Spending a week in Africa as an American is somewhat like spending a week on a different planet. The heat and humidity hit you the moment that you step off the plane and the adventure begins. I am not sure if it was the forced technology fast or the lack of any traffic lights in a metropolitan area that was more disconcerting. In any case, life as I knew it was not the same and I enjoyed my time in Africa more than I thought possible, especially given my aversion to “strange” foods. It didn’t hurt that the Liberian diet is largely based on rice which is one of my favorite things to eat.
What a difference four years makes in a country recovering from a devastating civil war. My first trip to Liberia was in 2008 and even though peace had returned after the election of Africa’s first women president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the infrastructure of the country was in bad shape.
This time around, significant improvements and much growth and development had taken place. Most of the key roads in the capital city of Monrovia had been paved thanks to the Chinese. Many people in the downtown area have access to electricity and running water again and garbage that used to be piled high in the streets had been picked up. One of the biggest things that I noticed on this trip was the return of Liberians from all over the world. Our plane from Ghana was packed and not just with aid workers and missionaries. So much Christian NGO (non governmental organization) work is now taking place that housing for these workers is becoming scarce and much more expensive.
One thing that has not changed is the desperate need for Christian books and Bibles at affordable prices. Every lay person or pastor that we spoke with was excited about the return of CLC after 15 years and strongly encouraged us to make Bibles our first priority. Interestingly, there were more requests for the NIV and NKJV versions of the Bible than we had expected. This was especially surprising given the strong loyalty to the KJV in the past and the fact that it is the primary text being used from the pulpit in many congregations and for personal scripture memorization. Over and over we heard the need for books to enable non-seminary trained pastors to understand the Bible and prepare sermons.
The warmth and regularity of the sun in February reminded me of my childhood growing up in the West Indies. This, coupled with the incredibly warm reception we got from the people of Liberia made it a week I will not soon forget. Many key pastors and leaders agreed to meet with us on relatively short notice and some were even added to our schedule after we arrived. It was a beautiful thing to see the passion of people from various denominations determined to work together with us to re-establish a Christian literature lighthouse in this country that is now rapidly rising from the ashes of war.
As we were preparing to leave at the end of the week, we were invited to attend worship in a typical Liberian church on Sunday. Not unexpectedly, I was asked to speak, but much to my surprise, I was also asked to preach. This gave new meaning to the scriptural admonition to be prepared to preach the word “in season and out”. I knew that I might be out of my depth when they introduced me as the Reverend David Almack, the pastor of New Life Presbyterian Church (I am not an ordained pastor and certainly not the pastor of my local church) and this feeling was not helped any when I realized that a number of people in the congregation might not really understand what I was saying in my American accent. Regardless of my discomfort, I thoroughly enjoyed worshiping with my Liberian brothers and sisters and hearing them sing in the Kisii language and play instruments that are indigenous to this part of Africa. Leaving Africa this time, I felt like I left a piece of my heart with these brave people who are working to restore what the locust has eaten.