Several voices were raised while the people just looked at me. I wondered if it was something that I had said, or if they had in some way been offended at the message. Up to that point, I had not noticed but Pastor Philemon was looking at me as well. From those who spoke Liberian English, I managed to catch the words “Pastor Mark” but little else. Asking what they had said, Pastor Philemon replied, “They are saying you left more meat on the table!”
My mind was racing trying to understand what this could possibly mean, so Pastor Philemon helped my lack of knowledge by stating, “The people say that you did not speak long enough. There is more meat on the table that you did not share. They want you to preach some more.” I was shocked and caught completely off-guard. To think 55 minutes was not enough for these people sitting there in a growing ever hotter concrete building was mind-boggling. It was obvious they had a hunger for God’s Word, and many of them were even illiterate. They were not able to read the Word for themselves.
This is one of the biggest problems facing Liberia. Churches are in abundance, but they do not preach the Word of God. When the congregation cannot go to the Scriptures and study to be a Berean believer, it is easy for them to be led astray.
Their words stunned me into the realization that such people did exist in Bible-believing churches, but obviously outside of the west where entertainment and feel-good messages dominate the church landscape. However, the blame cannot lie solely at the feet of the average church attendee. The biggest issue is that instead of standing firm and proclaiming “thus says the Lord”, pastors have waffled for far too long. They have chosen the easy path to the point where sermons are mere sermonettes because that is what the people want. All pastors know that if you do not give the people what they want, most will start leaving and will go somewhere else. Praise the Lord for those few who continue to faithfully minister no matter what the cost.
Being quite tired and still ill, my brain was not working well enough to speak extemporaneously, so I deferred to Pastor Philemon who after a few words concluded the service. Now, I know that in many western churches, there is a fair proportion of “drag-race” Christians. They will drag into church one time a week and then race out as soon as service is over. Well, Liberians are not that way. They enjoy fellowship. As I was speaking with several of the folks afterwards, I was unaware the food I smelled being cooked was being prepared to feed those in attendance.
Sitting around a little table with some of the men, a pot of food was placed in front of us and somebody handed me a bottle of water and a spoon. I waited to take my cue from Pastor Philemon but he was waiting for me. Tentatively reaching forward, I took a spoonful of the mixture from the pot and that was the cue for the others to start eating as well. Pastor Philemon told me that the people had wanted to prepare a meal for me to enjoy. Of course, this meant that I had to get my stomach under control which was still queasy. The problem was not the food. It smelled good, didn’t look too bad, and even had a great taste with just the right amount of spices.
As we sat and ate, I answered questions from several of the men, some of which were translated into English by Pastor Philemon. It was about half-way through the meal that I finally noticed the others from the congregation were sitting around the room watching us eat. Asking Philemon about this, he said they were making sure that I had sufficient to eat and that it was an honor to wait for me to finish so they could then eat.
Flabbergasted and humbled are the two terms that would describe the way I felt then. While there was not much meat in the pot, the men sharing the pot with me kept trying to get me to eat large portions of it. I learned later as we walked to catch a motorcycle ride back to Monrovia that this was the only meat and it would not normally be in their meal because they were too poor to have meat regularly. My emotions were running pretty high as I realized what I had only read about in missionary books or heard in stories from other missionaries. They were honoring me with their best even if it meant they got nothing.
Even today, telling this account brings strong emotions in my heart to the surface as I remember their labor of love for somebody they had never met before that day. All they knew was that I had been willing to go to their country and share the truth of God’s Word and they considered it their privilege and responsibility to take the best care of me they could while I was in their presence. It was an action I would see repeated again later that week for another individual who sadly made a mockery of the ministry as well as their own testimony.
The trip back home was a similar motocross experience as the trip to church! Finding a motorcycle taxi, he called a friend to come and in about ten minutes, we were seated on the back for another ride. Over hill and over dale, we hit the dusty trail. Arriving safely back to a road that was paved, we caught two different taxis and arrived back at Pastor Togba’s home. I was exhausted, but at least my stomach was feeling a little better.
