Stories from the Global Church

Here you will find stories from the global church by ELCA global missionaries, scholars, and churchwide staff, brought to you by the ELCA Global Church Sponsorship team.

A malaria death

Posted on October 1, 2013 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Brian and Christine Palmer are ELCA missionaries in Liberia. In this entry from their blog they write about the tragedy of a young child dying from malaria. To support the Palmers or another of the ELCA’s over 240 missionaries in the global church, go to To support the ELCA Malaria Campaign, click here.

Christine and Brian Palmer

Christine and Brian Palmer

So 5:30 this morning I got a call from one of my colleagues, Rev. Mulbah. His 7-year-old grand-niece died of malaria last night and he was asking if I could take the body out to his hometown for the funeral and burial.

Her name was Kiema. Her tiny body was wrapped in a lappa with her bare feet hanging out. The dirt road to Gbonyea is a little rough and I couldn’t help but feel bad that Kiema’s body was not on a cushion of some sort. I kept reminding myself not to panic every time we hit a bump, “It doesn’t matter; she’s already dead.”

We stopped and put a palm branch in the windshield so people would know what we were doing. You wouldn’t think people would notice such a thing but everybody does. Instead of shouts of “White man!!” or “Chinese man!!” all we got was solemn stares as we quietly slipped by.

Kiema’s mother was with us and was completely silent until we got about a half mile from Gbonyea. That’s when she started crying. By the time we stopped at Rev. Mulbah’s house we were surrounded by hundreds of wailing friends and family. Knees were buckling, Faces were contorted. There was no holding back. Everybody cried, absolutely everybody.

A remarkable transformation

Posted on October 30, 2012 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Brian and Christine Palmer are ELCA missionaries in Liberia. In this post to their blog, Brian shares his thoughts about the recent class that graduated from the lay training center where he teaches. To support Brian and Christine, or another of the ELCA’s over 200 missionaries, go to

The 2012 graduates of the Louis T. Bowers Lay Leaders and Ministers Training Center in Totota, Liberia.

The 2012 graduates of the Louis T. Bowers Lay Leaders and Ministers Training Center in Totota, Liberia.

The compound is quiet. I can hear the steady beat of a whipper cutting the grass in the field beside the library. I can hear the murmur of classes in session at Totota Lutheran High School. I can hear the pump handle being worked as the children draw water. What I don’t hear is my students. I don’t hear the commotion of the lady’s dorm as the women of the Class of 2012 eat and bathe and do small laundry before dragging themselves to my 8:15 a.m. Old Testament lesson.

Today is Tuesday. Last Friday 26 lay ministers of the Lutheran Church in Liberia graduated from the Louis T. Bowers Lay Leaders and Ministers Training Center. The transformation has been remarkable. They came to Level I preaching works righteousness and exchanging recipes on how to manipulate God. Today, almost two years later, they all preach Christ’s righteousness while living with the daily struggle of “thy will be done.” What this means is that there are now 26  more congregations peppered throughout the Lutheran Church in Liberia that are hearing a message of God’s grace that is both solidly biblical and Lutheran flavored.

There’s a song in “Fiddler On the Roof” called “Do You Love Me?” It’s the one where Tevya is sitting with his wife of 25 years and wondering if their parents’ promise that they would learn to love each other had come true. The song unpacks the meaning of love and lays claim to this idea that love is less of a feeling and more of a doing. At graduation I told my students about this song and I said I hoped I had shown them that I love them. More importantly I hoped I had taught them to see more clearly how God’s love is shown to us in Christ. Finally, I admonished them to return to their congregations prepared to follow Christ’s example and show their love for their people. Communication with Liberians is often difficult for me so I ended with a refrain of, “Are you getting me?” I knew they would say yes and sure enough they did. Today, on this quiet Tuesday, my sincere prayer is that their yes was the truth.

Bobby and Miss Mulbah

Posted on April 7, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Brian & Christine Palmer are ELCA missionaries teaching in Liberia. Brian describes how a computer project has aided publishing teaching materials and a Kpelle translation of the New Testament. To support the Palmers, or another of the ELCA’s 230 missionaries, go to

Bobby and Miss Mulbah

Bobby and Miss Mulbah

April 2, 2012

I was only here a couple of months before I got it in my head that I wanted to do two things.

