Scam Into Blessing – Part 7

Ruined vehicles, burned out buildings pockmarked with bullet and rocket holes, and destroyed bridges marked the highway as long-lasting evidences of the recent war. However, what kept the images alive were the road blocks every so often manned by UN troops sitting in their sandbagged positions carefully watching every person going by and maintaining a presence that was deemed necessary for the fragile peace.

Pastor Togba shared that much of the fighting was the result of Muslim incursions seeking to take more control for the sake of Islam. Ironically, while the Muslims did not win, Liberia is today surrounded by countries that are predominantly of the Islamic faith. With the advent of the UN troops though, Islam has gained an addition through attrition as the vast majority of the troops allocated to Liberia (supposedly for its protection) are from Muslim countries.

Having never seen UN troops previous to my trip to Liberia, I was appalled at what I saw. While there is much that could be debated in regards to their roles, one thing was clear – the UN was a synonymous term with greed. Everywhere I went during my trip, the troops always held themselves aloof from the local population as a whole while driving around in their very expensive vehicles. I learned from the pastors that the UN came into the country with a blank check and 15,000 troops making it the largest peacekeeping force anywhere in the world at that time.

As we passed through another of the endless parade of roadblocks, I was reminded again that only when the Prince of Peace returns will peace ever be able to reign. Men, kings, and governments can plan and scheme, but they would do well to hearken to the words of a wise pagan king found in Daniel 4:34-35, “And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’”

Shortly before arriving in Gbarnga, I was trying to stay cool with a fan in the back seat when my thoughts were interrupted by Pastor Togba swerving near a huge black branch in the middle of the road. I was surprised as it looked to me like he had deliberately tried to hit it – until I saw the branch move! It was a huge snake that had been sunning itself in a most convenient spot and almost paid for its poor choice of location. Outside the safety of thick glass in a zoo, I had never seen such a large snake. Fortunately, Pastor Togba decided not to stop so we could make its acquaintance! LOL

Moving through thick forests and patches of rice paddies, we entered Gbarnga and drove directly to the AFBM mission clinic. AFBM stands for African Fundamental Baptist Mission and is a group of about 20-30 churches scattered throughout Liberia. They operate a medical clinic in conjunction with medical missionaries who are serving with ABWE (Association of Baptists for World Evangelization). Coming up the driveway, a hand painted sign on the side of the green building greets each visitor with, “We treat patients, but only God heals.”

It was a privilege to meet the staff of this clinic as they struggled to daily meet the needs of dozens of patients every day. Their goal was not just to meet the medical need, but also to provide spiritual guidance and assistance. These individuals fully understood the need of not providing just a social gospel for a person who goes to bed with a full stomach and a healthy body will still die and go straight to hell if he or she does not place their faith in Christ alone for their salvation.

Liberia is an interesting study in syncretism, which is the mixing of religions with the end result being that which only serves to satisfy the worshipper that he is doing what is necessary to protect himself from the evil spirits. Roman Catholicism allowed this to be perfected (and still does today) in many countries where natives were permitted to worship their own gods of wood and stone provided they showed lip allegiance to the religion of Rome. Liberia is no different in that many of the tribes still practice secret rituals mired in paganism while statistics claim that over 50% of the population are “Christian.”

Before retiring for the evening, we were invited over to visit one of the ABWE missionaries and were treated to a real American style meal: real mashed potatoes, Swedish meatballs, and a host of other foods that was a welcome treat. While they have since moved to serve the Lord in another very needy part of West Africa, I still remember the Lippys with fondness for their hospitality. Her parents were visiting from the USA, and it was a wonderful time of fellowship as we spoke about the need for more missionaries and the joys that came in serving the Lord Jesus Christ.

Pondering what we had seen, we stayed the night in the clinic. Gbarnga is in a more hilly region and quite some distance from the Atlantic Ocean than Monrovia and it made the nights quite a bit cooler which was nice. However, it had to be one of the most uncomfortable nights I had as my bed was similar to a hospital gurney. The mattress was less than one inch of foam on top of the metal tray. While I might have slept better on the floor, I was happier with my uncomfortable bed than I was in getting acquainted with the critters that came out at night looking for fresh victims!

The next morning was an early rise as we spent more time visiting with Stefan, who is a missionary pilot seconded to ABWE. He oversees the helicopter flights throughout the region making life so much easier for other missionaries in the area. At that time I visited, he was building a house at the edge of the AFBM medical clinic and it was a privilege to see the quick progress aided by so many of the local believers. Some were cutting mud into brick form and laying them out to bake in the sun. Some were clearing more of the land from the huge trees and shrubs. Others were laying bricks that had long been curing, while others were being an encouragement to the others.

‘ABC’ was one of those who provided encouragement along with doing smaller odd jobs. ‘ABC’ rode a special tricycle that he was able to pedal with his powerful arms. His legs did not function and his head barely made it to my waist. He was smiling from ear to ear as he shared with me how much the Lord had blessed him through his life. Shuffling around the work site, he shared with me how one prayer is that the Lord would allow him to eventually get a small motor to help him get up the hills around Gbarnga as it would enable him to get more things done.

My curiosity eventually got the better of me when some of his friends egged me on to ask him about his name. Although not wanting to break any cultural taboos about such an odd name, I must admit that I was curious. Another huge grin accompanied the response. “My friends see me pedaling all around and everywhere I go, from the time I was little, they would always say, ‘Always Be Careful!’ After awhile, it just got shortened to ‘ABC’ and that has been my name ever since.

