3/21/17 – Monrovia Central Prison and Return Home

We made solid plans last night as an American team. If Pastor Paul can get to our guest house early in the morning to pick us up along with our bags and get us to Greg and Dan’s hotel before 9:30am we will have time to go to the prison before heading to the airport.

Paul and I were all packed and ready for breakfast at 7:00am. Annette had breakfast ready on time and, just after we finished eating, two of the young volunteers were there to help us. While we waited for Pastor Paul we had a devotional time with the two nationals, reading from the Puritan Prayer book “Valley of Vision”. It was a great passage that we studied together and very encouraging for all of us.

Pastor Paul called at 8:00am to tell us he was on the way but he was stopping to pick up some toothbrushes for the inmates. We told him to not stop but to come directly to the guest house. He stopped anyway and arrived at 8:30am. We quickly piled everything into the van and started heading to the prison. Fortunately I thought to ask him if we were going to the hotel because he had thought we were going directly to the prison. So we turned around and went to the hotel to get Greg.

Dan was doing much better today but he elected to stay behind at the hotel while the three of us went to the prison. When we arrived at Monrovia Central Prison we had to wait a while before we entered and then, once we entered the gate, we had to wait a while longer before we were permitted to enter the prison. This was Tuesday which is not a normal visitation day. Therefore we were only able to minister to the women, of whom there were twelve. Shortly after we started six more young men came in. They were all dressed in orange so I assume they were convicted inmates – I suspect they were youth so they were held separately from the other male inmates.

We thought we were going to have another service after this one so we cut it shorter than usual. We were somewhat disappointed after we finished to discover that we weren’t going to be able to minister to the rest of the prison, but it worked out well because we didn’t have a lot of time left before we had to head to the airport.

After the service we returned to our hotel, said goodbye to the national team and prepared to leave for the airport. Greg and I had our audit with Pastor Paul and then we showered and headed out.

The trip home was really long. Our flight was at 5:50pm and we left the hotel at 1:15. We waited four hours at Monrovia airport, then a one hour flight to Freetown, Sierra Leone. We then had a one hour layover and then we were told we couldn’t land in Brussels before 4:00am so we had to wait on the tarmac for about an hour. Our flight to Brussels was six hours, then a five hour layover in Brussels before our 7 hour flight to New York followed by a five hour layover and then our final 6 hour flight to Seattle. Dan had recovered and was well enough to fly home comfortably. He departed from us in Brussels and caught a different flight to New York where he met his wife and they flew home together. I was able to sleep for at least four hours on each flight and we arrived home at midnight so, when I went to bed at 2:00am I was well-rested when I awoke at 5:30am.

I was really tired in the afternoon but managed to keep myself up until 9:00pm and experienced no jet lag upon my return home.

Summary: This was a very unique trip. We left with four team members but two of us did all of the ministry for two days and an evening. Paul and I worked very well together and accomplished all that the Lord had prepared us for. It was a blessing to serve alongside him. Although Dan was ill the entire trip God was gracious and kept him safe while we were there an Greg was able to care for him as needed. We held six services in five prisons, taught two prison ministry training conferences and led one Leadership seminar in five full days on the ground. God gave us strength, endurance and wisdom to accomplish all that we had set out to do and we left encouraged and eager to return to the mission field again soon. To God be the glory! Amen.

3/20/17 – Devastation of Civil War – Conference #2

As we drive around the country of Liberia and particularly through the city of Monrovia there are empty and burnt buildings that are a reminder of the devastation of the civil war. We have heard stories from some of the people we are serving with about the effects of the war. As they tell me and as we drive through the country it seems so foreign to me, I can only imagine (and not very well) what these people have experienced in their short lifetimes: a civil war that lasted 14 years and then, ten years later, a Ebola outbreak that killed over 4,800 people in their country alone. Many of these people have lost family members and know many families where everyone died from the disease or in the war.

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Greg stayed behind again today with Dan. Since he wasn’t able to fly home last night they decided to take him to the clinic again to make sure he was doing ok. Paul and I returned to the same church where we taught the leadership seminar last night and we taught our second Prison Ministry Training Conference of the week.
Not unlike the rest of the week it was brutally hot and humid today. Sweat was running down our backs as we stood to teach on the different topics of the conference. I have found after 15 campaigns that the heat becomes much more tolerable. I have learned to block it out of my mind (as much as possible) and to stay hydrated and focus on the task at hand. Of course I’m saying that now while I’m not in that situation.

