Reyna with the kids in Fiamah, Monrovia, Liberia

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Small Act...Has a Huge Effect!

Recently I was privileged to attend a showing of the documentary A Small Act( at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival here in Chicago with some friends. This documentary focuses on the journey of one man, Chris Mburu, as he seeks to give sponsorship and hope to needy and bright students in the villages of Kenya. Chris himself was sponsored for years as a student by a Jewish refugee living in Sweden, Hilde Back. Hilde's sponsorship was a small sacrifice for her-she just sent a check for $15 monthly to an organization sponsoring students in Kenya. But for Chris, he felt as if Hilde was an angel who was giving him an opportunity he might never have had otherwise.
Chris made the most of that opportunity, going on to university and then eventually on to Harvard. He began working in a high-profile position for the UN as a human-rights lawyer. He had a huge passion, though, to give the brightest of Kenya's young students a chance at secondary school and an opportunity to improve their situation in life and that of their families. Kenya is one of the few African countries that has free compulsory primary education. Secondary education, though, remains a privilege for only those fortunate families who can afford to send their child to school. In the documentary, you follow the progress of the foundation as they seek to select students to help and you follow the journeys of 3 students in particular as they explain their dreams of being able to continue in school and improve their lives.
What stuck with me about this documentary was what is at stake for these children in continuing to get an education, especially for the young girls. It reminded me very much of the plight of the students in Liberia that have captured my heart. For the young girls, if they are not given the chance to continue in secondary school, the chances of them getting pregnant and starting their families in their early teens increase considerably. The dreams that these children have for their future will likely be replaced by the harsh realities of poverty, taking care of family members by working at a young age, raising their children and continuing that cycle of living on less than a dollar a day. Opportunities for education help break this cycle, and if done in the right way, the schools can also serve as community centers that can help empower the whole family so that the children can stay in school and the family can still provide for themselves. Education also combats ignorance and powerlessness in a society, and when the young people are empowered through knowledge and opportunity, they will not be prey to the ideologies of warlords and corrupt politicians. This is one reason why the current president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, often speaks about education as the key to rebuilding their society and ensuring that history does not repeat itself.
The other thing that struck me is how such a small act can change a child's and a family's life forever. For Americans, $25 a month might be what we spend on a weeknight dinner out, or in buying a new outfit for ourselves. If we instead spend that $25 a month on supporting a student so they can continue to receive their education, we will never miss it but that $25 will change their life. Maybe I should say that again. We will never miss it, but it will change their life!
As most of you know, Doors of Hope Educational Foundation was formed with the hope of giving this type of sponsorship to needy children in Liberia. In Liberia, there is no free education. Schools are largely run by churches, which presents a unique opportunity for reaching children, their families, and by extension the whole community with the Gospel and love of Jesus. We have the privilege of partnering with two Christian organizations through sponsorship. One is Cornerstone Academy, a small Christian school in the neighborhood of Fiamah in the capital city of Monrovia. This school was started by Pastor Prosper Nopolu and his wife Martha because they were burdened by the number of kids they saw in their community who were selling things in the market or working at such a young age to help support their families. He began going door to door and telling the parents, "We are opening a school and your child can come for free. We just want them to be in school and learning." The school currently has about 35 students at the close of its second year of operation. They had 55 students at one point, but many left because the school just couldn't support them. There are 4 teachers along with the headmaster Pastor Prosper, and the teachers are supposed to receive a salary of $20 or $30 USD a month, which amounts to a little less than a dollar a day. This is a travesty, especially considering that they work just as hard, if not harder, as teachers here in the States. They make up all their own lessons, as they have no curriculum and no textbooks. Well, they WILL have textbooks and some teacher training materials for the next school year because Humboldt Community Christian School here in Chicago graciously donated a ton of books and supplies!!!
I met another pastor in Monrovia, though, who along with being a pastor, student at seminary, and overseer of a school, was working a part-time job at a factory(which is extremely difficult to find) just so that he could pay the teachers who labored at the school. This is the situation at Cornerstone as well. The resources are just very scarce, and so it is just a daily labor of love and sacrifice. Doors of Hope is starting small with 15 students we are seeking to sponsor, and also providing sponsorship for the 4 teachers. I am posting the pics of the kids here that need sponsors, but they are also on the Doors of Hope Facebook page and you can read more info there as well. My goal is to get all of these students and teachers sponsored by August 1st! This will make such a huge impact on this school and their ability to reach out to the community!! Please consider if you would be able to make this commitment and then DO IT!!