Leaving ‘ABC’ behind, I could not help but be keenly aware that the West has been blessed with abundant mercies when it comes to wealth. In fact, the majority of the world’s wealth is controlled by the West. Yet when it comes to sharing with other countries, it normally finds its way over in the form of loans or as a means to gain something from the exchange.

Sadly, the Church at large is rarely the exception to this rule. The Church in the West controls vast amounts of finances and yet seems more interested in bigger and better building programs instead of laying up treasures in heaven. Churches spend millions every year for the next fad while congregations in 3rd world countries struggle to even offer a teaching pastor/elder a living wage of $100 per month.

The humility I found throughout Liberia was embarrassing to me as I was reminded of times that I had been less than generous with what God had given so freely to me. These people gave out of the abundance of their poverty. It was not done with the intention of earning any extra credit or kudos with the American/British missionary, but was simply loving a foreigner the way Christ loves us. They gave above and beyond and I am certain that at times it was at the expense of things they could use or need.

Willingly sharing of what they owned was another reminder of what true Christianity is all about. Loving others more than you love yourself is supposed to be a characteristic of a servant of Christ. I would be seeing more examples of love in action over the next few days that would remain with me for a long time.

Driving back down towards Monrovia, we saw an accident which is a common occurrence in Liberia. The roads are terrible and many drivers have little to no regard for the rules governing automobile usage. The accident we saw involved one of the conspicuous yellow taxis that had been traveling at a high rate of speed and hit a bridge. Sadly, there was nothing to be done for several of the passengers who had entered into eternity.

It was certainly a sobering sight and one that reminded each of us of our roles as ministers of the gospel. We never know who will be listening and it is vital that we approach each message as though it were either our last or the last for the hearer. I could not help but wonder whether the people who had been crowded into the car on their way up to Gbarnga had ever heard the missionaries speak or whether they had heard and remained in the depravity of their lost condition while loving all that was diametrically opposed to the holiness of our Great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

The rest of the trip was uneventful and we arrived safely back at Pastor Togba’s home. Walking outside of the home, I saw Pastor Femi who served at Maranatha Baptist speaking with a friend. I sat down with them and learned that the friend had been a rebel soldier during the civil war. This young man struggled with many concerns in his heart and life, especially the things he had been involved in for about 14 years. It was a wonderful opportunity to share the gospel but it seemed to fall on deaf ears. He had too many questions that he was demanding an answer of God and felt that God owed something to him before he could place his faith in Christ alone. We spoke for about 3 hours eventually continuing on conversation in the darkness of the African night.

I called my wife that night and shared with her the conversation concerning the young man. I relayed to her how this former child soldier told me he had not even been to a church service since he had first been coerced to become a soldier. Our prayer began that night for P__________, but little did we realize that the Lord was going to perform another miracle in very short order.

(…to be continued…)

Scam Into Blessing – Part 5

The problem with prejudice is that it is pervasive. Its evil tentacles work their way down into the inner most part of your being. While your God-given conscience is screaming for attention and pointing out the error of your ways, prejudices become part of who you choose to become.

Prejudices take many forms, but the end result is almost always the same. One person thinks more highly of himself than he ought to think and in so doing puts down another. What is even worse is that when such events take place in the heart, they tend to manifest themselves outwardly in the life. And, of course, when that transpires, then the example of the Lord Jesus Christ is not being followed and we are in willful sin and disobedience to the Perfect Servant, Who died to save us, even when we were unlovable.

Sadly, this is part of the story for I found in dealing with issues of my own heart that prejudice had crept in. Ironic that even though I was a missionary pastor, I had allowed myself to consider that I was better than others. After all, I had been born in the affluent west. I had godly parents. I had been educated to a much higher standard than most of the people I was seeing around me, particularly in West Africa. And yes, to be honest, a part of me felt that I had been born with the right-colored skin tones!

If you had asked me if I considered myself to be prejudice, I would have categorically denied it. Yet, from the moment I got on the plane in London, England, and found myself surrounded entirely by passengers who were from Africa, a part of me was uncomfortable. I was concerned whether I would be safe during my travels into a part of the world I had never been, especially one that had only in the previous few months concluded a brutal civil war. And, I sure was thankful that I was not only much more civilized than that, but I came from a civilized nation! (Wow, who was I kidding!?!? – LOL)

Missionary books, documentaries, and liberal news articles had all done their part to slant my thinking about the continent of Africa in general and specifically the war-torn countries of West Africa. I got off the plane knowing that many mission groups were no longer in Liberia because home office and field staff considered the situation too volatile and dangerous for their missionaries and families.

My state of mind (and heart) was not faring much better as I realized the gravity of the situation once I saw that I had been royally scammed by an African, and not just any African, but one claiming to be a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and further claiming to be a minister of the glorious message of the gospel.

For the first few days, each person I saw was a target. I wondered whether it was safe to sleep at night, or to walk in the marketplace with my African pastor host. My thoughts were not dwelling on the spiritual plane, but on the earthly levels. To be brutally honest, I truly pondered much on whether I should have even gone to Africa. After all, I had been in England for almost 5 years as a pastor and the “results” of those years could be counted on one hand.

Africa was more or less a final hurrah in my mind. I was discouraged and just about ready to quit the ministry. My plans were to get the trip out of the way and enjoy my “safari” as much as possible for God was obviously not working in England, not pouring out His Spirit on “my” ministry, and therefore, probably not doing much in Liberia, West Africa, either.

