Moving on up and moving home...
We have spent the last few weeks packing and moving from our old house to the new one. It is a blessing to be in the new house, it is a serious upgrade. It is quieter, cooler and more space. We are very thankful for the missionaries that were here before us, they built an amazing house. Some changes we have had to make are that Ojuku has been fully integrated into the family. He used to stay in one of our outside rooms apart from the main house, but now is sharing a room with Nathan. This is not much of a change because he has been like one of our own children for sometime now. When we go Ojuku will be taking care of the house and yard but he will have to move into a small private room until we return because the house will be used to host teams coming from the U.S. Our things will be packed and stored in barrels in the house until we return. The last few months have been a flurry of activity. Between moving, dealing with the church building in Bellemu, trying to finish the Romans Bible study, and dealing with the football team, I am exhausted. Add in preaching, preparing a fence in the new yard, keeping an eye on the old property until our contract is up, dealing with our old landlords, and running back and forth to Monrovia, and boy I am whipped. I might just sleep all the way home on the plane. We are all excited to come home, but are also sad to go in a lot of ways. When we get home it will be like starting over. Jennifer and I both have to get new drivers liscenses. We have to find a car, insurance, renew our passports, buy clothes for everyone (ours are in tatters), and get settled temporarily before we start to travel. It is almost like we are refugees in a way. As I have said before, we will be traveling to at least seven states when we get home. We will have a lot of things to get accomplished and a lot of ground to cover in a year. Please pray for us that the Lord would help us return home safely, and accomplish all we have to before our return to Liberia.
Handing things over...
In a little more than a month we will be standing on American soil for the first time in over three years, God willing. So all the ministries we have been involved in, or run will either have to stop, or be put into the hands of someone else. In Bellemue, I have always taught them to be self-sufficient in the church; relying upon God rather than other people. However, when we leave things could be different. People here have the tendency to revert back to their old ways when the missionaries are gone. It will be interesting to see what happens. The church building is on hold for a couple of weeks because one of the builders has had a death in the family. The builders are from Guinea and my understanding is that their funerals take longer than they do here in Liberia. I don't know if that is true, but that is what they tell me. Hopefully we will be completing the building before we leave, but if not I will put the remaining money and instructions into the hands of someone here in Gbarnga.
The football team has been going through some changes. I was looking for someone to coach the team while we are gone, but none of the people I have found follow our rules. So I have put things into the hands of Ojuku (who lives with us), and Anzu our old neighbor. At practice I am making them take all the responsibility. They are in charge on the field and I just ref the practice and support them. They do all the training and even talk to the team at the end and pray for the team. I also have been putting pressure on our senior players to uphold our captain and assistant captain's decisions. I have skipped a few practices just to see how they behave while I am gone and things have gone OK. We will see what happens after we are gone. Again, things have a tendency to disintegrate once the missionaries are gone. On a positive note, We have become very popular since the tournament. The following week we received several invitations to come and play friendly matches. One was right here in Gbarnga in the Cotton Tree community. We ended up winning 5 to 0. I had to discretely tell the team to just pass the ball around so they wouldn't disgrace the other team. We also played Bellemue our rival. Our first two games with them we tied, so this game they considered the final. We ended up winning 1 to 0. We would have won about 4 to 0 but the ref did not understand the offside rule. At the end we had a great opportunity to preach to the people in Bellemue. We also played in a village waaaaaaay in the bush. We had to cross several bridges to get there. I had to make all the players get out so I could cross and then get back to continue on. We won the game, but technically we tied because they cheated. Sometimes when we play village games the people from the village will stand behind the goal and cheer/chant/do voodoo rituals to help their team. Well, we scored a goal, but as soon as it went in someone from the village kicked it back out again and the ref pretended that he didn't see it. We really won 1 to 0 but cheating here is like breathing. When other teams play bad, or cheat our guys get a little chatty on the side, but they take everything in stride. I have really been working on building a unified team culture behind our captain and assistant captain. Please pray for them as they continue to lead the team.
Our Romans Bible study is coming to a close as well. They are on their last two chapters of the book. Their assignment is to take the Bible study principle I have taught them and apply it in a final paper. They have to teach me about chapters 15&16. It has taken us a year and three months to go through 16 chapters of Romans. They can tell me the chapter contents and overall themes throughout the book. One of the students actually had to correct his Bible teacher in school because he understood a verse in Romans better than the teacher. At least three and possibly four of the students have great potential to become Bible teachers, or even pastors with seminary training. They are very smart, and they can explain what they read pretty well. Please pray for the five guys in our Bible study group.
