THE INDOMITABLE SPIRIT OF THE PENTECOSTAL HOLINESS CHURCH IN LIBERIA
By Willard & Yvonne Wagner
In spite of 14 years of war, Ebola virus, corrupt politics, and extreme poverty, The International Pentecostal Holiness Church of Liberia is well, alive, and still kicking. In all due respect to missionaries stationed in Monrovia in the early 1900’s, IPHC Liberia was officially established after the drafting of the Constitution on Dec. 16, 1998. Our church was soon registered with the government to preach the gospel, establish congregations, purchase land, build churches, operate schools or orphanages, and host resident missionaries. As impoverished as they were, somehow they managed to do all of the above. During this time, some mistakes were made, there were misunderstandings and miscalculations, the post years of the civil war, an Ebola Virus, corrupt politics, and the absence of resident missionaries with some continuity, were obstacles that hindered the work in Liberia. But Jesus said, “Upon this Rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Surely Liberia was included in “My Church” and therefore is still in existence. We pause to thank all those concerned who prayed, gave of their resources, spent time in ministry, and showed an interest in Liberia to make this happen.
While standing on the street of the guest house where Yvonne and I were staying in Monrovia, I heard a screeching siren, which put a chill down my back, and ducked behind a nearby tree to witness the entourage of Charles Taylor, (the most corrupt president of Liberia) whisk by with heavily armed pickups fore and aft of the limousine in which he was riding. Being our first trip to Monrovia, we did not realize the impact this wicked man had on both Liberia and Sierra Leone, as he had orchestrated the wars in both of these countries. These tragedies caused so much death, suffering, amputations, mutilations, destruction of homes, ruination of the economy, bankruptcy of businesses, and the total destruction of their infrastructure, of which they still have not recovered. It takes third world countries three times as long to recover from any conflict then the years it takes to fight in the actual war itself.
Often, when governmental politics are corrupt, this influence trickles down to the churches and other non-profit organizations, and becomes accepted by many as a way of life. Unfortunately, this happened to our young church in Liberia, as so often we found ourselves involved in a situation to help broker a compromise among them, and save the ministry. This problem has since been solved in the past eight years through properly conducted elections in the democratic system, which Liberia has learned from the United States. In spite of the apparent confusion, our pastors maintained and grew their churches. When all the public schools had been closed for security reasons, because of this civil war, The Yvonne Wagner Academy, with more than 300 children who had no chance to go to school, and that many adults who were deprived of an education because of the crisis, was established. After the country returned to a reasonable state of normalcy, and the public schools were re-opened, our school was suspended. It had served its purpose and provided an opportunity for an education to many children and adults during the crisis.
After we begin to give assistance to the 900,000 refugees who fled this war in Liberia and came to The Ivory Coast (where we lived and had our West Africa headquarters) we adopted the LIFE Camp orphanage. We later brokered an amalgamation with five other mission sending organizations, to help these 165 orphans just stay alive, and give them some kind of education. Today, we are still supporting this orphanage which is now located in Painesville, Monrovia, Liberia. Many of these orphans went on to college, and have graduated with nurse’s degrees, teacher’s certificates, and other vocational training that will help them and their families survive any subsequent crisis.
We were pleasantly surprised when we witnessed so many of the Lebanese opening businesses and banks. The Chinese had infiltrated Liberia, with their restaurants, hotels, and hardware stores. And many philanthropic non-profit groups had their boots on the ground to assist, or perhaps some to exploit the situation. We met a couple visiting our son’s church in Raleigh, who were on leave after working in Liberia with Firestone Rubber for the past 15 years. We were also acquainted with many mission sending churches and agencies re-entering Liberia with new hope and strategies to re-build their ministry. And we thank God, the International Pentecostal Holiness Church of Liberia survived. They just recently had an annual conference and have been functioning successfully these past years. Will you praise the Lord with us for all of this? Our National Superintendent, Rev. Amos Somah, is presently in a wheel chair from injuries he had sustained a few years ago. This problem has reappeared to hinder him in his office, but he is a trooper and continues to arrange conferences and fulfill his duties. We were going to buy him this wheel chair and carry it with us when we go to Liberia early this spring, but the brethren were able to purchase it there with available funds we sent for such emergencies.
Having been missionaries with IPHC for some 42 years, we are not often sure if when the Nationals say, “Yankee, Go Home” they are just overwhelmed at the time, or just exercising faith and telling us they can govern and grow their own churches. However, once we are determined to go into a new country that really needs a Pentecostal, Evangelical Church, we believed that if this is truly His will, the Lord will establish His Church regardless of who wants to cooperate. To me, this is an unconditional mandate – God will do it. One reason we have had relatively good success in West Africa with our seven countries is that when we realized not many missionaries wanted to go to West Africa, we told the people in each nation, “This is your country, these are your people, this is your church, these are your schools, we did not cause your civil war, these orphans are your responsibility, and the work is your ministry, SO YOU DO IT – JUST DO IT.” We never established a ministry and then after so many years turned it over to the Nationals. The work was theirs from the first day of our initial engagement with them. One would be surprised of the leadership potential that rises to the top when they understand that this is their responsibility. Of course we have helped them so very much through the People to People program, and the building of churches and schools, but virtually the ministry belongs to the Nationals in their own countries. Well, now after saying all of that, we do need your prayers and financial support to help the indomitable people of Liberia reach their generation with the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. And please, will you continue to support our account so we can stay active in advancing the ministry of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church in West Africa and make these highly productive scheduled visits to the brethren in Liberia and our other countries: Nigeria, Togo, Republic of Benin, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), and Sierra Leone? You and your church are constantly in our prayers.
Photo Credit: Willard & Yvonne Wagner