November 14th through 18th, Restoration history was made in Liberia, as the first ever Pan-African Elders Conference was held in Paynesville City, (a suburb of Monrovia), Liberia. Seventeen Elders representing Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Cameroon and Liberia gathered to worship and study together and to confer about issues facing the church and the saints in Africa, as well as throughout the world. Also in attendance were a Seventy and two Elders from the U.S. Bros. Eric O* and Sam A* of Kenya had a wonderful testimony to share concerning their travel from Nairobi, Kenya, through Lagos, Nigeria to Monrovia, Liberia. They left Nairobi on faith, believing the Lord would provide them a way to Liberia, even though they had been informed their tickets from Lagos to Monrovia might not be honored. Upon arriving in Lagos they discovered that in fact they were not on the flight to Monrovia, and were taken into custody by immigration authorities. Rather than detaining the brethren, the immigration commander walked them, or I should say rushed them, through the process and ordered airline officials to add their names to the passenger list. Then he escorted them to the gate where they were boarded before other passengers, and there were many people who had tickets that did not get to fly, as the flight was seriously over booked. It was a real testimony of the Lord’s plan for these brethren to share in the Pan-African Elders Conference, and to provide ministry to the saints in Liberia.
The Elders passed resolutions which will be taken back to National Church Conferences in their countries for consideration by the church membership. Resolutions were passed on Polygamy, Fornication, Cohabitation and Factional Priesthood, and all four resolutions were passed unanimously. These resolutions are likely to be circulated throughout the church, so I won’t take time to print them or discuss them here. Sufficeth it to say, our brethren wrote and passed some very inspired resolutions that speak with courage and conviction to these very serious issues facing the church in Africa.
On Sunday, November 19th, the conference was ended with a morning worship service at the Monrovia Restoration Branch, where Elder Prince A*, of Nigeria, preached a powerful sermon. Following the morning worship service, several of the visiting Elders and members of the Monrovia branch gathered at a stream a few miles from church for a baptismal service. It was the same location where we held a baptismal service two weeks prior, but the setting was much different today. Two weeks previous, just after sunrise, it was a beautiful quiet morning, and the water was crystal clear. On this occasion we arrived to find the scene crowded with young people swimming in the stream, and the water was quite stirred up. It turned out to be a blessing that so many were present. I drove past the stream to a turnaround and when coming back, I met one of the taxi’s bringing people to the baptismal service. The road is very narrow, and quite elevated to prevent flooding during heavy rains. My truck slipped off the side of the road and was in danger of tipping over, but the young men and boys who were swimming came running to our rescue, and pushed on the truck to keep it from turning over, while I drove out of my predicament, using the four-wheel drive. When the young people realized we were going to have a baptismal service, they were more than willing to surrender use of the stream. Bro. Jim McKay gave the baptismal challenge and the gathered congregation sang a few African hymns, while a sizeable crowd gathered on the bridge to watch. The Spirit was very present and there was much joy as our three brothers and two sisters were baptized.
Neil Simmons and Doug Patterson had left for Buchanan by taxi right after church, while I stayed in Monrovia to take Jim McKay, David Patterson and Daniel Clardy to the airport. Jim, David, Daniel and Doug had been working on building the new dormitory at Future Hope Orphanage in Buchanan, and David and Daniel had stayed in Buchanan to continue that work for the past week, while Jim and Doug came to Monrovia to attend the Pan-African Conference. David and Daniel have made great progress in spite of very, very difficult working conditions. First they had to adjust to the oppressive heat, while doing serious manual labor. Everything is done by hand here, including mixing all of the cement for the footings/foundation, and for the mortar. Their expertise and direction were critical to getting the construction off on the right "footing" so to speak. I believe these young brethren had a life altering experience in the two weeks they spent with the children while working at the orphanage. I know the children fell in love with them, and listening to these brethren talk, the feeling was mutual. Jim has been here for two months, and has provided ministry throughout the branches of the church in Liberia, living, traveling and working under very difficult circumstances related to the environment and the lack of almost all modern conveniences we take for granted. Two months is a long time to live and work in such conditions.
