Monday, July 5, 2010

Finally... We're in Buchanan!

It has taken longer than we thought to get to Buchanan!

We left the States as scheduled and arrived in Monrovia, Liberia's capital, 10 days ago as planned.  But before we could leave the city, we needed to meet with PROJECT BUCHANAN folks, determine what materials still needed to be purchased before the Colorado building team arrives (on July 14), and then shop around for what we can afford!  So our time in Monrovia was well-spent.  One very useful little item we were able to pick up was a small modem that plugs into the USB port of my laptop, allowing me to go online via the cell phone service here (for about a dollar an hour).  In fact, that's how I am able to be online right now as I compose this post!

Luther Tarpeh, the Pillar Field Director, was already planning a trip from Monrovia to Buchanan today.  So we were up at 4:30 AM and ready to leave at the prearranged 5:30 AM departure time!  The 90-mile trip (partly over some beautiful newly-paved road, partly over stretches of very rough dirt road) took 3 hours!

We have already been out and about around Buchanan to look for possible accommodations for the 7-person building team.  I think they'll really like what we found... but I'll leave the details as a surprise for next week when they arrive!

Sorry, no photos yet!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

...before the Colorado Team Arrives!

NOTE: You can left-click on any picture to enlarge it and to view all the photos in this post as a slideshow!

Sam Walker is currently the Liberian on-site manager for PROJECT BUCHANAN. In recent weeks he has been able to scan a few printed photos and send the scans to me as low-resolution email attachments:

Here Sam is standing with a few Pillar students next to the concrete blocks that have been made for the PROJECT BUCHANAN buildings.

The first building to be constructed is a staff residence which will also serve for storage of building materials and for property security. Here the exterior walls of this 30-ft X 50-ft building were being staked out.

Then trenches were dug (using only hand tools such as picks and shovels) so that the concrete footings could be poured.

Project managers Sam Walker and Jacob Tequah (upper right), along with PROJECT BUCHANAN workers, stopped work for a picture.

Several tiers of concrete blocks were to be laid on the footings, in order to bring the new walls up to floor level. Then a reinforced concrete floor slab was to be poured. After that we are hoping that the building team from Colorado can finish the walls and construct the roof.

Flomo has been directing most of the masonry work.

Here Sam is standing in one of the footing trenches that has already been dug for the second building soon to be constructed: a 100-ft X 30-ft two-story 7-classroom unit.

The building team from Colorado should arrive in Buchanan on July 14. Sam is making arrangements for the team members to stay at this relatively comfortable "rooming house".

Unlike most other homes in Buchanan, this guest house has modern bathroom facilities, as well as electricity for most of the night.

FOOTNOTE:  I am taking Sam a new Coolpix digital camera (folks at Nikon, please take note!).  Hopefully, as PROJECT BUCHANAN moves forward, the progress can be documented in high-quality photographs which you can enjoy.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Spaghetti Dinner Fundraiser!

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

On June 6 a spaghetti dinner was held at the Belleview Christian School here in Westminster, Colorado, to raise funds for the PROJECT BUCHANAN building team traveling from Colorado to Liberia next month. John Wiersma, pastor of the Belleview Community Chapel that meets each Sunday in the school auditorium, was our MC for the evening. He and his wife Lisa, who are former missionaries to Burkina Faso in West Africa, and are very excited about the development of a Christian school in postwar Liberia.

Team members and others arrived in the afternoon to help set up tables.

Peter DiLorenzo, art teacher at Belleview Christian, brought in ice for the lemonade. This will be his first trip to Africa.

Pieces of African art and dress were put on display at the front of the auditorium.

In the hallway two more team members--Lisa Wiersma (John's wife) and Nathaniel DiLorenzo (Peter's son)--were busy preparing salads.

Shelly Becker, who prepares lunch for the students in the school, catered the spaghetti dinner. Helping her was Mike Bollinger, leader of the construction team.

