The Poor Will Always be with You

Every time we open our phones or watch TV or listen to the radio, we are bombarded with the overwhelmingly heavy needs of this world….story after story and image after image of hunger, disease, war, earthquakes, religious persecution, refugees, earthquakes, etc.

SO MUCH poverty.

SO MANY needs.

It can be overwhelming to the point that it feels like the problem is too big and we are too small and that nothing we can do will even make a dent…and so we start to shut down and tune it all out.  Why bother?

After all, didn’t Jesus say something about how the “poor will always be with you?” in Matthew 26? Wasn’t He saying that we should just accept the fact that poverty isn’t going away? That perhaps we shouldn’t worry about it like disciples supposedly were? Is this really what Jesus meant when He said that?

The disciples and Jesus were dining at the home of Simon the Leper and the disciples were indignant when a woman came in and poured an expensive bottle of perfume on Jesus’ head. “Why this waste?….She could have sold it for a fortune and given the money to the poor,” they said. Then Jesus, in responding back to the disciples said something strange: “the poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” It seems sort of arrogant of Jesus doesn’t it?  Is He saying the poor don’t matter in comparison to Himself? Is He saying we have to pick between loving Him and serving the poor? Is He condoning poverty? These words always confused me….they didn’t seem to quite fit the character of Jesus that I knew.

A couple years ago I read a really interesting sermon by Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis in which she discussed this very topic and it helped me to see things in a whole different light. Jesus is not condoning poverty, rather He was highlighting His role in reducing poverty and rebuking the way the disciples wanted to address the poverty…which in this case was by simply giving money. In saying that “the poor will always be with you” Jesus is referencing Deuteronomy 15:11, a scripture to which the disciples would have immediately made a connection, though many of us today do not.

Duet 15: 11 “There will always be poor people in the land.” Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” 

Duet 15:4-5 there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, He will richly bless you,  if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today.

In saying “the poor will always be with you” Jesus is not excusing poverty, far from it.  According to Rev Dr. Liz Theoharis’ sermon, “it is actually one of the strongest statements of the biblical mandate to end poverty. ” If we read deeper, we see that Jesus is pointing the disciples toward what they should be doing to address the poverty. Giving charity to the poor in the form of money, supplies, food, etc is obviously good, even essential. The Bible is full of stories that show us and commands that tell us to give to and provide for the needy, we cannot ignore this as part of our call. However, God also calls for, commands even, for us to do something more… to go a step further…to work toward a total revolution and upending of the systems of injustice that allow poverty to exist in the first place.

In Deuteronomy 15, the Lord is giving the Isrealites the laws regarding the year of Jubilee and reassurance that if His people were to follow these laws, there need be no poor among you. The laws of the Jubilee states that after the end of every 7 years, the captives are set free, creditors must cancel debts, and wealth is distributed evenly among all the people.  The year of Jubilee completely upended and transformed the status quo. This year of Jubilee was a way of highlighting the values of God as well as foreshadowing all that was to come when the Messiah arrived: freedom. It was also perhaps a safety measure that God put into place for their own good, helping them guard against the tendency of the human flesh…to not trust that God would provide, to instead gather and stockpile for themselves, no matter the cost to their fellow people. It was a way to break all chains of oppression that might have formed among the people over time, oppression that inevitably is created when human beings get involved doing things their own way. It was a way to draw them closer to Him in dependence, so that they might know that He was God and that He was good…that He was in control and responsible for providing for ALL of them, not them for themselves.  It was a way for God to clearly demonstrate that in the end, we are all equal in His eyes…there are no rich or poor in His Kingdom. 

Jesus is reminding the disciples that they shouldn’t stop at simply “serving” the poor (ie. selling the perfume and giving money to the poor). He was telling them that it was their responsibility, as it is ours still today, to help break the chains of poverty completely so there are no poor in the land at all.

This seems like a big call, mind-boggling big actually. So what does that even look like? How do we do this as a church and as individuals in ministry? How do we honor God in this? These are some thoughts:

  • First, I think it always has to start with a time of humble self-reflection and prayer as the Body of Christ, asking God to open our eyes and hearts.
    • Have we become apathetic/overwhelmed to the plight of the world’s poor? If so, how and why is that? Why are our hearts not breaking for what breaks His? In our giving, have we unintentionally propped up systems that perpetuate injustice or the poverty cycle? 
  • Secondly, I think it means sharing and calling out on the name of Christ. In 2 Corinth 3:17 it says “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” People need more than just our good deeds or material gifts, they need to encounter Christ. A transformed life, starts with a transformed heart.
    • What good is it to feed someone’s stomach and leave their soul aching and empty?  Are we pointing people toward Christ’s goodness and love or toward ourselves and our own generosity? As we are sharing our money are we also sharing our testimony? Are we relying on ourselves to do the work or surrendering to God and asking for His help?
  • Thirdly, I think it means an in depth analysis of the complex systems that can lead to poverty, as well as our own part in them. 
    • Have we looked at the various forces, internal and external, that create chains of injustice and oppression in our society? Are we putting band-aid fixes on things rather than doing the hard work of digging deep down to discover the root of the problem? Do we consider that poverty is actually a result of sin, our collective sins as a society and not just one individual’s sins? Do we believe that not every person in poverty has the same story? Do we take the time to listen to each person, to understand each story? 
  • Lastly, I think it means by empowering people with skills/opportunities to escape the cycle of poverty. Equipping people with tangible skills and/or opportunities that allow them to engage in the good works that they were created to do. We, the economically privileged, are not the only ones Jesus created to do good works. Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  Each of His children were made for this, every part of the Body has something to contribute to the whole.  
    • How can we help others to be able to work and feel the same pride and dignity that we do when we provide for our own families and our own communities? If it is a blessing to be able to give and not receive, how can I bless others? How can we involve others in the work of bringing God’s Kingdom here on Earth? What gifts has He given to others that the Body needs right now? 

This all seems so simple, and yet it is so messy and complicated. It is so easy to get overwhelmed and want to use Matthew 26:11 as a justification or excuse, rather than as a command to do more.  There is no “one-size-fits-all” method. We cannot judge or chastise those who go about this differently than we do. The beauty is that there are so many ways of doing it, so many different people that need help in so many different situations, so many different opportunities for each of us to be a part in some small way. All we can do is continue to ask ourselves these questions and ask for God’s guidance along the way. This has to start on our knees in prayer. 

Before we pray, we want to leave you with these quotes, one from Martin Luther King and one from Paulo Friere (a Brazilian philosopher and educator), bo :

On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice [or system] which produces beggars needs restructuring.” -Martin Luther King Jr, “A Time to Break Silence”

“True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the “rejects of life,” to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands–whether of individuals or entire peoples–need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world.”― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Gracious God, we come to you humbly asking for your blessings over our church’s or our individual ministries to the poor, both local and foreign. Jesus, you demanded that in everything that we do, we practice holistic development and work that address the spiritual needs of people without neglecting the physical needs and vice versa. We ask for you, Father God to open our eyes, hearts, and minds. We ask for humility and courage and grace. We ask for wisdom and compassion. We ask for unity in working toward meeting the immediate needs as well as ending the cycles and systems that unjustly and unfairly continue to contribute toward holding our brothers and sisters in oppression. We ask that you would give us the desire and the strength to do more, even when it seems daunting. We trust that you will work through us and in spite of us to bring freedom to your people as You reconcile Creation back to Yourself. In Your Son’s Name, Amen.

