Updates & pictures from Pastor Rick’s trip to the National Conference of the Evangelical Congregational Church of Liberia – ECCOL. (January/February 2016) Note: The timeline for the blog is newest (top) to oldest (bottom).
February 3rd – WEDNESDAY – Well, our visit with our Liberian brothers and sisters has come to its close. It has been a God-ordained appointment which may take years to fully comprehend all that He showed us and accomplished. I believe God allowed us to peer through a window to see something that is especially dear to His heart — one of His “treasures!” — that being, the unhindered, unencumbered worship of His children when flowing from hearts overflowing with devotion even when hands are empty. May we here in the US with so much in the way of worldly goods learn something from our brothers and sisters who have so little.
February 1st – MONDAY – Well, we got back to the hotel after “touring” Liberia for more than 5 hours today by car over what can only loosely be called roads (by US standards). The tour was to visit an outlying EC church. One of the 4 vehicles shuttling us broke down en route so we had to rearrange before continuing. We had to leave the driver there to wait for help. Later as were traveling, Randy Sizemore made a comment regarding the difficulty — to which the new bishop responded with a statement that pierced my heart: “This is how we live here. We struggle!” For me, that statement summarized much of what we had been seeing throughout this trip… overwhelming poverty everywhere as a way of life. Yet, these people WORSHIP God amidst it all!! The polar opposites in this place are hard to comprehend!! After the “tour” we went to the new Bishop’s home where his wife served us a traditional Liberian dinner. It consisted of a seafood soup, okra, rice, “fufu”, and other things. Fufu is a very doughy food made from cassava which accompanies many of their meals. It’s their starchy equivalent to our mashed potatoes but has no real taste on its own. (Think uncooked bread dough! It’s slightly cut off at the top of the picture.) This was a dinner of honor served to us by our gracious hosts! We then visited the home of the denomination treasurer before coming back to the hotel. It was a different type of long day but deposited some special things into my heart that will take a long time to fully process. Tomorrow we check out of the hotel before one last visit into Monrovia. Then, over to the airport by 7 pm for our 9:35 pm departure.
January 31st – SUNDAY – Today we met at the conference for the final time. Randy Sizemore preached a very good, challenging message on godly leadership from John 13 where Jesus washed the disciples feet. We then had the ordination of the new Bishop before sharing communion. Lots of final greetings were exchanged and pictures taken before we left the site. It’s so funny to see how often the Liberians like to photo bomb!! They love having their picture taken yet very often will NOT smile for the picture! They put on a serious face instead!! Tomorrow we’ll be meeting with some of the leadership and having lunch at the new Bishop’s home. It’s good to actually have an “early” night. But I know that we here on the field and the Emmanuel family there in PA have been used of God for the building of His kingdom here in Liberia!
January 30th – SATURDAY – It’s now 10:35 pm here in Liberia and it’s been another long, physically exhausting day but a God-filled one! The Conference got something of a slower start today as our Liberian brothers & sisters finally made their way to the church following a night of celebration! (Elected their new Bishop yesterday!) Carla Sizemore spoke in the afternoon with a focus toward the (mostly widows) “Mission Mothers.” That’s their intercessory group!! Her message was well received. Our team was taken to a late lunch during their “sports” time so, I didn’t have to pretend to know want to do on a soccer field!! We got back for the evening session at 6 pm and I had the opportunity to preach to the Youth (and others). It seemed I was able to engage everyone as I spoke — and they were pretty interactive through it as well. To God be all the glory! Thanks for the prayers!! May fruit be borne in their hearts to draw them unto Him through both messages given today! Tomorrow the conference closes. The service will include a message from Randy Sizemore followed by installation of the new Bishop. We’ll then share communion together.
January 29th – FRIDAY – It’s been a LONG day here in Liberia but God has been faithful! After 51 years of existence, the ECC-Liberia has just held their first ever election and voted for the Bishop who will lead them to becoming an independent “National Conference!” Voting started shortly after 4 pm and took 4 hours, followed by another 45 minutes or so of tallying before results were ready. It was pretty draining on us all but by God’s grace, it was completed! There was one moment of high tension and we weren’t sure if we’d be able to continue but the pressure subsided and the election moved forward. When the results were announced, there was MASSIVE praise & rejoicing!! The Liberians are a passionate people and that came out both in the tension & the praise! So, we got back to our rooms exhausted but with rejoicing in our hearts for all God had done!!
