From Greg

Staff Picture: Mark, Paye, Vanessa, Greg, Shad, Bestman, Pastor Richards
Well, Vanessa put me on the spot so I am going to have to write a blog here again! She mentioned a few days back in her post about our visit to Buchanan Central Prison that I would follow-up with some of my perspective on the visit. I am going to try my best to put into words the experience of my first visit to a prison in Liberia. But I can promise before I start this that it will be long and a bit personal. Here it goes…
Early Tuesday we all gathered in the yard to prepare the cars. We were heading to Buchanan Central Prison, a prison about four hours drive from Monrovia. Two cars would be needed to carry us there. I would be going with Shad, Bestman, Pastor Richards, Mark, Paye and another driver, Vanessa, Mattie and I. In case you did not catch that, we would be bringing Mattie with us on this trip. For anyone reading this who does not know who Mattie is, he is my two-month old son. So in total there were nine of us.
Yesterday we worked to prepare our materials – gospel tracts, bibles, and John/Romans booklets as well as clothing for the prisoners. We would be giving each of the prisoners one item of clothing. Some would get shirts and some pants. The items were packed up and ready to be tossed in the back of the cars in the morning.
A few of us gathered the materials as others checked over the cars and added the car-top carrier on Spirit (Spirit is our green car you see in many of the pictures with our logo on the side – not much of a car, but the Spirit keeps us safe and “keeps us on the path” as we travel J- thus the reason for the name).
As we finished most of the preparations everyone began to congregate in the Palava House for prayer. I ran back in the house and grabbed cameras, my bible, tire pump, drinks, and the few last things I could think of to gather in my bag. As I came out the front door, I walked past the diaper bag packed and ready to go. I stopped to pick it up and it hit me like a ton of bricks – I was about to take my wife and two-month-old son to a Liberian prison. Strange, weird, crazy, intense, odd, cool, confused…all of these thoughts went through my head as I stood there looking at the bag. My brain finally got through its processing and I grabbed the bag and headed for the Palava House.
I entered the Palava House and sat down. Everyone was talking, in their fast Liberian-style communication I still struggle to understand, and I realized they were more excited than I had seen them since I arrived. What was it that they were so excited about? We were heading out to visit a prison of about 90 inmates far outside of the city. It was going to be dirty, stinky, disease filled, and possibly unsafe. We were going to visit murderers, thieves, armed robbers, rapists, CHILD rapists, money launderers…and yes the list could go on. We would be traveling for hours on roads that are almost unpassable. We would be dirty, tired, worn out, and hungry. We would not have air conditioning, nice seats, clean cars, good food or restaurants to stop at along the way. There would be no bathroom stops unless it was the side of the road. We wouldn’t have power windows, power seats, power anything for that matter or even a stereo to listen to. Why were the guys so excited??? Don’t get me wrong – I was excited too. For almost a year now I have envisioned this day. The first time I will be able to go into a prison in Liberia and experience the open doors of ministry the Lord is giving us here. But these men have been doing this week-in, week-out for the past year. I struggled to understand their excitement.
Anyway, I talked briefly and made sure we had everything ready to go. Pastor Richards lead us in a heart-felt prayer of safety and protection and committed the trip the glory of the Lord. The prayer concluded and we were off.
The trip was difficult. For those of you reading this who have not traveled in the interior of Liberia, which is likely all of you, it is like nothing you have experienced. For me to say the roads are difficult does not do it justice. In America our road systems are not perfect, but try to imagine this. The roads have holes sometimes larger than our cars and they are everywhere. They call them “pop” holes because if you hit them your tires WILL pop. Small holes are everywhere and it is wet so you cannot really tell how deep the holes are. Sometimes it is safer to get two wheels on the side of the road in the grass because the roads are so difficult. Cars are coming at you from the front and speeding past you from behind. Motorcycles are everywhere and riding down both sides of the road, in the middle of the road, crossing in front of you, speeding past you, you get the picture! On top of that, people are walking down the sides of the street with large wheelbarrows full of merchandise and agriculture. They are walking with huge items on their heads, and coming back from long walks gathering water. There are kids, adults, and everyone in between. Trucks take over the road as they pass and you have to stay out of the way. Because of the heat outside and no air conditioning inside, you have to drive with the windows down. Every truck that passes could not even come close to passing an emissions test in America. They are truly helping create holes in our atmosphere as they spew black funnels of smoke from the sides and behind. Thank goodness there are no green organizations here! The country would have to be shut down. They are loud, angry trucks and splash red, dirty water everywhere as they roll through the holes in the road. If you time it just right, they may just fill your car with this water through the open windows. Our drivers were incredible though and we did not get a single splash on us. But Paye (one of our drivers) did stop the car at one point and when he was waiting for a truck to pass was drenched in mud…quite funny although I wouldn’t have been happy if it was me!
