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Commentary: Liberian children offer gift of hope to Louisiana

 


Commentary: Liberian children offer gift of hope to Louisiana

Sept. 12, 2005

A UMNS Commentary
By Kathy L. Gilbert*

I have a gift for the children of Louisiana.

It is enormous. I have no doubt it will make a huge difference because it came from the purest hearts and it was entrusted to me in love.

This precious gift is tucked inside a wrinkled church bulletin. On the front are these words: "Donation of U.S. $20 from the children of Reeves Memorial United Methodist Church to the children of Louisiana, USA, in solidarity with their plight in the wake of the destruction of Hurricane Katrina."

Reeves Memorial United Methodist Church is in Monrovia, Liberia. On Sunday, Sept. 4, a small group of us from United Methodist Communications and the Board of Pension and Health Benefits were visitors there. Sister Frances M. Porte, charge lay leader and our guide while we were in Liberia, asked us all to write a brief bio about ourselves earlier in the week in preparation for our visit. In mine, I mentioned I was a native of Louisiana.

When the people of this church saw me, they saw a fellow United Methodist who was learning about loss. They saw a way to make a difference.

Reeves is a church where the children far outnumber the adults. These are children who know something about loss. Like the people in New Orleans, they are living without electricity and running water. Their homes have been wrecked not by a storm but by 14 years of war.

Traveling from one place to another is close to impossible in this country because a lot of the roads don’t exist anymore. Those that are left are obstacle courses full of holes and chunks of concrete. "Gas stations" are rows of pink liquid in glass containers that have to be put into cars with a funnel.

In a country where 80 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, $20 is a fortune.

New Orleans is not my home, but New Orleans is where my spirit feels most at home. When the levee broke and the waters swallowed parts of Louisiana, I was thousands of miles away. Watching the horrible aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on CNN broke my heart.

Never in a million years would I have thought I would be safer in Monrovia, Liberia, than in my beloved city of New Orleans.

As a writer for United Methodist News Service, I was in Liberia to report on the war-torn country and the miraculous work being done by the United Methodist Church.

In the mornings over breakfast and the evenings over dinner, CNN played and replayed the tragic stories left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. During the day, I saw Liberia’s pain first hand, and back at the hotel, I saw my home’s pain through pictures on a television screen.

In eight days, I visited a camp full of young boys who were learning to be children again after being soldiers in Liberia’s bloody civil war. I walked through a prison overflowing with filth and men and women living in unimaginable conditions. I met a retired blind pastor who relies on her daughter and granddaughter to save her from the snakes and scorpions that sometimes crawl into her bed through the cracks of her mud walls.

Liberia’s problems won’t be fixed soon, but there is a lot of hope in that country. Soon a national election will be held, and the people will have a chance to select a leader. As the church’s leader in Liberia, Bishop John G. Innis is a force to be reckoned with. He sees a brighter future ahead. While we were there, Bishop Innis announced the Liberian Annual Conference had sent $500 to the United Methodist Committee on Relief for hurricane aid.

Louisiana and the rest of the Gulf Coast will recover also. When I entered that little church Sept. 4, the healing started for me. I was surrounded by people who care and love strangers in a place they will never see.

I have a mission. I have to go back home and deliver this wonderful gift.

There always seems to be too much misery in this world. But thanks to a lot of beautiful, small, smiling faces, I know there is always a lot of love too.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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