Death of A Missionary

EDITED – If you are interested in helping this family, a GoFundMe account has been set up. Click HERE.

When we departed for Liberia, West Africa in 2012, we had an understanding of the risks. Our family was moving to an area that was 3-hour drive from any other missionaries. We would be living in an old mission house that sat on a hill that was considered to the “Devil’s Hill” due to wicked practices that took place before the first missionaries arrived. Nobody else would live on the hill and many of the villagers would avoid it, especially at night.

To make matters worse, we lived in the heart of what had been rebel-held territory during a very brutal 14-year civil war. The war claimed the lives of approximately 10% of the population of Liberia. The ramifications of that war, which ended around 2004, are still being felt today. Violence and vulgarity were constant reminders of what surrounded us, and ex-rebel soldiers surrounded us on every trip into town.

Our plan involved spending 4-5 years in the jungle training pastors and starting churches. However, that was cut short when one of my 6 year old daughters and I became deathly ill. There were nights that we thought she would not make it until morning and times like that really make you consider your priorities. A few days later, I spent my first night in a mission clinic being tended to in highly unsanitary conditions. As my fever and delirium grew, I would learn later that another pastor had entered the clinic the same day with the same symptoms. Three days later his wife and family buried him.

Less than three months later, I was diagnosed a second time with a completely different strain of both typhoid and malaria. Much of the time is but a dark cloud over my mind, but I remember the times of pain. The chief physician at the Firestone Plantation hospital informed me that my immune system was shot and I needed to get out of the country. If I did not, my next time would probably be my last.

Heartbroken, we began to make the arrangements to return to the USA. I was leaving behind what I loved, but I still could not help but wonder why I had lived when others had died.

The following year, a severe epidemic of Ebola broke out in the area of villages where we lived and thousands died. During that epidemic, I lost some pastor friends and their wives to the disease.

Since then, I continue to keep my finger on the pulse of the missions world, and the news that I read yesterday brought some painful memories to my mind.

The day started with an email from one of the brothers I trained in Liberia. We had been praying for God’s will to be done in regards to the health of Pastor Harrison Margai. He was the pastor of a brand new church that had been planted in an unreached village. The email informed me that this man had closed his eyes in death and left a wife and children.

Later that day, I read the news of what took place with another missionary in Cameroon, West Africa.

Charles Wesco, a Baptist missionary from Indiana, had surrendered his life to serve the Lord. In particular, he and his wife believed they had been called to minister in the country of Cameroon. After raising funds, they departed just over 2 weeks ago and began the process of settling into their new home with their eight young children.

Yesterday, another missionary was taking this man into town for some supplies. A situation erupted between a separatist faction and Cameroonian soldiers. In the crossfire, a “stray” bullet crashed through a car window and entered the head of Charles Wesco.

In a matter of minutes, this man who loved the Lord went out into eternity. Immediately, the news erupted along with the comments. I read several that were hateful, but some extended sympathy. I finally had to stop as the comments began to infuriate me.

The bottom line is not that this man gave his life needlessly. The bottom line is that God is and always will be sovereign. For reasons that may never be understood, this brother in Christ never planted a church, nor saw a Bible Training institute started in Cameroon. This family is devastated as they face a new life. Soon, they will return back to the US and will try to pick up the pieces. Questions will be asked, and many will never be answered.

Today, many hearts are breaking and while I have connections with others who knew this family, I did not ever have the privilege of meeting them myself. However, I know that one day I will, but before that day comes, this brother has already gone to his reward. He was welcomed with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

We could ask, why, why, why, but it would do no good. There is nothing wrong with seeking the face of God and asking Him for understanding. Where we tend to go wrong though is when we want to question His sovereign purposes. We cannot find fault with the Almighty, but we can learn to trust in His grace and mercy.

In a village close to where we lived in England, there is a cemetery. In the cemetery, a tombstone tells the brief story of a young pastor who lost his infant son and his wife. In the tragedy, this man had inscribed the following words on the tombstone.

