Some of the women seemed to be upset, and I could not begin to imagine what the church leaders were thinking about what they had overheard. Twenty pairs of eyes followed me as I walked through their midst and off the veranda into the dusty African evening.
Walking along the edge of Pastor Togba’s property, I noticed that it was not five minutes before Mr. Maryland walked out the door with all his bags. They were loaded into the vehicle in almost complete silence and without a word of thanks to Pastor Togba, he and his friend pulled out of the driveway and headed in towards town.
The members of the little congregation remained on the veranda and at the front of the house as I considered what I should do next. More appropriately, I considered how I needed to handle what I believed was right to do in this particular situation. Walking back up to the porch, I hesitantly asked them to gather together.
Me: “First, I want to apologize for what you heard. It was not my intention for anybody to overhear my private conversation with Mr. Maryland. While I do not believe that I should apologize for what I said, I do apologize for giving offense in regards to how I spoke to your guest. Please forgive me for I realize that my approach was not the best and my desire should remain to be more like Christ even when something displeases me! I also want each of you to know that the Lord has changed my own heart for the country of Liberia, and that regardless of how a missionary or pastor from America feels that it does not make his actions right. He is a complete embarrassment and does not reflect the words and actions of all missionaries or pastors from America or England.”
One of the elders, whom I had met earlier, stepped up and embraced me. “Pastor, you have nothing to apologize for. We are glad we heard your words for we did not realize the full situation. We are just disappointed that our guest has not been honest with us and that by his actions, he does not show forth the love of Jesus Christ for Liberians. However, thank you for sharing your words and for telling him what he needed to hear!”
I knew Liberians are very gracious hosts and they would probably never have responded to Mr. Maryland in the manner I did. They would have allowed the insults to go unchallenged. While I have regrets, addressing Mr. Maryland is not one of them. It was certainly a lesson well learned as I saw first-hand the greed that fuels far too many in the West.
People in Liberia and around the world need to hear the true gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. They are not impressed with ugly missionaries who show up trying to make them like a little America. They do not want our pity, nor do they need most forms of what passes for “Christianity” in the West. When people like Mr. Maryland go outside of their comfort zones, they will either reflect the Lord Jesus Christ or they will show that their own personal needs and wants are more important than even the very best that the nationals can offer them. This is truly a sad commentary on some mission endeavors!
On Saturday, the church elders came back and spoke with Pastor Togba and stated to him also that they appreciated what I said to their guest. In addition, they wondered if he had heard anything from Mr. Maryland. Their special services were to begin the following morning on the Sunday and he still had not bothered to contact them. A person has to wonder what his true intentions were for being in Liberia in the first place. Before I left on the Monday, we still had not heard whether Mr. Maryland had shown up for the service or not, although we did hear that he was enjoying his time in the downtown hotel.
Well, that is enough of the sad jarring testimony against one who claimed to be a believer. Just a short time later, Pastor Femi, who is one of the associate ministers at Maranatha Baptist Church came to the house. He asked me if I would be willing to come and share the gospel at the business college he owned. It was inherited from his father, who had started the school several years before the war. The sole purpose was to train business personnel for the workplace. Even though the war had curtailed much of the business and industry, many Liberians feel the need to continue their personal growth and education in order to be prepared for the day when the country begins its redevelopment.
I accepted the invitation and the next morning, Pastor Philemon came to the house and told me he would be my guide for the day. Pastor Togba dropped us off near the college and we began our walk. Smells of food, burning trash, and masses of humanity once again assaulted our senses. From the hill we climbed, we could see north towards the interior, a place that I would love to have visited for a longer time.
Arriving at Lincoln Business College, Pastor Femi came out and began with a tour of his facility. Manual typewriters sat on old desks in one big room, two toilet facilities off another classroom were the only toilets for all the students who came. Femi shared with me that they had about 400 men and women enrolled, but that they rotated in and out on different times in order to keep class sizes small.
After introducing us to each staff member, we went into the large assembly room where students were beginning to gather for the next series of classes. Pastor Femi had informed me that while it was not a Christian college, each Friday involved chapel at two different times to accommodate the number of students who came during the early part of the day. Chapel was required for all students in order to attend whether they were a believer or not. I could not imagine such a requirement being found in any western secular college. To even attempt such would invite the wrath of liberal God-hating groups such as the ACLU.
The chapel time started with Femi beginning in prayer. This was followed up by a gospel rendition by one of the students. After the song concluded, Pastor Femi introduced me to the first group of students. He had previously asked to share a gospel message and he informed the students that this would be my topic for the day. Nobody moved as I stood to my feet to once again proclaim the truth of God’s Word.
Some of the single seat desks had two students to a chair and the heat quickly became oppressive. Yet, for an hour the students listened attentively as I opened my Bible and began once again with James 2:10, “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” The morning session went by quickly and when I had concluded, Pastor Femi stood and asked that if any of the students desired more information to stand. Four of the students moved to their feet in front of their peers as did one of the college professors.
