Monday, March 26, 2012

Follow up to last week's post

I want to start this post by thanking so many of you for your thoughtful comments and prayers after last week's post.  The amount of support that I have received over the past two years (or that we as a family have received over the past seven years) has been amazing.  I am so thankful for my family and friends around the world.

After further reflection, I do want to add a "post-script" of sorts to last week's post.  

I have learned that what I am going through at this time is very normal.  This is comforting for me to know that while I am homesick for me, as I wrote last week, this identity crisis is not unusual for those who have experience loss.  And it makes sense, if we think about it.  If God has ordained that in marriage, the two shall become one, then when one person dies, it is like an amputation.  When two have truly become one over the period of nineteen years, the lines between where one person starts and ends become blurred.  This is reinforced by Jerry Sittser, in his book A Grace Disguised, who talks about how catastrophic loss is like undergoing an amputation of our identity, leading to a confusion of identity.  He says, "The people who defined me, who played the role opposite me, are no longer there.  The self I once was, this familiar self, cries out for them, like nerves still telling me that I have a leg or an arm, though only a stump remains." 

Sittser goes on to say that, 
"Catastrophic loss cannot be mitigated by replacements.  One cannot escape it simply by finding a new spouse, a new job, a new life.  A convenient passage to a new identity is usually out of the question...This crisis of identity, however, can lead to the formation of a new identity that integrates the loss into it.  Loss creates a new set of circumstances in which we must live...Loss forces us to see the dominant role our environment plays in determining our happiness.  Loss strips us of the props we rely on for our well-being.  It knocks us off our feet and puts us on our backs.  In the experience of loss, we come to the end of ourselves.  But in coming to the end of ourselves, we can also come to the beginning of a vital relationship with God."
There are so many things in that quote that jump out at me - no convenient passage, what determines our happiness, stripped of props, coming to the end of ourselves...I believe that I am in the midst of what this paragraph is referring to right now and while it is painful, it is also good - or can become good.

To be honest, I have struggled with this process and the accepting of it.  I believed that I was a strong, self-assured person, knowing who I am and what I am about, ready to continue to march on in the role to which God has called me, including being a widow.  I now think that was more about pride.  I think I have finally accepted that there is no convenient passage through this; it will take time and there is some level of contentedness even in the midst of this, if that makes any sense.

I will close with some words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
Who am I?  This or the other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once?  A hypocrite before others, 
and before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I?  They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

Monday, March 19, 2012


This Tuesday, March 20, marks the second anniversary of Bob's death. In many ways, that sentence alone is surreal.  Two years seems so long and so short at the same time.  It seems like forever since I've felt "normal" and yet it seems like yesterday that I heard his voice.

And since December, I've been very much aware of the fact that I am homesick.

I've never been the type of person to get homesick.  In fact, I'm one of those persons that has a hard time defining where home is.  By the time I left Canada at the age of seventeen, I had lived in five cities and three different provinces.  In 2009, I became an American citizen in order to keep working in West Africa or else I would have to give up my green (or resident alien) card for the US.  I've lived in West Africa for the last seven years, both Liberia and Ghana.  So, when people ask me where I'm from or what my citizenship is, I often don't know what to say.

But that's never really bothered me.  Because I've moved so much, I am not that attached to things - I rather enjoy the purge of getting rid of stuff every few years when we move.

Despite all the geographical and physical changes of moving, the core ingredients have remained the same.  Myself and my immediate family.  And now, of course, Bob is gone.  Hannah is in college.  Noah is leaving for college in a few short months.  Home now needs to be completely redefined.  But the scariest thing for me is that I am no longer the same either.  The past two years have changed me.  And I am homesick for me.  It's been two years since I've felt like myself.  And I believe that I'll never be the same person that I was when I was with Bob.  His life and death has changed me.

People who have experienced significant loss have expressed that various years can be the most difficult - the first, the second, the fourth, etc.  Since this is only my second year, I can only compare the first with the second.  The first year was comprised of shock, grief, and survival.  This past year has been characterized more with me trying to figure out who I am without Bob and where I belong.  Unfortunately, even though we have reached the end of the second year, that is still a work in progress, in no small part further complicated by our children leaving home for college.

The song, Homesick by Mercy Me, has been giving me some release over the past few months as it does a good job of expressing my feelings, so I decided to put it to pictures.  I know that this is a process and I continue to trust God to give me the "strength to make it through somehow", knowing that He will continue to walk with me and help me define a new "home."

Monday, March 12, 2012

And now, in the headlines...

Before the facelift...
Hopeline Gets a Facelift
And after.

The government of Ghana has created a new category, called a Financial Non-Governmental Institution (FNGO) and Hopeline Institute (our partner in Ghana) has been following the regulations necessary to fit within those guidelines.   One of the requirements was to have the building better identified, which Hopeline just completed.  It looks beautiful!  As an FNGO however, Hopeline is not "allowed" to charge an interest rate that is below the bank interest rates.  Bank loan interest rates are currently at around 38% and the government has mandated that Hopeline charge above that amount.  This interest rate is prohibitive for businesses and goes against one of the reasons for Hopeline's existence - which is to reach out to the marginalized so that they can increase their profitability, sustain their families, and create jobs.  Interest rates that exceed the bank rates will not do that.  So this is something that Hopeline will need to work through - balancing the needs of the people, the needs of the government in streamlining NGOs, and the needs of Hopeline as an organization. 

