Friday, May 15, 2020

New Normal

Thomas Martins, from Woodside church in Detroit region, is staying three months with us. He is writing what he has experienced while here. This will give you the perspective of a guests experience. You can read the original post here.

The topic for this blog was planned to illustrate my transition to life here in Liberia. In the short time it has taken to publish this blog, the theme has assumed a far greater meaning in describing the new reality we are all facing.

What is normal? The idea of normality gives the illusion of being a constant—something we can measure our experiences by. Our view through the lens of the expected allows us to see the extraordinary or notice the horrific. Many of us believe our normal is the universal standard. And yet, I doubt there is something more relative or subjective than normality. What is normal in one culture, can be quite unusual or even offensive in another. When snow and temperatures below freezing are typical in one climate, it’s a constant 86 degrees and sunny in another. For some people, struggling for survival is a daily reality, while deciding what outfit to wear is the biggest dilemma others will face all day. Not to mention the fluctuations of normality in one’s own life. What I do and believe today is radically unlike what I did in the past.
I’ve been contemplating this idea of what normal is to different people at different times. Here in Liberia my normal couldn’t be any more abnormal. For the first few weeks, all of my senses were acutely aware of my new reality. The experience has been at the same time delightful, intriguing and difficult.

Here are some of my new normals


Photograph by Thomas Martins
When much of my time was spent escaping the cold outdoors of a Michigan winter, now even when I am indoors, I’m still basically outdoors and there is certainly no escape from the Liberian heat. When the temperature reaches 45 Fahrenheit, Michiganders can’t rip their coats off fast enough and pop the sunroof open with a childlike delight. On the other hand, in Liberia, if the temperature drops below 80 people bundle up in their heavy jackets as if expecting snow to fall from the sky.

Photography by Thomas Martins
In the US my normal shower consisted of exaggeratedly hot running water in the privacy of a bathroom inside of a house. My new routine consists of a bucket filled with well-water, heated on a wood fire, a smaller bucket to pour water on myself in a space outside under the stars in the open air.

If there is one thing I have learned through all the different experiences I have had crammed into my short lifetime—it’s the resilience of man. We have a remarkable ability to adapt to new realities, live in new environments and endure unimaginable suffering. As even a brief glance through history will show. Unfortunately, in the west, we have grown quite soft due to a century of historically unprecedented levels of comfort and safety. Even so, this God given ability lies dormant in us. Today, we may have a chance to bring it to life once more.

As the days roll on and the weeks pass painfully slow while we watch the inevitable consequences of the global shutdown grow, our naïve hopes of a quick return to normal life have faded. We are beginning to realize our world will never be the same again. It is not entirely over dramatic to say the foundations of the earth have been shaken. Entire nations have trembled (even if for just a moment). The global political and economic landscapes have become shaky at the very best. When the dust settles, we will be confronted with a very new normal. Even now normality has been turned on its head.

But the resilience of mankind will be seen once again and has already begun to shine. Not because our governments and politicians will rescue us, not because our celebrities stopped wearing makeup or our friend tweeted a quote from a book they never read and certainly not because one ideology has won over another—no, but because the resilience of man is an image, a reflection, of the unshakable God. The one who himself shakes the foundations of the earth.

“At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” ~ Hebrews 12:26-29

We do not have to fear the shaking. Even if the shaking takes our comfort, our jobs or our bodies, we can go on rejoicing. Why? Because of the immeasurable gift of eternal life that is hidden in Christ and cannot be shaken. What an opportunity we have to take our light from underneath the basket and let it shine for all the world to see! (Matthew 5:14-16). In the same way that the world will adapt to a new normal, we, who are possessed by the Spirit of God, have been given a gift. If we have ears to hear the voice that shakes, this is a time to have the distractions, vanity and misguided religiosity shaken so that the eternal may remain. We should not be so quick to desire that life would go back to “normal.” If only the eternal will remain at the end of the shaking, we should be asking: What in my life is not eternal? What has my family prioritized that can be shaken? What have our churches and ministries been distracted by that will not remain? I pray as we answer these questions, the Spirit of God will root us and ground us in His love.

“Love never ends… So now faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”  ~ 1 Corinthians 13:8, 13


At Wordsower Liberia (WSL) the mission goes on.


The missionaries are not easily deterred. Photograph by Thomas Martins
As long as there is paper, the production continues.
Photographs by Thomas Martins

Here at the WSL base we also have adapted to a new normal. The mission continues, but it looks a little different now. Before the global situation became what it is today, WSL had multiple teams on “scouting” missions to make contact with the last of the unreached tribes in Liberia. When the first cases were reported in the capital, Monrovia, these teams were called back before the county boarders were shut down. Through prayer, the leadership of WSL discerned our new assignment. We were to spread awareness of the Corona Virus and bring the hope of the Gospel to all the tribes and villages of Liberia. We are well on our way. In just a couple weeks, we have covered the entire county in which we live, Grand Gedeh County. The Lord confirmed our mission when He gave us favor with the government, military and police, granting us permission to cross the closed boarders to continue our mission in the surrounding counties. Some teams have already been sent on these missions, and many more will follow this coming week. Join us in prayer for the protection of our missionaries as they have chosen not to value their own lives over the lives of others.

Missions in the time of the Corona Virus.
Photographs by Thomas Martins

The Liberian version of the face mask. A “Lapa” is a traditional African cloth (used for skirts, dresses, shirts and suits). With a little help from YouTube, we have taken some lapas and turned them into face masks for our mission teams. This is just one of our new normals.

Photographs by Thomas Martins

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