“We cannot Lord, Thy purpose see,
But all is well, that’s done by Thee.”

Through what is a tragedy to human eyes, we pray for strength and extreme comfort to be provided to this dear sister, their eight young children, and extended family, friends, and church members.

For those who know the Lord, the Bible is clear that when we become absent from this body, we are forever present with the Lord. The apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians and told them to not only find comfort in these thoughts, but to comfort others as well.

May His will be done and may all find peace through this time of turmoil. Our prayers also go out for the people of Cameroon that they will one day learn of the Prince of Peace, who alone brings salvation.

Recalling Liberia

Long time readers will know that I have had a love for the people of Liberia for many years. In fact, I have been involved with Liberia longer than I have been writing for Defending Contending. The older I become, it seems the faster the years go.

Nine years ago, I was recovering from a debilitating illness while pastoring in England. I was contacted by a man who later proved to be a scammer. However, it was not until I had flown from England to the steaming jungles of West Africa that I realized that I was in a very dangerous situation. Still, the Lord showed His grace and love and protection. During that trip, I was brought to love these Africans who were, and still are, in need of a Savior.

Many of you also know that our family moved to Liberia in 2012 only to have to return six months later. It was supposed to be a permanent trip, but one of my daughters and I contracted a severe case of malaria. I actually contracted malaria and typhoid two different times in less than three months.

During the intervening years since our return, I often wonder what our lives would be like had we been able to remain. We could have been there during the outbreak of Ebola which claimed the lives of several thousand including some Christian brothers and sisters that we personally knew. We could have been there for the first baptisms that took place in the villages of Foloblai and Tamayta where we started two mission works. We could have been there when Cyrus Smith began his first work in the village of Dentaa. We could have been there when the first Biblical marriages took place. There are many things we could have seen and been involved with.

However, today the work that God graciously, and in His sovereignty, only allowed us to plant seeds for continues to flourish and grow without the white missionary. The Bible Institute of Church Ministries still continues to train jungle pastors to teach the people of their village churches. Baptisms continue to take place as testimony is shared of the saving grace of God. Lives are still being changed. Another church plant is getting ready to take place under the guidance of Cyrus Smith.

The short time in Liberia still makes a difference in our lives today. We are thankful for every experience — the dangers, the lack of food and provisions at times, the fellowship of fellow missionaries who had no idea what we had or didn’t have, the prayers of family and friends through the dark nights when death was so close at hand, the village chief (Cyrus Smith) who surrendered all and became my Timothy, but most of all, the privilege of having served the Lord in a country where so many still need the Lord.

My prayer is that you will enjoy these pictures. They are not the best quality, but they represent a work that grows despite all the opposition. They represent part of my heart, but more importantly, these pictures show a Church and Bible Institute growing to the glory of God.

Passing the Baton – The Jungle Missionary

Dear DefCon Friends,

First, thank you ever so much for your prayers and all the letters of encouragement we have received in light of our revised plans due to my on-going health issues. This has been a very hard trial, and although it is not yet over, we continue to trust our Sovereign Lord that His purposes are always right for His children.

Second, I would like the majority of this email update to focus on what has transpired recently in the two villages where we have been able to start two new mission works a few months ago.

The three main men I have been training came to visit me this last week. It was a wonderful time focused on the Lord Jesus Christ and our hope for the future being in the One Who holds tomorrow in His hands. While they are all sorely disappointed that we have to leave already, they have risen well to the challenges of moving forward.

I shared with them about the Olympic Games and one of the races that always amazes me – the men’s 4×100 relay race, where they have to pass the baton from one to the next. The first man, the lead, starts and runs his hardest, at a certain point, the second man begins his run and without looking back has to trust that the man behind him will accurately place the baton in his hands and continue running to where the third man waits, then to the 4th man, who takes the baton and runs for all he is worth to reach the finish line. The question I posed to them was this, “Who won the race?” They thought about this for a few moments and then Augustus replied, “ALL of them won for they could not have completed the race if each had not done their part!”

