Editor’s note: Women of the ELCA participants supported a successful solar power project for Phebe Hospital in Liberia, leading to another hopeful project at Curran Hospital, 70 miles north of Phebe.
by Mary Jo Mettler
My 2012 trip to Liberia with Women of the ELCA changed my life. It wasn’t a trip I had planned to take, but my friend Mary Kay insisted that we both go. And so we did! In November 2012, the travelers of the 25th Anniversary Women of the ELCA Women Building Global Community set off on for Liberia. It took us 28 hours to get to Monrovia, the capital city, where we spent two days.
There we met women of the Lutheran Church of Liberia, worshiping together and hearing their heartbreaking stories of life during the 14-year civil war. We also met several government officials and that wonderful friend of Women of the ELCA, Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace laureate and triennial gathering speaker.
Then we headed about 100 miles up the road to Phebe Hospital, a Lutheran hospital in rural Bong County. There we met the hospital’s medical director, Dr. Jefferson Sibley, and other staff members. As the meeting closed, someone asked what the hospital’s greatest challenge was. We were expecting the answer to be child mortality, malaria, TB or some other disease, but Dr. Sibley said, “a reliable source of electricity.”
He explained that since the war and the destruction of infrastructure, the hospital used diesel generators for electricity. Sibley said fuel was expensive and the hospital often had no money to buy it. When they could afford it, the rough road conditions made it difficult to transport the fuel. We were shocked. Here in our comfortable world, we don’t even think of such things.
That conversation haunted us
On the flight home, Mary Kay said solar power would make so much sense: Liberia is six degrees north of the equator, with lots of sun. And we remembered a nonprofit solar company in central Minnesota that had won awards for its work bringing solar power to low-income families and communities: the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL).
I called Jason Edens, executive director of RREAL, and he said, “Let’s go for it!” Next, I took the idea to WELCA, and the Northeastern Minnesota Synodical Women’s Organization approved working with RREAL to bring power to Phebe.
It took four years to raise the $550,000 we needed, and the project moved slowly. When RREAL was awarded a $100,000 National Geographic Great Energy Challenge Grant, that provided the push we needed. Donations came in from across the country. The project was completed and began generating power on Good Friday of 2017. Watch a video of Mary Jo talking about the project at the Tenth Triennial Convention in Minneapolis.
Project two on the horizon
While the Phebe solar installation was in progress, the medical director of the Curran Lutheran Hospital in Zorzor, Liberia, Dr. Gobeh, visited the site several times and asked–no begged–the RREAL staff to visit Curran to see if that hospital could also benefit from solar power. The crew visited Curran and agreed with Dr. Gobeh. Project number two was on the horizon! (Watch a video about the project.)
In November 2017, several of us from Women of the ELCA and RREAL traveled to Liberia and Phebe Hospital for the ribbon-cutting and dedication of the solar project. Then we visited Curran Lutheran Hospital.
We felt the call of the Holy Spirit to help Curran
Curran, built in 1924, has 125 beds as well as outpatient services. It provides health and medical care for 23 communities. It is the referral hospital for 17 clinics that serve about 6,000 people. The hospital also houses the Esther Bacon School of Nursing, which enrolls about 250 students per term.
Like Phebe, Curran has no paying patients. Government funds have been slow in getting to the hospital, and as a result, Curran is in severe financial difficulties. Vendors are refusing to sell them fuel and other supplies. Solar electricity will provide financial relief to the hospital and bring a lasting, clean source of reliable electricity.
Women of the ELCA has supported Curran Lutheran Hospital in a small way for about 100 years. The women of our predecessor church bodies established an endowment whose income is designated for the hospital.
Spreading the story of Curran
When we returned, we all spread the story of what we had seen and heard. Sue Ellwanger, president of the Northwestern Minnesota SWO, was a real go-getter in the synod. Our Phebe supporters jumped on board as well. I was speechless when a woman gave me a check for $20,000 at the Northwestern Minnesota Synod assembly. Remembering that still gives me shivers.
It will cost $588,000 to complete the project. I am overjoyed that we have raised more than $295,000, but we still need about $263,000. Installation is scheduled for December of 2019.
It is urgent that we raise the last half of the money as quickly as possible. Donations can be made at www.skipthegrid.org, click on the Give Now button. You will be taken to a second page. From the drop down menu select Skip the Grid. Checks can be mailed to NE MN Synod, 1105 E. Superior St., Duluth, MN 55082
Please give! And please send an email to 20 of your friends asking them to give, too. Please share this on social media. The more exposure we get, the quicker we will reach our fundraising goal–and bring clean, dependable electricity to Curran Hospital.
We are bold women, and I pray we can make this happen. Women lead the way. Women were the first to learn of Jesus’ resurrection and the first to spread the Good News! We are changing the world.
Mary Jo Mettner is a former board member of the Northeastern Minnesota Synodical Women’s Organization and current Women of the ELCA participant at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Pine City, Minn. She says several women are willing to make presentations about Curran. Contact Mary Jo by email to learn more. Feature photo is of Mary Jo demonstrating a solar oven.