home from liberia

I just returned from teaching an early church history class to 25 pastors in Liberia, and, knowing that most people aren’t that interested in hearing about someone else’s trip, I’ll limit my report to a few observations.

  • I just spent more than a week without access to email, the Internet, CNN, and any news from the West, and the only thing that suffered was this blog and my fantasy football team (appropriately named after the third century Neoplatonist philosopher, Ammonius Saccas).
  • It’s refreshing to be in a culture that values relationships more than tasks.  The Liberians are connected to each other and patient with each other in ways that this community-starved American can only envy.

·         It’s frustrating to be in a culture that values relationships more than tasks.  My Liberian friend Nuwoe is exasperated by his friends’ lack of an entrepreneurial spirit.  He claims that they could vastly improve their situation if they had the vision and discipline to create jobs to meet their needs.  For example, rather than raise their own cattle, Liberians import beef, which makes it too expensive for many people. 

·         If Family Christian Bookstores was a country, it would be Liberia.  God-signage is everywhere, from “His Grace Foreign Exchange” to a “God is my light” phone card seller to a “God is Great” furniture store (probably a Muslim).

·         The aftermath of war is depressing.  Liberia feels a bit like when the children of “Chronicles of Narnia” returned years later to Cair Paravel.  Weeds are growing up through the concrete of empty fountains, beautiful beaches are strewn with litter, once beautiful buildings are ransacked and crumbling, and everyone endures periods without electricity. 

·         Chinese restaurants are chameleons that conform to the character of their host country.  In Italy they arrange their menu in four courses to imitate the Italian 4 plate dinner, in America their dishes are sweeter to please our palate, and in Liberia they deep fry everything just like the Liberians like.  If you want to know what is unique about a country’s cuisine, visit a Chinese restaurant and notice how it differs from Chinese restaurants in the States.

·         Something is wrong with this picture:  A country where 80% of the people claim to be Christian (Nuwoe thinks that only half that are genuine believers) has an 85% unemployment rate and a recent history of a long and brutal civil war.  This is a disturbing trend across Africa—the world’s poorest countries also have the greatest number of confessing Christians.  Could these people benefit from learning how the Christian worldview impacts all of life? 

·         I taught the Christian worldview to my students, and they seemed very interested and excited about it.  Though it may take some time to settle in.  They agreed that one application from the Christian worldview is that they and their churches should stop littering, but then on the last day one student kindly asked if he might throw away my plastic bag of orange peels, and when I gave it to him, he walked over to the edge of the lawn and heaved it into the bushes.

·         The Liberian pastors studied hard, read closely, asked good questions, and would perform well in my classroom here in the States.  They also appreciate what they learn.  One student raised his hand during class and said that he just wanted to thank God for some key truth that he had just learned.  I don’t think that has ever happened here in America!

·         I spent an evening in the dark halls of the National Police Headquarters, but this time it wasn’t my fault.  I tagged along with Nuwoe, who went to release two friends who were arrested by the government for presiding over schools which were not accredited.  Interesting experience.  Imagine living in a country where most government officials act like the governor of Illinois.

·         Liberia is not a fun place to be.  It’s dirty and dusty and dangerous.  This is why I appreciate Nuwoe.  He returned with his family after the war rather than remain in his comfortable life in Nigeria because he realized that the Liberians needed his help more.  May we all follow his lead, serving where we are needed rather than where we are rewarded.  Hopefully this will be the same place, but if not, let’s prepare to sacrifice.

·         It’s not the end of the world should America fall into a depression, but it will feel like it.  I just saw a country with 85% unemployment, and though it lacks a lot of things, it still provides enough basic necessities to sustain life.  People without jobs still smile and laugh and learn to get by.  It’s not pretty, but it’s possible.

5 Comments

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  1. Having spent time with these pastors, what is one thing pastors and ministers in the states could/should learn from our brothers in Liberia?

  2. aworthydiscussion December 15, 2008 — 9:02 pm

    Sounds like an interesting place to go. I was born in Africa and lived there for 18 years. Its a strange place, but one desperately in need of the Gospel. Keep up the good work🙂

  3. Thanks for this glimpse into the situation in Liberia–much more effective than a long travelogue. 85% unemployment just floors me. Even when things are bad here we have it good.

  4. Justin:

    Patience and perseverance. They are extremely patient people, because they have to be. They have seen awful, unspeakable things during the war, and even now doing anything there takes a lot longer than it should. Some of my students started coming to my class around 5 because it may take an hour or more for a car to stop and pick them up (there isn’t a good bus system there). And then they finally returned home around 8 for the same reason. But they persevere–in spite of the despair of living in a decimated war zone and the slowness of development, they smile and keep plugging away. One student recently suffered a partial stroke and he came and stuck it out anyway. So we who have so much should stop complaining and remember all the resources at our disposal.

  5. Thanks for this post. It gives me a lot to think about. I’m especially reminded about the importance of a Christian worldview…thanks.🙂

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