Saving Souls in Liberia

One topic I am constantly fascinated by is history. I love how history feels like a 1000 piece puzzle set with all various pieces needing to be joined together to form a complete picture.

In the picture that is formed in looking at any African country (not to mention most of Latin America), I am certain that at least 250 pieces (if not more) of that puzzle would be taken up by missionary pieces. I would honestly be curious to know if they left a single stone on the entire continent unturned in their search for souls. On one hand I'm fascinated by what it must have been like to be an African chillin in your village and looking up one day to see some white dude holding up a bible telling you this book is your "the light and the way." On the other hand, I can't imagine, packing up your whole world (family and all) and moving to some far away place with little to guide and anchor you except faith that you were doing the "right" thing by converting as many people as you could.

I can across this amazing collection of pictures from the archives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) who worked in Liberia. They first landed in Liberia in 1860 and have there ever since. This collection include images from so many years include several from the 1930s through 1950s. It's so interesting to get a glimmer of the country at that time (while keeping in mind who was behind the camera). I wonder what images an African would have taken (...before conversion)? What scenes from their lives would they have choosen to snap?

I also wonder how much actual "salvation" (versus "I'm just going to let this dude sprinkle some water on me so he can just get off my back!") took place - especially in light of the havoc related to/caused by missionaries....

Anyway all very fascinating stuff! To read a great short story related to missionaries in Nigeria, click here. You can also pick up one of my all-time favorite books The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver in which she tells the tale of missionary Nathan Price and his family in Belgian Congo in the late 1950s.

{All photos from ELCA here on Flickr}.


ms. shoo {shebreathes.com} said...

Recently there was an article in the NY Times Magazine about this, but it was about the "African" who are missionaries in America now. Take a read, I found it interesting.


Brandie said...

Thanks - It was super interesting. Talk about "what goes around comes around!"

Style Noir said...

My father-- and scores of now very successful relatives and family members-- attribute their success to the time they spent at St. John's Episcopal High School, an educational enclave nestled on a hill in the idyllic fishing village of Robertsport.

The school was run by a married couple-- some missionaries from Virginia. Father and Mrs. Robinson. Their names are readily recognized by Liberians the world over.

Father Robinson died a few years ago and was buried in Liberia; hundreds attended his funeral. Mrs. Robinson (whom my father credits with catalyzing his love and aptitude for music-- he went on to earn degrees in the field) is in the States for a few months (I caught up with her in Liberia in March) before she heads back to Robertsport, where she intends to live out the rest of her days.

As I child I heard about the Robinsons. And as I child I was skeptical. But as the years go by, and as layers of this story are peeled away, I begin-- but only begin-- to understand. Although the reality is, I never will.

Brandie said...

I definitely agree with you that scores of Liberians can attribute their success to time spent at schools built and run by missionaries. My mom and all my aunts all attended one religious school or another.
I think it's a fascinating topic. Some missionaries (esp. depending on the country in Africa) were much better than others and like you said, provided a strong education that allowed so many Liberians to attend successful universities both at home and abroad.
At the same time, I always question what elements of an indigenous culture or traditions are lost when someone is trying to convince you that something else is "better" than what you and all your ancestors before have been practicing. I think it must be a very difficult thing to experience for both parties.
In addition, it seems that history is always told by those that were converted so it's interesting to imagine what the other side....

ms. shoo {shebreathes.com} said...

Those are the elements I question too Brandie. I've spent a semester in an African Cultures class @ NYU. This class has had a major impact on me, and I haven't looked back. I keep peeling back the layers.

I use to do all these late night tweets about it heehee. I've acquired an amazing reading list as a result of this class, if you're interested shoot me an e-mail.