22 July 2014

My niche

Development work can be tricky. Though none of us are willing to admit this to ourselves, we come to the developing world with a sort of arrogance. We are “the educated”, the “non-poor”, the “lucky” ones who have come to change the lives of those who find themselves less fortunate than us. But even in our arrogance, there is the thought in the back of our minds that we can’t save the world, or that maybe we can’t even make a difference. Amongst other expats, we speak of “sustainability” and “progress”, but all the while, wondering if anything we are doing is having a lasting effect, and if we aren’t really hindering those we came to help. Such is the case for me (Faith) here in Liberia. Although I do not work for an NGO, because of my husband’s position of Country Director for MTI, I still find myself in the throngs of expats who have come here with the same intentions- to help this war-stricken country rebuild itself to a well-functioning society. But because I am not working for an NGO, my role in this whole goal is a little less defined. I have to find my own niche.  Many days I wonder, “What can I do to impact the world I find myself in? I am a complete stranger, a foreigner, one who can barely speak the same language. I have no job, no program. I am just here.”

I was talking to my husband the other day about these things, and one of the things I asked was, “Is God really concerned with the big picture? Is He asking us to work towards this utopia of a world that is free from poverty and suffering? Do we need to be about the business of fixing all that is wrong in the world with economics, politics, and culture?” And Andrew, who is wise beyond his years, said, “No, God is about people. And we sometimes forget that at the heart of all this is people. Economics is just people, people trading goods with one another. Politics is just people, how they problem solve and live with one another in peace. Culture is just the way people live and their traditions. And God is in the business of redeeming people.”

In light of that, I find it an easy thing to discover my niche. People are all around me. I have neighbors, and I pass people on the street. I go to church with people. I buy things from people. I work with people. And, I too am just a person.  The thing that I can offer them is myself. And I can do that by loving them. That always has lasting effects. In development terms, it is “sustainable.”

Let me give a very simple example. The other day I went to the grocery store. And since I only had American dollars, I needed to exchange some for Liberian dollars, which many young men on the street make a business of that. So it is easy to spot men waving money in the air to draw in customers. I saw one such man, and I nodded to him that I was headed his way. I pulled the car in to the parking lot, but before he could get to my car, another young man with a handful of money rushed to my window asking if I wanted to do an exchange. The first gentlemen quickly stepped in and said, “I am already serving this lady.” An argument broke out between them about who had the right to me as a customer. I exchanged my money with the first man, leaving the second man angry and on a rampage. He stirred up all the money-changers, who then proceeded to yell at the first young man, calling him names and shaming him. I started to walk in to the grocery store, ignoring the commotion, but half way through the parking lot, I stopped. I thought I should go help that guy out of this mess. So, I went back to the angry crowd, stepped in and announced, “Stop giving this man a hard time. He is telling the truth. I saw him from the road and told him I was coming.” They all became quiet and left the man alone. He thanked me, and I continued on with my shopping.

As I came out of the grocery store, a young teenage boy with downs syndrome came to me and asked to carry my bags as a means to make a small tip. I have had this young man carry my bags several times before, so again I agreed. But this time, I decided to give him a little more than I usually do. When I handed him the bill, he did a little jump of excitement and gave me a huge hug (which actually he does if I don't give him anything at all).

When I pulled out of the parking lot into the heavy traffic, I noticed a lady was about to hit me at the side of my car. Paying attention to her and trying to get out of her way, I nearly hit a taxi behind me. The crowd of people starting shouting at me and telling me what a dumb driver I am. The cars are all honking at me because by this time, I am in the middle of the road and can’t go anywhere. And all I keep saying is, “Sorry!” as I try and maneuver my way out. But I look behind me and I see two men, standing in the middle of the cars, holding out their arms in order to stop the traffic. One of them was the money- changer. The other was the young man with downs.

And an odd sense of joy came over me at that moment. There we were, three people who had touched each other’s lives in very small ways, but it meant something to each of us. And, I thought, “Yep, this is my niche.”

