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Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, 
 and there are no grapes on the vines;
 even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even

 though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
  I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!

The Sovereign Lord is my strength! 
 He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.

Habakkuk 3:17-19 (NLT)

What powerful words.  If you have ever read the book of Habakkuk, you know that he begins his writings by questioning why God was allowing Judah and others to continue to practice their evil ways.  To say the least Habakkuk was frustrated and perhaps even overwhelmed as he laments and questions God.  By the end of the book, Habakuk acknowledges that even when we don’t understand what is happening around us that we must put our faith in God.  He rightly recognized that God is our strength and when we feel off balance that God will secure our footing.

For the last six weeks, I have been dealing with many frustration and at times not feeling joyful or surefooted.  Though I am certainly not going through the type of trials that Habakkuk was facing, I am frustrated not only for myself, but for the students.

I have a background in stress management and research shows that chronic frustrations can have as negative an impact on an individual as an acute stressor.  The good news is that I also know that there are a number of ways individuals can dissipate the stress.  One way is to meditate on God’s word.  Another is to talk with someone about what is bothering you and express how you are feeling, just as Habakkuk did in his writings.  So I decided to use this blog as my own personal therapy session and express some of my frustrations.   I promise I won’t share them all because for some reason this time there are many.

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Wait a minute…. I have to climb up on the therapy couch, lean back and relax.  Ahhhh, I am already feeling better.

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Electricity – do you know how much most of us take it for granted?

It is a wonderful thing to walk into a room and flip on a switch and “walla” there is light.  Or imagine on a hot muggy night having the ability to run a fan so you are cool enough to sleep.

This semester, we are having two problems when it comes to electricity.  The first is that we are only allowed to have the generator on for 12 hours a day, because of the cost of fuel.   It is hard to run an academic institution with only 12 hours of electricity, especially when you are offering online courses and/or asking students to do research online.  (I won’t bore you with how many times the Internet has gone down for prolonged periods of time even when we have electricity.   Will it ever get fixed, but I digress.)

The second problem with our electricity is that we had a lightening strike, which is not out of the ordinary during the rainy season.   The lightening strike not only destroyed our Internet modem and several routers, it also took out our main generator, so we are using the backup.  Right now, as I write this blog, I am wondering if I should be using up my battery or not because the generator has gone down once again.  Every time it stops running, I hold my breath that the back-up generator can be fixed.

One of the big frustrations about the electricity is that an international iron-ore company in Yekepa has a huge electrical grid that they installed last year (you wouldn’t find this type of access to an electrical gird in most of Liberia).  As of yet, they have not allowed us to hook up to it.  In the morning when I get up very early to exercise, I look out the window and there are outdoor lights shining everywhere across the road, but none on our campus – frustrating.  The good news is that the company has more than enough power for us. We have submitted a second request to hook into their grid and pay for the electricity.  If we could use their grid it would save us a minimum of $4000 USD a month and there are so many ways we could use this money to advance our students’ education.  Please pray with us that the company will decide in our favor.  Meanwhile, keep praying for the generator and the young men who fix it.

Rain and mud and mud and rain

It is the rainy season and you expect a lot of rain, but this time it has rained and rained and rained.  One of the downsides of all the rain is the roads.  It takes us anywhere from 2-4 extra hours to traverse the roads, which are already very bad.    So instead of taking 7 hours to get from Monrovia to Yekepa, it can take between 9-12 hours.  These roads are taking a real toll on our vehicles, some are verily holding together and others have broken down all together.

Roads during the rainy season – the grader is stuck just like everything else. Actually, you can’t use graders when it is this bad – they just sink into the mud. This picture was taken by a fellow professor.

