From Leesburg to Liberia, St. James' brings literacy camp to Bromley
School for girls
By Mary Davila, July 13, 2010
[Episcopal News Service]
A hand-made sign hanging on the wall of the
Bromley Episcopal Mission School for girls welcomed the 16 missioners
who traveled from Leesburg, Virginia, to Monrovia, Liberia. The sign
read, "If love hadn't existed in your hearts, you wouldn't have come
this far. Thank you for educating us, and for securing our future."
The mission team, all members of St. James' Episcopal Church in
Leesburg, made the church's third visit to Bromley in two years. The
focus of the June 22-July 5 mission trip was on literacy.
St. James' offers an annual reading camp in Leesburg, working with
rising third graders in the community whose reading skills are below
grade level. The mission team, comprised of youth and adults, adapted
the local reading camp to an international setting, and led seven days
of literacy camp at Bromley.
The Bromley girls expressed their appreciation for the mission, and
they were especially grateful for the connections made with American
teenagers. "I pray that you will continue to send mission teams to us.
And next time, please send even more teenagers," said Bromley student
Kapanah Gaygay, 17. "We connect with other teens. We are so grateful
that they come to visit us, and help us with our education."
The St. James' youth also found the connection to be incredibly
meaningful. "At first glance, it's easy to notice the disrepair, the
destruction, and the trying conditions at the Bromley School. But when
a girl comes and holds your hand, so eager and excited just for your
presence, somehow you see an entirely different side of the school,"
said Shelby Rombach, age 16.
"It made me really value the simple things in life such as water,
food, family, a place to call home, and the power of education --
things that I used to take for granted," said Jessie Joseph, 16. "I
went to Bromley expecting to teach the girls things, but instead I was
taught valuable lessons. The girls really taught me what a true friend
is, and that it can be found in any race, age, or gender. I cannot
wait to go back to those smiling faces again someday."
Bromley was once a premier school for girls in Liberia, but it was
forced to close in 1997 during the height of the 14-year civil war in
Liberia. Bromley re-opened in 2003, its student body comprised largely
of orphaned girls, age 3 to 18. In the past seven years, Bromley has
regained electricity and running water, and the Bromley girls are
motivated to become Liberia's leaders of the future. However, many of
the high school age students struggle with literacy skills, as their
education halted during their elementary years.
The literacy camp sought to strengthen the students' reading skills by
giving them individual attention and creative means of learning.
The camp featured five literacy centers, and all of the activities at
the centers were planned by St. James' youth missioners, age 16 and
17. The youth led a readers' theater group, a group reading center, a
music and sign language station, an art center, and a first aid
After finishing the centers, the group enjoyed an hour of free reading
with the Bromley students. The younger students gravitated to The Cat
and the Hat and The Giving Tree, while the older students preferred
Night John. The missioners brought about 1,000 pounds of supplies for
the reading camp, and gave two books to each of the 80 Bromley
students who attended the camp. The faculty of the Bromley School also
participated in the camp, learning how to use the resources available
to them to engage the students in creative ways.
St. James' plans to send more youth mission teams to Bromley in the
future, with a focus on education, both with Bromley students and
"The love that is shared in that school is breathtaking," said
missioner Jane Horton, 17. "My experience in Liberia completely
changed my perspective on how I live, and I will never take anything
for granted again. In America, we teenagers worry about typical high
school-related problems. For teenagers in Liberia, their problems are,
'will I eat tomorrow?' It just shows us how fortunate we are."
-- Mary Davila is assistant to the rector for youth and children's
ministries at St. James' Episcopal Church in Leesburg, Virginia. She
led the St. James' mission team to Liberia.
Episcopal Life Online
Long-term commitment to mission in Liberia
By Kimberly Johnson, June 29, 2010
[Episcopal News Service]
When people ask me about mission, I have a
simple answer: Go! It will change you. It will change the people
Two years ago, I went on a mission trip with St. David's Episcopal
Church in Ashburn, Virginia, a trip that altered not only my life, but
my career, my world perspective and my attitude towards all the
"simple" things I take as givens. As I expressed my concerns of going
way outside of my comfort zone in traveling to Liberia, West Africa,
to Bromley Episcopal Mission School, my son gifted me with the words
by which I have come to live. He said, "God's work is never in our
comfort zone, Mom."
Through my fortunate brush with Bromley these last two years, I
continue to see that we have an invitation to be God's channels, his
hands and mouth, and to contribute some of our resources, whether
monetary, emotional or spiritual. I've found that when we hear the
still, small voice and we respond by reaching out to others, it is so
surprising what "so-called coincidences," as my priest, the Rev. John
Ohmer refers to them, start pouring into our lives.
In January, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori visited
Bromley. Along with Bishop of Liberia Jonathan B.B. Hart, she
participated in the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of
phase one of the school's staff housing project, partially funded by a
United Thank Offering grant obtained through St. James' Leesburg,
Virginia, and the Diocese of Virginia. (Bromley is currently raising
the final $8,000 for the staff housing project; $52,000 out of the
$60,000 necessary has already been raised.)