The Hoophouse is Happy...
Unhappy, stressed tomato plants outside the hoop house.
Earlier this year, we told you about the construction of a hoop house both in Liberia and in Ghana.  Rick Slager, working through Partners Worldwide with the Rural Empowerment Initiative, spent the last six weeks in Ghana and Liberia and has declared that the hoop houses in both places are very happy (as are the plants and the owners:-).  In the pictures, you can see tomato plants that were planted just outside the hoop house at the exact same time as the tomato plants were planted inside the hoop house.  Quite the difference!
Happy, stressfree tomato plants, inside hoop house, with farmer/owner Nicholas and Rick.

 LEAD gets Bee-sy
The research farm of LEAD (our partner in Liberia) continues to make good progress.  On the right you can see a picture of land recently cleared by the Bangladeshi contingent of the UN, of about 1.5 acres if land that LEAD will use to build their training center and dormitory (once the funds are raised).  We hope to get them back to the farm to clear another hectare of land so that we can put in a six crop rotational system that can demonstrate appropriate crop rotation as well as new crops that we believe can do well in Liberia.

The next picture shows some of the new construction that has been able to take place with the funds raised from the Research Farm catalog (for more info click here).  On the left is the pig barn, with a second pig barn ready to be constructed behind it.  In the middle is the hoop house, and on the right a new building in which we hope to house a palm kernel processing business as well as storage.  As our pig production increases, we hope to start giving out pairs of pigs to area farmers who also want to raise pigs.  Pig feed is a challenge though, and so we are meeting that challenge by starting a business creating palm kernel cakes, which are high in protein for pigs.  The groundhog barn will be built behind these structures - the funds have already been raised and construction should begin soon.
Additionally, the next picture shows the cabbage farm of one of the 100 farmers with whom we are working.  In the background you can see corn growing.  This is one of a number of farmers that LEAD has given a high quality corn seed to in order to create pig feed.  So already, with the research farm as young as it is, the impacts are starting to roll out to farmers.  First with corn, then with pigs.  The hoop house as also gained a fair bit of attention from other organizations and farmers who are interested in replicating it. [By the way, when LEAD started working with farmers, many said it was too risky.  LEAD just gave out their third round of loans to farmers, and if it weren't for the death of one of the farmers, would have a 100% repayment rate!  There are more than fifty farmers on the waiting list for loans, so pray with us that we get more loan funds to lend out to these farmers - especially now with the food shortages around the Sahel in West Africa.]

Another new addition to the research farm is five new bee-hives, made in a typical West African style.  Bees will help with pollination on the farm and can significantly increase yield, not to mention the production of honey. Our goal is to get the number of beehives up to about fifteen, which should significantly assist in our crop development.  Henry, the assistant farm manager, is smiling proudly by the beehive, while still figuring out how brave he will be to work with the bees!

The government of Liberia is also getting more organized in their approach to micro-finance and has newly established a branch dedicated to this within the Government.  Last week, Allen Gweh, the National Director for LEAD was elected as Secretary-General to the Micro-finance Network of Liberia, which will serve as the liaison between the Government and Micro-finance organizations in Liberia. 

 In Other News...
Dea Lieu, the Affiliate Manager of ACLCP, our partner in Côte d'Ivoire, who had a kidney transplant in January, has been told that it looks likely that he will be able to return home to Danané in June.  He feels great and is very ready to go!  It will have been almost two years since he took a trip that should have lasted for about one month.  We thank God for his healing and look forward to his ability to join his wife, Charlotte, and their children again.  My guess is that neither Dea, nor his wife, will want him to travel again soon!

Jeremiah Yongo, our Partnership Manager in Nigeria, reports to us that four of the affiliates in the Plateau region will be completing their business training in the next few weeks and will be having a graduation, with just over 40 businesses.  This is despite the unrest and stress that Nigeria has been experiencing in recent months.  We hope and pray that these business owners will be able to see growth and development in their businesses.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Conference in Ghana

It has been a very busy few weeks, with a ten day trip to Liberia, immediately followed by the conference week in Ghana.  The last guests left Sunday evening and as the dust begins to settle, I thought I would send some images from the conference. (Pictures courtesy of Kris VanderStelt:-) 
Banner in front of the venue.

The Very Rev. Helena Opoku-Sarkodi, gave us our opening devotions each morning and did a fabulous job.  Very energetic and focused on business as mission.  She captivated the crowd and was a tough speaker to follow!
Cultural performances from the School of Performing Arts, University of Ghana, started and closed the program, with explanations of the historical meaning of the dances. 
Dr. Joyce Aryee was our first of three plenary speakers.  As the African Female Business Leader of the year (2009) and former Minister of State, she had many challenges and words of encouragement to offer us.
The hall was filled with business owners of all sizes.
Rev. Tutu, of International Christian Ministries, commissioned us to be Marketplace Ministers, reclaiming the redeemed marketplace. 
The amazing Hopeline Institute and Partners Worldwide team, who worked together to pull off this event.