I was not seeing people come to faith in Christ, no baptisms, discipleship was almost non-existent, and it seemed like church members were only putting on a show. In my mind, I had this ALL worked out, and all I needed was some confirmations from God proving that like Elijah, I had the right to have myself a pity party! But, like Elijah, I merely miscounted for I was not the only one with a misguided sense of purpose. No, there were actually others out there who thought more of others than they did of their own dire circumstances, and the lessons were getting ready to come thick and fast.

The weather was miserably hot. The humidity probably could not have gotten any higher without it actually raining. The reddish dust covering everything was thick and in just a couple of days felt like it had already permanently seeped its ways into my very pores. The shower which consisted of dipping a small plastic container into a 55 gallon water butt was quite cool, and while it felt good and was refreshing it was not what I needed to refocus my attention.

There was something that I was forgetting – the sovereignty of God! I had preached it and said I believed it, but I was getting ready to see it fully in action in ways I could only dream of, and at the end I would fully understand the phrase – SOLI DEO GLORIA – To God ALONE Be the Glory!

The heat combined with the new food and the incredible amount of stress was doing its work on me, so the remainder of Wednesday afternoon was spent resting until that evening. The shadows deepened until darkness finally overtook Liberia. There were no streetlights and it was very dark. A small ray of light shone from the small flashlight I had with me as I followed Pastor Togba from his house as we walked across the property to Maranatha Baptist Church for the mid-week prayer meeting.

I had already seen the building that would hold at least 175-200 people. The civil war had affected every level of society, and churches were not excluded. Maranatha Baptist had bullet and rocket holes throughout the entire building and rubble still existed in many parts of the building.

Pastor Togba shared that that an ECOWAS helicopter gunship pilot had met him after the war and shared that one day his patrol area against the rebels was Cauldwell, New Georgia District. They had known through surveillance and reports that the rebels were using the building as a headquarters in their relentless advance against the capital of Monrovia, but were not aware that it had been a church building. This pilot related that as they were responding to an attack from the rebels the building came under fire.

Radioing for instructions, the pilot stated that the order had been given to reduce the building to rubble and he had “firing discretion.” Flying in for a closer look, he maneuvered to the opposite end of the building and saw an hole up in the eaves that had been designed and built in the shape of a cross to label it as a church. The pilot shared that he was a Christian and could not bring himself to fire his missiles and destroy this location. While he had never met Pastor Togba previously and did not know about the church, the Lord allowed the building to remain in place for His own glory and honor.

That night, we walked through the darkness and moved into the stifling interior. There was only one light and it came from a lit candle on the pulpit. Each person had brought their own flashlight to church, but to conserve batteries, they would turn them off as soon as they arrived to the church to which they had walked, some for quite a distance.

I could discern a people in attendance as the song leader began to lead the congregation in songs that they knew by heart. In a later part of the story, I will relate the Liberian music style which is quite unique. After a couple of songs, one of the church elders brought a brief message on the responsibility of following Jesus as a true believer. When he completed, I listened as one after another, unseen individuals stood to their feet with a “Praise the Lord?” to which all the others would respond, “AMEN!”

They shared from their heart that they had so much to be thankful for. My own problems quickly went from insignificant to disappearing altogether as I listened with tears in my own eyes. I was glad that nobody could see me, but the Lord who knew my heart. He knew what I needed and the spiritual refreshment I had received not just from the ministry of the Word, but also from the simple giving of thanks from a people who had nothing to speak of in worldly terms. However, they did have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, and because of that they had ALL things in common with one another – namely, the joy of the Lord.

Nothing was going to dampen their enthusiasm as they sang, or gave praise to God. Their own poverty did not prevent them in the least from lifting their voices in request for friends, family and even other nations who they felt were in need of a Saviour and who they felt were even in more dire straits than themselves. I will never forget one person who stood quite near to me exclaim, “Praise the Lord, we have so much to be thankful for. God has given us all we need.”

Walking back across the property, I didn’t turn on my flashlight as I followed Pastor Togba back to the house. I wanted to remind myself that all the things I had made me very rich in worldly goods compared to Liberians who have the 2nd poorest country in the world.

I was sobered as I thought about all I had heard and knew that some of the richness in the hearts of these people had worked its way through the darkness and filled my own heart with joy. My prayer would become that I would never forget what I had already seen and heard in just two days since landing in West Africa. With the Lord being my helper, I would learn to be thankful and any time I wanted to complain about what I didn’t “have” that the Lord would remind me of my brothers and sisters who were content with such things as they had.

Struggling through the night with heat and more of the “633 Mosquito Squadron”, I slept with peace in my heart knowing that whatever came next, it would be accepted as from the Sovereign hand of the Saviour who knew better than I what I needed to learn. And Thursday was going to bring more lessons in both humility and service in action!

(…to be continued…)

Scam Into Blessing – Part 4

Leaving with Pastor Togba and Bro. Trexler, we headed across Monrovia. To understand a little better what I saw next, the reader should be aware that Liberia had been one of the most modern countries in West Africa, if not in the entire continent. Running water, sewage, and electricity was common place, particularly in the large cities. People turned on a light switches as if commonplace. Women washed and dried their clothes in Maytag and Whirlpool appliances, and people drove to and from work in newer vehicles on paved roads bathed in the glow of electric streetlights.

Liberia was certainly a country that had plenty and it appeared she had been blessed by God. Religious services were abundant with churches from many denominations dotting every other street corner. But then war struck – hard! In the end, estimates of over 250,000 were killed and more than 1 million were displaced from their homes. Sadly, much of the killing, rampaging, looting, raping, etc. was conducted by children soldiers fighting only because they would have been killed by the militia group that held them captive.

