Scam Into Blessing – Part 1

The Pilgrim has asked if I would be willing to post the account of my missions trip to Liberia, West Africa. I am thankful to be able to do this, and I hope that this will be an encouragement to each of the readers and bring honor and glory to our Saviour.

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In January 2007, I had the privilege of visiting Liberia, West Africa. Although during my first few hours of the trip, I cannot say that I counted it a blessing or a privilege for it was (humanly speaking) a scam artist that had managed to get me to Liberia. However, I am getting ahead of my story.

I was pastoring a small mission work in England, northeast of London about 80 miles. The Lord had been gracious to me through a very debilitating illness that saw me spending most of my days in bed for several months. I was finally able to start walking with a cane away from the house and it was just a handful of months later that I received an email from Liberia.

Our church was broadcasting my sermons on the internet and the writer of the email stated that they would like me to prayerfully consider offering some kind of training to their pastors. Over the next two months, the emails progressed to the point where they asked me if I would be willing to go to Liberia and conduct two groups of meetings. The first would be a training conference for local pastors and the second would be an evangelistic crusade in the capital of Monrovia.

Writing back, I informed them that I was just an unknown pastor in a small mission work and felt that they had the wrong individual or a misunderstanding about who I was or what I could offer. The next few emails assured me that they believed the Lord was in the contact and would love to have me visit their country which had just a few months previously come out of a devastating 15 year civil war.

Somewhat skeptically at first, then with growing courage, I applied for my Liberian visa, got a series of shots designed to protect me from tourist-hunting mosquitoes, and purchased my airplane ticket. I was now committed to leaving in January. However, once I had purchased my ticket and I was about 2 weeks away from going, the emails began to get really weird. Something seemed a little odd, but I could not put my finger on the problem.

My family went with me to Gatwick Airport in London, England, and with much trepidation we said goodbye not sure what would happen. The US State Department and the British Home Office had both advised against travel into Liberia and certainly not beyond Monrovia which was also part of the travel plans. The temperature was below freezing and I was wearing a winter coat. With my lighter British summer clothing, sunscreen, malaria tablets, anti-insect repellent, a case full of sermon cassette tapes and materials, and a few other things, I felt I was prepared to take West Africa by storm.

After an almost 7 hour flight due south, we flew into Freetown, Sierra Leone which also had recently concluded a brutal civil war. UN Russian-made gunships were sitting on the tarmac and there were guns everywhere being wielded by UN troops. We were on a 767 and the plane was completely full when we left London. At Sierra Leone, all but 10 passengers (including myself) got off the plane and after about 1 hour on the ground, we took off in a southeasterly direction headed towards Liberia as the last of the tropical sun faded from view. Unlike western nations, there were no lights twinkling up at us from the ground. No cities came and went underneath our wings, at least none that we could see.

After about an hour, the captain announced we were coming in to land and I began to worry as the plane went lower and lower. The wheels dropped and still we saw no lights. Finally, I saw the ground and small lights and flares right before the plane touched down. We taxied directly to what might be termed a terminal but was little more than a ramshackle concrete building. Collecting my bag, I left my seat wondering what the Dark Continent held in store for me.

Stepping from the comfort of the plane, I stepped into the open and promptly began to perspire in 95F heat at 9:30pm. The humidity was close to 90% and the mosquitoes began their quest for the pale white guy from England! LOL

Along with my 9 fellow passengers, we made our way down the steps and across the tarmac. Workers opened up the hold behind us to retrieve the few bags left under the watchful eyes of the UN soldiers manning their machine gun nests from a war-ravaged building that I later learned used to be a rather modern airport terminal, but was little more than a concrete hulk pitted and pockmarked with bullet and rocket holes.

We were ushered into the ramshackle building that now served as the Terminal for the Roberts International Airport of Monrovia. There were no other airplanes on the tarmac and nothing else would arrive for 2 more days. The airline I flew with only had one flight per week. After refueling, they would leave later that night and it would be about the time they took off that I would have given just about anything to be back on that plane flying to civilization and my waiting family.

Walking in, there was a sign reading Passports. I handed my passport through the window, but the person waved me off and pointed to a man standing in an open door one step to the right. I handed the passport to this man, who looked at it (upside down) then passed it back to the person sitting at the desk I had just tried to hand it to through the window! This individual also looked at the passport upside down and right-side up then stamped a mark in it. They then handed it back to the guy at the open door who reached out and handed it back to me. (Go figure! I thought well I guess both people need to earn their pay or maybe things are just REEEEEALLY different in Africa! Yep, to both thoughts as I would find out later.)

Turning around, I was instructed by the guy in the door that I needed to go to the next office and produce my vaccination proof for yellow-fever. I took 4 steps and reached the next office. Same routine, different office! This person could read and after verifying I had the appropriate serum running through my veins (at least on paper) as protection from a nasty disease, I was told to proceed to pick up my baggage.

5 more steps and the door opened to what I can only describe as sheer bedlam. As soon as I walked through, myself and the other 9 passengers were assaulted by a mass of people in a room that was lit with just one (1) lightbulb. Each passenger was being hit up for groups seeking the privilege to help you get through baggage control – for a fee, of course. Asking one of my veteran African travelers what the proper procedure was, he told me I should figure on paying a helper $1-3 dollars based on amount of luggage. This was the equivalent of a full day’s pay to a Liberian.

I agreed to a price and my luggage happened to be the last off. We walked a few steps into the other half of the building where my fellow 9 passengers already were in luggage control. Each had their bags opened on rickety tables and a group of Liberians were going through each piece of luggage. While I had nothing to hide, I would have preferred not to have my bags torn apart and then have to repack all the supplies for the pastors.

The three Liberians escorting me marched me to the front of the line. One of them was walking right behind me when we walked into this room. As we approached one of the tables, a heated conversation developed between the guys helping me with my luggage and the small group of people waiting to go through my Fruit of the Looms (LOL). The conversation was in another language which I later learned was probably Kpelle. The guy behind me had his hand on my back and was pushing me forward while the other two kept talking in a very animated fashion. Needless to say, the Lord answered a small prayer because the guys at the table stepped aside and I was allowed to pass into the night without opening a single bag!

With no knowledge of the local languages, barely understandable English being spoken by a few around me, and not exactly sure who I was supposed to be meeting, I walked through the doors to the outside and was greeted by a white missionary, Bro. Steve Trexler, with ABWE! Talk about a surprise. It was a real blessing because what came next would probably be the biggest surprise of my trip.

(…to be continued…)

5 thoughts on “Scam Into Blessing – Part 1

  1. Wow – this is wonderful. But I’m not liking the cliff-hanger ;) I can’t wait for the next installment!

  2. I’m already making a mental list of folks I want to forward this to. I have a son graduating from Bible School and a daughter doing missions work in the middle east. I’m sure they’ll want the ‘…what happens next…”!

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