Building Hope in the Land of the Forgotten [OLD]

Work and Witness Trip to Zwedru, Liberia 2010

I stood at midfield on the deeply rutted and over grown soccer field.  On my right stood Pastor Geoff Defranca, the work and witness team members brave enough to join me, and a whole line of Liberian pastors looking oddly dressed for futbol and very out of place.  On my left was Toubah and a long line of strong young Liberian soccer players who had shed their shirts for team identification and stood now glistening in the setting sun.  It was July 4th, 2010.  In a moment of World Cup fever and a sense of patriotism I led out with the American national anthem.  As we finished our rather embarrassing performance, the young Liberian team belted out their national anthem with force and solidarity.  The crowd applauded in affirmation and soon the game was a foot.

Our pastors team stumbled and chased after every ball with great effort but very little skill.  By half time the fast moving Liberian youth had put in two goals and things were not looking good.  The half time interviews and water break brought on some challenging words from both sides but with great hope we returned to the field with the cheers of a large crowd that had gathered to see the Liberian World Cup finals – Nazarene style!  To our great pleasure, a new recruit for the pastors team brought on a strong striker.  William Roberts, a recent graduate from Africa Nazarene University who is helping in teaching on the Liberian South East district helped us put in 2 goals in the second half to even the score.  The final whistle blew and our teams settled for a tie.  The great thing about soccer is you can leave with a good feeling that nobody lost.  It was a win-win solution that left us with a smile and a great experience.

As we gathered in the grass with the crowd and the players, I stood and shared the gospel through my testimony and the aid of the evangeball which we had used for the game.  I prayed for those who would accept Jesus into their life and challenged them to win the game of life by submitting their lives into the hands of God.  Our youth were challenged!  The pastors were excited by what they had experienced.  The work and witness team had made 20 to 30 new best friends!  It was truly a win-win situation that day.

Working in Liberia is always a challenge, but reaching the remote area of Zwedru is a unique tough experience.  The members of the team from Nashua Community Church of the Nazarene in New Hampshire were not daunted by the challenge.  They had braved the long flights through Europe into Monrovia, Liberia and then travelled by truck and station wagon for 14 hours on rough roads to reach this district.  This town is very close to the heart of where the rebellion leaders of the Liberian War were from.  As we listened to the stories of the people, we came to realize that the innocent that were trapped between the rebels and the army suffered the most in this very region where we now stood.  Our district leader Rev. William Grant shared that this was the heart of the forgotten land.  A place that had no hope for many years; a place that had been forgotten as the very core of darkness with only pain, sorrow, and misery to offer its inhabitants. 

Today, however, we see a light of hope.  A developing church that is impacting its community and offering a new hope for the youth of today and tomorrow.  Our team worked side by side with pastors like Augustine Quoi, who donated their time and efforts to build a new district training center for this whole region.  We watched as men, women, and children came from the churches to help fill the foundation with dirt carried on their heads in pans.  I watched pastors learning how to swing a hammer and how to lay block.  Our team brought ministry supplies for children, tools to help with the construction, and a bag full of encouragement for our pastors and their families.

Each day, while the team slaved in the sun to put in a foundation, pour columns, and build trusses, Pastor Geoff and I would start the day with the pastors.  We were teaching leadership skills and ways to help churches grow in evangelism, discipleship and training.  At lunch we would move to the site, change clothes and join the challenge.  Pastors carried wheelbarrows, moved blocks, and helped to build a storage building along side the developing training center.  We were not only helping to develop the district center and expand the churches influence, but we were also investing in the spiritual lives of our leaders.

As we would ride home each day in the back of the open truck, I could still see the smiles of our team as they fell in love with the Liberian people.  “Thank you for the hard work,” was a phrase repeated time and time again across the district property as both visitors and local leaders put shoulder to shoulder to accomplish the task.  Our team studied the fruit of the spirit each morning as we went to the site, and truly each day I saw the fruit of the spirit in their lives.  Penny shared kindness selflessly what God had provided her in the way of medicine, gifts for the children, and books for the pastors.  Tom, John, and Ann worked side by side with our leaders taking on any task they were asked to do.  Shirley preached the word, shared a message on the local radio program, and poured out peace like a river to all around her.  Big John the carpenter man, steadily provided instruction and guidance for his coworkers who were calling him Uncle John by the end of the week.  Dan, the medical officer for the team, bent bar after bar of steel without ever getting bent out of shape himself. Pastor Geoff led by example and built relationships with pastors and leaders like Rev. Daniel Johnson our ministries coordinator for Liberia.