First, teaching at the Lay Leaders and Ministers Training Center in Totota was done without any printed material. There were no books, no handouts, no sheets of paper with helpful pithy phrases, nothing. Teaching was done with a chalkboard and notebooks; this is the same as most teaching in Liberia. I found myself thinking it would be cool to figure out a way to inexpensively produce printed material.

The second “problem” I wanted to address involved the Lutheran Church in Liberia’s efforts to translate the Bible into the Kpelle language. The New Testament was translated and printed before the advent of computers and the translation team dreaded the thought of typing it all into the computer. I told them I would scan the text and have the computer “type” it. I never could have guessed what this whole Kpelle New Testament and cheap printing business would evolve into.

It started with Miss Mulbah.  I call her Miss Mulbah because when I first met her I wasn’t able to say her first name. Miss Mulbah is the daughter of one of my fellow instructors and was one of my physics students when I asked her if she wanted to do some work on the computer in the evenings. A couple of months after Miss Mulbah began working, I hired another of my physics students, Bobby. This was all a year and a half ago and all three of us have been on a steep learning curve ever since. The Kpelle New Testament project has been done for over a year now but we are still printing materials like crazy.

Nowadays we call ourselves Motherbird Publishing (Deuteronomy 22:6-7) and we are “Committed to simple dirt-cheap printing of helpful materials.” We do all kinds of stuff.  We type and print letters, invoices, booklets etc. We take and print passport photos. We’re even making a database of the books in the training center library so we can make an old-fashioned card catalog.

Both Miss Mulbah and Bobby have navigated the waters from total computer newbie to outstanding computer genius by any measure. They are the greatest. My hope is that the skills they have learned will be an ongoing blessing to them. I know my time spent with them has been a blessing to me. I can only pray that the work we have done together will be a blessing to others. Thank you Miss Mulbah and Bobby!


Missionaries reflecting on mission service – Bette McCrandall

Posted on September 3, 2011 by Franklin Ishida

Bette McCrandall first went to Liberia in 1973 and later began service as an ELCA missionary in 1984. She was employed as the secretary to the bishop of the Lutheran Church in Liberia and later served as supervisor of schools of the church. She was responsible for up to 46 schools. Bette was in Liberia during the civil war in 1990. At one point, 600 people, who had taken refuge in St Peter’s Lutheran Church in Monrovia, were killed by the armed forces. During this difficult time, Bette endured the same hardships as the Liberian people and supported them through it. Bette retired from mission service in 2011.

To support any of the ELCA’s nearly 250 missionaries, go to

The old ways persist in Liberia

Posted on July 23, 2011 by Hand In Hand

Brian and Christine Palmer are ELCA missionaries in Liberia. To support the Palmers, or another of the ELCA’s nearly 250 missionaries, go to

Liberia it is said to be a predominantly Christian nation. Yet the longer we live here the more we are discovering how blended Christianity is with the traditional African religion. The cords of the ancestors are tightly roped around the lives of most Liberians. Is Christ the true Savior for Liberians or do the traditional witch doctors have additional messages?

There are those who practice “Juju,” a form of witchcraft that is similar to voodoo. It’s pretty predominant. A person is targeted and cursed by magic from the witch doctor to make the victim very sick or miscarry, even die.

The children at around the age of puberty go off to traditional schools for a period of time. This is where they learn basic skills of how to live in the bush. The boys learn to build huts, make palm-thatched roofs and hunt; girls learn to cook over a charcoal fire, weave baskets, and make fishing nets. And along with that learning comes the West African Juju as well as herbal knowledge — plants used for healing the body. It’s all very secretive; no one is allowed to tell others what they learned in the bush school. When they come back to their villages, the girls have deep, permanent scars etched in their skins along their waists, backs, and necks making designs like diamonds and linear motifs, like tattoos except, instead of ink, they use scarring to make designs. The bush school is the place where female circumcision happens. It’s where they get initiated into the culture and learn the ancestors’ ways.

