| After the evening service several of us sat around and chatted. We were quite tired from the travel and so retired early. I slept well. I wondered however, how the rest of folks slept. It was apparent to me by now that they had no beds as I knew. I noticed that small reed mats were rolled out on the church floor. There seemed to be no padding at all on these and yet they had to be beds. Many new concepts of life as I had always known it were changing. In between the lesson sessions and the services I would get to know people. I noticed that as soon as I would walk away from one person another would quickly approach. I have always been interested in the life story of people. After just a short time most of these folk seemed very comfortable with telling me their story. I did not have to prompt them. They were eager to tell me what they had been through. It was as if I had become a place to express the frustration and horror of the last 14 years. Over and over again I would here how it was the Lord who had enabled them to survive. I felt so inadequate in attempting to teach a people who had to live their faith to just survive. I was so humbled by this that I even mentioned it from the pulpit. I was also struck by the gratefulness of everyone that we had come. Peter led the charge in this. Wherever we went he would always emphasize his peoples gratefulness for our coming.
After dinner the four of us sat down and organized who would speak when for the rest of the week. There were to be two full worship services every day, one midday and one evening, and two lesson sessions, one morning and one afternoon. Once this was settled, I walked out to look around.
I wandered toward the back of the compound. I looked through the reed fence and noticed a large building several hundred yards away. People were walking on a small road just outside the fence. Suddenly a man appeared next to me and started up a conversation. He appeared to be about sixty or so years old. He introduced himself as Samuel. I found this part of Liberian culture fascinating. Many people I was to meet had Biblical or English names. It became easy for me to memorize many names. By the time I left I knew lots of these folks by name. There were some people with African first names and English last names. Others had it reversed. The African first names were short, like Jaimba. I wish now that I had worked more on learning them.
By the end of the second day I had heard many stories and had spent time with several people. I began to feel something I had never experienced. This whole trip had not been by accident. I knew somewhere God had a work for me. I had tried to get involved in several very worthwhile ministries but nothing seemed to fit. Now there was no mistake, this was the work I was to do for the rest of my life. It was not a superficial feeling or a momentary emotional phase but I knew this was it. I felt a connection to these people that I had experienced only with my extended family. There was the man with kind eyes, he reminded me of my dads brother. There was a lady who reminded me of my dads sister. Then I met a woman who was like my mother’s sister. I was fortunate to be born in a family of good reputation and closeness. I had spent much time with my aunts and uncles as a child. I was close to them all. It had to be a supernatural thing for me to have this same connection to black folk 5000 miles away. It was undeniable. This was to be the work that I was to be about for the rest of my life. That night I stayed up talking with some of my new friends until about 1 or 2 am. After that I went to bed but could not sleep. It must have been 4 o `clock of so before I finally went to sleep. I felt so sorry for those folks who do not believe in God. Everything to them is a series of accidents and coincidences. How I knew better! What a feeling, that the maker of all things had picked me to help with something. I knew I would never be the same.
Every morning we sat down to a good hot breakfast. Afterwards we would plan the day and study. Following the morning session we would sometimes move around the city. Peter was a volunteer for Christian Aid Ministries. As time went on I found this man fascinating. He had started his church five years ago. There were now seventeen branch churches off of it. All this was done in the middle of a civil war. He also had three lovely and very well behaved children and a very contented wife. As if this were not enough he was a volunteer for this charity. It was run by the Mennonites. There was a man in charge of operations for Liberia from Nigeria named Accean. He had loaned Peter his car to haul us around. One evening he came over to visit. This man was tall, handsome, and very distinguished. He had on what I thought to be a traditional African suit, buttoned up front all the way. His manner was confident and his mind very keen. He spoke of the many overwhelming problems of this people. His love of these folks and God was so clear. He talked of the refugee camps. I finally began to understand what visitors to this continent had tried to express to me many times. These African folks will get to you. Accean had loaned Peter his car to haul us around. It was a very used Toyota Camary.
