Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Project Site in Buchanan!

NOTE: You can left-click on any picture to enlarge it and/or view all the photos as a slideshow.

This Google Earth satellite photo of the Buchanan area shows the locations of the two Pillar properties, which are about a mile and a half apart.  The Atlantic Ocean, which is not far away, can be seen at the bottom left. Also note the shallow bodies of water toward the top of the photo--these are arms of the slow-moving Benson River system that drains this low-lying coastal region and eventually flows into the ocean (off the photo) to the northwest.
This is a closer view of the PROJECT BUCHANAN property, a 9.6-acre peninsula of undeveloped land, covered with grass and low coastal scrub. The useable west-to-east length of the land is approximately 1000 feet.

Two days after we arrived in Buchanan, Paula and I walked up the road with Gabriel to see the new land...  I was the photographer on this trip, so I didn't get into too many of the pictures!

After a 40-minute hike from Gabriel's home, we finally arrived at the property.

We stopped for a few moments at the southwest corner, ...
... then we walked further along the shore to another lookout over the water.
 From a higher location on the land, this view southeast over the river and the surrounding mangrove wetland is magnificent!

We noticed immediately that there were termite hills almost everywhere!

In fact I counted no fewer than 55 separate termite mounds on the property!
We expect no particular threat to our buildings.  In the tropics the ubiquitous termite is usually taken into account and special construction is used to minimize the impact of these potentially destructive insects!  Termite hills can actually be very useful as a source of earth material for making tough weather-resistant "dirt blocks".  We may want to consider using this type of block in the construction of the smaller buildings on campus.
As you have already seen in the satellite photos above, a sizable portion of this property is covered with low trees and scrub.  On the ground this dense vegetation made it difficult for us to determine the best locations for buildings and other campus components (such as a soccer field and other sports facilities).  After going to town to purchase an ax, several machetes (known as "cutlasses" in Liberia), and a few other hand tools, we asked Gabriel to hire several young men to start "brushing" (clearing) the land.  By doing this, we hoped that the "up's and down's" of the west-to-east "ridge" of the peninsula would be easier to see.

By midday everyone was ready for lunch...
... and for some "time out" to sharpen cutlasses.
For several days the team worked very hard, ...
... including Emmanuel Sieh, who is a senior high student at the Pillar school in Buchanan.
This is the view eastward as one enters the west end of the property.  Here we hope to build a house that will serve as a residence for a Pillar teacher's family as well as a security place for the storage of construction materials and tools.  Farther onto the property, you can see where palm trees and other vegetation will have to be cleared to make room for the soccer field.
A west-to-east distance of about 250 feet along the top of the ridge was found to be fairly level and, in my opinion, would be the most suitable location for the construction of the two 2-story school buildings that have been proposed, as well as a small auditorium between them. We tied small white plastic bags in the trees to indicate the approximate locations of the back corners of one of the two classroom buildings.
Even further east, beyond the school buildings, there is room for a basketball court.
This area in front (south) of the school will require further clearing and some landscaping.
Down the same slope from the school is this lower shelf of flat land. I anticipate a simple road entering the property from the west and winding along this southern side of the peninsula. "Hey, Paula! Wait for me! I'm just trying to get another picture!"
A few guest cabins could be built on the far eastern point of the peninsula (seen above) and be rented out to visitors in order to help with operational and maintenance costs.
In this final Google Earth satellite photo of the PROJECT BUCHANAN property, I have sketched in my suggested layout for the campus. Of course this proposal is provisional and may have to be modified as we move forward with construction (hopefully in January 2010).

Sunday, October 11, 2009

At Home with the Tequahs!

NOTE: You can left-click on any picture to enlarge it for better viewing.
Our trip to Liberia at the beginning of the summer did not start exactly as we had expected. We had been booked on a new nonstop flight to Africa, but then last-minute ticket changes were necessary, routing us through Europe and extending our travel time considerably. Then, the day we left Denver, there were afternoon thunderstorms in the New York City area which delayed our arrival there and we missed our connecting flight to Brussels! We managed to reach Liberia on Friday July 10, two days later than we were originally scheduled to arrive. Pillar Missions Field Director Luther Tarpeh met us at the airport and took us to Paynesville near Monrovia, where we spent the first weekend with our friends, Sam and Tabitha Walker.

