Scam Into Blessing – Part 15

I learned after the meeting concluded why Paul had almost missed the final day of the conference. The first taxi he had been in was involved in an accident. A few passengers had minor injuries, but thanks to the Lord there was nothing major. However, it had taken some time to sort everything out before he was able to try and catch another taxi, but could not seem to find one that was headed in the right direction towards the district of Sinkor. After several attempts, Paul had found one that was willing to bring him right to the conference.

Paul came in and then walked to the front and sat down in the one empty seat as though it had been planned all along – maybe it had, but certainly not by me. I did a brief recap of the previous 10 hours of teaching on the law, justification, and the only means whereby man may be saved. Concluding my thoughts, I introduced Paul.

Me: “Many of you know Paul Zawolo. He has preached in some of your churches and some of you have preached at his.” (Heads nodded in agreement.)

Me: “Paul came to see me last night because he was not very happy about his own situation and his level of understanding in regards to the Word of God. He is going to come and share his testimony with you and what happened after he realized the truth.”

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Scam Into Blessing – Part 9

Several voices were raised while the people just looked at me. I wondered if it was something that I had said, or if they had in some way been offended at the message. Up to that point, I had not noticed but Pastor Philemon was looking at me as well. From those who spoke Liberian English, I managed to catch the words “Pastor Mark” but little else. Asking what they had said, Pastor Philemon replied, “They are saying you left more meat on the table!”

My mind was racing trying to understand what this could possibly mean, so Pastor Philemon helped my lack of knowledge by stating, “The people say that you did not speak long enough. There is more meat on the table that you did not share. They want you to preach some more.” I was shocked and caught completely off-guard. To think 55 minutes was not enough for these people sitting there in a growing ever hotter concrete building was mind-boggling. It was obvious they had a hunger for God’s Word, and many of them were even illiterate. They were not able to read the Word for themselves.

This is one of the biggest problems facing Liberia. Churches are in abundance, but they do not preach the Word of God. When the congregation cannot go to the Scriptures and study to be a Berean believer, it is easy for them to be led astray.

Their words stunned me into the realization that such people did exist in Bible-believing churches, but obviously outside of the west where entertainment and feel-good messages dominate the church landscape. However, the blame cannot lie solely at the feet of the average church attendee. The biggest issue is that instead of standing firm and proclaiming “thus says the Lord”, pastors have waffled for far too long. They have chosen the easy path to the point where sermons are mere sermonettes because that is what the people want. All pastors know that if you do not give the people what they want, most will start leaving and will go somewhere else. Praise the Lord for those few who continue to faithfully minister no matter what the cost.

Being quite tired and still ill, my brain was not working well enough to speak extemporaneously, so I deferred to Pastor Philemon who after a few words concluded the service. Now, I know that in many western churches, there is a fair proportion of “drag-race” Christians. They will drag into church one time a week and then race out as soon as service is over. Well, Liberians are not that way. They enjoy fellowship. As I was speaking with several of the folks afterwards, I was unaware the food I smelled being cooked was being prepared to feed those in attendance.

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Scam Into Blessing – Part 8

Before retiring for the evening, another Liberian pastor whom I had met that week invited me to preach for the congregation known as Highland Hills Baptist Church. Pastor Philemon Gwelikporluhson, who has become a very dear friend, was the pastor and also the man whom God had used to start this little work in an outlying area of Monrovia.

Pastor Philemon and his dear wife, Dylin, have six beautiful girls ages 6-19. At the time of my visit, they had been living in a small house with other relatives. All 8 of them lived cramped in one single room that was about the size of one average American bedroom. For many years, Philemon has been involved in the work of church planting and has successfully (to the glory of God) been able to establish four previous works that are now being pastored by local men whom he has tried diligently to train.

Due to his faithful work in planting churches and trying to train disciples to the best of his ability, his sole means of income was what the church could offer or what he was able to receive from sources outside of Liberia. Income from the church might amount to $5 or $10 in a week, or others might bring them some food as their offering to the Lord.

Obviously, he was in no position to be able to obtain even a small home. While it is part of a different story, we are thankful that through the kind and generous offerings of God’s people in different parts of the world (USA, the UK, and Australia), they now have their own little two-bedroom home they are renting. Praise the Lord!

The next morning was beautiful and another early rising. Liberians tend to go to bed between 10-11pm and are up around 4:30-5:00 each morning. However, during the hottest part of the day, many take a rest and try to limit their activities so as to remain a little cooler. Walking outside, I sat down on Pastor Togba’s small porch and watched Liberians walking back and forth on the main road. Most of them would not be in church worshiping the Lord who made them, and would certainly not be giving the honor and glory to Him for His wonderful works among the children of men.

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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…)

Mining for Diamonds in Sierra Leone

I found a missionary video well worth watching. Stephen and Laura Holt are Baptist missionaries working in Sierra Leone. They are mining diamonds, but not the kind you wear on your fingers. The rough hewn characters being mined are the results of an 11 year civil war similar to the one that engulfed its neighbor, Liberia. The gospel message is going out and this family, whom I have never met or spoken to, are in need of prayers though as they face the forces of evil that do not want the message of Christ to penetrate this predominantly Muslim nation. As Christ is preached, precious jewels are coming forth being born anew by the Holy Spirit of God. Their sins are being forgiven and they are becoming new creations in Christ. Pray for Sierra Leone, West Africa!