One day we were out driving around town. We had gone to downtown Monrovia to check on our return airline tickets. Afterwards we went by Christian Aid Ministries to meet the director and see Acheen. On the way back to Peter’s church compound we went through the neighborhood of international embassies. This was close to the ocean. As we tried to climb up a hill the driveshaft on our car broke. This was a small piece but the car was useless without it. We turned the car around and headed it downhill. After a few yards Peter and Mike, the driver, told us we had to get out and hide. The mechanic was at the bottom of the hill. They said if he saw Americans the price would automatically double or triple.
We walked a little ways and saw a house with a large porch on the front. We were still halfway up the hill and so this house overlooked the ocean. It was the best view I had seen yet. The house was once a grand place. It looked about forty or fifty years old. Like so many things I had seen here it had not been maintained properly. No one was there so we walked up to get out of the sun. A young man approached and I asked if we could sit down. There were old wooden chairs and some plastic chairs there. He told us it was not his house and that the owner was not there. He acted as it the owner would not care. We made ourselves comfortable not knowing how long this would last.
After a few minutes an older man walked up the stairs on the porch. He looked pleasantly surprised that he had guests. I was closest to him and stood up. I asked if he was the owner of the house. He acknowledged that he was. I then asked if it were all right if we rested there for a bit. “You are Americans,” he exclaimed “I don’t care if you stay here fifty years!” This man had seven children, all of them living in the states. He had owned this house for forty or so years. He was 79 years old and full of life. He was a practicing Roman Catholic and made no attempt to hide his faith.
I introduced myself. He told me his name but sadly I have forgotten his. I asked him what he had done before the war. He had been something on the order of our Postmaster General as far as I could tell. I wanted to know about his past and how his life had been before the war. As I listened to him it was becoming clear to me that this was once a land of plenty. It had been a comfortable and prosperous place to live. I asked him about the water pipes on the ground just off the porch. He told me that they had been shut off since the late 1980s. It fascinated me that the water system had been laid right on top of the ground. At home we had just had temperatures of 20 below zero. My pipes had frozen and caused me great problems, and here were pipes laying right on the ground! I also wanted to know about current politics. He them taught me an old Liberian wise saying. “If you are bitten by a snake the next time you see a lizard you will run away!” That, he said, is how many people felt about current politics.
Within an hour of so Peter and Mike came back. We were on our merry way. As we said good by I told my new friend that I would visit him on my next trip to Liberia. The door handle jammed and I pulled it to free it up. Richard warned me that I was pulling it to hard but I didn’t listen. It finally broke and I felt really bad. We were in a different part of the city by now. Mike stopped at a place to have a mechanic look at it. It was the ultimate “shade tree mechanic” experience. This guy came out from under a large tree to look at the door handle. I knew it was hopeless but he tried. I apologized to Peter and Accean (later). They were both very polite but I still felt like a creep. Now there was only one way in and out of the back of the car. You had to reach out the window of the other door to open it. The handle had broken on the inside of it some time ago. Such are things in Liberia.
Richard had told me that we might visit a refugee camp. He had seen one on his previous trip. I was very eager to do this. About the third day Peter set it up. We were on route to it when I asked if I could get a picture of some U.N. soldiers. We stopped at a machine gun emplacement and asked. The soldier said he had to check. Peter and I then had to go up a hill to a tent where some military police were and ask them. They had to radio to headquarters to ask. There superior was in a meeting and we had to wait. I did not know it would be such a big deal. Peter was very patient with this but I am not so sure about the other guys. After all, it was hot and they were sitting in the car. While we were waiting I told these fellows that I had been an M.P. also. They were from Nigeria and spoke this wonderful West African English well. I made sure we all had a good time by telling them a couple of my old army stories. It came over me there that people the world over are so similar. Here I was, halfway across the world relating stories to two men about things I had in common with them. We laughed and enjoyed the moment. Finally the word came back on the phone, no pictures. It might seem to some that it had been a waste of time, but I had made two new friends.