I apologize for not getting this first update out sooner. The Internet has been down here since I arrived on Saturday. It is working now (Tuesday afternoon) but is very slow. Below are my updates for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Thanks for your prayers!
Saturday, November 21:
I’m back in Liberia! I arrived at the Monrovia airport last night (Friday) at around 9 pm local time. I was fortunate to be the second in line at the Passport/VISA check line, so I was able to quickly get through it and go retrieve my two suitcases. This took much longer to accomplish. One of my bags came around the conveyer belt only a minute or two after I arrived in the baggage claim area. The other one took about 20 minutes to come up. Meanwhile, several hundred people were pushing and shoving trying to get to the conveyer in order to get their bags. What a mess!
Finally, my bag came around and I quickly left the baggage claim area and was out the door. Just as soon as I came out the door, the humidity hit me like a brick. Wow! I’m back in Africa! I had only taken three or four steps out the door when I saw Pastor Alex Freeman and his wife Fannia. I sure was glad to see them and have them find me so quickly. It was very dark and the area was packed with people waiting for loved ones, young men wanting to help you with your bags (for a fee of course), and taxi drivers offering to take you to your hotel.
We loaded my bags in the back of their truck and was off to the hotel in Monrovia to stay the night before going on to Ganta on Saturday morning. I stayed at the RLJ Hendeja Resort that is located on the outskirts of Monrovia and backs up to the Atlantic ocean. This is a very, very nice place and is probably the best hotel in the entire country. Of course, it is very expensive at $235 per night. I did not really want to stay there because of the expense and it was only going to be for a few hours, but Alex and Fannia did not feel that any of the other hotels in the area were very safe, so I reluctantly accepted their advice and asked them to reserve a room for me there.
I did not sleep well. After checking in the hotel and finding my room, I went right to bed and felt very tired and went right to sleep. However, at 3 am I woke up and was wide awake. So, I got up and read for about an hour and a half until I started feeling tired again, and then I went back to sleep and slept until 6 am when the alarm went off. I then got up, showered and shaved, repacked my bags and walked to the restaurant to eat breakfast, checkout, and wait for Alex and Fannia to pick me up.
While at breakfast, I met a group of about 20 National Guard soldiers from Michigan. They were in Liberia as part of the State Partnership Program that pairs each of the states with developing countries. They were there to train with the Liberian Army. It was good to meet them, I wished them well and thanked them for their service.
We left the hotel and headed for Ganta at 7:30 am. I asked Alex about the condition of the road to Ganta (on the last two trips it had taken us about 5 1/2 hours to make the trip because the road was so bad), he informed me that they had being working to rebuild the entire road and had about 60-70 percent of it completed. I was very, very happy to hear that! Praise God! It still took us 4 1/2 hours for the trip, but at least they removed the worst spots that were so rough and dangerous. Alex said that the road project should be completed by next year when I come back for the third phase of their training.
On the way to Ganta, Alex shared with me how God had used the Ebola outbreak to bring many people to Christ. He told me that as the outbreak got worse, people who were far from God and who had no need for him before the Ebola outbreak, started to flock into the churches. As a result there has been a great revival all across Liberia. He said that they have had 75 baptisms at the church in Ganta alone and that many of the churches are full and growing. Amazing!
He also told me an amazing story about what happened to one of his pastors in Monrovia during the height of the Ebola breakout. This pastor also works full-time at the U.S. Embassy and one morning while leading devotions with a small group of other employees, an American woman who also works there decided to attend. The next morning, she came to the pastor and told him that last night God had told her that she needed to give him $20,000 to plant a new church. She said that God had told her that she had invested in three homes in the U.S., so when was she going to invest in His house? She followed through on her commitment and now a new church has been planted in Monrovia and over 200 people has come to know Jesus as their savior!
I learned that Alex and the other pastors are now focusing their efforts at planting churches in the rural small villages that are outside of some of the bigger cities. In Liberia, just as in Uganda, many of the smaller villages do not have a church. So, they are very excited and eager to train new leaders for these new churches. He also told me that Islam is on the move in Liberia and is growing, particularly in the rural areas that are without a church.
We arrived at the hotel in Ganta at about 12:30 pm. Check in time was at 3 pm, so I was a little early and had to wait a few minutes while they were finishing cleaning up my room. It only took them about 15 minutes or so, and then I was able to go to my room.
While waiting, I learned that the hotel’s internet was down and was not expected to be back up until sometime on Monday when they can get a tech person from their internet company to come in and repair it. At least my cell phone works and I can send/receive texts or phone calls if I need to!