So we drove for what seemed to be forever and finally made it to the prison. Aaahhh! Finally to our destination and I was going to be able to enter a prison for the first time. We stepped out of the car and stretched a bit. Vanessa was holding Mattie as we entered the prison. Now – let me stop here. I fully believed that as we entered the prison we would be stepping into a holding area or waiting area of some sort. But boy was I wrong. We stepped into the prison and not five seconds later I looked and one of the women prisoners was sitting holding my child. There was no waiting or holding area – we were in the prison! Fear and panic began to run through me as I watched in horror, but then God really convicted me. What are we here for? Are we afraid of man, or are we afraid of God? Is God sending us here to preach His word or to sit in fear of what could happen to us. All of my fear, all of my stress and anticipation dissipated and peace settled in. It was as if God was holding my hand as we walked forward. The men in the prison all of the sudden did not look scary, but looked like young boys desperate for a fathers touch. I began to see through God’s eyes the love He had for these men – these wicked men who had committed terrible crimes. But they were no worse off than I. They were no more sinners than I was. God could forgive them just as easy as He could forgive me.
So we walked through a secondary fenced area and into the main outdoor inmate area. There were prisoners everywhere walking around every side of us. They were friendly and kind, smiling and telling us thank you for coming. Our guys began to get them organized into a small circle. About 25 men stood around as we began to speak. Bestman, one of Spirit Liberia’s guys, began to thank everyone for listening and began to speak about the word of God. He called on some of the men to read the scripture and lead an incredible devotional. I soon found out that the men in this outside area were the men that were trusted to be around us. They were men proving they had some good character and it was clear as Bestman spoke that the Lord was working in many of their lives. I was beside myself. I began to see why our men were so anxious and excited to come out here. THE LORD WAS WORKING ON THESE INMATES! It was one of the most spiritually beautiful things I have ever in my life experienced. Men, some of them of very shady pasts, with dedication to reading the word, following the scriptures and living for the Lord. I could not believe my eyes. All of my preconceived notions of prison ministry began to fade and a whole new love for these men was taking place in my heart as I stood and listened and watched.
Soon some of us were called into the main holding cells for the prison. Shad, Pastor Richards, Mark, and I went in. Inside these walls was a sight I will never forget. The prison was dark, not a single light in the entire area besides the sunlight that shone through small windows on top of the cells. There were six cells that housed almost 90 men. The cells were dirty, but not dirty like we see in America. They were pitiful. Men, almost 15 to a cell, lived day in and day out in these cells. They slept on the floors. There were no mattresses and no bathrooms. They had no blankets or TV’s, no chairs and no tables. Some of the men were in underwear. Each cell consisted of four walls and a bucket for a toilet. Men were sick and unkempt. They were not being fed enough, each one skinnier than the next. One man sat and told me that he had been in the prison now for almost a year and because of the lack of sunlight or light in general his eyes were not working well anymore. He could no longer read the scriptures we had given him. He wanted desperately to read the word, but he was no longer able.
Shad and Pastor Richards began to preach and it was as if the Holy Spirit moved down and took over the prison. Men began to intently listen and some told us stories of their lives, the sin they had committed, the families that they could no longer communicate with. There was repentance, salvation, and understanding happening at a pace I could scarcely hold on to. Men were asking for forgiveness, prayer, and telling me of the friendship they were creating with the GOD WE SERVE! The same God I serve is the God they were talking about. The same God I worship here in the states is the same God that was meeting their needs in the prison. They were desperate, but not hopeless. They were dirty, but being cleansed. They were suffering, but joyful.
Lives were being transformed in front of my eyes. Men wanted to tell me about how God was working and convicting and I could barely comprehend it. God was reaching the “least of these” among us through the hands of the men he has committed to my care. Men who did not come to me equipped for this work but men whom God had called for His service. Shad, Bestman, Pastor Richards, and Mark – all of them are men after God’s own heart. These men God has given me to train, equip, and ignite with a passion to serve Him. And yet today I am being taught as their student what it means to be used by a holy, all-powerful God. We serve a God that does not look at our strengths and talents, but who looks at our heart. We serve a God who does not look for the competent but the willing. A God who is searching high and low for those that love Him, and He found four willing and able men who love Him in an incredible way.
My first visit to a Liberian prison…it was everything I ever had imagined but for entirely different reasons. I was excited to go and be seen as a man willing to sacrifice for the Lord. I wanted to be able to see what God is doing first hand, but deep down I believed it would make me something special to be able to say I had been there. But I learned something completely the opposite. I learned that it was not a sacrifice, it was a pleasure. I realized that Christ came to earth to save men just like this; men who our society has written off as unchangeable, unreachable, undesirable. But God sees them as usable for His glory. And these men were used to change my life in one simple visit.
Now I know what it was that my men were so excited about earlier that morning. It was not about the drive, not about the fun, not about anything other than knowing that today we would experience God and the work He is doing in the prisons. These men are carrying the torch of the light of the Word into a dark and desperate place. How rewarding it was to see it first-hand.
In Christ,

1 comment:

Diane said...

Greg, thank you so much for sharing of your experience ministering to the Liberian prisoners. I am touched by your testimony and praise God that He is using your family along with those wonderful staff members of yours to reach these men that most would prefer to forget about.

Sending love from Arizona!