Note: This contents of this blog originate from a video devotion that Nathan and I did with Freedom Church’s “21 Days of Prayer” series. The link to the original video can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/myfreedom.org/videos/868355873558997/.

Grateful for the Noise

The pigeons are cooing incessantly, people are shouting across the swamp. I hear one child wailing while the another is screeching. Motorcycles are shrieking and honking, the roosters are crowing and pigs and squealing, the generator is grumbling, the church is blasting something out of their crackly old speakers and the video club next door is cranking their bass music to compete. The grinder is churning, the flies are buzzing around my face, someone’s phone has been ringing in the hallway for 3 minutes, students are knocking on my door, and dogs are barking….all at 3pm on a Friday afternoon.

I want to put my hands over my ears and run upstairs and lock myself in my room and close all the windows…but then I would be hot….really really hot and even more miserable. Somehow the noises are even louder up there in our room? I don’t know why…

There is nowhere to go and hide and get some peace! I want to scream, maybe that will at least drown out all the rest of it. I’m about to and then I’m reminded of something I saw on Facebook earlier that week. It was a “30 Days of Gratitude Challenge” with prompts each day to help you think of something you are grateful for, besides the typical ones we usually think of like house, family, food, etc. One of the days asked participants to ponder “what sound are you grateful for today?”

Haha ironic…I laughed…are there actually any sounds I am grateful for in this crazy noisy country right now?!? I rolled my eyes, looked up at the ceiling, and thought to myself… “I would have something to be thankful for God if you could just give me a little peace and quiet every now and then! How about that?”

After I calmed down a little though, I got to thinking more about the idea of being “thankful for sounds.” It seemed a little weird to me, given that I am a very noise-sensitive person and it feels like 90% of sounds in this world just bother me to my wits end. But I tried to sit and think about it in a different light…God gave me the ability to hear sounds and God created all these things that make sounds…so there must be a little more good or meaning in all this noise than I have been realizing.

I grabbed my journal and started listing out the sounds of Liberia…all the sounds I could think of…good, bad, ugly, boring, stressful, peaceful, and everything in between. The sounds that made me smile, squirm,  laugh, and the sounds that made my skin crawl and heart break.

The high-pitched squeaks of the wheelbarrow as it passes by on the street, somebody shouting as they sell heaps of used clothing…bras, underwear, t-shirts, socks.. anything you could possible need, but none of which I actually need. I have been given so much more than I need, none of it was earned.

The constant tired grumbling of the generator on those days (or weeks) when we lose power and the ticking of the voltage regular box every 2 seconds as it tries to keep up with the ever-changing volts that are coming into the house, making my eyes twitch. But I have electricity AND a form of back-up electricity in a country where more than half the people here have none.

The gurgling and sucking of the water faucet as it struggles to pull water out of an empty tank, telling me that for the third time today we are out of water and it’s time to go start the pump. The distant shout of “col wata” somewhere in the busy market, beckoning me to chase after whoever it is that made that sound so I can quench my thirst with an ice-cold water sachet. I am able to afford to drink clean cold water whenever I want, what an insane luxury!

The deep agonizing almost daily sound of a woman screaming in the town across the swamp as someone beats her yet again, just as the sun peeks its way into the swamp. And then there is the higher pitched but just as agonizing sound of a child wailing as someone whips a palm switch over their bare bottom. My heart twists and rages inside my chest and I wonder how God can possibly be good. I remember it’s okay to cry out to God when I don’t have the answers and I lift my hands in acknowledgement of my helplessness in these situations and I am reminded to pray and speak up more for all the women and children in this country and world who have been sexually assaulted and physically abused.

The loud slap of my sandal as it comes down hard on a cockroach’s back and the subsequent squeal of joy that escapes my mouth as I congratulate myself on another job well done. I remember to thank God for even the littlest of victories, no matter how stupid they may seem.

The distinct joyful trill of my friend Konah’s daily laughter. The screeching of the trampoline as the neighborhood children jump on it all afternoon, never tiring or slowing down at all. Life is too short to worry like I do, remember to have fun!

The crashing of the waves as I lie on a totally isolated beach with my husband. The sound of the breeze gently rustling the leaves on the palm tree before the rains come in, strong and heavy on the tin roofs. I am in awe that such a “big big” God who made the wind and the waves could love such a “small small” thing like me.

The aggravating screeching of the parrots and the chatter of the monkeys as I try to teach. The deafening ribbits of the thousands of frogs in the swamp as I try to sleep. All creatures in heaven and earth shall bow down to worship Him our Lord.

The annoying echo of my own words as they bounce around the walls of the concrete classroom. But then again, there is also the beautiful sound of acoustic worship bouncing off those same walls as it makes its way up to the heavens…one of the purest and most beautiful sounds in the world, all in a language that I do not understand but that speaks to my heart anyways. We are all one Body.

The sound of somebody’s phone going off in class, church, or any other important meeting, I think it is impossible to have any type of meeting without this happening in Liberia lol. I used to get so mad, now I’ve just accepted it. There are many things out of my control.

The “ya ellooo ma” greetings from teeny little neighborhood children peeping out behind brick walls and the satisfying snap as two hands release from the classic Liberian handshake which is used to greet friends and strangers alike. It makes me smile, reminds me that I have family here.  

The honking of the motorcycle horns as they buzz all around you in the city streets, threatening to knock you down of your face if you don’t pay attention.  I never used to take it seriously when people said “pray for safe travels.” I do know, I’ve seen way too many people die from accidents here.

The bubbling of thick red palm butter soup on a coal pot or the sizzling of the scorching hot oil as the “ol ma” drops wet dough into the pot…my mouth waters in anticipation. I am grateful for my daily bread and reminded of the so many around me do not have enough to eat….reminded of why I am here in the first place.

The whirling sound of the cutlass and whipper as the farmers bend down to manually cut the grass or weeds before preparing their fields for planting, it is backbreaking work. I am reminded that though we plant the seeds, God causes the growth. How dependent we are on Him.

The constant buzzing of mosquitoes all around my ears as dusk begins to fall and I try to soak up the last few minutes outside with the cool breeze before retreating into my stuffy room for the night. I have a house with screens to protect me from the mosquito that carry malaria, a disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people each year on this continent.

The distinct pinging sound of a call or text coming in from sponsors/partners/friends back home that makes my heart leap with joy every single time. Though I often feel alone, I am not alone. I am part of a community through this ministry and we are all in this together.

The soft sound of my mom’s voice as she gently quiets my sobs after another hard day in Liberia. My mom is alive and healthy and technology is amazing because it allows me to hear sounds from thousands of miles away.

The familiar sound of country music as I dance with my husband in our room, reminiscing deeply about home. I am so thankful for this man, he is my home away from home.

The hollow wailing of the village women crying out to God in agony as they throw their bodies on the ground around the grave as they mourn the loss of a life taken way too soon from this earth. I am reminded that God hears our cries and of his call to mourn with those who mourn….most days I’d rather turn away because I don’t know how to hold it all together.

The sound of clothes being pounded and stretched on the washboards every Saturday morning. The thud of the hook as it hits dry dirt while we attempt to dig up our potatoes during dry season. The sound of water being dumped after dishes have been washed. God is present in the small everyday things of this world, whether I hear him or not.