I spent the rest of the day unpacking, resting, and reviewing the material that I was going to be teaching over the upcoming week. I was very tired, but I wanted to stay up as long as I could in order to get my body acclimated to the different time zone. I didn’t have any problem staying awake. Next door to hotel is a restaurant and bar and at night (and especially on the weekends) they play very loud music until 1 or 2 am. So, I read and watched TV until around 11:30 pm when I decided to try to sleep. I then took an Aleve PM, put my ear plugs in, set my alarm, and went to bed. Thankfully, I was able to fall asleep very quickly.
I’m glad to be back in Liberia and to learn more about how they coped with the Ebola outbreak and how God is using them to build HIs kingdom. More info to follow, so stay tuned.
Sunday, November 22:
Greetings from Liberia!
Church services this morning were awesome! Their worship services now start at 7:30 am and run until 9:30 am. They made this change so that the men from the church who are now pastoring/preaching at a smaller rural church, along with some of the women, can go out and help these new churches hold their services and to help them get off to a good start.
The church was absolutely packed! They probably had 300 or so in attendance (and that does not count the small children that were in Sunday school next door). I was especially impressed at the joy and sense of celebration that I witnessed this morning. They would stand and sing, and in unison as they finished a song would shout “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” and clap their hands. It was like being at a football or basketball game where fans celebrate a touchdown or a winning basket. They were celebrating! I don’t think that I’ve experienced something like this before. The last two times that I was here they showed me how they could “really” worship and praise God, but this morning’s service was at a much different level. It truly was a celebration, a great celebration of God and His Son! Amazing!
Why don’t we worship like this? Is it because we don’t have anything to celebrate? I don’t think so. I’m not sure of the reason, but I think that it may just be that we try to worship mostly with our “head” and not so much with our “heart.” This morning I worshipped with a congregation that worshipped with their “heart” and it was amazing!
I did have a moment of disappointment this morning. I forgot to bring a coffee cup with me. I brought my Folger’s coffee singles and a small hot water pot that I had purchased in Myanmar a few years back, but I forgot to bring a coffee cup! The hotel doesn’t put any cups in any of the rooms, so when I woke up this morning I couldn’t get any coffee before going to church. Not a good way to start the day. After church I returned to the hotel and went straight to the restaurant to get some breakfast and have “my” coffee!
I spent the remainder of the day resting and reviewing my notes and preparing to teach beginning tomorrow morning.
That’s my report from Liberia. Thanks for your prayers. More to follow tomorrow!
Monday, November 23
Greetings from Liberia! Very hot here today but we had a very, very good day!
Our goal for the day was to get reports from the leaders to hear and learn how they have been doing since my last visit, how they have been teaching and training new leaders, to review the Phase 1 material with them (since it has been two years since I last saw them), and to discuss and review the leadership development process with them.
We had 43 leaders show up for the training this morning. Alex also expects maybe 3-4 more to come in tomorrow. This is actually a lot more than I prefer to work with at one time. I started two years ago with 24 leaders. We lost one of those to Ebola during last year’s outbreak and six others from the original group could not come to this years training due to work conflicts. This leaves us with 17 of the first group that came back. This means that we have 26 new leaders that did not attend the training that I held for them in 2013. However, all of these 26 leaders have been through a Phase 1 course, are in a leadership huddle group (meaning they are being coached and mentored by a more senior leader), and have used the Phase 1 materials to teach others what they have learned. It is not exactly the way our process is set up, but they did not let the Ebola outbreak stop them from training and developing leaders. They took the initiative on their own to do this. After the review session that we had today, I feel very comfortable about their level of knowledge and ability to teach others what they’ve learned.
We were able to accomplish all that we had planned to do today and finished a little earlier than I had planned. The leaders were very excited and eager, so much so that all but 3 or 4 of them were waiting on me when I arrived at the church at 8:45 am this morning! I was also very encouraged as we did the review of the Phase 1 material and especially of some of the new leaders knowledge.
After we finished, Alex took me back to the hotel. I was very exhausted. It was really hot and by the time I was through my clothes were completely soaked with sweat. My air-conditioned room never felt so good!
Tomorrow, we will begin training the leaders on Phase 2 of our four-stage process which is about Leading Others by building trusting relationships.
In a more somber note, I did hear this morning on the news that officials here in Liberia have discovered 3 cases of Ebola in a small village on the outskirts of Monrovia and have locked down approximately 150 people in their homes who may have been exposed to the virus. Please pray that this latest outbreak doesn’t spread and that those who have been infected may receive adequate treatment and survive this terrible disease.
That’s my report from Liberia for today. More to follow tomorrow (if the internet works?). Thanks for your prayers.