How to Reach Us

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Hello Truth in Grace readers! We wanted to provide another way for you to read our most recent writers. I consider these writers my personal friends and encourage you to continue reading their blogs.

J.L. Pattison has been a close friend since 2008. He is an excellent writer and has his own website. Over the last few years, God has blessed him with the talent to be able to write in a way that really makes the reader think. He has published three books including his latest The Man Who Thought He Could Fly. His fourth book will arrive in 2022. You can buy his books on his website or even here on Amazon. If you have not considered the influence of Christian fiction, I would also recommend reading his latest blogpost here on Truth in Grace.

Manfred or Stuart Brogden has written many book reviews and is also a published author including Captive to the Word of God: A Particular Baptist Perspective on Reformed and Covenant Theology. This can be ordered online at Amazon. Currently, he is also writing a commentary on Isaiah. Several of his latest posts are just a small insight to his exposition of this beautiful book.

Sony Elise has been a close friend since 1999. She works with her brother, Israel Wayne who is a homeschool and apologetics conference speaker. His site is Family Renewal. Sony has her own online book store that I encourage you to support. She is also in demand as a professional editor and was the editor for both of my books. Sony also writes on her blogsite called Southern Gospel World.

As a bi-vocational pastor, my time has become much more limited when it comes to writing. I still enjoy writing and have two books available through Amazon. Heroes of Courage is the first of a series on Biblical characters. My intention is to have the second book out by 2022. From Scam Into Blessing is a short autobiography dealing with my first missions trip to Liberia, West Africa in 2007. In addition, as time permits, I will also write on our church blog where I pastor in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The church also posts our sermons at SermonAudio.

Thank you again for the memories and for walking the road of Truth in Grace and Defending/Contending through the last 13 years.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Mark Escalera – The Desert Pastor

From Scam Into Blessing

Thirteen years ago this same week, I found myself on a plane headed for the first time to Liberia, West Africa. It was not what I expected, but the Lord brought glory to Himself through the lessons learned.

My second book has been years in the making, and with the professional editing care of my friend and sister in Christ, Sony Elise, it has finally come to fruition. Her editing service can be found, along with her online Christian bookstore at Sony Elise Christian Books. Thank you for the work you provided in helping make this book a reality.

My friend and brother in Christ, Manfred (Stuart Brogden) provided the Foreword to the book. Thank you for being willing to read the early manuscript months ago and taking the time to write a Christ-honoring introduction.

From Scam Into Blessing can be ordered in Kindle format or in paperback form from Amazon.

Book Description:

“The dictionary defines a scam as a fraudulent or deceptive act or operation. Internet technology has changed the world, but it can also change lives. Many believe they cannot live without access to the internet while others use the web as a way of making a living – fraudulently. Scam Into Blessing is the real account of the author’s first trip to Liberia, West Africa. What started as a scam turned into a blessing of epic proportions. Read the exciting adventures of how God sovereignly took what was meant for evil and changed it for good to His honor and glory.

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.

Continue reading

What receiving the Bible in your native tongue for the first time looks like.

Rejoice with me and be greatly encouraged (and deeply convicted) by watching this video of the Kimyal tribe receiving the New Testament in their language for the first time on March 16, 2010.

Quote from the video:

“We [in the West] have no idea. We have had the Word of God for so long. We have taken it for granted. We have resources, we have translations . . . and we don’t cherish it. We don’t realize what a precious gift we have and hold in our hands.”

Find out more about the Kimyal tribe of Indonesia here.

HT: The Gospel Coalition

Get good books into the hands of African pastors.

Want to help get doctrinally sound theology books into the hands of pastors in Africa? Here are two ways:

1). There’s the Portuguese Adopt a Pastor program for Mozambique, Africa (along with video introduction) here.

2). You can also support indigenous pastors in Liberia, Africa with books and other resources and learn more about the work of Village Church Planters by visiting their website here.

Not only are they desperate for help in sound doctrinal teaching, and not only are they in a spiritual battle against native pagan religions and the spread of Islam, but they also have the proliferation of cults to tend with (for more on cults in Africa see the Africa Center for Apologetics Research). These pastors are poor and can’t afford to attend the conferences that pastors in the West attend, nor can they afford to purchase the theological books that line our bookshelves and that we take for granted.

Will you consider helping the saints today?

Scam Into Blessing – Part 19

Early on Saturday morning, a crowd began to gather just outside of Pastor Togba’s property. Some music was being played and I recognized a couple of what sounded like gospel tunes. It was not long before a crowd gathered to listen to something being said over a loudspeaker. I had been watching people stop to listen and I counted well over 200 before I stopped. With my curiosity getting the better of me, I decided to walk a little closer and see what was going on.