The swooshing sound of women sweeping the bare soil around their houses, a sound heard millions of times a day in this country. Ashamedly, I used to think it was such a funny/strange/pointless thing to do. That was before I heard and saw it for what it really was… a daily act of love for their families, a daily act of restoring order and creating beauty in their homes, a daily act of reclaiming dignity in a hard and unforgiving world that has tried to snatch it away from them. And perhaps, if they are believers, it may also be a daily act of giving thanks to God their Provider, an act of stewardship over all that God has given them the honor to care for, whether big or small.

I can choose to throw my hands over my head and scream at God for not giving me any “peace” or I can choose to listen and allow the sounds, every single one of them, the chance to speak to my soul and draw me in…reminding me to pray, to call out, to beg, to thank, to worship, and to rely on God for all that I am and have. While the lightness and beauty of the wind and the waves, the laughing and the songs, remind us that our Creator exists; it is the heaviness and uncomfortableness of the wailing, the screeching, the honking, the buzzing, the tears, and sobs that force us deeper into His arms and remind us of our innate need for a Creator in the first place.

It is because of this that I will choose to be grateful for the noise, ALL the noise.

Are there any sounds that are you grateful for??? Any sounds that maybe you can learn to be grateful for?

The Hardest Thing

People often ask me what the hardest thing about living in Liberia is…

Is it being away from family and friends? Is it the “strange” food? specifically the lack of cheese and bacon? Is it the bad roads? The unstable electricity? The lack of clean drinking water in your faucet? The lack of healthcare? The different languages? The heat? The mosquitoes? The tropical illnesses? The snakes?

The truth is, it is none of those things. Don’t get me wrong, those are very real challenges (even the one about the cheese….) but if you want to know the one thing that makes living in Liberia hard…the one thing that keeps me up at night and makes me question whether I belong here or not and makes me feel so so tired and weary and like I just want to give up and go home…it is the gray.

Learning to navigate all the gray.

Growing up I used to be so confident in my view of the world, my opinions, my beliefs, the way things were and that was because I so clearly saw a lot of my world around me as black and white, there was right and wrong and there was good and bad and there was nothing, absolutely nothing in between for a rigid and “holier-than-thou” youth-group-going rule-follower teenager like me.  Everything had an explanation and everyone and everything about the world could be categorized and organized. Borrowing from the words of Pastor Chase Falson in his book “Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale “I’d considered myself one of the privileged few the heavens had endowed with a perfectly true compass… Every question had a logical answer. Every mystery had a rational explanation…I thought I had God [and the world] pretty well figured out.”

[Hehehehehe I know, I know….I’m sorry….I’ll wait as you retrieve your eyeballs from the place in the far back of your head to which they must have just rolled]

You see, viewing the world as black and white is comfortable, it makes it so easy to understand things and so much simpler to process our experiences, to quickly and efficiently judge our actions and the actions of others (though this is not really our business), to categorize people into little boxes, and organize our ideas and responses to certain situations … “if this is the problem, then this is the only option” or “if a person does this, then they are that” and so on and so forth. It allows us to escape thinking about how our outlook on the world may possibly be… wait for it….incomplete…or dare I say, wrong!

[Sorry again…take a deep breath, pick your jaw up off the floor… I know this is a pretty wild thing to realize, for myself especially!!.]

As I grew up in the US, one of the most diverse countries in the world, there were obviously plenty of things to challenge my mindset and my understanding of the world every day, thrusting me into the land of the gray. I luckily had many more of those experiences when I went to college, started my first real job, and while on church service projects and mission trips. But at the end of the day, I could always look around and find plenty of people who looked, believed, behaved, or thought just like me and if I tried hard enough, I could always use this bubble to escape the gray.

Being in Liberia, that’s just not the case. Every day I experience so many things that are so new to me and so foreign and 99.9% of the people I see or meet every day are very different from myself in terms of looks, culture, beliefs, etc. I meet so many people here whose way of life and thinking are so different from my own. Their childhoods wildly different from my own, their pain/suffering much deeper than I can comprehend, and their values systems about family, money, community, gender, education, truth, and spirituality/faith that are more complex than I can still explain. Every day I feel like I’m walking deep within the gray, not a crisp clear line in sight to distinguish between the black and white.

Soooo many times a day I have to reconcile my old view and understanding of the world with these new experiences and these new people…I have to figure out how my views fit (or don’t fit) with theirs, how each of our views holds up against the truth in the Bible….somehow finding a way to add all these things to the mixture of chaos in my mind and then re-calculate, re-evaluate, re-plan, regroup. Everyday my mind is swirling and I am overwhelmed with questions like:

  • Am I missing something here because I am looking at this only through my cultural lens? How does their culture, religion, race, poverty, beliefs, pain/trauma, personality, background shape their values and thus affect their actions? How does my wealth and privilege and nationality affect my own?
  • Are my thoughts being influenced by underlying prejudices? Am I making assumptions about or devaluing someone because of their race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or education level? If I am, why? And how do I stop?
  • How do I know when the tension we are facing is simply related to cultural and individual differences and not a matter of right or wrong? When should I step in and say something and when should I keep my mouth shut?
  • Is what I’m doing truly out of compassion or my desire to control situations and produce tangible results? What does real genuine love look like in this situation? Am I striving for dignity or development?
  • Should I give money to this person/situation? If I am giving money, why am I doing it? Because I trust God or because I don’t? Have I thought about how this money might change the relationship between me and this person? The power that money carries?
  • How many times do I watch someone fail rather than stepping in myself to help? Am I creating dependency by doing or giving too much? Am I becoming lazy and saying I don’t care by doing or giving too little?
  • How do I know when to adjust my behaviors/action to fit into and show respect for the culture vs when it’s ok to just be myself? At what point do I lose myself and my own identity for the sake of respecting culture, a culture that often undervalues my own voice as a woman?
  • Where’s the line between grace and justice? Where is the line between letting someone’s past experiences or poverty become a crutch and holding them to unrealistic expectations and setting them up for failure? How can I even know if I’ve never walked in their shoes?
  • When should I say “no” and when should I say “yes”? When should I hold fast to my American ideal of “boundaries” and when do I need to just let those things go?

Maybe you can relate? Maybe you’ve asked yourself some of these questions before in your own everyday cross-cultural experiences? Maybe you’ve even had to ask these questions as you navigate conversations with someone who on the outside may look just like you, but who comes from an entirely different background? Maybe you’ve had to ask these questions of yourself as you talk with your own sibling who grew up in the same house as you and yet wound up seeing the world so differently than yourself.

It can be so exhausting to go through these conversations over and over again in my head, especially because more often than not it is during these inner dialogues and times of reflection and prayer in asking God for guidance that I am confronted with my own sin and misunderstandings of who God is and who I am.  Basically, it’s exhausting to be wrong all the time!!

The world is not what I thought it was, people are not always who society told me they would be, I’m a much bigger sinner than I had feared, and God’s love is so much deeper than I could have ever dreamed. What someone does doesn’t always define who someone is. Just because someone’s opinions, ideas, or feelings are different than my own, does not mean that they are not equally valid or valued by Our Father in Heaven. 

