One of the greatest things about working in Liberia is all the interaction with children. With a population of just over 4,000,000 people, Liberia has over 2,000,000 children under the age of 18. As I walk down the street I often hear a small voice calling “White man!” When I look to see who is calling it often is a child who might just look, smile and wave at me or he might extend his hand for a shake or friendly fist bump. Even in Monrovia, the most cosmopolitan city in Liberia, my skin color makes me an object of curiosity to many children.
The children of Liberia face many challenges. Often food is scarce in the home and they may go to school without their hunger fully satisfied. Even going to school is just a distant possibility for many. The Liberian Minister of Education estimates that 40- some percent of primary aged children are not in school. With the vast majority of the country living at or below the poverty line of $1.25 per day (UNICEF puts the poverty rate at around 83%) it is no great surprise that children are underfed or not in school. Domestic violence is a very real threat to the physical integrity of many children.
Within the church I have had the opportunity to interact with many children and to try to promote children’s ministries. When we first arrived and were visiting the Liberia Evangelical Mission (LEM) churches, I was amused by those younger children who looked at me with a form of frightened fascination. (Sort of like being drawn to the snake house at the zoo but hating every moment of it.) They didn’t want to be too close and yet they were curious and didn’t want to miss out on whatever this strange white man might do. The look of horror in their eyes as their older siblings would try to drag them closer to me betrayed the panic they felt at just the thought of getting too close. Happily they have by and large gotten over their fear and some of those same kids are now my good friends who run to greet me at church.
At Christmas time, due to the generosity of the Bend, Oregon New Hope Evangelical Church we were able to help our churches in their outreaches to the children in their neighborhoods. In the same way were able to provide enough basic school supplies for 600 children plus providing some scholarship help for our pastors’ children.
Last fall I was able to offer a basic Christian Education course with emphasis on Sunday School and children. There were around forty men and women who signed up for the class. It was a learning experience for all of us as we interacted together about how to improve our ministry to children in the Liberian context.
My favorite interaction takes place most weeks on Friday morning when we go the World Christian Heritage Children’s Home and teach an art class for the children in the home and school that functions as a ministry of the home. The number of students tends to vary between fifty and seventy children, depending on changing circumstances. Niki and Mark usually are with the older children while I teach the ABC class. I try to make my class a time of fun along with learning and having new experiences in art. We often sing, have a Bible or other story and pray along with having some kind of craft. For many of these children, the things they do in our art classes is their first exposure to doing crafts. Some of the younger ones have not held scissors before, for example, and have to learn what to do with them. Coloring is also a new experience for many and they have had to learn how to hold a crayon and how to color a picture. Through it all my goal is to have the love of Jesus felt by these special children.
The Liberia Evangelical Mission has a great challenge ahead of it as it seeks to minister to the children that God has brought to them. The goal is not only to teach about Jesus but to put that love into action by helping to address the needs of the children. I am looking forward to being a part of the answer to that challenge. I would ask that you pray for LEM, for us and for the children of Liberia, that God will give us great wisdom and understanding as we try to make a difference in the lives of these precious boys and girls.