happens in Liberia than when it did back home because the time in between rains here can be painfully far apart. It’s when those deep longings within my soul (and my dreams haha) are finally met with something real. When you’ve been thirsty, I mean really thirty, and someone finally hands you a glass of water it’s hard to put it down, you want to savor the way it feels forever. When you’ve been searching for something and you finally get it, it’s a feeling of fullness and satisfaction like nothing else.

Have you ever experienced this feeling before? What was it that you were longing for? Was it a physical longing, something that you needed here on earth? Was it a food, a job, money, or maybe a relationship? Or was it a spiritual longing, your soul crying out for something more, for more of Him and His presence? Did you ever find it? Did you ever find that thing you were looking for? Was that longing ever fulfilled? If so, what was that like?

For me, as I laid back down and listened to the rain outside, I couldn’t help but feel so alive with joy in remembering all the times that God had poured out His love and mercy and grace on me after long periods of searching or being away. Memories flooded my brain as I became overwhelmed by all the times that God has met me in a spiritual drought and quenched my soul with His presence …. in a summer camp tent where my faith first became real to me after years of wandering around blindly; lying on my bed in my parent’s house where I first experienced my Bible for the first time and poured through it for what seemed like days on end, so thirsty to know Him more; on the floor of my college dorm after I realized that God still had plans for me even after all the plans I had made myself were coming crashing down; on the top of a mountain in Botwana when I looked out and saw further than I’d ever seen before and realized just how wide the arms of my Maker go and that they were wrapping themselves around me; and in Liberia as I’ve been frustrated and doubting Him and then suddenly He comes to me and reminds me that He is here and that He is good and that His mercies endure forever even if I may temporarily forget.

Some of these times I was actively searching and I was aware that I was searching, I was aware of my need and therefore my longing to feel and experience more of Him and His presence. But other times my soul was searching on its own without my full awareness, because it knew what I needed. Either way, my soul was thirsting for more just as David’s soul was when he was stranded in the dry and barren wilderness and calling out to God, crying out for that life-giving water:

Psalm 42 vs 1-2. As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

Psalm 63 vs 1-8
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.

Are you searching, longing for that rain to quench your soul? Are you going through a period of drought and wondering if God will ever answer, ever pour out His Spirit on your life and make Himself really known? Don’t be discouraged. God longs to fill the desires of our hearts as we search for more of Him and He longs to quench our souls with water from the well that never runs dry. Just as He did for David, He will do for you: “Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind for He has satisfied the thirsty soul, And the hungry soul He has filled with what is good” (Psalm 107:9). He promises it will come to all those who seek it- “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6). And He promises that everyone who drinks of this water will never thirst again (John 4:13-14).

If you are thirsty, know that the water is there, that it is for you, and that the rain will come, it always comes. And know that when it does, it will be even more inexplicably beautiful, invigorating, and life giving than the rain that fell last night, even better than that first rain.

 

 

Grafted on New Roots: Our Only Chance to Thrive

Removing the bud from the orange tree, separating it from it’s roots.

It was late morning and I was standing in the shade of a tin roof porch watching the precise movements of the hands of a skilled and seasoned farmer as he methodically worked, knife and branches in hand. First, he took the knife, dipped it in bleach water, and then proceeded to carefully and so precisely carve away a tiny portion of the outer layer of bark where the bud was growing on the little lemon sapling, with a trunk about the width of a pencil. He then took the little orange sapling (same size as the lemon one) and carefully and precisely removed the scion (or bud) in the exact same shape and size as the piece he had removed from the lemon sapling. Next, he brought the bud from the orange tree and placed it into the indentation he had carved into the lemon tree’s bark and joined them together. Because Thomas is very skilled at this and has been doing this day in and day out for many years, the nearly identically sized pieces fit together almost seamlessly, it was beautiful. After joining the two together, he tightly wrapped the union area, where he had placed the bud from the orange tree into the cut out bud area of the lemon tree in a thick plastic, so that no water would be able to enter into the area. Then he was done. He would come back 2 weeks later to see if he had been successful, to see if the two things he had brought together had indeed joined to become one.

It’s completely amazing to me, this process of grafting. It never ceases to amaze me how we as farmers can take a tiny little portion from one tree (the orange tree in this case) that is no bigger then 1 cm big and connect it to a much larger and completely different species of tree (the lemon tree in this case) and then later end up with a tree that has the roots of one tree and the trunk, branches, leaves, and fruit of another tree. So so cool!

