Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Matthew in Liberia

"I have a burden for mission work in Africa!" On January 22 a young man from Chassel, Michigan wrote to the Foreign Mission about his interest in the upcoming mission trip to West Africa. His statement was simple and convincing. A short eleven weeks later we met Matthew Niemela face to face at the airport in Accra, Ghana where we boarded a flight together with Pastor Frank Famiyeh of Ghana to Monrovia, Liberia. Matthew's trip preparations were at times hectic, he says, and even a bit hair-raising (he got his passport back with the necessary visas in it just a day before departure) but his solid determination to go to Africa on a mission trip never wavered.

Liberia's capital city of Monrovia, which had been devastated by civil war only a few years back, provided the first impressions of Africa for Matthew. These impressions took a deeper turn, I'm sure, the next day when we drove 12 hours across the country on a bumpy dusty mostly gravel road all the way to the eastern Liberian town of Zwedru - a town that had been completely wiped out by the war at that time.

We enjoyed the wonderful hospitality of our brothers and sisters in Zwedru for two days before we headed out to our final destination of Ziah Town on the Ivory Coast border. We travelled in a van intended for 15 and packed with 25 (four on the roof baggage rack) on a narrow jungle road that in many places did not appear passable at all. Actually it took us four and a half hours to cover those 55 km - but it didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the congregation members aboard who sang non-stop the whole way at full volume.

Matthew rode ahead of the van with brother Christian Bowah on his motorbike. I could just see him oh-ing and ah-ing at the lush vegetations, hornbills flying overhead and enjoying all the scents and sounds of a tropical forest as they puttered along. Of course I took a picture of them at the nicest part of the road but you will just have to imagine all the ruts and gullies and "lakes" we manoeuvred laboriously through and around along the way.

A rest stop in a village along the way. Shortly after we started again from here a back spring busted on the van. At the next village about half of the passengers had to get out to ease the load and wait for the driver to come back and get them later. They finally all made it by 2:00 a.m.

Matthew took to Ziah Town, in all its primitive simplicity, like a fish to water. He loved the children - singing with them, playing with them and coming especially close to this little tyke.. Wherever he went he was in the middle of the action and made friends at every simple abode he stopped at. God truly blessed this young man with the personal and social skills that any aspiring young missionary would benefit from.

The main focus of our week in Ziah Town was the conducting of the seminar in the local church for the area pastors and church workers. At one point they decided to honour us with the presentation of a goat which was then slaughtered and prepared for a feast the next day (although we wondered at the size of the goat compared with the size of the hungry appetites).

By Saturday afternoon the six days (!) of the seminar had been completed and everyone got their certificates of attendance - a very important practice in Africa. The seminar, although the longest I have taught, was truly blessed and I think we all felt that God had been true to His Word and promises. In addition to the seminar which was held during the days, four evenings were set apart for a crusade, too, which reached out to everyone in the community. While it might have appealed more to the young, people of all ages participated and it was very well attended and blessed, too, I feel.

One night before I spoke, Matthew and I sang two songs, The second one "There is Power in the Blood", really went home with the crowd of about 500 people and they sang along enthusiastically on the chorus. After I spoke we sang "Amazing Grace" in harmony.. You could really tell how appreciated the message and the songs were. Throughout the week Matthew took an active role in both saying the prayers, holding short witnesses and in singing. He definitely has a clear understanding of Scripture and for singing a strong baritone voice.

Yes, Matthew loved the tropical forest. I can still see him walking through it's lush greenery exclaiming in real awe, "Beautiful.....just beautiful!" Here with Christian Bowah from Zwedru on the day he was installed as an evangelist of the Apostolic Lutheran Church of Liberia.
Before our return journey from Ziah Town to Zwedru the old van broke down completely so a little caravan of motorbikes was arranged to carry us and our luggage back.We had to get to Monrovia in time to catch our flight. a couple days later. Matthew and I rode with Christian on his bike. The trip would only have taken about two hours on the bike but Christian had a flat tire and had to repair it which took the better part of an hour.

Matthew Niemela, "I have a burden for mission work in Africa!" Indeed he does!

P.S. Cape Coast Castle. Through this ignominious fortress passed over 4 million slaves, living and dead, on their way to plantations in the Americas during the years 1640 to 1840. Since Matthew had a layover of a few hours in Ghana on our return from Liberia we decided to visit this castle on the southwest coast, one of the most famous places in Ghana, The tallest part of the building behind Matthew and me is the English Church. There the keepers of the castle sang praises to God while up to 1000 slaves at a time languished in indescribable filth and suffering in dark dungeon rooms just below them!!!

We visited the dungeons and tunnels and "Door of No Return" through which uncounted chained slaves, women and girls, men and boys, went out to the waiting ships and an even more frightening and humiliating trip to the New World. For almost 300 years over 200 million human beings from Africa were "possessed" and traded like cattle providing riches and wealth for uncountable merchants. Oh the depth of man's inhumanity to man. A sobering conclusion to Matthew's "African adventure" I'm sure. No wonder Apostle Paul complains, "Oh, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? Praise God there is still that wonderful hope and promise, like he says, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

Matthew has returned safely home to Michigan.

I do want to say that I have fully recovered from my bout with food poisoning and am in good health once more. The first days in Liberia I felt kind of weak but my strength returned and the seminar went well. This week I am spending several days of rest and relaxation here in the clean, calm and up-beat city of Accra, Ghana. I will return to Finland on May 7th. .

May the riches of God's love and peace be with each one of you!


1 comment:

MERCY said...