Sunday, December 18, 2005


i made it home-sweet-home as planned on monday night. i've been sleeping and eating and visiting family for the last few days, and i finally started making some phone calls and trying to catch up with friends today. i've already subbed a couple of times at the YMCA and have earned a whole $42! big money.

leaving freetown was hard, but it seems like that was so long ago... in reality it has been just over a week. i think about the kids all the time and i miss the girls from my team a lot. but it feels good to be home for the most part. the reverse culture shock hasn't killed me yet, and i've become a expert tongue-biter in moments when it comes close to getting the best of me. i'd appreciate your prayers and patience in this area. i'm having trouble articulating anything more than "it was hard and good" when people ask about freetown. that's actually the best 1-sentence answer i can give, and sometimes i wonder if that's all i should say anyway. but like i said, thanks for being patient.

on thursday morning ( i think it was thursday...) i got a fun surprise in the form of a phone call from one of my friends in freetown! let's just say that i have a hard enough time with Krio, but a shakey connection and a phone delay make it even more interesting. regardless, it was one of the most loving gestures that i have ever received (the kid decided to spend his money on the phone call instead of lunch).

those kids never cease to amaze me. and so the lessons continue...

isaiah 62

For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem's sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.

The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will bestow.

You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD's hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married.

As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.

I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the LORD, give yourselves no rest,

and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.

The LORD has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm: "Never again will I give your grain as food for your enemies, and never again will foreigners drink the new wine for which you have toiled;

but those who harvest it will eat it and praise the LORD, and those who gather the grapes will drink it in the courts of my sanctuary."

Pass through, pass through the gates! Prepare the way for the people. Build up, build up the highway! Remove the stones. Raise a banner for the nations.

The LORD has made proclamation to the ends of the earth: "Say to the Daughter of Zion, 'See, your Savior comes! See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.' "

They will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of the LORD; and you will be called Sought After, the City No Longer Deserted.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

farewell to freetown

only 2 days to go. i can't even believe it. i started packing last night which involved packing a lot of things that hadn't been touched since they were unpacked in august... that was funny and annoying. but it somehow made me realize that i have been here a long time. i've actually lived here. i didn't just visit. i've (kinda) learned a new language and (kinda) adapted to a new culture. i've made a lot of new friends, and have even met a few people who i would swear were family.

in one breath i am excited to go back to my original home and terrified to leave this place that i have learned to love. i say 'learned' because i can't say that it came naturally. on one hand, i look forward to things like hugging my family and sitting at the table in my mom's kitchen. but being in that time and place will of course require that i am excluded from this time and place - where i can hug fatmata or sheku and sit around the table at the aberdeen house. but that all makes me think of heaven and look forward to the day when my longings don't have to contradict each other.

sooooo... this time on friday we will begin the long process of getting to the airport and then getting in the air. this is rumored to take up to 10 hours to do. we'll see. we'll arrive in london saturday morning, hang out there for a couple of days (thanks to a ticketing glitch) and i'll be back in ohio on monday night. so i'll be seeing or talking to many of you very soon!

in case you haven't heard, i'll be spending the next 6 or 7 months in circleville. stop laughing. is anyone keeping track of how many times i've said i wouldn't live there again? the plan is to get a cheap apartment, subsitute teach and get some other job, and save money and pay some loans. and of course, hang with the family. i've missed them a lot. i feel like a lot has happened since i left and i am starving for some good time with them.

so, you won't be reading anything else from me from west africa. and as they say in krio, "da na di soriest pat" ('that is the sorriest part' - sorry erin, i totally bin tif yu layn)! i will most likely continue to process and reflect and ramble on this sight when i get home, so you can look forward to that. :)

a lek una bad, en a go gladi for si una bak.

(i love you all, and i will be happy to see you all again.)

Friday, November 25, 2005


i hope you all had a happy thanksgiving! i had a very happy and very interesting one myself.

an american woman who works for mercy ships called faye a week or so ago and asked if we wanted to come to their house for thanksgiving dinner... heck yeah! then we found out that it was a carry-in and we had to actually cook thanksgiving-like foods to bring with us. now, i'm usually all about the carry-in/potluck/schmorgasboard meal, but you can't make greenbean caserole on a kerosene stove. and of course, we were asked to bring the greenbean caserole. but that was okay, we've gotten good at improvising, so we tried. and we used the mercy ships oven. as you might imagine, we couldn't find french-fried onions, so we went with the corn chips option. it didn't work out too well. don't try it if you're ever trying to cook thanksgiving dinner in africa.

