I learned after the meeting concluded why Paul had almost missed the final day of the conference. The first taxi he had been in was involved in an accident. A few passengers had minor injuries, but thanks to the Lord there was nothing major. However, it had taken some time to sort everything out before he was able to try and catch another taxi, but could not seem to find one that was headed in the right direction towards the district of Sinkor. After several attempts, Paul had found one that was willing to bring him right to the conference.
Paul came in and then walked to the front and sat down in the one empty seat as though it had been planned all along – maybe it had, but certainly not by me. I did a brief recap of the previous 10 hours of teaching on the law, justification, and the only means whereby man may be saved. Concluding my thoughts, I introduced Paul.
Me: “Many of you know Paul Zawolo. He has preached in some of your churches and some of you have preached at his.” (Heads nodded in agreement.)
Me: “Paul came to see me last night because he was not very happy about his own situation and his level of understanding in regards to the Word of God. He is going to come and share his testimony with you and what happened after he realized the truth.”
It was very quiet as Paul came to the front of the congregation. Looking me directly in the eyes, there was a sense of humility as he thanked me for the opportunity to speak. With the only thing in his hands was his Bible, he turned to face the congregation of pastors, elders, deacons, and other church leaders. Some of these he had known for several years.
Paul: “First, I am thankful to God that He sent the pastor here from England to Liberia! Two days ago, he preached to us and I did not like what he had to say. In fact, what he said to all of us made me very angry because I thought I was a good person. I thought that I was good enough to get into heaven and that God owed me a place in heaven.”
Paul: “Well, I was wrong because I was actually headed to hell and if I had died, I would have rightly deserved the judgment of God because of my sin!”
The congregation was very silent by now after these bombshells, and even the outside noises had faded into insignificance. Those who were attending were not even writing notes anymore, but were focused solely on Paul Zawolo as he continued.
Paul: “The problem is that I know several of you and several of you know me. I know that many of you believe just like I did. You think you are going to heaven because you have not broken all of the commandments of God. However, you are lost just like I was and you are going to go to hell unless something changes. Some of you who are pastors, some who are deacons, some who are church leaders are going to face the judgment of God and you will not win!”
When he completed this part of his testimony, there was murmuring and a decidedly tense feeling. Some of the leaders with a Bible or notes closed their materials and folded their arms across their chests. A handful of them became visibly angry including one of the three “pastors” who had lied to me at the start of my arrival into Liberia. I knew that he had not been very happy when I confronted them over a week previous, but his actions showed clear evidence that any fruit found in his life had nothing to do with the Holy Spirit of God.
Paul continued by sharing the full events of the previous evening and how his heart and mind had been arrested by the Holy Spirit. He told the listeners of James 2:10 and why God was just in condemning man to hell for his sin. Paul related his own pathetic attempts in trying to keep the commandments God had given to show man that they could not be kept to God’s standards of holiness.
“Amens,” “Praise God,” “Praise the Lord,” and “Tell it like it is” are phrases usually heard in African churches as the Word of God is being preached. While there was none of this as Paul concluded, I noticed that some sat with bowed head. Heads began to nod up and down as he condensed what I and Pastor Togba had taught for the last 2½ days into about 15 minutes of clear testimony. Pastor Togba was sitting beside me on the platform and leaning over mentioned that he believed the Holy Spirit was also arresting the ears of the listeners.
Paul: “You have heard my testimony. Now, just as the Lord allowed me by grace to place my faith in Him alone, you also have a decision today. What are you going to do about Jesus Christ that the pastor has been preaching about all this week? You cannot get to heaven by your good works. You will not be permitted to go to heaven just because you are a preacher, an elder, a deacon, or any other kind of church leader! If I die today, I will know where I am going and what I will say to God if He were to ask me, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ This is the question the missionary pastor asked me last night and now I know!”
Turning he walked up to me and embraced both Pastor Togba and I, thanked us for the ministry of the Word and sat down in the empty seat beside Pastor Togba.
The room was very quiet as I stood to my feet and walked back to the little pulpit from which I had spent over 8 hours ministering. At that point, I did not believe there was anything else that could be said in regards to the gospel, or the purpose of the law in pointing out the futility of man’s attempts to reach a holy, righteous God on his or her own terms.
Having reached almost the end of the conference, I was convinced that there were more Paul Zawolo’s in the audience, but that some of them had been convicted of their own lost condition. Using the tactics of the health, wealth, and prosperity preachers I had heard in the marketplaces, I knew that I could seek to convince the congregation to give more to the work, or pray for healing, or claim to be filled with the Spirit, or a host of other things. Yet, I knew that it is only God who brings a soul to repentance. If the listeners made a profession of faith to please the white man or the missionary, they would be just as lost and on their way to hell as before they came.
I could also have worked up the emotions and used a Charles Finney style “invitation” whereby I begged and pleaded for them to come and give their hearts to Christ. However, I knew that not only was such persuasive tactics unscriptural, they too would keep a person lost in their sins.
Concluding my thoughts, I simply gave a gospel appeal and asked those in attendance that if they wished to know more about the matter of salvation, then they were welcome to speak with me after the service concluded. Bowing my head, I asked the Lord for grace for the hearer and that those who did not know the Savior would be brought to the point where they placed their faith in Christ alone and not in anything else.
As soon as I finished praying, one of the young pastors, by the name of Michael, and who was seated on my right stood to his feet.
Michael: “Pastor, I want to place my faith in Christ just like Paul Zawolo. I too have been trusting in my own goodness to get me to heaven and I now know this is wrong!”
Me: “Well, Michael, you are welcome to come and speak with me or Pastor Togba. In fact, if there is anybody else that desires to speak with us, you may also come up. We will take the Word of God and show you further what the Scriptures teach about the matter of salvation.”
No sooner had I stated this, when Michael left his chair and stepped to the front. Immediately, he was followed by another pastor seated just a couple of chairs away.
To my left, movement caught my eye and the deacon who had been my night watchman rose to his feet. Walking forward with sure step, Moses came directly up to me and embraced me.
Moses: “Thank you pastor for your words. I, also, want to place my faith in Christ like Paul Zawolo has done!”
Tears filled my eyes as I began to realize the impact Paul’s testimony had on the listeners. Moses stepped past me and I saw that others had risen to their feet and were headed down to speak with me! I was shocked for it was certainly not the kind of response I was used to seeing, nor was it what I was expecting to take place.
Standing in my place, I watched with amazement as 35 pastors and church leaders stood and walked down to the front in almost total silence.
(…to be continued…)