By Emily

It’s been a day of riding motorbikes across red dirt roads pocked with potholes the size of ravines. We pass trucks that have sunk, immovable, in these crevices. Young boys scrape at their wheels, covered head to foot with mud, exhaustion streaking their cheeks. We just stare, silent, into their eyes as we pass, their task futile, and their eyes begging for prayer. So we pray. Government vehicles will arrive and carry them away until the trucks can be somehow retrieved.

The air smells of coconut and rain, here in Liberia. Until vehicles pass us, and the dust rises, clouding all other senses.

The roads are lined with long, tufted grass, like slender women holding wide fans. Behind the grass is thick jungle, trees as wide as the California redwoods, wrapped in skinny vine-arms. Mountains tower like sentries, standing guard behind the long-necked Palms, as we pass countless sojourners making their way home, all of them carrying something on their heads – some with huge piles of rice bundled in scarves, others with plastic buckets filled with water, and many – even tiny children – bearing long sticks for firewood. I spot two little girls who’ve paused, chatting, buckets balanced on their heads.

And everywhere, villages dot the road, like lampposts. Some consist of just two or three houses, many of them made from zinc or unfinished brick, most with tin roofs, some with thatch. The men are often sitting, or absent. Some children are naked, their mothers washing them. As the sky darkens, the families gather around their fires – often the only light in the village, except for shops with dim, solar-powered lamps. I see one man reading a book, but the rest just seem to be staring into darkness.

After four hours on motorbikes we arrive in Bunjama village, my white skin orange from the dust. I’ll learn to wear a jacket. We take a path through the houses, and a man rises from where he’s been waiting, his face as gentle as a dove’s wing. His name is Emmanuel, and he leads us to the house we’ll be staying in.

It’s a house that’s been offered for our visit, the family staying with neighbors so we can sleep in their rooms. Inside, candlelight streams from each room, casting a warm golden glow. A woman wearing a kerchief who is known as “Grandmother” scrubs the walls with bleach. Warm water is waiting in buckets by the bathroom, and soon food will appear on the simple wooden table in the main living area.

I step into my room, a mattress on the floor, a candle in the corner, and I feel God’s love wrap around me. It’s a sanctuary, this home, and as I wash the red dust off, a candle glowing on the wall, and then pull on fresh clothes, it’s like a baptism.

Then I come to the table, and a crowd of women enters the house, with dried-gourd instruments and hugs and huge smiles. They begin to sing and play, the shaking seeds keeping time, their smiles splitting their faces, and their bodies swaying. Steve turns on his solar panel light and it’s like heaven has fallen on this place.

Pastor’s wife has cooked us rice and chicken, and we drink Pineapple juice and continue to laugh long after the women have gone.

Then we go to sleep in the glow of the flickering candles, the wax pooling and the flame eventually fading into the zinc floor, even as we rest.

And I dream, big dreams, as big as the crevices in the road, as big as the mountains rising over the jungle. I dream of families around fires rising up and dancing, touched by God. I dream of villages all across Africa filled with light. I dream of the world being humbled by the ministry of the poor, as I’ve been.

The dreams light a fire in my soul. And it’s a candle that I pray will never burn out.