I delivered the brethren to the airport a little after 7 PM for their 10 PM flight, and after leaving them in the capable hands of Israel, one of the immigration officers I am very familiar with, I departed for Buchanan. It was a long drive on that dark and terrible road, but I was so looking forward to seeing the kids at the orphanage, and the terrible road conditions didn’t seem so terrible. Seems the road is always much worse when making the trip from Buchanan to Monrovia than it is when traveling from Monrovia to Buchanan. I arrived at the orphanage at about 10:30 PM, and of course my headlights and the sound of my truck awakened the children and they poured out of the dark dormitory into the brightness of my headlights. All I could see were little figures jumping up and down, excitedly waving their arms and hands and running all around, yelling greetings to me. I parked as quickly as possible, as they were going to rush my vehicle whether it was moving or sitting still. What a joy they are, and what a spiritual and emotional uplift they provide. After a time of hugs and singing I convinced the children it was bedtime and that I’d still be there in the morning. Even after everyone was back in bed, on their thin, worn foam mattresses on the floor, there was quite a buzz throughout the dormitory. Of course the concrete walls, with no ceilings and a tin roof, magnifies every word, sneeze, and cough. When everyone is finally asleep there is still quite a commotion as numerous children are murmuring and even crying out in their sleep. The heat is stifling and as I lay there sweating and listening to the sounds around me, while praying for the children and my family, my heart is wrenched as 12 year-old Zachariah, sleeping nearby, cries out, “Mommy. Mommy.” He is not awakened by whatever thoughts or images he is dealing with in his sleep. All I can do is reach over and pat him on the back and say a prayer for him. I know Zachariah doesn’t have a mother or father. I do not know how his mother died, but he has told me about how his father was murdered by rebels. I have no way of knowing the circumstances of his father’s death, but he describes his father’s death in detail. Zachariah has a younger half brother, Prince, who also lives at Future Hope. They had the same mother but different fathers. I can hear drumming and chanting in the distance deep into the night, but fall asleep eventually in spite of the heat, the mosquitoes and all the various noises.
I am awakened early the next morning, as the children begin to sing the invitation to morning devotion which happens every morning at 6:30 AM. I should say the girls begin the singing, as Mother Grace has awakened them first, but they are soon joined by the boys, and the boys are all rousting me out, urging me to come along. I am ashamed to say I am a bit late, as I am a little slow to come around.
The children very cheerfully sing their worship of Jesus and following morning devotion, it is time to get ready for school. 60 children are now being urged to get their morning baths, as they gather in small groups to bath from buckets of water. It is quite a challenge for the caretakers to persuade all of the children to get bathed and dressed in time for school. The school teachers arrive, having walked the 6 miles from Buchanan. The children give me another boost with their enthusiasm in learning that I will be returning later today, to spend the night with them again, although they haven’t yet comprehended that I will be spending all week with them. All throughout the week, each time I leave the orphanage, they must be reassured that I will be, “come ee bah soo oh.” Interpreted; coming back soon okay.
Monday is spent in organizational activities, in preparation for the start of the National Conference on Tuesday. Delegates and members of ten of the branches of the church in Liberia have gathered in Buchanan, along with Seventy Neil Simmons and Elders from the U.S., Kenya and Nigeria, including Elder Sam A*, the National President of the church in Kenya and Elder Hensley M*, the National President of the church in Nigeria. There is a very good preaching service on Monday evening at the Bless Elementary School, where the Conference will be held, with Elder Stephen G*, Presiding Elder of the Monrovia Restoration Branch bringing the message.