It is hard to describe the land of Liberia in mere words for every aspect of this beautiful land assaults every one of the senses. Driving through Monrovia, the first thing you feel is the oppressive heat and accompanying humidity. The perspiration pooling on your forehead is almost forgotten as your nose wrinkles at all the smells which include: food cooking in roadside cafes that in America would constitute nothing more than a run-down backyard shed, burning rubber, open raw sewage ditches, and the ever present odors from trash-filled streets. Dust carries the taste of Liberia as it settles into your pores mixing with perspiration.

The streets reverberate with the sound of clamoring voices in marketplaces, the myriad of car and motorbike horns (no matter the time of day or night), and the occasional street preaching huckster striving to con more people out of their money with empty promises of huge blessings from God. The health, wealth, and prosperity gospel has been fully assimilated into Liberian culture as its evil tentacles have enslaved many countries around the world. On another corner, one of 34 languages would ring out as the speaker hailed a fellow tribesman.

The sense that struggles the most is that of sight. Your other senses have learned to pinpoint a certain trigger like the smell of burning rubber or the sound of a car horn. The saying is true that a picture is worth a thousand words, but a picture in Liberia is probably worth more than that. It is impossible to take a snapshot of a town or city in Liberia and adequately convey to the viewer all that the picture means.

Having just spent a restless night and already quite tired, I struggled to understand what my eyes had never seen before. Burnt-out vehicles dotted the roads and filled disease-filled pools or rivers. Every house, wall, office, and church pockmarked with uncounted bullet holes. Rockets left their mark with the evidence being destroyed bridges and buildings. Concrete hulks or shells accommodated dozens, hundreds, and in some high-rises thousands of people with no place left to go.

People rushing to and from various locations, many dressed in colorful Liberian garb, were a constant distraction. Children who should have been in school sat on steps or played with a stick. The fortunate ones managed to find a football (soccer ball in the USA) to play with and many of those were patched or stitched in order to extend the life once again.

Along the river banks and on side streets, dumps filled with trash were being combed through meticulously by adults and children alike. Each person intent on finding something to eat or a small treasure that could be translated into a mere pittance to be used to help buy food so their family could eat that night. Babies cried while laying on dirt-encrusted mattresses and in vain a sibling would listlessly attempt to swat away the flies that tried endlessly to reach the orifices of each little bundle.

The streets were crowded not just with people walking but with vehicles, buses, trucks, hand-pushed carts, bicycles, and motorcycles all jockeying for position three, four, and even 5 abreast on two lanes. Yellow taxis were crowded with passengers as were buses and open cargo trucks. Often a pickup truck would pass with 15-20 people standing in the back holding on to each other.

Each intersection produced endless supplies of vendors of all ages running up to your vehicle hawking “i-wa” or “fa-tows.” “I-wa” is the term used for small plastic bags of ice water that was more like cool water, while “fa-tows” were the small washcloths used by many to wipe the perspiration from the face or to try and shelter the top of the head from the merciless sun. These were inevitably followed by children, some as young as 4 and 5, coming up begging for a small handout. Their families sat to the side encouraging this while others not so scrupulous made a living by the use of these little ones.

It was a lot to take in and I would see even more that left a permanent mark in my brain, but there was only so much I would be able to assimilate. Arriving at Pastor Togba’s house, his family welcomed me warmly. As I rested before lunch, I looked again through the pictures I had already taken and tried to fill in the blanks of the previous hours my eyes could not understand or had missed.

There was much and while each photo re-emphasized my being in a very strange world, one thing was constant – the people. The people were what I had come to this country to see. I was not there on a sight-seeing tour or a trip to enjoy paradise or even to take an African safari, I was there to see people for whom Christ died. I had a greater purpose and it would not be long before that became a reality because “people need the Lord.”

As they had promised, the “three pastors” showed up promptly at 9am on the Wednesday to speak with us again in regards to conducting the Pastors’ Conference and the “Crusade.” The previous evening though had seen much discussion mainly between myself, Pastor Togba, and Bro. Trexler. We discussed all of the circumstances surrounding the events that had transpired, the fact that these pastors were of a highly charismatic group of churches, and what our response should be to what were obviously individuals who were lost on their way to a Christ-less eternity.

Pastor Togba being the gracious host that he was offered the men a snack and something to drink – Liberian style coffee. Most of the coffee I was given was quite strong and then liberally sweetened with generous handfuls of sugar cubes. It was a taste that did not quite agree with me, unlike the food which I really enjoyed. However, that is for another part of the story.

The “three pastors” took some coffee and an uneasy silence ensued as they very slowly dropped sugar cubes into their cups and all the while keeping their eyes turned down. From the time I had walked into the room upon their arrival, they had refused to make eye contact with me. Once again, we sat at another table – Pastor Togba, Bro. Trexler, and myself on one side, and on the other – the “three pastors” and the deacon/night guard, Moses.

Pastor Togba and Bro. Trexler had agreed that I should be the one who would have to make the ultimate decision in regards to the conference and crusade. Therefore, it would be left to me to carry the conversation and they would just be there for moral support.

We waited until the silence was broken by the ringleader. Continuing to stir his sugar-thickened coffee, he acknowledged that they had made some mistakes in their misrepresentation of who they were and their part in the emails. Finally looking up, he said, there has already been monies spent for the printing and pastors/elders/deacons were expecting to be taught by myself on the following Monday. So, he concluded, we would like to ask once again if you would be willing to come and teach at the church.

