Monday, May 5, 2014

Liberians Helping Liberia - Mary Beh

Honored to be sitting next to one of my heroes: Mary Beh
One can grow weary of reading about all the corruption, violence, ebola, and Boko Haram when it comes to West African news. I'm not saying we shouldn't be aware and against things like bribed judges, heart men, mass kidnappings, and preventable disease, but I'm just wanting to make sure my focus isn't constantly stuck in negative mode. I've found it makes it harder to deal with these problems in a positive way when I'm stuck in a negative mindset. I have learned this lesson from my Liberian brothers and sisters who have remained joyful, happy, hopeful, and full of song and dance even in the midst of atrocity. Certain Liberians are role models to me of how to deal with a constant and pervasive outward attack by my witnessing their inward resilience against all odds. I'd like to showcase of few of these people on my blog because they demonstrate to the whole world how these problems can be overcome: Not by ignoring the problems, but neither by giving these problems too much power over their outlook either. There are better things to set our minds upon and these individuals are just the sort that I set my minds on when I feel discouraged. These are the beautiful people that make Liberia beautiful.

Ma Beh with some of her children. June 2013

The first person I'd like you to know about is Ma Beh. Mary Beh has been a friend of our family for over 30 years. Before the wars she was a high school principal in Buchanan and demonstrated outstanding leadership and organizational skills. She has that certain something that causes people to want to do what she asks them to do. I think it has to do with the fact that she doesn't want you to do stuff for her self interests. She wants you to do things for yourself. Whatever the case I could go on and on about her 'intangibles" and she really is just simply an amazing person. I'd like to share a few 'tangibles' with you though...

L to R: Ma Mary Beh, Bob Sheffler, Bishop Foster, Ken Vogel, Wilmot Kadyu, Wayne Meece, Abba Karnga, Ron Ayers, James Morgan in Liberia app. 1978

First, she stayed in Liberia throughout the wars. I don't say this to induce guilt on anyone. I know that I have struggled with feelings of shame having known my friends were living in hell while I was in the States in relative peace. I understand how many in the Liberian diaspora also struggle with these feelings knowing they had loved ones in danger in Liberia while they were safe. Call it 'survivor's guilt' or whatever, but Ma Beh and others like her can actually help cure us of this guilt. There is nothing more healing than to have someone who lived through that hell accept you and tell you that 'you are welcome' here. She doesn't wear this as a badge of honor or 'lord it over' anyone, but I think the fact that she stayed during the wars deserves respect. She is one who could have possibly made it out of the country. She chose to stay and Liberia is better because she did. She has seen evil face to face and she has stood her ground. She has prayed the devil back to hell so to speak.

My parents with Ma Beh in 2011

Second, she has saved countless lives. While staying in Buchanan during the war she began feeding children that had been orphaned from the violence and chaos of the destruction. She simply says that she fed them because that is what anyone would do. She is wrong about that, not everyone would share scarce food in the middle of a conflict not knowing from where the next meal would come. However, anyone who demonstrates Ma Beh's same spirit most assuredly would feed a hungry child. There is no hesitation, no second guessing. We can live and die together, but no one lives alone. Ma Beh is the kind of person who would stand beside you facing either life or death.

This dear man was a teacher before the war.
He lost his eyesight due to lack of medicine
and after his wife passed he had
no one to help him raise his 5 children.
Ma Beh took them in and he comes
over and visits them regularly
to touch their faces.
Third, she has cared for the basic needs of those under her protection. Whether it be founding a school to educate her orphans, providing them with food, shelter or water; her constant focus has been about giving those under her wing the best possible chance for health, safety, and success in life. For example, a few years ago she took in several orphans from a nearby orphanage that had been using their children for ritualistic murder in juju medicine practices. One girl she took had what might be called a 'hunch back'. This makes her a prime target of juju 'heartmen' (witchdoctor hitmen that harvest body parts for black magic ceremonies). On one day the orphanage was actually infiltrated by a heartman with a ski mask, rice bag, and machete in hand making a bee line for the girl. Her screams scared him off and since then Ma Beh made it a priority to wall up the orphanage and put 'razor wire' around the top to keep people from climbing over in the night. Never mind the enormous expense to her meager budget, she saw to it that the girl under her care was protected. That is her heart and she constantly stands in the gap between those who cannot protect themselves and those that would do them harm.

The area where a heartman had earlier jumped the orphanage fence to 'harvest' a young child. Ma Beh has since raised funds to place wire there to provide some protection for her children.

Lastly, (and I could go on and on), she is joyful. Besides being close to 70 taking care of a disabled grown son and chronically ill husband, she continues on in making her home the home of 42 young children (last time I counted). She continues cleaning, feeding, teaching, and hugging each and every one. She has seen many of her children finish high school and now even go on to college and obtain careers. Her children leave her care and go into the world knowing that though their country could not protect them, mother and father may have abandoned them or even tried to kill them in some cases; whatever that case may be, they know someone who showed them love. They know they have value at least in the eyes of Ma Beh. And Liberia, you should know, you have someone living among you that has immense value to you as well. Liberia, meet one of your heroes. There are many living among you, Ma Beh is definitely one of them.

Some of the many children that share Ma Beh's table. 2008.

I leave you with some of her children greeting us in a song she taught them...


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  4. Thank you for sharing about Ma Beh. My birth father had to leave Liberia around 1981 after much distress to say the least. I was raised in the US by my American mother and have never known my Liberian side. I was born in 1968 shortly after my father graduated from Howard University in Washington, DC. After the war, he was affected, like a different person though still loving and forgiving, I am told. Peace and grace. Alexine

  5. Thanks for highlighting the positive things Liberians are doing amidst their challenges