Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Liberia Mission Trip, Nov 2010, Doug Patterson

Mission Trip to Liberia
November 2-23, 2010

The main purpose and objective of this mission is to contact several former branches of the RLDS church in Sinoe County. There are nine known groups that are still active in Sinoe but at one time there were as many as eighteen or nineteen in Sinoe County alone. These Branches were established between the years of 1986 - 1989. Our plans were to respond to their request to meet. They have an interest in joining with the Restoration movement. They refused to continue with the RLDS after they learned about changes, including the name. Their own statements were, “We will continue to worship independent of the Church.”
They continued to worship, even through the fourteen years of tribal and civil war; some having to hide in the bush for weeks, months and even years, just to survive; living off the land. For some the only source of food was palm cabbage, which is the inner pulp wood of a certain palm tree; eating nothing but that for months at a time; never spending more than a week in one place, for fear of being hunted down. Through all of this, their faith and reliance upon the Lord, gave them strength to endure.
Upon arriving in Liberia, I am greeted with the aftermath of the rainy season. It has destroyed nearly all the roads that are not paved and that’s most of the roads here. The rain continues to pour each day, for weeks after it normally would have stopped. It is hard to believe that these roads, which were easily passable in May of this year, were nearly impassable for a four-wheel-drive truck in good working condition. The roads in Monrovia are the worst the locals have seen in years and I wonder what adventure we will find on our journey to Sinoe.
I arrive in Liberia on Wednesday and Elder Stephen Gardee and I are to travel on Thursday to Sinoe County. Thursday, the 4th of Nov, is a national holiday, equal to our Thanksgiving so there is nowhere to exchange money, nor are there any trucks going to Sinoe, so our plans have changed. We visit some of the church members from the Pipeline Branch.
Friday our journey begins, as we leave Stephen’s home in Soul Clinic, a community in Paynesville, a suburb of Monrovia, about 8:00 AM. It takes us nearly two hours to reach the area where the trucks load goods and passengers for the East. By 10:00 AM we buy our tickets and our driver tells us when we are loaded we can leave and he assures us it will not be a long wait. Then we learn that no truck will leave until all are loaded so they can travel in a caravan, to be of assistance to each other, if needed.
By 4:00 PM we are on the road and our driver states we need to stop for fuel. I wonder why that hasn’t been taken care of earlier today. However, we don’t stop at a gas station, we stop at a mechanics garage. He says we have a small problem to take care of before we leave and it will take only a few minutes, but our small problem is a very serious one. They pull out the front axle as the four- wheel-drive is not working. Considering the road conditions, a working four-wheel-drive is a necessity.
By 8:30 PM they finish working on the truck, fill it with fuel and as we pull onto the road, a loud grinding noise is coming from the axle they have just repaired. Instead of returning to the garage, which is only 50 feet behind us, we continue on for 5 miles before our driver finally decides to stop and fix it. We spend 2 hours alongside the road fixing the problem, with almost no tools. By midnight we find ourselves in Buchanan. Because of all the problems and many difficulties we have, it takes us twenty hours for a two hour trip. Some passengers unload, while others replace them and by 1:00 AM we continue towards Sinoe.
The trip from Buchanan to Teah Town, in Sinoe, is about a 5 hour trip, on good road, something I have never been privileged to see in Sinoe. I have only heard about how good the road was before. As we travel through Grand Bassa County, the road is very rough but passable. The more tropical area of the trip begins at River Cess County. As we find more rivers and mud holes, we realize that all their work on the 4 wheel drive didn’t help. We struggle through every mud hole with our two-wheel-drive. At the deepest and longest mud holes, all the passengers get out and walk.
By 5: 30 AM our driver needs some sleep. We stop at a village where he lays on the ground and sleeps for one hour, before we continue toward our destination. Each mud hole brings the concern, ‘will this one claim our truck?’ Ruts in the road can be as deep as 7 feet and the mud holes as long as three football fields. Finally, at 8:30 PM, we arrive at Teah Town, in Sinoe County; a trip expected to take five hours actually takes nineteen and a half hours.