Pastor Togba’s wife, Lydia, prepared some strong coffee for us to go along with the bread we had been able to buy on our way back through a local market. Liberians tend to drink their coffee strong and black with a generous handful of sugar cubes dropped in to sweeten the mixture. After pouring a cup of coffee, Pastor Philemon and I went outside to the porch while the others were resting for the afternoon. It was a time of blessing and encouragement for both of us as he was able to share his testimony and how God was working in his life.
Spending time to study for the Pastors’ Conference due to start on Monday, I was able to call Violet again and ask her to pass the word via email to friends and family. We were certainly entering new territory and I was not certain whether I would even be allowed to finish what I was planning on sharing. I knew that I might only have one opportunity to share the truth of God’s Word to a group of unbelieving men and women who claimed to be ministers of God.
Up early the next morning, Pastor Togba and I ate a bowl of oatmeal and had another strong cup of coffee. Driving through Monrovia, it was the busiest rush hour I had ever seen. All the traffic was attempting to funnel from the remains of a four-lane road into just two lanes. One lane each direction went over the only bridge left standing from the war. The previous four lanes though each held numbers of cars that would be driving three, four and even five abreast at times as each jostled for the best position hoping to get quickly to the other side.
Modern cars mixed with well-worn transportation vehicles, hand-drawn carts, motorcycles, scooters, and even pedestrian traffic going across the bridge that went over Providence Island. This island was the original landing place of what became known as Americo-Liberians. It was stated when they landed, “Providence has brought us this far.” Sadly, the sovereign purposes and decrees of God have long been abandoned as Liberia seeks to reenter the melee of the world’s economies. Each person desires to have nice things and many times this is reflected in what are willing to do in order to achieve that end.
Passing myriads of people, Pastor Togba drove through central Monrovia and took the road that led to the Sinkor District. On the way, we made a stop and picked up a man who was carrying a Bible. He had previously met Pastor Togba and had called him for a ride to the meeting place. He introduced himself as Paul Zawolo from Loma, Liberia, which is located in the far upper northwest part of the country bordering both Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Throughout the length of the trip, Paul informed me of all the things he was doing for God, and blatantly asked me if I would be willing to give him money so that he could go and do more preaching in the interior of Liberia. I shared that there were many doctrinal and practical aspects that would have to be addressed before I would be willing to even consider support. At that point, he went quiet and refused to speak for the rest of the trip.
We arrived at the garishly painted building where the meetings were to take place and were greeted by blaring music from inside. Dropping me off at the front, he told me he had a quick stop to make and would return shortly. Ok, I will admit that I was more than a little hesitant at this point. What awaited me as I passed through the doors of the church that sat just off a little alleyway?
The church had its name, Church of Town Point Ministry, painted in bold letters across the front of the building. It was sandwiched in between several houses and was set back off the road far enough to accommodate two or three vehicles in the dirt area immediately in front of the building. Vendors stood on the nearby corner hawking their wares while listening to their own worldly music blaring from their portable cd player.
I had not seen the three “pastors” since the last meeting the previous week, and after my previous comments was not sure how they would respond. Walking in two of the three greeted me in a gracious manner, while the third would rarely make an appearance before I had actually started preaching or teaching. Throughout, the meeting, he sat with a couple of accomplices with folded arms and just glared at me. I guess he was not in any hurry to become a friend for life with me. My “night guard” came up me and putting his arms around me welcomed me to his church and thanked me for being willing to come.
The music came to an end about ten minutes after my arrival and I was introduced to the group which on that Monday morning numbered about seventy. Walking to the front of that poorly lit building, I was nervous and growing warmer by the minute. My stomach was acting up again and I realized that I probably should have avoided both the coffee and the oatmeal at breakfast.
The welcome was provided by the pastor who had lied to me about who he was. He stood beside me and shared that they were glad for me to come and teach them. Nothing was said about the healing crusade scheduled to take place, so I took it upon myself to share with the various leaders that we would only be conducting the Pastors’ Conference from that Monday through the Wednesday morning.
Praying aloud for wisdom, I also asked the Lord that He would grant ears to hear to each listener and that His Holy Spirit would draw men and women to Himself for His honor and glory. Concluding my prayer, I opened my Bible and invited each person who had a Bible to turn with me to the Book of Genesis.
(…to be continued…)