On Tuesday Luther drove us from Monrovia southeast to Buchanan. The 90-mile trip "down the coast" was a slow and torturous ride over a road that is badly in need of repaving. (Thankfully a Chinese company has already started the job.) Since Luther wanted to return to Monrovia the same day, he immediately convened a short meeting with Gabriel Tequah (principal of the Pillar school in Buchanan) and Joseph Dedegaa (director of Pillar churches, who had come in from River Cess), so that we could explain the purpose of our visit to Liberia, particularly with respect to PROJECT BUCHANAN.

We spent the next few weeks in Buchanan with Martha and Gabriel (above), enjoying their hospitality and reminiscing on our past years of ministry together. Once again we were working together, but this time our focus was on PROJECT BUCHANAN and our plans for a better future for Pillar Mission's Christian school ministry in Liberia!

The school year had just ended for them (as it had for us in the States), and Gabriel was able to relax and share with Paula both the joys and the challenges of his work with the young people in the school. There is nothing quite like spending a late African afternoon out in the yard, casually visiting with friends in the shade of the old mango tree!

Most evenings a small gasoline generator provided a little light while we talked or sat around playing Skip-Bo until midnight. After that, the African nights were as dark and as quiet as we remembered them when we lived in Liberia years ago.

But then as each new day dawned, the town would quickly come back to life with the sounds of neighbors on all sides, some fetching water from the well and getting children ready for the day, others getting started with the day's laundry, and still others heading off to the market or cooking a little food on an open pot of hot coals. (How we loved the fried ripe plantain and the palm-butter rice with fresh ocean fish!)

Elijah (top right) is a student at the Pillar high school in Buchanan. He is also an apprentice to a local jeweler and makes some jewelry himself in several distinctively African stylings. One afternoon he came over to show Paula and Martha a few silver necklaces he was hoping to sell.

Remember young Elwain (Gabriel's little nephew) from my January trip pictures? This time he was quite shy.
.But he was just as adorable as ever, whether he was eating his midday meal of rice ...

... or "practicing" a rhythm on his plastic-bottle "drum"!

It is for the postwar children of Liberia, like Elwain and his friends who gathered on the front steps of his home one afternoon, that we have embarked on PROJECT BUCHANAN.

What a difference a quality Christ-centered education will make in Elwain's life! And with this education, what a difference he will be able to make for his country!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

We're Back from Liberia!

NOTE: You can left-click on any picture to enlarge it for better viewing.
Yes, we're back! In fact, we got back to Denver the middle of August, just when the school year here in Colorado was starting to "gear up". So I've been busy the last couple of weeks getting my science classes underway at Belleview Christian School (here in Westminster where I teach) and writing up a formal report of our trip for Pillar Missions.
The primary purpose of our five-week trip to Liberia this summer was to move PROJECT BUCHANAN forward by putting together a comprehensive plan for its development over the next few years. On this trip our work was to include a study of the property’s topography, the creation of a possible campus layout, the development of a phase-by-phase building plan, and the structuring of a project management team.

Certainly we were hoping that our extended time in Liberia would also allow us to reconnect with our friends and be an encouragement to them. We wanted to become better acquainted with their needs and try to understand, in particular, the postwar challenges of the Christian school ministry in Buchanan.

As a science teacher, I felt that one way I could help the school in Buchanan was to take over some simple science lab equipment and show the science teachers in Buchanan how it could be used to enhance their classes. Finally ...

