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City Church

Reflecting God's love in Bethlehem!

Destination: Liberia 2018

ECCOL-49th Conference
Pastor Rick is once again heading to Liberia, Africa to participate in the 49th Annual Conference of the EC Church of Liberia (ECCOL)!  He is accompanying Rev. Randy Sizemore who heads the Global Ministries Community of the EC Church.  As possible, updates will be posted here of the January 18-29th trip as it unfolds!


From Liberia – The internet connection is not very good so I’ll try to post but can’t guarantee how fast!

Day 0 – Traveling to Liberia… Well, Randy Sizemore and I made it to Africa safely (exhausted after over 30 hours of travel between leaving the house to go to Newark and finally arriving at hotel in Liberia). Tomorrow’s schedule includes morning travel to St Paul’s EC Christian school, then a “Welcoming Service” at the conference site for Randy and me.
On the plane in Newark –

Made it to our first stop, Brussels Belgium!


Having “breakfast” in Brussel… Nutella-filled muffins & coffee! Yum!

Rev. G. Abraham Powell (bishop of the Evangelical Congregational Church of Liberia) picking us up at the airport.


Day 1 –
Well, we’re back at the hotel after a hot day but GREAT visit with St Paul’s EC Christian School, one of 4 schools in the E.C. School System. The kids and staff came in today to give Randy and me a special welcome program. They did lots of singing, performed a skit, and gave us a tour of both their current school and the new one being built. There are about 60 students in the school. As the pictures reveal, the current school is very different from schools in the USA! And teachers here get the equivalent of about $40 per month! Pastor Rick had the opportunity at this gathering to inform them that Bethlehem Christian School has excitedly agreed to begin some type of friendship program with St Paul’s. Looking forward to working that out!
Lunch, at a small restaurant in Monrovia, was an interesting (& filling) rice and fish lunch! That was followed by a drive-through tour of Monrovia (the capital) and surrounding areas. Tomorrow, we’ll have a somewhat “light” schedule with some meetings in the morning, then a visit to the conference site and maybe an opening service.

Morning on the St Paul’s River… a local transports sand in his canoe to a downstream construction site.

On our arrival at St Paul’s EC Christian School, some of the children met us with a song and flowers…

Inside the church on the grounds of the school…

Some of the girls waiting for the service to begin…

Rev. Powell addressing Randy & Rick…

Inside one of the classrooms for the existing school…

Foundation is laid for a new school…

A picture with some of the school’s children…

Pastor Rick announces that Bethlehem Christian School (BCS) has enthusiastically agreed to become a “long-distance friend” to the Liberian school! Here, Pastor Rick presents a photo collage and info packet of BCS to Rev. Abraham…


Day 2 –
The day started with a long morning of discussions over a variety of issues and needs within the denomination that included length of tenure for the bishop, ideas for how they could handle a difficult leadership situation, and the pastoral training program I’m helping them develop. After lunch, we headed to the conference site for a “welcoming” service. Tomorrow opens the official conference proceedings. Btw… I was given an African name! (Randy shared that it’s not given lightly and is a huge honor)… tomorrow’s the official ceremony so, stay tuned!

Some very sad news to share here as well… on the way to the conference site, Abraham got a call that the wife of the denomination’s treasurer (Henry Davis) had just passed away! In addition to being an officer for the ECCOL, Henry is Abraham’s brother. Our hearts are heavy and our prayers are lifted up to God on behalf of Henry and his family. Konah Davis was well loved by all in the church and this will be hard news both to share and to hear. Henry has 4 children, 2 of which are still at home. Please keep Henry and his family in your prayers.

The conference is in the new church building (on the right) of Trinity EC Church in Bomi County, Liberia. When we were here in 2016, that was just a cement pad!

Rev. G. Abraham Powell giving his welcoming comments…

It’s very strange to be driving in Africa and see your picture on the side of the road!

The path to the church where the conference is being held.