Monday night is another mostly sleepless night at the orphanage, but it is such a joy to have this time with the children, and I absolutely cannot describe how they make me feel. It’s an emotional and spiritual experience that language does not adequately express. The mornings, waking up with the children and watching them go through their morning routine is both inspiring and disheartening. The more time I spend here, the more I realize how very little they have. They are deprived of individual love and affection, only because there are so many of them, that the caretakers cannot possibly give them the individual attention they need and deserve. They are also deprived of almost every single, everyday convenience that is so routine and expected for us and our children. They have no beds, due to the expense, and the lack of space. They have no furniture of any kind, other than the little woven chairs they carry back and forth from the dormitory to the school. There are no dressers or closets. Their clothes are stored by throwing them over a rope that is stretched along one wall of each bedroom. The children have no single space to keep their personal belongings. They have no tables to sit at to eat their meals, but must hold their bowls in their laps to eat their rice and beans and tiny portions of meat. Of course it goes without saying they have no TV, radio, stereo, game boy, play station, etc. The girls have no mirrors, no dainty comb and brush sets. To really get a feel for what they don’t have, imagine going into your child’s bedroom, and removing everything except the mattress. Now your child must share their bare, furniture-less bedroom with at least 10 to 12 other children. Be sure to disconnect the lights, so the children must go to bed at night in the dark, and get up in the morning in the dark. I won’t continue, but will leave you with this one additional fact. These 60 children and four caretakers live in a house that is approximately 1500 square feet.
That having been said, I am thrilled to be able to tell you that the saints are bringing change to the lives of these children. The orphanage now has a generator, and the dormitory will soon be wired with one light fixture in each room, and four electric outlets in the assembly room and the dining room. Soon the children will not have to go to bedtime in the dark. Sr. Etta reminds me that the children will not sleep for the first few nights after the electric lights are working. The new dormitory is well underway, and when it is completed, the 40 girls will move there, and the 20 boys will be reapportioned in the old dormitory. An additional generator will be acquired for the new dormitory, so neither generator will be overworked. We hope to install a water tower and pump, and plumbing so the children will have running water and working bathrooms in both dormitories, although the bathrooms will probably come much later. We hope to be able to have double size bunk beds and dressers made for all of the bedrooms, so the children will be up off the floor and will have a place to store their clothes and their very few personal possessions. Large tables in the two dining rooms will allow the children to sit at the table to have their meals. Next year we hope to raise the funds, and the Construction Missionary Team will return to Liberia to build/rebuild the school at the orphanage, a building with dirt floors and bamboo mats for walls. It has a good tin roof, so that will be saved, and dead brick and cement walls will be constructed.
As if the children did not have it bad enough in their lives, the “Christian” charitable organization that has been providing rice and meat to the orphanage, as well as paying the teacher’s and staff salaries has turned a chillingly cold shoulder to the children. Sr. Etta received a visit from the manager of “Christian Aid” last week, who advised her that unless she leaves her church, which they say is the church of the devil, then they will cancel their assistance program for Future Hope. They have discovered that Sr. Etta was baptized into a Book of Mormon believing church, which they lump together with the Mormon or LDS Church. They accused her of operating in darkness, and unless she leaves the darkness and comes back into the light, they will no longer support the orphanage. Sr. Etta stood her ground and told the man she could not possibly leave her church, as she believes in the Book of Mormon and the Restored Gospel, and that is how she worships Jesus Christ. I felt so sorry for Sr. Etta, who fears now for her children’s welfare, as the adversary comes against these little ones. Of course this will jeopardize our ability to make the improvements we are hoping to make at Future Hope, and it might even be a struggle to provide the food and staff support the children need, unless the saints respond to this new challenge, to an even greater degree than they so generously have. (Sr. Etta has since received a letter advising that she has until December 31st to renounce her faith and her church, or there will be no further assistance from Christian Aid. She has no intention of complying with their demand, and we must now find a way to provide these necessities for the children.)