Based on the previous evening’s long conversation, I first responded by sharing my own personal testimony about placing my faith in Christ. Second, I informed them that what I believed was not even close to their own doctrinal position (if they really even had one). I had already found out from speaking with Pastor Togba that many churches had sprung up all over Monrovia of the health, wealth, and prosperity persuasion and were leading people astray with a works-based salvation, if they spoke of salvation at all.

With those basics understood, I told them that the crusade was not an option. This had been fully agreed with me by Pastor Togba and Bro. Trexler. The problems involved in such an event would have posed many more issues, most of which I would not understand due to cultural differences. At this point, the “sullen” pastor interrupted me to try and get me to reconsider. However, I made it clear that this could not be an option and we would continue discussing the Pastors’ Conference only. One thing I had learned from Pastor Togba is that conducting such a crusade (even without the faith-healing charade attached to it) would have raised the status of these pastors and made them very important in their local communities. The last thing we wanted was to perpetuate the myths that they believed about themselves and that they spreading to their congregations.

I concluded that I would conduct the Pastors’ Conference with Pastor Togba beginning the following Monday. However, a few things needed to be understood. I told them that I would be setting the agenda for the meetings, as well as the teaching material, and we would not be involved in any of the music that preceded each morning session on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Continuing, I told them there would be no laying on of hands and certainly no speaking in tongues, etc. would be tolerated or the meetings would not continue. The ringleader and the sullen pastor wanted to argue with me over my guidelines, but finally realized that I was not going to budge and they all agreed to my conditions.

After just over two hours of conversation, they took their leave and once again the deacon, Moses, came up to me and gave me an embrace. “Thank you for deciding to come to my church. You will be made very welcome.” None of the other pastors expressed any words of thanks or appreciation, but simply said good-bye.

Pastor Togba believed that it was a great opportunity for churches of different groups or denominations did not mix in Liberia. He said that another chance to speak to this particular charismatic group might never present itself again and he considered it a God-given opportunity. It would not be a chance to merge any churches, nor to convince these people to become baptistic in their doctrine. This would be one open door to clearly express the gospel message of the Lord Jesus Christ to pastors who were dead in trespasses and sins.

I left the dining room and walked back to my little bedroom. Sitting down on my bed, I pulled out all the notes that I had brought and knew they would not be used. I had written for pastors and church leaders who professed faith in Christ alone. As Pastor Togba had shared, the vast majority of those who claimed to be pastors in Liberia had never even heard the truth of the law of God that condemned them, nor had they heard the full account of the glorious message of the cross.

Although the rates were high, I called my wife to tell her everything was good. I shared what would transpire the following Monday and for her to spread the word so that friends and family could pray that the Lord would prepare the hearts of those who would be in attendance. I must admit that one heart that still needed some work though was mine.

(…to be continued…)

Scam Into Blessing – Part 3

Ok, here it is for those who could not wait for Wednesday, April 21! LOL


With the inability to adjust to the heat, and adding more mosquitoes to the local death toll, I finally got up around 5:30am and prepared for the day. Walking across a floor that I considered to be far from clean, I headed to the shower, it reminded me of something you might find in a bad movie where you are wondering whether you might share the facility with more bugs, scorpions, or even a snake crawling up the drain! The cold water (all that was available) drove most thoughts out of my brain, but I can assure you I kept my glasses on in order to keep an eye on the drainpipe.

After getting dressed and reading some Scripture, I asked the Lord to give me strength for the day and for wisdom to figure out what was going on with the “three pastors” I had met the night previous. I failed to mention that the night before, the “three pastors” had left an older man at the house and told me that he was there for my protection and would also help me if I needed help. His name was Moses and they told me that he was a deacon at a church belonging to one of the “three pastors”. Walking into the house kitchen the next morning, this man was sitting at the table. I tried to get some information out of him, but he did not appear very talkative at that moment.

Walking outside to greet the humid, tropical morning, my “guard” followed a few steps behind me. As I watched the mist rise from the ground like smoke, I noticed my “guard” was watching me. As I proceeded down the path towards the Atlantic Ocean, the mist and sound of the crashing waves added to my enjoyment of seeing my very first banana and coconut trees. Those few moments felt like I was in a paradise, if only somebody could turn the heat down a little bit.

Going back into the house around 7:30am, I felt I was prepared for the “three pastors” to arrive at 9:00am. The son of the president of the Baptist college who now owned the property had provided me with a cell phone. This had allowed me to call my wife in England and let her know to pray. While assuring her I was fine, I was wondering how true this might be in a country that had just come out of a brutal civil war. This was particularly the case considering how the “three pastors” had behaved the night before. Before the men arrived, I called the ABWE missionary, Steve Trexler, and shared what had happened the night before. He told me not to go anywhere with the men, but that he and Pastor Togba would be there as quickly as possible. Now along with the presence of my “guard”, I was REALLY getting worried.

9:00am – The “three pastors” arrived at the same time as Bro. Trexler and Pastor Togba. We sat around a large table and the discussions began. The “three pastors” assured me that they were glad to have me visit their country and apologized for the misunderstanding the night before. They told me they were embarrassed because they were not able to provide what had been promised to me, and I began to wonder how I was just going to pay for my stay in the guesthouse.

I continued by asking the men to introduce themselves again now that I was awake. One of the pastors introduced himself as Pastor S__________ and another red flag went off. I had seen a small picture of this particular pastor and the two definitely were not the same person. A few more comments between us and I stated I wanted to get on with the meeting, but wanted to make sure I had the names correct. Going down the line, I called them each by the name they had given me until I got to the “pastor” sitting to my right.