Day 3 –
Just finished our first actual day at the 49th annual conference of the EC Church of Liberia! It started late due to circumstances related to Konah Davis’ death (mentioned above) but went well. Rev. Powell gave the sad news (which many had already heard) and there was crying and sadness that quickly turned to rejoicing in the God whom she loved!

This was a hot, “full-suit” day. In other words, typical for Liberia!  We had a parade from the local town to the host church site. There, we dedicated the new building to the glory of God. From there, we moved into the building for lots of music, preaching, dancing, and offerings. Abraham preached a great opening message on renewing your mind from Romans 12:1-2. This is the theme passage. Finally, there was the formal ceremony to give me my African name in which they recalled the many ways I had blessed the Liberian church and thus, the explanation of the name:  Mana!  It’s Bassa for “blessing” and is pronounced as a single syllable similar to: “Mla”  Tomorrow is Randy’s day to preach & teach so you can pray for him.  I’m fighting a cold but, not too successfully… I’m losing!

Lining up in town to start the parade to the church…

The parade is underway…



Dedication of the new church building…

Rev Powell gives a GREAT opening address on “Renewing you mind” from Romans 12:1-2. There was then a great response to his by an altar call…
  
The formal announcement of my African name, Mana (Pronounced “Mla”)…

Sharing pictures of my wife, family, and Emmanuel with Rev Powell’s wife, Olive…


Day 4 –
Conference was very good today! Randy preached 2 GREAT messages, one in the morning on being holy and not conformed to the world and a second in the afternoon from 3 John on leading in humility and love.  All the sessions are full of dancing and music, African style!!!  Rev. Abraham was unable to be on-site due to helping his brother Henry with funeral arrangements but his leadership team did well in his absence.  Tomorrow (Weds) will be a lot of business items, including reports by each of the pastors from the various churches.  Looking forward to that! Thursday I speak in the afternoon session, then again for both the morning and afternoon sessions on Friday.  Unfortunately, it seems I caught a cold on the trip here and it’s now in full swing!  Hand sanitizer is my friend for the good of everyone! The morning began hot and hazy but the haze quickly burnt away leaving only the heat! (Ha! – So I’m dealing with both a cold and heat!)  The Liberian people are so warm and embracing, it’s like being with family! What a great example of the love God desires to abide in the midst of His people!

Early morning on the St Paul’s River in Liberia. This canoe is returning back upstream after delivering a load of sand. It was MUCH LOWER in the water on the downstream trip!

Randy Sizemore preaching on Romans 12:1-2, living as a holy sacrifice!

The African women’s choir (the United Choir Association) sings in the Bassa language (as opposed to their English choir).

One of the conference ushers! The Liberian women love bright, bold colors and bring their best to the event.

Pastor Rick in deep discussion with Pastor Theophilus Dayan Autridge from Ghana while on break.

Looking out the window on the trip back to the hotel. This is typical “scenery.”

 


Day 5-

Just got back from a very long but so uplifting day at conference!  To God be the glory! Surely the Liberian EC church has entered a new era in its spiritual growth and the work of the Holy Spirit is evident. The hand of God is clearly upon Rev Abraham Powell as he seeks to lead this struggling church into all God desires for it. Today was all business and began with Abraham giving his report to the membership at large of the accomplishments they’ve been able to make over the past 2 years!  So much has been accomplished in these last 2 years that it’s clear that they have begun anew.  I’m reminded of God’s call to Joshua… “Moses my servant is dead, now you therefore, arise and take these people into all I have promised.” God is faithful and still works in and through those who walk in loving obedience to Him.

At mid-day, 2 women from the host church (Trinity EC) cooked lunch for all the leadership in appreciation for completion of the new building! This was no small task!  Yet, they set a feast before us that was such a blessing… and very filling!