National Conference of the Restoration Branches of Liberia
The National Conference began in earnest on Tuesday, with an early morning, prayer service, followed by a study class, and after lunch, the first business session of the conference. The first day of business included many housekeeping things. Bro. Simmons was sustained as Chairman of the Conference, and I was sustained as Conference Secretary, because I had my laptop for taking minutes. Greetings to the conference were shared from the Restoration Seventy, the Joint Conference of Restoration Branches, African Restoration Ministries, and the Superintendent of Grand Bassa County, appeared in person, which would be equivalent to the governor of Missouri appearing at the JCRB. She welcomed the conference attendees to Grand Bassa County, and stated that Liberia was founded on Christian principles and the government wanted to maintain those principles. She also said she was thankful for the church and appreciated all the church has been doing since it was established in Liberia. Getting back to business, the conference voted to sustain me as the Bishop’s Agent, (financial authority in Liberia for all funds and donations to the church in Liberia from the U.S.) The business of the day ended with the introduction, discussion and passage of a resolution from the Pan African Elders Conference on Cohabitation, which passed unanimously. Elder Prince A* brought the message Tuesday evening.
Another mostly sleepless, but enjoyable night at the orphanage, and the children are starting to get used to me being around, but their expressions of love and affection are unabated. I’m off to Buchanan for Wednesday’s conference session, after reassuring the kids that I will be back again at the end of the day. This routine continued Wednesday and Thursday. On Wednesday, the conference dealt with three more resolutions from the Pan African Conference on Polygamy, Fornication and Factional Priesthood, passing each resolution unanimously, and voting to send the resolutions to the Joint Conference of Restoration Branches, in April 2007. The Liberian saints feel very strongly about the subjects addressed in these resolutions, and are committed to implementing them in church life and government in Africa. The business session ended on Wednesday after the election of a National Conference Treasurer, Secretary and President. Elder Stephen Gardee of the Monrovia Branch was elected President, while Elder Joshua Khakie of the Buchanan Branch was elected Secretary and Elder Andrew S* of the Koons Town Branch was elected Treasurer. Wednesday evening was a communion service, which was the first time saints from across Liberia had been able to take communion together. I was blessed to be able to preside, and I enlisted all Liberian priesthood to officiate during the service. For some it was their first opportunity to partake of communion since coming into the Restoration. After communion was served, Seventy Neil Simmons was joined by Elders Hensley M* and Sam A* for the setting apart, by the laying on of hands, of Bro. G* as National President.
Wednesday night, or I should say early Thursday morning was very eventful. At 2:30 AM Mother Grace awakened me in my tent and advised that one of the boys, Solomon, was seriously, seriously ill and needed to be taken to the hospital. One of the caretakers carried Solomon to my vehicle and we drove into the city, to Sr. Etta’s home in Lower Buchanan, and got her out of bed. Solomon, who is 11 years old, was suffering from a very high fever, but he was not talking, so we made the trip in silence, as I tried to reassure him with my hand on his shoulder, and telling him it was going to be okay. Sr. Etta joined us in the truck and we went to a local clinic where she always takes her children. While they were getting the clinic operator out of bed, the rain began to fall on the tin roofed lean-to where we were waiting. I anointed Solomon’s head with oil and laid hands on him and felt the heat radiating from his head. I was surprised when I found myself praying with firmness, asking the Lord to touch Solomon, “right now”, to restore his health. As we sat there, Sr. Etta reached up and felt his forehead and said the fever was going away, as she noted, “he was on fire in the truck.” The gentleman arrived and we went into the exam room. He asked Solomon and Sr. Etta about the symptoms and Sr. Etta began listing the symptoms, including the high fever, and as she said it she reached up and felt Solomon’s forehead and looked up at me as she said, “but its gone now, the fever is gone.” The man said based on all the symptoms Solomon probably had malaria. He took a blood sample for a malaria test which showed negative. He was convinced it was malaria, and stated somewhat defensively that the malaria parasite just hadn’t shown up yet, but would. He gave Sr. Etta some medicine for Solomon, and I dropped Solomon and Sr. Etta off at her house so she could keep an eye on him that night. The next day she brought Solomon back to the orphanage and he was fine, although very tired. It was wonderful to see the Lord pour out this healing on young Solomon.