the moral of the story (or rather, the point of this post) is that i recognize that i have much to be thankful for. the common Krio (sierra leonean language) response to the question "how are you?" is "i tell God 'thank you.'" maybe it isn't even thought about when it is said, and i admit that it doesn't always register with me when i hear it, but it is a striking phrase in the context of this place and these people who have suffered and continue to suffer so much. it is easy for me to tell God 'thank you' when my belly is full and i know my mom loves me. but how thankful would i be if i hadn't eaten for 2 days and my mom gave me bruises on a regular basis? if my husband was dead? if my home was under water?

thanksgiving is worship. it is something that i must choose. i hope that i have learned enough from the people of freetown that i can choose to be thankful in spite of circumstance. i have seen that thankfulness isn't about the things that i have, it is about acknowledging that i serve a good God. a God who gives not so that we will thank him, but simply because He is good. all the time. everywhere.

i choose to be thankful today.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

traffic jam

being stuck in traffic is rarely all that fun, so i'm not going to pretend like i've gained a ton of patience during my diesel-fume-ridden stay in africa, but today i was grateful for the pace at which our taxi was moving. in case you're wondering, that pace was slow enough that it only took a minute or so for a 7ish-year-old boy on foot to overtake us. not that he even knew we were there... he was completely in his own 7-year-old boy world. and don't think for a second that it was a different world than your own kid - or neighbor, or nephew, or any other 7 year old - lives in. i think that my mom would probably say he was be-bopping, and that's as good a description as any. strides as long as he was tall, chest pointed to the sky, head high, arms swinging like mad, emmersed in serious dialog with someone only he could see... i laughed out loud.

the beauty of it is that, in spite of the layers of difference that our eyes see, we're not really all that different, are we?

i thank God for 7-year-olds, and for the reminder that we all look the same through His eyes.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

why should your heart not dance?

okay i told you all last time how much i loved reading "till we have faces"... i have to do a little reflecting for you. can't help myself... let me quote the relevant part first:

"we had come into the sunlight now, too bright to look into, and warm (i threw back my cloak). heavy dew made the grass jewel-bright. the mountain, far greater yet also far further off than i expected, seen with the sun hanging a hand-breadth above its topmost crags, did not look like a solid thing. between us and it was a vast tumble of valley and hill, woods and cliffs, and more little lakes than i could count. to left and right, and behind us, the whole coloured world with all its hills was heaped up and up to the sky, with, far away, a gleam of what we call the sea... there was a lark singing; but for that, huge and ancient stillness.

and my struggle was this. you may well believe that i had set out sad enough; i came on a sad errand. now, flung at me like frolic or insolence, there came as if it were a voice -- no words -- but if you made it into words it would be, "why should your heart not dance?" it's the measure of my folly that my heart almost answered, "why not?" i had to tell myself over like a lesson the infinite reasons i had not to dance. my heart to dance? mine whose love was taken from me, I, the ugly princess who must never look for other love, the drudge of the King, the jailer of Redival, perhaps to be murdered or turned out as a beggar when my father died... and yet, it was a lesson i could hardly keep in my mind. the sight of the huge world put mad ideas into me, as if i could wander away, wander forever, see strange and beautiful things, one after the other to the world's end. the freshness and wetness all about me made me feel that i had misjudged the world; it seemed kind, and laughing, as if its heart also danced. even my ugliness i could not quite believe in. who can feel ugly when the heart meets delight? it is as if, somewhere inside, within the hideous face and bony limbs, one is soft, fresh, lissom and desirable."

okay, the first thing that strikes me is how ugly, sad, and worthelss she feels. it tears at my heart that she would feel that about herself, but i hate to admit that i've actually felt those same things a lot since i've been here... sometimes freetown (or any other challenging life situation) makes me close in on myself. i let my focus and my thoughts turn inward which is always a dangerous (but occasionally neccessary) idea. the result of the inward focus is that i am overwhelmed with questions about a lot of things. i question the reality of hope, victory, love; and the possibility of freedom, justice, peace. but most of all, i question my own worth, lovability (if that's a word), adequacy. it's hard to admit that i feel these things, but i believe that this may be a sorrow that we all share... no matter our age, race, sex, nationality, at some time or another don't we all question whether or not we are loved?

total downer, i know, but self-pity isn't the point of the story... the point is that something outside of us is the source of an immense joy - a joy that the story-teller literally has to struggle against, telling herself that she is ugly, worthless, hopeless. but the beauty outside of her overpowers the sad mask that she wears. and when she delights in the things around her, she somehow senses that she is loved - but more than that - that she is desirable!

