Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A New Normal

I don't think I need to explain the title of this blog.  For many of us here at SP Liberia our lives have changed in ways we never could have imagined.  We have gone through literally world changing experiences and all of us are trying to find our new normal. 

After my last post in June, I was training for the Liberia marathon...then Ebola came back in force-and many of you reading this know the rest of the story.  Apart from the daily exhausting emotional grind of fighting Ebola there was a new part of our life that became second nature.  No touching.  Nothing. In July, I would come home after working in the Ebola unit and walk straight to the bathroom and shower.  My boys would give me "air hugs" a hugging motion three feet apart from each other. I moved out of our bedroom to the guest room-I was taking no chances. 

Washing our hands everywhere you go...

When we got back to North America we would give the odd punch in the arm or a pat on the back but no real hug and I hadn't kissed my boys' cheeks for weeks.  On day 21after leaving Liberia-I finally was able to give my mom a big hug and kiss on the cheek-and my boys' too!  Praise God! 

And now I am back in Liberia...

I have been here since Oct. 12th as the Liberia Ebola response team lead.  We have ramped up our Ebola response and we have over 300 Liberian staff and 17 international staff working hard to stop the spread of Ebola. It's been great to be back and I see God opening new doors for us to fight Ebola. Being here also means "no touch" is part of my life again.  It's been almost 3 weeks and apart from accidentally nudging someone ( and then quickly apologizing and dosing myself with hand sanitizer)-I have not touched, hugged, shaken someone's hand or given a high five.  Nothing. 

So what is that like-to live in this "new normal" in a world of no touching?  Ironically, for many of us who have lived in an Ebola infected area, it has become second nature. You feel isolated even though there are people all around you-an arm's length away.  Your words are more important when you console someone as you can't let a hug speak for you.  There is a loss of connection, the first time meeting someone and you can't shake their hand- a lot can be told by someone's hand shake!  For those who know me I like a firm confident handshake - it sets the stage for the rest of our encounter. Now, I have no idea if the person is a limp wrist :)!  

One of that hardest experiences of the no touch lifestyle for me came at different times and under two very different circumstances. The first was during those dark days back in July, already raw with emotional, mental and physical exhaustion we grappled with our friends Kent and Nancy being sick.  Tears flowed like water out of a tap, constantly. I mean we couldn't even look at each other without breaking down-and that's all we could do -was look at each other.  To look at your husband and friends and watch tears run down their cheeks and not be able to feel the strong arms of your friends or my husband around me added insult to injury.  To watch a father not be able to hug his sons as we left-broke my heart.

However, there is also another side to no touch. When I returned to Liberia -some of our staff came out to the airport to meet me-my heart was so FULL of JOY! Tears of joy flowed down as we yelled and cried three feet away from each other yelling " we can't hug, we can't hug-I am so happy to see you!!"  All I wanted to do was wrap my arms around Weemor and Dorothy, two of our amazing staff-who are like family to me-but we couldn't.  Not being able to touch in times of sorrow and pain-but also in joy is something you can't describe.  It makes everything feel incomplete-it's why we hug when we see each other and when we say goodbye.  

Many times since being back here I have wanted to hug a staff or team member after a long frustrating day-or give a big high five when we finally get an impossible task accomplished. But we can't.  Something is lost, something seems incomplete and this is our new normal.  You are self-isolated in the midst of everything and everyone-each of you walking around in your own little "no touch bubble".  In a while I will go back to North American and for another 21 days I will not touch anyone. A total of almost 2 months with no physical contact. I wonder how long it will take me to get used to contact again-or maybe I will just be running around "Hey HUG ME!"  Not sure, it's weird to even think about being allowed to.

God made us to physically connect with each other in times of sorrow and joy, fear and pain, and to encourage during discouraging times. When that is taken away-it's like a part of who we are is lost for a while.  Ebola has taken so much away from us-not just touch.  But God is still here, really He is-I see Him guiding us despite our new normal.  He is never changing, His normal is all the attributes that make Him our Lord and Savior. I can feel His "touch" in everything we do.

All of us often talk about when Ebola is over we will dance, sing praises to God for His faithfulness -and we will definitely give HUGS of joy!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Throwing in the towel...