This is the way I feel. While I have not been able to be a marathon runner here, I believe I have been faithful to run my part so far of the 4×100 race. I have had to pass the baton to these men who are continuing to run the race, even though they will not see me for awhile, if ever again. In the end though, the race and the subsequent victory is not really ours, but the Lord’s. These men may not even see the finish line, but may have to pass the baton to another to keep running with patience.

In light of these and other comments, they came to me after a time of prayer and shared with me plans they have been making. It is so encouraging to know that the training continues and they are willing to take baby steps. You want to be there, to hold their hands, and to continue picking them up, but sometimes you just have to let go and watch God do His perfect work in their hearts and minds. Their plan, unbeknownst to me til this last week is for Cyrus (the 3rd man I have been training) to move to another nearby village that needs its very first Bible-believing work called Beletana. He has a sister who owns a home there that he and his family are going to be able to live in and he is going to start in September the process of evangelizing in this village and another called Danda. As things progress, he will begin a Bible study which will essentially be a mission work out of the works in Foloblai and Tamayta!!

Regarding the works in Foloblai and Tamayta, the two leaders, Augustus and George indicated that as they are so close (about 30-35 minutes walking time), they are going to pose to the people that they join forces in the work until they are large enough to have a separate work in both villages! I encouraged them in this decision and we spent time in prayer that the Lord would continue to grant them wisdom. This will allow them to work more closely together and will be able to serve all the people hand-in-hand. It will provide some stability, they can encourage each other, help to hold each other accountable, etc. Next month by the end of September, they will be moving their families out of their home village into these new ones. Please pray with us that they will be able to work through the transition smoothly. The works are moving steadily along but not without difficulties. These two village works are not liked by the liberal establishment there and those who think they can call themselves Christian yet live a debauched and debased life the rest of the week. Drunkenness and sexual activities are very much commonplace. Pray that these new Christians will have courage to stay away from the things which strive daily to capture their attention.

Just as with the 4×100 relay race, the first man in line cannot worry about doing the job of the next men in line, but can only focus on his own part. The reality is that I am not really the lead man though, for before I came, there were others who paved the way. You have each held the ropes and have been running your part of the relay. Long after we are gone, there will be others who will be called to run the race that is set before us. May we each though keep looking to the Author and Finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross.

Thank you again. It seems like a small thing to say, but we could not have made it without your prayers, and these men will not be able to make it without more prayer. We will be continuing to provide some financial support for them to help with certain aspects of living expenses as the Lord provides, until the works are able to sustain themselves.

My wife and I have spent the last 1 1/2 years including our pre-field ministry learning to live by faith and trusting the Lord will provide without posting our actual financial needs. We believe the Lord has honored our commitment to Him through this and has helped us to show by example to these pastors-in-training that God can, does, and will provide. As David said, he has never seen the righteous forsaken or their seed begging bread. Truly, the Lord is sovereign even when His ways and purposes are unknown. He makes no mistakes.

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact us. We will be departing from Liberia on Sunday, September 9, back to the USA where we will be spending the next 2-3 months just trying to recuperate and allow my body to heal. I am still fighting the effects of having had two very serious cases of typhoid and malaria (two times each) that have hit me over the last two months. Unfortunately, the typhoid is not responding well to the heavy antibiotics that I have been on for the entire two months. We appreciate your continued prayers for the work here as well as whatever direction the Lord has for us.

Reluctantly Passing the Baton,

Mark – The Jungle Missionary

Letter from a Recent West African Convert

Dear Friends,

I would like to share a very special letter that I received this past Sunday. By brief word of explanation, this came from a young man around 28 years old who was recently converted out of Is1am. His entire family, with the exception of one brother, all remain Mus1ims at this time.

Because of the war and the education system here in Liberia, people can actually take several years to get through high school. Many are in their 20’s and 30’s before they can afford to complete and gain their high school diploma.