this has been a powerful message for me lately. i can't even tell you the ways that this story has worked its way into my days. it is a striking illustration of what i sense is felt by many people in Freetown - people who live their lives on pavement, waiting to be recognized, to be touched... but i feel like their sorrow is the same as mine - i just have the luxury to mask it. i can attest that God is showing me His love through many of my friends here, and i feel like that's helping me removc the mask. as i get to know these amazing people, hear their stories, understand their dreams, i can clearly see a God who is present and active and that itself is a source of joy in my life. as you can see, i have a lot of thoughts, and they aren't completely linear, so i'm going to spare you some of them!

anyway, i hope that God is showing you, as he is showing me, that you are lovely and desired in spite of yourself!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

the heat, my goodness the heat...

hello over there. just wanted to get a quick word out to all you circlevillians and tell you that i hope you all had fun and ate some good food for me. i can't believe that the Pumpkin Show really happened without me... i'm just glad that i didn't miss the big 100th show. that would have been awful. my friend sarah has been really great about listening to me explain the pumpkin show over the last week and she's from a small town, so she understands to an extent. when i got home on wednesday she had made a bunch of pumpkins out of construction paper and a sign that said "circleville - it's nearer than you think." and she somehow found canned pumpkin here and my roomies made a really yummy pumpkiny treat. i don't know how they did it, but i was THRILLED! i thought it was really sweet of them.

faye (that's our team leader) had malaria last week. and then we found out that cami (the other woman we live with) has malaria too. she was sick for almost 3 weeks but wasn't showing the normal symptoms, so they didn't know what it was... but now we know it was malaria, but the hospital couldn't figure out what else... so she hopped a plane back to the US on monday to see if someone can tell her what's wrong and make her better. seems like everyone else is sick too... the servant team has had to assume some extra responsibility because of all the crazy illness, but i've actually been impressed with us. we've only been here 2 months and don't speak a whole lot of Krio, but between the 5 of us, we've done good.

for some reason (which i'm told is Ramadan) the power company has been SUPER generous this last week. for the first 2 months that i was here, we probably had electricity 10 times... but it's been on everyday this week. not all day, but for most of it. this is great for obvious reasons, but my favorite part is that we've had fans during the day which makes it bearable to sit in one place and read for hours on end! so i've been reading a lot lately. i'm lovin' C.S. Lewis right now, so i've read the first 4 chronicles of narnia (according to the list i'm using) and i finished "till we have faces" a couple of nights ago. i haven't completely processed through the whole thing yet, but i'm gonna go ahead and recommend it to everyone. i loved it! it was beautifully written and i really can't stop thinking about it. i want to write about it, but i don't want to ruin it for anyone, so read it and then we can talk. i might try to read it again before i go home.

the last week has been a tough one for me on several levels, but there has been no shortage of lessons to come out of it all. i know that God is using this time to refine my own character as well as my perception of His character. i keep finding that i don't know much about either! but i guess that puts me in a good position to learn, right? i'm realizing that i believe a lot of lies about myself - some are self-serving, others are really self-defeating... on one hand, i've learned that i'm not all that tough, patient, compassionate, bold, and many other things that i wish i was... but on the other hand, i've realized that i can be super hard on myself in some areas... to the extent that i hold myself back from doing things that i can/should do just because i assume myself to be incapable. it's craziness really. but i can think of no better time or place to begin to work through all of this stuff, so i guess that's good. hard and not all that fun sometimes, but good.

out of time for now, more later i hope...

Friday, October 14, 2005

sorry, it's been a while...

the last couple of weeks have been loaded. as many of you have heard, my grandpa did leave us on Wednesday the 28th, right around the time that i posted that blog about him. my mom says that the funeral was beautiful and a true celebration. it has been harder on me than i expected. i anticipated the sorrow of loosing someone close to me, but i never imagined what it would be like to go through it without my family. and for some self-focused reason i initially considered that i would be losing my grandpa while failing to consider that my mom would be losing her daddy and my grandma would be losing her husband of 50+ years... those realizations have made it hard to feel so far away right now, but i'm trusting that i'm in freetown for a REAL good reason. another lesson in BEING where i find myself... but i admit that have been counting the days and longing to be somewhere else.

it's not all bad though! i read that paragraph and realized that i sound like a total downer... whoa. i'm still learning and laughing and making friends and getting my butt kicked here in freetown. this whole longing to go home thing has had several lessons in it. first of all, i've been convicted of the fact that i am an educated American with constant access to an "escape plan." if i really really wanted to, i could be out of here within a couple of days. and even if i don't want to leave freetown, i can still find a resturant with sattelite TV or an internet cafe with air-conditioning and at least let my mind escape for an hour or so... it's hard to accept that i am one of the "white people."

