Thirty-three hours after leaving our home in Greenville SC, we eventually took our first steps in Liberia in western Africa. Our journey had taken us from South Carolina to Liberia’s capital city Monrovia via Brussels. If we expected a warm African evening sun to greet us we were sadly mistaken. The international airport in Monrovia is a basic facility, without covered jet-ways to bring you into a plush airport terminal, so we deplaned into the night air and into torrential rain.
This rainy season made our introduction to this African country interesting to say the least. Reclaiming our luggage from the one battered conveyor belt was a slow but straightforward affair. Our cases arrived safely but like us they were soaked with the night rain. We had a helpful customs officer who took pity on us struggling with five cases and quickly waved us through with a large smile and pleasant words of welcome. That brought us back out into the torrential rain and we were thrilled to see missionaries Joanne Greer and David DiCanio appearing out of the darkness and under wide umbrellas to meet us.
They have been in Liberia for several years and know their way around as if they were in their home towns. It was impossible to bring their vehicle to the terminal doors – the road layout doesn’t allow vehicles to drive that way, so we had to take the cases one by one and pack them into the cab of the pick-up truck. The 30 minute journey to the missionary compound was slow because of rain, unlit roads and Liberian drivers. There are few who follow traffic laws in Monrovia. Many vehicles are old, lacking proper lights or equipment and drivers fail to signal when they intend to stop in the middle of the road. Driving safely here is a test of reaction, speed, patience and sanctification.
The missionary compound, which is yards from the beach, comprises of two 4 bedroom homes, a water tower (which doubles as a guard tower), a dog kennel for two German shepherds, a generator room and a couple of other storage buildings. The accommodation is well constructed and comfortable. Bars are on every window and a security guard is on the property at all times. There is a 12 foot high wall topped with razor wire surrounding the property and steel gates providing access. This is not usual in Monrovia or in the Silver beach area of Dwazon where the compound in situated. The majority of homes are surrounded by walls and security is taken seriously. The measures in place are designed to provide our missionaries with a safe environment in which to study, fellowship and rest.
The road from the missionary houses to the main route into Monrovia has to be seen to be believed. Pot holes go from one side to another and are deep enough to damage an ordinary sedan car. Four-wheel drive trucks are best able to navigate the ups and downs and safely get through the deep water that gathers during rainy season. This road is not unique in Liberia. In the Balla Creek area the road is worse with barely a yard of flat surface. The stress on vehicles is immense and our missionary vehicles spend many weeks in the shop for ongoing repairs. Toyota Land Cruisers seem to be the preferred vehicle for many organisations trying to survive these unpaved and unsafe roads.
Our purpose in visiting Liberia was not primarily to see the country or its beauty but to visit our Free Presbyterian Missionary work. This centres in Paynesville and presently involves a bookstore, radio ministry, children’s ministry and the regular church services. David DiCanio ministers the word each Lord’s day while Liberian pastor Moses Dahn takes care of one of the Bible classes. David also prepares radio programmes, oversees the bookstore with the help of Martin Gban, deals with Liberian officials on legal matters – no easy task at any time, and organises the necessary maintenance on the property at Dwazon. Joanne is responsible for the increasing work among the ladies, children and youth and is involved in teaching some within the church to read. They are both burdened for a Christian school as they see this as essential to the long term good of the children and families under their care.
During our time there the services were well attended and conference messages on marriage and the family were well received. The young people are learning the Westminster Shorter Catechism while the young children are memorising the Child’s Catechism. The worship service involves hymns, psalms, Bible reading and the preaching of the word. This is unusual in an area where Pentecostal churches are common and people are accustomed to dancing and having drums in the services. Evidently the Lord is blessing as the people hear the Word preached and applied. While every congregation will have it difficulties and this Liberian congregation is no exception, there is a gospel emphasis that is bearing fruit in the lives of the people.
Life in Liberia can be frustrating. There remains a culture of bribes and dishonestly, which our missionaries refuse to participate in. Mundane things such as banking, shopping, and repairs can take hours to complete. It is a developing country and is making efforts to recover from years of civil war but the progress at times seems painfully slow. This is an aspect of missionary work that requires patience and endurance and David and Joanne cope with it well.
The spiritual need in Liberia is great and our small missionary endeavour needs more labourers. A designated radio station would be a great help as would robust vehicles. These are matters for prayer. The families in the Paynesville congregation are appreciative of the ministry of our Free Presbyterian missionaries however there is a need to see a gracious work of God in lives. Some show signs of spiritual life and growth while others are unsaved and therefore need to experience the new birth. Christ urges us to pray without ceasing and Liberia should be added to our prayer lists.
Our trip was a blessing to us and we trust a blessing to David and Joanne. They are thankful for the continual interest shown by the Free Presbyterian family across the world.
Rev. Colin Mercer is minister of Faith FPC, SC and secretary of the Mission Board of the FPCNA.