January 28th – THURSDAY – It was good day at the conference with much more celebration than the earlier part of the week. This was by design to prepare for tomorrow’s election of their new Bishop. Please keep the ECC-LIBERIA in prayer that the unity which was won yesterday continues to permeate the gathering. Also, that God’s will be accomplished in tomorrow’s vote. Carla Sizemore spoke today from Psalm 63 and was well received. The Liberian women adore “Mother Carla” (as they call her) and showered her with gifts & love. Today was also their “Unified Choir” day where members from all their choirs merged into 1 to lead worship in song & dance. They opened the day with a mini-parade in which we (US delegation) were placed at the front. Randy Sizemore, Ralph Owens & I were each presented with a sash from the unified choir. Our involvement in the day ended after a brief discussion on logistics for tomorrow’s voting.
January 27th – WEDNESDAY – Well, God did some amazing things in the ECC-Liberia today!!! Some things that the enemy could (& WAS) using against the church presented themselves & a special leadership meeting was held to deal with it. The US team, specifically Randy Sizemore, was asked to intervene and did… He demonstrated the humility of God through a foot-washing service. It was POWERFUL!! Hearts broke and healing flowed. Forgiveness was asked for and received and what the enemy desired to use for evil, God redeemed for good!!!!!! The result caused our African brothers & sisters in the larger congregation to break out into overwhelming praise & dancing! Wow!! What an awesome & humbling experience. Please be in prayer that they continue in the peace, unity and love God has provided. To Him be all the glory!! Other random happenings include: Ralph Owens spoke today. Tomorrow Randy’s wife Carla speaks. The ladies presented us all with Liberian garb to wear on Friday. (Mine looks like a tent on me!) A couple times thru the day, our Liberian sisters dance & sang blessings over all of us all! That was pretty special.
January 26th – TUESDAY – Ministry & service today was awesome — AND HOT!!!! This was the first full day of the conference and the presence of God filled the gathering! The meeting room holds about 200 (my guess) so those in attendance are doing a bit of swapping in/out. We got there around 11:45 am and were home around 6 pm. Randy Sizemore had a great message on 1 Cor 12: One Body, Many Members. The ECC-Lib’s outgoing Bishop (Matthew Gueh) noticed my interactions yesterday with the village kids and purchased several bags of candy for me to pass out!! It was like Christmas, with some kids being completely delighted while others screamed in fear!! Oh well! It’s been a “God” day!
January 25th – MONDAY – The annual conference of the ECC-Liberia opened this evening with a brief, end-of-day service. It was a long, hot but fruitful day. The conference location (Robert Lorah Church in Kro’s Town, Number One Compound, Grand Bassa County) is about a 2.5-3 hour round trip from our hotel on some precarious roads! At one place, we crossed a creek on a “log bridge” to continue down the dirt road. The tone of the conference is not your typical “meeting” – Instead, it’s more like a camp meeting being in an African village! There were about 150-180 people in attendance this first evening but the expectation is that this should grow to between 400-500 as the week unfolds. Many of those in attendance have traveled for days to be here! There are a TON of kids in this village, perhaps as many as 50. What fun it was to interact with them!!!!!
January 24th – SUNDAY – Our ministry amongst our brothers & sisters in the ECC-Liberia formally opened today with a celebration of Rev. Matthew Gueh’s retirement as Bishop following 17 years of faithful ministry. The church gathered for a service which also included the dedication of a 4-wheel-drive truck which Emmanuel (and many others) helped to purchase. Worshiping with our African family can only be described as “overwhelming joy!” What an awesome experience — to see those with very little in the way of material goods yet OVERFLOWING with unrestrained worship unto our God brought me to tears! What a privilege to be here! Following the service, we joined with many of our brothers & sisters at a party held in Rev. Gueh’s honor. In everything, Jesus Christ was lifted up! To Him be all the honor and glory forever!
January 23rd – SATURDAY – Last night and today provided some “settling-in” time which included introductions between the US team and the Liberian leadership and allowed for a little touring in the community surrounding our hotel. We’re definitely “not in Kansas anymore!” Some of the sights we experienced included people getting their water with buckets from wells, laborers mixing and forming cinder-blocks by hand, manually cracking rocks with hammers to make gravel, and roads made only of dirt. Oh Father, pour out of your heavenly riches upon this people! By the way, there’s no hint here of the over 31 inches of snow our Emmanuel family back in PA is dealing with!
January 21st – THURSDAY – Pastor Rick’s journey to West Africa begins at JFK airport. Keep him and the team (Pastor Ralph Owens, Pastor Randy Sizemore and wife Carla) in prayer for their safety and for God to be glorified in everything as they minister in His name.