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.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Liberia, Here We Come Again!

Wow! I can hardly believe that it has been nearly 7 months since I last made an entry on this blog!  You're right... that was way too long for you to wait for an update on PROJECT BUCHANAN.

However, I am happy to report that building construction on the new school property in Liberia has indeed begun!  Over the next few days I hope to "fill you in" with both words and pictures...

Here in Colorado, another year in the classroom has ended for Paula and me.  Now at last we can get out the old suitcases and start packing for our summer 2010 trip to Liberia!  That's right!  Exactly one month from today, we should be en route on a flight from Brussels to Monrovia. We can hardly wait to be on our way "back home" again!
 Since January we have been making plans to spend this summer in Liberia (just as we did last year).  Now at last we have our tickets and are starting to get really excited!  We are scheduled to leave Denver on June 24... and return on August 5.

We want to thank our many friends and supporters across the United States and Canada who are interested in PROJECT BUCHANAN and who have so generously helped to make our 6-week visit to Liberia this summer possible.