Child sacrifices (and adults ones, too) are still amongst us here, the organs used to appease the devil. We are told sacrifices increase particularly during election years from those in high government positions (like this year). Children just disappear. We had two children taken on Christmas Day while people were watching a football (soccer) game right here in Totota, where we live. Men near the man taking the children followed him into the bush and saved the children before there was any harm done to them.

I know the Christian church still has its transforming work to do in the lives of the Liberian people, even though there’s been a long history of effort done here in the name of Jesus over the last hundred years or so.

Network of friends provides inspiration

Posted on July 16, 2011 by Hand In Hand

Brian and Christine Palmer are ELCA missionaries in Liberia. To support the Palmers, or another of the ELCA’s nearly 250 missionaries, go to

A typical house in Liberia.

A typical house in Liberia.

Living in a developing country has its challenges. Yet working with people who have similar goals can be not only refreshing but downright encouraging.

We’ve befriended a Peace Corps volunteer who has served in the southeastern section of Liberia at about the same time we came (we’ve been here almost a year) and has relocated to Totota. She loves my espresso and Scottish shortbread fingers I get at the Lebanese grocery store. And what she gives me in return is her altruistic enthusiasm for what she’s doing, her willingness to live simply. She sets a great example for me.

Then there are my two elder mentors Edna and Alvina. Edna teaches in the first nursing graduate program that’s getting off the ground in Monrovia. If she’s not teaching, she’s back at her Zorzor house, way out in the bush. She volunteers her time there as a nurse for the bush hospital and has been a missionary for over six years.

Alvina and her husband raised their children in Liberia while they and a team of translators translated parts of the Bible and educational materials into the various tribal languages. Her husband passed away over seven years ago. She and I have had talks about living here as a woman and as a single woman at that. She misses her husband and confided to me that on his deathbed he encouraged her to continue their work, knowing she wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. God is providing her with the funds to go on. And she is happy doing what she’s doing.

And then there are Dione and Jenny. Dione is a senior at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and Jenny just graduated from Luther. On their own they put together this Liberian itinerary, “sold” it to the ELCA short-term missionary board, and even though they’re paying for the trip themselves, are under the umbrella of the ELCA Global Missions. They are spending their summer helping out at the regional hospital working in the pharmacy just because they want to help out. Very impressive.

The list of people in “The Network” goes on and on. Even though living here has its daily challenges, it is very much balanced by this network of people the Lord graciously is using to offset the hardships. Their lives give me hope, strength, and a future in Liberia. I’m thankful.

Spring is here

Posted on February 15, 2010 by Hand In Hand

The Spring 2010 issue of the Hand in Hand newsletter is off press and online.   Request copies of the one-page newsletter to distribute in your congregation, at synod assemblies, and for other events (, 800-638-3522, ext. 2657).  Two of the articles are available in reproducible formats to share in Sunday bulletins and newsletters; find them at  

In this issue

  • ELCA missionary Patricia Bentsen offers a devotion on Matthew 25:36 that lifts up the Tsiafahy prison ministry in Madagascar (available as a bulletin insert).
  • Questions such as “How is ELCA Global Mission funded?” and “When will the new Global Mission Annual be available?” are answered in “101 long-term missionaries and other answers” (available as a bulletin insert).
  • In her director’s column, the Rev. Twila Schock highlights ELCA missionary the Rev. John Lunn and his medical ministries in Liberia and Southern India.

Coming up 

The Summer 2010 issue of the Hand in Hand newsletter is scheduled to be “in hand” on April 24.

From Liberia: “Out here I have found deep, deep joy.”

Posted on May 26, 2009 by admin

edna-johnson-780261A retired professor of nursing, volunteer missionary Edna Johnson came to Liberia nearly four years ago to support the nursing program of Curran Hospital. This hospital, a ministry of the Lutheran Church in Liberia, was destroyed during Liberia’s bloody civil war and is currently under reconstruction. Living in a remote region with no running water for three of these years and only hours hours of electricity a day, I asked, “How have you managed out here?”  Edna calmly replies, “In many times of my life I have known adventure.  At times, I have had fun. But out here, with the people of Liberia, I have found deep, deep joy.”
–Twila Schock