A man and his female were working up the crowd in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. After a number of songs and with absolutely no Bible in sight, the man began to speak to the crowds. Just like the huckster I had heard in the marketplace shortly after I arrived, this fellow seemed to have been trained in the same school of “How to Con People using God’s Name in Vain!”

Passing a bucket around, he cajoled the listeners by telling them that they were in great need of having a blessing from God. He continued by stating that they would always remain poor unless they honored God’s preacher first, he continued with his harangue by starting with an offer of $100 blessings. When that didn’t work, he worked his way down to $50, $20, $10, and finally $5 before resorting to pleading for Liberian dollars. However, he did warn the people that Liberian dollar blessings were not as powerful as blessings which come from giving US dollar bills.

Continue reading

Scam Into Blessing – Part 18

Some of the women seemed to be upset, and I could not begin to imagine what the church leaders were thinking about what they had overheard. Twenty pairs of eyes followed me as I walked through their midst and off the veranda into the dusty African evening.

Walking along the edge of Pastor Togba’s property, I noticed that it was not five minutes before Mr. Maryland walked out the door with all his bags. They were loaded into the vehicle in almost complete silence and without a word of thanks to Pastor Togba, he and his friend pulled out of the driveway and headed in towards town.

The members of the little congregation remained on the veranda and at the front of the house as I considered what I should do next. More appropriately, I considered how I needed to handle what I believed was right to do in this particular situation. Walking back up to the porch, I hesitantly asked them to gather together.

Me: “First, I want to apologize for what you heard. It was not my intention for anybody to overhear my private conversation with Mr. Maryland. While I do not believe that I should apologize for what I said, I do apologize for giving offense in regards to how I spoke to your guest. Please forgive me for I realize that my approach was not the best and my desire should remain to be more like Christ even when something displeases me! I also want each of you to know that the Lord has changed my own heart for the country of Liberia, and that regardless of how a missionary or pastor from America feels that it does not make his actions right. He is a complete embarrassment and does not reflect the words and actions of all missionaries or pastors from America or England.”

Continue reading

Scam Into Blessing – Part 17

Later that afternoon, Pastor Togba was expecting another guest from America. The guest was coming from Maryland in the United States. The little church that was hosting this pastor was just about one mile down the road from Maranatha Baptist where Pastor Togba was the pastor. Like many small congregations, they did not have a facility for their guest to stay, so had enquired as to whether Pastor Togba and his family would allow this man to be a guest in his home to which he graciously agreed. While the little church was charismatic in nature, Pastor Togba and his dear wife were very gracious and counted it a privilege to open their home to strangers.

A special project that had begun the night before was being concluded when we arrived. A unique custom found in parts of Africa is for the congregation to give an offering to purchase whitewash. As a sign of honor to their coming guest, many within the congregation would gather at the home where the guest would stay and completely whitewash the concrete or mud-brick home.

This small congregation had purchased what they could probably not really afford. They had then walked and worked in the oppressive heat just to make Pastor Togba’s home look a little nicer and cleaner with the new whitewash.

The day had finally arrived for their guest to arrive. Food and cool bottles of water waited on the table, and after two days of working to whitewash the house, the congregation stood patiently under the porch for their guest. The time for his arrival came and quickly went and still they waited. It was beginning to grow dark as the preacher finally made his appearance about three hours late! And it was definitely a dramatic appearance!

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Scam Into Blessing – Part 16

One by one, 35 pastors and church leaders lined up shoulder to shoulder behind me as they looked back out at the remaining seated congregants. As I turned to face the 35, I looked into the eyes of each individual and quickly realized that not included in the group who had walked forward were the three pastors who had been involved in the original attempt at duping me at the airport.

Seated behind the 35, Pastor Togba was looking at me and waiting for a response. His look seemed to be a mixture of surprise and an acknowledgement in the sure expectation that the Lord was doing great things in the country of Liberia.

My first response was, “Pastor Togba, I was not expecting this. What should I do now?”

Pastor Togba responded, “Pastor, do what you believe the Lord would have you to do!”

While I had been praying that people would respond and come afterwards to speak with either myself or Pastor Togba, I was not expecting in any way that they would of their own accord make such a public declaration before their peers. Up to that point, it had been my intention to conclude with a brief lesson that summed up the three days of teaching. Instead, I turned my attention to the 35.

The outside world blurred into insignificance along with all the problems that had brought me to this point. Facing away from the audience of on-lookers, I briefly summarized what had been heard from Paul Zawolo regarding his own faith and belief in the Lord Jesus Christ.

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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 14

Even in the dim porch light, joy was evident all over Paul Zawolo’s face when he stood to his feet. I did not have long to wait to see what he would do next.