today is the exact half-way point of my stay in freetown. 8 weeks down, and 8 to go. because i'm feeling kinda stuck and not all that positive right now, i've been trying to think of all the things that i like about freetown. all of the things that tickle my throat or make me smile. here's a short list...

i love the smell of diesel in the morning. (i realize this sounds weird, but i'm serious)
i love it that you can see the water from almost any point in freetown.
i love when kids grab my hand and call me "auntie."
i love when bus drivers slam on their brakes to let little kids and old ladies cross the street.
i love how the view of the water from our veranda never looks the same twice.
i love fula bread and laughing cow cheese. everyday. every single day.
i love seeing kids wash their school uniforms in the afternoon.
i love the bright colors and head scarves that all of the women wear.
i love the poda-poda that says "neatness" across the front.
i love cayan pepper.
i love that people sing and dance so freely here.
i love feeling like i've made a new friend in spite of the language barrier.
i love granat cake - peanut brittle has got nothing on this stuff!

and the list could go on, but i'll stop for now. hope you're enjoying the changing seasons over there. it's still hot during the days and rainy during the nights, but i like it that way. got to spend the day at the beach thursday so i'm not complaining!

later - steph

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

finishing that thought

"...He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces."
-Isaiah 25:8

sorry that i ended things a little abruptly yesterday... i was checking e-mail while i was writing, and i got a message from my dad that my grandpa (who has been struggling against cancer for the past 8 months) likely wouldn't make it through the day. i scrambled to finish my thought and then hurried back to the house.

i was a mess for a while. cami let me use her phone to call my grandparents' house. my aunt paula answered the phone, and when i told her it was me she squeeled "how are you?!?!" and seconds later my mom was on the phone. i was confused because it seemed like i was the only one crying. my mom asked how i was, and i managed to blurt "i'm sad" before beginning to sob. my mom told me that everyone there was praying for me (what?!?!!?) and that grandpa was so proud of me and would want me to be where i am. that, of course, didn't help me stop crying. then she put grandma on the phone. i have never been so amazed by that woman. she was so calm and confident. she started telling me some of the things grandpa had been saying in the last couple of days. he's been unresponsive for the most part, but every once in a while he has something to say. usually it makes everyone laugh, which he enjoys. i was cracking up when grandma was telling me some of it.

my favorite thing she told me is that the other day he looked at her and asked very matter-of-factly "do you know the way?" my grandma got sassy and said "well, where are you going?" he said "well, heaven! do you know the way?!" my grandma let him know that she had a road map and she would be able to find him.

then she let me talk to him. what do you say when you know you're speaking to someone for the last time? i told him i loved him and i was proud of him and grateful for the life he lived. and then out of nowhere i told him, "have fun!" i have no clue where it came from, but i actually think it was the right thing to say.

there was this strange air of celebration coming through the phone line. i've heard about this before, but i was always a little skeptical. we call death natural because it is a part of life, but it is the ugliest part. and though it happens in families all over the world every second of every day, it is always painful because it was never God's intention for us. but i could sense in the voices of my family that there was joy in this somehow. like i said, i was the only one who was crying! in my grandpa's last moments, they could already see that great promised redemption taking place. i finally saw that he was on his way to the very place we all long to be. he's going home!

i still haven't gotten the final word. i don't know if he's with us or with Jesus, but i want to close with a poem today.

please pray for my family, especially my grandma. love you all. - steph

Holy Sonnet X

Death be not proud, thou some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those, whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which by thy pictures be,
Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou'rt slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

-John Donne

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

celebrating life...

sunday was a good day. went to a relatively short church service (under 3 hours) where an 8 year old fell asleep on my lap and left a sweaty face print on my skirt... that was funny. it dried before i had to stand up, but it totally looked like i peed. erin and i walked the boy and some of his little neighbor friends most of the way home, and then we caught transportation without even waiting for a minute! that very rarely happens.

when we got home we started helping all of the WMF staff and my other team members get ready for a birthday party for 2 of the girls we know. it was a 16th birthday party for a set of twins, so that in itself made it interesting! i can't help but think of what the party might have been like if they were somewhere else... someone else.

the girls' parents were killed during the war, so the only relatives they have are their older sister and an older cousin, both of which are in their early 20's. i have heard details of their story through other people, but i don't feel completely comfortable sharing things that weren't shared with me, so i'll tell you a little of what they have told me directly.