One very special guest to arrive was Mrs. Arlene Konkel. It was her husband, Dr. Wilbur Konkel, who first visited Liberia in 1960 and then founded Pillar Missions. What a special honor it was to have her at this event 50 years later!

My sister Jeanette Blue, who (like myself) was born in Liberia, stopped for me to take a picture of her with Lisa Wiersma.

Soon other guests were arriving, including long-time supporters of Pillar Missions, Dr. Robert & Pauline Dallenbach.

Linda & Bob Graybeal are also enthusiastic about the work in Liberia.

Hilda Entz, a long-time friend and supporter of Pillar Missions, came to be with us on this special evening, along with several members of her family. Seated with her was her granddaughter's husband, Jack Dyess and, across the table...

...Mrs. Entz' daughter Paulette George and her husband Robert.

Pastor John's parents, Jim & Sharon Wiersma, are also very excited about PROJECT BUCHANAN.

Many years ago Thelma Bradford's husband (Elsworth) visited the work of Pillar Missions in Liberia.

While we enjoyed our meal, there was a map of Liberia on the screen. Later I gave a slide presentation about Liberia and the PROJECT BUCHANAN work site to which the building team will be going in July.

Team members, including Lisa Wiersma, served spaghetti to the tables.

Mel & Millie Stetson also have had missionary experience in Africa.

Peter Dilorenzo stopped under the screen to chat with the Stetsons and Guinevere Perigo.

Helping out that evening were Calvin and his mother, Robin Niles-Gosser.

Jeanne Birch and Kathy Tucker were able to reminisce while enjoying their meal.

Albert Wolfram is one of my former students at Belleview and a great supporter of what Pillar Missions has been doing to provide Christian school education for young people in Liberia.

Mrs. Entz came over to visit with Janice & Curt Aldstadt and their daughter Jessica.

Altogether about 100 guests turned out for the spaghetti dinner.  Needless to say, we were grateful to see so much local support for PROJECT BUCHANAN and for the building team.

My wife Paula (in the tie-dyed and embroidered African dress) has known Mrs. Entz for years, because Mrs. Entz and her husband Paul were great friends of my wife's parents (Paul and June Blue) back in the 1970s and supported them when they worked with Pillar Missions as teachers in Liberia.

Rick & Shelley Jicha are enthusiastic about missions... are their daughters, Emily and Laura.

Other guests were Nathan Martinez (in the Colorado shirt) and (beyond him at the next table) Keith & Beth Robinson and Kathy & Dale Larsen.

Then it was time for dessert... served at this table by Mike Bollinger.

At the end of the evening the PROJECT BUCHANAN team assembled at the front of the room.  Seen here (left to right) are my wife Paula, then Lisa Wiersma, her son Michaiah, Nathaniel DiLorenzo, Ryan Scollard, and Mike Bollinger.  I was behind the camera!  (Where was Peter DiLorenzo?)  Since this event, Brad Bollinger (Mike's dad) has joined the team, bringing the total to 9!

Dr. Dallenbach offered the closing prayer.

Mrs. Bradford and Mrs. Dallenbach had time for a brief parting conversation...

...Liz Dyess (Mrs. Entz' granddaughter) posed for one last picture with Jeanette Blue...

...and Joel Dallenbach and his father, both accomplished photographers, packed up their cameras and called it a great day! 

Thanks again to all who participated!  Nearly $3000 was raised!  This money will go a long way toward providing accommodations and food for the team during their two-week stay in Liberia.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The January Trip 2010: An Overdue Report

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

In January a team from New Jersey visited Liberia to attend the annual Pillar Church conference, this year being held in Buchanan.  Left to right are Robert Saydee (former student at Pillar school in Liberia and now IT Director for Pillar operations at Zarephath NJ), Gordon Tiner (builder/developer), Rob Cruver (pastor at Zarephath), Jeff Olszyk (Pillar Missions Director), Hannah Cruver (Rob's daughter), and Jennifer Butwill (a nurse).
After the conference the team traveled 50 miles southeast into River Cess County to visit the original Pillar Mission, established by Rob Cruver's late grandfather, Dr. Wilbur Konkel, at Po River Beach back in the early 1960s.  It was in the Christian school at this location that Paula's parents worked for 16 years and where Paula and I lived and taught during the 1980s.  It was at this school that Robert Saydee, Gabriel Tequah (principal of the Pillar school in Buchanan), Luther Tarpeh (Pillar Missions Field Director for Liberia) and many others in Christian ministry today received their early education.

