“I have heard all about You, Lord, and I am filled with awe by the amazing things You have done…” (Hab.3:1)
When we stepped off the plane, heavy grey clouds hung low in the sky. The humidity fell on us like a thick blanket. But we made it! After three days of missed and rerouted flights, we finally made it to our destination –Liberia. Passengers stood in line before a large container of bleach water with a sign that read EBOLA IS REAL. We were instructed to wash our hands under the spigot then stand in another line to have our temperature read by a thermal scanner. 98.6 , I passed. Whew. After luggage collection (only mine because my travel buddy’s did not arrive with her) and clearing customs the SIM Liberia Director whisked us away to the ELWA mission compound and the house where we were to stay.
The next day, I visited the local church of ECOL president Pastor Moses Paye. It was a correspondence from Moses that first initiated this journey…writing to SIM last year, he said, in effect “We are traumatized…by the war first…now from Ebola…The church is hurting… Can you help us and equip us to help others?” It was a privilege to finally meet this man. He had a warm, compassionate smile, but there was a shadow of suffering in his eyes. Later I would understand that shadow.
The next day, we began the first Initial Equipping session with a maximum attendance of 40 people (and there were more on a waiting list). During table group discussions, tea times, lunches, and even in the large group personal stories began to emerge over the next few days-painful and fresh. We held them gently, tenderly – grateful to be entrusted to hear them.
After understanding more about heart wounds and how they affect people, “James” came to one of our facilitators and explained how it had changed his perspective. He said that his wife had been shot in the arm during the war and it had never healed properly. But hearing the lesson made him realize that his wife was not only suffering from this physical wound but also from a heart wound (trauma), and he had never been sensitive to this before. He shared how he went home that night and immediately apologized to his wife and asked her to forgive him for not understanding her pain.
By the end of the week first, “Joshua” came to me and shared how he had come from a M* background and then gone to work for a Christian NGO. (He had a very difficult job during the Ebola crisis). Joshua said his wife often complained that everyone in his work thought he was “such a great person”, but that he was not that way at home. He knew that he carried a lot of pain in his heart and it was coming out towards his family. After the Pain to the Cross ceremony, he said “Sis Stacey, I have to process this. It is too big. But God has changed me. I know I need to really give my whole heart to Him.” He went on to say that He had come to realize that only Christ could heal him and carry his pain. And that he was going straight home to tell his wife and children that he was sorry, to ask their forgiveness, and to tell other people what had happened in his life.
There were many transformations like this. It was amazing to see God at work. I just had to stand back and be in awe of Him. The second week went much the same way -loads of participation and transparency. Also maxed out at 40 participants with 100% participation all week!
There were many different groups and churches represented both weeks, just a few were: Samaritans Purse (they sent 13 people each week), the Bible Society, CRU, ECOL and various other churches/denominations as well as ELWA hospital staff.
At the end of each week, we made time to divide into groups and plan for implementing a Trauma Healing ministry in the communities where they live and work.
One big highlight for me was being given a Liberian name. The women from our first week presented the facilitators with beautiful Liberian clothing -dresses for the women and shirts for the men. Then they called me forward and gave me a special thank you and told me that my new Liberian name is “Muna” which means The One I Love”. I also found out later that in another tribe it also means “Ambassador of Good News”. So I proudly wore that name the remainder of my time in Liberia!
All during these past two weeks, Mark has been holding down the home “fort” in Fort Mill. He got the boys to camp each day, girls to work, and also managed to meet the new missionaries coming for SIMGo as he lead two of his favorite things -Men’s Night and a small group training on relationship development and support-raising.
I have truly enjoyed this journey. Even though I know I will never be the same, having absorbed some of the pain shared…I accept that gratefully, counting it a privilege to listen to the stories of my brothers and sisters here in Liberia. The war and then Ebola have enacted a terrible toll on them. We cannot change what has been or will be, but we can come alongside and help bear the burden. Our Lord Jesus was “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief”. He Himself carried our weaknesses and sorrows.(Is.53:3-4). I have pondered this over and over…and what it means for us as the body of Christ. Surely we are called to do as our Master did? Can we turn our eyes away from a traumatized, suffering world? Shouldn’t we instead help shoulder the load…and point them to that Calvary cross?
Oh, and I cannot forget Pastor Moses…before I left, he looked at me and said “We are changed…we are forever changed.”
Me too, Moses. Me too.