Over the next few months, each newsletter will focus on the May/June mission's trip to Liberia as seen through the eyes of several of the team members. It is so beneficial to hear of some of the joys, challenges, and experiences of people who have trusted the Lord as He led them into places and situations unknown... all for his glory.
Tom Harpootlian is the first team member we'll hear from. Tom is a retired GM engineering manager who lives in suburban Detroit. He has 2 children and 4 grand children. These are just a few thoughts that he was willing to share with us.
"It amazes me how God can put together a team of 14 totally different people from all across the United States for a mission's trip to Liberia. God helped us to work together smoothly and with such unity of purpose that we accomplished a lot in His name for the people we were serving in the African Christian Fellowship International (ACFI) organization. As they say in Liberia, "AMEN! Praise the Lord!" I am convinced it was a great team because God brought us together for His purposes.
The country of Liberia is unbelievably poor. The UN says it is one of the 5 poorest countries in the world and we saw and experienced it. The people are very friendly, hospitable and joyful in spite of their economic situation. Their worship services were full of praise, energy and much dancing.
I was on the maintenance team and was very overwhelmed by the state of the facility at the village. We started teaching the older boys how to rip down the old torn screens and the wood strips that held them up. Then they learned how to measure and cut the screens and hardware cloth that reinforced the screens and staple them up. They also learned how to cut new wood strips if the old ones were unusable and nail them up. By Wednesday they were on their own, and early in the second week they had completed the project - probably about 96 to 100 windows. There is so much we take for granted in this country, and working with these boys just a little bit to teach them the basics of carpentry was very rewarding. The adults there are so consumed with running the school and providing for the basic needs of the children there is no time for such mentoring and no money to buy the supplies. Any funds go to feeding and teaching the children.
Tom helping to train leaders in computer skills
I was also part of the sponsorship update team which basically updated records at both Daniel Hoover and the Deaf Mission. I took pictures of every child while other team members recorded height, weight and general health. The children wrote a letter to their sponsor or potential sponsor. One of the highlights of the trip was presenting packages sent by sponsors to the child they were sponsoring.
I took photos of each child receiving their package so the sponsor could see the joy on their faces.
I feel the most rewarding thing I did was in helping out on the leadership training team. During the second week we met with about 40 ACFI church leaders from around the city such as pastors and assistant pastors and had a leadership training session. We used a book called Lead Like Jesus and we left 8 copies of the book for them to distribute. We used flip chart paper to show the concepts we were teaching. We taught about the head, heart, hands and habits of Jesus. We left the flip charts behind and it was gratifying to know that after we finished, they later used these to teach other leaders the same concepts. The content was very powerful and I pray that God will use it in their lives. The chapter I taught was about how people interact depending on whether they have pride, fear or service in their hearts. It specifically covered when a leader and a follower interact. I knew I was getting through because I was getting some laughs when I described some of the resulting conflicts. People had seen those in real life.
Several things were very challenging. One thing that was difficult was the inability to communicate with the kids because I didn't understand Liberian English. This made me feel detached and emotionally disconnected from the children. Probably the most overwhelming negative feeling I had was when I walked into the classrooms there. I was very saddened, almost to the point of tears at the conditions. I know good education can happen regardless of the rooms, desks and blackboards, but it was like seeing an abandoned building in inner city Detroit. It just looked vacant and unused. I wish I had seen it with the kids in there being taught. If I had seen the kids actively learning I might not have been so depressed by the facilities.
Classroom at Daniel Hoover Childrens Village
When I returned to the states I immediately started thinking of changes and solutions that needed to be made. I wanted to make it more like America. I wanted to make them and their country more like us in America. I found myself in a mode where I wanted to fix everything for ACFI and even Liberia. It struck me that I was trying to make them Americans in my own image. I want to help out but will have to determine what it is they really need - money, leadership, prayer, love, caring, time&..? How can I help them succeed inside their own culture? How do we love those we serve, but not to run over them with our western ways? I continue to struggle with how to bridge the gap and help out within their own cultural context.
I knew I would sponsor a child from the home when I got back. An 18 year old girl wrote me a personal letter and was reaching out to someone to make a connection. I wish every kid there had a good connection. Don't we all need good, strong connections with friends in our lives? In the end I signed up for James, a persistent 9 year old boy who was hanging on me from the day I got to Daniel Hoover. I didn't want to let him down. A day or two after I officially committed to him God told me that now it was my assignment to learn to love him unconditionally and I will do that as best I can. I hope to see him again on a future trip. Over the next few months I will look for little things to put in a package to send him the next time I am able.
The children are warm, friendly and in need of feeling connected to someone. Our goal is to get all the children sponsored and provide at least some minimal support for the operation there. Maybe you would even consider going on a mission's trip yourself in the future! God will bless you in whatever way you choose to participate. I know He blessed me."