After the class ended, we were able to share further with these five and they expressed a desire to place their faith in Christ. Only eternity will tell whether they fully understood or not, but we continue to keep these individuals in prayer that the Lord would be gracious to them and help their understanding of the Scriptures.
I was due to speak at the next chapel session in the afternoon, so Pastor Femi recommended we go for a walk in the downtown area. Walking down one of the hills, we came to one of the main streets where people jostled for space on the broken sidewalks. CD players blared with a variety of music genres from a number of different storefronts, while vendors hawked their wares. Even children walked up and down the street attempting to make a sale or two from their meager supplies.
At one point while attempting to take a picture, I remember Pastor Philemon grabbing my arm and moving me out of the way of an oncoming vehicle. “Pastor, you will have to be careful so you can see your family again!” I was thinking that I was being safe considering how far on to the sidewalk I was standing! Road rules account for little in Liberia, and this was especially true in Monrovia. If there is a space almost large enough for a vehicle or a motorcycle, it will be utilized.
Going into a shop for wearings (what Liberians call clothes), I was able to select some West African style shirts for my boys and a Liberian lady’s outfit for my wife. I was thankful for my guides as I was not very adept at the bartering system they use throughout Monrovia and would have probably paid more than the items were worth.
Walking a little further, I mentioned we should get something to chew on (another Liberian-ism for food). Pastor Femi recommended a location, but Pastor Philemon said that he was not sure I could handle the food they served. By this time, I was game for about anything, so I told them I would eat in whatever location they chose.
In America, we could call where we went a dive. However, the smell that emanated from within was definitely appealing, so I thought, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” I was just hoping my stomach would cooperate with whatever I ate. We ordered three traditional Liberian dishes with palm butter and fufu.
Waiting for our food in a building barely wide enough for two little café style tables and a tiny aisle between them, I was amazed at the number of people crowded in. People who had never met shared tables and as there were only three of us at a four-place table, it was not but a few minutes before a woman came and sat down while the rest of her friends sat at the table across from us. They kept up a very loud running commentary throughout the entire meal while we tried to speak about the things of the Lord.
Our food arrived and both pastors kept watching me very carefully. I wasn’t sure whether they were hoping that I would like the food or whether they were hoping I wouldn’t and they would eat it for me. I didn’t bother to ask what was on my plate, but after tasting all of it, I informed them my conclusion was that I could live off of Liberian food. I have often wished, since returning to the West, that I could find a Liberian restaurant, but to no avail.
Going back to the college, we prepared for the final session and it was even hotter than the morning. Fortunately, Pastor Philemon had found a means earlier in my trip that helped me to keep a little cooler during my Liberian stay. Purchasing a fa-tow (face towel or washcloth), he was able to obtain a small chunk of ice for me. Wrapping the ice with the fa-tow, I used this on my arms and forehead which was a huge help.
It was another blessed time as once again I was able to present the good news of the gospel. We had two people who responded after the meeting who wanted to know more from the Word of God. I must say that it was truly a privilege to be able to speak at this business college. The next generation of leaders in Liberia will be coming from schools and colleges like the one at which I spoke. Sadly, many of them are only learning about business, and not about the one who allows businesses to grow or decline.
However, for more to learn, more need to be able and willing to go and share the truth with the millions who have never heard even once.
Going back to Pastor Togba’s house that afternoon, the realization that my time was running out caught up with me. So much had changed, especially in my own heart. While I had not seen much take place in recent times in England, or even previously in America, the Lord had shown Himself very gracious and full of mercy in West Africa. I had no doubt in my mind that this had nothing to do with me for salvation is all of God and absolutely no part of man. This is true whether it is in the gospel appeal by the missionary or whether it be in the actual saving of the soul. If a soul comes becomes of the one who preaches and not because he or she is being drawn by the Spirit, they are just as lost as before they came.
Part of the evening was spent taking time with Pastor James and Pastor Philemon. They shared with me the vital need for missionaries, but not just any kind of missionaries. Sadly, they had seen their share of missionaries who came with the intention of making Western-style churches. Many lived in their own little compounds and rarely interacted with the national workers and pastors in a way that showed they were equals. This is not to criticize all who have gone or who are there now, but to show that the national workers want to work alongside the missionaries and to learn together more of the Lord and His Word. They do not wish for the missionary to come in and “Lord” it over them as though it were a throwback to the days of colonialism.
I learned that my brother is still my brother in Christ no matter the color of his skin, the language he speaks, or the culture in which he resides. While I may have nothing from an earthly perspective that allows me to relate to a dear brother like Philemon, Femi, or James, that does not mean that we have nothing in common. All true believers are united and one in Christ Jesus.
As we have mentioned before, one day we shall stand around the throne, we who are people from every tribe, nation, language and people group. What will unite us will be the fact that we are the Bride of the Bridegroom, the One Who gave Himself for us so that we might have eternal life and be free from the wrath of the Almighty Sovereign Creator.
(…to be continued…)