Prior to my departure for Liberia, my parents were obviously concerned about the possibility of their son being in West Africa, and had made contact on my behalf with ABWE (Association of Baptists for World Evangelization). The director passed on the details of a native Liberian, Pastor James Togba. Pastor Togba is the pastor of Maranatha Baptist Church and is one of the leaders with AFBM (African Fundamental Baptist Mission). AFBM is a loose organization of about 20 churches who hold to the baptistic faith and doctrine. I had made contact with Pastor Togba just briefly by email and informed me I was headed to his country. He invited me to visit them if I had the opportunity to do so.
Bro. Steve Trexler had come with Pastor Togba to help welcome me to Liberia and to see if there was anything that I might need assistance with. Their help was to become invaluable and quicker than any of us were anticipating.
Trying to adjust my eyes to the darkness with Bro. Trexler at my side, I managed to see a group of Liberians holding a large sign. There were about 12-15 in the group and they warmly welcomed me. Introductions were made, although I would not remember but a handful of the names later. There was a lot of chatter in Kpelle by the group and I merely stood in place trying to assimilate all the strange smells and sounds surrounding me. Pastor Togba came up to me and indicated that something was not quite right, but that he and Bro. Trexler would be taking me along with several of the group into Monrovia and the rest would follow in a couple of taxis.
Putting my luggage in the back of Bro. Trexler’s jeep, they escorted me to a place of honor – the front passenger seat. Before the door could be closed, two different members of the welcoming group tried to get me to scoot over enough for them to sit beside me on the SINGLE seat. Pastor Togba said something in Kpelle and they went and climbed in the back and somebody shut my door. By the time we were headed away from the airport, there were about 9 people sitting in a 5 seat vehicle! Welcome to Liberia! I would later learn that this was normal to squeeze as many people as possible into one vehicle thus making the trip worthwhile. There was more than once I rode in a yellow taxi (think old Toyota Camry) with the driver and at least two others in the front and 5 of us in the back!
The first sight I remember was very tall 8-12 foot high mounds on the sides of the road as we sought to avoid running over people walking down the middle and sides of the main highway headed in towards Monrovia. After about 40 minute hair-raising drive, I was NO LONGER tired but very wide awake as we pulled up to a compound with barbed wire and a gatehouse. Bro. Trexler informed me that this was formerly the Southern Baptist compound where they had a university and missionaries could stay here as they transitted the country and/or continent.
Now, before I continue, the reader should be aware that I was told by the man who was writing me in England that they would cover my hotel stay and a rental car during my stay. It never dawned on me until later that rental cars were not available at that time. Unpacking my bags, one of the young men who lived at the compound came up and asked me to go with him to settle the bill. It was at that moment that I began to feel something was starting to smell fishy about this operation.
I walked through the dark following very closely to my guide and wondered whether snakes slept at night in that part of Africa. I knew the mosquitoes sure didn’t for I had already left a trail of the depraved insects all the way from the airport. We walked into a little hut with a grass thatched roof and they shut the door behind me and invited me to sit on one of only two chairs in the room. It almost felt like something out of a movie where the good guy is about to get whooped up on. There was only a single small lamp casting eerie shadows on the walls as one of the men standing translated the words of the guy seated at a creaky wooden desk on the other chair.
I was politely informed that for my stay of the next two weeks, I owed them $700! I could not have been anymore surprised than if a snake had chosen that moment to crawl across my shoes. The cost per night was $50 (US Dollars) to stay at the compound. Wow! Very politely, I responded that the group I had come to visit had told me that they were covering the costs of my hotel and they would need to speak to Rev. S___________ as he had already made the arrangements and even told me that the bill had been paid the week before I arrived.
More chatter, and then the translator informed me that there was no such person who had come to see them. In fact, they had only just received word of my coming about 2-3 hours before my arrival into the country. It is now about 10:30pm and I am exhausted. My mind is not working straight, but the welcoming party and some of the names begin to float through my fuddled thoughts. Red flags and sirens are going off but I am not putting the pieces of the puzzle together.
Wanting to get to sleep, I went ahead and paid the man for two nights taking a chunk out of the money I had brought for spending and an offering for the work. I walked back to the guest house (again following closely to my guide and followed closely by the cousins of the critters I had killed on the way over to the hut who were out for revenge).
Sitting down with the men, I was finally able to discern that these men had not paid the bill and seemed to know nothing about the arrangements made by Rev. S_________. This was not making sense because I thought I was speaking with Rev. S__________, one of three who had introduced themselves to me at the airport as the pastors I had come to meet and conduct meetings with.
Not getting anywhere in the conversation, they finally left about 11:30pm after talking in circles. My guide from earlier walked back in about 10 minutes later and said the three pastors did not have any money to pay for a taxi ride home, could I provide them with some US Dollars for a taxi?? What was going on??!! I figured it would wait until morning as I gave a few dollars to the guide and headed to bed enjoying the air conditioner in my room.
Two hours later, the air conditioner and the fan suddenly went quiet waking me from a fairly deep sleep. Wondering what was going on, I finally remembered the guide had mentioned that the generator for the electricity was shut down every night about 2:30am and stayed off until the next day. The room got warm very quickly, and it was not just my rising body temperature that had feelings of discomfort. The next morning was going to prove interesting though and would reveal the truth of my trip.
(…to be continued…)
NOTE: Part 3 will be on-line Wednesday, April 21.