A visit from the police...
I had the unfortunate experience of turning one of my football players over to the police about a week ago. We were on the practice field when two uniformed police men showed up and came to me. At first I thought they were coming for me, not that I did anything wrong, but the police in the past tended to target people who they think have money. Now to their credit, they were very professional and did their job well. They explained to me that a young woman brought a complaint against one of my players for beating her. The girl was there and I called the player over to answer for his deeds. The girl explained that he hit her because of a verbal confrontation they had. He admitted that he did it because she cussed his mother. In Liberia, cussing someone's mother is like showing your middle finger to someone. The police wanted me to come to the station and talk for the player. I refused because I had nothing to do with the incident as it was not on the practice grounds, and two, because if I were to get involved they would try and get money from me some way or another. I told them he has to answer for himself and that he would no longer be practicing with us. The devil is a sneaky, wretched, thing. The boy who beat on the girl was one of the guys I have been witnessing to for sometime. Because of the incident he can no longer practice with us which also means I will no longer have the opportunity to witness to him. He was one of the kids I thought had a chance to really be saved. However, I cannot sacrifice the group for the sake of one. If I continue to let him come to practice it will cause serious problems for our team. In Liberia there is really no consequence for your actions. Even the police who came to the field had to be paid something to come get the young man. They will only keep him as long as someone is giving them money. People don't really care about justice here. That is why they go to the medicine man to deal with people. They know the government doesn't care so they pay someone to poison the person, or throw medicine on them (witchcraft to make them die) in order to get justice. If I let him come with no consequences for his actions, others on the team will be empowered to do similar.
We are Royal...
We recently have played more football. I have been trying to bring things to a close, but the kids keep saying, "just one more game." One of our missionary friends told me that when they were leaving the field for furlough he started to cry. I didn't really understand what he meant at the time, but now it makes perfect sense. I have spent the last three years dealing with these kids every day and now I won't see them for a whole year. A sadness is filling me as our time is growing shorter here. It really is true that the worst part about being a missionary is always having to say goodbye. We officially played our last two games and I could not have been more proud of our team. The first was GTU who have beaten us twice now. It was pouring rain but they still played. Our team just outplayed them scoring three goals to one. Their goal was because of a mistake from one of our defenders. He tried to clear the ball and accidentally kicked it in our goal. Our first two goals they disallowed because the ref is an old player for GTU and was cheating. At the end they knew they lost and tried to start a fight. I physically had to grab the GTU player like he was a small child and send him home, it was shameful. I also had to rebuke the GTU coach for not controlling his team. It is unbelievable how they are just unable to take a loss here. Our final game was against PC who also beat us before, twice. Likewise, we were beating them 2 to 1 and when the time was close to finishing they began trying to hurt our players. (I had to take one boy to the ER for stitches)
The coach got so mad that his team was losing that he called his players off the field and left. As he was leaving he was shouting at me. At the end of the games I give a gospel message but the man was cussing and yelling, "I am not going to sit and listen to no white man." It was a horrible display of unsportsmanlike conduct. Our players never reacted. At the end the assistant coach for PC came to me and apologized for his coach and team. He said that we played twice before and we accepted defeat twice. He said he was surprised that after those games our players congratulated them for the win. He said, "we lost today and the coach and team could not take the defeat so they stopped the game." He was truly embarrassed for his team. I encouraged him and thanked him for his honesty and told him that he should be the head coach for the team. Later, I congratulated our team on another win, and thanked them for their good character on the field. I reminded them who we are, and what we stand for and who we represent. If they hold to those principles they can achieve anything. We have come a long way since we started. The guys have learned a few things from me I think. We are a better team than when we started for sure. I just wish there were more who would give their lives to Jesus. As I look back at my time with the team, I have given my all. I have prayed, preached, pleaded, reprimanded, and even disciplined these guys. I have left everything on the proverbial field. Please pray for our team while we are home, that they would continue in the things they have been taught. That those in charge would continue to try and evangelize the others and that they would stay unified as a team.
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