Yesterday, the Nobel committee announced that one of the recipients of the Nobel Prize for Peace this year is President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia.  In 2008 I had a chance to hear President Sirleaf Johnson speak in Minneapolis.  Her visit coincided with Holy Week.  What follows is the second of my posts from that day.  

Photo Credit: NVJ
I arrived at Northrop auditorium at the last minute today. I had been substitute teaching in Bethany’s English classroom and rushed over to the U.As Noel and I entered the auditorium I didn’t get a sense for who was in the audience. Some student-y looking folks, fairly progressive looking. A few very dressed up Liberians. I was in a hurry to get in and sit down and my eyes struggled for a long time to adjust to the indoor lighting after the brilliant sun on the Mall outside of Northrop.The provost and the dean of Humphrey each said nice introductory things, then a choir of 9 or ten men and women took the stage and sang, “All Hail, Liberia, Hail” the National Anthem of the country. As soon as they started to sing, every Liberian in that hall was singing along with them.

Northrop is not a huge space, it maybe seats 5,000 people max, and not everyone in that hall was singing. Yet if my eyes had been closed, I would have guessed that there were 144,000 singing, like the multitude in heaven. I have never heard singing with so much power, so much passion, so much pride. My eyes filled with tears. I have no personal connection with Liberia, yet I felt pride for this country as I heard her children singing of their love for her.

I can’t imagine . . . I am trying to imagine. . .

Leaving my hometown because I was afraid for my safety, because I was afraid for my children. Coming across the globe, to a snowy, grey community like Minneapolis or Brooklyn Park or Saint Paul. Trying to teach my children what it means to be Liberian and yet aching for them to be successful in the United States. Hearing of new tragedies and new joys in my hometown, faithfully sending support and remittances back to my mother, my aunts, my brothers back at home. Then change comes. . . violence stops at home, children go back to school, roads are fixed, electricity comes back on, local police are trained to be fair and just. And then, the leader and representative of MY nation, comes to the city where I and many others from the diaspora have settled. My heart soars with pride and longing for home.

As I listened to the singing this afternoon, I felt the force of these voices behind me, it was almost as if I was being pushed forward onto the stage by the music and the heart cry of the diaspora.

Christians talk of being in exile. We’re citizens of heaven living in a foreign land. I live 10 minutes from the hospital I was born in, but my HOME is heaven, therefore my faith compells me to see ALL exiles, foreigners, refugees, asylees and immigrants as kindred spirits.

It is (at least for the next 20 minutes) Good Friday. It’s a day when we reflect on tragedy, on suffering, but also of a coming kingdom.

It’s a day when we know things have started to change. The suffering continues, and we’re still not at home. But we are passionate about our kingdom and we know that it will be brought to fullness. The deaf will hear, the blind will see, the lame will walk. Children will play in the streets and old men and women will sit in front of their houses watching them. The oppressed prisoners will go free. The naked will be clothed, abandonned building will be restored. Shalom is coming, wholeness and peace.