Mary made us lunch again today – a meal very similar to the one she cooked the other day. In fact, I think it may have been what was left over combined with some chicken and some beef. I had chicken and elected to pass on the fish this time (fortunately I had that option).

The conference was non-eventful but was well-received and we did a fine job teaching. I met a young man named Peter who said that he is reading his Bible but it doesn’t make sense to him. I explained that it is Spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2:14). This was an indication to me that he perhaps was not saved so I took the opportunity to share the gospel with him.

This was our last scheduled day of ministry but we will be visiting Monrovia Central Prison tomorrow if we are able to get their on time.

3/19/17 – Robertsport Prison and Leadership Conference – The team is broken up.

Greg was able to join us for ministry today. Dan is still not well but seems to be doing better so Greg is comfortable leaving him to travel with us. We left the guest house late again (8:45am instead of the intended 7:00am). We arrived in Robertsport at 11:45. Like in Buchanan the day before, we are on the ocean once again. More than half of the three hour drive was on a very dusty dirt road. We arrived home with red hair and darker skin. We pulled into the town and we weren’t able to locate the prison. I saw a fenced area that looked like a prison but, from what I understand, they are rebuilding the prison compound so we found a young man that jumped in the van with us and drove us to a small building that appears to be a church where many people were worshiping. This is Sunday so church for us today is in the prison.

Behind the church was a fenced area with two small buildings behind. People were wandering around free so I had a hard time understanding how this was a prison. We walked through the make-shift fence to a covered area where we met the Officer in Charge, a young man in his early thirties (I assumed). He was stern and serious, speaking to his subordinates with authority – this was not a man to mess with. After giving a few commands in English that I had a hard time understanding he welcomed us and asked us to tell him about ourselves. After Paul introduced our ministry and offered him some gifts of gratitude he gave us some instructions regarding acceptable conduct and then walked us back to the inmate retention area.

This was a very small prison with about 40 men in two cells. It appeared to be mostly youth in one cell and adult males in the other. A few other people were milling around outside the cells (3 or 4 women included). I couldn’t tell if these were inmates or church members. We proceeded with our service as Greg gave the IGL message and Paul served as the Emcee. Yancy was busy on his phone when it came time to give his testimony. We got his attention and he told about how he had been captured during the civil war and was going to be killed but a friend of his saw him and convinced his captors to let him go. From that point on he committed his life to Christian service. Paul Zawglo then gave a short sermon followed by Greg preaching a longer sermon and I closed with the altar call. Titus then offered a healing prayer and I presented the gifts to the inmates after Greg had prayed for the inmate church leaders.

I felt there was a welcome response from the inmates and many men confessed Christ as their Savior today.

We had a long way to drive to get back to Monrovia where we were scheduled to have another service at Monrovia Central Prison (the largest prison of this campaign with over 1,000 inmates) and then we were supposed to have a leadership conference.

On the drive back home Pastor Paul asked a few times about the leadership conference and he was concerned that we would arrive too late so he wanted to cancel the prison service. We told him that the prison is more important and that we will do the leadership conference after the prison if there is still time. Greg decided as we approached Monrovia that if we could visit the prison Tuesday morning before we depart for home then we could go directly to the leadership conference. Paul contacted the prison and was told that would be ok, so we changed our plans.

We stopped at the guest house at 5:00pm to check on Dan and he was on the phone with his doctor friend in the U.S. who was adamant that Dan should fly home. They had arranged for him to catch a flight at 9:30pm and he suggested that, although not necessary, it would be ideal if Greg traveled with him. Based upon that suggestion Greg and Dan packed their bags to head to the airport. We all said goodbyes and Paul and I left for the Leadership Conference.

The conference was very well attended and well-received. It was held in a church about 45 minutes from the guest house that is pastored by a friend of Pastor Paul with whom he attended seminary in Ghana. When we arrived they took some time for worship and then we were introduced by a couple of the church’s leadership team.

Paul and I each taught two or three sessions on the Five Levels of Leadership, Delegation, Biblical examples of good leaders and Evangelism. We both felt very good about the presentation and the people were all very encouraged. They aren’t often able to get this type of training so, even as we are not professional instructors, the material is very helpful and encouraging to the nationals.

