You know Spiderman, right?
I don’t mean, like, do you two personally hang out, because I’m not sure that’s possible, but I mean like–you know who I’m talking about.
The original Spidey’s whole thing–before Marvel went insane big mode–is that he’s your neighborhood hero, the guy who knows the people on his block, knows their problems, and tries to protect them from what could hurt them.
There’s a guy out here giving Spiderman a run for his money.
This guy’s neighborhood’s hot, and muggy. Kids run barefoot along dirt paths; rusted roofs crouch beside patches of vegetable gardens, and like in areas you might know from the poorer American South. My guy’s neighborhood was run by thugs for several decades–murderous, cut-you-up-with-a-machete kind of thugs, thugs so bad our guy lived in a refugee camp in another country for years.
In that camp, he picked up a book that made him change the rules he followed–the mantra he lived by. He didn’t change his God or anything. Just picked up new rules.
I don’t know exactly when the rules moved into action, or if this was always kind of in this guy’s nature; somehow, once he moved back to his neighborhood he started getting to know the people there who didn’t have food. “The widows and the orphans.” He started knocking on metaphorical doors, inviting people to come get what he had, and of course, these things have a way of snowballing: you know if you’ve ever started getting involved in a need—
–and I mean really involved, like asking questions and seeing the people where they are, like getting embedded in with your military unit, not just some kind of “check the box” volunteer gig–
–when you get involved like that, you start getting sucked in. You develop enemies and allies. You start to learn names, to see who needs what, who’s got an ulterior motive and who’s sincere, who’s fighting what battle.
That’s neighborhood shit.
Before you know it, people are looking to you as a protector when they need help.
So what happens when suddenly your neighborhood’s chest deep in flood water?
What kind of reptiles live below the murky brown sludge where you’re wading, kid clinging to your back, rippling water lapping at your ribs, bare toes picking through silt and rock and muck?
How do you keep kids from disappearing?
What’s it like when you can’t get anything dry–nothing in your house, none of your clothes, nothing, just everything soggy?
How do you fight for your neighborhood when you’re just as flooded out as everyone else?
There’s a full transcript below, for those who, like me, often get impatient watching videos and would rather read. Once you’re done with that, you can help Ephraim save his neighborhood by going to nobelexpress.com, and ordering food to the address
Ephraim Gaye Shaul
Barclay mission field
Phone number +231886784192
You can also email him at email@example.com to let him know it’s on its way.
I provide this kind of information because I want to find the few and the faithful who want to do more than common good–the ones crazy enough to imagine becoming real life superheroes. Not keyboard warriors. Not activists. Not a Twitter mob. And not just nice people. But people who take real action, put themselves on the line, drop the ego, and roll up sleeves to save lives.
If you’re ready to break the mold – to actually start saving people – join the five day free superhero mindset training here. I don’t believe in coincidence: you’re here for a reason. So don’t let this moment slip away and miss the chance to get your head in the game. “What if” isn’t a fun regret to have.
“📍 Ephraim is a Liberian brother connected with my Messianic synagogue. Orphans and widows rely on him for help– recently they had an enormous flood.
I first met Ephraim because my Messianic synagogue from Tikvat Yisrael in Hawaii has connections with people all over the world: oppressed and hidden believers in Pakistan. We have connections with folks who are doing amazing homeless outreach in Hawaii. We have connections with folks who do prison care. We have connections with folks who are in Kenya, Liberia just many, many, many places.
Now I like to talk about becoming a real life superhero. A big part of that ethos is seeing a problem, and instead of waiting around for a corporation, government, charity to fix it, you decide yourself what you’re going to do.
Yeah. See, our cooking is firewood–wood is what we can cook on here. The rice on the fire, there’s the soup: palm butter.
Ephraim doesn’t work for a government. He doesn’t work for a corporation. He doesn’t have a big charity behind him. There isn’t a big religious organization behind him either. He’s just a guy who’s looked at a scripture passage that said we’re supposed to take care of the widows and orphans, and he thought, “well, somebody’s gotta do it, so I’m gonna be the one.”
Yes. See we don’t have kitchen in the strong rain here. There is the little–our, our corn farm. The garden, as you see in the video. So, so, so some. Here it is water.
