|September 27, 2016
Hello from beautiful Liberia!
It has been a while since I have written to you. Since you last heard from me, my father-in-law who lived with us died somewhat unexpectedly (I say somewhat because he was an old man.) We miss him but rejoice that his death was not a long process and filled with suffering. In addition I have been back in the U.S. for home leave; thus, the delay in communication. I am very sorry and will try to do better.
People often ask how things are in Liberia now that Liberia is Ebola free. I continue to be amazed at the resilience and spirit---and the living faith----of the Liberian people, who have moved ahead in life, living with the reality of grief and yet living into hope of new and better things ahead.
A few months ago, I was preaching at a parish. They were honoring the Mother of the Year at that service. I had preached and the time for the honoring of the Mothers came. The new Mother of the Year was crowned. We celebrated. Then they announced that they would be honoring other Honorary Mothers. The honoring started with about 14-15 mothers being honored. Each one danced to the front of the church with their supporters around them and were seated. It took 1 ½ hours. Then the emcee announced, “Now we will hear from each of the mothers.”
At this point the pastor, blurted out “All of them???” (very, very funny, I thought.) And the emcee said, “Yes, ALL of them.” We settled down for an even longer program---and by the end, I was so glad they all spoke.
You see, the woman at the end (see the attached picture) was the very last one to speak. She spoke in Kpelle, which I do not speak yet. She stood up. She started to speak, became more and more agitated. Pretty soon she was crying while she was speaking as were the people around her. When she sat down, the pastor told me that what she had shared was that one year earlier during the height of the Ebola crisis, 5 of her 7 adult children had died of Ebola----5 of her 7 adult children!!! The pastor said this was the first time she had shared the story with the church; that when she has come to church she has collapsed and has been unable to share the story.
The woman sat down and started sobbing. We all cried. Then the program moved on with singing, drumming, and people started dancing. Pretty soon, the woman gradually stopped crying, started moving a bit in her chair, and then she stood up and started dancing! The community of faith danced with her. It was Psalm 31 embodied---“You have turned my mourning into dancing….”
I have thought of her often, particularly in these past few months where here in the Lutheran Church in Liberia, we have gathered at regular Sunday services and special events to worship and to praise God; and done the things that the people of God do all over the world.
I have also thought of her often as we have gathered to bury too many people in their 30s, 40s and 50s who have died because of inadequate medical care here in Liberia, most recently a significant leader in the national church who died because there are no (yes, I said NO) dialysis machines in the entire country.
I have thought of her as I teach Evangelists, Deacons, Deaconesses, and Pastors who lead God’s people here in Liberia in faith and trust and joy as they walk through all kinds of experiences in their lives; unimaginable grief, poverty, joy and a multiplicity of gifts, coupled with life lived in trust and dependence on God’s grace.
That’s a snapshot of life here in Liberia. Mourning turned into dancing. Faith and hope in the midst of the life lived in and with God’s presence..
I am currently teaching 28 students in two programs here at the Louis T. Bowers Lay Leaders and Ministers Training Center in Totota. I’m teaching a Gospels course, Lutheran Identity, Lutheran Sacraments, and Writing. The students are a joy and an inspiration to work with.
As one of the pastors at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, I am excited about the growth in worship attendance, the amazing music ministry, my new colleague in ministry, Rev. Xaster Yarkpazuo and the 100 plus children who attend Sunday School.
My role as “Mother of the Church” (because I am married to the Presiding Bishop) has brought me into contact with people from all over the Lutheran Church in Liberia, most notably as I attended and preached at the national meeting of the Women of the Lutheran Church in Liberia. It was another experience of dancing in God’s presence, this time with women from all over the country. What a joy!
As I close, I want to wish you God’s blessings on your life. May you know that God walks with you through all the circumstances of life and may your mourning be turned into dancing!
Yours in Christ,
Linda Johnson Seyenkulo