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