I knew that I would likely be asked to be the special speaker at several churches on the Sundays we would be in Liberia. I hoped to be able to use my knowledge of “Liberian English” and the Bassa language to connect with young people who might be wondering how God could use them to help Liberia.
Our five weeks in Liberia went by so quickly, but a lot was accomplished. In my next few posts to this blog, I want to bring you up to date on PROJECT BUCHANAN and the progress that has been made toward getting building construction started on the new land. Liberia is currently in the heaviest part of the rainy season along the West African coast, but by November the dry season will be returning and outdoor work will need to begin in earnest.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A "Widescreen" View of the World!

Not so long ago, just about everyone still had a "full screen" TV--you know, the kind with the bulging glass tube and the squarish 4:3 (width-to-length) picture.  I can remember when I would carefully avoid purchasing "widescreen" videos, because I did not want to give up any part of my full-screen picture to those horizontal black bars above and below the picture!

Today most of us are happy that technology has taken a giant leap forward and given us "wide screen"--flat screen, plasma, and LCD TVs--with the picture in high definition and much larger than the old cathode ray tube could have ever hoped to produce!  But alas, I now have a different problem!  If my favorite DVDs are in the old 4:3 "full-screen" format (and most of the Gaither DVDs are!), I must make a choice.  I can distort the picture horizontally so that it does fill the screen--and also make everyone look fat!--or I must endure those two vertical black bars on either side of the so-called full-screen picture!

I suspect that "widescreen" is here to stay, simply because it matches reality better!  It's not just the way we prefer to watch TV, it's the way we view the world!  While reading the Bible, I noticed that Paul, that great and passionate missionary of the New Testament, also had a "widescreen" view of his world.  And--get this!--it actually can be viewed in 16:9--I Corinthians 16:9, that is!  There Paul wrote: "...a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries" (NASB).  He recognized what every missionary since his time has discovered to be true.  On the one hand, there is unbelievable opportunity and we must do what we can; but on the other, there is unbelievable opposition and we must depend on God to do the part we cannot.

A few weeks ago Paula and I took the cog railway to the top of Pike's Peak.  At 14,110 feet, we certainly had a "wide-screen" view of Colorado!  Tomorrow evening we will be in Liberia where we will have, not just a wider view of the real world, but also "a wide door for effective service."

Here in Colorado, it is already 2 AM!  In just a few hours, Paula and I will be heading for the airport with our heavy suitcases, and then we will be lifting off to begin our much anticipated five-week visit to Liberia!  Our passion is to see an expanded Christian school established in Buchanan.  In a country emerging from war, the opportunity to meet a need by giving education to its young people seems so obvious!

We certainly want to thank all our friends who have rallied behind us in recent weeks--and even in these last few days, I might add--and have made our trip financially possible!  We also want to thank all of you in advance for your prayers as we go, because only God sees the opposition that is invisible to us and knows what to do about it!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Lab Equipment and Science Seminars!

Last week I was in New Jersey for the annual Pillar Church "camp meeting". I was appearing with the New Grace Quartet, a Colorado-based gospel music group that has been involved in prison ministry in Colorado for many years, and this spring had been invited to provide music at the four-day camp meeting. I also had several opportunities to speak to the conference about PROJECT BUCHANAN and our soon-to-happen summer trip to Liberia. (Paula and I leave in less than a week!)
As planned, our priority for this 5-week trip is a careful on-site study of the new land in Buchanan, where a new school campus is to be developed. We want to sit down with our Liberian friends and finalize a phase-by-phase plan for building and construction over the next few years. In future posts to this blog, I will be sharing the details of this development plan with you.

But this is the middle of the wet season in Liberia, and there are likely to be days with nonstop heavy rain when we will not be able to get out. July and August are also Liberia's "summer break" between school years. Therefore I am also going on this trip prepared to conduct lab-based seminars with the science teacher(s) and any interested students at the school. I am taking two microscopes as well as lab apparatus to conduct basic demonstrations in physics. Hopefully the students (who don't even have textbooks) will benefit from these sessions and the teachers will be able to use the microscopes and lab equipment in their science classes next year!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"Building Hope in Liberia"... dot com!

