We Have Seen the Grace of God
by Christina Holder, Liberia
2 September 2008
During Liberia's ruinous 14-year civil war, millions of people scavenged for food throughout remote parts of the country. Heavy gunfire and warring rebel factions forced an entire nation to flee their homes and live as refugees in the barren countryside.
Some days there wasn't any food. Paté Chon remembers sharing five cups of rice with more than 50 people. Sometimes her only form of nourishment was hot pepper juice or a pot of boiled leaves from the forest. The latter made her tongue break out in painful sores.
"It was like survival of the fittest," she said. "We ate everything."
But Chon needed more food than most.
She was pregnant.
War was more risky for vulnerable people like Chon.
"Everyday, you don't know what will happen," she said. "Someone could throw a grenade. Someone could start firing. Someone could lose their life...everyone was living with eagle eyes."
Rebel fighters were known to make bets on the sex of babies still in the womb. To settle the bet, they would kill mothers by cutting open their bellies.
One day Chon was riding in a truck with other refugees when she heard the accompanying rebel commanders discussing whether her unborn baby was a boy or a girl. They ordered the truck to stop and for Chon to get out.
"I was terrified because I knew they could do anything and nothing would come of it," she said.
Thankfully, another female passenger intervened. She pleaded with the driver, and somehow, the truck kept moving.
When the truck finally stopped in village, it was dark. The woman told Chon to come sleep at her house so the rebels would not try to kill her.
Upon arriving in the village, Chon learned that the wife of one of the rebels was severely wounded. The woman's leg had been cut, and she was bleeding. Chon, who had some medical training, immediately went to the woman, bandaged her leg and gave her some pain medicine.
Chon's compassion amazed the rebel fighter.
"He was just looking at me with open eyes," she said.
Later, the woman's father told Chon: "God sent you here. They intended to kill you on the road. You have saved his wife."
Chon also believed that God had spared her life and had purpose for it. Chon, who wasn't a Christian at the time, told God: "If you take me through, I will serve you."
And she followed through on her promise.
During the war, she accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior. She eventually returned to Monrovia where she began working as a volunteer at the Eternal Love Winning Africa (ELWA) hospital, an SIM partner. She previously had trained as a social worker and began ministering to pregnant women in the mornings and to the sick at night. Through the experience, God began revealing to Chon that He had given her the gift of encouragement.
Serving Those with HIV and AIDS
And so when the hospital opened a counseling program for people living with HIV and AIDS, Chon was hired as a counselor. People infected with HIV and AIDS started showing up at the hospital after the war. Many contracted the disease from blood transfusions at broken-down hospitals or as a result of being raped during the war.
"We have seen the grace of God. We see them come back to life and find reason to live."
"Some people had to fetch food for their children to survive, so they had to give in to the authorities who had everything at their disposal," Chon said.
Today, five years after the war's end, Chon leads and mentors 13 counselors. The team works with more than 1,100 patients--including 45 children. Together, they are building hope for their broken nation in desperate need of restoration.
The counseling team ministers to the patients through support programs at the hospital and through home-based care, a program in which the counselors visit dying patients to encourage them, pray with them and care for them.
The task before the team weighs heavily on Chon's heart.
"Nothing hurts me but to sit before a child and try to explain to that child that you got a sickness that can't be cured," she said. "Their eyes open up to you, and they are like, 'What are you talking about?'"
But Chon's role is bigger than just educating patients. She wants to see every patient find new life in Christ through the program.
As the counseling program moves forward in post-war Liberia, Chon and her team need more partners to help the ELWA team reach out with the love of Christ to many patients living with HIV and AIDS. The ELWA hospital has only one small counseling room.
This integral team also needs support to train and build a base of nationals who can continue leading the program as Liberia slowly rebuilds. Please pray about how God may be leading you to partner with SIM to support the ELWA counseling team.
"We have seen the grace of God," Chon said. "We see them come back to life and find a reason to live. They have hope in Christ."