As late as two weeks before departure (on April 30) I really did not know if I could go to Liberia at all. I was so close - already in Ghana. The call to come there was urgent and I knew how timely and pressing the mission needs in that country were. We had made a Foreign Mission sponsored trip there as recently as November so I knew that the FM budget could not include any more trips this year to Liberia. I then placed the issue in prayer squarely before the Heavenly Father. My answer was the inspiration to write to Matthew Niemela, who lives in Michigan, and ask his advice. He had made a mission trip with us to Liberia a year ago, at which time he proved to be an invaluable asset on the trip and a most gifted missionary. To my amazement he wrote back almost immediately saying he was considering dropping everything, coming to Liberia and splitting the costs with me!!! What a Godsend! Within two days he had made his final decision to accompany me and soon had his tickets and visa, and before you knew it he was on his way to Africa, to the city of Accra, Ghana, where I was waiting for him, so that we could fly together to Monrovia, Liberia. A true miracle of God's grace and love!!
After all this build-up our first experience in Liberia was a rather unceremonious one. Ten minutes after leaving the airport our taxi developed a flat tire and just dumped us out beside the road with our luggage and returned to the airport. We would not be daunted! We were in Liberia with our dear friends Pastor Natt and Evangelist Christian Bowah (right) with the sun shining brightly and our hopes very high. Stranded temporarily beside the road was peanuts compared to what we had gone through to get there and we knew that God was very much in control. After a while we did manage to get a ride to our very modest hotel and all was well!
In Monrovia we were able to visit the Promised Land Apostolic Lutheran Church for the very first time. What a joy to see all those kids! Later you'll see some of the older members of the congregation.
Matthew spoke the opening words of greeting from his family, his congregation, and from the Word of God. Matthew is a gifted proponent of God's Word and everyone listens when he speaks in his humble, enthusiastic and authoritative way.
Preaching is a sweaty business in Africa. They so appreciate it when I wear a suit on Sunday mornings, but there is a price to pay. At times, with temperatures regularly in the 90's and above and no ventilation, it looks like I have taken a veritable shower in my suit but I always survive and hardly think about it while speaking. The important thing is that the Holy Spirit anoints my tongue and the Word goes forth in truth and sincerity.
More of the adults in the congregation of "The Promised Land Apostolic Lutheran Church" in the Liberian capital of Monrovia. Notice the sign in the background. Like I said, it is the first time our mission has visited this church and it was a thrill to find such a thriving congregation in this city......the only Apostolic Lutheran one there!
And then we made the long and arduous journey out to Zwedru in Grand Gedeh County. This trips takes about 12 hours and is largely over heavily potholed roads which lurch and jar the vehicle. Much of the road is also "blessed" with clouds of red dust so on the return trip you should have seen my very authentic red hair and beard - just like many years ago!
When we arrived in Zwedru an immediate and true joy was our visit to the prison called "The National Palace of Corrections"(!!). Since we first opened our prison ministry there in November the local church has actively kept it going and on this day three new converts were scheduled to be baptized. In the picture above you see those young men leaving the prison compound along with prison guards and some of our mission team on the way to the place of baptism. It was a very serious procession. One of the prisoners had been one of the biggest rabble-rousers in the prison before his conversion. All were amazed at what God had done in his life.
Reading the baptismal blessing and prayer for the three prisoners who had just been baptized. You would hardly have believed the reverence exhibited by each of these young men as they came up out of their baptism. I almost expected a dove to descend and a voice to come from heaven, so powerful was the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Matthew Niemela presenting Bibles to the three who were baptized. The former problem prisoner is receiving his Bible. Matthew, his family and congregation in Chassell, Michigan, have provided many many Bibles, not only to prisoners but to many congregation members of our churches in Liberia. Most educated people in Liberia understand English so we can buy English language Bibles at the Bible Society in Monrovia and take them out to the more remote areas.
Fairly new church building in town of Mewaeken in the southern Liberian county of River Gee - festively decorated for our arrival.. This area is one of the several outreaches of the Apostolic Lutheran Church in Liberia. Actually one of the three outlying areas we visited on this trip to the hinterlands, which included the newly evangelized areas of Pyne's Town and Boundary.
