Who am I?

My photo
Monrovia, Liberia
I live in Monrovia, Liberia, West Africa with my wife and youngest son. We are recently arrived in Liberia where we are serving as missionaries with Evangelical Church Missions working under the Liberia Evangelical Mission. For most of the last thirty years we have served under ECM in Bolivia, South America. We are the happy parents of four children and the proud grandparents of two grandchildren.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

When Armchair Theology Meets The Road

It is easy to engage in armchair theology, sitting comfortably by a raging fire, sipping a cup of your favorite tea, coffee or chocolate while discussing and solving all the theological problems in the world. I admit, I enjoy that kind of theology. My business is theology put into practice (missionary work) and so I enjoy a good "shop talk" and debate at times. But alas, one has to finally get out of the armchair and reengage with his world. So I have a very real question for all you armchair theologians who are reading this. I need your help in how to correctly apply two seemingly contradictory passages of Scripture in my world of Liberia.

The two passages that I am thinking about are Matthew 5:38-42 (especially verse 42) and John chapter 6 with emphasis on verses 25-27.

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”

(Texts are taken from NRSV via www.biblegateway.com)

In the Matthew passage Jesus tells us to give to those who beg from you and yet in John after the feeding of the 5000 he did not give to those who were begging from him to repeat his performance and feed them again.

The situations were different, and, in a sense, the Matthew passage is armchair theology while the John passage is where it met real life. Jesus healed those who sought him ought, even if they did not believe in him. His compassion went out to all and yet when met by a very persistent group of people he refused to give what they wanted but instead referred them to what they really needed.

Here is my real life situation that  happens more frequently than you might think. I was out on my usual early morning walk today. About one block from home I was met by a young man who wanted me to give him something to eat. Then I was met by another young man who also wanted food or drink. By the time I had arrived at my gate there were four or five (I didn't count) all basically demanding something of me. (One day it was a group of probably five or six who were trying to convince me that I ought to help them as they were shouting at me and some of them chanting, "I love Jesus" or "I'll come to church.") Today I chose to not respond to them and escaped into the safety behind our gate. My response was partly shaped by the fact that last week our night guard, not far outside our gate, was jumped, attacked and robbed by a group of these young men who hang out on our street and I was beginning to feel intimidated.

Over on the main street are the amputees and other crippled men. They too seem to find me and ask for help. Sometimes I respond positively and sometimes not. I tend to have my "regulars" that I am more inclined to help as I at least have a little bit of "relationship" with them.

So what should I be doing? What do you do when you see people standing by the road with a sign asking for help? My question is: How do I determine the Matthew 5 people from the John 6 people? I have struggled with this from the first day of setting foot in Bolivia until now. So, armchair theologians, put on your thinking caps and give me an answer. I will be grateful for your thoughts.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

To Gbarnga and Back Again

I had the great opportunity, in mid-January, of visiting three villages where the Liberia Evangelical Mission (LEM) is opening churches. These villages are all outside of Monrovia and in different counties than the city. One of the villages is in Margibi County and the other two in Bong County. (Liberia is divided into 15 Counties.) The trip was a quick one with lots of things packed into the four days that we were gone.

The first day we drove on a beautiful, paved highway from Monrovia to the town of Salala. (Disclaimer: All names of towns and people are subject to change. I find it very difficult to obtain correct spellings and names of both people and communities.) From there we left the paved road to go on a “good” rock and dirt road. We drove perhaps for 45 minutes until reaching the small community where we would be leaving the car for the night. Except for being rough, the road provided no challenges with the exception of four bridges. The first bridge was swaybacked with a large hole on one side. The next two had their own peculiar challenges while the last one appeared too narrow for the car’s wheelbase. With the help of “Officer” Pastor Joe Greene who got out at each place and guided me, we crossed without incident. I did find it interesting that at the bridge with the hole everyone got out so only the white missionary would go down with the ship!