It’s not required that we all travel to Africa to discover these truths. These are things that each of us can learn and discover where we are right now. These are truths that I  had probably already started discovering before coming to Liberia, but were no doubt accelerated by my move to another continent and culture. The more we get out of our comfort zones and intentionally engage, listen to, and get to know people who come from different backgrounds than ourselves, the more opportunities you will have to screw up…yes, that much is true. BUT ALSO the more we will learn about ourselves, each other, and God…and that’s a good thing…a really good thing.

The world is so much grayer than I originally understood and I’m learning how to be OK with that now…..more than OK actually.

You see, I’m beginning to understand and even believe that the gray is ultimately where the sweetest parts of life happen.  The gray is where we are stretched, molded, pulled, squished, smoothed, shaped, and changed. The gray is where innovation and new ideas are born.  The gray is hard and painful but it is where healing happens, where relationships form, and where barriers are broken down and prejudices torn apart. The gray is raw, fresh, vulnerable, and human.   The gray is where the threads of our common humanity and our oneness is made clear and tangible, if even for the briefest of moments. The gray is where questioning/doubts/fears have the room to breathe. The gray is messy, but the gray is exactly what Jesus entered into when He stepped down from Heaven to live among us in this fallen world. The gray is where truth is revealed and where understanding begins. The gray is where we develop faith, it is the area in which God invites us and promises to walk with us, revealing to us both the brokenness and beauty of His creation. The gray is where we can find God.

Even though I said that this “navigating of all the gray” is definitely the hardest thing about Liberia, it is also undoubtedly the thing that has deepened my walk with God the most over these past few years. The more I realize how many things in this world I simply don’t and can’t know on my own, the more I realize I how much more I desperately need God.

I titled this post “The Hardest Thing” in regards to living in Liberia…but it could have also been titled “The Hardest Thing About Living in a World with People Who are Different Than You”….which hey, coincidentally is a world we all live in 😉

May God grant us grace and wisdom as we enter into and traverse the gray of life together!

“But 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.”  Corinthians 12:9

When God’s Blessings Purr Instead of Bark

Anna and cats…cats and Anna. Two things DO NOT go together…or so I thought.

My whole life, I have pretty much despised cats.

First of all, they make me sneeze…so I mean, you gotta give it to me…my hatred for them was pretty much justified. Cats make my ears throat and eyes itch, my nose runny, and my head stuffed. Second of all, most of the cats I’ve known act like they are way too cool for school. They just walk by you casually, nose in the air, acting as if they didn’t even see you standing there. When you reach out to pet them, they accept momentarily or they just pass on….they are pretty much all little snooty princesses. I’ve basically always found them despicable and we haven’t gotten along well. My friends with cats are never very happy about the snarky comments and dirty looks I exchange between myself and their cats. My claim that “they started it!!” usually gets a disapproving look (but between you and me…the cats always were the instigators…not me, I’m innocent…they made me sneeze and so yea, I’m gonna give them some side eye every now and then).

Me, I’m more of a dog person. I grew up with dogs, for one. But also, I much prefer their attitude….Dogs are not ashamed or embarrassed to show the depth and width of their love to you. They will follow you, beg after you, fetch something for you 3000 times, look into your eyes for approval, never judge you, and give you the sloppiest messiest kisses that you never even asked for. They are fiercely loyal creatures and they don’t make me chase after them, they usually come right to me. I don’t like to be coy and play games, I’m usually a “say it straight” kind of girl, not afraid to be a dork for the things I love.

Cats on the other hand…..ugggghhhh they are so pretentious.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever envision that I would have a cat…it had NEVER EVER once crossed my mind.

A few months ago, Nathan and I started talking about getting a dog. We work such long hours and are so tired emotionally when we get home. We thought hanging out with a little fur ball might help us to forget some of the stresses from the day and just remember to slow down and just enjoy life. We both missed having a dog.

We wanted a dog, but at the same time we started thinking about getting a dog….this random farm cat just starts hanging around our room….as if it had decided on it’s own that it now belonged to us. At first, when it started hanging around we would clap at it and hiss at it to go back downstairs far far far away from our room (we live above the classrooms in the agriculture building). We didn’t even want that thing on the second floor of the building. For months, we shooed it downstairs and even out of the building entirely.

Then one day I found it sleeping in the flower pots on our porch and I swear my heart just about melted…I didn’t want to think it was cute…I’d never thought a cat was cute before…but dang it….

So then, we thought OK….what harm is it to have it hanging around upstairs…so long as it doesn’t come into our room. THAT’S THE LINE! Fast forward a couple weeks….we noticed we hadn’t seen the cat in a few days. I began to get really worried that maybe it had died or something. The thing was really scrawny and at this point we hadn’t started feeding it yet (yet*… you can see where this is going) and so I was worried it had gone off and died somewhere. I was surprisingly pretty sad about the supposed death of this random cat that had no name and that I had never actually shown much love towards. It was weird…

Then, after 5 days of not seeing it, the cat showed up on our doorstep again and I was so relived and happy to see it that I quickly went it to the kitchen and fed it some scrambled eggs…not eggs I already had in the fridge…I literally made eggs for the cat and the cat only. WHO IS THIS PERSON??

Long story short….we obviously have a cat now. You can’t feed a stray and then expect it to go away. So we have a cat.  A cat that waits by our door every morning. A cat that comes into our room every evening when we come up after work. A cat that we take snapchats and pictures of at least once a day. A cat that we say “good night” and even “i love you” to every night. A cat that we even let sit on the couch every now and then and sometimes, sometimes, even let sit on our laps?!

And for some wild unknown reason, I am not allergic to this cat. I don’t understand why or how…but she is not making me sneeze or itch or anything. I mean, I don’t personally snuggle her up in my lap or anything but she is hanging around pretty much all the time. In the US, when I go into someone’s house that has a cat, my eyes and throat and nose know it within 5 minutes. But she hangs out in our room every night and nothing…..

How on earth did this happen? I prayed for a dog…and somehow I got a cat. I really don’t know how God mixed this up so badly this time…I mean, He literally made dogs and cats and yet he has somehow forgotten the difference between these two? Thinks he can just substitute one out for the other and we won’t notice? Thinks it’s ok just to send someone a cat when they ask for a dog?! The nerve!!

It’s astonishing and it’s appalling and strange and disconcerting. And yet, it is God.

I swear, God has a funny funny (not so funny) way of leading me down paths I swore I would never find myself on. If I ever catch myself saying “I will NEVER be able to do that, God” it’s pretty much a guarantee that one day, a few years down the road and without realizing it, I will be doing that very thing. Anyone else ever experienced that?? “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans [and act like you are the one who is in total control of them coming to be].”

When that time comes, the time when I realize I ended up somewhere I never thought I would, surprisingly I don’t really find myself mad at God for supposedly duping me and pulling a fast one on me. More often than not, I find myself thanking Him. Thanking Him for sparing me from someone or something; thanking Him for providing for me in the way that He knew was best; thanking Him for leading me in the direction my stubborn/fearful/unconfident heart didn’t originally want to go; thanking Him for opening my eyes, softening my heart, and opening my ears to be more attentive to what His Spirit had to say rather than what my flesh had to say; thanking Him for saving me from myself and my own [usually small in comparison] plans.

God didn’t just give me a cat, because if He had only done that…I would still be pretty miserable and still be hissing and casting evil eyes to the little thing. He also somehow managed to soften my heart toward this little creature and open my eyes to a possibility I had never thought of before (and somehow do it in a way that also spared my poor sinuses!).