Most of us know what this term means.  We can visualize the boxer in the ring getting hit over and over-his manager picks up a towel and out of mercy for his boxer throws it into the ring ending the fight.  Or if someone you remember in the 80's Canucks coach Richard Nielsen upset and frustrated with the referring of their Stanley Cup semi-final game against the Chicago Blackhawks, he grabbed a white towel off the bench and raised it as a mock act of surrender.  He was indicating that he had 'given up' the refs were making it so unfair, that he signaled with the white towel-'you win mister referee we can't go on we give up'.  Now, it was a mock surrender to make a point-but nonetheless, the sentiment by Canucks fans, especially a certain 11 year old girl who loved Richard Brodeur and my 9 year old brother we had the same feeling-we give up.

 Towel Power!

I have felt some of this sentiment creep into my life recently and have seen it in others too.  Let's not beat around the bush-we have had one doozy of a year so far-it's not even half over!  These past 5 months have felt like years for us-one blow after another, we just get up and get knocked down again. For me (as I will only speak for myself) I want to fix everything, help everyone-make sure everyone is OK, but I can't.  Ebola has raised it's ugly head again, this time near the border of Sierra Leon. We are heading into another season of transition with some of our awesome ex-pat staff leaving and getting ready to welcome new staff soon. We are still waiting for a finance officer-Lord willing they are coming soon! There is just a lot of things going on-and for many they have the towel in hand and are ready to give it a toss. 

 Do you really want to throw in the towel?

Now. Please, I am not complaining-please understand this-we are ALL fully aware that God has us here and we have chosen to be here.  What I am saying is, if we are all honest with ourselves, there are times in our life we want to throw in the towel.  Or we hang on to the towel, roll it up and snap it at people-hurting them and leaving us frustrated with ourselves. Or we take it and put it over our head and just don't care.  I hope I am not stretching this analogy too far.  But these past weeks it has been more and more evident that I am hanging on to a towel- gripping it hard in my hand and wanting so bad to throw it, snap it or just hide in it...

My training for the Liberia marathon is suffering.  I have thought about throwing in the towel and not running it.  I could not run it and justify it by training for the 10km and try to finish in the top 10 or something like that. But I realized on my run today that I would be throwing in the towel not because of how I feel physically, but because of my overall attitude.  You don't quit training for a marathon just because you have had a rough patch of training-or a bad run right?  If that was the case I would have never run a marathon.  It's the same with everything, just because we have had a tough stretch doesn't mean we need to throw in the towel.

This past week in River Gee, Elizabeth shared in devotions about David.  Most of us know of King David-anointed to be king as a teenager but didn't take the throne of Israel until many years after.  He could have thrown in the towel and did his own thing-after all he was anointed to be king right?  He could have killed the then king Saul many times, but he didn't.  He could have gathered an army and led a coup over Saul but he didn't.  No, he spent many years fleeing-fighting, in turmoil and at times coming very close to throwing in the towel.  Elizabeth pointed out 3 very interesting things from David's life that really struck me and my attitude about throwing in the towel.  

1.  Everytime he was faced with a bad situation-like being attacked he asked God "What should I do?" (2 Samuel 5:22-24)
2. Once he got the answer he obeyed ( 2 Samuel 5:25)
3. After the battle was finished and he was victorious he glorified God -not himself. (2 Samuel 7:18-29)

He didn't throw in the towel and do his own thing or take out his frustration on others.  He sought the Lord for guidance.  Now, I know God may not speak to us like He did to David-but He does nudge us, speak to us through His Word and in the wise counsel of others.  David obeyed. David didn't question "are you sure Lord?" -he obeyed.  David was an amazing fighter, he was musical, good looking and wise-he could have taken full credit for everything he did.  But he didn't.  He knew where his strength and wisdom came from.  Read the Psalms!  After all was said and done no matter what happened, David gave the Glory to God.

Great quote by a great author.

