Surviving–and Thriving– in an African Village

  • Moving to Liberia, West Africa with my family for nine months in early September was easily the biggest leap of faith of my life–until this past week when I spent five days and four nights in the Liberian village of Gbenequellah(ben-uh-kway-luh). Sure, I’d visited one or more villages in three of my four previous visits to Liberia, but I’d never before spent the night in one, much less four nights.

Well, more than just survive the experience, I found it to serve as a greenhouse for my spiritual life.

For starters, I was consciously aware of my faith being expanded on the five hour drive to the village, especially during one particular stretch on the horribly bumpy, dirt mining road between Gbarnga and Gbenequellah. As we approached what looked to me like the “Valley of the Mud,” Jerome, our driver, knew he needed to pull over as 2-3 vehicles were stuck in the same general vicinity on the road. On seeing how bad the road was, my initial thought was, ‘How are we ever going to get through this?’ O ye of little faith!

After assessing the challenge before us, Jerome said he felt with our Land Cruiser we could make it. And we did, but not before we helped pull a car out of the muddy mess.

Upon arriving in Gbenequellah we pulled up to the humble abode where we’d be spending the week. I was shown my bed, covered with a necessary mosquito net, given a can of mosquito spray to be used nightly, and gifted with my own personal porta potty, preventing the need for middle of the night runs to my host’s outhouse, which required a key any way.

Once we started settling in, I renewed old acquaintances and met some new friends. Before the week was done, though, despite language barriers(everyone else either spoke Kpelle or Liberian English), we all felt closer to God and to each other.

Contributing to our deepening connection more than anything else was nighttime and morning devotions together. As 8-12 of us, men and women, gathered in the front entryway of Rev. Amos Flomo’s home, we went around the circle sharing what we were thankful for, prayer concerns and a verse of Scripture. It was awesome! Though they have so little materially, my Liberian brothers and sisters expressed profound gratefulness to God for their life, salvation, and frequently for my visit to their village. I couldn’t help contrast this with Anerica, where we have so much, but are nowhere near as grateful.

Additionally, most times during the week I was given the privilege of closing out the time with a devotional reading and Scripture. I used several of the devotions from Brennan Manning’s “19 Mercies Spiritual Retreat,” found in the back of more recent editions of his book, “Ragamuffin Gospel.”

A main reason for my trip to the village was a chance to take part in a new Bible school, known as the Bible Institute for Church Ministries(BICM). Don Riley of the Bong County Bible Institute did a great job continuing his teaching through the book of Romans the first two days, and I kicked off my Old Testament survey course at the end of the week. It was wonderful being showered in God’s word alongside students so hungry and eager to learn.

Twice during the week we also headed out in the evening to some nearby villages to dedicate some new water wells and preach the gospel. Again, these roads(?) proved highly challenging and faith building. Most encouraging was Timothy who came forward the first night to repent from his backsliding.

All in all, I’m very fondly remembering my first week in an African village as one where I not only survived, but was strengthened, encouraged, and better equipped to spiritually thrive.