ZOE Liberia Continues to Thrive
by Gaston Warner, Executive Director, November 2015
The foundations of ZOE’s Liberia program began four years ago, when Rev. Emmanuel Jackson of Living Word Lutheran Church in Katy, Texas, followed a call to serve orphans in Liberia. The church considered starting an orphanage, because what else can you do for orphans? Luckily, before they moved forward with that idea, Reegan Kaberia, ZOE’s Pan-Africa Coordinator, and I were able to meet with them. Rev. Jackson and others at the church learned about ZOE’s empowerment model and were thrilled at the idea of bringing this opportunity to orphans in Liberia. Then God began to move many pieces in place and three years later, the ZOE Liberia program was launched, with orphans taking their first steps toward self-reliance.
Last month I finally had the privilege of seeing this program in action. I traveled with Reegan to Kakata (northeast of Monrovia, Liberia’s capital), where 1,060 children in the first and second years of ZOE’s program live. Over 500 young people joined us with a celebration of worship, dance and praising God for what has already happened in their lives.
As we visited the children at their farms and businesses, it became clear that Liberia is one of the strongest start-up programs that ZOE has ever had. When we first started out, we weren’t sure how well ZOE’s model would take hold. Liberia was just recovering from years of conflict, creating millions of orphans inside a relatively small population. Would they be ready for empowerment, or still in a situation needing relief?
Then, several months after ZOE’s launch in Liberia, the devastation of Ebola struck the country. The local staff lost a full four months in that critical first year of the program as local protocols to curb the disease made it impossible for staff to visit the children. Our partners were able to get medical materials and training to the ZOE children and so, even though that region was one of the hardest hit with Ebola, ZOE lost only one child to the disease — although that was one too many.
Even with all these headwinds, the program still had a very strong start. The Lutheran Church of Liberia is an exceptionally strong partner for ZOE. Their newly-appointed Bishop has a caring heart for the orphans of Liberia and wants to empower children to help themselves.
The Bishop’s support enabled ZOE to assemble a first-rate team of talented local staff who shepherded the growth of the program extremely well. The village chiefs in Kakata welcomed ZOE’s empowerment approach and have already seen results in changed lives and communities. The Liberian children have thrown themselves into the work of starting farms and running businesses, and more dreams are being achieved every day.
What is next for Liberia? In 2016, ZOE hopes to add another 1,000 children to the Liberia program. However, we cannot enroll these children without Hope Companion partners to fund them. If you have a heart for the children of Liberia, or know of a church or individual who does, please spread the word! ZOE will be organizing trips to see the program in Liberia soon, and I am happy to speak with you about the possibilities of partnering there. Simply send me an email at email@example.com or give me a call at 919-414-4167. Let’s see what God does next in Liberia.