I find that I may get 2 out of 3 of these points during times when I want to give up.  Yes, I will seek the Lord, but it sounds more like this "Lord, come on another thing to deal with?"  Not like Daivd "Lord what should I do?"  Ummm that's not the same thing in case you were wondering.  I may obey, but it may be begrudgingly. And give glory to God-well I may not take the glory but instead I may say "Good it's about time we had something go our way!"  You see the difference? This type of attitude-leads us to a point where we get desperate, frustrated and exhausted... 


 So, I will not throw in the towel. Not throwing in the towel for the Liberian marathon or in what God is still doing here in Liberia through us. Despite the setbacks, the blows we have suffered, and the ones to come.  No, instead like David seek the Lord, obey and glorify-but don't give up.  It's times like this when we need to take a couple steps back, turn around and put our towel down at the feet of a loving Savior.  He will take it-and lovingly dip it in His bowl of grace and wipe away our tears and wash our wounds-and tell us He is with us-and it's time to get back in the ring, His work is not done...

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Your Normal...

Everyone has their own definition of what their "normal" is.  It could be the everyday tasks at home and work that you carry out, it could be the regularly planned vacation spot that you take every year or it could be something completely different.  We all know what our 'normal' feels and looks like.  Over the past many years of working and living overseas I have heard myself say on more than one occasion "my life is so not normal!" This is both true and not true, yes, my life is not "normal" when compared to the life I could be living in North America.  For example-here in Liberia the normal task of going to the grocery store can take a turn very quickly-riot, mob beating on the street, unexpected lack of groceries, president's convoy racing by...etc.  However, life here has become "normal" in many ways too.  It is normal for us to have lots of people coming and going, it has become normal (not taken for granted though) to fly on the SP plane or chopper to project sites, to see snakes, to expect chaotic traffic and even see the odd bribe exchange hands.

This not so normal life has become my norm.  Strange eh? This was very evident over this past month. My "normal" life was sorta tossed on it's head as the boys and I along with other SP expat dependents were evacuated due to the Ebola outbreak in Guinea that leaked into Liberia. Yes, we had planned a holiday up to London for the marathon weekend-but we had not planned for extra days of hotels, Kendell not being to run the marathon, and not returning to Liberia as expected.  

The day of the marathon-was one of the best days of the not-so normal ones...

During this time, the boys and I spent 3 weeks in the UK with 10 days of that being with some SP Liberia staff who were in London for meetings and the marathon.  We spent a lot of time on the tube (which is amazingly efficient) and we spent time with some great friends, who have the gift of hospitality.  We spent our last week with family in Pennsylvania-and were able to meet up with fellow Liberian missionaries who live in the same area.  All of these places and people were terrific and we were so blessed by all of them.  My gratitude to them for making a difficult situation a lot easier!
At the Ransberry's in the UK-a lovely time!

However, everyday I couldn't help but long for things to be "normal" again.  To go home to Liberia and get back to our normal schedule and life-even though it's not so normal.  To get back to normal programming in Foya, to get the boys back into their normal school routine...I wanted NORMAL!!!  

I was so preoccupied by this that I found myself not acting "normal"-shocking I know but let me explain.  I stopped running, yes, you read that right-something that is normal for me I stopped doing. And when I am not on some sort of running schedule (as strange as this may sound) everything else begins to go south.  I don't eat as well (which is made worse by being in countries where I can get all sorts of crap!) which, combined with not running equals an overall feeling of 'yuck'. I start to question things-I am not so quick to go to prayer or dig in the Word...not good my people, not good.  
It was a good wake up call for me-as my sister would say "It's time to put on your big girl panties!" I needed to suck.it.up. And not get caught up with what "normal" was, is or will be.  "Normal"  for Bev, no matter where I am is running, quick to pray, to read the Word, to live life with the passion God gave me-not matter what's going on. There is a piece of scripture that kept coming to my mind...I wished many times it would stop-but the Holy Spirit has a way of knocking until you open the flippn' door!  Philippians 4:11-12.  Being content in all circumstances. Yes, we have all read and heard this passage many times I am sure.  But when your "normal" is shaken up a bit-it shouldn't mean you can't be "normal" anymore right?  In all circumstances be normal, be content. 