So he has been out of his limited resources working with other members of their congregation to make sure people who have even less than them can be fed.
So you can kind of understand how upsetting it would be if all of a sudden you are the person who’s responsible for helping people in your area and now not only do people not have food and water, but all of your stuff is also, you know, flooded.
Kids like this who are injured or ill now also have to deal with the problem of– now nobody has anywhere to stay.
So the big thing that really differentiates a superhero from an ordinary person is instead of looking at impossible, you start asking the question of HOW. Isabel– my friend who runs the orphanage, who 20 years ago had nothing after the Liberian Civil War– was told, “You are poor. How are you possibly gonna take in all of these orphans that you’re finding in the refugee camps?” And she said, “Well, God wants me to do that,” so she just decided she was gonna do that . She found a very clever way, which you can hear about in the video about her.
Ephraim is the same kind of person. Who’s gonna take care of his community, if not him? In Liberia, the situation with the economy is so bad that as the price of rice, which is the staple food, is going up, people have no jobs and those who do have jobs aren’t getting paid.
Even the government isn’t paying its workers anymore. So what do you do?
Part of that is figuring out how you can leverage tools like the internet; he doesn’t have very much internet access. He can use internet once a week, which he uses to Zoom into our Shabbat services , but you can use that to make contacts and mobilize people to help your community.
These bags of rice you can see they’re labeled Nobel Express. There is actually a way that you can send food to Liberia, and this is something that we did over the summer.
Nobel Express is not a charity, by the way. Nobel Express is literally a food mailing service for people in Liberia because some folks have family in the United States, and those family members can send them food.
This is a Ephraim’s little fellowship. Usually we don’t really associate Judaism or Messianic Judaism with people in Africa, but actually both Judaism and Christianity have been in Africa longer than they have been in Europe.
One of my goals has always been to kind of highlight people who are not the same as everybody around them. People who kind of break stereotypes. Do their own thing.
I really like Jeremy Lin for this reason because Jeremy Lin is another like very stereotype busting person. We tend to make assumptions about people and we tend to decide, oh, this is what all of this person is like.
And we also tend to de-identify and dehumanize people. We tend to say, oh, this person isn’t a real, whatever, but this person is a traitor to their race, country, whatever, because they are like this.
And my goal has always been to see people as whole people and say, no, this person is who they are.
Ephrem is a Liberian who believes the same thing that Messianic Jewish people believe, keeps the Torah, keeps the festivals just like an Orthodox, Reform, or Conservative Jewish person. And it’s different. He has a different way of doing things and nobody made him. He’s in charge of his own little group. This is a thing that he decided and other people in his community have come around him and I imagine that one of the reasons his congregation is the size that it is, is because I’m sure they appreciate how his faith is lived out in action. Which is another important superhero concept: that you don’t just say what you believe.
This is one of the places they were worshiping before their flood. And you can see everybody is in their really beautiful– this is kind of like the equivalent of Sunday best, but it’d be Shabbat best– clothings with the head wraps. This is a long time before the flooding.
This is another place that they have met before as well. So they kind of meet wherever they’re able. So this is them singing and dancing together. And you can see that it’s people with different economic statuses too.
I like the little kid with the carrying their mother’s black purse– the different economic statuses of the people within the community are kind of demonstrated by the different places that they’re living.
My friend Isabel has made a, this is rice, I think. Yeah, a rice like this for me before it was quite spicy. And you can see it’s communal sharing. It’s very common. Kind of like, same with Ethiopian food.
I think that’s rice I can’t see in the picture. Super good.
So, and you can see that these gentlemen also wear an equivalent of a kipa or yamaka. Just like Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and some Messianic Jewish people wear in the United States.
So I’m pretty sure that’s sweet potato greens. That is something that is pretty commonly eaten there, at least from what I know from Isabelle and these. Are the kinds of materials that they share in their home group.
The part of the UN that is deals with food insecurity, one of the large statements that they made several years ago was that people in countries like the United States and Europe are having health crisis from too much meat, but some parts of the world, places like Liberia, children’s health would be greatly improved if they had more access to meat.
And in countries like the United States, we tend to have a lot of health crises or crises that are related to too much meat. Right? And you especially see that with the big changes in pollution and runoff due to the agricultural factory farm situation that we have because of our meat situation.
