April 5, 2021

LOVE GOES TO LIBERIA

Marthanna and I met when we were both Public Relations Directors at South Carolina hospitals in the 1980’s—she in Orangeburg and I in Columbia.  She was a petite and pretty brunette with thick dark eyebrows, a deep southern drawl and a bright smile. She was smart as a whip, great at her job, and was the choir director at the Methodist church in the small town of St. Matthews.  Her husband David delighted in her outgoing personality although he was much more reserved.  He worked in the Maintenance Department at the hospital where she worked.  They married when Marthanna was just 15 or 16—and she finished high school. They had six children, lived in a stately old home that belonged to David’s family, and he was the Mayor of St. Matthews.

Once we came to a professional meeting at the Opryland Hotel, and Marthanna, David and I spent an afternoon together on one of the bus tours of country music stars’ homes. A few years later, David was murdered when he went to a laundromat he owned to collect the money.  Their whole community was devastated—the story became national news. After the funeral, Marthanna went to the jail to speak with the man who had stabbed him. She told him what pain and grief he had brought to her and all their family and friends—and also told him that Jesus loved him.  A few months later, she took a leave of absence and went to Ghana to visit longtime missionary friends. She spent time grieving and learning about the African continent and people. 

She came back and put in an application to go to Liberia as a missionary. She took recommended courses at Columbia International University to prepare—and would sometimes spend nights with us when she was there. During this process, her sister in Warner Robbins, Georgia, introduced her to a recent widower at her church.  James Phillips was a Georgia Tech engineer eligible to retire.  They fell in love—and he agreed to go with her to Liberia!  The missions agency was thrilled to have an engineer to help the people in Monrovia for whom life was so difficult.

I helped some of her St. Matthews friends cater their wedding reception. Her choir sang at the wedding, all her children and grandchildren and his children stood with them at the altar and they were married.  They went to Liberia after one more year of preparation, and lived in a compound in Monrovia. They came home on furlough when Marthanna’s youngest son got married. With her she brought a beautiful small butterfly quilt she had some of the women in their village make for me.

This tiny woman from St. Matthews was full of love.  She walked through tragedy and grief to new experiences of love and compassion on both sides of the ocean.

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