Last week in PA I realized I needed to get running again. Luckily I had brought my running warm tights, it was cold-oh!  I started running and soon started to feel normal again...and a little sore. Now that I am back in Liberia, I have started another running plan as the Liberia marathon is just around the corner at the end of August. I have never run in the Liberia marathon-and I can't wait to do so with my SP friends who are also running it.  I am starting to feel normal again in my not so normal life...

Thursday, April 3, 2014


There are certain moments of your life when you think you are in a dream or in some cases a nightmare.  Moments when you look at around and say "Is this really happening?"  I feel like a lot of 2014 has been like this...If you remember reading my first couple of blogs on adjusting with grace when things seem to go awry.  Well, I think a theme has been set for the year as it seems there are a lot of wrenches being thrown into my machine called life.

"God is our refuge and strength,
always ready to help in times of trouble"-Psalm 46:1 
Sweat + dusty road...

Don't get me wrong there have been some great moments of "This IS really happening!" When Alisa and I ran our huge run and seeing our SP marathoners peel off mile after mile.  Especially seeing Kendell keep running passed personal records every weekend.  My buddy Joni running, working out and reaching personal goals. Jamie taking her training to a whole new level, oh and she is the mother of 6... Running and training for your first marathon is not easy no matter who you are.  Kendell as the Country Director has a huge amount of work that he not only does but oversees. His day is unpredictable, everyone wanting a piece of his time-everyone wanting something it seems some days (including his wife!).  But he comes home get's his training gear on and heads out-running even as the sunsets.

There are moments of living in Liberia when it's a great privilege but it's not easy either.  Yes, we have a beautiful beach in our front yard, but we also observe first hand the ramifications of 14 years of civil war.  One of these consequences is the huge gap in the health system of Liberia.  I am not talking about a shortage in doctors, even though there is, or the lack of facilities, because that is also true. No, I am talking about capacity, capacity to take care of simple to complex health issues.  Very few incubators for babies that need it, no MRI machines or CAT scans here-hospitals are blessed if they have a working X-ray machine!  It's during these moments of realization of the lack of medical capacity that I am thankful for the prayers of many for good health for our team.

This is to be expected to a certain extent after the war left most hospitals with little to no supplies and many trained medical professionals left and still have yet to come back.  To add insult to injury we live in a petri-dish, the moist, hot and humid environment of this jungle country is perfect for diseases to reek havoc on the population.  It seems everything carries some sort of bacteria or deadly virus...and when it strikes, this deadly combo of disease and lack of medical resources...well you do the math-it's not pretty.

Never mind running in a petri-dish...

This has been no more evident than the last couple of weeks with the realization of a Ebola outbreak in Guinea and cases in Liberia.  I won't get into the details of this disease-Google it and you will get the grim picture.  I am not going to get into the details of how many cases, where they are in Liberia and what is being done-you can check BBC Africa or Reuters to get that information.  It changes every hour.  But trust me this has been a "Is this really happening?" moment.

2/3rds of team SP!

What I will tell you is how we can turn a nightmare moment into hope for the future.  SP is currently building a new hospital in partnership with ELWA/SIM.  Jamie, Joni and Kendell are running the London marathon to raise funds for this hospital.  I think you get the picture right?  Will this hospital find the cure for Ebola?  Probably not, but will it have up to date equipment to treat people, have a bigger OR and more room for patients?  For sure.  Will it build the capacity of medical workers to know how to treat patients with diseases like Ebola?  You bet.

" The nations are in chaos, and their kingdoms crumble!"
"The LORD of Heaven's Armies is here among us;
the God of Israel is our fortress"-Psalm 46:6a,7.

"Is this really happening?"  Am I really having to leave tomorrow because of Ebola? Yes, at this moment that is what is happening (along with all the rest of the SP dependents and kids). My choice is to either take this moment and see it as a nightmare or to see the hope through the darkness. Is God still in control?  Yes, in every moment He is. 

If you really want to encourage the marathoners during this "moment" of a little bit of stress, especially for Kendell and with us leaving-please consider giving -below are the links.  Thank you!




Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Training season...

Training season.  At the beginning of the year, many of our programs are in the training 'mode'.  Everyone is busy hiring and training new staff, training program staff on new curriculum, training staff on leadership and management of their programs...everywhere you look some sort of training is going on!