As we approach Teah Town, we see Elder Gabriel Toby. Each time he heard a truck, he would go to the road to see if it was us. Our truck was easily heard from quite a distance, as a mud hole in River Cess County had claimed ownership of our muffler. It was good to see the saints of Teah Town again. I had seen some of them during the National Conference, but it had been nearly five years since I last visited Teah Town. After some visiting, we were provided a hot meal, a bath to wash off the pounds of Sinoe dirt from our tired bodies, and finally a bed.
Today is Sunday and we make preparations for worship. I find they are not partaking of sacrament regularly. They don’t feel they should partake of sacrament if they don’t have bread and grape juice or a proper communion tray. I speak to them of the importance and meaning of Sacrament. I ask if they have something we can use for the bread and wine. Today the sacrament emblems are roasted cassava and coconut water. The communion tray is a willow, which is a hand woven tray. I was asked to teach the class and to bring the spoken word. The rest of the day is spent in visiting, learning new songs in their Kru language and teaching them new hymns.
The rest of the week has been planned out by Elder Toby and we have several places to visit. Touldee Town will be our first place to visit. Priest Morris Peal, of Teah Town has been visiting this place for several weeks. From Teah Town it is a four and a half hour motorbike ride; which is not an option for the saints in this area as the cost for travel there is much too expensive.
Morris takes the bush road; a hunting road that winds through the jungle. It is called a road, but it’s really a trail that men use to hunt animals; over rivers, climbing over and under fallen trees and this trail takes about three hours on foot. I was willing to take this path, however the rain was still pouring down off and on all day and it was decided to take the bikes.
Several times the rain comes so hard; we have to find shelter at houses along the road. The road is so treacherous, completely impassable by truck. Twice we almost lose the bike because of the rain, mud and the ruts. To save money we travel three men on one bike; including our overnight bags and scriptures.
By the time we arrive at Touldee Town it is nearly dark. The people had been told we were coming and had gathered earlier in the day. Towards the evening they begin returning to their homes as they have given up on us coming today. Upon our arrival they send out boys to all the people, to tell them we have come. They tell us it will be awhile before all will return. They prepare a bath and a meal for us and by the time our meal is finished, everyone has returned.
There are many questions asked about our church; such as, our doctrine, baptism, priesthood, etc. We have several questions ourselves. How many people in their group? How long have they been meeting together and how many wish to be baptized? There are 21 who want to join. We have several classes and during the classes each of our questions are answered.
Elder Toby shares with them about polygamy. I speak on the marriage covenant; speaking also about fornication, adultery and polygamy as well as comparing the baptismal covenant to a marriage covenant. The hour is late; Brother Gabriel states that those who want to be baptized should come early in the morning to be interviewed. They understand their marital status will be questioned. By morning only a dozen return for baptism and after the priesthood speaks to each one, there are only five who are ready for baptism.
Elder Gardee is in charge of the baptismal service, while I bring the spoken word. Elder Gabriel Toby and Priest Morris Peal perform the baptisms. Afterwards, we confirm them members of the body of Christ, giving them the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Discussion after the service is about the formation of a branch and they conduct a business meeting, where Priest Morris Peal is chosen as their Pastor. They decide to hold another business meeting later to elect other officers for their branch, to give them time to pray for direction for leadership. Since several of their people were unable to join, they have to rethink who would hold various positions in the branch.
We leave after the meeting and as we begin our journey to Teah Town, we experience the same difficulties as the day before; rain, mud and ruts. One particular place on the main road is now impassable even for motorbikes. Our driver decides to drive up the embankment, without giving us the opportunity to get off the bike. Near the top, about ten feet above the road, he loses control of the bike and the bike falls over and slides down the side of the hill. Two of us are injured, but not seriously, as several people come to our assistance. With their help we are able to retrieve the motorbike and continue our trip back to Teah Town. We spend the rest of the afternoon sharing testimonies and teaching classes or new hymns.
The next morning we travel to Swens Town. There are four groups of members in this area; Swens Town, Tweh Town, Sargbeh Town and Pratt Farm. Each of these groups are former branches of the RLDS Church. They were established between the years of 1986 through 1989.
We have classes and discussions about the Church, answering their questions about why we left the RLDS; questions about the COC and the JCRB. After our questions are answered, we realize each of these groups are connected. Their priesthood were all baptized and ordained by the same men. We look for any internal problems that might prohibit them joining with the JCRB. The subjects of women in the priesthood, polygamy and marriage are discussed and we find nothing that would prevent them from joining with the JCRB.