Leaving the car in the care of the people in the village, we prepared to hike in to our destination, Gbato Town (silent “g”). I knew that we would be hiking so as I packed my things I included only what I considered essentials because I didn’t want to pack too much weight. What no one told me is that I would not be responsible for packing more than my camera and water bottle. As we prepared to leave the car, one of the sisters told me to give her my backpack. I did, not realizing that she was gong to wear it. “Give it back. I’m not going to have a woman carry my pack!” So she obediently took it off and it was then taken from me again and given to a boy nine or ten years old. He would be the one to pack it. There were boys, women and men ready to carry our things. If I had known that I would have brought a lot more.

There might be something wrong about this picture - women and children
carrying stuff  while the grown men walk unburdened.
The hike in was not too strenuous, mostly just hot. We did cross a couple of rivers on logs but nothing very unnerving. When we reached Gbato Town the town’s children met us while singing to welcome us. I appeared to be a special source of interest for the children who followed me while singing their song. My white skin and hairy arms are often of interest to Liberian children.

This is the little guy that willingly carried my backpack in and out
at the first village.
We soon met the pastor of the church (who is also the chief of the community) and were escorted to the simple mud-brick structure that serves as a meeting place for the church. There we were formally welcomed to the village by the pastor in his role as chief, who offered us cola nuts as a traditional sign of greeting. We also had a short meeting with the church people. That evening after a really good supper of rice and chicken, we were given hot water for an evening bath. Following bath time there was another meeting with church leaders and others who cared to join in. The next morning was a devotional service with the church people, followed by a hot breakfast of yams and cassava and then goodbyes and the hike back to the car.

Pastor Adolpho who is also the town chief.
We met the sister of the pastor returning from the water hole. It made me think of Jesus and the Woman at the Well

A new taste treat - some kind of wild fruit. You suck the slime off of the seed
and spit it all out.
The bath house. The floor was a little muddy but the water was hot!
Members of the church.
The biggest needs of this community are training for church leaders and a school for the children to

learn how to read and write. We are praying that God will help provide what is needed. There is a teacher available for the school and room for a building. School supplies and both secular and Christian educational materials are needed.
Posing for a picture in front of the church building.

Back in our car we returned to the paved highway to continue to the next town of Totota. There we met with a group of seven or eight pastors from the area who have heard of LEM and are interested in knowing more about us. After a quick meeting we headed out to Sackie Bomota, Bong County. We drove about an hour on a road with lots of not so good stretches before coming literally to the end of the road where we parked the car in the yard of a family who had agreed to guard it for us. Then it was pack up and be off. Just as at the first stop, there were people waiting to help us carry our stuff, both young men and women. This hike in was around an hour and a half over a much more difficult path, one with lots of roots, rocks, ups and downs and half a dozen bamboo pole bridges to cross. None of the rivers nor streams that we crossed were raging but during the rainy season would be much more formidable.

Lots of kids in Sackie Bomota.

This little guy is within a week of the same age of our youngest grandchild. It was fun to hold him.

This is a part of the land given to the church.

The school.

When we arrived at the church, which was a little bit outside of the community, there were a number of people waiting for us. (The church structure was made entirely of bamboo poles and fronds. Quite adequate for now but in need of being replaced before the rains begin.) After a short discussion with them and agreement over the schedule during our day we went on to the village where the town chief and church leaders officially welcomed us with cola nuts. At suppertime we were served a meal of rice, chicken and Bamboo Worms (grubbs) for dessert. (Yes, I ate them. No, they were not raw but fried.) 


Rice and meat.

Dessert - yummy grubs!

Following supper we returned to the church for a meeting with town and church people. Early the next morning we had a devotional time at the church with the members and then were off again, hiking back to the car.

Those at the church meeting including representative from other communities.

The church people.

Lots of children.

The outside of the school.