The other organization Doors of Hope is partnering with is Journeys Against Violence, which is a rehabilitation program for ex-child soldiers run by my spiritual brother Joshua Blayhi. Joshua has his own amazing story of how God transformed him from a tribal priest and rebel warlord who was responsible for the deaths of many innocent people to a sold-out servant of Christ who is now taking these young men who used to fight for him in and teaching them about Christ and also giving them the skills to rebuild their lives and get back into society. Kind of sounds like Paul, huh?? There are currently 12 young men, ex-fighters, who live at the JAV compound outside the capital city of Monrovia. These young men, in their late teens and early 20's, have mostly been rejected by their families and abandoned by society for the terrible things they have done. But Joshua knows better than most that God is able to redeem them and turn their lives into something useful and beautiful for His glory. When I spoke with these men, they all expressed a desire to me to finish school. With sponsorship, these young men would have their daily needs of food, clothing, transportation met and also this would provide for a teacher to come to them and provide them with alternative educational training. Again, $25 a month is a small amount to us, but to them it creates opportunities for a whole new world. Please consider if you would be able to make this commitment, to sponsor one of these 12 young men. Be aware, though, that this means entering into a relationship with this young man, encouraging him, mentoring him through letters, and it should not be taken lightly because these young men desperately need people they can depend on and look up to. Again, I would like to see all 12 of these young men fully sponsored by August 1st!! Until I have arranged sponsorship for all these guys, I cannot give their individual names and stories just because it is very important that some not be favored over others. But WHEN they are all sponsored, then you will have the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with them that will be life-changing for both of you!!
You can check out the details of sponsoring more specifically on the Doors of Hope Facebook page and our website which is almost ready!! When you make the decision to sponsor, contact me, Ruth Rivera, and I will send you all the details and info you need. Thank you for considering this and for being a huge part (through small acts) of extending God's love to our brothers and sisters in Liberia!!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Will you be one of the 250 people to give $20 to establish Doors of Hope in Africa?

3 weeks away from my upcoming trip to Liberia and I am super excited to get there and to get working on setting up this sponsorship program for the youth and former child soldiers at Cornerstone Academy and Journeys Against Violence. Our organization is still in need of $5, 000 to meet our goal of $10,000 to establish this work. When I look at that number, sometimes, for a moment, I am tempted to despair. But then I remember that God, my God, owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He is the Creator and Sustainer of everything and everyone in this precious world. So what is $5,000 to Him?
I also think of my brothers and sisters in Liberia who have persevered through so many obstacles and against so many insurmountable odds, and I think that the least I can do is work my butt off here to support them as they rebuild their country. With that in mind, I am asking for 250 partners over these next two weeks. 250 people who will be willing to invest $20 in this work of sponsoring education. 
Many people have already given and I am so thankful for that and I have been so encouraged. Some have been good friends of mine, some have been people who I am barely acquainted with yet they have caught on to this vision.

So if you invest in this work, what exactly are you investing in? I am glad you asked:) Doors of Hope, the NGO that I am establishing in Liberia, has the mission of empowering youth and former child soldiers through education. We are partnering specifically with 2 groups in Monrovia, Liberia. One is a school, Cornerstone Academy, which provides free education to the poorest of the poor, the street sellers and children of disabled parents. Most of the children's parents are disabled because of injuries sustained in the war. Cornerstone currently has 55 students, grades K-5th, although the ages range from 4 to 22. The school is free, but operates on little resources and is unable to pay its staff or provide any books or school supplies for the students. Starting our sponsorship program there will ensure that the children are able to stay in school and that the quality of their education improves. One of the things I plan to do when I go in March is to help with the construction of a portable library and Doors of Hope has already collected a ton of books here to start stocking it.
The other organization is Journeys Against Violence, which is essentially a rehab program for former child soldiers run by a former rebel general who had a spiritual transformation and is now passionate about seeing these young men get their lives back and be productive members of society again. We are hoping to hire a teacher to come to the compound where these 12 young men live and provide them with lessons 3 nights a week. This type of alternative education is the best place to start for these guys since most schools do not want them at this point. In the future, Doors of Hope will sponsor these young men as they complete their education.
If you know anything about Liberia, you know that the needs are great. I spoke with someone recently who had lived and worked there for awhile, and he said that Liberia makes Haiti look like a resort. While a little crass, he is not far from the truth. The needs are great, but the people there are so determined to pick up the pieces and move on to better things. It is this determination that I feed off of and that drives me in the work I am trying to do here.
So, 2 weeks, 250 people, $20 each. I believe that people will step up and help Doors of Hope meet our goal. I look forward to going to Liberia in March with the funds in hand to get these projects going . I will keep a running tally of this fundraising blitz on Facebook, Twitter, etc. so people know how close we are getting to the goal. Please if you read this and you care, invest $20 and then send this to your friends, family, help get the word out to as many people as possible. Let me know first what your pledge is so that I can update the tally, and then you can donate in several ways:through Paypal (to or you can send a check or cash to Ruth Rivera, Doors of Hope Foundation, 2026 N. Mozart Street, Chicago, IL 60647. 