They hold a business meeting and out of that meeting comes several questions about the authority of the JCRB, such as; Why do we feel we have the authority and the COC no longer has it? After their questions are answered to their satisfaction, they continue their meeting and their final decision is to join. From these four groups, one hundred and one new members join the Restoration. Our meetings go late into the evening, so we spend the night at Swens Town.
The next morning we begin our journey back to Teah Town, stopping at Greenville where we are able to exchange money for our trip back to Buchanan. Brother Gabriel Toby has a radio ministry as well as church announcements broadcast in several dialects. We stop at the radio station for him to take care of this responsibility. While in Greenville, we hear that Elder Samuel Swen’s daughter has passed away and we stop to visit with his family, offering comfort for their loss.
From Greenville we head to Koons Town. Elder Andrew Smith serves as the Pastor of the Koons Town Restoration Branch, but for the last several months he has not been able to fulfill his duties. His wife has been sick off and on for several months; hospitalized several times. Not only has this affected his family financially, but as a farmer, getting his crops planted and harvested has been difficult. To find Andrew’s home we must travel one and a half miles off the main road on a side road, then walk down a path through the bush, and over several rivers for another one and a half miles.
Andrew and his family are the only occupants in this village in the bush. There is no road to his village and there never has been. Everyone left the village during one of the tribal wars. Andrew and his family were the only ones who returned after the war and with the village being so remote and with no road for access, it is unlikely others will return. We find Bro. Andrew working in his cassava field. We had hoped to find his wife there too, but she is back in the hospital in Greenville. We have a good visit with Andrew and two of his sons.
We have run out of drinking water, which can be a critical situation in this heat. We have a mile and one half walk ahead of us. Brother Andrew sends his boys to cut down some coconuts for us and the unripe coconuts provide us with much needed water. After our visit, we head out of the bush to the side road, where our bike drivers are to be waiting for us. We get to our meeting point on time, but there are no motorcycles. We start to walk towards the main road, hoping our drivers will arrive soon, but unfortunately they never show up. We walk one and a half miles in the bush, two miles on the side road, and one mile on the main road to a village where we catch a bike.
Brother Gabriel and I return to Teah Town, while Brother Stephen walks back to Greenville to find transportation for us back to Buchanan. The rest of the evening we spend time sharing testimonies, teaching classes and learning Kru songs. Late into the evening Brother Stephen arrives to report he was unable to secure a ride, but he will return to Greenville in the morning and try again.
It’s Friday morning and Bros. Stephen and Gabriel go to Greenville, more than 30 km. Bro. Stephen will try to arrange our transportation while Bro. Gabriel will attend the funeral of Samuel Swen’s daughter. While waiting, I visit with the Saints of Teah Town; visiting each home, taking pictures and telling them goodbye. Three of the young men have been working in the bush and they return with an eight foot Cobra snake. Two days earlier I had nearly stepped on one while going into the bush and while I couldn’t see its head, I realize now the body was the same as this one.
Stephen arrives back at Teah Town about mid morning, with transportation, but when the driver sees I am a white man, he refuses to carry us and refuses to explain. Stephen speculates he is not legally authorized to carry passengers and while he would make exceptions for native brothers he is not willing to take a chance transporting a white man, (international). This was not a regular transport truck, but an NGO {Non Governmental Organization} truck.
Poor Bro. Stephen again begins the long walk back to Greenville and I carry our luggage back to the house. By noon, Stephen returns with a Land Cruiser, already loaded with passengers and our bags are loaded and tied on top of the truck. The passengers make room for two more people to squeeze in and we’re on the road by 1:30 PM. We hope to arrive in Buchanan by 6 or 7 PM as it should be a 5 to 6 hour trip.
This leg of our trip however, is short lived. In less than two hours we find the road is blocked by a large truck, loaded with goods for Sinoe, stuck on the opposite side of the bridge we need to cross. The mud on both sides of the bridge is so deep it is impossible to get to the bridge. This truck has been stuck since 6 PM the night before. Several men are working on getting the truck unstuck, while others are working on the bridge, which is nothing more than half dozen logs laid across the stream. The logs have not survived their usefulness, some having rotted away while others are broken, leaving huge gaps between the other logs.