The main needs in this community are training for church leaders and school supplies. The church has opened a school but lacks supplies for the teachers and children. Also, there were representatives from at least seven other communities that came to meet us and learn about LEM. There is a great need for established churches and schools in this area. We will see what God may have in store for LEM to help meet the need.

The church at Ziensu

The view from the church.
Back at the car we reloaded and headed off for the last village. First we drove on the highway until reaching Ziensu, also in Bong County. From there we again left the highway on a rock and dirt road until we reached the place where the car would be left. This time, however, it was only ten to fifteen minutes of driving. We left the car at a children’s home. The pastor/teacher who runs the home and its associated church and school was waiting for us with a team of boys to carry in our things. This last walk was both the shortest and the easiest of the three hikes. (On the way into this village we passed some people who were making Palm Butter. They also had captured some baby opossums and had them in a barrel. They were gone when we returned the next day so I suspect that the opossums were supper the night before.)

Breakfast time.


Yams, sweet potatoes, banana and cassava.

The church at this community was also meeting in a temporary Bamboo structure. At the church we were again welcomed by the town chief with the traditional cola nuts and words of welcome. We followed the same schedule – meeting in the evening and devotional time in the morning. That night the weather was cold. Now, don’t think Minnesota cold, but Liberian cold. This was the first time in Liberia that I wished that I had brought a coat to wear. In the morning we were served a first breakfast of yams, plantains, sweet potatoes and cassava. There was a second breakfast served as we were preparing to return to the car so we were well fueled for the journey.

Mud bricks for a permanent structure.

Drying in the sun.

Lasts a long time.

The main need in this community is for pastoral and church leadership training. While there is no school, the community has entered into agreement with the school were we left our car to have the village children attend there.

Kids at church.

He finally did figure out that he had them on upside-down.

Church drummer.

This was now our last day but before returning home we needed to continue up the highway to the city of Gbarnga (silent “g”, silent “r”). There we were to meet with the pastor of a small group of believers who are meeting together for Bible studies and to look at a house available for LEM to rent as a meeting place. The pastor was unable to meet with us; he is finishing his high school education and had to be in class for a test but we were able to meet with some of the people. 

Pastor Bill from Careysburg is considering whether the Lord is leading him
to minister in Gbarnga. 

The available house. Good location.

The people we met with from the Bible study group.

We then began the uneventful journey down the highway back home to Monrovia.

I came away from this trip with several ovservations:

1 – Deep fat fried worms are not all that bad to eat.

2 – Everyone who does a service for you needs to receive a small small tip (small small is Liberian for small). So you give a small small tip to the people who carried your backpack. A small small tip to the cooks. A small small tip to the pastor. A small small offering to the church and school. A small small offering to the Lutheran pastor (you read that right – but I did resist giving one to the Methodist minister. That might have been a mistake as I discovered after we were gone that he was the town chief.) Something small small to the members of the team. A small small tip to the people who guarded the car and even a small small something to the old man and lady who just happened to be there. You can be small smalled to death but I am told that now when I return I will be welcomed with open arms.

3 – School needs cannot be ignored. God has given us a book. We need to be able to read it. School is necessary even if it is not an ideal situation. In the one community were there was a school, it consists of one room divided in half by a sheet. Kids are crowded into both sides of the room without desks and writing materials. But they are there to learn. Teachers need our help.

4 – While we cannot wait around until we have everything in place before starting churches, we must waste no time in extending training to these pastors in remote areas. There is no internet or phone service so training must be face to face.

5 – Ford Motor Company deserves our thanks for building such a good vehicle as our Everest is proving to be.

6 – The needs are too great for LEM to meet alone. We desperately need financial resources from others to help meet the needs that we have encountered. While LEM cannot expect others to pay all of the cost and needs to do what it can, bearing one another’s burdens means that those of us who have so much should be willing to give at least a small small amount of help so that there can be a big big difference in the lives of our Liberian brothers and sisters.