But why do we even do it, you may ask? You might agree it sounds cool but may still be asking yourself why? Well, the “why” is because it allows us our trees to thrive, rather than just barely survive. It gives them a chance for a better and more fruitful lifeFor example, in Liberia, the rough lemon tree variety has excellent roots. They are well known for being strong, growing fast, and being resistant to many diseases. However, the fruit it produces is not really known for being plentiful and it’s not terribly desired in the market here. On the other hand, the Valencia orange tree, is highly coveted and sought after because it produces abundantly all year round a sweet and juicy variety of orange that many Liberians love. The troubles is though that the Valencia orange tree roots are very susceptible to diseases found here in Liberia and therefore the tree doesn’t really perform well here. Therefore, by combining the strong roots of the lemon tree with the productive branches of the orange tree through a process called grafting, we get a tree that is both strong and productive. Where the orange tree is weak, the lemon is strong. Without the roots of the lemon tree, the orange tree would not be able to produce an adequate supply of good fruit because it would rapidly succumb to the diseases in the soil around it. The orange tree needs the lemon tree to thrive.

As I was standing there listening to Thomas, I was instantly reminded of something that I had read the previous morning. Just a couple days prior, I had started reading the book Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Our Souls by Hannah Anderson. In the book , the author reminds us that at the root of our stress, anxiety, fatigue, and unrest is pride. In her definition she says that pride is when we “confuse our identity with God’s identity” and “it makes us to think of ourselves as larger than we really are.” Pride makes us forget that inherently we are created beings, made from the dust of the ground, wholly and utterly dependent on our Creator for the very breath that is in our lungs and giving us life (Genesis 2:7).  It is when we fail to acknowledge our humble beginnings and our very existence as humans rather than as gods, that we suffer from unrest in our lives. She argues that by coming to Jesus, we are reminded of “who we are and who we are not.” Jesus is the vine (the root) and we are the branches. He said “remain in me and I in you, and you will bear much fruit” but He also warned us “apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). In her explanation of how to remove pride from our lives she gives the analogy of grafting, grafting ourselves onto Jesus for our roots.

These are the passages from her book that came to my mind as I watched and listened to Thomas as he did his grafting:

“Before we can be grafted onto Him, we must be stripped of our decomposing roots, our self-sufficiency and ego. We must give up the pretense that we can root ourselves.”

“We tend to think of pride as something we can conquer and humility as something that we can attain. We know that we are supposed to model Jesus’ own humility. We know that God ‘opposes the proud’ and so we commit to practicing humility, to intentionally ‘be humble.’ But humility is not a commodity. It is not something you can achieve. It is not something you earn or accomplish. Being humble is something you are or your aren’t…….If we are to find rest from our stress, if we are to have any hope of escaping our pride, we must be grafted onto the one who is humility Himself. We can no longer simply be content to imitate Him; we must become part of Him in order to reflect Him.”

“As long as we refuse to accept that our pride is the source of our unrest, we will continue to wither on the vine….Apart from Jesus, we will wither up and die.”

As human beings we have terribly weak roots that are susceptible to anything and everything that the world sends our way.  We fall slave to the desires of the flesh, things “like sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like (2 Corinthians 19-21).” All of these things are deeply rooted in pride, a misunderstanding of WHO and WHOSE we are. With roots of the flesh, we are not in any way resistant to sin, we will inevitably succumb more times than not despite our strongest attempts not to (Romans 7:14-25).  As human beings without Jesus, our roots are in pride and we are weak like the orange trees, doomed to fall victim to the temptations all around us, wither up and die, producing either bitter fruit or no fruit at all.

God’s timing was and is absolutely perfect. I’ve fallen prey to the desires of my flesh. I’ve been stressed and anxious. I’ve been relying on myself too often and for too long. My roots, and my soul, are weak from the pride that I root my life in. Can anybody else relate?? This was a message I not only needed to read, but this was a message I needed to see. And God did just that. Just as He was teaching me about the pride that needed to be cut away and removed from my own life, He gave me a visual, that as an agriculturalist, I could 100% relate to and appreciate. He gently reminded me, just as He’s been doing time and time again this year, that I can do nothing without Him.  I, much like the orange tree without the lemon tree roots, can do nothing apart from Him. Trying to imitate Him, His humility, or His love is not enough. I must become a part of Him, removing my weak fleshy roots and instead rooting myself in Him and His strength, if I want to have life at all, let alone thrive and bear fruit. As philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand reminds us, it only when we have an encounter with a personal God through Jesus, can we realize who we really are in comparison. Only then can we become weak, admitting to ourselves that we are not God and accepting our position as created rather than creator. Only then, can we know what humility (and therefore rest) truly means. Only then can we be made strong. Only with Jesus as our roots, everything else stripped away.

Galatians 5: 22-25. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 

 2 Corinthians 12:9-11. He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Pictures from Grafting

“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!

 

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”