Paul: “Pastor, if my faith is now in Christ and I am free from the wrath of God, does that mean that we are now family?”
Me: “Paul, the Word of God assures us of many promises, and one of those comes from John 1:12-13. ‘But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’”
Me: “Paul, these verses mean that when we receive Christ and are born of God, that we have the right to become children of God. We are part of the same family if our faith is in Christ alone! Therefore, if Christ is our Lord and Savior, then yes, we are family – united in Christ! That would mean that we are brothers.
Cultural, physical, mental, and emotional barriers were broken as Paul Zawolo of Loma tribe from the County of Lofa, Liberia, took two steps across the porch and embraced Pastor Mark from Ipswich, England. The spiritual barriers which were unsurpassable just moments before by the strength and will of man had been shattered by the only One Who makes totally depraved creatures into new creations meet for the use of the Master.
At that moment, I knew that I would leave Liberia a far different individual even if only having seen one person place their faith in Christ. As one old minister once stated, “The new birth is the miracle of a moment and the work of a lifetime.”
Paul shook his head in disagreement. “No, Pastor, I will always think of you as my father. You cared enough to tell me the truth. If you had not come, I might have never heard the gospel as you have shared it with me.”
I asked Paul to recap briefly what he understood of the gospel and the need for repentance as compared to when he showed up earlier that evening.
Paul: “When I came tonight I felt that I deserved to go to heaven, and that God would love me because I worked hard to keep His commandments. Paul’s faith was in what he could do and believed that God owed me eternal life. However, you showed me from the Bible that I was actually going to hell. My sin was destroying me and I was headed for a just punishment because I have broken all of God’s laws. I know that if I was to die tonight and God were to ask me why I should be allowed into heaven, I would only be able to respond that it is because of the blood Jesus shed on the cross so that I might be forgiven and made clean before God.” This was the basic summation of what I had shared with him and what had transpired over the last hour or so that we had been talking.
Me: “Paul, you have shared with me the heart of the gospel message. Salvation has nothing to do with man or what he thinks he can contribute. It is all about Jesus Christ and what He accomplished on the cross of Calvary. I would like to ask you a favor that would be a joy to you and others in your new faith. We, who have placed our faith in Christ, are to share that faith with others, and the best place to start would be among those who know you.”
Paul: “I would be willing to do that.”
Me: “Tomorrow is the last day of the Pastors’ Conference, and I want to use part of that time for you to share your testimony. I would like you to take about 10-15 minutes and tell all these pastors you know, and that know you, the problem that you had before you came to see me. Then, I would also like you to explain in your own words the truth of the gospel message. Would you be willing to do so?”
Paul: “Yes, many of the church leaders know me. I have preached in their churches and they have preached at mine. I have no doubt that many of them believe just like I did. They think they can go to heaven because they are working hard to obey God. Pastor Mark, they will go to hell as well unless they believe and repent of their sins. I will tell them this.”
With that, Paul took his leave into the very dark African night. For some reason, the mosquitoes did not seem to be bothering me as much. The heat and humidity seemed just a little more bearable. All the queasiness from the new food and the unfamiliar surroundings gave way to rejoicing.
Going back inside the home, the pastors all rejoiced together in what had been heard and we spent time praying for Paul Zawolo that the Lord would allow him to actually come, protect him from harm and give him courage to boldly proclaim to his fellow Liberians and to his fellow church leaders in a clear way, and that above all, Jesus Christ would receive all the glory and honor that was due to Him alone.
It was a prayer that we almost did not get an opportunity to see come to pass, at least in the way that we were hoping for.
Wishing my wife could have been with me, I knew I at least needed to give her a call. I crammed as much info into a very short space of time as I relived the experiences of the day with her. It was all I could do to keep my emotions in check as I shared with her about Paul Zawolo and what he had shared with me, and even what he prayed to his Creator. Rejoicing had become the order of the night.
That night I lay on my bed trying to stay a little cool and wondered what the next morning would bring. I knew in my heart that no matter what happened that it would bring glory and honor to the Lord Jesus Christ. While I thought I was prepared for what might take place, I was very wrong!
My stomach began to act up again during the night, and the next day’s events weighed heavily on my mind, and the stress levels were causing me some concern. I finally had to commit the meeting to the Lord again and went to sleep.