We returned to the guest house at about 9:30pm to find that Greg and Dan missed the flight because they arrived at the airport at 8:10pm and Brussels Airlines won’t allow anyone to check in less than 90 minutes before a flight. There was, in fact, another missionary that arrived at 8:02pm that they also denied him. Greg and Dan, therefore, checked into another hotel with air conditioning since Dan’s doctor friend suggested that he get a cooler room.

3/18/17 – Buchanan Prison & Kakata Prison

Greg stayed behind at the guest house with Dan today and took him to the hospital. They told him he was safe to travel commercial and he is trying to make arrangements to go home tomorrow. I am hopeful that Greg will be able to join Paul and me tomorrow.

Today was a very full day with lots of travel and much ministry. The day started late while we waited for the national team and a vehicle. We drove close to four hours (stops and delays included) and arrived at the first prison at 12:45. On the way we drove through Firestone land with (I’m guessing) more than a hundred square miles of rubber trees with pails attached to them to catch the sap, in the same way they extract syrup from Maple trees. it was a little bit cooler as we climbed slightly in elevation but then we went back down to sea level (the prison was right on the ocean) to temperatures exceeding 90 degrees and thick humidity.

We were greeted by the OC and we entered the prison with all of the sugar, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, clorox bleach, flip flop sandals, the Bible Study training notebook and a soccer ball (there may have been more that I’m not remembering right now). We washed our hands upon request from a jug of bleach water with the purpose of stopping the spread of E-bola.

We’ve heard many stories on this trip about the E-Bola outbreak and the civil war of 1989-2003.

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After washing and signing in we went to the OC’s office where Paul presented him with the usual gift bag before we went to the main cell block. There were about 50 men in their cells peaking though the iron bar gates that were constructed of welded rebar painted brown. There were, I think, four occupied cells on one side of the hall and three on the other. I gave the IGL message and served as Emcee. Pastor Yancy had something wrong with his stomach so Paul Franks gave his testimony in his stead. Pastor Paul then shared a short sermon with passion. I was pleased to hear him preach. He has a passion for the gospel and he makes it clear and concise. Paul Franks got up yet again and gave the long sermon and I wrapped up the preaching with an altar call.

This is a predominantly Christian country. I’ve been pleasantly surprised what a large percentage of people the population openly professes the gospel, and with ZEAL. The inmates love us being there and they all love to sing praises to God. Quite often while we are preaching if we break in our speech they will break out in song – one man will get it started and the entire prison population will then join in.

After presenting gifts and wrapping up the service Paul and I went to the juvenile section and spoke with some younger men. I gave a quick gospel presentation and then Paul spoke briefly with them, as well.

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I could tell the national team was anxious because it was now 2:30pm but we weren’t going to cut our time short. The nationals were hopeful we would skip the next prison and head back home to Monrovia so we could teach or leadership conference but our plans were to head to the other prison so that’s what we did.

We drove back up the same roads we came down and then north to the next prison where we arrive about 5:30pm. The OC, a young man, had already gone home but Pastor Paul called him as we prayed for access and the OC came back to meet us and escort us into the prison.

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This prison was designed the same way as the prison we visited two days ago – we walked in to the center courtyard/receiving area and there were two blocks of cells, one on either side. Because of the late hour and the fact we were going to be getting home after dark we decided to split up. Paul presented the OC with our gifts and then he went left while I went right.

The cell block where I was preaching had three large cells on the left of the hallway and the outside wall on the right. Each cell had approximately 25-50 men. These were not pleasant conditions. There was a 8×12 floor with two terraces for the men to sleep on. We have been absolutely forbidden from taking any photos on this trip so I will just tell you that these were not nice conditions. The national PFC team was surprised to learn that the prisons of some other African countries are worse than these. I showed them some pictures on the way home and they soaked them in.

I preached about the rich young ruler and had a very excited response from all of the men. We are so very well received – the men are all so thankful that we came. I’m full of joy simply because God’s name is glorified through the preaching of the gospel of his Son. I’m honored that I have the opportunity to do that.

We then visited the youth (12) and the women (2) for a short message and we headed for home.

One of the national team took a piece of paper from an inmate and we were reprimanded as a team by the OC. He was gracious and will likely let them return but it was a good training moment for our nationals about why we teach about contraband and about Code of Conduct in our training conferences.

We returned to the guest house, arriving at 8:30pm. Greg and Paul went to get a bite to eat. I’m too tired and don’t need that much food tonight so I have retreated to my room to write this journal entry and now I’m going to bed. Tomorrow will be an early day, leaving the guest house at 7:00am (we hope).