Obviously as a physician I know, good protein, good fats and good vegetables and co-enzymes– that’s why things like the keto diet work for a lot of people. It’s not good for everybody. Some people will get into a lot of trouble and can be really hurt on the keto diet, but generally carbs is what is bad for you.
When we’re talking about folks in Liberia– just based with my experience the last seven years with Isabelle– they do have chicken when they can, but protein sources are a little bit difficult to come by, so that’s why it was kind of special that we were able to send sardines and other fishy, healthy protein basically.
So there are ways to be a hundred percent plant-based and get the proteins that you need be vegetarian or vegan. It’s gonna be even harder in a very, very low income environment like this.
They’re not, they don’t have B 12 supplements. They don’t have, you know, access to all of the beans and lentils and every single different kind of protein or every single kind of nut and so forth that you can put together to make a complete protein source if you are a vegetarian or a vegan. So in a lot of these places in the world, that is, that wouldn’t be a practical lifestyle.
Okay, so let me just show you Nobel express.com.
We tend to, I think, have a very over traditional view of what a charity or what world aid should be. The reality is though there are millions and millions of dollars of aid that have been poured into certain communities and things haven’t gotten better.
In fact, there are some communities that are now poorer than when they first started getting aid. So the traditional charity system isn’t working partly because you tend to have the tragedy of the commons. Right? Tragedy of the commons is, is something that you tend to experience in a lot of places where like a well has been done for a community, for example, and organizations like Water Wells for Africa that work in Malawi, for example, are trying to change that paradigm. When they build a well, they’re not just gonna leave a well, which is gonna break down within a year and be useless or be vandalized or only one person ends up getting access to it. When they build a well, they first establish a community committee that is going to manage the water. They teach repairs and they figure out how they’re gonna source materials so that this is gonna be sustainable. And there is a essentially community organization that is responsible for continuing it. Essentially what they’re doing is putting the power into the hands of the people who are receiving the help.
And similarly, Kiva, right? Kiva has been is a really neat twist. Instead of the traditional charity model, Kiva will loan people who are in need money– there’s no interest or anything like that– in order that they can start their own mini business. It’s called micro financing.
So for example, a long time ago I gave to a woman in I think Vietnam who needed a wheelbarrow. She couldn’t even afford a wheelbarrow– so that she could go into the trash dump and collect things that she could recycle, right? And the idea is once she’s sold enough to pay back the loan– it ranges between like 25 to hundred dollars depending on the situation. Her situation, I think was like $25 or something like that. People end up paying back that loan to Kiva once they have the money to do so, and then that same money goes to help somebody else. So not only are you increasing the net value of your dollar, ’cause each dollar can help multiple people over and over again, but again, you are putting power in the hands of the people that you’re helping. And when you put power in the hands of the people you’re helping, you kind of get out of this paternalistic “I’m the hero, I’m solving all the problems” mentality.
And you start to focus on seeing other people kind of as the hero of their own story, which is very important. And I think that’s another big like superhero ethics point when we are trying to break away from the normal, right? The normal charity model has failed in many places in the world.
The normal government aid model has failed in many places in the world.
The model of lifting people up and seeing the hero in somebody else: I think it’s kind of inherent to a realistic superhero model, right? Because a real life superhero couldn’t really be as flashy; unless you’re calling attention to a cause, in general, you don’t wanna draw attention to yourself. You wanna draw attention to the people that you’re serving, because that’s your focus. That is how you’re gonna get things done. if the attention is on other people, then it becomes contagious.
And that’s a big difference with the Kiva kind of model.
That’s not to say that traditional charity is completely all bad. There are economic institutes that talk about how in the long term, investing in, for example, African business is going to be more helpful than dumping money at well products or so forth. But in the short term, there are children who are hungry and needing now.
And so what do you do now? So, you know, so there, there needs to be a balance.
But I, I mention all of this to point out that there are ways to help that are not just charity, right? You don’t have to just send money a place, you can send food a place, and when you do something like Nobel Express, which is a business, they have employees in Liberia, so you’re improving the Liberian economy.
They also have employees in the United States. So you’re taking business money, essentially from the United States into Liberia in a way that’s elevating people and allowing them to make money for themselves, right? You’re not just helping the local economy, you’re helping individuals, and those individuals are helping other people in the meantime.
