Directly across from me, leaning back against a tree, sat the family patriarch. He looked 75 but was likely 15-20 years younger. Around us sat his family – young children, teenagers, and a few perhaps in their early 20s. My hosts brought me a small stool on which to sit, and for the next 30 or 40 minutes we talked about my faith and theirs, the Bible and the Q’ran, about Jesus and Islam. Several times, the patriarch – I never got his name – told me, “What you say is good.” As we concluded our conversation he invited us to return the next day to talk more, but with regret I explained that this was our last day in the area. Repeating his affirmation, “what you say is good,” he added, “We will believe, me and my family. Not today, but probably in two or three days, we will believe.”
“We will believe….” The words of this patriarch have come back to me again and again – sometimes almost hauntingly – in the three years since I sat with him in Ethiopia. I have prayed for him and his family often, and long to return and meet him again. Perhaps I will, or perhaps we will only meet when we stand together before the throne of Jesus.
This fall I have the opportunity to travel once again to Africa – not to Ethiopia, but to Liberia on the west coast. This oldest of African republics was devastated by civil war over the past two decades – a war that left 250,000 dead, thousands more displaced, a nation in economic ruin, and rampant corruption and unemployment. Significant portions of Monrovia, the capital, remain without electricity and running water.
Our global pastor, Josh Butler, and his wife, Holly, were recently in Monrovia. Read her first impressions: “The city is glum, there is trash piled everywhere and most buildings are either bombed out and empty, bombed out and being used still, or made out of pieces of trash. The poverty here is extreme.”
Our church here in Portland, Imago Dei Community, wants to be part of the solution in Liberia, and so we are beginning what we anticipate will be a long-term partnership with key Christian leaders there. In the midst of the corruption and largely ineffectual progress in other relief projects, the integrity and wisdom of these leaders has attracted the attention of the very highest levels of government.
In October, I will join an 11-person team from Imago Dei going to Monrovia to join the work already in progress. Mount Barclay, a refugee camp outside Monrovia, is home to about 15,000 residents living in abject poverty. Last September, working with Liberian pastor Saah Joseph, a Portland-based organization called Plan Loving Adoptions Now dedicated a school that now hosts 600 children in the Mount Barclay region. These children either walk or are driven to the school from several villages – requiring two vans and multiple trips per day!
Our team will focus on four primary needs:
- Additional construction work on the elementary school, a kitchen, and a secure storage facility
- Counseling and job skills training for girls transitioning out of prostitution
- Pastoral training with local church leaders
- Long-term strategic planning for our partnership
Over the past few years, God has been impressing upon me the changing role of the American church in global evangelization. While in Liberia, I will not only be helping with construction, but also listening to and learning from the pastors and other leaders there, with an ear specifically toward understanding how Imago Dei and other US churches can best support and serve our brothers and sisters in Liberia. (This will also benefit my seminary studies, as I was recently approved to do an “individualized study” course I designed on “Developing a Church-Based Short-Term Mission Strategy.”)
Of course, a trip like this is expensive – but what price do we put on the lives of people who may gain eternal life through our efforts? What is the value of the patriarch and his family with whom I sat under a tree in 2005? Or a child, orphaned by war, whose future is bleak except for the hope offered by a good education, healthy food, and loving caregivers? Imago Dei – an eight-year-old church – has already contributed more than $12,000 toward the construction needs, plus thousands more toward clean water wells in Liberia and elsewhere.
Eileen and I have prayed for this opportunity and the lifelong impact we believe it will have…for Imago Dei, for Liberia, and even for our family. We would ask you to pray about whether and how you might help make it possible for me to go. We would love to have your prayers, your encouragement, and your financial support.
Would you take a moment right now to pray for this opportunity? As God leads, please contact me for specific information on how you can support me.