Bromley, once a premier school in Liberia, was founded more than 100
years ago by Bishop Samuel David Ferguson, the first black person to
be elected a bishop in the Episcopal Church. It was devastated by
recent wars and forced to close during the most violent period.
When Kingsley Obaji and Maggie Johnson (who is Liberian) from St.
David's rediscovered it, the school had recently reopened with orphans
rescued from refugee camps and was struggling for survival and seeking
support. They began taking mission teams to replace the leaking roof,
bring much-needed supplies of food and clothing and to refurbish the
library, among many other projects. The Obajis rallied support from
local Episcopal churches and when they came to my church, St. James',
Leesburg, with a Bromley presentation they also informed us that they
had room on their upcoming mission to the school. Six weeks later, I
was in Liberia.
During our mission, we accomplished much, not the least of which was
developing relationships with the students and staff at Bromley. As
Buck Blanchard, world mission coordinator for the Diocese of Virginia
says of mission, "It's the people, not the project." All of us on that
mission felt the same affirmation that we could never turn away from
I am now preparing for my seventh trip to Liberia, and looking back
over the 21 weeks I have spent there in the past two years I can
hardly believe how my life has been altered. I now work full time
combining humanitarian endeavors for Liberia and writing and I have
never been more fulfilled.
The longer I know the girls at Bromley and watch the school slowly
improve, the more attached I become to this place and these people.
It's really quite amazing to see the seniors graduate and move to
college and to watch the little ones grow and learn. I, like all of
the missioners who have visited Bromley, feel like these girls are my
The school is very far from financial freedom and stability, however.
Although Bromley now accepts local students, they still must support
the original girls and there is much work yet to be done. Education
remains a luxury in Liberia, a country with staggering rates of
illiteracy and unemployment, but Bromley's staff continues to fight
for the education of Liberia's young women -- the very future of the
country. Many Episcopalians have provided girls with scholarships to
As Liberia begins to emerge from the ashes and carnage of past wars,
the students and staff at Bromley have been granted a great gift of
hope through their very own Episcopal Church community. What a
tremendous comfort and reassurance it is to these girls to know that
even across thousands of miles and through 100 years, the Episcopal
Church continues to support and nurture its family and care for the
schools they founded so long ago. Bromley is not forgotten.
An example of the benevolence extended to Bromley was evident when
they recently faced an urgent financial crisis. Largely because of
donor fatigue and rising rice and fuel prices, Bromley was unable to
meet operational costs, a crisis so severe that the school was almost
forced to close for the remainder of the year which would have had
reverberating repercussions. Many friends and supporters of Bromley,
as well as several Episcopal churches, raised almost all of the money
to cover the budget deficit.
The school's administration knows it cannot rely on grants to fund
operating costs and has a plan to establish an agricultural project
that will help prevent further budget shortfalls. Bromley has more
than 150 fertile, riverside acres and for decades operated a thriving
farm. Re-cultivating the farm would generate revenue for the school
and place it firmly on the path to self-sufficiency.
On my first day at Bromley in 2007, I was handed a letter from a small
girl asking me to be her "playmother," which I soon learned was a
great honor. Words seem to be more sacred in Liberia. When a person
agrees to be someone's playmother or playfather or playsister, they
not only agree to remember the girl but also to pray for her and to
offer the support of friendship and love. Every time I return to
Liberia, I take pen pal letters from many Episcopal churches, letters
that offer hope and simple connection. These girls live in a harsh
environment and they feel that if they are remembered, even from
someone on another continent, they are never completely alone.
All of the Bromley girls take great pride in their country. Even in
the center of what most of us would rank as insurmountable odds, these
girls have a passion for life and a resolve that their families, their
country and their lives will soon be great again.
In my opinion, they are already great. Through their shining spirits
and their warm friendship and love, they have given me so much more
than I have given them. They have overcome the traumas of rape,
torture, homelessness, starvation, witnessing unspeakable crimes and
murders and the feeling of being utterly lost.
When I become overwhelmed by the remaining and often daunting work
still necessary at Bromley, I remember the words of a friend who when
asked, "Where in the world do you start?" answered, "You just start."
Through this change in my life I have learned a simple truth: we all
need each other. We can find the answer to our life questions by
answering another: What can I do to offer someone else hope?
The Prayer of St. Francis always offers me strength in mission and I
believe, as the people of Liberia, that the former horrors of war will
be overcome, that God calls us all to build and plant and above all,
to scatter joy.
-- Kimberly Johnson is a missioner from the Diocese of Virginia.
Adult Mission 2009
November 5, 2008
From RJ, 18:
I will never take my health for granted again. During my time in Liberia, I realized how lucky I am to have survived my childhood. The reason I say this is because of one girl. I never met her because she was home sick most of the time I was at Bromley. She had come down with a bad case of Typhoid.