01 June 2014

Jack-of-all-trades, master of none

Having completed three months in Liberia, I have started taking isolated incidents and drawing broad sweeping conclusions that apply universally to the culture here.  While I realize that I am in no position to pass judgement on an a culture of which I am an outsider, I can’t help myself.  This is Andrew, by the way.  I’ve been told this is a stage that all go through when adapting.  And this ain’t my first rodeo, as they say, so I recognize that I’m in that stage.  Nonetheless I want to share with you my recent observations.  Liberians are flexible to a fault.  They are a jack-of-all-trades, ready to give their two cents on any topic.  The national pastime is arguing (bear in mind my stage of adaptation).  They even have a local name for arguing, “palava”.  Every community has an area where public debate is held at any time of the day.  They call these places “palava huts”.  All are welcome to the palava, in fact, the more the merrier it seems.  The loudest voices seem to win; although there is never really victory, just a gradual decrescendo.  What impresses me most about these palavas is that anyone and everyone claim to be experts, even on matters of which they are clearly ignorant.  I think Liberia values generalists with flexibility and resourcefulness—one who would appeal to any potential employer.  As an employer myself, i have seen a few Liberian résumés that reflect this idea.  Just a few weeks ago I received a business card for a company called Caspian Holdings.  On the back, it clearly states what the company specializes in: “WATER & SANITATION / ENVIRONMENT SERVICES / INFRASTRUCTURE DEVELOPMENT / CONSULTING / CONSTRUCTION / PROCUREMENT / OIL & GAS SERVICES / ENERGY SERVICES / POWER GENERATION / AGRICULTURE / AVIATION / CONSUMER PRODUCTS / EXPLORATION SERVICES / EDUCATION / MINING SERVICES / REAL ESTATE” 

I will give one more example of the Liberian ideal to be a jack-of-all-trades.  The small church that we have started attending in our community has a name that has something for everyone: “Gospel Safari Able God Ministries International Incorporated — Operation Save Liberia”.  If you can’t find at least one of those ten words that appeals to you, than I guess you just can’t be pleased.

05 May 2014

You meant it for evil... God meant it for good

“You meant evil…but God meant it for good.”

Our house in Liberia is located about 2 minutes from the beach, and although the locals don't find that to be such a thrilling thing, we Americans can’t help but go jump in the waves whenever the chance arises. So, as it was an extremely hot day, the girls and I decided to go to the beach to cool off. We packed just a few things in a bag- you know, the normal beach necessities: a towel, sunscreen, and sunglasses- and off we went. The waves were a little rough, so I held on to the girls’ hands as we played in the surf. We hadn’t been in the water five minutes before a man came walking by, grabbed our bag, and took off. I would normally have chased after him, but since I had the girls with me, I took to yelling out at the thief (as if he would believe me), “There is nothing in there! There is only a towel! Look for yourself! I don't have any money!” I kind of shrugged it off until I realized it did have something of value- the keys to our house! I grabbed the girls hands, drug them quickly to a neighbors house, and went running through the neighborhood asking if anyone had seen a man in a white shirt with a blue bag. Everyone said they hadn’t seen him. At last I came to a compound that had a large group of people in it and asked the same question. Everyone shook their heads. But one old lady yelled from within the house that she had seen him and pointed me in the direction. Off I went! After losing his trail again, I went in the direction of my house thinking he might find the keys and try and get in. But right before I went in, some people ran to me and said they had found him.

We ran back to the compound of the old lady, and a large crowd had gathered. All I could see was a mob of people, yelling and pushing. And the next thing I know, someone brought my bag. I quickly opened it up to see if anything was missing. And of course, my keys were gone. Immediately the crowd began searching the thief for my keys and found them hidden under his foot. The crowd quickly began beating him and two buddies of his that were obviously in on it too. After weakening the thieves, they loaded them into a car and told me to go to the police station to make a statement. I brought the girls along with me, as I did not know how long this was going to take.

We arrived at the police station, and we all gave testimonies to what had occurred. I was told I could go, but as I left, I turned to the young guys who had stole my bag and said, “I forgive you.” I thought that even this could be an opportunity to share God’s love.  However, unbeknown to me, to say you “forgive” someone in this culture means that you drop the case against them. The police said I should sign a waiver saying I did not intend to press charges. I took to explaining what I had meant, but it made no sense to them. They asked again, “So, you want to forgive these men or not?” My six-year-old daughter, Alea, looked up at me and said, “Mommy, just forgive them.”

Oh, to see the world through the eyes of a child! This is why Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven belongs to ones such as these. I looked down at her and said, “You are right. I need to just forgive them.” So, I signed the papers and left.

That evening, we went across the street to eat some street food. As we sat and ate our greasy arrangement of fried foods, person after person came up to us and said, “I am sorry that you got your bag stolen today. I am really so sorry.” The food lady would then proceed to recite the whole story, as if they hadn’t heard it already.  All those gathered around would get riled up as if reliving the whole experience again. And this occurred with every person who stopped to buy a snack, and every passerby would be drawn into the commotion. People began jumping at the opportunity to share their similar experiences from this same gang of thieves.  And as I sat there listening to these people, people that earlier that day had no clue who we were or that we lived among them, I realized that they now ALL knew who we were. And not only that, but they also identified with us. And in God’s mysterious and wise ways, He had opened up a door into the community that would have never been had our bag not got stolen.