In the middle of the building site, there was one of the largest ant hills I have ever seen.  When we arrived at the site we discussed all the possibilities of what would happen when we would cut down the anthill.  Thousands of ants started scurrying out each time a pastor would drive a pick axe into the hill.  It was hard as a rock, made from the local red clay, and represented 10 years of work for those ants.  Everybody was anxious to see the queen ant reported to be at the heart of the mound.  Each day the pastors slowly worked to take down the obstacle in our building plans and spread the dirt as fill for our foundation. 

As I reflected on this hill, I thought of the nearly 14 years of war that stood as a mountain in the way of progress for these loving people.  They had endured great suffering.  The young men working around me had lost 10 years of education.  Touba ,the soccer captain who was now mixing cement and pushing wheelbarrows at the age of 19, had only a 3rd grade education.  Time had stopped for these people and today they are slowly picking up their lives and trying to find hope in a place with very little hope.

The end of the week came quickly for our work and witness team and the giant anthill, called the Bockerbo mound in the local language, was still not down.  I realized that though we had accomplished much, I would need to stay with the Liberian team three extra days to help complete the trusses and get the ring beam poured for the roof of the building.

We had a farewell celebration service with our local churches at the Zwedru Central Church of the Nazarene.  Gifts were exchanged and many hugs, handshakes, and snaps of the fingers in the Liberian tradition were given, as our new brothers and sisters in Christ started their long journey back to New England district in the USA.  A partnership had started between this district and the good people of Nashua Community Church of the Nazarene.  A relationship that represented a win-win situation for all of us.

The day before I left Zwedru we reached the queen ant and the last of the ant mound came down.  I have never seen such a large ant in all my life.  The local neighbors decided to eat it.  That would not have been my solution to the problem, but as we discovered all week, nothing goes to waste in Liberia.  The job is still not finished, but in the next month the national leaders will complete the roof and the first training center for our church in the Southeast of Liberia will be born.  Pastors from five zones will be trained in this facility.  Youth camps will be a reality for the first time on the six acres of land purchased through Alabaster.  Projects that will help the community will sprout from this facility and a sense of hope and light will help to change the land that was forgotten.

We gave our final instructions and Pastor Quoi and I went to the taxi station to get a ride out of Zwedru.  After 4 hours of waiting the only option was to take the public bus which was a small 12 seat van that had been modified Liberian style to accommodate 20 passengers.  As I crawled in behind the driver and folded my legs behind the seat with only about six inches for my legs, I knew I had made a poor decision.  The desire to get home, kept me focused on enduring the next 14 hours on the road. 

To my great surprise the van moved to a local shop where all our bags were removed and about 400 lbs of dried meat was placed on the roof rack.  Under my feet was a live chicken, the passenger behind me had a puppy on one leg and a baby on the other.  The three passengers in the front seat had a pet mouse that was being fed pieces of corn from the little girls hand.  We finally rolled out on the rough dirt road by 7:30 pm.  The metal floor that was pressing on my knees was soon at engine temperature.  If I had some eggs I am sure I could have cooked up some scrambled eggs right there on the floor plate.  Pastor Quoi had mercy on me and took off his jacket folding it between my knees and the hot engine plate.  Hour after hour, we bounced along and I prayed.  My circulation to my aging legs was cut off and the pain was almost unbearable.

We finally rolled into Ganta our halfway point at 4:30am.  Pastor Quoi had reached his home but I still had another 7 hours of travel to Monrovia and another day of flights from Liberia, through Ghana and finally home to Dakar, Senegal.  I just praised God that I had arrived safely and promised myself to never ride a bus out of Zwedru ever again.

There are some days when all I see is the Bockerbo mounds in our ministry.  The days are long and the nights are short.  The obstacles seem insurmountable and the enemy looks like a fat queen ant sucking up all the resources and discouraging the advancement of the kingdom.  Then, I am reminded by the Lord, of the hope and light given to us through His Word.  Where there is no way, He will make a way.  As we work together in partnership, our weaknesses become strong in Him.  We see his plan unfolding step by step. Shovel by shovel, pan by pan, the obstacles come down.  From the earth rises new leaders and new dreams.  Doors begin to open and the compassion of fellow believers shines a new light on our path.

There will be a day when we stand shoulder to shoulder in heaven to celebrate what God has done.  We won’t sing the national anthem, but a heavenly anthem.  As far as we can see on our left and on our right will be men, women, and children from every tribe and every nation.  We will sing the final victory song and know that truly we have won the game.  Our treasure will be eternal and our joy complete.  I look forward to that day but until then, we will keep on the journey.  Another course to teach.  Another center to build. Lives worth investing in made a priority in our ministry.

Continue to pray for our people in Liberia.  They do represent a new hope and a new light for their community.  Pray that God will send more teams to face the challenge and help us complete our goals.  We are trusting in Him that he will give us the final victory to build hope in a forgotten land.

Respectfully submitted,

Timothy R. Eby

AWF Field Partnership  Coordinator