when they were very young, maybe 6 years old, their village was raided and the rebels slit their mother's throat. they watched her die. at some point during the years between being orphaned and arriving in freetown, one sister was tied to a stake for some sick reason or another by a group of young soldiers. she showed me the scars, but didn't say much else about the event. her sister laughingly told me about watching the rebels force a man's hands into hot oil to "wash his hands of politics" after saying he would never vote for their leader. their cousin told me about how she found the two girls and took them with her she rushed toward freetown, trying to outrun the fighting. now they live in a crowded refugee camp outside the city. such full and heavy loads despite their young age...

but you should hear them sing and watch them dance. one twin is clearly more withdrawn than the other, but they are both absolutely beautiful.

so this celebration of life was unlike any other that i have taken part in... it was so meaningful and such an honor. after some dancing, food, singing, more dancing, one of my team members led a devotion and then the girls (the twins and their cousin) were asked to stand in the center of our circle. we were asked to take a moment with each one and tell them what we think is special about them and what we love about them... in essence, what about their life did we find worthy of celebration... i wish i could really explain the scene that evening, but i don't know how. i sat there watching the descending sun shine on those 3 amazing faces. i watched the staff talk to them, watched their faces change, their eyes drop. as we each took our turn to express our love, tears turned to weeping, and we eventually grew silent. as we sat, the cousin began to sing a song about heaven. i don't remember the words exactly, but i know i heard in it the promise that i need to remember today...

that our sorrows of the night would be replaced by joy in the morning.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

punching some numbers...

Here dies another day
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands
And the great world round me;
And tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?
- G.K. Chesterton

This week i met a woman with one eye. The other had been gouged out during a rebel attack during the war. Does she know she's still beautiful? I also met a 10-year-old boy who was a deaf-mute. Does he laugh? I met a grown man with no hands. Another victim of the rebels. How does he feel when his small child feeds him?

i am grateful that i can relate to chesterton. i love that poem, but it took on new meaning for me this week.

something else i've been thinking about...

the price of gas went up this week. it was 10,000 leones for a gallon, but now it's 11,250 (a substantial increase). the exchange rate is currently 2920 leones to the dollar. so... a gallon of gas here is $3.85 which doesn't sound much different to what many of you are paying right now i'm sure. HOWEVER, if you compare that to the cost of living in freetown, based only on how much the average person spends on food (because i didn't have time to check out all the other cost stuff...) figuring that the average sierra leonean can eat well on 2000 Le per day, and the average american can eat well on $6.00 per day (both of these estimates are more than adequate) .... that would be the equivalent of an american spending (drum-roll please) $33.25 on ONE GALLON of gas. rediculous.

it gets worse. everyone except the UN and the NGOs and the Lebanese business people have to take public transportation. the transport system consists of taxis (you know what those are) and poda-podas, which are essentially mini-vans with the seats yanked out, and benches welded to the floor. at full capacity a poda-poda holds 20 adults, but they can usually shove a few kids in there too. no joke. so i'm sure you can imagine that those beasts get awesome gas-mileage to begin with... :) well, because of the raised prices in petroleum, they had to raise the price of public transportation. it used to be 600 Le one way. now it's 700. makes sense to me that they would raise prices considering the poda-poda drivers didn't make much profit to begin with. so it's good for them and their families, but what about all of the people who have to take transportation to work and can barely feed their families to begin with? it's so crazy.

i don't have any solutions to this problem... i've just been obsessed with it for the last couple of days. i woke up thinking about it yesterday (the day after the price went up), and it mostly just makes me sad. but other than being sad, i am mad. i don't want to bust on america all the time, but there's something really wrong with the fact that we're paying $2.69 per gallon (9/18, circleville OH), and people who could survive on half of that are paying a lot more. i know that this is not up to the average, gas-buying american. i'm not holding any of you responsible because i'm one of you and i don't like to pay much for gas either... but i have friends in freetown too. friends who work hard and long and can't keep their heads above water. the issue isn't even gas, the issue is that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. i don't see any justice in that equation. i somehow doubt that God sees justice in it either, and that's a lot scarier than putting up with one of my soap-box sessions!!!

this was really a fun and busy week, but it was hard too. i'm tired still and tomorrow is monday! pray for me! love and miss you guys. later...