Because of the sensitivity of those who minister in predominatly Is1amic areas, we will refrain from using his name. This young man is growing every week in his understanding of the Scriptures and is…well, I’ll let you read his letter to me which I have transposed just as he wrote it.

Thanks for praying.

*************

Dear Borther Mark,

How are you doing: hope all is Well with you and your family.

You may not understand why I writting you this letter, but if you do not understand, remember me. (He is reminding me who he is again because this was passed to me through one of the other men I am training. This is one aspect of Liberian culture to deal with another through somebody you respect.)

I am using this opportunity to inform you about the hard work you have done for me. I was in darkness, but now am walking in light. Through you my life will improve because of the bible class.

I understand that you want to open bible school in Gbarnga.

I will be going back to school in Gbarnga to complet my high School and I want to be part of this bible school in Gbarnga, because one day I want to become a missionary in my country Sierra Leone.

God bless you.

Signed,

Two Life-Changers!

Each week that passes more than one million people will go out into eternity. The majority will go to their graves unsung and will not be missed by any but their family and closest friends. With these statistics we have a constant reminder of Hebrews 9:27, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.”

However, this week two men in particular passed away. Each had an impact on the world in different ways and with far-reaching implications. The first man was wealthy by all the world’s standards. He was a genius when it came to designing new products that help our advanced civilizations see their day go smoother. iPad, iTouch, iMac, iBook, iPhone, iTunes, and a number of other i-devices that many would find it difficult to live without.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs, a man of the world, passed away at what seems like a young age of 56 after a massive struggle with cancer. His inventions and life changed the lives of others in ways not imaginable just 30 years ago, and maybe even less than 20 years ago. There has even been a great outpouring of grief from many in the business world.

We do not demean or seek to belittle the grief that his family is going through, or even the great outpouring of grief from many in the business world. The reality is that Mr. Steve Jobs had an appointment with God that no amount of money or inventions could prevent from taking place. With his death, there are questions that must be asked.

In the light of eternity, what difference did he really make? Did his inventions change lives in a way that brings glory and honor to the Lord Jesus Christ? He changed many people and many businesses but what difference has it really made. With the current advances in technology, the devices designed and invented over the last couple of years will be replaced with something better and newer. Some of them will only be found in museums while others will pass into the dust piles of oblivion. Sadly, the fame and knowledge of Steve Jobs will go the same way as past great business men like Howard Hughes, Lee Iacocca, Eli Whitney, and others who have impacted their world. One day, children will hear of Steve Jobs only in a textbook and wonder what the big deal was about this person.

On another continent though lived another individual who also changed lives. However, as aptly expressed in the words of the poem by Sir Walter Scott, this week he returned “to the vile dust from whence he sprung, unwept, unhonour’d, and unsung.” Compared to the myriads who mourn for Steve Jobs, few will mourn this man’s passing. In fact, outside of his country, this man is unknown. He invented no technology to benefit the advance of his fellow countrymen. It is safe to say that he had never even owned any piece of technology in his entire life besides one simple cell phone. He had no earthly wealth and was able to live on less than $30 (US Dollars) per month for the vast majority of his life. This unsung man concluded his life with not a bank account to his name. His two-room home was made of sun-dried mud bricks and he never had the privilege of owning any form of modern transportation.

Pastor Gbarwee with umbrella

Pastor Gbarwee with umbrella

For almost the same length of time that Steve Jobs was alive, Pastor Gbarwee of the village Mehnla, Nimba County, Liberia, West Africa sought to make a difference in the lives of all he came in contact with. For approximately 50 years, he was the pastor of Mehnla Mid-Baptist Church and for years has had the privilege of telling others of the saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus. The value of his life will never end either here or in the life to come. He may not be long remembered on this earthly vale, but heaven’s hall of fame will long remember one who was a servant of the Most High.

Neither of these men ever met each other, and neither of them even had knowledge of the other. There will be many earthly accolades rendered to Steve Jobs, while few will be given to Pastor Gbarwee. However, on the other side of eternity, a very different scene is taking place. It matters not to God how much money was made or not made. It matters not whether inventions took place or did not take place. What matters is what was done with the Person of Jesus Christ.