At Thursday’s conference session Seventy Neil Simmons presided only long enough for Elder Daniel B*, Presiding Elder of the Buchanan Branch to be sustained as Bro. G*’s counselor. The chair of the conference was then turned over to Bro. G*. Business of the day included the election of four delegates and two alternates to the JCRB in April, and setting the date for the next National Conference for the first week of December 2007. Elder Doug Patterson preached at the evening service, and was nearing the end of his sermon when the rain came. This was a typical rainy season downpour, with the water coming down in solid sheets. The pounding of the rain on the tin roof made it impossible to hear, and so we tried singing some hymns, hoping the rain would let up, but we couldn’t even hear ourselves singing. The rain continued relentlessly, and after waiting a half hour with no let up, we ended the service. It was determined that Bro. Doug would finish his sermon at the morning prayer service, Friday morning. We were all wondering how my tent at the orphanage would have survived this rain storm, and we doubted that it would have. So I wasn’t sure where I would be sleeping that night. We were all soaked just running the 20’ from the church to the truck, and I dropped off Bros. Neil and Doug at their sleeping room, and I continued to the orphanage in the downpour, still with no let up. As I neared the Benson River, the rain began to subside, and when I crossed the Benson River bridge, the pavement was dry. I arrived at the orphanage to find it had not rained a drop there, and we could see the storm over Buchanan, but it never made it to the orphanage.
I have to admit I was very excited about the end of my participation in the conference as the activities for Friday were a mass meeting of the Liberia priesthood, a women’s class and a men’s class. This would give me all day Friday and Saturday at the orphanage, and I could begin painting those plain cement interior walls of the old dormitory, which I hoped would transform the rooms from their prison cell appearance.
Friday morning, as soon as the children had gone to school, I started painting the assembly room. This is the room where the children have their worship services when they can’t be outside. When the children were on recess from school they would come and check out the progress of the painting, and I would be painting with two or three dozen kids crowded around me, and of course it was a challenge to keep them out of the paint, but we had a good time. I was just finishing the assembly room when school was out, and they all came rushing in, and I wasn’t at all prepared for the amazing experience I was about to have with them. I was listening to my MP3 player with Christian music while I was painting, and I can’t listen to music without singing it, too. The children loved it and wanted me to keep singing. When I finished painting the assembly room, I sat down on a bench and the kids swarmed around me, as I sang to them. I took one of the earphones out, and passed it from child to child so they could hear the music as I was singing it, and they loved that. With the children gathered closely around me, there inside the building, the heat was almost unbearable, but I soon forgot about that. One of the songs really got my attention, as I sang, “Does Jesus care when my heart is pained, too deeply for mirth and song? As the burdens pressed and the cares distressed and the way grows weary and long. Oh yes, He cares, I know He cares, His heart is touched with my grief, When the days are weary, the long nights dreary, I know my Savior cares.” Looking into the eyes of each child, and knowing how hard life is for them, with many weary days and dreary nights, I felt I was seeing them through Jesus’ eyes. I felt the deep love Jesus has for them, and I knew the Lord wanted them each to feel His love through the words of the songs. I could see the connection as the children would look back into my eyes. Then came, “Be not dismayed what e’er be tide, God will take care of you. Beneath His wings of love abide, God will take care of you. God will take care of you through every day, o’er all the way. He will take care of you. God will take care of you. No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you. Lean weary one upon His breast, God will take care of you. God will take care of you, through every day, o’er all the way. He will take care of you, God will take care of you.” I had to sing it more than once, so I could sing it to each child, and it was difficult to sing as I looked into their eyes and was overcome with emotion. I have never had such a spiritual experience as this. Eventually we began to stroll around the grounds of the orphanage, as I continued to sing and on some of the songs where the chorus was short, and repetitive, many of them would sing with me. It was a pastoral experience that will be in my mind and heart forever.
On Saturday, Bros. Neil Simmons and Doug Patterson came to the orphanage and joined the painting project, and with no school today, many of the children joined in, too. The children had a blast and we painted a lot of walls, going through almost 20 gallons of paint. By the end of the day, we had painted all of their bedrooms, put in new linoleum and new mattresses. The children were overjoyed, at receiving these most basic of necessities. It was as if they had received the best toy or present that any child could hope for.