I asked, “And you are, Pastor S______? Is that correct?” This man hung his head and over in the corner of the room, my “guard” started shaking his graying head and then put his face in his huge hands. At that moment, it dawned me that something bigger was going on. Proceeding with the questioning, I clarified that the pastor in question was not Pastor S______, and wanted to know where he was. The men told me they only wrote back and forth with him and that Pastor S______ had not been in Liberia for a few years! Talk about the plot thickening!

Silence reigned and all you could hear across the veranda was the crashing of the ocean waves. All three of the “pastors” refused to meet my eyes for several minutes until one of them, whom I would view as the ringleader finally looked up and spoke.

“Pastor, we have been very bad. We have lied to you and that is not right. We are not who we claimed to be. You have caught us and we are so ashamed.”

The ringleader continued by pulling out copies of my emails sent and began to share the reason for my being in Liberia. The first emails were just as I remembered them, but then more issues began to arise. What they were telling me and even reading off of the emails they had printed did not sound even close to what I had sent in those emails. The ringleader informed all present that I had promised to bring $7,000 (seven thousand US dollars) in cash to pay for Bibles, for the pastor’s conference and even to pay for the rental of the stadium where the crusade was to take place.

The “pastor” impersonating Pastor S_______ then produced a poster they had printed which were ready to post all over the city of Liberia. He then said, “We expect 10,000+ in attendance at the faith healing crusade!” Sure enough, there was my picture alongside a picture of one of the three pastors. In big, bold letters, “FAITH HEALING CRUSADE! – Bring your sick so the pastor from England can lay hands on you for a miracle!”

If I would have had false teeth, I would have dropped them. Looking at the ABWE missionary and Pastor Togba who really knew nothing about me, I could tell they were probably wondering what they might have gotten themselves into. I excused myself from the table and asked these two godly men if they would join me for a quick walk towards the beach. They did and I shared with them the truth of what had occurred and produced my own emails which I had printed off before leaving England. They were shocked.

We went back in and took our places at the table. Mincing no words, I called the “three pastors” to account for their lies and told them I could prove that I had not written the emails they had in their possession. Asking for the copies they held, I pulled mine out of my binder and let all present see the differences. Mine had no spelling mistakes whereas their copies did. Their copies were obviously a cut and paste job written with the intent of pulling off a huge scam. To cap it off, I almost laughed when I looked at the last page of emails and pointed out to the men that after having my name for almost 40 years that I should know how to spell it correctly! The bottom line was that the man, Pastor S_____, had duped both myself and these simple, poor Liberian pastors.

I was quite upset and was wishing for more than once a week flights out of Liberia. On a different continent than my family and surrounded by nothing familiar, I was out of words in regards to explaining the situation. Silence reigned again, but then a thought flashed into my mind. I was here to share the truth of God’s Word, I would begin at the kitchen table.

The “three pastors” shared their “testimony” at my request when I finally spoke again, and it was obvious that all three of them were on their way to a Christ-less eternity. All three spoke of how they were working towards the goal of heaven. I shared the truth of Scripture and began with the law. They had broken God’s law and the penalty was death. I concluded by telling them that while they had lied, their rejection of Jesus Christ was what would condemn them to hell. Standing I told them I would have nothing to do with their lies and they were free to go.

Pastor Togba graciously extended an invitation to stay in his home on the other side of Monrovia and I accepted with a glad heart. The “three pastors” had asked if we would reconsider at least conducting the pastor’s conference. With Pastor Togba’s approval, I agreed to meet with them at his house in two days and he provided directions to his home.

As I walked back to my bedroom, I wondered what the next days and weeks would hold for it certainly did not match with what I had planned. Bro. Trexler and Pastor Togba were waiting for me outside while I packed my bags. There was a knock on my door and my “guard” Moses and his “pastor” (the one who had pretended to be Pastor S_____) were standing with heads bowed. Moses had tears streaming down his weathered face.

“We have brought shame upon ourselves, our church, and our country,” they began. “We have come to seek your forgiveness and ask you to pray that God will forgive us.” As I watched these two men humble themselves, I thought of what the Lord had done in forgiving me. The least I could do was to extend forgiveness to these two Liberians and pray that they would one day find rejoicing by placing their faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Picking up my bags, I headed for the door and said good-bye to the two men as I reminded them that I would see them again in two days with my answer in regards to the Pastor’s Conference. The older man, Moses (my guard) was still weeping as he thanked me for forgiving them and it was at that moment that the Lord broke something down in me and dropping my bags, I walked over to him and putting my arms around him, I assured him that he was forgiven and that it was now in the past. Picking my bags back up, I walked out of the mission house knowing and believing that God was sovereign in all things and there was a reason why He wanted me in Liberia. Maybe I had just started to see a taste of something special.

(…to be continued…) – I will post the next installment on Wednesday, April 21!

Scam Into Blessing – Part 2

Prior to my departure for Liberia, my parents were obviously concerned about the possibility of their son being in West Africa, and had made contact on my behalf with ABWE (Association of Baptists for World Evangelization). The director passed on the details of a native Liberian, Pastor James Togba. Pastor Togba is the pastor of Maranatha Baptist Church and is one of the leaders with AFBM (African Fundamental Baptist Mission). AFBM is a loose organization of about 20 churches who hold to the baptistic faith and doctrine. I had made contact with Pastor Togba just briefly by email and informed me I was headed to his country. He invited me to visit them if I had the opportunity to do so.

Bro. Steve Trexler had come with Pastor Togba to help welcome me to Liberia and to see if there was anything that I might need assistance with. Their help was to become invaluable and quicker than any of us were anticipating.

