Many years ago when I was 12 years old I became an uncle when my nephew Jim was born. It was pretty cool becoming an uncle at such an early age. I don’t recall anyone else my age being an uncle (and being so cool). A year later my niece Meg was born and I was asked to be her God father (coolness times 2). I have been Blessed to be uncle many more times. Besides how cool they made me each one is a special gift, each bringing joy, love and responsibility.
This summer I visited Liberia Mission for the first time. I have been to the missions in Honduras many times so I knew what to expect. At least I thought I knew what it would be like. Liberia Mission was founded in 2003 just as a 13 year civil was ending. Liberia Mission is home to about 110 children ranging in age from 6 to 22. We have another 200 or so from the local community that attend our school. We also have a chapel and farm land on the property. Because we visited in summer, only 20 children were present. Many of the children’s stories are horrifying, a father burned alive when the village was attacked by the rebels and the same child’s mother raped and left for dead. Sadly there are many of these stories because everyone was affected. Both children and each of our staff. Yet the children are wonderful, happy to be at the mission. Very open and caring and yet still kids. Each knows that they have received a special gift to be at the mission and to be receiving an education.
Every morning and evening the children and staff gather for prayer. Their prayer is not just saying the Our Father and some Hail Marys. Each prayer session is full of singing, drumming, praising, sharing, with some instruction thrown in here and there by the adult staff. It is amazing to see those with so little praising and thanking God for everything they have. And how many times a day do I get mad over something like the last piece of cake being gone after dinner.
I was working with Sue and John Dewan setting up a computer lab over at the school. The school is on our property and only about ½ block from the mission house. A number of times a day a would walk back to the mission house. Almost every time one of the boys, James would greet the same way. As I write this I can hear him speaking, very slowly pausing for effect with his hand outstretched to me: Uncle Bob, Thank you!
In Liberia adults in leadership are addressed this way. The house mothers are Mama Helena, Ma Vic and Ma Olivia. The house fathers are uncle. At Liberia Mission it is a sign that they are family. Even those without a blood family have family. Each time I would shrug and mumble “your welcome”. The next time I came back there would be James with his hand out, “Uncle Bob, Thank you!”.
I marveled to myself about how great it is that these children get it. James recognizes that education and faith is the key to a future and he and the other children are so grateful. I have had people thank me for many things over the years but never with such depth of gratitude. I can’t explain exactly why but it made me a bit uncomfortable. I am just one of hundreds responsible for Liberia Mission. The foundation of this is the regular donors like such as sponsors. When James said, “Uncle Bob, Thank you!” I think he was thanking each of you. You who religiously send in your sponsorship donation each and every month. Those who write the children. Those who donated to the container that carried the computers to Liberia. Those who pray for the mission. Each day during prayers the children and staff pray for us. The supporters back in the United States.
And so I became an uncle again, twenty more times again and it was real cool. Each of you is aunt or uncle, it is not just a title it is a Blessing and an awesome responsibility.