Typhoid is transmitted through water that has come in contact with human or animal waste. I knew that the drinking water there was not suitable for our consumption. But more than I felt sorry for her, I was angry. Typhoid was one of the shots I was required to get before I went down there. We have vaccines so readily available for us in developed nations. It takes 300 dollars, a few pricks, and a sore arm, a process many of us have been going through since birth. It's simple. But what is not so simple is how hard the resources are to get there. The mail is unreliable, people earn 5 dollars a day, if that, and since the war, there is no tourist income coming to the country.
I am so grateful to be able to stand here healthy, go to bed and not worry about mosquitoes, watch my favorite TV program, and walk outside and not be scared. But most of all, I will never say "I'm starving" again. Because I am not starving. I get three meals a day, countless snacks, and dozens of beverages at my disposal. Those girls I met were lucky that they got two meals every other day.
The mission trip to Africa gave me a new outlook on our American lives. I will still admit I am addicted to my computer and phone, but I would give it all up in a second just to see those girls truly healthy and happy.
From Liz, 18
I see myself as an avid traveler and mission-tripper. So when I got wind of a trip to Liberia being put together by St. James, I eagerly jumped on board. I knew nothing about solar panels, but I did have some background about the country via my brother and my father, who went to Liberia in November.
There is so much to say about the trip, and no amount of writing will live up to it. The whole experience is even difficult to go through even with my close friends. When acquaintances ask about my trip, I say “We installed solar light panels at a girl’s school.” Which is true, but simultaneously not true at all. Us youth helped, yes, sawing wood and drilling into concrete walls and replacing light bulbs. The meat of our time however, was spent with the many girls at Bromley.
Our team had hardly arrived at the riverfront school and was swarmed by beautiful inquisitive girls. One of the youngest, Baby Girl, took my hand. This began a week of constant attention and devotion, outpouring of love and a never-ending supply of letters and little gifts and notes from the girls. We didn’t have to do anything, prove anything, to deserve any of it. I truly saw God in each and every one of them; their actions and words. Each day we would spend time with them, to interact and talk. We taught them songs from Shrine Mont, and they would show us games and teach us songs as well. And believe me, Liberian tic tac toe is so much better!
Although I felt like I adapted quickly to daily life the country, it did not take away my sense of wonder to the area around me. I came to savor ice-cold Cokes with pop-tops, and hot and cold water alike. I quickly learned to check the sink faucet to see if water was on in a bathroom. If the faucet worked, I could flush the toilet – oh joy!
Never again will I complain about rain in my entire life, because I have heard the heavens drop everything they have, and it is deafening. I became used to the absence of my cell phone and the internet, and savored the bit of my summer where I was truly only connected to those around me, unreachable to the rest of the world.
There were some times, I will admit, that it was easy to forget where I was and what I was there for, especially when relaxing on the beautiful beaches. It wasn’t hard to snap back to reality. The sight of shanty towns, and families flooded out of their homes when it rained too hard. Driving on dirt roads with potholes like gorges, and puddles like small lakes. These are just a few of the realities of the country we were faced with daily.
In Liberia, the poverty was just as widespread and dominant as the stunning landscape. How much more beautiful and terrible could it get? The connections we made with all the girls in Bromley were precious and irreplaceable, and the progress our team made with installing the solar light panels is a dramatic improvement to the Bromley School. Liberia was with no doubt the mission trip of a lifetime. When people ask me “How was it?” I reply with no exaggeration , “it was the most amazing trip I have ever been on in my life.”
From Gabrielle, 17
Hi my name is Gabrielle, I am 17 and I am a senior at Potomac falls high school. This summer I had the great opportunity to go toLiberia for 2 weeks. As soon as I heard about it I knew I wanted to go. I love mission trips, traveling, and helping people so I couldn’t wait to get there. Going into it, I think I was somewhat expecting to have my life changed. I mean how could I not. Everyone who I had ever talked to about going to Africa had told me that “it’s going to be such a life changing experience”. The only problem was I don’t think I understood what that really meant. Not until I was there, witnessing the horrible conditions of Liberia, but also being with the girls at the Bromley mission school. They changed my life in so many ways. The way the girls were so accepting, welcoming, and real was amazing. They were great models of how we all should act. Not many people are quite like that around here. It wasn’t until I arrived home that I realized how different my life was going to be. It was a very difficult transition coming home to one of the richest counties in America, from one of the poorest countries in the world. I definitely appreciate everything I have so much more. I knew I would never complain about cold showers, being hungry, or it being hot again. I also realized that I want to help and continue to help Africa throughout my life. Even my goals for the future have changed. I have always wanted to be a teacher, and although that has not changed, I hope to do humanitarian work as well, or even a possible teaching experience in Liberia. The effect the trip has made on my life is hard to put into words , but the trip was worth so much. As much as hope that we made an impact on the girls, I know that the girls made an impact on us. I went on this trip looking to give, but in the end I think I came back with more than I ever had.