Much love and blessings to you all!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Gloriously Ruined and Seriously Disturbed

Hello, my name is Ruth Rivera and I am gloriously ruined and seriously disturbed. It is a great feeling. You should try it sometime. Let me explain.
Over the past year, I have taken two trips to Liberia, West Africa. If you are not familiar with Liberia, it is currently the 3rd poorest country in the world with most of its citizens living on a dollar a day. The country is rebuilding a stable society after fourteen years of civil war ripped the fabric of that country to pieces. For me, my visits to this beautiful land have put flesh to all my ideas of justice and empowering the poor. All of these things were nice ideals for me before, now I see they are my life's work and the calling of anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ.
For several weeks after coming back from Liberia, I struggled to resume normal life in American society. I felt guilty, I felt angry, I felt many things. But then I came across a statement by Kay Warren, wife of pastor Rick Warren and an advocate for AIDS patients across the globe, that described exactly how I felt: gloriously ruined and seriously disturbed. Yep, that's me. I realize that I do not want to go back to my oblivious comfort zone of Starbucks and jewelry parties. I want the faces and stories of my brothers and sisters in Liberia ever before me because they remind me that this world is so much bigger than me and so much bigger than America. And so I move on, feeling out of place more than I used to, feeling misunderstood alot, but that is OK with me, because I have seen things and met people whose stories I cannot forget. I don't want to forget. I want to share them with the world so that others might break out of their comfort zones and seek to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the poor.
As most of my friends know, I am establishing a non-profit organization here in the States called the Doors of Hope Educational Foundation that will partner with two groups in Liberia to sponsor the education of youth and former child soldiers. This vision was birthed out of my conversations with former child soldiers who told me that they are cast out by society and the help of these giant aid organizations rarely reaches them or provides education for them or their children.I have established great relationships with a pastor who runs a school there and with Joshua Blayhi who works tirelessly to rehabilitate former child soldiers and create new opportunities for them. I was privileged to meet these men and knew that I would do whatever possible to support their efforts and partner with them. And so I press on.
Here comes the disturbing and uncomfortable part for my readers. All of this work requires money, money which is not readily available when you live in a country with 85% unemployment and make less than a dollar a day to feed your family of five. My brothers and sisters there are doing everything in their power to lift themselves and their people up from the ashes of poverty and the ravages of war, but we here in America can support them so much by giving of our abundant resources. You might be laughing right now and think, HA! I do not have abundant resources. I know that these are trying financial times in America. They are for my family as well. But I am going to share an inconvenient truth with you. No matter how little you have, I seriously doubt that any of you live on $30 a month. No matter how little you have, you are greatly blessed with resources that are not even available to our brothers and sisters in Liberia or in much of the majority world. We are truly a privileged people. My friend in Liberia lives in a two room house that she shares with her brother and sister. That house sits in a row of apartments with one community bathroom at the end and one communal kitchen in the back. My friend goes to the market in town most days and sells secondhand clothes and shoes to supplement her brother's $20 a month salary as a pastor of a small congregation. I have no idea how they pay their monthly rent of $45 each month, but I do know that they only eat twice, sometimes only once, a day. Yet every time I call her, she says she is doing fine and she blesses God. Her gratefulness, joy, and faith truly convict me. How dare I complain about minor inconveniences in my life like they don't serve my favorite type of scone at Starbucks anymore or Facebook changed their format once again. Seriously people????
So I have been seeking to raise $10,000 before another planned trip back to Liberia in March to get this foundation off the ground and to help Cornerstone Academy in Liberia. I have boxes and boxes of textbooks and school supplies waiting to be shipped to Cornerstone. I am wanting to complete the incorporation process and sign all the papers in Liberia that will make us an official NGO there. I know 55 precious children who desperately need to complete their education to provide better opportunities for themselves and their families. I know 12 young men who are living at a compound on the edge of town where they are undergoing job training and psychosocial counseling. They all have dreams of finishing school so they will be respected and have better opportunities. $10,000 may seem like a large goal, and with 6 weeks left, I am far from reaching it. But I am very optimistic about it. I know that people will catch hold of this vision and do what they can to support it. To reach our goal, we still need $6,000. If 60 people would give $100, that goal would be met. If 100 people would give $60, that goal would be met. If 300 people would give $20, that goal would be met. I really believe in the power of doing small things with great love. I really believe that many people giving what they can can create the means to effect huge changes in a school in Liberia which will then affect the community and society as a whole. Please take a moment to consider how you can support your brothers and sisters in Liberia. You can donate through paypal to or you can send it to my address which is 2026 N. Mozart Street, Chicago, IL 60647. Just mark that this donation is for Doors of Hope.
I truly appreciate all the support that has already been shown for this effort. This has been and will continue to be an interesting journey. Some people have questioned me or my methods, and that is fine with me. Some people have astonished me with their apathy towards their brothers and sisters around the globe. I don't say that to shame anyone, I just have been truly puzzled by it. I know that what I am doing is for the Kingdom and is fulfilling Christ's call to do justly and to love mercy. It is hard to transmit the plight of someone in a foreign country and make it real to people here who might not be aware, but I trust that God will move in people's hearts where I can not. And so I press on. I am seriously disturbed and gloriously ruined. It is a great feeling. You should try it sometime.