The following is Mama Helena’s story as she relayed it to me (Deacon Ed Martin) one evening in Liberia as we sat watching the sun go down. It is an extremely moving story and a beautiful one of faith, answered prayer, and love. When telling the story, I usually have to pause several times as I see the tears running down her cheeks and shiver at the deep respect and love I have for her.
When Ma Helena returned to her village one day during the civil war, she found her husband and her entire village murdered. Only her children who were with her survived (I believe she told me she had two with her and four perished, but I’m not sure.) She shared her anguish, and begged God to take her life as well. Then she shared her realization that for the sake of her surviving kids, she must go on…must bury her dead and begin a trek towards a refuge camp she has heard rumors about, but isn’t even sure exists or where it is. She concentrates: breathe in, breathe out…left foot, right foot, as she struggles on. On her journey she enters other villages that have suffered the same fate as her own, only here the soldiers were slightly more compassionate…they didn’t murder the infants that were too young to speak; they left them among their dead parents to starve to death.
She immediately began to pick the orphaned infants up and soon realizes she can only carry so many. She has no food or water for them. She can’t even feed herself or her own kids, so she begins to step over them. She didn’t think anything could be worse than having to bury her own, but this drives her over the edge. She screams out at God in her frustration and anger: “How can you let me see such pain, suffering, and misery and leave me helpless to do anything about it? How cruel are You?! TAKE MY LIFE, I just can’t take anymore! This is more than I can bear! I’m not taking another step, you take me now!”
But through her tears she only heard the voice return: Breathe in, breathe out, right foot, left foot. She eventually made it to the refuge camp.
As Ma Helena and I talked she gazed at the setting ball of fire before us. Tears began to flow as she told me how badly she dreaded the nights in that camp. How she struggled but couldn’t find rest because every time she tried to close her eyes she was haunted, not by having to bury her own family, but by the faces of those babies she stepped over. In time she came to accept her experience and prayed: “Lord, I know you have a reason for burning those kids into my heart, that you can bring good out of all evil, and that you showed me those kids so I would be driven to take care of them. Now please send me some resources, somebody to help me so that I can do your will and give those children your love.”
In California, a man named Dave Dionisi saw newscasts of boy soldiers shooting machine guns that were almost as big as they were. He heard how they were forced to turn those same weapons on their parents, siblings, and the villagers they grew up with. Most of them survived three months or less – forced to walk in front of the soldiers to clear mines or by taking their own lives.
Dave responded. He gathered all the money he could muster, jumped on a plane and flew to Monrovia – right into the thick of it. God had emblazed in his heart the desire to open a humble orphanage and help as many as he could. He would find a modest home, rent it and hire someone to run it. Who do you suppose God put him into contact with to run that mission? That’s right… Mama Helena.
Don’t ever doubt the power of prayer. God chose someone in California to answer the prayer of a desperate woman with unshakeable faith in a Liberian refuge camp!
They opened the orphanage with six orphans but within weeks they had 32. Throughout the last ten years, the orphanage has grown into what is now Liberia Mission Inc., a pre-k, elementary, and junior high school, a farm, a boys’ dormitory and a girls’ dormitory. It educates nearly 400 students and houses around 110, some of them year round because they have nowhere else to go.
The Lord had indeed turned the anguish of a woman stepping over helpless babies into a wonderful work of God.