Trying to adjust my eyes to the darkness with Bro. Trexler at my side, I managed to see a group of Liberians holding a large sign. There were about 12-15 in the group and they warmly welcomed me. Introductions were made, although I would not remember but a handful of the names later. There was a lot of chatter in Kpelle by the group and I merely stood in place trying to assimilate all the strange smells and sounds surrounding me. Pastor Togba came up to me and indicated that something was not quite right, but that he and Bro. Trexler would be taking me along with several of the group into Monrovia and the rest would follow in a couple of taxis.

Putting my luggage in the back of Bro. Trexler’s jeep, they escorted me to a place of honor – the front passenger seat. Before the door could be closed, two different members of the welcoming group tried to get me to scoot over enough for them to sit beside me on the SINGLE seat. Pastor Togba said something in Kpelle and they went and climbed in the back and somebody shut my door. By the time we were headed away from the airport, there were about 9 people sitting in a 5 seat vehicle! Welcome to Liberia! I would later learn that this was normal to squeeze as many people as possible into one vehicle thus making the trip worthwhile. There was more than once I rode in a yellow taxi (think old Toyota Camry) with the driver and at least two others in the front and 5 of us in the back!

The first sight I remember was very tall 8-12 foot high mounds on the sides of the road as we sought to avoid running over people walking down the middle and sides of the main highway headed in towards Monrovia. After about 40 minute hair-raising drive, I was NO LONGER tired but very wide awake as we pulled up to a compound with barbed wire and a gatehouse. Bro. Trexler informed me that this was formerly the Southern Baptist compound where they had a university and missionaries could stay here as they transitted the country and/or continent.

Now, before I continue, the reader should be aware that I was told by the man who was writing me in England that they would cover my hotel stay and a rental car during my stay. It never dawned on me until later that rental cars were not available at that time. Unpacking my bags, one of the young men who lived at the compound came up and asked me to go with him to settle the bill. It was at that moment that I began to feel something was starting to smell fishy about this operation.

I walked through the dark following very closely to my guide and wondered whether snakes slept at night in that part of Africa. I knew the mosquitoes sure didn’t for I had already left a trail of the depraved insects all the way from the airport. We walked into a little hut with a grass thatched roof and they shut the door behind me and invited me to sit on one of only two chairs in the room. It almost felt like something out of a movie where the good guy is about to get whooped up on. There was only a single small lamp casting eerie shadows on the walls as one of the men standing translated the words of the guy seated at a creaky wooden desk on the other chair.

I was politely informed that for my stay of the next two weeks, I owed them $700! I could not have been anymore surprised than if a snake had chosen that moment to crawl across my shoes. The cost per night was $50 (US Dollars) to stay at the compound. Wow! Very politely, I responded that the group I had come to visit had told me that they were covering the costs of my hotel and they would need to speak to Rev. S___________ as he had already made the arrangements and even told me that the bill had been paid the week before I arrived.

More chatter, and then the translator informed me that there was no such person who had come to see them. In fact, they had only just received word of my coming about 2-3 hours before my arrival into the country. It is now about 10:30pm and I am exhausted. My mind is not working straight, but the welcoming party and some of the names begin to float through my fuddled thoughts. Red flags and sirens are going off but I am not putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

Wanting to get to sleep, I went ahead and paid the man for two nights taking a chunk out of the money I had brought for spending and an offering for the work. I walked back to the guest house (again following closely to my guide and followed closely by the cousins of the critters I had killed on the way over to the hut who were out for revenge).

Sitting down with the men, I was finally able to discern that these men had not paid the bill and seemed to know nothing about the arrangements made by Rev. S_________. This was not making sense because I thought I was speaking with Rev. S__________, one of three who had introduced themselves to me at the airport as the pastors I had come to meet and conduct meetings with.

Not getting anywhere in the conversation, they finally left about 11:30pm after talking in circles. My guide from earlier walked back in about 10 minutes later and said the three pastors did not have any money to pay for a taxi ride home, could I provide them with some US Dollars for a taxi?? What was going on??!! I figured it would wait until morning as I gave a few dollars to the guide and headed to bed enjoying the air conditioner in my room.

Two hours later, the air conditioner and the fan suddenly went quiet waking me from a fairly deep sleep. Wondering what was going on, I finally remembered the guide had mentioned that the generator for the electricity was shut down every night about 2:30am and stayed off until the next day. The room got warm very quickly, and it was not just my rising body temperature that had feelings of discomfort. The next morning was going to prove interesting though and would reveal the truth of my trip.

(…to be continued…)

NOTE: Part 3 will be on-line Wednesday, April 21.

Scam Into Blessing – Part 1

The Pilgrim has asked if I would be willing to post the account of my missions trip to Liberia, West Africa. I am thankful to be able to do this, and I hope that this will be an encouragement to each of the readers and bring honor and glory to our Saviour.


In January 2007, I had the privilege of visiting Liberia, West Africa. Although during my first few hours of the trip, I cannot say that I counted it a blessing or a privilege for it was (humanly speaking) a scam artist that had managed to get me to Liberia. However, I am getting ahead of my story.

I was pastoring a small mission work in England, northeast of London about 80 miles. The Lord had been gracious to me through a very debilitating illness that saw me spending most of my days in bed for several months. I was finally able to start walking with a cane away from the house and it was just a handful of months later that I received an email from Liberia.

Our church was broadcasting my sermons on the internet and the writer of the email stated that they would like me to prayerfully consider offering some kind of training to their pastors. Over the next two months, the emails progressed to the point where they asked me if I would be willing to go to Liberia and conduct two groups of meetings. The first would be a training conference for local pastors and the second would be an evangelistic crusade in the capital of Monrovia.