This past month I have had the opportunity to go to all three of our bases.  In Foya, the CLP (literacy program) spent a week training new trainers and facilitators as they prepare for so start their classes.  It was great to see our CLP management staff teaching, leading this great group of people through the different areas of the program; literacy, numeracy, business skills and Bible study.

CLP staff working hard during their training...
I walked past the CLP training to the next meeting room where another training workshop was being conducted.  This one was a training workshop on photography..."what?" I know sounds weird right?  But there are methods to our training madness! Every program has a responsibility to send pictures from the field (every program has a field camera) to Joni our Communications Manager.  Joni then collects these photos along with stories about the project or the people in the photos to send to our SP office and donors.  These are crucial.  This is our opportunity to SHOW and TELL our funding offices and donors the impact their investment is having in people's lives and for the Kingdom of God.  But we can't just send poorly taken pictures!  They have to be a certain size for the communications departments at SP and they need to be good enough to use.  Joni was being sent a lot of pictures, but not many of them could be used due to their quality-so, she has been giving our program managers and coordinators a one day workshop at each of the bases on how their camera works with all the settings, how to take good pictures and what information is needed for impact stories.
Joni teaching her 'area'
It was fun to watch the staff practice taking pictures of each other in different settings.  It was even funnier when Joni took every one's memory cards and put the pictures they took on the projector to 'grade' each others photography skills!  

I left the base to go and see the WASH training that was happening at a nearby church.  CMP and CDF staff that work in our communities in the area of WASH were also present to learn about our new WASH programming.  Having other program staff present helps with consistent messaging to our beneficiaries.
Taya and her staff at their training

The training didn't stop in Foya!  Last week Joni did another photograph workshop at our base in River Gee.  Here, in Monrovia as I type this our Program Development staff are training our program managers on monitoring and evaluation, activity planning and reporting just to name a few of the training topics!  

Building capacity within our staff is key for the success of our projects.  But it's more than that-we are investing in our staff so that they can continue the good work that God has started in them. For some the training is just for one day-but the skills they learn will last them a lifetime.  For others training is a week long, very intense-but at the end of it they are ready to head out to the field to implement their programs with confidence!

In running, training I believe, is more important than the race or run that you are training for.  Training is hard, very hard, it's the runs and work outs that take place in the early morning hours, when you are tired and don't feel like running.  These past couple of weeks our SP London marathon runners have been training hard.  I mean they are in the THICK of marathon training-anyone who has trained for a marathon knows what I am talking about.  Those long runs of 16, 18 and 20 mile runs.  The long week day runs-anywhere from 5-7  miles.

Two very tired runners training...
It's during training, when you realize how far you can push yourself physically and mentally.  It's during training that you realize that every long run is a run into new 'territory' and new mileage you have never run before.  It's during this training that you start to realize how strong you really are and that you can accomplish the goal set before you.  I love training-sounds weird but the journey that one goes through during training is amazing.  In every training season I learn something new about myself-how much more I can do how much more I can push through obstacles and focus on my goal.  Paul talks about this in Philippians chapter 3:12-14. Go look it up-great verses on perseverance and focusing on the goal that is ahead of us.  Training is all about this-pressing on-forgetting what is behind-and pressing onward to the goal that God has called us.
 Great quote by a great guy!
Pray for our staff who are going out, that they will trust the training they have received and be ready to do the job God has called them to do. Pray for our marathon runners that they will press on through their training as it gets harder. So that at the start of the London marathon they will be confident and trust the training and hard work and long hours they have put in.  To reach a goal or to do our jobs, training is necessary-but we have hope that when we do the work we can trust God to see us through to the finish.
For more information on how you can encourage our marathoners and give towards our SP Liberia hospital project and other projects please go to: 
It would be a HUGE encouragement for them if you gave! 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Ultra-experience...

It's done. 60km/37.5 miles done.  Yes, we did think it was going to 70km/43.75 miles, but when we took the exact mileage from where we wanted to start and end we were pleasantly surprised it was 10k shorter!  I have been trying to think how to put into words about the whole experience...but I am at a little bit of a loss for some reason.  