We wait all day, hoping they will get everything fixed, but by late afternoon it is obvious we will not pass this bridge tonight. Stephen and I walk to a village about a mile and a half away. At the first house we ask if there is a place we can spend the night and they invite us to stay there. We leave money for them to buy rice to feed us and their family and return to the bridge to watch the progress, or lack thereof.
As evening comes, we take our bags and walk back to the village where we are served rice with cassava greens and some kind of meat. They heat water for our bath and the bathing “room” is nothing more than the yard between 2 homes with the darkness our only shower curtain and its not doing a real good job. After bathing, we are led to a room with a bed complete with mosquito net. Though the bed is not comfortable, it certainly is better than sleeping on the ground by the truck, and becoming victims of mosquitoes, spiders and snakes.
Saturday morning arrives and we thank our hosts and walk back to the bridge where two dozen vehicles now litter the area. Hour after hour men labor, covered in mud and sweat and finally the time comes to try to get the first truck across. The first is the one that has been there the longest, but he fails. Not only does he get stuck again but the truck nearly tips over. It isn’t until another large truck arrives, equipped with a winch, that we have success.
By 12:30 PM we find ourselves traveling down the road, but still have a very long road ahead of us. We’re not far from Teah Town, but our hope is to arrive in Buchanan before services start at the Buchanan Restoration Branch on Sunday. We continue to struggle through each mud hole and we discover that our truck’s four-wheel-drive is not operating. Each time we come to a deep mud hole, all the passengers must disembark and we walk. Many times there are several bad places close together requiring us to to walk one to two miles. We easily walk this distance before the truck can catch up with us.
By early evening we arrive at Jarpa Town in River Cess County. We had stopped several times so the driver could add brake fluid and now we stop so he can fix the brakes. The front wheel is removed so they can get better access to the brake line. The brake line is removed and replaced with one that looks as bad as the one they removed and it doesn’t even fit correctly. After one and a half hours, we reload and head up the steep hill out of town.
Our truck has not been running very well and every hill is a difficult climb. As we near the top of this hill, the truck loses most of its power. Suddenly, a huge amount of smoke is coming out from under the truck. The driver stomps the brakes and there are none. The truck rolls to a stop, then begins rolling backwards down the hill. The two conductors jump off the top of the truck where they have been riding, to look for a rock or stick to put under the tire. The driver can’t turn off the motor as the keys have fallen out of the ignition and he cannot find them. The smoke is so thick in the truck it is difficult to see my hand in front of my face. In the back of the truck, the passengers are all enclosed in a smoke filled death trap and we can only wonder when it will burst into flames.
Panic ensues with women screaming and people climbing over each other to get out. I am in the middle and several people are climbing over me. I try to calm them, but they’re not listening to me. My greatest fear for them is that they are jumping out the rear door while the truck is still rolling backwards. By now I need air desperately and I am able to stick my head out the window only to breathe in a huge amount of smoke. The smoke has not only filled the truck but it has settled around the truck like a cloud. There was a crippled woman and her granddaughter sitting across from me but I have no idea if they have gotten out, but I know the woman has no way of getting out by herself. I have remained behind to help her, but now I realize if I don’t get air soon, I won’t be any help to anyone. The truck has now stopped and I climb out the back door, but have to run 20 feet before finding fresh air.
I take one quick breath and run back to the truck where I find one of the conductors is helping the crippled woman get out and she and her granddaughter are soon safe. They lay on the road for about half hour and I know they suffered smoke inhalation so I watch them to make sure they recover.
Finally the truck engine dies and when they are able to open the hood to look for the source of the smoke someone says it is the engine oil that is burning. They check the oil and find nothing on the dipstick. The driver says there is nothing left in the motor and one of the conductors crawls under the truck and removes the drain plug. He comes out from under the truck covered in hot oil, leaving the rest of it running out on the ground. I guess he sees no need to replace the plug. He states there is still oil in the motor, but by the time we realize what he has done, all the oil has drained out.
