I was mildly excited to land again in Monrovia, Liberia – the brutally hot, humid, and poor West African city where I have been five times before. My efforts in Liberia were abruptly halted by the Ebola crises that erupted just as I was preparing to go in the spring of 2014. It took a couple years, but I made it back.
My good friend, colleague, and thrice-Liberian-travel-partner, Dr. Mark Glenn and I met our friend, Pastor Peter Flomo at the always-chaotic Monrovia airport and were whisked away for a bumpy 45 minute drive to our hotel, which I confess, is one of the ‘nicer’ places to stay in Monrovia. After 42 trips to Africa, including 11 years of traveling to Congolese Refugee Camps, I now insist on staying somewhere that is:
• Has A/C (what can I say?!!?)
• Has WiFi for communicating
We arrived late on a Sunday night so after about 30 hours of travel we got settled into our rooms and slept. That next morning, Pastor Peter had two meetings arranged for us. As Peter told us about the meetings, Mark became animated because he had actually done a bit of research on these men as a part of his doctoral studies.
Our first stop was at the residence of Liberian Senator “Prince” Johnson, who, as it turns out, was the Army General who infamously tortured and executed the former President while sipping a Budweiser beer back in 1990. This event was video-recorded and thus viewable (warning, it is horrific and I would advise against viewing it, but it is a matter of historical fact). General Johnson fled to Nigeria where he eventually experienced a very dramatic conversion to Christ and eventually returned to Liberia where he now actually serves in government and also pastors a congregation.
We had arrived the week after our Presidential elections and Johnson was understandably very eager to discuss US politics, though neither Mark nor I really wanted to delve into the chaos of our 2016 elections! As our conversation did eventually navigate to the condition of the Church in Liberia, Johnson noticeably perked up and shared his frustration with the lack of any real training that most pastors and church leaders actually have and the apparent inability of the Church to really do anything in the area of community and cultural transformation.
If this would have been our only meeting that day, we would have felt like we did have a historic opportunity, but the day was just beginning.
Off the main (paved) road, we found ourselves hopelessly stuck in a wet, muddy, and impassible dirt road where a large truck’s tires were partially
buried in the red, wet clay that looked like it belonged on a potter’s wheel. We got out and walked around the growing collection of stuck vehicles and soon saw a small ‘compound’ with razor wire greeting us.
“This is the home of General Butt Naked” our friend announced. (Again a warning – even the simplest ‘Google’ search will be horrific, yet it is a historical fact!) The homeowner, Joshua Blahyi, was the ‘General’ of the militia responsible for recruiting hundreds of ‘child soldiers’ during Liberia’s civil war and committing tens of thousands of unspeakable horrors – not only vicious murders, but cannibalism to ‘satisfy’ the gods of their tribal religion.
After the war, Joshua had a radical conversion to Christ, but was forced in exile to neighboring Ghana. Eventually he was able to move back to Liberia, though there were many death threats against him. Today Joshua actively searches for the ‘child soldiers’ he once led – young men, mostly drug addicts now, and attempts to lead them into relationship with Jesus, teaches them a trade – construction of houses, and actually helps them get gainful employment. He has helped hundreds thus far, and the homes he builds – he gives to the families of the victims whom he has killed.
As Joshua shared his story with us on his porch, he had tears – as did I. At the end of his incomprehensible story, I closed us in prayer and then asked him if he would pray. What can I say, I ‘lost it’ emotionally as I heard a truly repentant and humble sinner pray for himself, his nation, and for me! I’ve read the many articles and accounts online that question Joshua’s conversion and suggest it was motivated by something other than ‘religion.’ All I can tell you is that I know when I meet a brother in Christ, and I did meet one that day!
In the weeks since I’ve been back I have told some friends about this story and one friend asked me, “where is the redemption for the thousands of innocent people he killed?” I can only answer, “in the same place where redemption for Joshua exists – in the loving arms of a God who redeems the unredeemable.
I was reminded of the biblical story of Jonah – as he was angry at God’s forgiveness of a people he felt were ‘beyond’ redemption. Yet that is the story of the Gospel – God redeeming people who don’t deserve it! Or, in the words of songwriter Jonathan David Helser, “Grace is the collision on the way back home, in the arms of a Father who won’t let go.”
Amazing Grace indeed!