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2019 Liberia Mission Trip

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Hello First Baptist Church! Thank you for your prayers, messages of support for us, and your care for our families who were back at home in Canada. Dr. John Potts has been documenting his experience through daily letters and several of you followed along with my blog as well. I'll try not to repeat too much from those posts, but give you an idea of the things we saw and did in the town of Kwendin, in Liberia.

I know that people often have questions about where Liberia is, and why we go there. Liberia is located in West Africa, neighbouring Ivory Coast, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. You will likely recall the Ebola outbreak of 2014/15 which caused further political and economic strain upon the country. Beginning with the military coup in 1980, through the years officially labelled as the first and second civil wars of Liberia, until the UN Peacekeeping Mission began in 2003 the people suffered greatly. Hundreds of thousands died and many more fled as refugees trying to escape the unspeakable violence. The scars of those years of conflict run deeply in the nation. The population of the country has grown rapidly since peace returned, which has provided new challenges. With half of the entire population aged 18 or under, there simply aren't enough trained adults able to provide the leadership that is needed.

There are three main areas to the work that we undertook in Kwendin: Medical, Education, and Community Development. Obviously, the three areas overlap, as you cannot learn if you are in poor health and struggling for your daily subsistence.

Medical
Dr. John Potts and RN Spencer Willis provide the medical care in a very well-run, but under-resourced, medical clinic in the town. They are able to provide a true Canadian system of healthcare; giving care that includes minor procedures (removing scar tissue and other lumps and bumps with local anesthetic), hernia and other minor surgeries (in the hospital in the nearby city of Tapeta), and dispensing medications all at no cost to the patients. It is a blessing to the entire community, and many people travel from miles away when they hear that the Canadian Medical Team has returned to Kwendin.

Education
In the school, my goal was to advance Math and Science education – not just for the students, but also for the teachers. We brought a variety of resources with me, including textbooks, thermometers, rulers, and a microscope that works in tandem with a cellphone. Although the class sizes were smaller than I had hoped for, I am hopeful that the teachers I worked with will be able to impact their students for a longer term. It seems hard to believe from our perspective, but this was the first time that many people had seen a thermometer outside of the medical clinic – ones which were able to measure beyond the usual scale of body temperature. As one teacher said to me, “learning comes easier for you [Canadians], not because you are smarter than us, but because of the access to resources such as this which you have in your schools.” As I think of the abundance of resources we have here – both human and physical – I know exactly what he means. Hopefully, the books and resources that we brought are able to inspire the teachers and the students to learn more.

Community Development
The third area of work that we undertook, Community Development, was largely overseen by Rev. Bob Swann. In 1980, one of the jobs that Bob oversaw at Kwendin Vocational Training Center (KVTC) was completing the roof of the new Dining Hall. In the years since then (including a time when the school was taken over as a military base by a group of rebels) the buildings have not been well maintained. Metal roofing begins to rust and leak, and buildings like the Dining Hall are unused or abandoned. Meanwhile, the Kwendin Public School (with over 400 students) has had no permanent home; classrooms often meet under the shade of a palm tree. With the building maintenance projects were undertaken over the last few years, KVTC has been able to restore its facilities and invite the public school to use some of the buildings in order to share and provide help to the larger community. This year, Bob climbed to the top of the KVTC Dining Hall, once again, to rebuild the roof and make the Dining Hall a usable space for learning once again. With the growth of colleges offering mobile training seminars, it is hoped that the campus of KVTC can once again become a focal hub for learning in this region of Nimba County.

Two years ago, one of the projects that Bob coordinated was to replace the metal roof at the Hope Baptist Church in Kwendin. Since then, the women of the church have raised money to build new walls and expand the footprint of the church! This was a surprise to us, and we were inspired by their efforts. With the expanded footprint, it meant that the old cement floor had to be removed, and the church was operating with a dirt floor and unfinished interior. It seems a long way from the building project that we are undertaking at First Baptist Church! Bob coordinated a team of workers, led by former KVTC students who have been using the woodworking skills that they learned from the late James Conway, who finished off the door frames, window sills, and poured a new cement floor for the church.

Although the school still continues to struggle in a variety of ways, we are able to see the growth and development of the whole community. There are many more businesses along the main street of Kwendin than there were in previous years. The young men who studied woodworking at KVTC now run a carpentry shop in town, building and selling doors and other items. The sewing students are learning valuable skills and making garments for themselves and to sell. The agriculture students at KVTC are learning valuable skills for growing their own food, and techniques for growing cash crops including cocoa and rubber.

All three phases of the work in Kwendin are blessing the community in ways that we cannot see, and may not see for many more years to come. More importantly, all of the things happening there are not because of the work of Bob, John, Spencer, Courtney, or the others who have been to Kwendin in the past. None of us is capable on our own. It is all thanks to God, who demonstrated his love for us through Jesus. We thank God for His ongoing work in the hearts and minds of the people of Kwendin, and we trust in Him to continue to raise the community up. 

Courtney Klassen