In the few weeks that we have been in Liberia, we have witnessed the industry of the people here. They do not have much, but many “hustle” to earn a living and improve their situation. There are many examples that we see each day, from the myriad of moto taxis (motorcycles used as taxis), taxis, vendors selling their wares out of wheelbarrows or their arms or on their heads, small businesses that operate out of home made sheds, small tables under an umbrella, all the way up to store fronts. The myriad of products on offer and the age range of those selling is amazing. We have included a few examples below.
As you can imagine, there are a number of organizations in this area that are trying to make a difference. We have become acquainted with Bosh Bosh, which has a wonderful program focused on girls and young women in their teens to mid twenties. The lengthy civil war in Liberia resulted in a generation that did not have the benefit of any education since schools were not operating. Even now that schools are open again, a significant challenge remains since families are responsible to pay for school uniforms, fees, books and other supplies. With many living on $1 or less a day, finding the funds to cover these costs is a challenge. Frequently the boys are given preference for education when families are able to pull the additional funds together for school. This organization was started in Liberia and aims to provide girls with an education, life skills and the means to provide current and future income through learning how to sew. Bosh Bosh produces aprons, head bands and a wide assortment of bags, purses, e-reader covers, as well as doing custom work, all with a distinctive African look. We went with some of our friends to a showing of the products and came away with a few things. We have also placed an order for a little bit of custom work. If you would like to learn more about Bosh Bosh, a link follows: http://boshbosh.org/
Our residence is quite nice for this area, with a living room, dining area, small kitchen and wall mounted air conditioning in several rooms. Our bedroom has an attached bathroom and canopy bed (well ok technically a bed with a mosquito net…) and as we found out tonight, at least one small furry friend who probably moved in earlier this week when we were having the back door replaced. We will need to risk the wrath of Mickey and Minnie next week and find something to take care of our visitor.
We left what has become the familiar location and routine of the MTC and headed into the unknown of Africa. We got up quite early to make sure we were ready for our 4:30am trip to the airport. The flight to JFK in New York went well, but once there we hit a bit of a bump in the road as it were. We had made arrangements to spend a few days in Accra, Ghana to meet with a number of people we will be working with over the phone for the next couple of years. Unfortunately our visas for Ghana did not come through so we needed to scramble while at the airport to get our flight arrangements changed and to let our Mission President know that we would be arriving a few days earlier than expected. We were bringing a number of pairs of eyeglasses to Ghana to help a small group of doctors from Utah that are going as volunteers to check people’s eyes and provide glasses. They have collected about 10,000 pairs of glasses in anticipation of the trip. With this change we were not able to drop the glasses but have someone lined up to take them from Liberia to Ghana for us.
Our departure was delayed by about three hours as a result of checked bags needing to be pulled off the plane for a couple of people that ran into similar visa issues and then by a thunderstorm that closed the ramp. The flight went well with a friendly group of flight attendants. We walked the aisles a number of times during the night but were able to get a bit of sleep as well. Our first view of Africa was as we descended into Accra. It appeared to be quite lush with dark red soil. As we entered the terminal, a thermal image of each passenger was made as part of the Ebola detection/prevention effort. Each person was also scanned before boarding our connecting flight.
A small group of us on the plane were just transiting through Accra and were escorted through the terminal to collect our luggage, go through customs, immigration, etc. The escort was quite helpful, as was the ticket agent for our connecting flight. In spite of the delay at JFK, we were able to make our connection with about an hour to spare, for which we were grateful. It being Saturday, the connecting flight flew over Liberia to Freetown, Sierra Leone before flying to Monrovia. The Kenya Airline flight attendants were very nice. We were seated in an exit row and received detailed instructions on our duties in the event of an emergency. These instructions were more detailed than we have had in the past. Guess they take these things seriously. The flight to Freetown was not that long but we were served a full hot meal, quite a contrast to our usual flight experience. We were quite relieved that after five airports on two continents all of our checked luggage arrived unscathed. We were also very grateful to find that our change in plans had made it to our Mission President and he and Sister Carlson were waiting outside the terminal building to take us to our residence.
On our way from the airport we were quickly immersed in driving Liberian style. It is pretty amazing… but more about that at another time. A couple that had help to establish and subsequently shutdown the Liberian mission with the Ebola outbreak (the Hezseltines) have come back to help restart the mission and provide us with much needed training. They, along with the Carlsons (our Mission President and his wife), and a couple of others from Liberia worked for days cleaning our residence before we arrived. It is quite nice. The Hezseltines picked up some hot sandwiches and the six of us enjoyed a nice meal while getting to know each other a bit more. We finally crashed without unpacking much more than our toothbrushes. With nearly 33 hours in transit and having only a few interrupted hours of sleep on the plane, the bed was most welcoming after being awake for nearly 40 hours.
