February 26 is a day that stirs up lots of memories for us. We were married on that day in 1982. Then on our seventh anniversary in 1989 we boarded an airplane to fly to Liberia for the first time, the two of us plus 4-year-old Danny and one-year-old Joey. That’s 30 years ago today.
Had we known all the hard parts of what the next thirty years would hold for us, I’m not sure we would have boarded that airplane. It was tough from the very start. One enduring memory from our 1989 departure is Danny’s comment as our plane pushed back from the gate in Minneapolis, “I’m going to pretend that I don’t have grandparents.” Separation from family and friends never got easier.
Then there were four(!) premature and unexpected departures due to war, three from Liberia followed by one from Ivory Coast, that last one being halfway through Danny’s senior year of high school. We discovered that goodbyes are hard no matter which direction you’re traveling.
But there’s lots of good news, too. High on my list is that it’s God who writes our story, and that He graciously does not unfold it all for us to see before it happens.
I was reminded again this week that He is always with us. “If I go up to the heavens, you are there… if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (Psalm 139:8-10) We’ve found Him right there to meet every need, in every situation.
I can hardly imagine what we would have missed, had we allowed our fears to hold us back from accepting some risk and some sorrow.
Returning to Liberia
Those of you who have followed our story over the years know that Liberia has never left our hearts and minds, even though we only lived there seven years. We’ve been back many times for short visits, and one unexpected twist just recently is that we’ve both been there within the last three months. Mary visited in December, and I’ve just returned from a two-week stay earlier this month.
Thirty years ago, when we first arrived, Liberia was in its final year of what they now refer to as “normal times”, that is, life as they knew it before fourteen years of civil war devastated the infrastructure, the economy, and even the social and family structures of that country, not to mention the impact of the Ebola crisis in 2014-15.
This month, in my first visit since 2010, I was thrilled to see so many signs of positive change. The unemployment rate has shrunk. Infrastructure is gradually improving. There’s been a peaceful and democratic change from one president to another. The church is on the move. The old and badly decayed ELWA Hospital building has been replaced with a new one that’s twice its size. Coming soon will be a new intensive care unit, a 40kw solar power unit that will lessen dependence on expensive generators, and a residency program that will train new Liberian doctors.
Also coming soon is the new Radio ELWA studio building. The walls and roof and windows and doors are all in place, and as soon as the equipment and furnishings are installed, they’ll move into their new quarters. In the meantime, the radio station continues broadcasting from their (way too small) current location.
Most satisfying to me personally was witnessing firsthand the growth in our SIM Liberia financial staff. To name a couple of them, Adolf was the cashier/bookkeeper when I last saw him nine years ago. Today he’s the SIM Liberia Treasurer, with responsibilities that have grown immensely. He’s also a leader in the local church that meets on the ELWA campus.
Porkpa was still a teenager in 1989, and he worked with us at our house all the years we lived there, helping us to keep things looking good. Now he manages payroll for 400+ SIM/ELWA employees, and he’s the chairman of the Elder Board in that same local church.
Remembering and Giving Thanks
Among the many wonderful things we loved about living in Liberia was having the Atlantic Ocean right outside our front door on the ELWA campus. With all that Liberia has been through over these thirty years, it’s remarkable that there’s virtually no discernible difference between these two photos. The four-year-old is now thirty-four, and he no longer lives there, but that’s about it.
The ocean has been for us a great reminder of our unchanging God, whose plans for us are nothing but good (Romans 8:28), and whose purposes will always be accomplished (Isaiah 46:10).
All this leaves me full of gratitude, first to the Lord for allowing us to be a part of what he’s doing in Liberia and far beyond, and also to each of you who has played such a role in sending us by way of your partnership through prayer and finances. Thirty years seems like a very good time to pause and remember and give thanks, and that’s exactly what we’re doing today!
Yours in Him,
Dave (for both of us)
More Good News!
Liberia has been in the news recently, and much of the news is good. The most prominent story (to us anyway!) is that our long-time friend and colleague Dr. Rick Sacra was awarded a prize of $500,000 to be used for developing the health care system in Liberia. Plans include an intensive care unit for ELWA Hospital, a solar power installation, and a medical residency program, all mentioned above, as well as in the links below.
The prize was officially awarded at a banquet in NYC a few weeks ago. Mary was able to attend, along with Jacob and his wife Katie. I was unable to make it because I was, somewhat ironically, on my way to Liberia.
(This Gospel Coalition link includes some of our own photos and quotes.)