Yesterday and today, it was my privilege to be a guest with Pastor John Wiersma on radio KPOF's morning and afternoon drive-time shows here in Denver. (John Wiersma is pastor of the Pillar's Belleview Community Chapel here in Westminster, Colorado.) We were on the air to talk about "Building Hope in Liberia," our latest fund-raising effort for PROJECT BUCHANAN.
John has been both a missionary in Africa and a Boston Marathon runner! Combining his interest in missions with his passion for running, he is calling on runners in Colorado (and even where you live perhaps!) to join him on October 18th for the Denver Marathon, a 42-km race in which he hopes $42,000 can be raised for PROJECT BUCHANAN in Liberia! For details see (By the way, this website was specially designed for this event and set up for us by Erick Bolanos, a former student and friend of mine!)
Pillar Missions in New Jersey has already raised $41,500 towards PROJECT BUCHANAN. Now we here in Colorado are hoping to match that figure! We estimate that the total combined amount will be enough a) to cover the cost of the trip Paula and I are making to Liberia next month to set up the project and b) to fund the first sizable construction phase, which we hope will get started at the end of the year!
John envisions 42 runners "coming on board", each one with sponsorships averaging $1000 in contributions toward PROJECT BUCHANAN. Ten runners have already signed up, and though the marathon is not until October, $5400 has already been given! In addition, another donor has promised to match, dollar for dollar, the next $10,000 that comes in!
If you are a runner, or you know a runner who might like to participate, check out the website! There you will find a link to the Denver Marathon and information for contacting my friend John Wiersma, the "Building Hope in Liberia" coordinator, about signing up.
If you're not a runner but would maybe like to sponsor a runner, or you know someone you think might be interested in sponsoring a runner, check out the website! There you will find information on how contributions can be made, either by check or online using PayPal. All gifts are tax-deductible and will go in their entirety to PROJECT BUCHANAN!
If you are new to this blog, read my earlier posts to find out what PROJECT BUCHANAN is all about! I am convinced that as the country of Liberia emerges from civil war, one of its most urgent needs is for quality education. PROJECT BUCHANAN is our opportunity to develop a new Christian school campus in Buchanan, so that a good but overcrowded school, already in operation in that city, can become even better! Today we can build hope in Liberia by helping to provide the quality educational foundation that Liberia needs for a peaceful and prosperous tomorrow. Together we can do it!
A big thanks from me to all of you for helping!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

How's That for Service!

Last Tuesday (as I reported in my last post) Paula and I sent off for the visas we would need for our upcoming trip to Liberia this summer. The website of the Liberian Consulate in New York had indicated that we should allow at least 5 working days for our visas to be processed. However, we were very pleased on Friday (just 3 days later) to receive by express return mail a package containing our returned passports with the visas stamped inside! Our thanks to the Liberian Consulate for such great service... and, of course, to the US Postal Service as well!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Visas for Liberia!

Yesterday Paula and I gathered together all the requirements for our visas -- completed application forms, valid passports, up-to-date immunization records, recent photos, and a money order for $281 -- and mailed them off to the Liberian consulate in New York. Hopefully we should have our documents back in a week or two and be ready to travel internationally, come July 7!

Monday, June 8, 2009

See? "Definite" Is not so Definite!

Already we've encountered just a little wrinkle in our travel plans! (What did I tell you?)!
Apparently the airline we were hoping to use next month has not yet received full clearance to start its newly-scheduled service to Liberia, and therefore it has been forced to cancel its June flights on this new direct route to West Africa. Since there's a good chance this could happen again in July, our travel agent is attempting this week to arrange for an alternate carrier!
Unfortunately this change in travel plans will necessitate our flying first to Europe and then south to Liberia -- a much longer route which we had been hoping to avoid (29 hours one way, instead of 17)! Also, our trip (going and coming) will be delayed by a day.
Our new trip dates will probably be July 7 through August 13... unless, of course, the first carrier gets its clearance before July 6, in which case we might be back to Plan A!
Either way Paula and I are still planning to be in Liberia for 5 full weeks this summer! I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Dates are "Definite"! *