So how do you go about training more than 85,000 missionaries that serve in over 400 missions around the world? The Church has established 15 Missionary Training Centres (MTCs) which provide gospel, mission specific, cultural and language training for those serving on missions. Depending on the training required, the individuals spend between two and nine weeks at the MTC. The largest MTC is located in Provo, Utah where instruction in more than 50 languages is available. Additional MTCs are located in England, Spain, Ghana, South Africa, New Zealand, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Columbia, Peru, Dominican Republic, Guatemala and the Philippines. It is a lot of fun to watch these young men and women in their late teens and early twenties interact with each other, learn life and language skills and come to know who they are as individuals. We really enjoy mingling and chatting with them during meals, between classes etc.
Many of the class rooms for the young missionaries that are learning languages have small drawings that one of them has drawn which highlights where they are going. Some of them can be quite humorous. For example, one of our familiar church hymns contains the phrase “Put your shoulder to the wheel and push along”, referring to early pioneers helping each other pull/push hand carts through difficult terrain, over obstacles, out of mud etc. A class of young missionaries going to Quebec made a small change to that line as shown below:
In case you can’t read it, the caption is “Poutine our shoulders to the wheel”. For those that are not familiar with French Canadian culture, poutine is a heart stopping combination of french fries, cheese curds and gravy.
Here in Provo, we have a large cafeteria that prepares what looks like 7-8,000 servings a day (lets just say some of the young men are continuing to grow…). It is very efficient, with little or no waiting to get your food and there is good variety to choose from. We won’t be eating salad in Liberia (due to the inability to ensure the lettuce etc is safe to eat) so most of our lunch and supper selections have been salad based. Sunday and Wednesday are ice cream days which are very popular (our favourite flavour is cashew caramel, which is hard to believe since there is no chocolate involved…) and for the rest of the week there are the freezers which stock ice cream bars and sandwiches. For those with a sweet tooth (can’t imagine who that would be) there is always a good variety of cookies, squares etc. If you come away from a meal feeling hungry, its by choice and not for lack of good things to eat.
Each week there are two devotionals for everyone that is here. These are held in a large multi-purpose room that doubles as a gymnasium. We have heard from the leader of the Church’s world wide women’s organization (the Relief Society), the leader of the Church in Brazil, the managing director of the missionary department and an a cappella vocal group from Brigham Young University. They have each been very good.
Our training this week has been specific to working in a mission office and focused on the basics of office related software such as Excel and Word, an integrated program that is used to handle mission finances, tracking and planning where missionaries are/will be serving, managing travel/visa related items, routine correspondence/newsletters, etc. There is a lot to learn in a short period of time but our training group only has three couples and there are usually two or three instructors, so lots of help is available as needed.
Our classroom this week is surrounded by those used by young missionaries learning to speak Russian. It is fun to hear them converse with one another in Russian as they are walking in the halls or practicing. During a recent devotional Rick sat near a few of them and heard them singing the words of a familiar hymn in Russian while most of us were singing in English.
In an effort to enhance learning and take care of our physical health (not to mention counteracting the impact of an abundantly stocked cafeteria) the MTC has a good fitness facility, a large well cared for activity field, an outdoor volleyball court and gymnasium. The young missionaries have time included in their schedules for fitness, while those of us that have already been around the block a few times need to work it in as we see fit. We have been going early in the morning and had the fitness facilities to ourselves.
It has been a long time since we have been in school and here we are in the Missionary Training Centre, surrounded by classrooms and about 2000 young people. What a great opportunity to feel the wonderful spirit and energy that is here. It appears that we are the youngest of the “Senior” missionaries here this week and we marvel at the number of more senior missionaries that have already served several missions and want to continue to go about “doing good”. There are 94 of us here this week (with another 40 or so that arrived a week ago and stayed for additional training) and they will be going to many different countries in Africa, South-East Asia, Oceania, Europe, North America and the Baltic States.
We have been divided into small groups of eight or so known as “Districts”. We had a couple from the small farming community of Myton, Utah in our District. He was one of the kindest and most caring individuals that I have met. So concerned about being able to help others. His wife had difficulty walking but was not a wit behind him in regards to reaching out to others. What an example they have set for all of us. On a side note, he had large hands and forearms developed over years of hard work on the farm. I would not want to arm wrestle with him!