At ABC University in Yekepa, Liberia
(These blog posts are all after the fact, considering we basically ran out of internet after our first few days in Liberia. I had hoped to keep everyone up to date AS WE WERE GOING, but alas, as they say, the best laid plans of mice and men...)
AFRICAN BIBLE COLLEGE in YEKEPA, LIBERIA
For many people in our group, I'll bet that staying on the ABC campus was one of the highlights of our trip. It was pretty incredible to witness what God has done (and is doing) to restore their campus after laying in ruins for 15 years of civil war. We were told that when they first returned to the campus, after the war ended, the jungle had grown up so tall that they couldn't see the buildings from the road. And whatever "buildings" WERE left, were completely destroyed and stripped of everything.
But, thanks to the Grace of God, and the generosity of others (primarily Samaritan's Purse and The Grove), ABC in Liberia has, in crazy-fast fashion, rebuilt and restored ALL the original buildings AND are building several brand new facilities!
However, as awesome as the campus is, and all the work that's gone in to rebuilding it, what really stood out to us was... the 80+ students attending ABC. Here was men and women who, against so many odds, were walking by faith that they could receive a college education and make a transformative difference in their war-torn country. Student after student had stories about how they or their family were impacted by the war, and how their families still live in different countries (like Guinea to the north), but they themselves felt compelled to return "home" and try to help rebuild their country. These students were dedicated and determined, and full of love for the Lord and love for their people.
We got to eat lunch each day with them in the cafeteria and hear their stories and learn about their country. On one such afternoon Miracle, one of the students who would be traveling with us on the basketball team, answered a question I threw at him. "Miracle," I asked, "I can't help but notice that every single male in Liberia has short, shaved hair. Why is this?" Miracle went on to tell me that during the war, most of the Charles Taylor's soldiers would grow their hair out long, in to afros or dreads. And even now, six years after the war has ended, there is still a stigma associated with long hair. "It is easy and quick to destroy, but it is long and difficult to rebuild," he told me. So even now, the men of Liberia make certain to keep their hair short (as well as things like no tatoos or body piercings) because of the negative associations with these things.
We also got to attend chapel twice with the students. On Wednesday morning Palmer spoke and the ABC students led us in worship. And let me tell you, they KNOW how to worship! They don't need to get "warmed up," they don't need to be "encouraged to sing," as soon as the music starts, so does the singing/dancing/clapping with full force! Then on Thursday, our band got to lead the music and I got to share the message. I planned on giving a talk that I'd given back here in the states a few months ago (about worship and story), but right as we were finishing our final song I felt like God was moving me in a different direction. So, I picked up the mic, grabbed my notes and bible, set them down, and proceeded to just share my own story with the students. I talked about growing up in a broken family, and the impact that has had on my life. I talked about God as Father, and about how the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is affirmation that I/you/we have value and worth. I talked about the bloody cross and the empty grave being the loudest voice in the universe shouting out that "you have value... you have worth..." I had no notes, and I'd never given this "talk" before, but it was my own story and I felt that's what I was "supposed" to share. Dell (Palmer's older brother and the President of ABC) told me afterwards that the message was perfect for the students, because fathers in Liberia are basically non existent. Most, if not all, these students grew up without a dad around... either because he died in the war, or left their family, or was always working to try and make a life... I would find out later how my story impacted a certain student, Samuel, but I'll save that for another blog.
Some other noteworthy things from our time at ABC in Yekepa:
- This was the first time most of us got to experience sleeping inside a mosquito net. I'll tell you what, it was strange... and difficult. The bed I slept in (and my net) were all to small for me, so I was paranoid all night of my legs sticking out outside the net, thus ensuring my contracting of malaria. I'd like to say I got used to it by the fourth night, but I didn't... Praise the Lord that Yekepa was the only place where we had to sleep under nets!
- Getting gas in Liberia was always interesting. Only a few places actually had "pumps." Mostly it involved stopping by a shack by the road where some guys would have jars or containers of gas that they would siphon into your vehicle for you... one... gallon... at... a... time...
- The basketball game (our first) against the local Yekepa All-Stars was a ton of fun. The crowd just slowly gathered and gathered till there was almost 300 people crowded around the court. A special thanks to Shane Jones and "Coach" DJ McCallahan for their hard work in replacing the backboards, rims, and nets of this dilapidated court. Our team, the Phoenix Blaze, pulled out a decisive victory, 42 - 28, even as the sweltering heat and humidity threatened to destroy us! Shane "The Big Fella" Jones was a crowd favorite. Every time Shane, who was at least two heads taller than anyone around, would score a basket, the crowd went crazy!
- Our first outreach event, held at The Open Door in Yekepa, was a huge success! Held in an old-fashioned theater house that the community pooled their money together to help repair, our event drew a crowd of over 200 locals who came to hear some music and hear some teaching from Palmer and Eleazer (one of the staff members at ABC who travelled with us and did all the arrangements and logistics while we were in Yekepa and Ganta). We, the band, were thrilled with the fact that the power held up all night long, and it actually sounded really good! The venue was super cool, even though we all sweat like crazy. At first, we were unsure if the people attending actually "liked" what we were playing, because they just sort of sat their, passive and staring. However, at the end of each song they would thunderously applaud! Palmer told us later that, in Liberia, if they didn't like you, they would just stand up and leave. So them actually staying seated and staying the whole time, and being 'silent,' was evidence that they were having a great time. At the end of the night, Palmer and Eleazer invited people to come forward and pray with one of our team members if they would like to take the next step in committing their lives to following Jesus. Around 40 people came forward for prayer! We took all their names and cell #'s (because everyone in Liberia has a cell phone) and left them with the different pastors in the area for follow up. Let's pray that they do follow up and can continue to minister to those individuals and communities.
Yekepa was a great first city in our 4-city tour. It was a great introduction to Liberia (if we would have started, say, in Ganta, that could have been a little disheartening!), but at ABC we felt welcomed and a little at home. We also began relationships with several of the ABC students that would blossom over the days to come.
Some more pics of our time in Yekepa: