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Equipping Rural Liberian Pastors

adam demark

This article was written by LuAnne Cadd, Roving senior communications and media officer for Mission Avation Fellowship. MAF has been a huge blessing to Equip2serve and a vital partner in transportation of our E2S teams.

Margrit (on the left) and LuAnne (on the right) enjoyed a visit to Maryland county to interview our team members, both serve with MAF.

Last year, a rural Liberian pastor attended one of the Equip2serve Bible seminars in the far southeast of the country. Near the end, he told the teachers, "We know our church constitution and policies, how to marry, bury, what to do on holidays. But I really don't know the Bible very well. I never went to Bible School. When you come and give these seminars and teach the Bible here in the villages, its like bringing the Bible School to us."

That is exactly the purpose of Equip2serve. Bring solid Bible teaching to pastors in rural areas so they can in turn teach their own people the true Word of God.

"It's like Bible school on wheels," Lesley says, wife of Pete Doerksen, one of six couples involved in the ministry of Equip2serve. "Liberians have been through a lot and they don't have the resources to attend seminary. So having the "Bible School" come to them is a blessing that we can give the Liberians."

The Problem

In Liberia, it often feels like every issue with the country and people can be traced back to the civil war and Ebola. It's a repetitious melancholy mantra, but unfortunately it's often accurate. When the first civil war broke out in the 1980's, most mission groups including New Tribes Mission pulled out.  Only a few have returned since that time. New Tribes Mission moved on to other West African countries, but some of the former missionaries in Liberia carried a burden for the country and people.

Ken Welch, former Field Chairman for New Tribes Mission in Liberia, worked through the wars from afar, doing what he could to meet the physical needs of the people he had grown to love, including finding ways to get rice into the country through Ivory Coast. When the wars ended, his focus turned back to the spiritual needs, in particular rural pastors who had no Biblical training whatsoever, and no possibility of getting any.

Liberia 2015.JPG

Compounding that problem was the fact that a large segment of the population spanning decades didn't receive an education during the wars leaving many unable to read and write, including many of those rural pastors who preach each Sunday, yet can't read their Bible.

"Because of the war many were not able to go to school, and at their age now they're ashamed to go," explains George Lott, a Liberian pastor who works closely with Equip2serve (International Director) facilitating and sometimes teaching seminars. "Sometimes they can speak very well so they are made a pastor in the village. They just tell stories or listen to sermons on the radio."

Africa trip 2012 508.JPG

"That's how they get confused, Lesley continues, "because they're not reading straight from God's Word, they're only hearing stories that are passed down here and there, so they don't get the full truth."

The Solution

Two couples, Peter & Lesley Doerksen, and Dan & Michelle Dore, have come to Pleebo, Liberia on one of several yearly trips to teach a seminar to a group of rural pastors. George Lott and his wife, Lucy assist and teach, and are particularly helpful when it comes to cultural insights.

The seminars follow a progression, taught in a simple, easy to understand way starting with "Creation to Christ," a chronological Bible study that connects creation to the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah and how those are fulfilled in Christ's birth, life, death and resurrection. It's the foundation for everything. The second seminar covers the believer's position in Christ. Third teaches how to study the Bible. The Fourth seminar studies the Old Testament and the fifth the New Testament.

Each trip to Liberia by two couples or just men teaches one to two of the seminars to the same 25-30 pastors, most coming from outlying villages.

"We're hoping not to just give these guys information but develop relationships with them and walk through their ministry with them," says Pete Doerksen. The long term hope is to train up dedicated Liberian pastors to take over and carry on the training throughout the country. "We want to go where the need is the greatest.

Women and Literacy

This past year, for the first time the pastor's wives, teachers & women from various churches received their own seminar from Equip2serve.

"Often the pastors learn but they don't always teach their wives or congregations," Lesley explains, "So they're walking in all this knowledge and truth, and the women don't know. But we've come across a problem here in Liberia. We have 15 women in our seminar and only 3 know how to read and write. One of the ladies said to us when we handed her a printed piece of paper with scripture verses on it, "What will I do with this?" She had it upside down! It's like a knife in the heart, How can they have the security of going to God's Word without knowing how to read?"

Michelle and Lesley adapted the lessons by hanging pictures and illustrations around the patio where the lessons took place and the ladies were encouraged to find a family member, even children, who could read the Bible to them. They also have decided to launch a literacy program starting in the summer. The women are excited about this!

Difficult Cultural Questions

While teaching the seminars, the team is often asked questions that illustrate a serious problem in Liberia: the mixing of Christianity with traditional African beliefs in witchcraft, sacrifice and superstitions. As one long-time missionary observed, many pastors have taken on the role of the witchdoctors, prescribing their magic solutions or predictions in the guise of Christianity, such as finding the person to blame for someone's death from an illness. It must have been witchcraft is their conclusion.

"One of the Pastors asked Adam, Lesley's brother, if he believed in using God's Word to give direction," Pete tells. "Adam was unsure of the question, and said, tell me what you mean."  The pastor said, "We take the Bible and just stand it on edge like this and let it fall open, and then we take a stick and stand it in the middle of the Bible, and we say, if the answer is yes, it will fall to the right. If it's no, it will fall to the left. And that's how we use God's Word to give us direction in our lives."  We get a lot of those type of questions. They've been told things that aren't from the Bible. That's one thing that every believer needs to be challenged with, when our cultural thinking crosses God's Word and we have to make a decision. Are we going to do what God's Word says, or what our culture is telling us to do?"

Supporting the Work

Lesley came to Liberia with her missionary parents when she was 14. This trip to Liberia is her first since the family fled from rebels 28 years ago.  It was important and meaningful time for her to teach and be encouraged by the testimonies of the women who had a clear understanding of what Christ did for them on the cross.

"This wouldn't be possible without an easy way of getting here," Lesley says. "MAF has given us a way to do this work. We would not want to travel by road. I travelled as a teenager on this road. It took us three days."

Besides flying the team to Maryland County in the far southeast of Liberia, just an hour and half flight by air, MAF also flew their luggage down a few days later, which didn't show up on their international flight.

"If we had to travel by road, it would be an extra four days round trip of travelling time and energy, " Pete adds. "You're so tired by the time you get here. Thank you MAF for your service and your part in getting God's Word out to the villages. It's a huge blessing and a partnership."