An even bigger problem is if a person gets really sick, the roads make it hard or next to impossible to transport someone to a bigger hospital.  One of our students, Rachel, was having a terrible bout with asthma, malaria, and diarrhea.  We took her to the local clinic where she stayed for a couple of days, but she was just getting worse.  It was decided that we had no choice but to send her home to Monrovia.  We drove her to Ganta and sent another student along to assist her.  Thankfully the driver made it through because from Yekepa to Ganta is the muddiest part of the trip.  From Ganta, ABCU hired a taxi to take Rachel and the student assisting her to Monrovia.  Often, there can be 7-8 people in a small taxi with each person carrying packages.  ABCU paid for Rachel to have her own taxi – she was too sick to be around other people.  And the people sharing the taxi probably would have objected riding with such a visibly sick person.  Imagine being deathly ill and having to try to survive such horrible roads.

They are dropping left and right

Every rainy season at least one-quarter of the students showing up to class are ill. The sick students drag themselves to class and try to be attentive but this is hard when you have malaria or typhoid.  The medication that they are given is so strong that it makes them nauseated and dizzy.  Yet, they sit there glassy-eyed trying to participate.

It is like a flu epidemic that never stops.  You can’t close down the school or back off on course work, because you would never get anything accomplished.  So you push ahead, dragging the ill students with you, hoping that learning is taking place.  As a teacher it just wears you out; I wonder how the sick students cope, because obviously it is even harder on them.

Despair and hate

One student pointed out to me that 85 to 90% of the people in Liberia, to some varying degree, practice witchcraft or the occult.  It is not easy being one of the 10% of Liberians that do not practice it.  Picture being in a culture where you never know what someone may be saying or doing to your children?  Where small children may be unsuspectingly initiated into the occult without the parent even knowing it?  Where you are ostracized if you do not join a secret society.  Where someone may be lying about you, cheating you, or telling everyone that they are using some type of black magic to attack you and your family.   Where many, but certainly not all, of the local practices that seem unique and quaint are actually tied to the occult.  Where everywhere you turn it is a struggle to survive, because someone wishes you evil.  Each time that I come to Liberia I here more and more about this from the students and see the toll that it takes on them.  Though they are not personally practicing it their family members or friends may be.  I am beginning to understand that when it surrounds you and you have been culturally immersed in it, it has a psychosocial effect upon you even though you are resisting it.

“A ‘Bush Girl’ – She is still enrolled in bush school based on her painted body and is in an ‘in-between’ phase before her graduation. She is considered a kind of walking dead.” Picture and caption taken from Heath Vogel’s Blogging Without Maps A Journey Through Liberia – Fascinating blog about Liberia, I encourage you to visit it at http://bloggingwithoutmaps.blogspot.de/

Sometimes I feel so sorrowful and frustrated because I wonder if things will ever be better for the students.  Will life always be a struggle for them?  Will the roads ever get better?  One day will electricity be the norm rather than a wish?  Will they have access to the medical care that they truly need?  Will they be successful in shining their light in their darken communities?  Will they be strong enough to withstand the cultural call of the occult?  Will they be able to withstand the lying, cheating, bribing, and hate that permeates their culture?  Or, will life just wear them down?

When I feel frustrated and helpless, I find that I have a need to voice my frustration.  It is good to know that God allows me to tell him just how I am feeing.  He listens and then he speaks to us through scripture or other believers. In this case God has used the words of Habakkuk and James to remind me of how I should respond in times such as this.  As Habakkuk tells us that one way to deal with the frustrations of life is to rejoice and be joyful in God.   To remember that God will give me and the students the strength and surefootedness to climb over those frustrations and difficulties.  I am reminded that God lets us journey through these difficulties because they help make us mature and complete (James 1).   I have had more than one student say to me, “We don’t have resources like you people.  We know that our only resource is God and prayer.”  They humble me – they understand the necessity of tapping into the most powerful resource of all – God.

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What is a Think Through?  it is an idiom that conveys the meaning of carefully considering possibilities and outcomes of a situation

Today’s Think Through:

I asked you to listen to my frustrations.  Thanks for doing so.  It is your turn now – please feel free to post any insights or words of wisdom that you may like to share.

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