I don’t think God is ever really trying to drag us anywhere kicking and screaming, as we claw our hands into the ground in resistance. We all know that’s not really how good leaders lead and that is not the way that I think that God is trying to lead those who love Him and seek Him. Some people think that following God means always having to choose the opposite of what you actually want to do. Sometimes following God means you end up doing the opposite of what you originally thought you wanted to do (ie I somehow have a cat now rather than a dog). But, because God is usually changing our hearts at the same time He is is changing our circumstances, it doesn’t really feel like a compromise or sacrifice at all by the time you find yourself on that path. It just feels like you are right where you are supposed to be. 

The same things happened with me and this chocolate business that we are still a part of here in Liberia. I think many people have heard me say that doing business was NEVER EVER part of my plan. I love education, I love teaching. I feel confident teaching because that is what I have my degree in and it is something I feel comfortable doing. I also love the field of education because I see it as one of the most noble, unselfish, worthy professions in the world. Frankly, my outlook on business people has always been that they are greedy after money and they have no place in the Body of Christ (yea, I get that the Bible says otherwise but this was my impression for the longest time, oooops). And yet, here in Liberia, God has me helping to oversee, mentor, and support a growing business. God didn’t just change my circumstances though, somewhere along the way He also changed my outlook and my heart. I can see SO CLEARLY now how business can be used to share the gospel, care for the poor, empower people, and disrupt systems of inequality and poverty.

I had asked God for more opportunities to teach, and no doubt He answered that prayer but not quite in the way that I thought He would. And, actually I’m not mad about it, I’m somehow pretty excited about it. So strange!! Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a little scared of it all, but not in a way that makes me want to run the other direction and give up….My fear just makes me to realize how small I am and how much I need God and it sends me running deeper into His embrace, and it is only there in His arms that I can finally start to appreciate and see the blessings that He is pouring down all around me…. Blessings I would have previously tried to send back up to Heaven saying “No thanks, God. This is not what I ordered.” But, that’s God sometimes.

God blessed me with a cat. I asked for a dog. A year ago, I would have thought you were joking or crazy if you had said I would have such strong feelings for a little thing that purred instead of barked. And yet, here we are….and I am thankful.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

PS. I can’t believe I just wrote a blog post about a cat…..

PPS. She has a name now, after months of just being called “the cat” or “it.” Her name is Sophia. She is fully grown and still only 3.5 pounds of cuteness.

Headed back to Liberia TODAY!

Today (Aug 27th) is the day we head back to Liberia!

What an incredible two months it has been at home! As we head back, we just want to give a huge THANK YOU to everyone who has helped make this past trip home an amazing one and to all of those who have supported and continue to support us and the ministry in Liberia along the way.

Thank you to those of you who came up and hugged us just to tell us how happy you were to see us home; it made us feel so welcome and reminded us that we belong to such an incredibly amazing community here.

Thank you to those who listened to us talk about Liberia endlessly and asked such intentional and meaningful questions about Liberia that allowed us to continue to pour out our hearts with you; we walked away from those times feeling so encouraged and refreshed.

Thank you to those who invited us to share a meal together; breaking bread (or pizza in many cases!) with family and friends is one of our love languages and it filled us up and nourished us in more ways than one.

Thank you to those who invited us into their homes and let us have a place to rest our heads amidst the constant spinning of everything else going on around us; it made us feel grounded and settled.

Thank you to those who walked right up to us at various mission events and introduced yourselves, we love meeting new people and seeing all the various ways that God puts puzzle pieces together as He works good for His Kingdom; it reminds us we are part of something so much bigger.

Thank you to those churches and individuals and organizations that have loved us so well while we were home; your love has carried us through so many valleys/storms and we are thankful to be able to carry you with us as we head back.

Thank you to those who have prayed tirelessly every single day for the ministry in Liberia; those prayers strengthen us in ways we could never put into words.

Thank you to those who support the ministry financially, we are in awe for your heart for missions and humbled by your generosity and sacrifice for us and for those that we love back in Liberia; you are truly the hands and feet of Christ.

We love you guys and have loved our time home and we can’t wait to see you all again next summer 🙂 Please continue to pray for us as we head out today that we would have smooth, uninterrupted travels all the way back to Ganta, Liberia and a smooth transition to the work and life as we return. We fly out tonight at 5:40pm and should land in Liberia tomorrow at 3:00pm EST (7:00pm in Liberia). We will probably spend one day in the capital and then start our 4.5 hour journey back up to Ganta on Thursday or Friday.

Reminder to all our financial partners: if you haven’t already, please remember to check and make sure that everything is up-to-date with your online donations. Occasionally, addresses or card information needs to be updated so please let us know if we can have our Hope in the Harvest administrative assistant help with anything. If you still need to set up your online giving, you can do so here: https://www.hopeintheharvest.org/donations/glenns/. It would help us out a lot if these donations were set up as soon as possible as we are heading back TODAY. As of Aug 27th, 2019, we are at 81% of our fundraising goal for the upcoming year of ministry. If you feel led and are able to support this ministry, please consider joining us as monthly partner or making a one-time donation to help us reach our final goal. Thank you

“Why do you keep going back???”

When we joined AgriCorps, we said that we would be going to Liberia for one year. One year later we were packing our bags for a flight back to Liberia.

When we joined Hope in the Harvest, we said that we would be going to Liberia for two years. Two years later we are once again packing our bags for a flight back to Liberia.

This year, we aren’t saying when we’ll be coming back (for good) because it’s kinda starting to look like we are liars anyways….

Why do you keep extending? Why do you keep going back?

This is the question that I hear at least 2-3 times a week so by now you would think that I would have my myself a perfectly cultivated answer, short and sweet, clear and to the point, easy to deliver, something that summarizes it all up. That’s what they tell me I should have by now….that most people I encounter will mostly likely only have an attention span of 2-3 minutes to dedicate to hearing about life/ministry in Liberia and that I need to have my “elevator speech” prepared and ready to go at a moment’s notice. That’s what they say at least. However, I can’t seem to do it….I mean I can… and I guess I have…you may have even heard me do it….but every time I boil it down to those few easy phrases that quickly and neatly summarize my answer (“agricultural and personal transformation”) I feel like I’m tying a pretty red ribbon up on the outside of a shiny white box that is filled with an absolutely colorful mess inside, about to burst open and explode everywhere!

How do I explain why I am going back in just a few simple sentences? How do I explain in just a few simple sentences all the things that God has laid on my heart and all the ways that God has broken my heart? Good, bad, beautiful, ugly, messy, clean, tangible, intangible, real, fake, and everything in between? How do I explain it all at once? How do I summarize things that I myself don’t even understand? That I can’t even explain? Things that seem like they make no sense?

I’m going back because Liberia feels like home, but also Liberia is nothing like home and that’s why I love it, but that’s also why I miss home.

I am going back because Liberia is so far out of my comfort zone, and yet I am going back because Liberia is exactly inside of my comfort zone.

I am going back to Liberia because in Liberia I feel joy more intensely than I ever knew possible, and yet I am going back because it is there that I feel sorrow deeper than my heart could hold on its own.

I’m going back because I want to feel full again, but I am going back knowing that I will be emptied.

I am going back because I love some of these people more than I can put into words, and yet I am also going back because I want to understand what love really is because it feels like I still don’t know.