Sunday, September 11, 2005

some comic relief...

okay so i need to set the stage for this story... we live about 300-400 yards off of the main road where we catch transportation and go to the market and all that essential stuff. there is a really bumpy, unpaved, far from flat, usually water-logged road that runs from the market down a hill to a river, and we live on that road. this is the rainy season, and so there are a few spots on the road where you have to step from stone to stone because of the water... i'll be honest and tell you that i stumble or trip at least once a day on this road. well in last thursday's attempt at this major feat i nearly broke my neck. i stepped on a rock and did a sort of double-slipping trip move... felt like i was falling for 15 seconds or so - even imagined myself on the ground while it was happening... but somehow ended up on my feet, clutching the hand of some random man who was walking by. i let out one of my trade-mark cackles and turned around to see hillary and sarah doubled over laughing and a group of sierra leonean men standing up and applauding me and yelling in amazement... i raised my arms in victory, turned around, and kept walking.

haven't felt very good this week. i'm battling a cold. i feel a lot better than i did, but i'm still taking some marathon naps and dealing with a headache. nothing life-threatening of course, but it makes some of the long days a little difficult.

things are good. my schedule will be changing this week because the kids are going back to school tomorrow. i guess that they don't usually go back on time because the teachers usually have to strike so that they get paid... crazy. but they got paid on time this year, so school will start on schedule!!! the kids are really excited. so that's good.

weird, i just remembered it was september 11... don't know how i feel about that... so i guess you're spared of any lectures today :)

well, i'm running out of internet time. tomorrow should be an exciting day, but i'll have to tell you why later. hope you're all doing good. i love hearing what's going on with everyone, but unfortunately i can't always write back in a timely fashion. but please write. i love it!!!

peace out. - steph

Sunday, September 04, 2005

this is sierra leone...

it's so weird to hear about all of the hurricane stuff from so far away... we intentionally ate at a restaurant with satelite cable so we could watch CNN today, but of course, there was a soccer game on so we were out of luck. i've heard that they're calling in the worst natural disaster in US history, and i just read a few articles detailing the situation... i even read that they're bringing some troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan to help deal with the aftermath. i pray that you are all doing well, and that you're finding ways to respond to our neighbors and their suffering.

one article that i read had an interesting quote from a survivor. i can't imagine how she must feel right now, but reading it from a place like Freetown, i was caught off gaurd... the woman said, "They have us living here like animals... We have only had two meals, we have no medicine and now there are thousands of people defecating in the streets. This is wrong. This is the United States of America."

of course, NO ONE should be living like that. NO ONE should have to live in such life-threatening conditions, with the looming threat of starvation, disease, murder, rape, or any number of horrible possibilities. the woman is exactly right. THIS IS WRONG. but it is wrong everywhere - not just in the United States of America. it is wrong on every continent, in every country, every city, every village. nationality has nothing to do with justice. we are all created in the image of God. we should all be treated as such. my heart breaks as i read the details about new orleans. and i admit that i catch myself thinking, "how is this happening in the US?!?!?" but my question should be "how is this happening to anyone?!?!" no matter who or where or why...

just some highlights from this past week...

we started language lessons on monday. that was "fun"... i think i'm picking it up alright, but there are a lot of vowel sounds and they are confusing to me. we are also learing how to write Krio, which is mainly a spoken language, so that just confuses me ever more... i guess for now i can speak a little "Kringlish" as they call it.

on thursday 3 of us apotos (white people) accompanied one of the kids from the lighthouse to visit his family outside the city. it was only about an hour from the center of freetown and the drive was beautiful. the boy (i'll call him A) is from a poor family, and he left home for the streets of freetown because his parents didn't have enough money to support everyone. i know this is really difficult for most of us to understand, but that's the way it happens in a lot of the world... anyway, he hadn't been home for about 6 months, so it was really special to be there. "A" is about 20 years old and is being apprenticed in the tailoring business. he made himself a new outfit just for the occasion of visiting his family, and carried a new water container as a gift for his mother. i asked if his mother new he was coming which was a stupid question because there's no way she would have... but that just made it all the more exciting in my opinion! as we walked up the road to his family's home, his younger sisters ran out to meet us. both of his parents were solemn, but clearly happy to see their son... i almost cried! as we sat under a tree, "A" introduced me to his father as "the woman who is teaching him to read." what the?!?!?! i've never been so humbled in my life. his father was SO grateful, and i tried to communicate that it was a pleasure to read with his son, but i'm sure it didn't translate... anyway, before we left that afternoon, his father asked if i would help "A" write a letter home. again, i almost cried, but promised we would work on the letter.