So this is a hundred pound bag of rice, I think what we sent was the fish pack. I think we sent this pack, the express premium fish pack where we sent some noodles, a hundred pound bag of rice, and a bunch of sardines and other things like that. They have since added some other really neat things to their store, like mattresses, generators– Isabel Isabel has on multiplications brought up to meet the issue of, “well, the electricity is out all over Liberia again.” At her orphanage they have a solar panel that was built for them by US Marines many, many years ago. And we, you and I helped them to repair it ’cause it had been broken for a long time . And so that way when the electricity goes down, the children in that orphanage still have electricity. They can still study for school, everything isn’t in total darkness.
They can still communicate with the outside world, which is important in other situations where they haven’t had the benefit of some random group of Marines coming and building them a solar panel.
A generator is a huge possibility. The only issue with that is that then you have to pay for gas regularly, but it’s still better than having nothing. And you can store up the gas for a long time. So there’s a lot of cool things you can do with Nobel Express.
Ephraim’s situation, as I mentioned, is pretty different than Isabel’s situation. She has this well established orphanage. He is literally this young guy now in his thirties who goes around his area and brings food to widows and orphans in his area. If you want to send food to Ephraim through Noble Express, you can do so.
You have to put his address on there. His address is going to be Ephraim Gaye Shaul, Paynesville City, Barclay Mission Field, and phone number 231-886-7 8 4- 1 9 2. Ephraim Paynesville City Paynesville, spelled P A Y N E S I L L E, Barclay Mission Field, b a r c l a Y.
And then his phone number, 2, 3, 1, 1, 8, 8, 6, 7, 8, 4, 1, 9 2. And you can literally pick out what you wanna send. There are many packs– most of the things on there tend to be a little bit in bulk. They tend to prefer US rice, I have been told, but you can also pay for local rice. Again, you end up helping in two or three ways, right?
Because you’re also helping the local economy, which is crap, right now. Because it doesn’t matter if you throw money at it and the local economy is so bad– ’cause none of you or me can just keep giving money forever because one day we’re gonna die.
So, you know, at some point a different, more sustainable solution has to show up.
Sometimes people need food NOW. On average, the school quality tends to be poor in some of these countries: very, very difficult for mal nutritive children to learn. If you’ve grown up mal nutritive, your brain does not have the same kind of development.
If you can do something that is going to stimulate long-term change, that’s the best way you could possibly do it. Kiva, the kiva.org that I mentioned, noble express.com is spelled n O b E L express, e x p r e 📍 📍 s ss.com.
So not noble like noble like nobility, but like Nobel, like Nobel Prize.
We’ll let Ephraim close you out.
Ephraim: ‘So very soon we pray that we get help to take all the kids and the woman from here, the widows–
Jen Finelli is a world-traveling scifi author who’s gone swimming with sharks, escaped being locked in a German nunnery, discovered murals and poetry in underground urban caves, explored jungles and coral deserts, and hung out with everyone from dead people and prostitutes to secret political influencers and Senators. She is coping with life as an MD by telling you stories, and when she grows up she’ll be a superhero. You can help her out at patreon.com/becominghero, and learn about the author-killing comic book character who started the whole thing at becominghero.ninja.
***Mental health: If you need help, get help. I have suffered with severe mental illness for years and I know it sucks. If you have trouble finding a therapist, please visit betterhelp.com/doctorjen for an online option. I affiliated with them to get you a special link for 10 percent off teletherapy. IF YOU CAN’T AFFORD ONLINE THERAPY, check your options with your local health department or openpathcollective.org. Also:
— Phone number for suicide helpline US: 1-800-273-8255
— Crisis text line: Text HOME to 741741 in US; Text 686868 in Canada
— Victor Frankl’s logotherapy book helped me find meaning in my depression (order from somewhere other than Amazon if you can, but if you can’t, use this affiliate link to support my work)
— This DBT Workbook by Matthew McKay helped me survive strong suicidal emotions
I am a real physician (publicly searchable Virginia license at 0101265916), but unfortunately, I can’t give you any official medical advice online since we’ve never had an individualized appointment. Instead, I really hope these more general resources help; they are evidence-based and they have helped me. If they don’t help, go find some that do.
Your life matters.