At the end of 2023, I will dissolve the Bricks for Ricks Foundation Liberian Housing Foundation, Inc. Many of you have contributed to the foundation, which has helped to ease the suffering of the Liberian people by contributing to over $2,000,000 in housing construction. This is the story of how God did this with a “few loaves of bread.” To all of you who provided the “bread,” thank you! May God bless you for your gifts!
When I traveled to war-torn Liberia in 1995 with Olu Menjay, the poverty, destruction, and hunger overwhelmed me. When I returned after the war in 2006 to help Olu at Ricks Institute, I felt compelled to do something about the housing issue as I walked among homes of people who still lived in stick huts left over in the refugee camp on the campus of the school.
After attending a Rotary Club meeting in Monrovia, an American in attendance carried me to his compound by the ocean and showed me an earth-block-making machine imported from Texas he used to build his house.
When I returned to the States, I flew to Texas and toured the factory where the company manufactured this machine. While there, I picked up a magazine about earth block construction and read an article which identified a man in the story as “The Authority on Earth Block Construction in the United States.” I called him and told him I was looking for a machine to send to Liberia to make earth blocks and asked for his recommendation.
He told me about a machine built by the Vermeer Corporation that was advanced but simple to operate. It would be easier to repair than most machines because it had fewer moving parts and no computer components.
I set up my foundation, raised money, and purchased the FIRST earth block machine that rolled off the assembly line from the Vermeer Corporation, the BP- 714 Earth Block Press. We brought in Adam DeJong from Dwell Earth to teach us how to use the machine, which makes blocks from 92% soil and 8% Portland cement. We built a small chapel on the campus of the church as a test building. After our successful build, we shipped the machine, trailer, and spare parts kit to Ricks Institute in Liberia.
Throughout this process, God taught me a lot about faith and vision. From the day I walked among the homes left over from the refugee camp of the war, I had a dream to do something about housing in Liberia. I had a vision, but knowing how to get from point A to point B was challenging.
Walking by faith is like putting together a puzzle without knowing where you will find the next piece.
I wanted to have the next piece in hand or at least be assured the piece was within reach, but God taught me to go as far as I could and then wait until He provided, and that was difficult.
Dr. Olu Menjay was happy to receive the machine when it arrived in Liberia, but truthfully, it was a piece of equipment he had no use for without an operator. He was struggling to keep his campus open. He didn’t have any time or resources to recruit anyone to learn how to use it.
Then God moved. He sent Olu Menjay two missionaries. Larry and Becky Stanton were American Baptist missionaries. Larry came as Dr. Menjay’s maintenance supervisor, and Becky came to teach English. Larry agreed to learn how to run the machine, train a Liberian crew, and help them develop a self-sustaining model for building with earth block.
I sent Larry to Haiti, where Dwell Earth conducted a week-long training on using the 714-Earth Black Press and building with earth blocks. Larry returned to Liberia equipped to run the machine. But sometimes, when you think you have the next piece of the puzzle, it doesn’t fit exactly how you thought it
would.Not long after Larry returned to Liberia, Ebola devastated the country. Larry and his family had to leave. American Baptists reassigned them to Hungary. Hungary was experiencing a refugee crisis, and the American Baptist missionaries found a need there and never returned to Liberia.
My vision of developing housing in Liberia continued to lie dormant until one day, I received a message from Jesse Phillips. I did not know Jesse, so he had to introduce himself.
Jesse and his wife Jessica were in their mid-twenties. They were a young married couple who had felt a call to be missionaries to Liberia.
Jesse and Jessica believed in developing sustainable ministry. They wanted to teach Liberians how to be self-sufficient. Besides sharing the gospel, they tried to teach Liberians life skills. Jesse had decided that building with earth block was a viable idea.
In discussing their ideas, Jesse and Jessica talked with Earl Ratcliff, President of S.W.I.M. This international ministry makes hand-held chlorine-producing units to make safe drinking water. Earl lived in their hometown of New Sharon, Iowa. While talking with him about their idea of making earth blocks, they discovered Earl had gone to Haiti two years earlier to be taught how to make earth blocks with the BP-714 Earth Block Press. He went at the invitation of fellow board member Terry Butler, the Director of Operations with the Vermeer Corporation, builder of the BP-714. Earl was a board member at the Vermeer Corporation.
While there, Earl met Larry Stanton. By this time, Larry was in Hungary. But Earl knew that the earth block machine was at Ricks Institute. So, he encouraged Jesse to contact Dr. Olu Menjay about the machine. Dr. Menjay got in touch with me. We both decided that Jesse and Jessica and their mission organization (https://forthelamb-liberia.org/mission) should have the machine as a tool to supplement their work.
In Jesse and Jessica Phillips’s hands, they could fulfill my vision.
Jesse and Jessica have faithfully taught Liberians how to run a sustainable business using Liberian soil for nearly a decade. The Bricks for Ricks Foundation doubled our investment in their work and later sent them a second earth-block-making machine. They built churches, homes, schools, dorm rooms, and even chicken houses. They employed over 100 Liberians and created a Liberian-owned business model that is now self-sustaining.
In a decade, over $2,000,0000 of earth block buildings have been constructed with these two machines donated by the Bricks for Ricks Foundation—a good return on our investment.
In nearly 15 years, the foundation has sent over $150,000 to Liberia. I will resist the temptation to list all the projects the foundation has done. Perhaps it’s more important to mention why I’m shutting the foundation down.
Recently, Jesse and Jessica announced that it was time for them to leave their Liberian home and come to America with their three children. They are currently in the United States, but plan to return to Liberia for another year to complete their good work before returning to their North Carolina where they will make their home. The ministry is Liberia is now self-sustaining, and God is calling them on the next adventure. While they are unsure what that is, they are waiting for God to show them.
Adoption of their Liberian child, Job, still is not complete. They covet your prayers for that the adoption process to be completed soon. Currently, they are struggling to get their feet on the ground as the children are in school.
They have rented an unfurnished house and need some furniture and practical items. I’m no longer accepting money through the foundation, so I’m encouraging those of you who have given in the past to help this couple directly. You can donate through their website at https://forthelamb-liberia.org/donate or send money directly to them at Jesse and Jessica Phillips, 132 Opal Hill Drive, Rutherfordton, NC, 28139.
This is a good time to bring the foundation to a close. I am no longer doing anything innovative, only duplicating services. I encourage those of you are passionate about Liberian missions to give to the Phillips family and also to Henry Peabody’s Foundation. Henry is doing outstanding work in Liberia. Tina and I sponsored Henry as a refugee during the war, and he was able to immigrate to the United States. He is a graduate of Mercer University and a licensed social worker. He makes many trips humanitarian trips to Liberia. You can read his story and donate to his non-profit at Liberian Mission Outreach International. His website is https://lmoius.org/director-founder/.