Inside the hand-built mud brick church in Mewaeken is a lovely African atmosphere.
After the pastoral teaching and seminar sessions we were presented with a goat - which Pastor Johnson (right) had gone to the forest to find and bring back, tied, on his motorbike, where Matthew was also a passenger. Matthew definitely did not appreciate the goat kicking him from behind as they rode along. In receiving this valuable gift I committed a major faux pas. Realizing that its certain fate was to be slaughtered for us I said quietly, "Poor goat!" Pastor Johnson, who had just provided us with one of his best goats was taken aback - not understanding why I called his precious gift to us "poor". Actually this goat did meet the expected fate a few days later back at our headquarters in Zwedru and provided several tasty meals. Friends of mine, by the way, explained to Pastor Johnson what the deal was and so I think he forgave me.
The man on the left in this picture is Pastor Dickson Dweh, Vice President of the Apostolic Lutheran Church of Liberia, our chief host in the Grand Gedeh county seat of Zwedru from which we then moved to the other areas - mostly by long motorbike rides.
Evangelist D. Christian Bowah, who along with Evangelist Uriah Nyenow have led the mission efforts to the new areas of Boundary and Pyne's Town. It is amazing what dedication these young men have exhibited - leaving their families in Zwedru for long periods of time and living out in remote villages on the good graces of the Lord alone as they preach and teach and bring the Gospel of salvation to these, often very heathen areas! That is, in fact, a major reason why Matthew and I knew we HAD to go to Liberia at this time - to demonstrate our support and encouragement for the spiritually noble efforts of people like these two dedicated young evangelists and Pastor Johnson .
The newly evangelized area of Boundary. Here a congregational procession walks to the place of baptism singing beautiful spiritual songs. SEVEN people are to be baptized on this day. For those seven people I believe that it was truly a life-changing walk.
One of the seven who was baptized in the river that day. Assisting with the baptism was Pastor Othello Tyne, President of the Apostolic Lutheran Church of Liberia
The road ahead. As we travelled to the back country of Liberia we were usually three on a motorbike, often facing "roads" like this. With years and years of experience our driver, Christian, manoeuvred around the "lakes" and potholes with consummate skill. One could almost relax on those rides which lasted two or more hours. Often we could even enjoy the lush tropical forest that we were passing through. Night was worse. When one of the bikes in our party - carrying Pastor Dickson's wife and their 2 year old boy - lost its headlight we had to try and run beside and behind it for many many miles to light the way and that was considerably more trying. Such is the life of a missionary.
Safely back in Zwedru with our driver, Christian - here at the new home he is building - really from scratch. On the left are hand made mud bricks and behind him and Matthew the new house he is building which will be a mud plastered frame one. Things are simple in Liberia. And people ingeniously creative. They don't sit around waiting for a handout they get out and do it on their own by the sweat of their brow!
And speaking of sweat the whole Zwedru congregation has invested in building up a "farm" in a big clearing on the slopes of a tropical forest not far from town. In this picture you see "Mama" Tarow covered with ashes to protect her skin from the sun, together with Matthew, showing where the newly planted dry-land rice is coming up. Kasava plants have also been planted (a kind of very productive and nourishing root vegetable). Mrs. Tarow is the widow of the late president of the church, Robert Tarow. Both of them were around when Andrew Mickelson and Gust Kandoll visited Liberia many years ago when they sowed the seeds for today's mission.
Picture of promise. Young plantain (a type of food banana) trees already growing sturdily on the "farm". What a joy to see people in this congregation so energetically investing their time and energies - and faith - in the future - and counting so heavily on the benevolence of a loving and gracious Heavenly Father.
Sometimes in the mission field you end up wondering who really is inspiring who. I don't think that Matthew and I could ever have personally given all we had - and more - to go to Liberia this May, for instance, if we had not been truly inspired by the faith, example and commitment of the Liberian Christians who have become our family there. How could we have done less?!
After spending 2 weeks in Liberia I came rather directly to the Philippines. What a blessing it is to be here with my brother Raymond! Our first mission trip together. Now I am scheduled to return to Finland on June 2. As usual I covet your prayers.
In God's love and wondrous peace,