Yesterday we reserved tickets with our travel agent! Our travel dates are now "certain"; Paula and I expect to leave Denver for Liberia on July 6, returning 5 weeks later on August 11! But check out the footnote below...
*.Allow me to add a footnote to the concept of "definite"...
let's just say, our plans (to go to Liberia this summer) are only as "certain" as any of us can make plans to do anything!
I remember when I was very young in Africa, when certain older missionaries would talk about their plans (very definite plans, as far as I could tell), they would often add: "D.V." At the time I wondered: Why the "D.V."? What does that mean? Later I found out. (No, it didn't stand for "Digital Video..." before the "...Disc" was added!) "D.V." is an abbreviation for an old Latin expression, "Deo volente", which means: "God being willing". Well, that's simple enough! But then I would ask myself: Why didn't they just say it in English? Does Latin make it more "spiritual"? And why use the abbreviation? Perhaps they're not sure of the Latin pronunciation or spelling!
But seriously, the old-timers had good reason to add the "Deo volente" condition to the plans they were making. First, they recognized that they weren't in control. Who is? More importantly, they had a few good Bible verses to back them up! Like James 4:14-15: "Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow... Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.'" Or what about Proverbs 19:21: "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails."
As far as those old missionaries knew, their bold plans were also good plans and they were honestly trying to do the right thing for the kingdom of God. But just in case... just in case circumstances would later indicate that "the Lord had other plans" (another expression they would often use), meaning that they would have to modify or give up their own, they were always careful to add those two simple letters: "D.V."

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Hodgsons Plan to Be in Liberia this Summer!

Sorry, everyone... I haven't posted anything to this blog in more than a month. Here in Colorado, schools close in May; so as a teacher, I've been quite busy the last few weeks with end-of-the-year activities and final exams! But that is now all behind me!
Last year in May, Paula and I were in Costa Mesa, California, for our daughter Andrea's graduation from Vanguard University. Then...
.Just 2 weeks ago, we were on the West Coast again, this time for her graduation from the University of Southern California! She now has her master's degree in teaching as well as her teacher's certification for the state of California. Go, Andrea! Where did the time go? Just a few years ago--or so it seems to her parents--she was that smallest person in the picture of our family piled on a motorcycle in Africa! (See my last post!)
Andrea's graduation was an opportunity for a family photo:... Gord, Paula, Andrea (22), Stephanie (26), and Nathaniel (24). Here we on the USC campus! Incredible! Why do I keep recalling that picture of a young family on a motorcycle, somewhere in the African bush?
Because Andrea's training at USC was part of a government-sponsored program to provide more math teachers for America, she is now committed to finding a job teaching math in the Los Angeles district for the next 4 years. This past year she did her practice teaching in LA schools, and we know she is ready to rise to the challenge! (P.S. After that, Andrea, I hope you can spend a little time in Africa teaching math -- like your Daddy did!)
Meanwhile... Paula and I are indeed planning to spend 5 weeks in Liberia this summer with Pillar Missions, advancing the cause of Christian school education in Buchanan! Tentative dates for our trip are July 6 - August 11.
We expect to spend considerable time working with our Liberian friends on a comprehensive long- and short-range development plan for PROJECT BUCHANAN. There are so many logistics to be worked out, and we want PROJECT BUCHANAN to be done right... right from the start!
Actually, PROJECT BUCHANAN has had several good "starts" already! First there was Jacob Tequah's careful search for the land in 2007 and 2008. Then last June, knowing that an excellent parcel of land had just been located in Buchanan, I recommended that Pillar Missions seize this opportunity to expand its Christian school ministry in postwar Liberia. Within a few weeks, the 10+ acres had been purchased!
In January of this year I was in Liberia with a stateside team that visited the new property and participated in a ground-breaking ceremony. It took 4 photos to get everyone "in the picture"...
. PROJECT BUCHANAN is already off to a very good start!
We are hoping that building can begin this coming dry season (December - April) with the construction of property security facilities and then the first of two multi-classroom buildings.
Here in the States, generous donations have already come in, designated for PROJECT BUCHANAN, and fund-raising will continue this summer with “FREEDOM RIDE III” (a cycling event in New Jersey) and this fall with “BUILDING HOPE IN LIBERIA” (a marathon here in Colorado)!
We are excited about all that is happening! Watch for updates right here on my blog!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The HODGSONS... Then and Now!