Writing back, I informed them that I was just an unknown pastor in a small mission work and felt that they had the wrong individual or a misunderstanding about who I was or what I could offer. The next few emails assured me that they believed the Lord was in the contact and would love to have me visit their country which had just a few months previously come out of a devastating 15 year civil war.

Somewhat skeptically at first, then with growing courage, I applied for my Liberian visa, got a series of shots designed to protect me from tourist-hunting mosquitoes, and purchased my airplane ticket. I was now committed to leaving in January. However, once I had purchased my ticket and I was about 2 weeks away from going, the emails began to get really weird. Something seemed a little odd, but I could not put my finger on the problem.

My family went with me to Gatwick Airport in London, England, and with much trepidation we said goodbye not sure what would happen. The US State Department and the British Home Office had both advised against travel into Liberia and certainly not beyond Monrovia which was also part of the travel plans. The temperature was below freezing and I was wearing a winter coat. With my lighter British summer clothing, sunscreen, malaria tablets, anti-insect repellent, a case full of sermon cassette tapes and materials, and a few other things, I felt I was prepared to take West Africa by storm.

After an almost 7 hour flight due south, we flew into Freetown, Sierra Leone which also had recently concluded a brutal civil war. UN Russian-made gunships were sitting on the tarmac and there were guns everywhere being wielded by UN troops. We were on a 767 and the plane was completely full when we left London. At Sierra Leone, all but 10 passengers (including myself) got off the plane and after about 1 hour on the ground, we took off in a southeasterly direction headed towards Liberia as the last of the tropical sun faded from view. Unlike western nations, there were no lights twinkling up at us from the ground. No cities came and went underneath our wings, at least none that we could see.

After about an hour, the captain announced we were coming in to land and I began to worry as the plane went lower and lower. The wheels dropped and still we saw no lights. Finally, I saw the ground and small lights and flares right before the plane touched down. We taxied directly to what might be termed a terminal but was little more than a ramshackle concrete building. Collecting my bag, I left my seat wondering what the Dark Continent held in store for me.

Stepping from the comfort of the plane, I stepped into the open and promptly began to perspire in 95F heat at 9:30pm. The humidity was close to 90% and the mosquitoes began their quest for the pale white guy from England! LOL

Along with my 9 fellow passengers, we made our way down the steps and across the tarmac. Workers opened up the hold behind us to retrieve the few bags left under the watchful eyes of the UN soldiers manning their machine gun nests from a war-ravaged building that I later learned used to be a rather modern airport terminal, but was little more than a concrete hulk pitted and pockmarked with bullet and rocket holes.

We were ushered into the ramshackle building that now served as the Terminal for the Roberts International Airport of Monrovia. There were no other airplanes on the tarmac and nothing else would arrive for 2 more days. The airline I flew with only had one flight per week. After refueling, they would leave later that night and it would be about the time they took off that I would have given just about anything to be back on that plane flying to civilization and my waiting family.

Walking in, there was a sign reading Passports. I handed my passport through the window, but the person waved me off and pointed to a man standing in an open door one step to the right. I handed the passport to this man, who looked at it (upside down) then passed it back to the person sitting at the desk I had just tried to hand it to through the window! This individual also looked at the passport upside down and right-side up then stamped a mark in it. They then handed it back to the guy at the open door who reached out and handed it back to me. (Go figure! I thought well I guess both people need to earn their pay or maybe things are just REEEEEALLY different in Africa! Yep, to both thoughts as I would find out later.)

Turning around, I was instructed by the guy in the door that I needed to go to the next office and produce my vaccination proof for yellow-fever. I took 4 steps and reached the next office. Same routine, different office! This person could read and after verifying I had the appropriate serum running through my veins (at least on paper) as protection from a nasty disease, I was told to proceed to pick up my baggage.

5 more steps and the door opened to what I can only describe as sheer bedlam. As soon as I walked through, myself and the other 9 passengers were assaulted by a mass of people in a room that was lit with just one (1) lightbulb. Each passenger was being hit up for groups seeking the privilege to help you get through baggage control – for a fee, of course. Asking one of my veteran African travelers what the proper procedure was, he told me I should figure on paying a helper $1-3 dollars based on amount of luggage. This was the equivalent of a full day’s pay to a Liberian.

I agreed to a price and my luggage happened to be the last off. We walked a few steps into the other half of the building where my fellow 9 passengers already were in luggage control. Each had their bags opened on rickety tables and a group of Liberians were going through each piece of luggage. While I had nothing to hide, I would have preferred not to have my bags torn apart and then have to repack all the supplies for the pastors.

The three Liberians escorting me marched me to the front of the line. One of them was walking right behind me when we walked into this room. As we approached one of the tables, a heated conversation developed between the guys helping me with my luggage and the small group of people waiting to go through my Fruit of the Looms (LOL). The conversation was in another language which I later learned was probably Kpelle. The guy behind me had his hand on my back and was pushing me forward while the other two kept talking in a very animated fashion. Needless to say, the Lord answered a small prayer because the guys at the table stepped aside and I was allowed to pass into the night without opening a single bag!

With no knowledge of the local languages, barely understandable English being spoken by a few around me, and not exactly sure who I was supposed to be meeting, I walked through the doors to the outside and was greeted by a white missionary, Bro. Steve Trexler, with ABWE! Talk about a surprise. It was a real blessing because what came next would probably be the biggest surprise of my trip.

(…to be continued…)