Paul: “Pastor, if my faith is now in Christ and I am free from the wrath of God, does that mean that we are now family?”

Me: “Paul, the Word of God assures us of many promises, and one of those comes from John 1:12-13. ‘But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’”

Me: “Paul, these verses mean that when we receive Christ and are born of God, that we have the right to become children of God. We are part of the same family if our faith is in Christ alone! Therefore, if Christ is our Lord and Savior, then yes, we are family – united in Christ! That would mean that we are brothers.

Cultural, physical, mental, and emotional barriers were broken as Paul Zawolo of Loma tribe from the County of Lofa, Liberia, took two steps across the porch and embraced Pastor Mark from Ipswich, England. The spiritual barriers which were unsurpassable just moments before by the strength and will of man had been shattered by the only One Who makes totally depraved creatures into new creations meet for the use of the Master.

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Scam Into Blessing – Part 13

The Liberian night swirled around us with all of its smells. Mosquitoes were buzzing around us, but by now I had just about tuned them out. The conversation inside the house had ceased and as the men inside listened to us, they were also praying for Paul Zawolo that the Holy Spirit would enlighten his eyes and make him a new creation in Christ.

I continued, “Paul, you know that if I were to ask you just one more question, we would be able to determine that you have broken at least six of the Ten Commandments.” Paul simply nodded as he continued to look down at his feet.

Me: “Paul, James 2:10 tells us the truth about our breaking the laws of God, ‘For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.’ Therefore, according to the Bible, it does not matter whether you have broken five of them or just one and kept the other nine. It is like taking a rope with ten knots tied in it. You are hanging off the edge of a cliff onto the end of the rope that is your only lifeline. Which one of those ten knots do you want me to take a knife and sever?”

Paul: “None of them, otherwise I will die!”

Me: “That rope is like the law of God. It was given to us as a measuring stick to show that we cannot hope to attain such a level of goodness. The children of Israel could not keep them, I cannot keep them, and you cannot keep them. So, considering our verse in James, the truth is that you, Paul Zawolo from Loma County, have broken every one of God’s laws. Therefore, you are guilty and deserve to be thrown into hell forever!

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Scam Into Blessing – Part 12

Pastor Togba spoke up and said, “Door is locked, come back tomorrow!”

But the voice grew more persistent, “I need to talk to the missionary right NOW! Send him out to speak with me!”

Pastor Togba responded, “Who it is at the door?”

The voice responded instantly with, “It is Paul Zawolo, and want to speak with the Missionary Pastor from England! He knows me. We spoke yesterday at the Pastors’ meeting.”

Not being put off his mission to speak with me, I agreed to go out and speak with him despite the recommendation of Pastor Togba and Dr. Trexler that I wait til the morning. Standing up from the table, I turned the outside light on. I knew it would not make a great deal of difference considering it was a yellow bulb and secondly because the house lights were running off of generator power.

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Scam Into Blessing – Part 10

One of the first things you might notice in a church service is the decided absence of Bibles in Liberia. This is not just because many are not able to read, but because many books were destroyed during the fourteen year war. Bibles were no exception. It also has nothing to do with not wanting to carry the precious Word of God, for many would love to own just a portion of the Scriptures.

The Pastors’ Conference was no exception and it was sad seeing so many without their own copy of the Word of God. I felt embarrassed that I had so many in my house back in England, even extras, and some days struggled to read even one of the copies. It was just one more reason to feel very blessed for all the provisions, even those I far too often took for granted.

What these pastors and church leaders did not know though, was that we had through the generous gift of believers in England been able to purchase 125 English Bibles from the Liberian Bible Society which is located in Monrovia. At that time, it was not producing a great amount of Bibles due to costs and the difficulties involved in obtaining the supplies necessary to print large quantities. We shared with those in attendance that all who were there on the final day would receive a special gift from the believers in England. This was the suggestion that was recommended to me and would thus make it a more valuable item to those who were willing to spend three days listening to the Word being preached instead of handing them out at the beginning.

Far from being a “normal” type setting for church, I believe it is helpful to share what was going on around me in what for Liberians would be a “normal” church setting. It is one thing to look at pictures from National Geographic, but another to stand and breathe the air of those who only exist in pictures to many in the west. This is especially true of the church.

As I stood gathering my thoughts, a two-foot long lizard moved fearlessly down the wall to my right, skittered slowly across the floor to my feet, and stopped momentarily to glare at me with its beady eyes. The challenges of this new environment had long ago approached unbelievable as I stared back at the little creature. My stomach was already churning from the intake of unknown food items, and the recent trek to the back of the church to what passed for the toilet facilities was almost enough to send even the most hardened traveler over the edge.

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