last night 4 of the little boys from the Kroo Bay area stayed at our house. they are cared for by a Sierra Leonean man named Noah who is about my age, so the staff that we live with decided he could probably use a break. let's just say that boys are boys, so it felt a little bit like my whole summer at the Y, and it was really fun. we ate and danced and did kung-fu moves through the air. then watched part of "return of the king" and went to bed. needless to say, when i woke up this morning, they were already running laps in the living room, all excited to go outside and throw things... i think i was having little-kid withdrawal, so it was actually quite refreshing for me.

today i visited an anglican church which was a nice break because it was all in English. it was also a communion sunday, so i was really glad that we were there. then went home, layed in my own sweat, and laughed with my roommates about dumb stuff. i love laughing at dumb stuff.

it's been a good week. thanks for reading.

peace and love - steph

p.s. if you would like to e-mail me, please use

Thursday, August 25, 2005

have i mentioned the view?

okay, so right now i'm sitting in this little internet cafe just down the road from our house. this is a really surreal environment. downright bizarre actually. directly arcoss the road, literally 20 yards to the right of where i sit, is an amputee camp for people who lost limbs during the war. and directly to my left is the back door which is standing wide open, breeze blowing, the beautiful atlantic in plain view. a young girl just walked past with a basket of bananas on her head, and a sweet old man just called "hello madame" and tried to sell me something from a white box in his hand. i don't know what it was, but i passed. someone is blarring TLC's "unpretty" from their computer. a few minutes ago it was that "get down on it" song. and then there are 3 of us "white guuurls" sittin' in a row typing away... i wish i knew how to hook my camera to this computer. it's a sight worth seeing.

i feel like i have a lot to say, but i'm not really sure if i can communicate it yet. i usually need to let things stew for a while, but i'll try to get this all out...

we finally found our guides and went on the walking tour on tuesday. before we left, the 4 boys who served as our guides asked what we wanted to see on this tour. i replied that i wanted to see whatever they thought would help us understand freetown... well, they definitely showed us that. we paired off so that each team member was getting the tour explanation from one boy. first we walked through "big market" which is a definite tourist stop (or would be if there were toursits in freetown :)). all kinds of wood carvings and fabrics and beautiful stuff...

then they walked us to "king jimmy market" which is pretty much the opposite of touristy. there were people everywhere selling every kind of vegetable and fruit and fish. we walked out on this long pier and one of the boys explained that this is where the ships stopped to release the freed slaves that first settled freetown. it was one of those weird moments where time and space sorta collapse in on you.

from there we walked through a few other markets close to the water and over to the government warf. across the street from the warf is a government building that was bombed or burned (???) during the war. the structure still stands, but it is all soot-covered and there are no windows and it isn't used anymore. the boys explained that after the war, an NGO used the building to house street-children. it eventually came out that at least 2 of the 4 boys walking with us had lived there for a while. the boy who i walked with most of the afternoon showed me or told me about a lot of the places where he had lived after the war. small buildings made of scrap metal, large barn-like buildings that housed hundreds of displaced people, burnt buildings, the soccer stadium...

we eventually came to an important intersection on the east side of freetown. my guide explained that this was a very tense place when the conflict reached the city. he told us that fighters collapsed in from every direction and met in that intersection. he explained that he had lived very close by and told stories of people he knew who had been killed in the area... then he pointed up one street and told us that was where the rebels captured him and took him with them. we started to walk up the road to his old neighborhood. as we walked, we talked about his family and friends. then he pointed ahead and said "that junction is where they caught me." another weird time and space thing... years ago, but at that very place, a young boy's life changed in the matter of a few seconds.

i won't go any deeper into his personal story from there because i'm not certain of the details. i don't speak any Krio, and his english is accompanied by a strong accent. what i do know is that he was a young boy at the time, and while he was gone, his mother was told that he had been killed. upon escaping from the rebels and returning home, he was not allowed to live with his family because they were afraid that the rebels would come looking for him. his friends would not associate with him because they were afraid. but he wasn't alone. he was surrounded by the hundreds and hundreds of boys just like him. boys who were taken from home, given drugs and weapons, and forced to fight. i do not know for certain that this boy was a combatant. i do know that somewhere in sierra leone, if not right under my nose, there are thousands of young men and women who were stripped of their childhoods and left to recover on their own. no that their families didn't care. not that their friends and churches were indifferent. but no one knew what to do. everyone feared that at any moment they could lose another child or their own life.

please please please keep this country in your prayers along with the individuals that make it so alive and beautiful. it is hard not to think about that instant when this young man's life was changed. i can't help but wish that he hadn't been outside -- that something or someone would have kept him from venturing out that day. but it happened. and now i have to trust God's redemptive promise for my friend. it is an honor to hear his story. i hope you feel the same way.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

I bless the rains down in Africa...

