The New Jersey event turned out to be much more than a book signing. It began as a reunion of three long-time friends. When I arrived at Liberty International Airport in Newark, my boyhood friend, Robert Saydee, came with our mutual friend, Rev. Luther Tarpeh, to pick me up. Brother Luther is the Director of Pillar Of Fire ministries in Liberia, and was recently invited by Congress to represent our nation at the congressional Prayer Breakfast in Washington.
The three of us (Saydee, Luther, and I) attended Oceanview Christian School (formerly Pillar Of Fire) located at Po River in Rivercess County, Liberia. In fact, I was actually Luther's first grade teacher! How fulfilling that this young man has become one of Liberia's top spiritual leaders! Imagine the conversations that sparked as we drove by to Saydee's residence. It was after 2 AM when Saydee and I reluctantly said good night, and went to bed.
On Saturday, around 7 PM Eastern, the Missions Conference on Liberia began, with Jeff Olszyk, the Missions Director for Pillar Of Fire International, as facilitator. Jeff introduced the conference, then Robert Saydee, who made remarks about the work in Liberia, before turning things over to Gordon Tanner, who has been on mission trips to Liberia six times already, and will be on the mission team that leaves on February 16, 2012. Mr. Tanner showed PowerPoint slides of the school facilities being built in Buchanan, Liberia, as well other related aspects of the work there.
Brother Luther spoke on the impact of mission work on Liberian youth, citing the three Liberians in attendance as proof of how the generosity of the Pillar Of Fire people have transformed the lives of hundreds of Liberians over the decades. He also mentioned the ten previous times the American Embassy had denied his application for visa to travel to the US.
Later, Pastor Rob Cruver, of Zarephath Christian Center, the 3,000-strong congregation located on the Pillar Of Fire campus, shared information about mosquito-repellant garments ideal for those going on mission trips to countries in Africa.
For my part, after expressing gratitude for how God used Pillar Of Fire missionaries to transform our lives, I used four letters (CSES – Connections, Salvation, Education and Suffering) to sum up four points that turned Refugee Was My Name, a war diary/journal into a published book.
Following the talk interspersed with brief Q&A sections, I took my stand behind the table with copies of the book spread out. Attendees began buying books, making payments to Saydee, and handling me their books to be autographed. Many emotional pleasures … emotional treasures.
Luther, Saydee, and I attended both worship services at Zarephath Christian Center on Sunday at 9:30 and 11:30 AM. A converted Jew named Raphael, also a guitarist, led worship music backed by voices, keyboard, drums, saxophone and other guitars. And the presence of God descended in the former gym that is now the temporary sanctuary of the church. Pastor Cruver delivered a gentle but anointed word of God from Revelation chapter 17, highlight the probing question, “Are you being seduced (by the prostitute – a symbol of worldly attractions, distractions and pleasures)?”
After each worship encounters, Saydee received payments for books and sent to me buyers who wanted their books autographed.
On Sunday evening, Saydee took me to a gathering of the mission team that he and Pastor Rob Cruver are leading to Liberia on Thursday, February 16. The fellowship was hosted by Steve (engineer) and Jen (nurse), a young couple who discovered their calling to be long-term missionaries to Liberia during a short-term mission trip there. They will serve Christ at Po River, the same campus where Saydee, Luther and I attended school and were converted. For me the highlight of the evening came in the form of personal connections and chats I had with Mary Ann Lawrence, Jimmy Desmond Jr, Pastor Rob Cruver, and Gene Huntington (agriculturalist); I learned so much from each of these precious believers and leaders. The last two copies of the book were purchased at that final gathering of the mission-minded.
Every time I autograph someone's book extended into a moment of very personal conversations, often preceded or accompanied by handshakes and hugs. Meeting and connecting with people is by far the best part for me every time. But even greater than that this time was having the nation of Liberia in the spotlight as the chosen target of so many mission efforts. For instance the annual Pillar Of Fire Freedom Ride for this year will benefit mission work in Liberia. It seems like the God of Heaven has pulled out His sovereign map and circled Liberia, then select this moment in history, saying, “It's time to help My suffering Liberian children in a focused way!”
Truly, that little nation has God's favor now like I've never witnessed before in over 20 years of speaking to people about Liberia. Just about anyone who hears about Mission Liberia and other mission efforts in Liberia is touched at heart, desiring to jump in. Exciting! That, my dear friend, is the greater cause to which I have dedicated the book, Refugee Was My Name. Mission Liberia is a much meaningful cause with eternal impact than me becoming a published author, though I am grateful for that too. Thanks for being a part of Liberia's solution from God.
Let me thank everyone who has prayed for me, especially Miss Harriet my wife, who prayed with me over the phone before I drove off the lot at Nashville International Airport. On my way to Owensboro I suddenly entered the snow and sleet section of William Natcher Parkway where the speed limit is 70 MPH. The tires on my car went spinning out of control, taking me into the ditch between the two halves of the road, before I turned the wheel away from an oncoming semi truck, applied the brakes, making it back safely to my side of the highway. Talk about being traumatized... I shortly recorded my brush with death on my smartphone before stopping to thank the Lord for sparing my life one more time. Once again, it seems like an angel took over. Traveling grace makes the difference, doesn't it? I arrived home to the solemn joy of my wife around 1:30 AM, after giving more thanks to the Lord in our driveway.
Next book signing event is at Owensboro Community & Technical College, this Thursday, February 16 at 11 AM and 6 PM. My coordinator there is Miss Lorna Hollowell, the college's Director of Diversity. Still standing in need of your prayers... ~mogama~