In the 1980s our family lived in Liberia in River Cess County at Po River Beach. The last 7 miles to our rather remote location were traveled SLOWLY by motorcycle along a bumpy trail that wound across sandy coastal savanna, through wet rain forest, over slippery stick-and-log "bridges", and up and down steep hills severely eroded by Liberia's heavy rainfall! This picture was taken in early 1989 as we were getting ready to start "the trip". There seemed to be only one "seating plan" that worked for us: First Dad and Mom would get on, then Andrea (2 years) would squeeze in between us, next Nathaniel (4) would scramble up right behind the handle bars, and finally Stephanie (6) would try to get comfortable on the gas tank in front of Dad! We all agreed that not having to walk 2 1/2 hours in the hot sun (or sometimes in the pouring rain) was well worth any discomforts of the ride! In fact, Nathaniel found the trip so relaxing that he would often fold his arms across the handle bars, put his head down, and fall fast asleep! (Did I mention that our overnight bag was usually secured over the taillight and that a few other belongings in plastic bags were slung from both handle bars?)
Eighteen years later in January 2007, Paula and I were back in Liberia for a visit and we crossed the Cess River by boat, as we had done so many times before! We were on our way to Po River Beach where we had taught for 10 years before the war and where we had built so many family memories! This time, however, there was no motorcycle on the other side of the river and we had to walk!
In January of this year, I was back in Liberia again, this time with an American team, to visit the land in Buchanan that had recently been purchased for a new Pillar school campus. This freshly-planted property stake seemed to mark the beginning of an exciting new venture in Christian school education for Liberia!
The natural beauty and quiet solitude of this place would seem to make it an ideal setting for a school. So far, however, there is not a single building on the land... but hopefully this will soon change!
Students from the overcrowded Pillar school facilities in town joined the Pillar visitors from the States to view this spacious new property. No doubt they were anticipating the day when this relaxing scene would mean that they were taking a welcome break from their busy classes!
Paula and I are seriously considering the possibility of making an extended working visit to Liberia (perhaps as early as this summer) in order to help get the first building project on this land organized and underway! We will keep you posted, right here on this blog!
PROJECT BUCHANAN is being funded by interested groups and individuals whose tax-deductible donations are being channeled through special Pillar Missions accounts and go in their entirety to the project! If you are interested in learning more about PROJECT BUCHANAN or would like to know how you can help to make this new school campus a reality for postwar Liberia, email me at:

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Better Life for Liberia's Young People! (Photo report of Liberia Trip Jan 2009: Part 6 of 6)

Rie McGroarty, who teaches in a Pillar school in the United States, thoroughly enjoyed her brief visit to Liberia. She was able to interact easily with teachers and students, because all education in Liberia is in English. Now that the war is over, there are many opportunites for English-speaking educators to help.
In addition to maintaining a challenging academic curriculum,
an effective Christian school also places great importance on:
... 1) INFORMATION from God's word!
The student listens as the Bible is taught faithfully at all grade levels.
.. ... 2) FORMATION of a Biblical worldview!

God's word starts to "make sense", offering reasonable answers to the basic questions of life that the student is asking.

...3) TRANSFORMATION of heart!
It is hoped that the student, after considering the price that was paid on the cross, will make the personal decision to commit his/her life to Christ!

This shy little girl needs Christ...
...and so does this cute little boy!
Mischievous little Terry needs Christ...
...and so does Praise, who comes from a Christian home!
This little boy must be educated in the use of technology;
but to walk life's path successfully and get to heaven,
he too must have Christ!
POTENTIAL FOR MAKING A DIFFERENCE... this world and the next!