More than once during the trip, Psalm 37:1-7 came to my mind. “Do not fret yourself with evil doers; and do not be envious against the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon wither like the grass; and fade as the green herb. Trust in Jehovah, and do good; you shall dwell in the land, and you shall be fed on truth. Delight yourself also in Jehovah, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Roll your way on Jehovah; trust also in Him, and He will work. And He shall bring forth your righteousness like the light, and your judgment like the noonday. Rest in Jehovah, and wait patiently for Him; do not fret yourself because of him who prospers in his way, because of him who practices wickedness.”
From Genesis 50, we learn of how Joseph shared with his brothers, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good!” I knew that Pastor S_______ was a fraud, but God was much bigger than those who seek to undermine the work of the gospel. While the scam was hard to swallow from a human standpoint, I believe that the main reason was because it smarted. Pride can get to each Christian if they are not careful and relying solely on the Savior. I had become upset because I had not been able to be more diligent in uncovering the scam, but the situation was out of my control anyway and the Lord had me in Liberia for more than one reason. The trip to Africa ended up being a lesson well learned in sovereign purposes.
The next morning started early for all of us as we sat down to breakfast prepared by Sis. Lydia, Pastor Togba’s wife. As seemed to be usual, I was not able to eat much, but I was learning once again to be thankful for the Lord’s provisions. Liberians are not wealthy individuals for the most part, and part of each family’s diet is rice for the main meal with oatmeal being served regularly for breakfast.
Those who know me are fully aware that I am not very partial to oatmeal! I like Cream of Wheat and rice in just about any style, but oatmeal is hard for me to swallow. Learning to eat what is put in front of you is easy to teach to your children when you are only putting on the table what is of interest to you to begin with. However, when the role of feeding you is not your choice, it is probably one of the first lessons that a missionary must learn – eat what is in front of you and be thankful. This is especially true when the ones who are providing for you are probably doing so out of the abundance of their poverty just like the Christians of Macedonia did for the believers of Corinth.
Pastor Togba was due to share the role of teaching on the Wednesday which was going to be a huge help to me. I had already preached and taught for a little over 8 hours in two days and was exhausted. We had shared with Paul Zawolo that we would provide a ride for him, but waiting until the last possible minute produced no Paul. Pastor Togba and I were both disappointed as we had hoped that he would follow through with his commitment.
Sadly, pessimism began to creep in and my mind began to consider all the reasons why he would not show up and go with us to the conference. To be honest, I wondered whether he was just standing us up and even how real his decision had been the night before. The previous evening as I was preparing for the next morning, I had made sure that I reserved a place in my notes where I would introduce Paul at the beginning for him to share his testimony and then I would take over. Good thing that I was the only one operating on my plans and on my timetable! Of course, some of our readers are probably wondering whether I would ever learn my lessons or not – I was wondering as well!
Arriving at the conference, the music was once again blaring from the building. Pastor Togba had shared with me that one of the problems facing evangelical pastors in Africa is the influx of various styles that do not bring honor and glory to Christ. While some would disagree with each other in the USA or Britain, it is hard to argue with a person who was saved out of heathenism and all the ungodly practices that go along with the worship of idols. Pastor Togba steadfastly rejects the notion that the church has to sound like the world in order to attract unbelievers.
Walking in, the musicians decided to wrap up their ear-splitting music and the pastor of the church once again introduced me for the third and final day of the conference. Looking around, I noticed that Paul still had not made it, so I went ahead and introduced Pastor Togba of Maranatha Baptist Church as the next speaker.
Pastor Togba spoke about the doctrine of justification and what it meant for Christ to have to suffer on the cross for our sins. It was very well presented and it was good to hear a message from a Kpelle believer who had been saved from the pit of sin. He is a true brother in Christ and listening to him that morning was a blessing and an encouragement to my own heart. I knew that while our skin colors, our cultures, our heart languages, our customs, and our traditions were poles apart, we were of the same family in Christ. God was our Father and we were both joint-heirs with Christ!
As Pastor Togba was finishing up the first two hour session, I was still praying that the Lord would work everything out in a manner which would reveal the need of the Savior to these church leaders. I had overheard more than one conversation over the previous two days, and it was clear that some of them were convinced they had no need to place their faith in Christ.
Lunch was served once again, and still no Paul Zawolo. Therefore, I adjusted my notes accordingly and made some more mental notes. The food was good with the staple of rice piled generously on my plate. While we have disagreed on a number of issues, the ladies of the church had certainly worked hard to prepare good meals for all who were in attendance.
Standing to speak one last time, the door opened at the back of the church building and Paul Zawolo walked in with a big grin on his face!
(…to be continued…)