Brother Stephen and I also look for the source of the problem and find it was not the oil, but rather diesel fuel leaking out on the exhaust pipe. For some unknown reason, other than the grace of God, it did not ignite and catch the truck on fire. They send someone back to the town we have just left, to buy oil.
Stephen decides we don’t need to ride on this truck any longer and we collect our bags and walk up the hill towards some houses. A young man named Nathaniel recognizes Stephen as he is a distant relative of Stephen’s wife, Sarah, and he lives close by. He takes us to a house nearby where we can set in the shade. He and Stephen go to look for a motor bike. Stephen wants to arrange for us to leave early in the morning as he says it is too dangerous to ride on a motor bike on this road after dark.
His friend arranges for us to spend the night at the house beside the road and we put our luggage in the room designated for us. Stephen hears a motor bike coming and they go out to talk to them. At the same time there is a truck passing that is also going towards Buchanan. Stephen stops him and asks for ride and the driver agrees to take us. We load up and two hours later we are setting in front of Sister Ettas’ Super Market in Buchanan. We call her and she picks us up at 10:45 PM.
Etta awakens Jannet, one of the children from Hope Restoration Youth Home, who is staying with her and she prepares supper for us as we visit past midnight before going to bed.
Sunday morning we are surprised by twenty of the children from Hope who have walked more than five miles to Buchanan to go to church. After joyous greetings, we walk a mile to church. Priest Artus teaches class and then Pastor Wilfred Myers presides over the worship service, with Elder Prince Gohlanda, from Gardours Town RB, and President of District A, bringing a very inspiring message to the saints. Afterwards, we visit some of the Buchanan Saints before returning to Etta’s home. Throughout the afternoon we spend time with the youth from Hope.
The next few days are spent in assessing the needs at HRYH. We have sixty-four children living on campus, with some of the staff. The children attend school daily and are taught not only academics, but a bible based religion class by one of our teachers, with Elder Wilfred Myers visiting the home on a regular basis to teach the Restored Gospel. The children are very gifted in singing as well as scripture memorization. Over forty of these children are baptized members of our Church and are a mission of Buchanan Restoration Branch.
While in Buchanan I see a member of the Zoewulum Restoration Branch, Elder Isaac Lorblah. We visit about his branch and their needs and arrangements are made to send two priesthood to Zoewulum to visit them and begin preparations for the National Conference scheduled to be held there sometime in January. Brother Stephen suggests sending Buchanan priesthood because of our time constraints as we have lost precious time traveling from Sinoe County. The road to Zoewulum is impassable by car so our only option this time of year is a twelve hour motor bike ride, one way.
Saturday Stephen and I make preparations to return to Monrovia. Monrovia has two branches; Pipeline Branch, which has moved from the Pipeline community and now meets in Wayne's Town, a new community in the Monrovia suburb of Paynesville, under the leadership of Elder Darlington Beh and Soul Clinic Branch, located in the Soul Clinic community also in Paynesville.
On Sunday we visit the Pipeline Branch where I am asked to teach the adult class. Several people attending are non-members and are in pre baptismal class. I teach a class on the twelve steps of establishing a Covenant. Brother Darlington asks if I will bring the message for the day and I speak about the Mysteries of the Kingdom, and why Christ used parables to create these mysteries. After visiting with the Pipeline Branch, we find some non-active members, bringing some encouragement to them, sharing testimonies and classes.
Sunday night several members gather at Stephen and Sarah Gardee’s home where I share several classes. Many ask about what is happening within the Church and I have the opportunity to share about the General Conference. Questions are asked about the Church being set in order. What does the future hold for the Church? Someone asks about the growth of the Church in America and other parts of the world. There is a great desire among these people to feel connected to others within the Church and to feel they are a part of Gods great plan in this Latter Day.
Monday morning I am surprised with a visit from Semion Kaiyea; a young man who has endured many struggles in life. He has suffered with two hip surgeries and is able to move about, but not without difficulty, walking with the assistance of a cane. He is attending school and has a small business to help support himself. He has certainly changed from the weak boy who came to America on a medical visa--who had nearly given up, because of his disease and pain--to a vibrant young man full of life.
By noon I say my good-byes with mixed emotions, leaving my brothers and sisters behind, as opposed to the anticipation of seeing my family again. We load into the car and head for the airport 40 km away.
Seventy Doug Patterson