 Our first sign left by our crew...

So, I will give you some facts to get us started along with plenty of photos along the way.  Hopefully, this will help me capture some of the emotions, highlights and low points of the very, very, long day...

Facts about my first Ultra-marathon:
  • 5 months of training = approx. 500 training miles
  • RUN DAY:
    • 3 pairs of socks and shorts and 3 shirts, oh and 2 pairs of shoes.
    • 21 Gatorade's topped with the electrolyte powder of one electrolyte capsule.
    • 18 large frozen water bottles
    • 5 power bars, 12 GU's and 4 packages of Cliff blocks, salty crackers and homemade peanut butter balls of goodness!
    • 1 scale and 1 portable blood pressure gizmo...(medical term)
Early morning BP check
    • 1 MPH/nurse to run the BP gizmo and keep track of our weight...
Checking in at mile 10 with Keren our stellar nurse
    • 6.5 pounds lost 
Weighing in at mile 20
    • 1 med kit with ibuprofen...administered by the above person
BP time...
    • 8 or more support crew 
This is just what I remember...I am sure there was a lot more because the trucks were full and stuff was scattered everywhere. 

Here are some of the highlights of the day:
  • A great dinner and night friends place in Voinjama.
 Night before sunset before the rains came!

Relaxing the night before with Audrey...
  • Answered prayer for RAIN!  It is dry season-it rarely rains this time of year-but we needed some rain to help with the terrible dust.  When the thunder clapped just before bed-we were overjoyed of the miracle that was taking place.
  • 5:22am weather was perfect and cool-sky was overcast-again, answered prayer!
  • No stomach issues...trust me this is a blessing there are no porta-potties on the road!
  • Meeting our crew at mile 19 great to see the boys and everyone else.
 Support crew getting signs ready

 Crew taking a break...Isaac and Steve are getting hot!
Kendell ran his 12 marathon training miles with us-great support
  • The signs that the crew made and left on the side of the road.
One of the many signs left by our crew!
  • Sasa and drum playing by our crew whenever we got to the truck for food/fluids.
 Taya and her Sasa/drum band...
 Heading out for another 5km before our next pit stop

Soon to be Marathoners...
  • Seeing Kou on the four wheeler in Kolohun along with missionary friends cheering us on.
  • The moment we realized we had run a marathon and had entered the ultra-zone.
Joni joined us for her 12 miles
Still smiling! 
  • Realizing we were 5km away from Foya
 Our last crew stop..
 Kendell telling us we were 2.4km away from Foya..

 All we wanted to do was sleep...

Getting ready to head out
  • Seeing staff on the road as we entered Foya
 Let's go!!!

 Alisa found some sort of 2nd wind!

One foot in front of the other...
Of course there were some low points...not many but still, come on-you are going to have some over a 10 hour period of time right?!
  • PAIN-feet pain, left IT knee pain.
Ice on the knee...
How much farther...
  • HILLS-Ironically, going up hill didn't hurt my knee, downhill was a different story.  I got up to a 8/10 for pain-not a fun place to be.
Up the hill in the company of a chicken.

Actually, that's it.  Just two, and two that we knew were going to happen-there wasn't any surprises.  Running this far you are going to have pain I don't care who you are.  After training on the road for the past 5 months we knew the hills would be tough-and they were!   
Our final stats...and no my heart rate was not 10beats per min. at the end! 110..

Overall, it was an amazing experience, one that I will never forget.  I am so grateful to God for a perfect day, the rain the night before, no serious injuries, no dust, hardly any traffic and our AMAZING crew that took care of us every single step of the way.   I am sure I will write more about this experience, but for now I hope the facts, pictures and some of the emotions of the day give you an idea of the journey.  When I think about running a marathon now, it seems like it's not that far anymore! HA!

Joni put all the video clips into a mini-documentary and at the end she interviewed Alisa and I and asked: "Would you do it again?"  There is a slight pause and then and the exact same time without any pre-planning our answer we both reply "YES!" and burst into laughter.  That's what it is all about-looking back at the journey, God's faithfulness through the ups and downs and still wanting to do it all over again...