Juletta M. Tokpah
(This is the only picture I have of her and I⬆️)
My birth momer’s name is Juletta Tokpah, born to Comfort and Papa Dahn. She is the second child of five kids. She is from the Dan (Gio) Ethnic group of Liberia. She was probably about 5ft, with beautiful dark skin and bouncy curly hair. I don’t know too much about her background besides what my adoption papers say. I remember often when I would take my shoes off (which was all the time) she would tell me how we have the same toes😀 I don’t know why but that memory has always stayed with me. I think it’s because I don’t remember too much of what her facial features looked like, or a lot about her personality, but knowing she said my little girl's toes looked like hers, in an odd way made me feel closer to her, and that we were alike.
James Bankiah, was the name of my birth Papa (which is what Liberians call their fathers instead of dad). I don't know anything more than what the papers say: He was born to Vown and Peter Bankiah. He was a loving man who put his family first and tried his best to care for them. Unfortunately I didn’t get to really know who he was or what he liked to do for fun. He passed away June 15, 2001 from a stomach illness. I don’t remember what he looked like, I don’t know anything about his family or what his favorite color is; But I do know he was a good man because of what my mother said about him.
Though my mother didn’t have anyone to help her out while she was trying to raise me, she was still very brave and strong. She taught me to be brave and strong as well. She taught me from a very young age how to work hard and how to earn my way in life. Though there were many times I was tired and just wanted to stop, she said to keep going and to her I’m grateful for that. For many who may not know this about African culture, we are hard working people. We push and push ourselves till the end. We work hard to earn everything, and thank God for every step. She was a woman who kept going and taught me to do the same.
I can’t imagine what it was like trying to raise me in the circumstances she had. I’m sure I wasn’t the easiest or quietest child, but just in general, I wonder what that was like for her.
What were her days like?
What were some of her thoughts and concerns?
Did she ever reach out to family & friends for help?
What pushed her to her breaking point that led me to be adopted?
These have been some of thousands of thoughts that have run through my mind over the past almost 16 years. I know not all of them will be answered in this life, but it still leaves me wondering.
From as early as I can remember my birth mother loved Jesus (I’m guessing that’s where my love for Jesus comes from too☺️) She was a very strong Christian. I remember us going to church a few times and listening to the beautiful singing and words. One memory that stands out the most was when I was between the age of one and three- I was wearing this white dress with a 5 dollar bill in my hand, and I believe who might have been my grandfather was holding me. I had this huge smile on my face. I guess from the dress I was wearing we just came back from church.
Two of the most important things that my mother taught me and that I learned from her was the importance of: praying and reading scriptures (this is also where my love and passion for the scriptures and prayer probably stems from). She was a true and active believer of these things.
My mother was very active in teaching me the importance of prayer and always turning to Jesus and God for help. She would pray with me and then taught me how to pray. Praying became a very regular part of our lives and something we did a lot. The very first verse of scripture I memorized was John 3:16, and that was all because of her. I loved reading from the Bible with her. I knew it was right because of how good I felt while doing so. Of all the many things she taught me, Praying and reading the scriptures would be the most important.
School in Liberia is much different then school in the States. I would head to school while my mother was headed to work. She would either pack me a small lunch, or give me like three dollars so I could split it with the other kids and buy something together. She would watch me as I walked to school, and then headed to work. We didn’t have anything fancy so I would just wear what was there. Sometimes it was often the same outfit over again. Eventually the school got uniforms.
The rule for school was you had to be there early or on time, and if you weren’t you’d get whipped by the teachers. They’d have us all line up outside into grades, then sing a song while marching into our classrooms. I did good by always being on time, but there was this one time I was late and I can’t remember why. The teacher called me up in front of the class, had me lay on the table, and whipped me hard with a stick in front of everyone. I can’t remember how many whips I got, but it taught me to never be late again.
When I got off the table I could see tears forming in my friends eyes, but I just sucked it up.
