Restoring True Freedom in Liberia

By   •   February 24, 2011   •   Topics:

Founded by freed American and Caribbean slaves, Liberia is mostly made up of indigenous Africans, with the slaves’ descendants comprising 5 percent of the population.

The West African nation was relatively calm until 1980 when William Tolbert was overthrown by Sergeant Samuel Doe after food price riots. The coup marked the end of dominance by the minority Americo-Liberians, who had ruled since independence, but heralded a period of instability.

Civil war in the 1990s killed about an estimated 220,000 to 235,000 people and uprooted half of the survivors. One million refugees left the country, and hundreds of thousands fled to the capital city of Monrovia, where many lived in abandoned buildings or filthy and overcrowded camps.

According to the U.S. State Department, Liberia is still recovering from the ravages of war; pipe-borne water and electricity are generally unavailable to most of the population, especially outside Monrovia, and schools, hospitals, roads, and infrastructure remain “derelict.”

“Unless you’ve been there,” says Franklin Graham, “it’s difficult to understand how much Africans have suffered from war, disease, famine and poverty. And only then do you appreciate how the Church stands out as a source of help and of hope.”

In the dozens of trips he has made to Africa, Graham says he has “never ceased to be amazed by the faith of African Christians. They expect miracles and often see them. Their joy in worship would put most of us to shame.”

A Burden for Unity

Tom Phillips, BGEA’s Vice President of Crusades, would agree. During his visits to Liberia in preparation for the Festival, he has witnessed “phenomenal times of worship.” Yet the pastors of many churches are stretched thin by limited resources. “They’re so weary,” says Phillips. “This is a very difficult place to work; prayer is paramount.”

But, he adds, the growing unity sparked by the Festival is renewing hope in the hearts of the pastors. Currently, 500 to 600 churches are working together in preparation for upcoming events. “We’ve been impressed with the heart of the people,” says Phillips. “It’s been wonderful to see the kind of cooperation we’ve had.”

He explains that the vision for the All Liberia Life Festival was the burden of several people who recognized the need for unity. “They saw they needed to bring the churches together,” says Phillips. “They needed to do something to catalytically touch their country with the Gospel.”

Included in that group are Bishop Harris of the Philadelphia Church Ministries International; Christine Tolbert Norman; and Kendall Kauffeldt, the national director for Samaritan’s Purse in Liberia. “Christine has been the spark plug and the catalyst for the Festival,” Phillips says. Her father was the Liberian president—Pastor Tolbert—who was assassinated by Samuel Doe in 1980.

And it was Kauffeldt who contacted Phillips and said, “We believe the time is ripe. We at Samaritan’s Purse will do everything we can to assist if BGEA would feel that this is of the Lord.”

Since the end of the war, Samaritan’s Purse has established sanitation and feeding programs, built churches, trained pastors, and provided ministry to victims of violence, among other programs in Liberia.

“We are seriously praying and would evoke all to be praying for the Festival,” says Kauffeldt. “It is such a huge undertaking. This Festival will be the start of a new day in Liberia, I really pray so.”

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A Mile Wide and Inch Deep

Joni Byker, a communications director who worked along side Kauffeldt in Liberia for four years, says she has witnessed his passion for this Festival and also a growing excitement across the nation. “We’ve been looking forward to this for a long time,” she says. “The reality is starting to hit everyone—the possibilities that could happen.”

Byker has seen that pastors are “so hungry for any training they can get. They want to learn and to grow in their understanding of the Word.” She also knows a little about the state of the church in Liberia. Last year Samaritan’s Purse did an impact assessment of the past five years of programming. They wanted to determine the healthiness of the church in Liberia.

“One way we measured that was by their understanding of salvation,” says Byker. “Through our impact assessment, 70 percent of the people they talked to said they are involved in the church in some way, but only 22 percent of those people actually understood the meaning of salvation.

“It’s a very common phrase to say that the Liberian church is a mile wide but only an inch deep,” Byker adds.

“The common understanding is that if you are not Muslim, you are a Christian, no matter what. On top of that, you have African traditional religions, including witchcraft and secret societies, outside of and inside the churches.”

The pastors recognize that regarding the growth of secret societies, it is time to “come together and go deeper in order to win souls for Christ,” Byker adds. “This Festival comes at a critical time for the church because people are looking for truth.”

A Sparkling Light

Phillips estimates throughout Liberia, 82 percent of the population would say they are Christian, 12 percent would say that they are Islamic, and 4 percent would say that they follow a native religion. Of the Christian group, he adds, approximately 40 percent mix their faith with tribal religions. “So syncretism is dug in fairly deeply.”

The name, All Liberia Life Festival, means that pastors want to reach their entire nation. There are four different locations for the Festival. Monrovia is the largest–it’s the last one–March 25-27. Foya in the north–is March 4-5; Zwedru is on March 8-9, and Ganta in the south is March 11-12.

“These are rural villages,” Phillips explains. “It’s where two dirt roads cross a field. R.V. Brown, a BGEA associate evangelist who is phenomenal proclaimer of the Gospel, went over and spoke to about 3900 people in 13 locations and saw a 59 percent response. He will be the preacher in the rural locations.

“Only God knows how many people will come to Christ because R.V. is unapologetic about his faith in the Lord,” says Phillips. “He has a marvelous way of giving an invitation.”

No one has undertaken an evangelistic effort of any magnitude since the civil war, says Phillips. “I believe this is going to be a breakthrough. I believe the Lord will use this and will spur young evangelists to go all over the nation preaching the Gospel. I think more than we could ever ask or think is going to come from this Festival.

“It is a challenge,” he points out, “but if no one stepped up to the challenge, this opportunity to make a beach head for the Gospel in Africa simply would not occur. We see this country as a base for reaching Africa with the Gospel.”

WATCH THE FESTIVAL WEBCAST: Join us on March 29 to see and hear Franklin Graham’s message, music and other highlights from the All Liberia Life Festival. Stay tuned for details.


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2 Comments

  1. BGEA Web Editor says:

    Hi Annette — I would love to speak with you about your experience in Liberia. Would you be willing to contact me? I don't have your email address. Mine is jchismar@bgea.org. Thank you!

  2. Annette says:

    I am hugging this event in prayer, as it is my homeland. I am following you as events lead up to the Life Festival in Liberia. I just watched the clip of Billy Graham in Liberia. I saw my parents who were a part of his welcome at the airport. I remember that so well. We were neighbors to the Jones family. Love what God is doing in Liberia!