After lunch, the leaders and pastors of the 4 districts within the denomination presented their reports.  This was as informative for us as it was training for them.  The reporting structure was new and detailed and each district had to read their entire report.  (Remember, this is a oral culture.)  Rev Powell used this to time to correct and redirect their reporting efforts and essentially laid out some clear direction for the denomination.  Rev Powell graciously dismissed Randy and I so we could get back to the hotel rest up for tomorrow.  The trip to/from the conference site is over an hour so we finally got back to the hotel around 8:40 pm.  Long but awesome day!


Day 6 –

Today was United Choir Association (UCA) day at conference which meant MORE singing and dancing than we’ve had in sessions so far!  Before that though, we had the opportunity to meet with all those who have participated in the various training programs Rev Powell has introduced in the past 2 years.  This included pastors and church leaders in the quarterly leadership training programs and those in the Bassa literacy program.  The pastors/leaders were so appreciative of the training to-date and felt it was increasing the quality of ministry in the denomination such that Liberians in other churches have even noticed.  One of the core themes they’ve learned was “servant leadership” and repeatedly shared how Rev Powell was not just speaking it but living it.  The Bassa literacy students showed us their introductory Bassa Bibles and shared some of the lessons they had learned.  They were so excited about all they were learning.  One gentleman shared how excited he was to be able to write his own name! It all was so uplifting! The morning session opened with lots music and dancing before Pastor Theo from Ghana shared a great message on renewing your mind from the story of the prodigal son.  Over lunch, the ECCOL presented Randy and me with our “very special shirts” that were made especially for us to wear so that we could participate in this “pink & blue color day!”  Not the typical shirts we’d wear in the US but, in ministry, you become all things to all people! What a privilege to be embraced in such manner!  We then led the 2nd parade of the week to the church in celebration of UCA day to begin the second session.  That again included even more non-stop music and dancing for a few hours before a number of gifts of appreciation were presented to their various leaders. The renewed love and unity of the denomination are evident! (Just to note, I tried to participate in the African dancing… it wasn’t very pretty!)  This all put my afternoon message very late into the day but any concerns I had about being able to make an impact were quickly dismissed as God’s anointing took over and I shared my message magnifying God in our lives from the story of David & Goliath.  Our brothers and sisters in the ECCOL received it well and were “blessed!” To God be the glory!

Students in the Bassa literacy class show us their study materials…
  
Special shirts made especially for us to celebrate “pink-and-blue color day!”

Prayer before the message.

Rick having some fun with Abraham… He’s looking pretty “Liberian!”… same height, same shirt, same shape!

In addition to their fondness of brightly-colored clothes, Liberian women like to weave their hair!

Brother & sister!

African sunset (thru car window)!


Day 7 –

Our day got off to an interesting start when our vehicle broke down half-way to the conference.  Here they have a saying, “This too is Liberia!”  Yet, another aspect of that statement was demonstrated when, within minutes, a truck of Liberian men passing by — stopped to help! “This too is Liberia!!” Not only that but, the conference treasurer, Henry (who had just lost his wife), came by shortly after and provided a ride to the conference!  “This too is our GOD!” One of the first things we did once we arrive (and after music and dance) was Rev Powell and Randy dedicated the new baptimal tank at the church.  Rick preached a message from the story of Mary pouring out her oil upon Jesus on the cost of being a living sacrifice. Others saw only the waste as Mary poured out that which represented her devotion.  After lunch, we had the priviledge of participating in the wedding of a couple who had been married only in the African tradition and wanted now to be married as Christians (with rings!).  It was nearly time for Rick to preach a second message of the day when Abraham made a request for me to preach something about the wedding.  OKAY THEN!  God was faithful and a message came forth by the Spirit that tied together our responsibility both within the church and the family to walk in a manner worthy of our calling. When we live in mutual submission to each other, love grows and God’s will and character is demonstrated!  The last activity of the day was a meeting of the national council to share some perspectives from the Global Ministries (GMC) on questions they had raised earlier in the week and to announce conference appointment for the coming year.  Once again, we saw in this gathering the renewing work of God in all that happened!  We got back to our hotel late, in time for a quick bite (around 10 pm) before getting to bed.  Tomorrow is “Sports Day!”  We’re wonder what that’s about and… what does God have in store for us???