I am going back to teach, and yet I am going back because there is so much left to learn.

I am going back to finish what I started, and yet I know that there is no finishing this thing here on earth.

I am going back because I am not afraid of the things people think I should be afraid of, but I am going back because I am afraid of the other things.

I’m going back because I love the work that we get to do there, but also the work that we are called to do there scares me and I don’t love things that scare me.

I’m going back because I’ve found I feel God working through me, and yet I know that more often than not He is working in spite of me.

I’m going back because I have skills/knowledge that I believe are worth sharing and can make a difference there, and yet I know that every good thing that is done and every change that I see happening is all from the Lord’s doing.

I am going back because I want to share with people about how they can have eternal life because I believe eternity with God is what all of us are living for, but also I see people with real needs in front of me now…with whom I cannot talk about eternity if we cannot address the very real hunger that is in their stomachs right now, the very real fears that keep them up at night, the very real diseases that keep taking their children away from them too soon.

I am going back to Liberia because I love agriculture, and yet I am going back to Liberia because agriculture means nothing to me at all in comparison.

I am going back because I feel like I should, and yet I am not at all going back because I feel like I should, because I have lots of people telling me I shouldn’t.

I am going back because I feel like I am needed, but I am going back because they don’t need me at all.

I am going back to Liberia because in some ways it is simpler, but I am going back to Liberia knowing that I am leaving the simplicity behind.

I am going back because I have hope for Liberia, but also I am going back because some days I don’t have hope, but others do and they draw me towards them like light in the darkness and darkness cannot hide from the light.

I am going back because I am selfish and I like to feel good about helping others, but also I am going back so that I don’t succumb to my own selfishness.

I am going back to be with my family, and yet as I go back I am missing my family.

I am going back to Liberia because I feel called to go back, but I’m also going back because I want to go back. Those two things don’t have to be in juxtaposition with each other and that is where I have found my peace, joy, freedom, rest, and drive.

For a long time, I used to think that following the Lord meant always doing the exact opposite of what I wanted and being miserable along the way. For a long time, I used to think that there was one clear cut path for every single one of us believers. That if we didn’t find that perfect path, that one single path that was long, straight, narrow and was made only for us, and then march along that path like a good solider…that we were essentially screwed….that we could no longer call ourselves “good Christians.” I used to get so stressed out about every single tiny little decision that it lead to indecision…to the point that I let opportunities to serve and love others right in front of me pass me by. I was anxious and scared and so very afraid of letting God down that I ended up running in all different directions to find “the path” rather than running into His arms and letting Him guide me to and along the path wherever it might lead.

I ran away from Him rather than toward Him because I was searching for the wrong thing.

I was living to find “the path” rather than living to find the God who had made the path.

I was living for “my purpose” rather than the one who put that purpose inside of me in the first place.

Somewhere along the way, God helped this stubborn, anxious, tidiness-loving mind of mine to realize that there are a number of really cool ways that I can serve the Lord on this earth and still bring glory and honor to Him. That life is not so black and white, that life is messy,…and that once the ribbon on that cute little white box is untied and opened, it’s hard to fit everything back in again in the same way. He created me with a unique set of gifts and passions, a unique set of likes and dislikes and fears and hopes that make me, me. He has a plan for my life, that much is true. But it isn’t as narrow as I had once feared, defined entirely by one’s career. It’s actually bigger and better than I could have ever hoped. His plan is for me to know that I am unconditionally, deeply, and personally loved by Him; for me to be freed to love and serve Him in return, finding fullness in the relationship with My Maker; and for me to share that love and serve others with the gifts He gave me so that they can know Him too.

I could do that through being an extension agent and helping farmers in the US to grow more food in sustainable ways. I could do that as an agriculture teacher in an American high school setting, teaching youth to love agriculture. I could do it as a social justice worker in the community of Baltimore City, Cockeysville, or Bel Air, working in food desert areas and helping to provide people with better access to food. I could do it by becoming a pastor or a food/faith blogger. I could do it by being a farmer. I could do it by going back to school for my PhD. Or I could do it as an agricultural missionary working in Ganta, Liberia. That is the beauty of our God and His plans.

While He made us and Has plans for us, He graciously allows us to be a part of those plans and those decisions. While He made the Earth and is clearly doing work on the Earth, He has allowed us to be a part of that work too…not just bystanders. My “good Christian status” does not rely so strictly on the job that I do, it matters on the heart that I do it with. God has given me a desire to serve the poor, to teach agriculture, and to share the good news of His salvation. He has placed those desires on my heart as I have sought to delight myself in Him and His presence. He has and is giving me the desires of my heart, they are fully His and yet they are fully mine at the same time. It does not feel anymore like He is forcing me anywhere or that I am watching from the sidelines as He conducts my life, cringing and anxiously pacing as I wait for the next call. Instead, it feels now like He is holding my hand as we walk together, gently leading me along the way, down the path as He softly whispers in my ear.

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 37:4

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand

Psalm 16:11

And that is why I’m going back, because the desire of my heart is simply that I want to walk with the Lord on this specific path for a little while longer. This is not the only path for me, I know that now. And somehow that’s what makes the freedom to choose this path of foreign missions….this rugged, winding, wide, confusing, long, beautiful, joyous, painful, fulfilling path…even sweeter. Nathan and I don’t know exactly how long we will be on this path, but we know that if we cling tightly to the Hand of God, that He will be with us along the way…and we’ve decided that’s all we really want or need out of this life anyways.

So once again, we are packing our bags for a flight back to Liberia.

Note: This blog was also published on the popular missionary blogging website called “A Life Overseas” on Aug 26th, 2019. The link to this shortened version can be found here: https://www.alifeoverseas.com/why-do-you-keep-going-back/.

Glenns’ Ministry Celebration Night

Friends, we are HOME in the US for the next few weeks for our yearly visit!!

And we really want to see you guys while we are home this summer! Please come join us at our ministry celebration night at Epworth UMC on July 14th at 5:00pm. It will be a night of prayer, celebration, and thanksgiving for all that God has been doing in Liberia. We will also be sharing plans for where God is leading us these next couple of years in our ministry in Liberia. There will be plenty of photos and stories, some authentic Liberian soup and rice for tasting, decadent brownies made with Liberian chocolate and even a few Liberian arts and crafts for sale.

For more details and to RSVP, please click here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSerE1S61ze0bfIJJDUMQysXkVxcDSUJyIP0KxPyr4f00FoqUg/viewform?usp=sf_link

We hope to see you there!

The Process of Tempering: Good for Chocolate and Good for Our Souls

Tempering is one of the most important processes in chocolate making. It is a very technical chemical process, the heating and cooling and then heating again the cocoa liquor to very specific temperatures so that a specific type of crystals form, making the final chocolate product look shiny, taste silky, and also giving it a stiff and firm texture that “snaps” when you break it in your hands.

Beautiful well-tempered chocolate! Smooth, glossy, and stiff!

Today, we were pulling chocolate out of the molds and it looked stunning, smooth and shiny!! We were excited and ready to wrap them up and get them to the market. But then as we started packing the chocolates and handling them more, we saw that some of the chocolates had an outer layer flaking off and what we saw beneath was not so beautiful. So, we started cutting up the chocolate squares one by one and found that they ALL had this ugly, dry, grainy/powdery texture underneath the glossy smooth surface and that they were crumbling in our hands. Having been doing this now for at least a year, the students and I looked at each other and knew exactly what had happened as soon as we saw it: somewhere along the lines we had rushed the tempering process (or a drop of water had accidentally got mixed in) and the crystals had not formed as they should.

