By God’s grace I have had the opportunity to do missionary work in Liberia, West Africa. During my time there I had the privilege of visiting a lot of orphanages, some on a weekly basis.
I saw hundreds of orphan children. Babies, toddlers, children, teenagers. Some well fed, some not so well fed. Some with beds to sleep in and roofs over their heads, some without. Some of these orphans were in the city, some were way out in the African bush. Some were healthy and loved to play, some were crippled and lame.
I remember one boy named Francis. He was probably around fourteen, but he didn’t know his true birth date because his parents died when he was young and no one was there to share the details of his early life, a common problem amongst orphan children. Francis was a free spirit and did not like the rules and expectations of an orphanage, so he lived in a shipping container in the port, wheeling and dealing with the sailors to provide food for himself. Just from talking to all the sailors from different countries he had learned multiple languages: English, Russian, Ukrainian, French . . . Francis could speak them all. He was a genius.
In 2006 I was living in Liberia doing missionary work. This West African country was rebuilding from a civil war which lasted over a decade. There was still a somber feeling in the air. It felt like everywhere you went the local people where internally recovering from the atrocities they witnessed firsthand on the very ground we stood.
It was a hot, sticky day just last summer. It was my day off from work and I had a rare few hours to myself as my wife and kids were out with friends. So despite the sun being at its hottest point, I decided to head up to the outdoor basketball courts to get some exercise. Hoping to play a few pickup games, I was disappointed to find no one at the courts. I guess most people are too smart to play basketball at this time of day during the hottest point of the year . . . .
I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God- it changes me.-C.S. Lewis
And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.-John 14:13
Before going to college, I took a year off and headed to West Africa. I was volunteering with a Christian organization called Mercy Ships in the country of Liberia. Mercy Ships is a floating hospital that travels up and down the west coast of Africa to provide healthcare for the poorest of the poor.
I had left the States in hopes of a deeper relationship with Jesus. This was my hail-Mary pass, my attempt to push in all my chips, my last desperate stab at knowing God like never before. If I don’t experience him out here, I figured, then I probably never will. You see, I knew I was a Christian, but I also knew I wasn’t a very good one. Chronic sins plagued my life and I knew if ever I was to experience the freedom of God I longed for and read about in the lives of his saints, I had to do something drastic.
It was going pretty well. I was working faithfully in the ship’s kitchen to help feed the crew, serving in local orphanages on my days off, and spending a ton of time reading in the ship’s library due to the dullness of life spent docked in a port. But after three months, things were starting to get really stale. The awe-factor of being in a third-world country was wearing off, routine was setting in, and although I was no longer stuck in a sinful lifestyle like I was back home, I had yet to experience God the way I had hoped.