The problem with prejudice is that it is pervasive. Its evil tentacles work their way down into the inner most part of your being. While your God-given conscience is screaming for attention and pointing out the error of your ways, prejudices become part of who you choose to become.
Prejudices take many forms, but the end result is almost always the same. One person thinks more highly of himself than he ought to think and in so doing puts down another. What is even worse is that when such events take place in the heart, they tend to manifest themselves outwardly in the life. And, of course, when that transpires, then the example of the Lord Jesus Christ is not being followed and we are in willful sin and disobedience to the Perfect Servant, Who died to save us, even when we were unlovable.
Sadly, this is part of the story for I found in dealing with issues of my own heart that prejudice had crept in. Ironic that even though I was a missionary pastor, I had allowed myself to consider that I was better than others. After all, I had been born in the affluent west. I had godly parents. I had been educated to a much higher standard than most of the people I was seeing around me, particularly in West Africa. And yes, to be honest, a part of me felt that I had been born with the right-colored skin tones!
If you had asked me if I considered myself to be prejudice, I would have categorically denied it. Yet, from the moment I got on the plane in London, England, and found myself surrounded entirely by passengers who were from Africa, a part of me was uncomfortable. I was concerned whether I would be safe during my travels into a part of the world I had never been, especially one that had only in the previous few months concluded a brutal civil war. And, I sure was thankful that I was not only much more civilized than that, but I came from a civilized nation! (Wow, who was I kidding!?!? – LOL)
Missionary books, documentaries, and liberal news articles had all done their part to slant my thinking about the continent of Africa in general and specifically the war-torn countries of West Africa. I got off the plane knowing that many mission groups were no longer in Liberia because home office and field staff considered the situation too volatile and dangerous for their missionaries and families.
My state of mind (and heart) was not faring much better as I realized the gravity of the situation once I saw that I had been royally scammed by an African, and not just any African, but one claiming to be a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and further claiming to be a minister of the glorious message of the gospel.
For the first few days, each person I saw was a target. I wondered whether it was safe to sleep at night, or to walk in the marketplace with my African pastor host. My thoughts were not dwelling on the spiritual plane, but on the earthly levels. To be brutally honest, I truly pondered much on whether I should have even gone to Africa. After all, I had been in England for almost 5 years as a pastor and the “results” of those years could be counted on one hand.
Africa was more or less a final hurrah in my mind. I was discouraged and just about ready to quit the ministry. My plans were to get the trip out of the way and enjoy my “safari” as much as possible for God was obviously not working in England, not pouring out His Spirit on “my” ministry, and therefore, probably not doing much in Liberia, West Africa, either.
I was not seeing people come to faith in Christ, no baptisms, discipleship was almost non-existent, and it seemed like church members were only putting on a show. In my mind, I had this ALL worked out, and all I needed was some confirmations from God proving that like Elijah, I had the right to have myself a pity party! But, like Elijah, I merely miscounted for I was not the only one with a misguided sense of purpose. No, there were actually others out there who thought more of others than they did of their own dire circumstances, and the lessons were getting ready to come thick and fast.
The weather was miserably hot. The humidity probably could not have gotten any higher without it actually raining. The reddish dust covering everything was thick and in just a couple of days felt like it had already permanently seeped its ways into my very pores. The shower which consisted of dipping a small plastic container into a 55 gallon water butt was quite cool, and while it felt good and was refreshing it was not what I needed to refocus my attention.
There was something that I was forgetting – the sovereignty of God! I had preached it and said I believed it, but I was getting ready to see it fully in action in ways I could only dream of, and at the end I would fully understand the phrase – SOLI DEO GLORIA – To God ALONE Be the Glory!
The heat combined with the new food and the incredible amount of stress was doing its work on me, so the remainder of Wednesday afternoon was spent resting until that evening. The shadows deepened until darkness finally overtook Liberia. There were no streetlights and it was very dark. A small ray of light shone from the small flashlight I had with me as I followed Pastor Togba from his house as we walked across the property to Maranatha Baptist Church for the mid-week prayer meeting.
I had already seen the building that would hold at least 175-200 people. The civil war had affected every level of society, and churches were not excluded. Maranatha Baptist had bullet and rocket holes throughout the entire building and rubble still existed in many parts of the building.
Pastor Togba shared that that an ECOWAS helicopter gunship pilot had met him after the war and shared that one day his patrol area against the rebels was Cauldwell, New Georgia District. They had known through surveillance and reports that the rebels were using the building as a headquarters in their relentless advance against the capital of Monrovia, but were not aware that it had been a church building. This pilot related that as they were responding to an attack from the rebels the building came under fire.
Radioing for instructions, the pilot stated that the order had been given to reduce the building to rubble and he had “firing discretion.” Flying in for a closer look, he maneuvered to the opposite end of the building and saw an hole up in the eaves that had been designed and built in the shape of a cross to label it as a church. The pilot shared that he was a Christian and could not bring himself to fire his missiles and destroy this location. While he had never met Pastor Togba previously and did not know about the church, the Lord allowed the building to remain in place for His own glory and honor.
That night, we walked through the darkness and moved into the stifling interior. There was only one light and it came from a lit candle on the pulpit. Each person had brought their own flashlight to church, but to conserve batteries, they would turn them off as soon as they arrived to the church to which they had walked, some for quite a distance.
I could discern a people in attendance as the song leader began to lead the congregation in songs that they knew by heart. In a later part of the story, I will relate the Liberian music style which is quite unique. After a couple of songs, one of the church elders brought a brief message on the responsibility of following Jesus as a true believer. When he completed, I listened as one after another, unseen individuals stood to their feet with a “Praise the Lord?” to which all the others would respond, “AMEN!”
They shared from their heart that they had so much to be thankful for. My own problems quickly went from insignificant to disappearing altogether as I listened with tears in my own eyes. I was glad that nobody could see me, but the Lord who knew my heart. He knew what I needed and the spiritual refreshment I had received not just from the ministry of the Word, but also from the simple giving of thanks from a people who had nothing to speak of in worldly terms. However, they did have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, and because of that they had ALL things in common with one another – namely, the joy of the Lord.
Nothing was going to dampen their enthusiasm as they sang, or gave praise to God. Their own poverty did not prevent them in the least from lifting their voices in request for friends, family and even other nations who they felt were in need of a Saviour and who they felt were even in more dire straits than themselves. I will never forget one person who stood quite near to me exclaim, “Praise the Lord, we have so much to be thankful for. God has given us all we need.”
Walking back across the property, I didn’t turn on my flashlight as I followed Pastor Togba back to the house. I wanted to remind myself that all the things I had made me very rich in worldly goods compared to Liberians who have the 2nd poorest country in the world.
I was sobered as I thought about all I had heard and knew that some of the richness in the hearts of these people had worked its way through the darkness and filled my own heart with joy. My prayer would become that I would never forget what I had already seen and heard in just two days since landing in West Africa. With the Lord being my helper, I would learn to be thankful and any time I wanted to complain about what I didn’t “have” that the Lord would remind me of my brothers and sisters who were content with such things as they had.
Struggling through the night with heat and more of the “633 Mosquito Squadron”, I slept with peace in my heart knowing that whatever came next, it would be accepted as from the Sovereign hand of the Saviour who knew better than I what I needed to learn. And Thursday was going to bring more lessons in both humility and service in action!
(…to be continued…)