I had like six African friends and one American friend. My white friend's name was Diamond. She had blond curly hair to her shoulders. I always thought to myself “she looks too nice and dresses too pretty to be coming to our school”. I remember going to her house once and it was so big and beautiful. I always wondered why she had such a nicer home compared to mine. Though I was still very young I knew there was a bigger reason why she had nicer things, I was just too young to put it all together then.
My mother worked at a fish market. Her job was to gut the fish and take parts of the gills off. Whenever I got home from school I’d change, and head to the market to help her. We stayed there until it was dark, then headed home. Our meals consisted of rice, fish and chicken. That’s what we ate most of the time (that’s why it’s my favorite food) . She was a good cook- in fact, that was one way we made a living. My mother couldn’t afford the place, so the owner of the house said we could live there for free if she cooked for him and his family, and some of the other people in the area. She seemed happy by it so I was too. Though our home was no HGTV-dream home, It worked. It did have holes and cracks in the floor where worms and other things can creep in (that is why I grew up extremely terrified of worms) . No matter how many times I swept, it still looked dirty. But despite all that, we were grateful for a place to sleep, and even a bed to sleep on.
In that same room that was probably 12x12 or even 16x16, is where she would do my homework with me, sew with me, read scriptures with me, and pray with me.
Though Juletta was a good mom and taught me many many good things, she had a short temper, and many times I was the one on the other side receiving it. Like most other countries, beating on your children to give punishment is ok and Liberia was no different. If I’d done something wrong (whether I knew it or not) my little body would take the punishment. It didn’t matter if it was a stick, a belt, a rag, her hands or whatever she could get, I’d have to suffer the consequences. I still have scars to this day.
I remember one occasion where I was in the wrong for who knows what reason, and she started whipping me with the end of a towel, the part that hurts just enough when it touches the skin. There was this American man who was in the room with us who had to pry the towel out of her hands so she would stop whipping me with it. I was now in tears sitting in a ball on the floor, but I was so grateful for that man that day. This was just one day of many I had to deal with as a kid, but I wasn’t fortunate enough to have someone to save me all the time. I just had to take it.
Sharing this is not easy for me, It is hard. And I don’t share it because I think it’s fun or because I am looking for some sort of pity party or even a congratulations on moving on and doing better, I share this to show you and the world that “Jesus is the Christ” and that through Him and because of Him all things are possible. I can admit that I had a hard abusive life growing up that I didn’t realize was bad, but when Jesus took me out of there and showed me what I deserve and what I can have, that’s when I started to actually see the light! I share this because I want others to see that our circumstances don’t define us, that our past doesn't shape who we are. We can use them as stepping stones to a better and greater life.
It would be very easy for me to live in pity and sadness for the rest of my life (and I did for a bit) but that only made me more sad. When I learned what Jesus is truly capable of, there was no looking back anymore.
I like This quote from Elder Dale Runlund (who is an Apostle of Jesus Christ in my church) He says:
“Some unfairness cannot be explained; inexplicable unfairness is infuriating. Unfairness comes from living with bodies that are imperfect, injured, or diseased. Mortal life is inherently unfair. Some people are born in affluence; others are not. Some have loving parents; others do not. Some live many years; others, few. And on and on and on. Some individuals make injurious mistakes even when they are trying to do good. Some choose not to alleviate unfairness when they could. Distressingly, some individuals use their God-given agency to hurt others when they never should”.
There are many more things about my mother and life in Liberia that I just don’t remember, but maybe it’s all for a reason. I’m thankful for the birth parents I was given, they probably did what they felt was right, and tried their best- for that I don't fault them or blame them. They taught me a lot that shaped part of my character. Some years back you would NEVER hear those words come out of my mouth. For many years I was any at them and saw no hope, but Jesus can do amazing things when we give our hurt to him.
The bigest lesson my birth parents taught me is: to be the BEST parent I can be for my kids. To love them and do my best to raise them. I know that I’ll never be a perfect parent, but I want to treat my kids better than I was treated, and help them to know how good of a life they have because of Jesus Christ!
I hope this was able to help you appreciate what good Jesus has done and can do for you! He’s always waiting to help you and love you.