The dirt road from Buchanan ends at the Cess River in River Cess City.  There the team climbed aboard a large motorized fishing canoe (like the one above) to travel the last 10 miles "down the coast" to the Po River.

On the sandbar at the mouth of the Po River, they were able to soak up a little more tropical sun!

After this great father-and-daughter photo-op on the Po River beach, the team started their one-mile hike along the sandy trail leading to the mission.  This was going to be Rob's very first visit to this place in Liberia that he had heard about all his life--the location where his grandfather had come, nearly 50 years earlier, to establish a church and school!

But now, in this remote corner of the country, Rob and the team could see the deterioration that had been left in the wake of Liberia's civil war.  Even back in 2007, when I visited the mission after the war, this large fallen tree seemed to symbolize the collapse of a once-fruitful ministry.  Today, a faithful elderly pastor, John Tequah, and a few others continue to call this place "home."  But it is a much quieter place now, and the few houses that remain are badly in need of repairs.

This recent Google Earth photo shows the Pillar Mission at Po River Beach, as it is today.  The reddish patches indicate that, in bad times as well as in good, the annual cycle of slash-and-burn agriculture has continued in this impoverished seaside community.

In 2007, the roof of the church was already gone.  Now the walls have collapsed.

Lost in the weeds and vines are the remains of the school building where, before the war, the voices of happy children could be heard and where I used to arrive each morning to teach math and science and Bible.  It was here that the future with its possibilities began to open up for many of the junior- and senior-high students.  Today I still want to help make dreams come true for young people trying to find hope in post-war Liberia.

During the war years, Pastor Jacob Tequah in Buchanan moved out of this building, which was his family's home, so that a small school could be provided for the children of displaced families who had fled "up the coast" from River Cess and the Pillar Mission at Po River Beach.  In 2008, when it was clear that this school would soon outgrow these facilities (as well as those in a second building next door), new property up the road was purchased.  In January of 2009, Rob Cruver made his first trip to Liberia, and I was there for the ground-breaking ceremony as those 10 acres of land were dedicated for a new Pillar school campus in Buchanan.

Hand-operated block molds were purchased, and, over the last several months, 3000 concrete blocks have been made.  Most of these blocks are to be used for a teacher's residence and security facility on the new campus.  Nearly 1000 blocks of a larger size, better suited for the future school building, have also been made.  The shipping container seen here has already been moved to the property to be used there as a storage shed for tools and supplies.

In January the land surveyor discussed road access possibilities with Gordon Tiner and head project manager Jacob Tequah.  Looking on were  Sam Walker (left), the assistant project manager, and Jeff Olszyk.

Jacob (left) continues the discussion with Pillar Field Director, Luther Tarpeh, and Gordon Tiner.  But why is Sam always on his cell phone?  Sam, who always seems to be on his cell phone, has a multitude of contacts with whom he works, and right now he is probably confirming some detail related to the projectIn Liberia cell phone service very affordable.  So where other forms of communication often do not exist, the ubiquitous cell phone is much more than a luxury item.  It has certainly made project management--as well as many other ministry-related activities--much easier.

"Exactly where in all this undergrowth is the property line, anyway?"
"I know... it doesn't look like there's been much development on this land yet.  But you wait!  One day there will be a two-story school building right about here!  Just you wait and see!"

Finally... a place has been selected for the teacher's residence and security facility!  Gordon Tiner has drawn the plans for this building which will be approximately 50' X 30'.  He has also made the professional drawings for the much larger two-story school building which is to be located on the higher ground east of this spot.  Jeff (left) helps Gordon and Jacob (foreground) to set up the lines.