It makes me think of Joseph being sold into slavery into Egypt by his brothers, and how God used that to save His people. He said to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”  That gang of thieves had plotted evil against us, but our God has meant it for our good!  I serve a really great God!!!!

25 June 2013

May I be nothing

Tomorrow we leave Ethiopia.  Good-byes are always difficult especially when there is a good possibility that we will never see these people again.  In American culture, we often have a difficult time to simply tell someone "good-bye".  We say, "See you later" or "Until next time".  Sometimes we'll say these things out of habit even when we know that we are unlikely to see the person again.  A final "good-bye" or simply thanking someone for being a part of one's lives is rare.

The Kaffa people, among whom we have been living with in southwest Ethiopia, have a deep culture that I cannot claim to understand.  But as a guest for the last four years, I have noticed one striking characteristic.  They know how to say good-bye and how to honor a guest who has shared life with them.  The most basic way to honor another is to lower oneself.  How much more can one show respect and honor for another than through humility--through self-sacrifice?  Jesus was the ultimate example of this type of love.  The Kaffa language is filled with phrases that give the greatest honor to the other person.  Their everyday phrases include:

Ta allabon (May I be nothing)
Ta gido'a kitite (May you take my strength)
Tan bia (May I take your pain)
Tan riba (May your weakness be mine)
Tacho'a (May I take your sickness)
Ta yesha (May your hunger take hold of me)
Yerimba (May God give back to you)

So as we say "good-bye" to the people of Kaffa Ethiopia whom we have felt so honored to work alongside, we only wish to repeat the same phrases with which they honored us.  "May we be nothing; may you take our strength; may God give back to you.  Thank you for sharing our sadness and our joy. Good-bye."

25 May 2013

Sing until your voice is gone

June 26th we fly out of Ethiopia— our last month here.  Leaving this place and these people will be difficult for us, as they have come to be a part of our lives.  Last week the Lalmba staff that we work with organized a field trip to the Tepi Crater Lake about five hours away. The staff organized everything and invited us to go along.  When the big day finally arrived, 38 people loaded into one bus and one car with everything they might need for a great cookout—firewood, two goats, lots of knives, and a huge drum.
Ethiopians know how to have fun.  We have been on a few short field trips in our four years here, so we knew what to expect.  They display their excitement by singing and clapping during the entire ride. But this trip was five hours one-way.  Andrew confidently predicted, “Surely they won’t sing for five hours straight. I bet it will only last an hour or so.”  Oh, no!  Singing and shouting for five hours up and five hours back.  It was a blast.  Kaffa songs are more like military chants, they have one person improvising short phrases while everyone else repeats a melodic answer. The people sang until their voices were hoarse; they beat the drum until their hands were numb. It baffled me how they could be so joyful on such a long, uncomfortable ride in an over crowded bus on a bumpy road.  Ten hours of drumming, clapping, singing, and shouting—truly amazing.
The Tepi Crater Lake was beautiful as most everything is in the southern part of Ethiopia.  The staff all crowded around the water’s edge to just stare in wonder at the stillness and peace of the place.  It was wonderful to watch them all take in the beauty.
Next came the cookout.  They slaughtered the two goats that had been tied to the top of the bus. It was a gruesome ordeal, which our daughters watched with curiosity and wonder.  We might have hidden their eyes them from such a sight, but it is just part of life here. There is no grocery store to buy packaged meat. Everyone took part in the process of slaughtering and cooking the goats.  The aroma drew in several curious onlookers.  Although they weren’t invited, it is an absolute obligation in Ethiopian culture to share whatever you have with anyone who shows up.  And so many of the women scooped a much smaller portion to themselves in order to share with the many uninvited guests that had crashed our party.
After all had finished eating, we gathered together for a tradition we had never witnessed before—a time of blessing. People came to the front of the crowd and begin pronouncing blessings on the whole group speaking of how they were all sisters and brothers. They blessed each other with the Lord’s favor, and thanked them for being a part of their lives. Even the uninvited guests were included in the blessings and given a chance to give thanks.
Before getting back in the buses, the people huddled together for another dance. With every beat of the drum they got closer and closer to the center, causing a tight mob that seemed impenetrable.  Not only was the day a blast, but also it was a great illustration of the lessons we have learned from Ethiopia.
1)    Circumstances don’t bring joy; it’s the people you are with.
2)    Take the time to stop and look at the beauty around you.  Our God is a GREAT creator.
3)    Death is a part of life. Don’t hide it from children, but acknowledge it as a reality.
4)    Hospitality is about giving to all who come around, invited or not.
5)    Sing until your voice is gone. It makes life fun!

