Some memories, however, are less pleasant, such as the piles of smouldering garbage beside the busy market in Monrovia. Or the four young boys in a rural part of the country who ran into the jungle when we stopped to take their picture because they thought we were “heart men” who wanted to kidnap them for ritual killings.
Liberia and its neighbouring country, Sierra Leone, have endured years of civil war and evidence of the conflict is everywhere. Abandoned buildings riddled with bullet holes remain 10 years after the war ended. Everyone we met had a story about how the war affected them. Many lost homes, friends or family members and their lives were changed forever. And yet in the midst of the poverty and destruction, there is a beautiful spirit of hope.
No Money for School
The Salvation Army's work in Liberia is centred around education. Through its 12 schools and vocational training centres, young people have hope for their future. At John Gowans Junior and Senior High School in Salala, we met female students in their 20s. During the civil war they weren't able to go to school, but now, despite their ages, they are excited about completing their education.
The most moving experience occurred at Albert Orsborn Primary and Elementary School in Kakata, Liberia. The classrooms were full of eager children, neatly dressed in their grey and white uniforms, and I was impressed by their attention to their teachers. Outside the buildings, sitting on some nearby steps was a little boy about five or six years old. He sat there quietly, watching us and one of the local women prepare milk for the students. As we toured the school grounds, he followed at a distance and continued to watch. I asked the officer to tell me his story.
His name is Chris. Every morning he walks for about an hour to get to school because he wants to learn and be with other children. Unfortunately his family can't afford the $50 to cover Chris' school uniform and fees. I immediately offered to pay the money, but the response was: “What about next year? Who will pay next year? And what about the hundreds of other children who can't go to school? Who will pay for them?” All I could think of was that any of my friends or family could easily part with $50 to ensure that children like Chris could get the education they so desperately wanted and needed. There's a saying in Liberia: “A problem shared is a problem easily solved.” We need to get involved and commit to programs such as Partners in Mission to help Chris and the thousands like him.
How do we do this? We are rich in material resources. Not only do we have food, shelter and water, but many of us have disposable income that we can share with those in need. But what role do our partner territories play in this association? The answer became abundantly clear to me during my visit. They can teach us so much about living by faith. Without fail, everywhere I went, I met people who were full of joy and thanksgiving for what they had. They embodied the Apostle Paul's message: “I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of contentment in every situation, whether it be a full stomach or hunger, plenty or want; for I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power” (Philippians 4:12-13 The Living Bible).
We can learn from the faith and trust of Salvationists in our partner territories. We can learn from the simple lifestyle that relies more on community and family, and less on possessions. We can learn to be joyful in all circumstances. Our partner territories live by faith, that they will receive the support they need to accomplish their mission, and our gifts, through Partners in Mission, help them to do just that.
Major Anne Venables is the divisional director of women's ministries for the Quebec Division. To learn more about Partners in Mission, visit salvationist.ca/pim.