It reminded me instantly of the story of when Jesus called out the Pharisees out on their hypocrisy saying ” Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness (Matthew 23:25-28).” There is no way we could sell this chocolate as it is…sure, it would have looked beautiful and perfect on the outside but as soon as the customer bit into it they would have known right away that something was wrong with it and spit it out and probably never bought from us again.

It reminded me of how so often we try and rush or even ignore our own spiritual growth and development, ignoring whatever is going on inside and just focusing our efforts on making sure that it all at least looks good on the outside, caring more about what other people think than what is actually real. Other people might not be able to see the problems going on inside our hearts immediately, but eventually those ugly things do get seen in the way that we treat people around us or respond to certain situations…. eventually it is known. And the truth is that God saw our ugly hearts the whole time anyways so what really was the point of painting ourselves as shiny and clean anyways? Who wants to drink from a cup that is clean on the outside but actually dirty on the inside?

It was tempting to want to wrap the rest of those pretty looking chocolates up, the ones we hadn’t yet cracked open, the ones that still looked beautiful and shiny. We had spent hours making them after all and a good bit of money too! But we knew it would not have been right for us to sell those chocolates, it would have been dishonest and in the long run it would have hurt our business a lot. We were marketing our chocolate as smooth, rich, and creamy but the product here was the exact opposite. Who would have wanted to buy that product again? Who would have been attracted to it again if the taste was not what was expected and marketed?

It’s tempting to want to rush the process of God working on our hearts, it’s a long and tedious process of continual growth, cleansing, and inner-reflection that sometimes has us digging deep into our hearts to places that we’d rather just cover up and ignore. It takes patience, it takes humility, it takes courage, it takes surrender. It takes ignoring our natural instinct to want to cover the ugly things up, it takes letting Him inside of us. If we truly want to live a changed life, one that reflects His beauty to the world and draws and points people toward Him, we have to allow for and desire change on the inside. The thing that draws us closer to Christ and other people to Christ is not us and our outward “perfect personas”, it is Him IN us. It’s what’s on the inside, the sweet, rich, silky, real taste of His love, grace, power, and majesty that makes people hunger for more of Him.  

There’s more than enough fakeness and hypocrisy in this world, so many people are desperately looking for something real, something bigger than themselves, something to fix, fill, wash, and heal the insides once and for all, something that will finally give them peace and rest and to help carry those burdens they will never be able to carry on their own, something that will stand firm when everything else seems to be falling apart. People don’t need more of our clever tricks of how to look like we’ve got it all together. People don’t need more of us or attempts at “shininess.” In fact, we ourselves don’t even need any more of that either. They and we ALL need more of Him…. to taste Him and know that He is real and that He is good. If our lives are not a reflection of His love, grace, and transforming power to change and renew something from the inside out as we so widely proclaim, who will ever come back for more? Who will ever want to taste Him and His Word again if once they bite down all they taste is crumbly, dry, fake, unpalatable, and dirty? If I were them, I would spit it right out, walk away, and never come back.

I’m not saying that our lives will ever be perfect, they surely won’t, nor do they need to be. But, when people see us and “bite into us” they should be able to see and taste Christ in us and that taste, that taste of something so real and potent, should leave them (and us) wanting more. It should make them realize that whatever they had before was fake, not good enough any longer. I remember the first time I bit into our Liberian-made chocolate for the first time, after 1.5 years of eating the really cheap stuff that the grocery stores here in Liberia label as “chocolate” here and convincing myself that it was just as good as the dark chocolate Lindt truffles that I used to buy for myself back in the US. Immediately, I knew that what I was tasting now was the real thing (better than Lindt even) and I never wanted to go back to that nasty stuff I had convinced myself was good for so long. Do you remember the first time that you tasted Jesus? The sweet taste of His grace and love? The potency of his power and might? The raw realness of His presence that could not be denied? When people taste us as Christians, there should be something different about us on the inside, different than what the rest of the world has been offering. Something sweet, something real, something that leaves them longing for another taste. Our lives should be a testimony and through us the world should be able to see that God is who He says He is ,”for He who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23). How will the world ever know the real thing if they never have a chance to taste the real thing?

The only way for us to taste Jesus is for us to experience Him for ourselves and the only way for people to taste Jesus in us, is for us to allow ourselves to be transformed and molded, heated and cooled, and shaped like pliable clay in the hands of a potter or silky chocolate liquor in the careful hands of a chocolatier. We must desire and allow for our souls to be tempered over and over again by our Creator. It is only by His guiding hands and our willing spirit that our insides can truly be made new and we can share His true goodness with the world. Likewise, it is only through the careful process of tempering, the intentional and precise rising and lowering of the chocolate liquor’s temperature, that high quality chocolate can be made, the kind of chocolate that makes you realize what you were missing out on all these years!

Students tempering the chocolate. Here they have taken 75% of the chocolate liquor and are spreading it out on the cold tile counter tops so they can drop the temperature from 120F to 80F. Then they will mix it back with the remaining 25% and raise the chocolate back up to 89F. Just a few degrees off and the whole batch spoils.

We ourselves don’t want to eat bad chocolate and we certainly don’t want to sell bad chocolate either. People need to taste our chocolate to know that it is good, that it is real, that it is exactly what we say it is on the wrapper. And so today, our plans have changed. We will now spend hours cutting these chocolate pieces down to smaller sizes, removing any impurities, gathering up what remains and throwing them back onto the stove, melting them back down to a liquor and starting the whole tempering process over again from the start, patiently heating the chocolate, cooling the chocolate, and then heating the chocolate back up again before we re-pour it into the molds. By God’s grace, when we pull them out of the molds this afternoon, they will be smooth, shiny, and stiff not only on the outside, but on the inside as well.

Psalm 34:8 “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”

#GivingTuesday and Gratitude

Over the past two years, Nathan Glenn and I have been blessed to have so many generous donors that have allowed us to be here in Liberia, working with some of my favorite people in the world- both students and farmers!! I love that this organization, Hope in the Harvest, allows us to work WITH people towards holistic and sustainable solutions toward development and eradication of poverty. To feed someone physically without offering them the Bread of Life is to leave them empty and hungry still…and to feed someone spiritually without offering them bread for their stomach is to ignore reality and the deep compassion and heart of our God who sees and cares for the needs of His people.

Every day I find more and more unique and beautifully woven connections between my faith and agriculture, the act of stewarding the land that He so graciously gave us in order to provide our daily bread. Every day I am thankful for all that He is teaching me about His goodness, faithfulness, creativity, and divine love through these experiences and every day I am thankful to be able to be a part of this work as God reveals to us all the many forgotten connections between the soil and the soul. Liberia has experienced great hardship and agricultural development alone will never be enough to heal some of the deep wounds that the country and the people have endured throughout their history. Agricultural transformation alongside of spiritual transformation are needed side-by-side in order to allow and foster true growth and lasting change. It’s messy, it’s long, and it’s complicated and at times it is incredibly heart-wrenching, but it is oh so miraculously humbling and rewarding to see God at work here, restoring what was once considered a barren and desolate land.

