Born Laura Carpenter, the oldest of three children to Hormel Carpenter, a young single mother on the South Side of Chicago. At a young age Laura’s family moved to Michigan, to a small, strong and tight African American community, called Muskegon Heights. Laura did not grow up in church. However by God’s grace when she was 16 years old, her mother, (who was a new Christian), prayed with her, and Laura gave her life to Christ while kneeling at the foot of her mother’s bed. A little over 3 years later, Laura’s mother would die of cancer and leave a 19 year old Laura to look after her teenage brother and sister. Laura left school to work and take care of her siblings.
Although Laura never completed her undergraduate career, she has been a life long learner. Laura successfully completed the Devos Urban Leadership Initiative, she was in the first cohort in 1998; She was a founding member and served as a Trainer/Organizer with Congregations Organizing for Racial Reconciliation (CORR) 2004 to 2020; she completed extensive training for her role as trainer/organizer in 2006; she graduated from Leadership Grand Rapids class of 2008. In 2019 Laura was ordained as a Minister of the Word in the Christian Reformed Church. Laura is praying to begin work toward earning a Master’s degree in Transformational Leadership. Using her life experience and learning to prepare her for this leg of learning and growth.
After more than 25 years of full-time ministry in Michigan at Madison Square Church, Laura is now serving as a missionary for the Christian Reformed Church of North America, (CRCNA) in Liberia, West Africa. She is working to fulfill a dream that started with a prayer in 2005. She asked the Lord to make her an agent of healing and restoration, a bridge between African Americans and Africans. “Building Bridges,” was the first phase of this dream. Building Bridges was an initiative to empower and connect West Africans and African Americans. Laura led her first team of 9 African Americans on a “learning tour” to Accra, Ghana and Monrovia, Liberia in 2011. She has lead 3 more teams since that time and she is now positioned to focus on this calling fulltime.
Laura worked with Rev. Dr. Samuel B. Reeves from 1997 to 2005, when he served as co-pastor at Madison Square Church, and Laura was Director of Youth Ministry. Laura’s first trip to Liberia in 2001 was under the leadership of Rev. Reeves. That trip and her next trip in 2005 were life changing, setting her on the trajectory to be where she is today. Living, serving and loving Liberia.
Laura is the first African American missionary serving the CRCNA and hopes to be an inspiration to other African Americans to join the missionary ranks of the CRCNA and beyond. People of African descent should not see ourselves as objects of charity or be limited by locale. We are capable of being agents and instruments for God’s use anywhere in the world. Laura is burdened by the disconnect, the stereotypes, the untold stories and unknown histories that exist throughout the diaspora. The African diaspora is not only dispersed around the world as a result of transatlantic slave trade, but we bare the wounds of colonialism, slavery and racism. Our self-identity has been distorted, even damaged and our perception of each other is often based on lies, over generalizations, and simply not knowing our history and current state of affairs.
In 2018 Laura changed the name of her ministry to Healing Our Nations. She desires to be an agent of healing and reconciliation. Believing this healing and reconciliation will build unity, strength, empowerment and self-determination throughout the diaspora, She believes that we are assets to the world and that we can help each other see ourselves as God’s image bearers and ministers in all sectors of societies anywhere in the world.
Currently living in Liberia with her husband, Henry Pritchard and their daughter, Thelma, Laura says she is home. She serves as Director of Sister Church Relations at the historic Providence Baptist Church, once again serving with Rev. Reeves. Working with young adults and leadership development is giving Laura significant energy these days. She sees her role as an elder pouring into, shaping, and developing young and emerging leaders. She and Rev. Reeves co-host a weekly, one hour radio program called, Leading Leaders. She is also working on two initiatives with young leaders in Liberia and young African American leaders in the states. Connecting both groups via learning together and hearing each other’s stories.
Laura is not a country girl, she loves and thrives in the city and knows that she is called to Monrovia. Her husband, on the other hand, is a farmer and loves the country! Laura loves being in the place of her African origins. She has found her own liberation here, and honestly it is a growing freedom. Free from the weight of racial oppression in the states, while she is being healed from the internalizing of that oppression. She remembers when she first arrived in Liberia and heard a police siren behind her. She felt her body tense and mind go into defense mode, then in that moment she realized, I am not in America. I don’t have to worry about the danger of being stopped by the police. Certainly there are other issues to deal with here in Liberia regarding law enforcement, but not the racist practices that were endured in the states.
Adjusting to a society that is in the midst of change, a country whose people are working to rebuild is not always easy. Systems are broken, health care, policing, utilities, education and the list goes on. Simple things like getting money from an ATM, something that is so quick and easy in the states, can be an adventure here, like a 2 – 3 hour adventure depending on the day and circumstances. Life is stressful and intense. Sickness and death is a regular occurrence, more regular than I have experienced. And usually people do not question how someone dies. That is different for me too.
But even with the inconveniences and stress Liberia is home. I love living near the ocean, it is beautiful and peaceful. It is a constant reminder of the many ancestors who were forcibly removed from these shores, never to return. And being here in Liberia is a reminder of our many ancestors who were free(d) to return home. They come to spread the gospel and to build a free and independent republic for themselves.
Liberia is filled with people who want something better and many are working toward the better. Yes, some of the “old guard” still want to maintain a certain status quo, and many long for “normal days,” (the time before the war). The pain and trauma of years of civil unrest is still seen and felt. It is sometimes frustrating to see people longing to go to a place that is not heaven, but many here are convinced the United States of America is heaven and if they can just get there everything will be alright. Laura (and her husband) wish the people could see the rich resources of the land and people right here in Liberia. They pray for the brain drain to stop!
Many West African countries have a “Door of No Return,” but Liberia is our “Door of Return!” I long for my brothers and sisters from the states to come home. To come learn. To come connect. I pray for us to learn our common history. To eat Collard greens together. To sing together. To pray together. To work together. To grow together. To heal together.