 







Day 8 – “Sports Day”

“Sports Day” at conference each year usually involves a number of “football” (soccer) matches throughout the day. However, this year Rev Powell wanted to give the attenders a new experience and made arrangements for inflatable attractions to be brought in.  This was a NEW EXPERIENCE for everyone and became a huge hit, even with the adults!  We arrived to the town outside the host church as the conference attenders were lining up for another parade down the main street to the conference site.  Randy and I were given imprinted t-shirts to wear for the event and, while Randy’s mostly fit, mine (being sized for a medium-sized child and me, being, well… let’s just say far beyond any such thing) was overly tight in every way possible.  But, our Liberian brothers and sisters are worth our short-term discomfort so, we donned our “parade uniforms” and marched at the front! As we reached the conference site, workers were busy setting up the inflatables.  The place was abuzz with excitement and once things were ready, Abraham, Randy & Rick led the way to the top of the first inflatable and cast ourselves down the slide. That launched a half-day of fun and stress-relief for all those that had worked so hard, not just this week but all year.  Later, a small contingent of the leadership took Randy and I to Blue Lake, an abandoned ore quarry that has become a local attraction. Very pretty blueish water! Upon return, we shared a traditional Liberian lunch that included foo-foo and a stew of beef and fish.  This being our last night in Liberia, we were able to end our day at the site early to return to the hotel to begin packing. Our trip home beings tomorrow night! Before that though, we’ll have our earliest start to the week with a baptism service scheduled for 6 am tomorrow followed by a special farewell for Randy given his tenure with the GMC ends in May. A communion service is scheduled for the afternoon in which Randy will be preaching.  (Please keep him in prayer as this will be a very emotion-packed day!)  If all goes as planned (UNLIKELY), we will exchange our sweat-covered suits for travel clothes somewhere between 4-5 pm, then head to the airport to begin the journey home!  To God be the glory for all He has done!


Blue Lake, created from an iron ore mine.

Randy digs into the foo-foo!

A traditional Liberian lunch!


Day 9 – Last Day (Quick update from Brussels airport)

Just a few minutes before our plane from Brussels to Newark begins boarding.  Sunday we had the tremendous priviledge to baptize 26 new believers!  To God be the glory!  These young people had been brought to Christ through multiple EC churches throughout Liberia and came to the conference to be baptized.  Awesome! The day also included a very special goodbye to Randy given this would be his last time visiting Liberia as the director fo GMC.  He was presented with a “Pastor’s shirt,” an engraved plaque and many expressions of thanks for his tremendous efforts on behalf of Liberia for the last 10 years.  GREAT JOB RANDY!  May the kingdom of God continue to bear fruit and grow in the years ahead through all your efforts!  Rick was also given a special Liberian shirt and words of thanks for his efforts on their behalf for the last 2 years. Randy then preached a final message from Romans 12 on the characteristics of living as living sacrifices and commended them for already living these out.  The day ended with communion which Rick and Abraham served.  Have to shut down now so, see you all soon!  Praise God for all He has done!  May His kingdom come and His will be done in Liberia and the world!

26 Baptismal candidates line up to be baptized…
  
           
Special recognition for Randy Sizemore for 10 years of faithful service to the ECCOL…
  
 
Abraham presents Rick a Liberian shirt to thank him for 2 years of ministry to the ECCOL
  
Randy shares his final message with the ECCOL from Romans 12
  
Praying over Rev Powell


Pastor Rick serving communion to conclude the conference

Rick teaches a hand game to boys from the local village

Women prepare gift bags for the kids

Liberian mother with her baby