Today is #GivingTuesday, an intentional day of charitable giving around the globe, and so we are asking you to join us and be a part of the work that God is doing here in Liberia. Your support is essential and it is what allows us to be here, long-term, building relationships and investing in our community and community members. True and lasting change does not come through the one-time giving of food or one-time giving of seeds and not even through the one-time learning a new technique or concept; it comes through repeated learning opportunities, real hands-on experiences in the field, and trial and error.  By remaining here and living and working with our students and local farmers on a regular basis, the situation is allowing for continued learning to take place and also for us to build relationships. Through these relationships we have repeated opportunities to share the Word of God and experience and pursue Christ together as we learn more and more each day about His character and His purpose for our lives and for Creation.

Right now, we are still only about 85% of the way funded for this upcoming year.  If you want to be a part of this ministry that seeks to cultivate Christ’s hope around the world through both agricultural and personal transformation, would you prayerfully consider joining our sponsorship team in one of two ways?

  • Would you consider becoming a monthly partner with us at $25, $50, $100 or any other amount per month? We find that this type of partnership is easy for those who don’t want to commit a large amount all at once but can commit to smaller amounts each month.  Additionally, these recurring donations are helpful for us because it helps us to better plan out our monthly budgets. Once it’s set up (which takes about 5 minutes, instructions here), you don’t have to worry about it for the next year. To set up a recurring donation toward our account, just click here.
  • Alternatively, would you consider making a one-time donation? These donations can be done via checks or online (instructions here). These donations are great for people who can commit to a certain sum one time, but cannot commit monthly. These are also helpful for us because collectively they help us with covering large one-time expenses. To make a one-time donation toward our account, just go click here.

Thank you for your consideration and most importantly for your prayers….for us, for our students, for our colleagues, for our farmer friends, and for Liberia as a nation. We are confident that God hears the cries of those who call on His name and we are confident that He is and will continue to respond in ways that bring glory to His Name.

1 John 5:15 ~ And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

The Story of Chocolate at LICC

This is the story of how we began producing chocolate at LICC (and why you now see so many delicious chocolate pictures posted on my social media on a regular basis…….sorry-ooooooo)

If you know me well, then you know that there is no food that I value higher than chocolate. I am my mother’s daughter through and through when it comes to love of chocolate and all things cocoa. If I could eat chocolate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day I probably would….

So you can imagine my delight when I realized that right here in this little town I now call home people are growing cocoa beans. I had heard someone mention cocoa beans in the midst of telling some other story (somehow the cocoa was not the main point of the story?!) and after tracing down this rumor a bit I was able to get some information on where I might be able to buy some cocoa for myself. Our driver Mark and I went out into town in search of it and were able to find the jackpot!!

I later found out that the place where we bought the cocoa beans was not actually technically supposed to be selling retail. They were actually a warehouse, a middleman, that acts as a storing facility. The farmers from the local villages bring their beans here for sale (or reps from the warehouse go out an purchase) and the beans are then kept in the warehouse in Ganta until they can be transported to Monrovia. Once in Monrovia, they head to the cargo ships and then most likely make their way to Europe for chocolate production. I was happy I was able to snag some before they made that long journey!

I ended up buying 2 kg (which ended up being closer to about 3 kg with how they “top things off” in Liberia) for 350 Liberian Dollars, which at that time was equivalent to about $2.80 USD. We got the cocoa beans home and really didn’t have any idea what to do with them. We quick hopped on youtube and found some videos and were able to concoct something that resembled the “taste” of chocolate, but was a far cry from the rich and creamy texture of chocolate that we are used to. The problem it turns out was that we could not get a smooth enough grind on the beans without some type of grinding machinery. If there’s anyone who knows how to roll full steam ahead on a good idea, it’s Bill lol. Within the next month my colleague Bill Sebald had ordered us a melanger on Amazon and had it in the suitcase of his nephew, due to arrive in Liberia the following month. Wait what?!!? That was fast!

In the meantime we continued watching youtube videos to try and learn everything we could about this chocolate making business (which FYI there is still soooo sooo much to learn). Some of the things we learned:

  • Our next door neighbor, Ivory Coast, is the #1 cocoa bean exporter in the WORLD and Ghana and Nigeria fall also within the top 10.  Liberia is nowhere on the list- for now!

Image result for cocoa production statistics west africa

  • Liberia imports a lot of chocolate products. There is chocolate sold in every single grocery store and also there is an abundance of hot cocoa mixes sold in even the smallest of tea shops on the street. And yet, NONE of this is produced in Liberia. It is all imported, even though Liberia produces an abundance of cocoa beans.
  • Water is the enemy of the cocoa grinding process! One drop of water in your beans can spoil the whole batch! Roast those beans well!
  • Peeling the shell off the cocoa beans by hand is one of the most tedious processes ever and leaves your fingers incredibly raw and dirty- worth it though!
  • One of our staff members, Konah, is just about as obsessed with chocolate as I am….when we told him we were going to start making chocolate he literally tried to lift Nathan up off the ground in excitement haha.
  • Many of my students know people who are producing cocoa beans—which means we could buy directly from the farmers themselves so this is a win-win situation. Win for them (fair price) and win for us (we know and get to interact with our suppliers).

Once we got the melanger, our experiments were taken to the next level. Our first batch was a beautifully dark and rich and creamy success! After that we continued to make a few more batches, even starting to sell some of the product on the local market (although to be fair Konah’s wife hardly made it off the campus before it all got bought up lol).  Next, we started making it in my Food Processing & Preservation class and we got ourselves even more hooked customers and a couple of chocolatiers we could call upon when it came time to increasing out production. So far I think we have made about 25 batches (so about 200+lbs of chocolate). We have sold it on the local market as well as to international guests when they visit  for tours here at the ARC. I also brought home about 20 lbs to the US when we visited over the summer and watching people’s reactions as they tried it was absolutely the best and reassuring to me…no I’m not crazy, this chocolate is some of the best stuff I have ever had in my life!

The popularity of our product continues to grow. Since we have been back to Liberia, we are trying to make about 2 batches (8-10lbs) every week. We hope to keep expanding in Ganta, but also to the capital city of Monrovia. As far as we know, there is no one else processing cocoa beans into chocolate in Liberia at this time on this scale. We are constantly looking for sustainable business opportunities to help the school have a more regular and stable source of revenue ( because as of right now the support we receive from donors, the government, and even school fees just isn’t enough nor is it terribly reliable). We are also looking for ways to ensure that local farmers are supported in terms of fair market prices when it comes time to sell their product. This could be a great opportunity for the school, for our students, for the farmers, and for the Liberian cocoa value chain and economy as a whole.

We are praying for God to direct our steps with this chocolate experiment turned small business. We are asking God to help this business keeps growing. We are networking and making connections with other people in the cocoa industry, both abroad and here in West Africa, to find out all that we can and make the right connections. We are writing comprehensive business plans, analyzing data, applying for grants, and seeking out investors. Pray that God would help guide us on the next steps. Please pray alongside of us in this venture! And if you have any ideas or connections, please reach out to us so we can brainstorm more together.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share a few photos of our chocolate-making process and you can see how the process has evolved from our first batch of chocolate (which basically looked like dirt but tasted great) to our latest creation (chocolate coconut clusters packaged in beautiful lappa pouches):

Chocolate Album

(hover of the picture to see the caption)