On Sunday, I brought Bros. Neil and Doug from Buchanan, and we had Sunday services with the children. It is always so special to worship with the children, as they are so joyous in their worship. Then we surprised them with news that we were taking them to the beach for an afternoon of fun, and they were ecstatic. None of the children had ever been to the beach, and never swam in the ocean. I thought they would be like most Buchananites, who are fearful of the ocean and have no desire to swim in it. Boy was I wrong. The place was abuzz as the children prepared for their day trip. We hired two minibuses to transport 57 children, (Randi & Praise The Lord would not be going as they are too young), and when I say minibuses, I mean minibuses. You wouldn’t think it possible to put nearly 30 children, along with the driver and the conductor in a little Volkswagen minibus, but we did, and there was not a single complaint. I was concerned about the heat inside the buses, but was assured they would be fine. I wanted to take them to the Randy Vick Beach, (I won’t go into the details, but the locals had given it my name long ago), an amazingly beautiful beach. The coconut palms come right down to the sandy beach, and there is a little cove area, created by a huge formation of lava rock. The heavy rains Thursday night however, had flooded the road to the beach, and the minibuses with their large load of little ones, could not make it through the deep water. So we diverted to CIVPOL Beach, (named after my UN police team), which is a several miles long stretch of wide open beach. There are no trees anywhere near the beach, and it seems one of the most deserted stretches of beach in the world. Today, it would be the most lively beach in Liberia. As is typical, one of the minibuses was late, so we started out with the first minibus, and discovered we couldn’t get through the flooded road, so I took the first minibus to the second beach and dropped Bros. Doug and Neil with them, and I went back to find the other minibus. The other driver had gotten lost and it was nearly an hour before I found him and we made it to the beach. This group of kids chattered excitedly as we walked a very narrow foot path through the bush, and as we broke out into the open and the kids could see the ocean they were awestruck. As we neared the spot where we found the first group, the children in my group heard the joyful voices of the first group and they broke into a run. I was amazed to see the first group playing gleefully in the waves. Bros. Neil and Doug had found a good spot where the beach inclined very gently, and the water was very shallow even 50’ from the beach. As my group of kids ran toward the beach, clothes began flying and they rushed to join their friends. The pure joy on the faces of these children was awesome to see. Bro. Doug informed me that 10 year old Abraham was the only child that was afraid to go in. I went to Abraham and he told me he could not swim. I explained that most of the children could not swim. I told him I would go in with him, and I would hold his hand, and we would not go water any deeper than his knees. He agreed and we entered the water together. In 15 seconds he was playing and romping with the rest of the children with the biggest smile on his face that you can imagine.
This seemed the perfect finish to my week at Future Hope and Buchanan. We took the children back to the orphanage and then went back into town, so Bro. Neil could get his things. Bro. Doug will spend the next two weeks in Buchanan, and at Future Hope to continue the construction project on the new dormitory, and to oversee the installation of wiring, light fixtures, etc., in the old dormitory. He will also be teaching pre-baptismal classes to the children who are 8 years and older. There are 38 children that are eligible to attend these classes. He will also be teaching classes in the evenings at the Buchanan Branch. We bade Bro. Doug and Sr. Etta goodbye, stopped at Future Hope briefly to say good-bye to the kids, which is always heart wrenching for all of us, and then we made the grueling drive back to Monrovia. I delivered Bro. Neil to the airport and turned him over to my Immigration officer, Israel, who escorted him into the terminal. Its always difficult for me to say goodbye to my brethren when they leave here, but I know they’re going home to see their families and to share their testimonies with the saints, and further the work of the Kingdom. Bro. Neil had worked very hard, under very difficult conditions for two weeks, and certainly deserves a good rest, although there would be no rest until after his nearly two day flight back to Kansas City.
Please remember the children of Future Hope and all of our African brothers and sisters in your prayers.