Years ago, as a local church pastor, I never anticipated my future would bring me face to face with people and nations emerging from civil war, but the past decade has found me in refugee camps, war-torn villages and UN military zones! Last year, our ministry’s CEO asked me to prayerfully consider taking on a new responsibility – directing and overseeing a new project in the war-ravaged nation of Liberia, in Western Africa.
Established in the 1800’s as a place where freed slaves from America and the Caribbean could be resettled in Africa, this lush tropical nation has more recently been known for an incredibly violent civil war, killing hundreds of thousands of people and sadly, was infamous for using “child soldiers.” By 2003, the London Economist magazine declared Liberia, “the worst place in the world to live.”
Last November, I went to Liberia at the invitation of several Liberian pastors who have quite literally pleaded with AFMIN to start a pastoral training program. By the end of our week in Monrovia, the crowded, impoverished capital of Liberia, we were able to meet with 26 key denominational leaders. The pastors present were enthusiastic about AFMIN starting an equipping and training project in their country.
I am departing for Liberia on April 9 and my primary purpose is to establish stronger ties to the pastors and church leaders of the country, and to conduct a two-day leadership seminar.
Before and after the seminar, I’ll be meeting with leaders from the Pentecostal churches, Evangelical congregations, as well as the denominational leaders from ‘mainline’ protestant denominations, as well as the government’s “Secretary General” of churches in Liberia.
In spite of the 20-year civil war, the churches have maintained their ‘labels’ and sadly, their divisions as well. Over 40% of the Liberians claim to be Christians, yet few of the pastors are adequately trained and many (if not most) of the churches are very ‘unhealthy.’ Islam is also making its ‘claim’ on this region, reaching out to unsuspecting nominal Christians.
I was raised in a liturgical Lutheran church where I learned about the Lord and saw a genuine and sincere faith in my parents and in my church family. But, it wasn’t an “emotional” type church structure (if you know Lutherans, you know they are a stoic bunch!). But I clearly remember a church service when I was 11 or 12 years old. Missionaries from Liberia came to our church, told stories, showed slides, and shared what God was doing. I remember crying – the only time I ever remember crying inside that church, and recall as if it were yesterday, asking God at the end of the service if there was something I could do for the people of Liberia.
Now, forty years later I’m actually doing something for the people of Liberia!