29 August 2012

Books are for the birds

“Who wants to go on an adventure with me?” Andrew asked with enthusiasm to the three of us curled up on the bed reading books. “I do! I do!” The girls jumped up and down with excitement. They were easily convinced. I (Faith) wasn’t. “Oh, but its so nice just laying here and doing nothing.” “Oh, come on! It’ll be fun!” Andrew is always the one to initiate adventures, but I take some persuading. “Ookaaaay,” I said begrudgingly. All of us rushed around getting the necessary supplies- machete, GPS, water, toilet paper, and of course the hiking snack, which is the main reason the girls get so excited about dad’s “adventures”. “Today we are going to go find the top of a waterfall,” Andrew announced. “It is 2km that way.” I followed his finger across the yard, and couldn’t help but notice “that way” was down a big valley and up an even bigger mountain. “2km as the crow flies or 2 km by foot?” I asked hesitantly. “As the crow flies,” he said as he began marching down a trail. And with that, we were off. It was a lovely day for a walk. We talked about this and that as we walked along the small footpath. Along the way, we passed by a small hut with a half-naked baby sitting on ground outside, a group of farmers coming back from plowing their fields, and a small woman pulling along a cow that was almost as thin as she was. It wasn’t long before our footpath became smaller and smaller until it ended at a cornfield. So eventually, we had to turn off into the jungle and maneuver our way through the thick foliage. We heard rushing water down the mountain, so we decided to go and see if that was possibly the river that fed into the waterfall. Andrew pulled out the machete and started bushwhacking away at the thorns and briars so we could reach the river. We both had to carry the girls, as it was too steep and slippery for them to make it safely down. We eventually found a way down to the bottom and saw the source of the sound. It was a river, and could quite possibly be the river we were looking for. The only way to tell was to walk the river to see if it reached the waterfall. There was no bank to the river, just a drop off from the side of the mountain, so the only way to follow the river was to travel IN it. Andrew put one child and his back and I put one on mine, and we plunged in. The travel was slow, as the river was cloudy and it was difficult to get a foothold on the rocks that covered the riverbed. I looked around me- vines, overgrown jungle, and trees on both sides of us, many times making a canopy above us; the sounds of rushing water in front of us and birds chirping all around us. I just stopped and smiled. I could be home, curled up in bed with a good book like any normal person on a Saturday morning, or… I could be up to my knees in cold muddy water with a child on my back, clinging on for dear life, through this Amazonian-like jungle trying to find a waterfall SOMEWHERE in the vicinity! Hmm… Well, I married Andrew Hoskins for a reason. Books are for the birds. I was going on an adventure!

01 January 2012


Chiri, Ethiopia was once the end of the road. Actually the road didn’t even reach Chiri when Lalmba first came here. Now thirteen years later Chiri is developing into a small town. Lalmba has had a hand in increasing the health of the population, encouraging the community to value its children—especially orphans who have no one else, and developing the economy through being the largest employer. This year Lalmba is encouraging economic development in a new and exciting way.

We’ve started a community micro loan program with a rock bottom interest rate. Our goal is to provide a way out of the trap of poverty for those who don’t normally have access to credit. These loans are intended for people who are motivated entrepreneurs, but the banks deem “too risky” because they don’t have collateral or simply because they are a single mother. Zewiditu is one such person. She has never been married and never had children of her own, although she has acted as a volunteer guardian helping students who live too far away from town to attend school. She had chronic pain in her leg which Lalmba treated for free. When she first came to us, she was one of the patients that our Ethiopian social committee decided needed extra support. She slowly worked and saved enough money to buy a small piece of land to build on. This is a BIG deal. This month she took the first loan of her life. She has a business plan to buy and sell cardamom (a sweet smelling spice) as well as to sell bread and tea from her small home.

When asked if she had anything to add to her story before sharing it with all of you, she said that she is praying for Lalmba to succeed in its mission. She understands that if she can succeed, she can help others in the future just like her. THAT, after all, is Lalmba’s mission- to empower someone who has no means to be able to have enough means to help others out of their poverty. Zewiditu and other women who have been helped by the loan program will one day be a part of helping others who faced the same challenges they now face. And that is real success.