and let me tell you why i bless those rains: because it isn't raining today, and i'm sweating like mad! this is actually one of the cooler parts of the year in sierra leone, so i'm not complaining. enough about the weather... I'M IN FREETOWN!

got here close to "on schedule" friday night. all three of my flights were considerably delayed on the way here, but i'm here so i guess it doesn't matter. the house we're living in is clean and safe and has running water in the mornings and electricity in the evenings, so it's allllll good. i'm on a team of 5 girls and we're all living in one bedroom so that might end up being interesting. but so far, so good. we've already had a lot of laughs. we're a relatively diverse group (for a bunch of white, middle-class protestants) in terms of our stages in life and reasons for coming here. our team coordinator's name is faye and she is AWESOME. i really like her and i'm excited to learn from her.

saturday afternoon we went to kroo bay which is a very poor section of the city. i wrote a reflection in one of my prayer letters about my time in kroo bay last november. i'll post it here if it's still on the WMF website... (FYI: i think it might start raining soon!!!) anyway, i love that little church and that mob of kids. sunday we went to church and then to a cookery shop for lunch. i'll try to explain the cookery shop to you when i'm more familiar with exactly what it is... i can't remember sunday night... seems so long ago... yesterday we went to the lighthouse center. this is WMF's main focus in freetown. they work closely and intentionally with about 17 kids who were orphaned or displaced or what-not due to the "conflict". anyway, the kids who attend school are out of school for the next 6 weeks, so we will be helping the WMF staff with a sort of summer-school program. i'll be spending most of my time there doing one-on-one reading (in English) with the kids. i like it, but it is so exhausting for some of them. they get so frustrated and impatient with themselves. i think they're doing great - all things considered. i'll be doing that on mondays, wednesdays, and fridays. thursdays are our official day off. today we're doing a walking-tour of the city, but there was a mis-communication about where we were meeting our guides (three 17 year old boys) so that's how i ended up at a computer.

we start our Krio language lessons on monday, so i'm excited about that. i think we'll meet with our tutor twice a week. and by the way, i actually like the food! i really really didn't like it last time, but i'm not having that problem this time... thank goodness.

well, that's the update so far. i promise this will get more interesting in the future, but i figured some people would want the logistics... and we've really just been settling in and figuring out the routine so far. i've had some time to think through why i am here and what i want to accomplish in these 4 months, and i'll share more about that in the near future.

thanks for reading. miss you all. and it still isn't raining...

Thursday, August 18, 2005

13 hours and counting...

okay, so i started this blog thing 5 months ago, never told anyone about it, and obviously never wrote in it... but now you're reading it, so i must have finally told someone about it...

i will leave columbus today at 4:45 pm to begin the 24+ hour journey to freetown, sierra leone. don't worry, it's not 24 hours in the air -- just 24+ from the time i leave columbus to the time i arrive in freetown. but i'm REALLY good at sleeping in airplanes and airports, and anywhere else for that matter, so it's no big deal that i'm still awake and writing in an online journal at 3:26 am...

the point is that i figure this little blogger deal will be the easiest way for me to stay in touch with everyone while i'm gone. easy for me and easy for you -- assuming that i can remember my password (which i had trouble doing tonight) and that you can remember the web address. so, i'm losing sleep now, but i'll be glad i did this later.

for those of you who i haven't talked to in a while: the summer has absolutely flown by, which i didn't expect at all. i've been living with my parents in a town where i know roughly 3 people my age and working only 30 hours a week at the YMCA. sounds like it wouldn't be worth documenting, but it has actually been A LOT of fun. i have a very great family, and even though we can drive each other crazy sometimes, i'd choose to hang out with them over almost anyone... and while there were times when i wanted to quit my job without notice (like the day when i got puked on AND yelled at by a rabid mother), the kids at the Y were quite amusing if nothing else. there are a few who i will genuinely miss and will probablly tell stories about for years to come. but i'll spare you the stories for now.

i have to get to bed so i can wake up in 3 hours and go to wal-mart, then finish my thank-you cards to all the AWESOME people who are helping me go to freetown. speaking of which, many people have asked what i will be doing while i'm there... the gist of it is that i'll be part of a team committed to learning more about Jesus and serving Him by serving the poor. i'd be happy to give you a more detailed explanation once i get there and know more of what my days will look like. i hope that will suffice for now because i really need some sleep.

signing off...

Saturday, March 26, 2005

let's get it started

well, after surfing the blogs of several friends and being impressed with their vulnerability and willingness to upload their thoughts into cyberspace, i finally decided to give this thing a try.