During the height of Liberia's civil war, rebels frequently attacked my community — Barnersville Estate, outside Monrovia. One week stands out. For seven days of heavy gunfire, my mom, dad, sister and I hid in our house. All we had to eat was tea and bread. On the fourth day, my mother was hit by a stray bullet. Her neck wound bled profusely, and she died two days later. Her last words were to her children: Be serious in school and take care of our younger relatives.
When the shooting stopped, we located some Lutheran pastors to pray with us at the burial. But outside, fighters urgently tried to recruit young people. I refused to join, but later the rebels came looking for me. We decided I should run away, avoiding recognition by dressing in a "lapper" (a cloth wrapped around one's body), head tie and skirt. It's how God carried me across eight rebel checkpoints, 341 miles from home, to the Jah Tondo Camp for internally displaced people. I lived there for seven miserable months, surviving on relief items. People around me died daily from cholera, measles and skin diseases. Worry overwhelmed me. Would I be the next victim? Had my family survived?
I heard my family was staying in a village 372 miles away, so I sent several messages through travelers. Worry crept in when these went unanswered. Although I was afraid of being attacked or captured, I left to find my family. When I found them, we hugged and kissed. Tears rolled down my dad's cheeks until I couldn't stand it. Soon I began to weep as well.
Life was better in the village. At least we could hunt or go to people's farms to dig cassava and yams. We stayed there a year — until we heard peacekeepers were coming to Liberia.
Everything had quieted down when we returned home, but our community was in ruins. Houses had burned. Dead bodies — of people we knew and cared about — lay in the streets. One of my classmates lay among the victims, and an entire family of our neighbors had been killed inside their home. Our house was ransacked and looted. But our community began cleaning up. Living conditions are much better now in peacetime. Unfortunately, signs of corruption in the transitional leadership are visible. And prices for food and necessities have risen. The loaf of bread that once cost 30 cents is now 60 cents. Where I once paid $20, now I pay $50 for a bag of rice.
Still, we're coping. Dad, a retired government employee, turned 59 on April 16. My sister is 16 and busy with high school. I'm in my senior year at Liberia College of Professional Studies, finishing a degree in mass communication. We still miss Mom, especially when we think of her funny jokes and cooking. Some days, it's difficult to be without her, but we have to go on. Until recently, we had no option but to put grief aside and focus on praying for our family's safety.
Across Liberia, people are in high spirits about October's general and presidential elections. Mary Tamba, a single mother of four, said she will cast her vote very carefully: "I'm not going to vote for somebody that will cause us to die, starve and suffer. I will vote for a God-fearing person. The person that will have the people of Liberia at heart."
I'm still not sure for whom I will vote. So far there are about 30 presidential aspirants. We pray for God to help us make wise decisions this fall. As a baptized, confirmed Lutheran, I can tell you that the visit of the Lutheran World Federation-ELCA delegation brought a measure of hope in that we aren't forgotten. I thank ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson for sharing words of encouragement. At least people are thinking about and praying for us in our time of dilemma.
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