For Steve Jobs, the reality is that no matter his position in life, the money he made, the inventions he created, or the lives he impacted, he is still facing the Creator of the Universe. He must now give account for his life. It is claimed that Steve Jobs had converted to Buddhism a few years ago. This means his name is not found written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and he will now have to find himself spending eternity in hell with no chance of a re-boot.

For Pastor Gbarwee, his faith had long ago been placed in the Saviour. He lived for the One he claimed to love. He preached to his people that Jesus Christ alone is the answer to all that pertains to life and godliness. Unlike those who perish without Christ, the Bible tells us those who remain faithful to the end will receive a crown of righteousness. Instead of judgment which was paid for on the cross, we know from Scripture that we have the privilege of being welcomed into the loving arms of the Saviour. To hear Him say, “Well done, you have been a good and faithful servant!” will be a far greater reward than all the money of this earth could buy. Eternity will long remember those who gave their lives serving the Master.

One man, Steve Jobs, lived well, but did not end well because his faith was not in Christ. The other, Pastor Gbarwee, lived poorly based on earthly standards, but he finished well! What a way to live!

So, we conclude with a few questions to ponder. What kind of legacy do we desire to leave behind? In the light of eternity, what difference will our lives make on the lives of others? Is our headlong rush to eternity tempered by the desire to seek the glory and honor of God in each and every aspect of our lives? Will you choose to live well and leave questions as to how your life ends, or will you live in a way that others will know before Christ that you finished well?

A life-changer for this world, or a life-changer for eternity? Your choice!

Reaching the Remote!

This last Saturday was a major blessing for our family as we had the privilege of meeting a brother and sister in Christ who live in Western Colorado. We met first at a restaurant and then were invited to their home where they unveiled to us a series of devices that will allow us to accomplish one of our long-term goals before we even get to Liberia.

Our goal was to see the New Testament put into audio format for the purpose of providing pastors/church-planters with the Word of God in their heart language. We were not aware that a major project has been made available to those working in the remote areas of the world.

In fact, New Testaments in audio format are available in several of the languages in Liberia on the above pictured device. This little device is solar-powered and on a full-charge can play up to 14 hours. It is simple to operate. I am including a link to Renew Outreach where these devices can be obtained.

The Lord is so good and we thank Him for allowing us to be directed to this 21st technology that will be used to the glory of God. What a blessing to these people who cannot read or pastors who struggle to read that they will be able to share that God’s Word is not just in English. Sometimes we have not because we ask not!

For the cost of a good leather Bible, this Renew Papyrus can put the audio Bible in English and a local Liberian dialect of the New Testament into the hands of nationals. Total cost with shipping is only $70!

Are they inferior or equal?

During the brief months since we returned from our mission trip to Liberia, West Africa, we have been blessed with the places we have visited and the people we have met. Each church has been more than generous even though we have never asked for a single penny in any of them, and the bulk of the gifts given have been sent directly to the work in Liberia. The Lord continues to meet our every need even going above and beyond what we ask for. This has been a great encouragement not only to us, but also the national pastors and teachers we have been seeking to help in Liberia.

In each church, we simply seek to share the desperate condition of the lost in West Africa. We do not show pretty pictures of lakes, rivers, and pristine white beaches for this is not what missionary work is ever about. Our goal is not to raise money to build “American” churches. It is not to raise awareness of needed vaccinations or mosquito nets, nor even of better food and water supplies. As we have written before, those things have their place, but without the gospel of Jesus Christ being preached boldly, these dear people will die and go straight to hell if they do not hear the gospel of the Savior.

However, there is one aspect of missionary ministry that still amazes me. In fact, it more than amazes me. It actually saddens me that after all the years of missionary work around the world, sometimes we seem to have learned very little. This is not for the purposes of those who are already convinced in their minds, but for those who may be considering work in the future. It also may be for some who struggle with what they see as a current trend in our American style of missionary endeavors.

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